A Brief Sketch of the Long and Varied Career of Marshall MacDermott, Esq., J.P. of Adelaide, South Australia
A BRIEF SKETCH
LONG AND VARIED CAREER
ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
A BRIEF SKETCH
The following pages were written very recently, under a degree ofpressure from some members of my family; and as I possessed nomemoranda whatever to aid me in such a work, I have had to relyentirely upon memory; therefore errors in details may reasonablyclaim excuse, after the lapse of so long a period of time. Thesepapers are written solely for private distribution amongst relativesand special friends; and, as my family is rather numerous anddispersed, the necessity arises of having them printed.
I obtained a Commission in the Army of His late MajestyKing George III., at a very early age, through the influence ofLord Hutchinson, at that time British Ambassador at the Court ofSt. Petersburg, and joined the 2nd Battalion of the 8th (orKing’s) Regiment of Foot, in the year 1808, at Chester. Beinganxious to be employed on foreign service, I obtained leave in thesame year to join the 1st Battalion of the Regiment at Halifax, inNova Scotia, and towards the close of that year embarked againwith a division of troops under Sir Geo. Prevost, to attack theFrench islands of Martinique, Guadaloup, &c., in the West Indies.The Halifax Division consisted of the 8th, 13th, 7th, and 23rdFusileers, with Artillery and Engineers; and we joined the WestIndian Division under the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Geo. Beckwith,at Barbadoes.
During the voyage from Halifax, the convoy, including a largefleet of transports, encountered a “white squall,” which onlylasted about fifteen minutes. From the fury of the tempest thesea could not rise; it was smooth as a table, but covered with adense white foam. The fleet had been carrying a press of sail,especially the dull sailers; when, like a clap of thunder, it wassuddenly thrown on its beam ends. Sails were torn into ribbonsand small spars and wreck were flying in all directions. Heavyrains then descended, followed by a dead calm, when an enormoussea arose—ships on the crest of the waves, finding others in thegulph below them under no control, and in imminent danger ofcrushing each other. Damages were repaired, and without anyserious losses the fleet proceeded on its voyage.
The united force sailed from Barbadoes for Martinique, accompaniedby the West India squadron, commanded by Sir AlexanderCochrane, who took up a position with the West Indian Division ofTroops outside of Port Royal Harbour, on the west side of theisland. The North American Division landed at Bay Robert, onthe east side, and after two days’ sharp fighting drove the Frenchforce, consisting of four regiments of the line and about 11,000Militia, across the island, when they took refuge in the strongfortress of Fort Bourbon, disbanding their Militia. On thisoccasion I had the honour of carrying the King’s colours of myregiment.
The siege of the fortress, armed with over 200 pieces of heavyordnance, then commenced. The 8th Regiment was placed inposition along a range of hills facing the fort, being a coffee plantation,forming part of the estate of the Empress Josephine ofFrance. The ground had been recently broken up, and there beingno tents, the heavy tropical rains severely tested the constitutionsof the soldiers, who left their moulds in the loose earth on risingeach following morning.
The mortar and breaching batteries maintained a heavy fire forabout six weeks, when two breaches being reported practicable, thestorming parties were told off for the assault on the followingmorning. At the dawn of day, however, a white flag was discernible;the garrison surrendered, marched out with the honours ofwar at 12 o’clock, piled arms, and were immediately placed onboard transports for conveyance to Europe.
Four Imperial Eagles, the first Napoleon had ever lost, wereamong the trophies; afterwards placed in the Royal Chapel atWhitehall, London. The 8th Regiment chanced to encounter theFrench 8th of the line on this occasion, as it had previously donein Egypt; and was presented by the Commander-in-Chief with thefine set of brass drums delivered up by the latter corps.
Just previous to the arrival of the expedition, a French frigate,heavily laden with gunpowder for the garrison, had arrived atMartinique; but before it could be landed, preparations for cuttingher out having been observed amongst the English fleet, she wasblown up at night by the French. The whole island was shakenby the explosion; and the mountain of fire, with floating wreckclearly visible, was inconceivably grand and awful.
At this time, war with America appearing to be imminent, theNorth American Division was immediately embarked, and sailedfor the defence of these provinces, landing at Halifax.
The 8th Regiment was ordered to embark, and sailed for Quebecin 1810, when it was thought the navigation of the River St. Lawrencewould be open. The transports passed through the Gut ofCauso towards evening, and entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Aboutmidnight they found themselves surrounded by broken ice, andfour of the ships put back; but that in which I sailed continuedher course. For three days and nights she was imperilled amongstfloes of broken ice; fortunately, however, to leeward of a field of iceextending about 40 miles in length. The nights were dark, andmen were placed on the bowsprit to watch the floating ice andgive warning for the ship to put about. Very often the timewas insufficient, and the ship’s sides were so frequently felt to begrinding against the ice, that it was feared the planks might notbe able to resist such frequent abrasions. A few days later shecleared the Gulf and entered the noble River St. Lawrence, 90miles wide at its mouth, and 400 miles distant from Quebec. Onapproaching the city the scene was magnificent. On the right, thelarge Island of Orleans—a perfect garden. Further on, the Fallsof Montmorency, 240 feet high; and in front, the river here takinga bend, the Citadel, and the City of Quebec on a very lofty elevation.The latter has a most remarkable appearance, all the steeplesand houses being covered with bright tin, to facilitate the snow inshooting off from the roofs.
Both banks of the river, so far as it had been settled by theFrench in Lower Canada, were laid out on a uniform militaryplan—a town with a steeple every nine miles, where the Captain ofMilitia was stationed, one of his lieutenants being on the other flankand another in the centre.
The regiment was quartered at Quebec during the summer. Atthis time, however, the 2nd Battalion of the 8th had arrived atHalifax from England, and I was ordered to join it on promotion,which I did, sailing on board a man-of-war in which I had beenoffered a passage. Soon afterwards I was placed with a detachmentat Melville Island, in charge of French prisoners of waramongst whom I observed an intelligent young midshipman, whoI regretted to find herded with the common sailors, and frequentlyhad him to breakfast at my quarters, after which we used topractice the small sword exercise with foils, and became tolerablyefficient. After some time I applied to the Admiral, Sir J. B.Warren, and obtained his parole, which the young scampsubsequently broke, and disappeared.
In the year 1811, the 2nd Battalion 8th was stationed at St.John’s, in the Province of New Brunswick, to which place, aftermarching through Nova Scotia, they crossed the Bay of Fundy.Here the tides rise forty feet, and enter a small gulf leading to thetown of Windsor in the latter province, in the form of a bore, thatis, suddenly, as a wall of water, nearly perpendicular, and eight orten feet high.
During the year 1812 the Americans declared war against England,at Washington, having previously ordered their army on thefrontier to invade Upper Canada, on the same day, being severaldays before the intelligence could be known at that place. Theysignally failed, however, in their first attacks. Reinforcementsbeing urgently required, and the River St. Lawrence being frozenup for the season, the 2nd Battalion 8th was ordered toattempt the winter march on snow shoes to Quebec; generallythrough desert country, and partly through the enemy’s territory,and where no baggage animals could travel.
The march occupied forty-two days, with a day’s interval betweeneach division or company. Fortunately, there had been just sufficienttime to form two depôts of provisions on the line of march, thusmaking three stages of fourteen days each. On leaving each stationofficers and men alike had to carry on their backs fourteen days’ provisions,personal baggage, arms, &c., and frequently to march on snowshoes, which, without other encumbrances, is a labour to thoseunpractised. The camping at evening presented a novel scene.Huts were formed of poles covered with branches of spruce-fir, leavingthe tops open for the smoke to escape. Large fires were kept upthe whole length of the huts; poles being staked down at properdistances on each side, against which, the sleeping soldiers restedtheir feet—their couches being formed of layers of spruce boughson the snow, which made capital elastic beds. The march wassuccessful, having only lost one man from the fall of a tree, andfourteen men afterwards discharged disabled from being severelyfrost-bitten.
When the snow was deep it was necessary to march in Indianfiles, that is, only one man in front to tread down a path, the leadingman falling in rear after fifteen or twenty paces, the next thenleading, and so on in succession, the fatigue on snow shoesbeing great. Another rule was, that the last man of eachdivision should be an officer, to keep up stragglers. Therehappened to be a long march of twenty-five miles across LakeTamiskwata, next to the grand portage between that lake andthe River St. Lawrence, when it was my turn to be the lastman of my division. A violent snow-storm commenced earlyin the day, and after marching about eight miles, a manwas seized with convulsions. What was to be done? The snowwas drifting in eddies and circles, obliterating the path in front.No wood was accessible to light a fire, and the man must not beleft behind. Fortunately, the party had with them an Indian contrivance,called a “tobaugan,” being a thin board twelve feet longturned up in front like a skate, used to relieve sick and weakly menof their loads. This was unpacked and the load distributed amongstthose present; the sick man was covered with many blankets, tied onand dragged by the party, eight in number, in turns. Happily, theyarrived safely at the end of their stage. My load on that day’s marchwas, besides my own luggage and provisions, a soldier’s knapsackand two muskets, my share of drawing the tobaugan, and marchingon snow shoes. The division in front encountered great dangers incrossing the Grand Portage over a mountainous country; thesnow drifting in circles, obliterating paths, and filling up deephollows. Great risks arose from men lying down from fatigue,which required unwearied exertions on the part of the officers toprevent, to save them from perishing. After marching for twenty-twohours until daylight next morning, the division had only progressedeight miles, having been partially travelling in circles with thedrifting snow.
The divisions struck the St. Lawrence ninety miles below Quebec,and the spontaneous kindness of the French Canadians could nothave been exceeded. The carrioles, sleighs, and sledges of thewhole district were assembled, and no man was suffered to march.They also fed the whole regiment during the route. On theirarrival at Point Levi, opposite Quebec, where the river is over amile wide, it