John Dugdale Astley.

Fifty years of my life in the world of sport at home and abroad (Volume v. 1) online

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old place of the sort.

The house was built for Queen Elizabeth's
falconer. Sir Ralph Sadler, and there is now in one
of the drawing-rooms a full length portrait of him
painted in oils on only a half-planed wood-panel.
On his wrist he carries a hawk with jesses and bells
on. Everleigh is a sort of oasis on Salisbury Plain.
The house and park are well sheltered by planta-


tions, and other coverts have been planted from time
to time, which are bounded on all sides by vast
stretches of open downs, now much more broken
up by the plough than they used to be ; though
even at the present time you can ride from Ever-
leigh to Salisbury, eighteen miles as the " crow
flies," without jumping a fence or even opening a
gate, and nearly all the way you are on fine springy
old turf. It is a fine sporting property for every-
thing save fishing, the nearest trout-stream being
four miles off, and the kennels of the " Tedworth
Hunt " are just about the same distance. I do not
know a better place to train horses than on and
around these downs. Foxhall was prepared close
by, when he won the Cesarewitch and Cambridge-
shire, and for years, I fondly hoped that I should
have been man enoug-h to have a stable of horses
there ; and so I should, if I had had better luck.
There used to hang- in the hall at Everleigfh —

o o

but now removed to Lincolnshire — a very curious
old picture descriptive of two combats in which an
old ancestor of mine took part. The first is thus
described : " The combat in Paris between Sir John
de Astley and Peter de Masse, 20th August, anno
Dom. 1438." The two knights are portrayed en-
cased in armour and on horseback, their only
weapons being long lances. There are three


curious sorts of "grand stands," erected, I suppose,
for the accommodation of "members only," inte-
rested in the proceedings. I beHeve the centre
figure is that of the King of France (Louis XL) at
that period. At the sides of the picture are small
square panels, with the following incriptions beneath
each one. Figure i : " Here the King granteth
him license to perform the combat." Figure 2 :
" The manner of his being conducted to the lists."
Figure 3 : " Here he taketh his oath In the presence
of the High Constable and Marshal, that he hath
no charm, herb, nor any enchantment about him."
Figure 4 : " Here he pierceth the helmet of Masse
with his spear."

In the same frame is also depicted the second
combat, as follows : " The combat in Smithfield
between Sir John de Astley and Sir Philip Boyle,
30th January, anno Dom. 1441 ;" and at the sides,
in similar fashion to that of the first combat, are
described the different situations. Figure i : " Here
having got the victory he returneth thanks to God."
Figure 2 : " Here the King (Henry VI.) girds him
with the sword of knighthood." Figure 3 : " Here
he presented Masse's helmet to his lady." Figure
4 : " Here he Is invested with the robes and order
of the Garter."

This latter combat was fought on foot in full


armour, and each combatant fought with a shield
and short sword. In the centre stand at Smithfield,
appears the King in royal robes, with the " Fool " at
his feet. There is also a portrait of " Good old
Astley," from which I gather that he was a man of
moderate stature, very grim and determined look-
ing, and his hands (as drawn) are particularly small ;
in fact I should say about 6|- gloves would be his
size. From this picture I conclude that my ances-
tors were fond of a ''round in the ring," and also,
from the fact of his presenting the defeated gentle-
man's helmet to his "lady," that they were as
devoted to the fair sex as I am myself.

The picture of the two combats has been copied
in worsted and floss silk cross-stitch, which are at
present in wonderful good preservation on the backs
of two settees and six antiquated old chairs. There
is a repliqua of it at Arbury (the late Colonel
Newdigate's place in Warwickshire), which was left,
I believe, as an heirloom in Astley Castle — an old
place which formerly belonged to our family. Ever-
leigh has always been famous for the quantity of
rabbits that abound in the large patches of gorse
which are scattered about on the open downs, and
many a pleasant day have I spent in their company
with gun and ferret. The little rascals played
havoc with some new plantations I planted, and on


one occasion a Scotch woodman we employed
tickled me very much, when I was deploring to him
the mischief they had done, by remarking: "Aye,
what a fule old Noey was when he brought they
twa rabbits out of the ark wi' him ! " — a sentiment no
doubt thoroughly in harmony with the feelings of
dwellers in the Antipodes, where the coneys are
masters of the situation, but not in accord with
mine, for there is no better fun than toppling over
the nimble rabbit when you hold well forward, and
bunny is in a hurry.


Go on Duty in London — Recruiting in Sussex — Country Visits —
Letter from Hepburn — " Where Dut}'^ Calls " — I Volunteer to
Return to the Crimea — Disapproval at Home — Embark at
Portsmouth — On Board ^/;»<^ Troopship — Arrive at Malta — Buy
a Pony at Pera — In the Sea of Marmora — Arrive at Balaclava —
Old Friends and Faces — Rejoin Battalion in Camp on
Balaclava Hill — Rough Work at the Front — Curtis, Carter, and
Lempriere Killed same Night — Dine with Jerry Goodlake — He
Receives the Victoria Cross — Francis Baring — Potatoes £zo
a Ton — Nigel Kingscote — Neville — Keith — Gordon — De Bathe
— Russians Fear our Men— Billy Russell and Sayer — Marshal
Pelissier Succeeds Canrobert — My Pony Dies — Buy another for
£aP — Halford and Hutchinson — Foot-races on Queen's Birth-
day—Wild Dayrell Wins Derby, 1855—" Crow Corbett "—His
Death — Taking of Mamelon — Death of Colonel Yea — Catch

After enjoying myself thoroughly in my old home,
I went up to London to do duty. The dreadful
privations to which our army was exposed during
that terrible and never-to-be-forgotten winter of
1854 had so much reduced the number of our
battalion before Sebastopol that the authorities at
the Horse Guards invited officers to go into
different districts and endeavour to get recruits for
the Brigade of Guards, and as I was not only


well known, but I venture to think fairly popular,
in Sussex — particularly round about Chichester — I
volunteered to go recruiting in that county, and met
with middling success, though the limited standard
of education in this district was rather against me ;
for often when I drove into a town on market-day in
a brake, with six or seven musicians blowing "hard
all " on their instruments some exciting martial
strain, such as " See the Conquering Hero Comes,"
or " Rule, Britannia," thereby collecting a goodly
crowd of yokels, I found that even my most winning
ways, and display of plenty of gay ribbons, to say
nothing of having paid for lots of drinks all round,
fell rather flat. I was repeatedly met, on offer-
ing a likely-looking customer the Queen's shilling
to enlist, with the remark : "Not me ; it was
only last night, when we stood the parish clerk
drinks to read us how the war was going on in
the East, and we heard there was no beer, and
wonderful little to eat for the sodjers out there,
that we made up our minds that men couldn't
fight on an empty stomach, and we ain't a-going
to try."

At Lewes I heard that the Militia were to be
disbanded after their term of training had expired ;
so there I went, and obtained leave from the
commanding officer to say a few words to the


men when he formed them into square, previous
to dismissing them to their homes. I was sanguine
enoueh to beheve that I had roused the martial
spirit of not a few, and invited them to meet me
in the yard of the principal hotel, where I fondly-
hoped to enrol a goodly number for transportation
to the clutches of the drill-sergeant.

As the beer began to tell, I, my private servant
(Hopkins), and a corporal of fine physique belonging
to my regiment, took the names of between thirty
and forty men, decked them out with ribbons, and
bestowed the shilling on them. I left soon after
dark, and drove over to stop with my old comrade,
Colonel Hepburn, at his place (The Hook) not far
from Lewes. I left my servant, and gave him my
forage cap and sword to wear ; and as he was a very
clever fellow, he personated an officer with consider-
able success, and I bade him and the corporal keep
up the military ardour of those I had enlisted. I
returned in the morning to take the men before the
doctor. I found Hopkins all right, and inquired for
the corporal ; but my servant informed me, with a
knowing look, that "he was not quite fit to appear
yet." It seems that the gallant soldier had been
obliged to take so many drinks with his would-be
future comrades that he could not come up to time,
and, as Hopkins expressed it, he had had the


corporal's head several times in a bucket of cold
water, and hoped that in a short time he would be
able to produce him fit for duty.

To cut a long story short, we marched our squad
to the doctor's residence ; but, alas ! from sundry
malformations, mostly of toes and veins, about one-
half of the men were rejected. One or two paid
" smart money," and I do not believe I sent off
(with the now resuscitated corporal) more than eight
recruits from Lewes ; neither do I think that any
other officer had better luck.

During the early spring of 1855 I paid several
visits amongst my country friends, none of which
did I enjoy more than a trip to my old travelling
companion Peel at Bryn-y-Pys, where I met with
a hearty reception from the many good fellows
I knew in that neighbourhood, and had some
cheery days hunting with old Wattie Wynn, and
his paragon of huntsmen, old Walker. Early
in March I got a letter from Hepburn, when
I was at Everleigh, telling me that a draft was
shortly to be sent out to join our battalion at
the front, and that he intended to volunteer to
accompany them — would I go, too ? As I was
all right again, my head pretty straight and my
left arm in full play, I could do no other than
follow his lead ; at the same time I must confess


that it was a bit of a wrench : for no man could
be enjoying himself more than I was in " Old
England," and, from all accounts, the utter dis-
comfort and continual peril in the trenches before
Sebastopol were only too graphically and truth-
fully described in every letter from one's pals who
were there ; but also in Billy Russell's interesting
and thrilling articles from the scene of action, as
published in the Times newspaper.

However, " where duty calls, &c.," I felt bound
to obey, and accompanied my Captain to the
Horse Guards ; nor can I ever forget the intense
curiosity with which I listened to Hepburn's earnest
pleading to be allowed the favour of joining the
draft. The old boy at the Horse Guards into
whose presence we two were ushered, and heard
our request, utterly scouted the idea, pretty much
in these words : " Certainly not ; you have done
your share and the country is proud of you. Let
others go out and earn glory." He seemed so
determined in fact, to adhere to his resolution that
I felt convinced my jolly time at home would not
be cut short. We both pleaded with renewed
energy (mine was begotten by a feeling of intense
security that he was too stubborn to yield), but my
fond hopes were dashed to the ground — I believe
it was owing to the earnest way in which we put it



to him, that " the men of our company would
sooner be led by us than by comparative strangers
to them." At all events, he, in a torrent of beati-
tudes on our noble conduct, "whispering no, con-

Oh, dear ! oh, dear ! how I despised his vacil-
lating mind ! And I am half afraid that I upbraided
Hepburn for not letting the old boy have his own
.way and give our novices a chance of courting
*' death or glory." However, we had "been and
done it," and had but a short time to renew our
kit, and go down to Portsmouth to embark with a
draft of quite young and only half-drilled recruits.

When I reached home, the good old governor
was most explicit in his opinion of the folly I had
perpetrated, while my mother (a long way the best
of women to my thinking) was much cut up ; but
the feeling that I had done the proper thing kept
my spirits up. There was considerable delay in
starting, caused by the scarcity of proper transports
to take us out. The Horse Guards wanted to send
us in the Resistance — an old tub in which Lord
Methuen had refused to take out his regiment of
Militia to Corfu — but this was luckily overruled ;
so we waited in London till the first week in April,
when we received orders to start for Portsmouth,
where we duly arrived one afternoon and found


that instructions had been received for us to sail
early the next morning. So, as soon as we had
seen all the men comfortably stowed away on board
the Alma troopship, Hepburn and I returned on
:shore and dined at the mess of the Lincolnshire
Militia, commanded by that quaint old gentleman
'Colonel Sibthorpe (who was for some time M.P. for
Lincoln), and a long night we had of it : for the
C. O. never moved off his chair till 3 a.m., and as
his guests, of course we could not leave him, and
.some very funny stories he told us ere we parted.

As soon as it was light we went on board, and
:soon had wished our many friends and relatives
*' good-bye " and steamed away to join our comrades
in the East, Now, I can refresh my memory once
more from the many letters that I sent home, which
I have before me at the present moment while I

"On April 19th we had a death and a birth on
board the Alma. The former was Gordon
Drummond's charger, who got down in his box and
broke his back ; the latter, the advent of a lamb,
one of our sheep meant for the table having become
a mother. On the 21st we had two burials — a
corporal of Coldstream Guards died of heart-disease,
and a private of ours of a sort of low fever. On the
23rd we arrived at Malta, and, though I had been


rather a shy feeder on board, I made up for it by a
good dinner on shore.

"We found Colonel Hay garth, who was so fear-
fully wounded at Alma, and, fortunately, for him,
he had been taken straight to Malta and is getting
on well ; he hopes to be able to get home in May.
Also our good friend Dr. Bostock, who had been
very seedy, but is now recovering. We looked up
all our old friends, and started again the next day,
and had a very prosperous and quick passage, and
on the 27th we were in the Sea of Marmora."

Quoting again from my letters I find I wrote :
" The shores of the Dardanelles are beautifully
green ; but so are the Wiltshire Downs by this time^
I expect. The islands dotted about the Archipelago
are pretty enough, too ; but I would sooner see Ash
Wood,* with the rabbits cutting about on its broad
rides, than all the Tenedoses and Plains of Troy,
with Byron's Sestos and Abydos thrown in ; for all
those places of ancient renown sink into insignifi-
cance when one's mind looks forward to the Plains
of Balaclava and the Valley of the Tchernaya,
amongst which we ought to be soon. On the 28th
we arrived early at Constantinople, and about six,
Hepburn and I went ashore at Pera and, after a lot
of haggling, bought a couple of ponies and got

* A favourite covert at Everleigh.


them on board all right, and started for the

" On the 30th we anchored off Kamiech, where
we had to wait till the wind dropped, as the entrance
to Balaclava Harbour is very narrow and not safe
to try for, except in smooth water. Maxse, of the
Agamemnon, came on board and told us that
he had dined with Hughie Drummond, of our
battalion, the other day, and had 'the best of
everything ' — not bad news for us ! On May 2nd
we steamed into Balaclava Harbour, and no
sooner had we taken up our berth than a lot of
old mates came rushing down to see us. It was
like getting home almost — in fact I felt as if I had a
home at both ends. We disembarked and joined
our old battalion, who were encamped on a steep
rocky hill about a mile from the harbour, and
wonderful glad I was to join my old comrades
again ; though it was sad indeed to miss so many of
those who had been with us at the Alma ; in fact
there were not more than 300 fit for duty out of
the 800 we had started with from England the
Spring before."

Our battalion, we found, had been relieved from
duty in the trenches, and had been marched down to
our present position over Balaclava, to give the men
a rest, and much they needed it. I soon landed my


pony, and it turned out a very simple process, for
he was slung over the side of the ship, then tipped
into the water and left to swim ashore. I clapped a
saddle on his back and rode him up to camp. I
quite forgot to say that I had brought out a black re-
triever with me, called "Punch," and a great comfort
he was to me. Hepburn and I took possession of a
hut lately occupied by some of the Highlanders,
who now formed part of an expedition of a mixed
force of about fourteen thousand men, French and
English, who were embarked on board ship with
the intention of attacking Kertch. To quote again
from letters :

" From our camp we have a splendid view over
the whole plain of Balaclava, where the memorable
cavalry charge took place on the 26th of last
October, and across the Valley of the Tchernaya
to Canrobert's Hill, whence we can see the white
puffs of smoke from the Russian battery opposite to
our Inkerman picquets, and we can hear all night
and day the big guns booming in the distance ; also
when nature is at its stillest, the roll of musketry.

" On dit the French advance trench is only about
one hundred yards off the Mamelon, and our
advanced attack about one hundred and twenty
yards from the Redan. Our 77th Regiment took
some rifle-pits one night and held them, though the


French had lost them six times after taking them.
Our fellows in the front had a very rough night.
Five officers killed, Curtis (46th) and Carter (Engi-
neers) both killed by one round shot as four or five
of them were talking together in a group. Poor little
Lempriere, whom I had met when staying with the
Scots at Rotherfield, was also killed."

Quoting again from a later letter home : "I
dined last night with my good old pal Jerry Good-
lake, and met John Adair there. Jerry is very
fit and has done a lot of hard work, and never
has been off duty a day. He had charge of the
sharpshooters soon after the army took up its
position in front of Sebastopol the beginning of last
October, and for distinguished bravery was given
the Victoria Cross.

'' I like the life out here much ; I dine out most
nights with different pals. We have now got our
kitchen built and last night had a guest to dinner,
Francis Baring, who has been on duty right
through the winter and looks well on it. Our menu
not bad — carrot soup (potted), mutton pudding, salad
of dandelion leaves, mashed potatoes, and marmalade
roly-poly. What can a man want more ? Potatoes
have been very dear — twenty-one shillings a hundred-
weight ! "

Seeing that I can only get forty shillings a ton


now, I think my readers will allow that prices ran a
trifle high in the Crimea at that time. But let me add
a few more extracts from my letters :

"I rode up to the front yesterday to have a peep
at Sebastopol and its fortresses, the English and
French camps, and miles of parallels and trenches :
wonderfully interesting it was ; and from the top of a
house called Maison cCEau I had a perfect view with
my glass of the French position and our left attack.
I lunched on my way with Nigel Kingscote, who is
on Lord Raglan's staff and as fat as butter. I dined
with Neville, and Charley Keith, A.D.C. to Sir R.
England, and rode back with George Gordon and
Henry de Bathe at night. The expedition to Kertch
is a complete fiasco ; it seems, Canrobert is an old
goose, for when our combined fleet, with 1 5,000 men
on board, were close to Kertch, a gunboat was sent
after them, and the expedition was ordered to return
immediately. On dit Lord Raglan is awfully annoyed
about it, and both soldiers and sailors are beside
themselves with rage. Lord Raglan can do nothing,
as he has only 20,000 English, and Canrobert has
100,000 French ; and so our good old Commander
has to play second fiddle. I have made a bit of a
garden round our hut and sown the seeds I brought
out with me. The last mail brought the Gazette, in
which I am made a Brevet Major — good luck for


me ! — but I feel I have scarcely earned it. It sounds
quite familiar being called Major, having enjoyed
that title amongst the small fry at home, ever since
my brother joined me at Eton.

" The ' Ruskies ' make constant sorties now, but
get terribly cut up and hurry back to cover again.
One of the prisoners taken the other night said
they were literally soaked with raki, and then told
they were going against the French, but, to their
terror, they found themselves opposite our works
and bolted at once. The French fire rounds and
rounds of musketry at the least movement of the
* Ruskies ' at long range ; but our fellows wait till
they are within 30 or 40 yards and then let them
have it bang in the eye ! 4000 * Sardines ' "^ under
the command of General f * Marmalade ' (as the
men put it), have just arrived, and the Allies will
soon have 200,000 men here of all sorts, and we
shall look poor fools if we can't do something with
such a force.

"If you have a chance, send me out a round of
boiled beef in tin. Old Soyer, the French cook,
has just come out, and I am going to meet him at
dinner at Billy Russell's, the Times correspondent.
I have just had a bit of very bad luck — my stupid
soldier-servant gave my pony its water too soon

* Sardinian troops. f General La Marmora.


after his feed of barley, and inflammation, alias
fermentation, set in, and he is dead and buried, and
I shall have a job to get another. I forgot to tell
you that I had found my old white mule, 'Alex-
ander' (that I bought at Malta last April) in the
Commissariat lines. I have got him back, and very
useful he is."

In another letter I find that I wrote : " My
garden is the admiration and envy of all beholders,
and my hens lay nicely. We are all pleased to hear
that Canrobert is superseded by Marshal Pelissier —
a good rattling sort of chap, they say — and more
Turks and ' Sardines ' are constantly arriving.
We had some capital games on the Queen's Birth-
day. I won two foot-races ; but, the ground being
very hard, uneven, and down hill, I lost the skin off
my toes. The 12 th Lancers have just arrived from
India, and I bought a capital pony of Colonel Fyler,
who commands them. He gave ;^io for the pony
at Cairo ; I gave him £4.0 for him — not a bad profit !
He had only been used for carrying water-barrels,
but as he has a nice mouth, and very sensible, I
shall soon make a nice hack of him. I call him
'Jimmy.' I dined with the 5th Dragoon Guards
last night and met two old Eton mates, Joey
Halford, and Hely Hutchinson, and we had a
cheery evening. The second expedition to Kertch


has been quite a success, as we easily occupied that
town, took over 50 big guns, a large amount of stores,
and lost very few men.

" Our advanced trenches are now getting very near
those of the ' Ruskies,' and they say our men make
miniature shells by filling soda-water bottles with
powder and small stones, then stick a fuse through
the cork, and light it up and throw it across into. the
enemy's advanced works. How's that for mimic
warfare ? We keep losing a few men of cholera
and low fever, and, as no parson could be found, the
other day I had to read the burial-service over one
of our young soldiers that came out in our draft in
the Alma.

" I often go out in the very early morning with my
dog and gun, and have had fair sport with some
nice fat little quail who arrive here during the night,
on their flight from Asia Minor northwards, and it

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Online LibraryJohn Dugdale AstleyFifty years of my life in the world of sport at home and abroad (Volume v. 1) → online text (page 14 of 20)