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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Edmund Peel, of the nth Hussars, was referee, and
he rode round the course ; but, though I objected
strongly to the double post and rails, as there was
not room for a horse to go in and out, unless he
was clever enough to do it sideways, the Colonel


decided that they were all fair hunting fences.
Yelverton of the Artillery rode Muster- Roll, and
Henry Blundell The Toy. Jerry himself was un-
able to be present, as he had some very pressing
staff- work to do ; he, therefore, deputed Morris of
the Artillery to act on his behalf

The course was near the French camp, so crowds
of their officers were present. The flag dropped,
away went the two competitors and all proceeded
smoothly till they came to my double ditch, which
Muster- Roll flew like a bird ; but the tricky Toy
dropped his hind legs on the loose bank, which
promptly gave way with him and down he came
flop on his stomach ; however, matters were soon
equalised by Muster- Roll falling at one of the
other fences. Now came the post and rails, and as
I was cantering along the inner circle of the course,
I shouted to my jockey to trot ; Morris did the
same. So I told Yelverton to pull up and wait
for The Toy to show us how this fair (?) fence was
to be negotiated ; but Morris would not let Blundell
go at it, and so there the two competitors remained
for close on twenty minutes, the referee finally
deciding that it was a draw.

I was very angry with Morris ; for it was clearly
their business to jump first over a fence of their own
construction, and Blundell was quite keen to go at


it. The worst part of it all was that the French
passed a good many uncomplimentary remarks
regarding the pluck of the riders and the English
generally, and I know that I rode home in high

Shortly after this The Toy won a race at the
" French Meeting," and Marshal Pelissier presented
Jerry Goodlake with the cup, which pleased him
much. One night after supper, Jerry bet me sixty
pounds to forty that I could not walk a mile, run a
mile, and ride a mile in twenty minutes. This
match came off on the 24th of April on the
Woronzoff road. I had been practising a bit, but I
was a lot too big at starting. I walked and ran a
mile on the afore-mentioned road and had a nice bit
in hand ; but, by the carefully worded terms of the
match I was to have a pony handed me — not
held whilst I mounted. The pony was a very fast
one of poor Jack Paynter's, but a fidgety little brute,
and, what with his being very fresh and much
astonished — not to say alarmed — at my light and
airy costume (for I was nearly as naked as when I
was born) as well as nervous at the large crowd of
nearly ten thousand French soldiers all shouting at
the top of their voices, I thought that I never
should get on him ; but at last I threw myself across
his back, and, as luck would have it, he tore across


the plain pretty near straight for the winning-post,
which was on the same ground where the celebrated
Balaclava charge had taken place. I gradually-
righted myself on the saddle as we went along, and
won with one minute and a half to spare — not bad
work considering all the difficulties that I had to
contend with !


Curly Knox gets a bad Fall — Expedition to Scutari — Entertained
by the Inniskillings — The Sultan's Cups — ^Jim Coleman — Dutch
Courage — Roger Mostyn — No Luck, no Winnings — Sell our
Horse — Barringtons and Hunters— Back at Balaclava — Valen-
tine Baker's Arab — -The Rugeley Poisoner, Palmer — Embark on
board Princess Royal — Arrive at Malta, 17th June — Gibraltar —
In the Bay — Life on board the Princess Royal — Hare — Festing
— Portsmouth — Looking back on the Winters of 1854-5 —
Moralising — Losses by the Allies and Russians during the Cam-
paign — Mortality from Cholera and other Diseases — Land at
Portsmouth and Train to Aldershot, July, 1856 — Review in
Hyde Park — Untimely Death of Peter — My Pony "Jim" — Pose
as Model for a Corbel — Goodwood. 1856— TuU, the Lock-keeper
— Lady Hashley ! — Athletic Sports, Aldershot, October, 1856 —
Sweep the Board — Beat W. Beach.

In one of my letters written home about this time
I find the following : " One of our fellows, little
Knox, got a bad fall the other day and has been
more or less insensible for three days, but is mend-
ing now, poor little fellow ! " As the burly General
("Curly") Knox now weighs within a few pounds
of my own weight, these expressions relative to his
diminutive size read to me as very funny ; but
teinpus fugit, and we all put on weight, I suppose, as


the years roll on, if inclined that way. Poor
" Curly " was uncommon dicky for several days from
concussion of the brain, but all who know him must
be satisfied that his tumble was productive of more
good than harm. ^

As I had been asked by several Cavalry men to
pay them a visit at Scutari, I started with Muster-
Roil, and, after a very pleasant passage, arrived in
the beginning of May with three or four other
fellows whose names — bar Roger Mostyn's — I
forget, on the shores of the " Golden Horn." I got
a shake down with the Inniskillings, and they had a
capital mess. The Sultan had given three cups to
be run for and very pretty little odj'e^s d'art they
were. Though not much bigger than egg-cups they
were studded with precious stones, and were said
to be worth the best part of a hundred pounds
each. Having brought no jockey with me from
the Crimea (mine having gone amiss) and as all the
best cavalry jocks had to steer their own horses,
I had a great deal of difficulty to get any one to
ride for me at all ; but at mess, after the wine had
circulated, dear old Jim Coleman (who used always
to take his whack) became so valiant that he

* Since these lines were in print, poor " Curly " Knox has passed
from amongst us, I regret to say, and I attended his funeral only
the other day. — J. D. A.


offered his services for the morrow, which I gladly


After breakfast next morning, Jim and I rode out
to have a look round the course, and the first fence
was a very stiff one, which would stand no attempt
at "brushing through;" so I particularly exhorted
Jim to go steady at this obstacle, and cautioned him
to be careful. There were several very good-look-
ing horses in the field, the one that made most
impression upon me being a dark chestnut called
" Baronet." I believe he belonged to Gunter, who
is fit and well, and now living near Wetherby.
Just before starting, and much against my will,
I was obliged to hand a flask of brandy to my
jockey, and the dear old boy took a long pull at it ;
then the flag dropped to a good start and away
they went.

To my horror I saw Muster-Roll going forty
miles an hour at that terrible stiff fence ; he hit it
very hard and turned end over end. I galloped
down and found poor Jim groaning a bit ; but on
my saying that the horse had got away too far to
remount, he picked himself up, and I was rejoiced
to see that he was only a bit shaken ; but when I
announced to him that Muster-Roll had been
caught, and was being ridden back for him to get on
again, down he flopped with severe spasms, and


more brandy was demanded ; therefore all hope of
that cup was dispelled.

As far as I recollect, the races lasted three days ;
at any rate, Muster- Roll, being no worse for his
fall, I started him in another race, and this time
got Ellis (now Howard de Walden), a very good
rider, as " coachman ; " but again we had bad
luck. I think the horse fell at the water, through
overjumping himself, and got loose, and we did not
find him for some hours ; but at length, he and
Jerry Goodlake's mare Bathsheba, who had also
fallen, were found up to their middles in a sort of
nullah, having drunk enough water to wash a
" 'bus." Next day, Muster-Roil started again (I
think with the same jockey in charge) ; but bad
luck followed him, for there was a sort of lane to
cross, with steep banks on each side. My horse
jumped too big and shot Ellis on to his neck, and
before he could right him he had lost a lot of
ground. Tom Townley (a perfect horseman), who
rode the winner Pathfinder, slid his horse down
the first bank and scrambled up the opposite side —
I can see him doing it now — and won in a canter.

The last day there was one more chance : it was
a hurdle-race, and I got the " artful " Roger Mostyn
to bestride the unfortunate Muster- Roll. To my
intense satisfaction and — as I fondly hoped — for my


pocket's welfare, horse and rider came sailing along
with the race apparently well in hand ; when, at the
last hurdle but one, he ran out, jumped the last
hurdle and passed the post with a good lead. I,
with assumed bravado, at once rushed down to lead
him in ; but was met with storms of reproach, which
I vainly. endeavoured to quell, and the officials had
the audacity to refuse to weigh him in. This was
a most disastrous finish to what I had trusted would
have turned out a brilliant "week's out;" so I sold
our horse for two hundred pounds (cheap as rags)
to Teddy Hunt, an excellent pal and a good man to
hounds, and I am glad to say he enjoyed many a
good run on the unlucky Muster-Roll in the shires
after he got home. Notwithstanding my run of
bad luck, I spent a most enjoyable week with
the dear old Cavalry, who entertained us right

As Percy Barrington and his wife, and Sir Paul
and Lady Hunter were going up to the Crimea.
I took ship with them, and returned after another
smooth passage to Balaclava. I forgot to mention
that, either on my way to or from Scutari, we put
in at Eupatoria, looked up the loth Hussars, and
had lunch with Valentine Baker. He showed me
what I believe to be the most beautiful animal I
have ever seen — an almost pure white Arab


Stallion, that he had brought with him from India.
It had the most lovely head and neck that I ever
beheld, and its mane and tail were of that delicate
texture peculiar to high bred Arabs. Through its
glossy coat could be seen large blotches of black in
the otherwise pure white skin ; and, if I remember
right, I was brute enough to declare that I had
never seen even a woman so perfectly beautiful in
make, shape, and expression as that Arab horse —
of course, I was young then, and that remark does
not hold good now ; so the ladies will let me off, I

We had a very jolly time in camp this May, for
the weather was lovely, and I played in several
cricket-matches. One day I took Mrs. Barrington
and Lady Hunter, with their husbands, down to
Sebastopol, and we had luncheon on board the
Gladiator, commanded by Captain Hillier, and
afterwards went in one of his boats to see the forts
on the north side of the harbour. At the end of
the month I made a trip along the under-cliff with
Foley, Montressor, and a cousin of mine. The first
day we rode to Aloupka, forty-three miles, and slept
there, riding on next morning to Yalta. The
country was now much more beautiful than when I
last rode along the same line, as the leaves were all
well out on the trees, and hedges of roses, laburnum


and Judas, besides flowering shrubs of all sorts, were
in their full glory.* It was too delicious to one who
had been pent up in a noisy, dusty, and parched
camp. The birds sang, and the frogs croaked as if
they were real glad to see us ; in fact the whole
scene was heavenly.

The ships now commenced to come in fast, and
we hoped every day to get an order to start for
home. On the 9th of June a telegram arrived to say
that H.M.S. Princess Royal had put into Karatch
Bay and that we were to start on the nth. It was
just at this time we got the news of that worst of
villains, William Palmer's trial for poisoning his
friend Cook at Rugely in Staffordshire, and I was
real glad when I won a couple of "the best" over
his being condemned to death.

I managed to get my pony Jimmy on board
one of the transports, also a pet pig named Peter,
whom I had rescued from the knife, and had been my
constant companion when in camp. The rest of our
kit was sold by auction, and we duly embarked on
board H.M.S. Princess Royal. She was a very fine
ship, and we had much better accommodation than we
ever found on board those narrow transport steamers.
I was allowed to sleep in my camp bed on the lower
deck, and a good bit of luck for me too, as most of

* Judas-tree, a flowering shrub common in the East. — Editor.


the other fellows were slung up in hammocks, and
some of them had a very rough time of it, as the
hammocks were frequently cut down at night, and
the poor dears had only a very moderate night's rest
on those occasions.

We stopped at Constantinople five or six hours,
and got to Malta on 17th June. We had hardly
anchored (about 9 p.m.) before Gipps and several
other fellows began bathing by moonlight, and it
was very odd to watch them splashing about under
the bows.

As far as I can recollect we did not stop long, but
started the next day and in due course anchored off
Gibraltar. A lot of us went ashore, and mounted
on donkeys, rode up the " Rock," exploring the
galleries cut in the solid stone, which are well sup-
plied with big guns. Still, I would not care to be a
gunner in those stuffy chambers were the guns to be
fired in anger, for the smoke would be suffocating,
the draught being so deficient that you could light
your cigar with a wax-match without fear of the
latter being blown out during the process. After
rambling along on the top of the " Rock," we
mounted our " Jerusalem ponies," to ride down the
zigzag path, and some excitement was caused by
one of the rearmost donkeys evincing an uncontroll-
able desire to keep company with one of the


foremost of the cavalcade, and he came charging
down, with his trumpet in full blast, shoving those in
his way right and left, and so alarming his rider that
he promptly jumped off, and as we gave the high-
spirited moke some good whacks as he passed, he
soon disappeared out of sight.

Across the Bay of Biscay — that bay so dreaded
by those whose vocation is not that of the sea —
we were fortunate enough to experience a charming
spell of fine weather, and we played at a lot of
games peculiar to shipboard. There were also
some lively bouts at single-stick amongst our party.
Festing of the Marines (afterwards Sir Frederick,
of West African fame) and little Dick Hare (then a
middy and now I presume an admiral, or he ought to
be by this time) were much applauded ; for they cut
at each other with a will. Hare never cared how
often he was hit on his helmet if he could only get
in a good cut at Festing's thighs, and, mind you,
there is no more tender spot than the inside of your
thigh ; but Festing was a very game chap, and took
all that the middy could give him with rare good

Well, one day on board ship is very much the
same as another, providing the weather remains fair,
and so I will only add that, after a remarkable
pleasant passage, we arrived at Portsmouth, where


we disembarked, and thus ended the Crimean cam-
paign as far as I was concerned.

I am afraid that I have been somewhat proHx at
times, and may have wearied my readers with many
trumpery incidents, some few of which I have found
very difficult to commit to paper in an amusing
form ; though over a pipe and a glass I have found
them tickle the risible faculties of my hearers to
some tune when doing the ''viva voce trick."
However, I always feel very glad that I was given
the opportunity of seeing a certain amount of
foreign service ; for sure I am that no man can
tell what he is worth till he has been tried, and
I have come to the conclusion that the bravest
man is by no means always he who by nature
is devoid of fear, but he who naturally being
really tif?ud, yet performs his duty fearlessly and

I feel like moralising a little on this subject, so
here goes ; the reader can but skip it if he don't care
to follow my argument. I know a man whom I
verily believe would go up in a balloon, though he
well knew that the silk was so worn and thin that it
might split at any moment, and by so doing hurry
him through space to instant destruction ; or he
would descend a mine many fathoms deep, notwith-
standing his knowledge that the chain by which


the cage was suspended was so unsafe that its
snapping was not only possible but probable ; or he
would take up a live shell and throw it over the
parapet when the sputtering fuse had burnt down
to near contact with the explosive matter inside it.
That man I call devoid of fear by nature. When
such a . man is exposed to danger, he positively
enjoys the excitement, proportioned by the risk he
is running ; but, on the other hand, I know many
men who inwardly undergo extreme pangs of fear,
and would hate to find themselves exposed to such
catastrophes as I have mentioned above, and yet
would risk their lives calmly, if not cheerfully, pro-
viding that they thought it was their bounden duty
so to do.

In both these instances we will admit that each
■man has done his duty equally well ; but, to my
mind, it is long odds that the timid one is the
iDravest of the twain. Now one word as to the
incentive which urges a soldier to risk his life for
"Queen and Country." We will take the case of
.a man who becomes a soldier simply because he
has nothing much to look forward to (as far as he
is aware). He has no relatives able or willing to
leave him a ten-pound note ; so that man argues, or
is convinced, that, if he can only get the opportunity
.to distinguish himself by "doughty deeds," he will



some day be comfortably off and well rewarded for
his prowess by a grateful country.

On the other hand, take a man who is heir to
large possessions, and perhaps only one aged life
stands between him and the enjoyment of his
wealth : will not the thought of his being prema-
turely cut off by disease or a bullet, or by one of
the many vicissitudes of a campaign, at times cross
his mind and prompt him not to risk his glowing
prospects by needlessly hazarding the life that he
has hoped to enjoy, if he can only return home safe
and sound again ? Let us allow, for the sake of
argument, that both those individuals are equally
plucky ; but yet the poor man has everything to
gain. He goes for the gloves, or, I should say, to
win his spurs, and once won, they mean to a certain
extent a life of ease, if not luxury ; and he must be
but a poor tool if he does not try to do a bit to earn
them. On the other hand, the man with good
expectations is actuated by strong sense of duty
only, and lacks that incentive which urges the other
on to make himself a name.

I fear that some of my readers will scoff at my
feeble powers of reasoning, but I will chance that
and say a few words as to the pleasures of cam-
paigning. I cannot imagine a pleasanter life for
any poor, or even rich, man of sound constitution,


youth, and good animal spirits, than a campaign in
a picturesque and rich country, blessed with a good
climate. My mind reverts at once to the Peninsular
War. What could a man wish for more, than
roaming about such a country as was the scene of
that campaign,* and more especially if, five times
out of six, the army in which he served proved
successful, and opportunity was afforded him of
demonstrating what a good physique allied to pluck,
was capable of carrying him through ?

Now for the other side of the picture, the Crimean
campaign. The young man blessed with the many
advantages previously mentioned — full of energy,
anxious to draw his sword for his country's good,
and fondly hoping that in a month at the most he
will have an opportunity — suddenly discovers that
he is humbugged about between Malta, Scutari, and
the pestilential shores of Varna for six months,
during which time he has never seen an enemy or
smelt powder (as the saying is), and even if he
escapes himself with slight fits of seediness from
time to time, yet he has to experience the horror of
seeing his splendid battalion, well-nigh decimated
with disease of the most virulent and malignant

* I venture to think that some of the old Peninsular men would
hardly agree with Sir John as to that campaign being quite so
enjoyable as he suggests in comparison with the Crimea. — Editor.


form, and with nothing earthly to do to fill up his
time or employ his brain. After a time perhaps he
is fortunate if he finds himself landed at last in the
enemy's country, and at the end of the first week is
regaled with a sharp, short, and decisive battle, in
which, if he has not the luxury of being wounded and
so incapacitated for duty, he has, after a short march
in a sterile country, the privilege of sitting down on
a bare bleak range of rocks, and — if his health
permits his sticking to duty — being exposed day
after day to danger that no pluck can avert, and at
one time chilled to the marrow by frost and snow or
deluged with rain and covered by mud, with nothing
to eat but salt provisions and tinned meats — with
rlittle enough of either — and nothing to drink pos-
sibly, but indifferent rum and green coffee ; his only
protection from the horrors of a Russian climate
being the flimsy shelter afforded by his bell tent. I
have not said a word too much, or exaggerated in
the slightest degree the hardships that my poor
battalion and the army generally, went through
during the winter months of 1854 and '55, in proof of
which I need only state roughly that our losses in the
Crimea, independent of about 3500 men who died
from wounds or were killed in action, was — died by
cholera, upwards of 4000 ; other diseases, upwards of
1 5,000 ; while the French lost altogether close on


41,000 men, and the Russians are supposed to have
suffered to the tune of nearly half a million of men.

When spring and summer came round again, and
the sun once more tried its best to cheer our gallant
little army, its rays beat down on the same arid spot
where the snows of winter had locked us in their icy
embrace ; but to cut the picture of misery short — ■
there sat our army from September, 1854, to Sept-
ember, 1855 ; ^^^ even when our enemy surlily gave
in and moved out of range of our guns still there
we sat for another nine months on that infernal

However, everything comes to an end in this
" vale of tears," and at last this campaign did so too,
and the lucky survivors landed again in " Good Old
England," though their joy was much tempered with
sorrow at the thought of those many loved comrades,
whom we had buried and left behind us in that
detestable Crimea.

As I remarked a few pages back (before I com-
menced to moralise), we disembarked at Portsmouth
on the 6th of July and went by train to Aldershot, a
manoeuvre that I hated ; seeing that I was longing
for the swagger of a triumphant march into London.
However, as soon as we got our accoutrements
straight, we took train to Nine Elms Station, and
had a fine time marching through the London


Streets to Hyde Park, where we were reviewed by
the Duke of Cambridge, in the presence of our good
Queen, and Prince Albert.

We had a very long day, and, as far as I recollect,
did not reach St. George's Barracks till well on to
6 P.M. It was very shortly after this review that I
met Lord Rokeby, who commanded my regiment,
and with one of his pleasant smiles he remarked :
" I suppose you know you will soon have to pass an
examination for your company, as you are first on
the list for the step ? " At first I was a bit staggered,
but, pulling myself together, I replied with consider-
able decision : "Not me, my Lord ; I will leave the
army sooner than be examined. If I do not know
my duty as a soldier, what is the use of active
service ? Besides, I made a vow when I left Oxford
that I would never open that infernal Euclid book
again, and, what is more, I never will ! — so that is

The good old gentleman remonstrated with me,
but without effect ; however, as good luck would
have it, I was fortunate enough to get my company
without the humbug of an examination, and I

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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 18 of 20)