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To which Mrs Harkness exclaimed : ' Is this you, Agnes ?' and
burst into tears. Ever after this little incident, they lived, although
soon destined to part, on the most friendly and affectionate terms.

Now commenced the active career of our heroine. Hitherto, her
life had exhibited nothing remarkable, although in the biography of
individuals the lustre of after-deeds frequently reflects back an interest
on incidents which are in themselves common-place. The gallant
94th, which had returned from the East Indies in 1807, was, in 1810,
again ordered for foreign service. On the morning of the i8th
January of that year, Sergeant Reston and his wife embarked with
the regiment at St Aubin, Jersey, where they had been stationed for
some time before ; and after two or three weeks' sailing, arrived
safely at Lisbon. The men were immediately landed, but the
women and children were detained on board ship until suitable
barracks had been provided in the convent of St Domingo, in the
vicinity of the town. The regiment was soon after ordered on a
secret expedition, and the women and children, with the baggage,
were removed to Bellona, about four miles distant. Here the latter
remained for seven weeks, when they were ordered to join the
regiment at Cadiz. Mrs Reston, both when along with the regiment,



and when left behind with the baggage, was continually employed in
washing and dressing, attending some of the officers' ladies, or in
nursing the sick. No toil was too great for her no duty too
onerous ; and an opportunity soon occurred for the display of those
still higher qualities which have given her an honourable although
humble niche in the military annals of her country.

On arriving at Cadiz, Mrs Reston learned that her husband, along
with a detachment of his fellow-soldiers, had been sent to man the
fort at Matagorda. Determined if possible to share the utmost
perils to which he might be exposed, she, with one or two other
women, obtained permission to proceed thither. Her youngest
child then an infant had to be taken along with her ; and she
graphically describes her approach in an open boat to the small and
isolated fort, and the hearty reception which they received from her
husband and the other soldiers. On the morning of the 2ist April
1810, the fire of forty-eight guns and mortars of the largest size was
concentrated by the enemy upon the little garrison.* It may easily
be conceived what havoc was caused by so much artillery playing
upon a place not more than a hundred yards square. The stoutest
hearts must have quailed at the carnage which ensued ; and few
women could have preserved the full use of their faculties amid the
scene. Mrs Reston, however, remained in the midst of the danger,
and conducted herself with the coolest courage. The bomb-proof
portions of the fort being too confined to contain the whole of the
garrison, some of the men had huts placed on the battery. One of
these formed Sergeant Reston's quarters. The following narration
of the terrible scene which ensued, and of the heroic fortitude
displayed by the humble Scottish matron, is from a work published
in Edinburgh in 1838, entitled Recollections of the Eventful Life of
a Soldier, by the late Sergeant Dpnaldson of the 94th Regiment :

' When the French opened their fearful fire, he was at his post ;
but his wife was awakened from her sleep by a twenty-four pound
shot, which passed through the hut, striking the fascine on which
her head lay, but doing no injury to the inmates. Nothing daunted,
she got up, removed her child a boy four years old within the
bomb-proof, and repaired to the surgeon's quarters (within another
bomb-proof), to assist him in supplying the wants of the wounded
men. These increased so rapidly, that she tore up not only her own
linen, but that of her husband, which she fetched from the hut
amidst the destructive fire. Water being needed, one of the drum-
boys was desired to go and draw some from the well in the centre
of the battery ; but he did not seem much inclined to the task, and
was lingering at the door with the bucket dangling in his hand.
" Why don't you go for the water ?" asked the surgeon. " The poor
thing is frightened," said Mrs Reston ; " and no wonder at it. Give

* Napier's History of the Peninsular War.


it to me, and I '11 go for it." So saying, she relieved the drummer
from the perilous duty, and, amid the dreadful discharge of artillery
playing on the battery, she let down the vessel to fill it with water.
She had scarcely done so when the rope was cut by a shot ; but she
determined to get the object of her errand with her, and, begging
the assistance of a sailor, she recovered the bucket, and brought it,
filled with water, down to the bomb-proof, where her attention to the
wounded soldiers was beyond all praise. At intervals she carried
sand-bags to the battery, handed along ammunition, and supplied
the men at the guns with wine and water ; and when the two other
women (who had been in hysterics in one of the bomb-proofs from
the time the action commenced) were leaving the battery, she refused
to go. Next morning, our ammunition being nearly expended, we
ceased firing, and the French, seeing the dilapidated state of the
fort, sent down a strong force to take possession of the place. O,ur
men were mustered for their reception, and Mrs Reston was at her
post with the others, determined to share in the danger. It was a
critical moment ; for, had they got under range of our guns, our
efforts would have been unavailing. Three guns, all that we could
bring to bear on them, were crammed with grape, ball-cartridge, &c.
to the muzzle, ready for a farewell shot ; and when they came within
two or three hundred yards of the fort, we poured their contents into
the very heart of the column, and laid half of them prostrate on the
earth. Those who survived took to flight. Their batteries again
opened on us, and a fresh supply of ammunition having arrived for
us, we returned their salute. The place, however, being found
untenable, the surviving part of the garrison was withdrawn by the
boats of the fleet. Mrs Reston still exhibited the same undaunted
spirit. She made three different journeys across the battery for
her husband's necessaries and her own. The last was for her
child, who was lying in the bomb-proof. I think I see her yet,'
while the shot and shell were flying thick around her, bending her
body over it to shield it from danger by the exposure of her own

Sergeant Donaldson was probably not aware, or at all events has
omitted to state, that the child in her arms actually received a slight
wound on the neck on the occasion a circumstance which shews in
a striking manner the imminent peril in which both were placed, and
the hairbreadth escape which they sustained.

Mrs Reston remained in Spain and Portugal till 1814 ; and that
she did not afterwards take part in the more prominent events of the
campaign, was solely in consequence of an order which had been
issued forbidding women to be present at engagements. In all the
arduous duties, however, of a soldier's wife, her self-possession and
untiring energy were in constant requisition ; and the faculties of
her naturally strong mind were continually exerted to alleviate the
sufferings which she was no longer permitted to share. Sergeant


Reston was present at most of the engagements in the Peninsula,
and at the close of the war returned to this country with his heroic
wife and children. He landed with the regiment at Cork in July
1814, and in January 1815 removed to Glasgow, where he was
discharged on a pension of is. io^d. a day, having been in the army
upwards of twenty-two years.

Sergeant Donaldson's narrative was, we believe, the first published
account of Mrs Reston's heroism. The circumstance which called it
forth affords another instance of her undaunted disposition. A few
years after the siege of Matagorda, Sergeant Donaldson's regiment
was quartered at Kilkenny, in Ireland. A musician from a militia
regiment had been engaged by the officers to teach the band.
Though an excellent performer, he was of an overbearing temper. A
son of Mrs Reston was, unfortunately for himself, a member of the
band ; and his application to, and talents for music were so great
that he appeared likely to outdo his teacher. This roused the band-
master's jealousy ; and as the discipline of the army demands the
strictest obedience to a superior, so it is in the power of that superior,
if he be an unamiable person, to inflict incessant torments upon
those under him complaint against which seldom produces redress.
In this manner young Reston's life was rendered scarcely endurable,
and finally he deserted, taking his passage from Dublin to Glasgow.
His father had by this time retired on a well-earned pension, upon
which he lived with his wife in the latter city. The old sergeant,
who knew the necessity of implicit obedience to military discipline,
could not palliate his son's desertion ; and the wife, as much a
soldier in heart as her husband, urged the young man, as the only
means of atoning for his fault, to rejoin his regiment To this the
deserter consented, and he returned with his mother to Kilkenny,
she actually giving him up to his commanding-officer. Young
Reston was, at her earnest intercession, pardoned, and recommenced
duty; 'but,' to use Donaldson's words, 'the spirit of his oppressor
was in no way altered he took every opportunity of provoking him.
Reston's feelings were keen in the extreme ; but he suffered patiently
for a length p? time ; until one morning, when the regiment was
going out to drill, provoked beyond measure by taunts and insults,
he replied in terms that were construed into something resembling
mutiny. This was immediately reported by the fellow who had
exasperated him ; the consequence was, that he was tried by a court-
martial on the field, and punished. He did not receive more than
twenty-five lashes when he fainted, and was taken down : his back
was little hurt, but the scourge had entered his soul he never
recovered it.' He earnestly entreated his parents to procure his dis-
charge, and they made the necessary application at head-quarters ;
but, on being referred, it was resisted by the commander of the
regiment. Seeing this, Mrs Reston with that energy of character
which, when occasion required, she had always evinced travelled to


London, and petitioned the Duke of York, at that time commander-
in-chief, for her son's discharge ; urging her own services as a claim
upon the indulgence of the authorities. The usual routine, however^
could not be departed from ; the second petition was in due course
forwarded for the consideration of the young man's colonel, was
again resisted, and finally refused at head-quarters. Thus poor
Mrs Reston, having taken her long journey to no purpose, returned
to Glasgow with her mission unfulfilled. What was worse, her son
driven to despair, and seeing no hope of relief from the oppression
to which he was subjected again deserted. Only two letters were
received from him towards the close of 1818. They were dated Vene-
zuela, South America, and were full of expressions of deep contrition
for the disgrace alleged to have been brought on his parents by his
conduct. In one of these he alluded to his having been at school in
Lisbon ; and although faulty in composition, they evinced some taste
for literature. After stating that he had three Spanish dollars a day
as master of a band, he said : ' We have very fine quarters, and
little to do. In fine, this is the situation most agreeable to me.
Here I can fish, hunt, &c. without any licence, and music and poetry
are my chief delights.'

In his second letter, he proceeded in the same strain of regret
regarding the past, and said : ' Pray you, let me be spoken of as I

" Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice."

If I have erred, it has been more from want of judgment than an evil
propensity. I am positive, if you ever meet with any of my acquaint-
ances in the 94th, there is not a man who will ever say anything
detrimental to my character.

' Adieu ! may the blessings of Providence ever wait upon you, and
may smiling plenty ever crown your board ! Oft as I sit beneath
the shade of the banana or cocoa-nut tree, my heart steals out a sigh
for home.'

Home, however, he was never destined to reach, nor is it probable
that he ever made the attempt. If he had, what kind of home would
he have found? A cheerless and poverty-stricken hearth the
reward of a heroism on the part of a humble sergeant's wife which
had won the applause of brave men, and struck frail women with
an astonishment bordering on unbelief. Upon the death of her
husband, Mrs Reston was left entirely destitute. Her parents were
both dead. She had two sons in this country, one at Staly bridge,,
near Manchester, and the other in Glasgow ; but as neither was in
circumstances to render her permanent assistance, however willing
they were to do so, she preferred relying on her own exertions,
hoping that the small pension enjoyed by her husband would have
been continued to her. She applied to the Duke of York for that


purpose ; but again official formality stood in her way. His Royal
Highness took an interest in her application, but was at length
obliged to return for answer that there was no fund out of which
the desired pension could be paid. The fortitude, however, which
had braved the thunders of the French cannon at Matagorda did
not forsake her amid the menaces of a pauper's fate in the country
she had so nobly served. She resided at this time in Main Street,
Gorbals, and continued to support herself by various domestic
employments, besides acting at times as a nurse for the sick.
Having removed in 1834 to another house near the harbour, she
not long afterwards met with an accident, whereby her right arm
was so much injured as to unfit her for her usual occupations. In
these circumstances, the poor-house was her only resource ; and
accordingly, on the I2th of October 1835, the heroine of Mata-
gorda was admitted into the Glasgow town's hospital, although,
from the intercession of some friends, more in the capacity of a
nurse than as a common pauper. Notwithstanding that she never
fully recovered the use of her arm, her activity and general useful-
ness frequently attracted the attention of visitors, and excited
inquiry into her remarkable history. In spite, however, of Ser-
geant Donaldson's narrative which was corroborated and quoted
in Colonel Napier's History of the Peninsular War Mrs Reston's
claims to some reward for her heroic services would not in all
probability have been revived, but for the ever-watchful vigilance of
the public press. An intelligent correspondent of the Glasgow
Citizen, in one of his occasional visits to the town's hospital,
accidentally had Mrs Reston pointed out to him, and obtained from
her own lips a narrative of her exploits at Matagorda, which he
published in that paper for August 12, and which coincides exactly
with Donaldson's account. An equally interesting notice was put
forth in the Times of September 5, from a correspondent signing
himself ' Civilis.' 'Not very long since,' he says, 'the writer of
these lines happened, entering Glasgow as a visitor, to be abruptly
consigned to the doctor's hands in a most serious illness a fever.
Being a stranger at his hotel, amid strangers, a nurse was sent by
his medical adviser, to remain in constant attendance upon him.
This was an old but hale and quietly cheerful woman, whose
singular vigilance and zealous kindliness, during a fortnight of severe
trial, excited his surprise, admiration, and gratitude. She slept in
the same chamber with him, and at any moment of the night, the
slightest indication of uneasiness on his part was sufficient, notwith-
standing frequent remonstrances, to bring her eagerly to his bedside
with every soothing inquiry. Her own rest she unreservedly sacri-
ficed. This was not the conduct of an ordinary hireling : that it
was the result of strong native generosity of soul, was proved by the
thankfulness with which, when her task was completed, she received
what was assuredly but a very moderate remuneration for her services.


Having expressed surprise to her at the recklessness with which she
broke up her hours of rest, the old woman with a smile, mingled
with something of sadness, alluded to the fact of her having been
the wife of a soldier in the hardships of war, from which she had
been taught to encounter the rough visitations of life with patience,
and, moreover, to feel strongly for those whom sickness or the
accidents of the field threw into the wards of the hospital. This
naturally was followed by inquiry respecting her campaigning,
which drew forth a narrative, clearly and unaffectedly told, of the
troubles and adventures she had encountered as the wife of Sergeant
Reston, of the 94th Regiment, throughout much of the Peninsular

One of the first acts of ' Civilis,' after his recovery, was the grateful
one of making the heroine of Matagorda better known to the public
than she had hitherto been, and to urge on a subscription, by which
she might be able to end her days in more peaceful comfort than she
could enjoy as an hospital nurse. A notice of her case also appeared
in Chambers' s Journal of 7th October 1843 > an d several private
subscriptions, amounting to between 20 and ^30, were received
on her behalf. Ultimately, a committee, consisting principally of
military men, and in which Colonel Gurwood took an active part,
was formed in London; and the result was, that contributions to
the amount of about 210 were received, including 10 from her
Majesty, a similar sum from the Marquis of Lansdowne, and several
liberal subscriptions from the officers of the regiment in which
Sergeant Reston had served. Out of this sum, .196, 15^. $d. was
paid for an annuity of 30.

Mrs Reston was of small stature, and slight ladylike figure. Her
features were fine, her manner extremely dignified and self-possessed,
and her address excellent. She had a remarkably retentive memory,
considerable powers of description, and a lively ready wit. She was
apparently a great favourite in the hospital, a large airy building
standing on a high ground at the north side of the city, and she
joked pleasantly of inviting, some day or other, a large tea-party
of her friends, ' now that she had come to her fortune.' It is
gratifying to reflect that a woman, possessing such claims on the
admiration and gratitude of her country, had at length met with
some substantial acknowledgment, however tardy, of her services,
and that she was at least placed securely above the reach of want
for the remainder of her days.




THE following simple sketch from real life has been handed to us
in the form of a letter by a lady of our acquaintance, and cannot
fail to be appreciated by all who hold real and unostentatious virtue
in respect.

' In mentioning in a late communication to you the death of our
estimable friend Hannah Muir, in the town of Peebles, I think I
promised to give you a short sketch of her history and character,
leaving you to form your own opinion of her merits. I only regret
that the task has fallen to one who is so utterly incapable of doing
it justice. In thus commemorating, as it were, the virtues of the
deceased, I am actuated solely by a desire of impressing you with
a similar veneration for her memory to that by which I feel myself
influenced. Her history is not marked by one striking incident
throughout, but it has its passages of simple yet melancholy interest,
and to these I would now refer. Her father, Adam Muir, who
followed the profession of a woollen-weaver, was remarked, in the
country town in which he lived, as of a particularly pious disposi-
tion ; and brought up his family, consisting of a son and daughter,
with similar views, setting before them at all times a worthy example
of Christian faith and practice. I am sorry to say that the son did
not profit by either the precepts or example of his father ; and after
some years spent in thoughtlessness and folly, he ran off to Edin-
burgh, where he enlisted in a foot-regiment, at that time beating up
for recruits to send abroad. This blow almost broke the hearts
of his distressed relatives, and it was long before they recovered
from its effects. Hannah, however, grew up to comfort them, and
by her meek and gentle spirit, gained the love and respect of the
whole town. In person she was slight and well formed, and was
always remarkable for the extreme neatness and tidiness of her
dress; and in whatever way she was employed, or however dirty
the work in which she might be engaged, she was observed to be
in herself the perfection of cleanliness and order.

' It is not to be supposed that a person possessing these qualifica-
tions was to remain long without admirers of the opposite sex ;
indeed, Hannah had lovers not a few, and from amongst the number
she selected one who was approved of by all her relations as a
person in every respect suited to her, and from whose steadiness and
prudence there was every reason to hope that he would be to her an
excellent husband. By trade he was a cotton-weaver, and could earn
from twenty to thirty shillings per week (this was in the palmy days
of handloom weaving), an income sufficient to justify his taking upon
himself the responsibility of a house and wife. These two excellent


persons were married, and commenced housekeeping at a short
distance from the town. To all appearance, they had the elements
of comfort and happiness around them, and for some months all
went on well ; but when the winter set in, their house was found
to be both cold and damp, and the consequence of this was soon
apparent in their being both attacked by rheumatic fever of the
most virulent kind. They were in a great measure cut off from the
attentions which the poor on such occasions of distress manifest
towards each other, by being at some distance from neighbours, and
it was resolved that they should both be removed into the town
Hannah to her father's house, and the husband to the house of his
mother. Accordingly, they were conveyed in a cart ; and on the
street, in the midst of their sympathising friends, they parted from
each other, never, alas ! to meet again on this side of the grave.
After a few months of excruciating distress, the husband died, while
Hannah was unable, from her own sufferings, to minister to the
comfort of his last moments. There were affectionate and consoling
messages transmitted through the medium of their friends and
neighbours daily nay, towards the close of his life, almost
hourly and these had a soothing effect upon the mind of poor

'A few weeks after the death of her husband, she gave birth to a
son ; and under circumstances so mournful and trying, you will say
that she needed more than earthly support. This was not withheld ;
for, under all her sufferings, she was never heard to murmur a
complaint. Her health after this event became much better, and in
a short time she was able to leave her bed, and to attend to the
wants of her little boy. Her father soon after died ; and the good
Hannah, unwilling that she and her child should be a burden upon
her mother, resolved to commence doing something towards the
support of the little household. Accordingly, with what little capital
she could command, she established a small shop, which was sup-
ported by those who took an interest in her family; and by this
means she was able not only to maintain and educate her son, but
also to keep her mother, who was in all respects as estimable as her

' I do not know if you remember Hannah's establishment. The
house which she inhabited with her mother and son was one in a
line of thatched buildings of a single story in height, and rather
low in point of situation to be either airy or very salubrious. Until
some repairs were latterly made, the habitation consisted of only
two apartments, a but and a ben, the inner room being separated
from the hallan, as in old Scottish cottages, by a couple of square
wooden beds, between which the passage to the interior was
conducted. In this inner apartment the family ate and slept, and
at the same time sufficient space was afforded at one end to carry
on the business of the shop. This mixture of domestic life with

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 7 of 58)