Date: 19 April 1855
Recipient: Grace Fenton
Book: Annie Grace Fenton letter-book, Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum, Bradford

April 19th 1855

Dear Grace

I have had hard work since my last letter and was not able to send any thing by the last post but a lot of photographs which will leave Kamiesh bay on the 13th Hallewell sent you a line, so that I trust you will not be without news. The attack on the Town recommenced on Monday in the midst of a heavy storm of wind and rain. I had been working my way up towards camp at the end of the previous week and intended to have been at Head Quarters by Monday evening, but when I went ashore in the morning, the streets were a regular quagmire & the rain pouring down in such torrents that I saw it would be useless to move the van, so having nothing better to do, I resolved to go up & see the row up in front. I got on my black horse, put my long boots on for the first time & that wonderful waterproof cap & set off over taking several Balaclava acquaintance, who were making manful efforts to struggle through the mud & looking very excited & eager to do or die. Hard work it was for me, well mounted to plough my way up, how the pedestrians fared I will tell you bye & bye. On the top of the hill where the camp is, the driving mist was so think that I lost my way & should not easily have found my it again without the aid of the firing which told me the direction in which I ought to go. We had heard from 5 in the morning the constant fire of heavy guns but the sound was so deadened by the mist & rain it was at first doubted whether the bombardment had actually begun. However there was no mistake about it as I got near. Unfortunately it was so thick that we could scarcely see more than the puffs of smoke from our own batteries. Of the Russian fort I could see only indications through the mist. It had been clearer in the early morning but all day the two parties had been firing almost by guess work. It was getting dark, so I went straight to the 88h found Wray in his tent with Col Maxwell and joined them in discussing a game pie just arrived from Ireland.

Wray got my horse put up close by, with a cloth over him and the sky over that and a bit of a wall to windward as a sketch which you may accept as a likeness of the usual beau ideal of a stable in camp we are more luxurious at Balaclava. [referring to original sketch] You must perceive here that the horse is in a hole, if you dont, it is not the fault of the sketch but of your perceptive faculties. Leaving Wray I went off to Hallewells tent as I wished to spend the night with him. I soon found his tent but no one was in, so I went & roused his servant who on hearing my name said, “Oh! Sir Master’s been expecting you a long time. He said that if you came I was to make you very comfortable. Recommending him to obey his masters orders to the letter while I went inside while he went to tell Hallewell who was dining close by with General Brown. He soon came back with the order to get me some dinner & when I declined it he seemed to consider the attempt to make him neglect his masters orders as an offence & I thought that I really should be obliged to dine again to pacify him. I did however at last convince him that I should manage very well with a bottle of champagne 1 ditto of whisky, & a box of cigars with the latest Gallignani till Hallewells came back. Having arranged all this I sat cozily, now and then stretching my head out of the tent to look at the shells as they wobbled up and down the sky. Once a double shell (2 charges together) came from the Russians. They formed a beautiful exhibition of fireworks especially when they burst just before touching the ground When Hallewell came with his “I say Fenton Old boy how are you?” I was in a comfortable state wishing happiness to every body in general, & to the present company in particular. he being like minded we had a very pleasant evening talking of absent friends. Hallewell grew enthusiastic about the recollections of my studio. Our tête à tête lasted till 1 a.m. only interrupted by an occasional sortie executed by Hallewell when the sound of musketry came rattling up the the valley. his servant had laid for our bed a joint affair, 2 extra planks on the ground, and there were lots of rugs. Hallewell slept in boots and as he lay complemented me upon my beauty as I lay, I thought it as well to do the same.

Next morning early I set off by myself to Cathcart’s hill, the best spot for a general view of the town. Hallewell had gone to the batteries to make his morning report for General Brown’s information, and refused to take me with him. It seemed so far from the town that I was afraid I should see nothing from the hill and therefore turned down, and went down towards Chapmans battery E which is about ½ way between A (Cathcarts hill) & the town, rather nearer the hill though [referring to original sketch] At C there is a lime kiln at which when they first began to burn lime The Russians fired constantly I thought I should get a good sight here but found that being below the line from A to D I must go further and so went down to the hollow of the hill D looking sharp out for the ground is here covered with cannon balls and I took care to keep well behind the hill in going down for I hear by the whir & thud that balls were coming up the ravines on each side. When I got so far the row was so great, I felt quite stunned & I dare not go to the top of the hill D. There was no stop to the awful commotion in the air, the 68 pounders especially almost burst the ears & the shot from them sounded like an express railway train that had broke off the line & lept up into the air. The shot & shell did not disturb me so much as the terrible clangour as if all hell had broke loose, and the legions of Lucifer [we?] fighting in the air. I could only see the Russian redoubts indistinctly. The mist was thick & the smoke hung heavily, but it was easy to see that they were not firing one gun to our four. It must have been uncomfortable enough in their quarters, Seeing that I was afraid I thought it best to go back, & did so feeling a strong inclination to look back & see if any shot were coming. At breakfast Hallewell told me that in the previous days fires the Russians appeared to have suffered little & that in the English batteries only 5 were killed & 7 wounded, He seemed to have small expectations of a successful result & I find this is the general opinion. As it is was raining & foggy & nothing visible of the effects of the fire, I set off home. Hallewell shewed me first a Panorama of the town & country wh he had made for the Queen towards whom he is excessibely loyal expressing frequent wishes that her enemies may be confounded. It is very good indeed and has been I have since heard much admired in the camp (Far [partenthese?]) Sir John Campbell who commands the (4th (?) division told me that if he were ever at the head of an army Hallewell shd be his quarter master general. I hear his praise in every ones mouth.)

On my return to Balaclava. , through the mud to Balaclava, the people that set out to walk were just recovering from their sufferings. One of them had failed in his attempt to climb up slippy [sic] bank on his hands & feet & had wisely returned. The others had had persevered & after much vain search had at 2 in the morning got the shelter of a tent where they lay having feasted on a bit of biscuit trying to sleep in their wet clothes on the sticky floor of the tent. Sparling had to go to bed on his return, and was unable to stir for 2 days. All that week the bombardment continued, we heard it at Balaclava, faint, or loud according to the wind and all sorts of rumours flew about – “That we were to be attacked to night” – “that the Russians had sent out a flag of truce, & wished to surrender” – “That the fleet was to go in” – “That it had been in & blown up Fort Constantine” – “That the Russian batteries were ground to powder” – “That one of ours was all destroyed, & a score of others equally founded in fact[.] Meanwhile I was printing & making preparations for going up to head quarters, sending up my boxes by the rail, & looking after a site for my tent.

On Friday I pitched my tent & got many of my things arranged there, The artillery had lent me six horses to drag the van up the hill[.] At the railway depot on the top I took up as many boxes as the springs of the carriage would bear. When the tent was pitched, I went to present a letter I had written to Lord Raglan asking for a soldier as servant, & while there, there came a sound of music anything but harmonious from the other side of a small valley across which lives Col. Adye. We saw it was the vanguard of Omar Pasha’s army which had just landed at Kamiesch [sic] every body turned out to see them except Lord Raglan & soon we were all by Col Adye’s house watching them march past. They went past in good order by battallions & regiments, the staff at the head of the 1st Regiment which had a band playing European music with moderate success. The men were fine Athletic fellows well dressed & armed as they came up to where we were all standing each band struck up, & sometimes the strain was so ludicrous that it was greeted with a general smile. It was very beautiful to see them wending over the hill side, column after column appearing over the ridge, their bayonets flashing in the light & the officers prancing past on showily caparisoned Arabian horses. The Artillery went along the road below, and in a very good state it seemed, altogether about 18,000 men pas’d & then came a host of baggage, horses, and stragglers. They made a very favourable impression upon every one. On going home at night their tents were whitening the hills on the ridge overlooking Balaclava & their sentries had replaced the French along the lines of defence in that part. Next day 9,000 more passed but this lot were Egyptians & all coffee coloured they also were fine men, but had such a strong scent of “pig stye”, that nobody liked to venture too near them. Finding that I could get no answer to my applications about a servant, I resolved to go out at once to the front, & take Sebastopol. Col Adye got me horses, & I took the view of the rear of Cathcarts hill, to be out of the sight of the Russians, not that there is any danger of their, hitting it but it might draw their fire & so somebody in the neighbourhood get hit[.] On the way I met general Barnard who asked me to dine with him the next day. At Cathcarts hill, Sir John Campbell commands the division, & I had received a message from him offering assistance if I wd come there, so I presented myself to him at once, told him my difficulties about a servant & was immediately invited to take up my quarters with him. Meanwhile said he, come down and take a glass of sherry & he led the way into a hole in the ground a natural cavern wh he found & took possession of just before the storm of the 14h of November. I tried to take a picture of the town, but the day though fine was hazy & I could not succeed, I took some nice groups however & some portraits, one of the General sitting at the door of his tent

At 7 we sat down in the cavern to dinner the general his aide’s, Capts. Hume, Snodgrass, & Capt Layard , a brother of the traveller & a very comfortable party & jolly picture we made, a huge barrel of beer in one corner & the arms stuck into nooks in the rock giving us the look of a party of smugglers. There was a not novelty at dinner, a salad, & what do you think it was made of – give it up? – Dandelion leaves – very good it was with oil & vinegar. Sir John gave me his marquee to sleep on [sic] & I could not have picked out a choicer residence. It is about 200 yards nearer the town than any of the other tents & on the slope towards it so that as I lay in bed with the door open I could see the fire I forgot to say that after my work was done I resolved to go down & have a look at from the hill which I had flanked a day or two before. I got ensconced behind a bit [sic] stone & laid my glass on the top & began to look for the damage done to the Russian batteries by our fire, I had a good survey, found that the banks of earth of which they were contructed were much shattered, that in some places 2 embrasures were knocked into one, but from the fire kept up by them, there was no appearance of the guns being dismounted. I had forgotten all about my former alarms in the interest of the examination, when still intent on my observations I was startled by a long whirr, just over my head. Before I could duck the ball was bounding up the hill behind, kicking up earth & stones, I found the only damage I got was a scratch on the forehead, in my eagerness to humble myself[.] I waited a bit longer keeping a better look out for the puffs of smoke from the Russians & then feeling a strong desire to go & see what they were doing in the batteries in front of me, I walked down the point of the hill & had the satisfaction of seeing several balls & 2 shells go by, most of them striking a little to my left. In the battery I was very comfortable for the wall sheltered me, only it struck me as a queer sensation to hear the balls thumping into the earth against wh one was leaning & to hear others come topping the rampart & whistling over head. I have a pass for the Trenches so was not turned out or put under arrest. In chatting with the officer in command I was rather amused (being conscious of my own trepidation of spirit) to hear him say that he had watched me coming down the hill to see if I wd hurry my pace when the balls passed, & that I had not shown any signs of noticing them. I did not undeceive him. There was a sailor lying wounded in the battery & during a lull in the fire, they put him on a stretcher & 2 sailors carried him up the hill. They got ½ way when the fire began again, & it was very droll to see them stagger to one side whenever the whistle of a shot came near[.] The officers in command offered to bet that if a shell dropped near them, they wd drop their burden & run & that the wounded man too wd get on his legs & follow. They got up safe. When I thought it time to go back, a young officer volunteered to shew me a place on the hill near where I might sit in safety & watch[.] We set off at full speed up the hill & were not long in getting into the indicated stop [sic] I find it is much worse to walk away from fire than fronting it. I felt a strong inclination to look over my shoulder to see if any thing was coming. Next night I dined with Genl Barnard, but this will do for this letter as it is a fine day & I am going to take a field day of General Pennefathers division. It will be a month yet before I have done here. I get on so slowly & there is so much to do. – good Bye, kisses to my bairns, best love to yourself

R Fenton

I have just got your letter about Joe’s boy. I am right glad to hear of it especially as he has made such an appeal to my love & care as to present himself on my birthday.