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from the Journal of a Subaltern's Wife written in Canada during the years
1812,1813, and 1814
Personal accounts by British or Canadian women who witnessed the War of 1812 are rare. In three decades of research, I have only uncovered about a dozen and, for this reason, it was with great delight that I came across a personal memoir by the wife of a junior officer on the British army. It was apparently sent to William ("Tiger") Dunlop in Scotland in the 1820s and can be found in the Dunlop Papers in Manuscript Group 24 of the National Archives.
The author does not identify herself and the initials with which she signed the covering note to Dunlop that introduces the memoir that follow are indecipherable as is much of her very neat but very stylized handwriting. What little can be gleaned about the author is that she was a young English woman who had only recently married and had a child under the age of a year. Although she refers to her husband as Charles Maund, this is probably an attempt to disguise his true identity as no officer of that name served in the British army in North America during the War of 1812. There was a Lieutenant Colonel John Maule who was deputy assistant quarter master general at Burlington and Kingston but the events described below do not correspond with what is known about his activities.
There is, however, some internal evidence within the memoir that indicates that the author's husband belonged to the 104th Foot and that he was Lieutenant Alexander Campbell but a positive identification is not possible at this time. As the memoir opens, the author, her husband and their infant daughter Tilly, arrive at Kingston in June 1814. Donald E. Graves
The evening was just leaving us when our little party marched into Kingston. An officer of the quarter master general's department met us a few miles from the town and returned with us. He said that the tents belonging to our flank companies that had been embarked for the frontier that day had been left standing with all their camp furniture in expectation of being of service and offered to escort us to the spot. Charles asked me whether I would prefer taking my chance for a night and a day in a tent or remaining in the waggon until he could dispose of the men and return to find a lodging for us. I was quite charmed with the alternative and declared for the tent.
...... and so we took possession of our tent by the light of a brilliant moon -- can you imagine anything more delightful or novel than there being at the end of a long day's journey in a very crowded waggon. I could not tear myself away from the door of my tent for hours. The encampment was on a quiet delivity sheltered from the winds by a green hill covered by a magnificent forest and before was the calm expanse of water in the Harbour, reflecting in the moonbeams, and all around us the snow white canvas tents with the bustling soldiers assembling their campfires for cooking their suppers, or resting on the grass, or posting sentinels. It was a beautiful scene and I enjoyed it thoroughly, fortunately without any presentiment of the change which was approaching.
We opened our provision basket, our kettle was boiled and our camp table spread and never did two lighter or happier hearts join in thanksgiving for the blessings of good shelter and rest. We were soon sound asleep, Tilly as usual in her little crib which we always carried with us.
Toward morning we were awakened by the sound of a deluge of rain which pounded steadily for several hours without penetrating our canvas roof but at length began to descend in a sort of mist and made everything we had found so comfortable the night before damp and wretched.
Charles left us as soon as the day dawned to ascertain if there was any chance to secure Tilly and myself better quarters in town. The rain continued in torrents and my possessions were well soaked through altho' I managed to have another spare tent brought and spread over ours by some of the men and then almost suffocated Tilly and me by a large fire of coals which succeeded in drying our cloathes and the walls of the tent so that by the time Charles returned we were rather warm and in no danger of suffering from exposure.
"We are not to travel today" was the first announcement I heard on the return of my Husband. I did not express any disappointment nor ask any questions but knew that he had something more to say and waited for information until he would be pleased to communicate it. He made some very flattering remarks on my arrangements and expressed a great deal of appreciation of all I had done and a great deal of confidence in what I could do but still for some time said nothing of what was uppermost in his mind and I began to feel a little angry and at last said, "If you have any reason to keep up my spirits, I would ask no questions but do not look so excessively important without letting me know that there is some reason for it. I am resigned to anything."
My husband laughed and said that he had gone to the General in the morning to report himself and receive his orders, that it was so arranged that we should embark for the Frontier in our Gunboats that were to make a coasting voyage along the shore but that in the course of his interview with the General something had occurred which altered this arrangement. It appeared that there was a small schooner to be sent off in the Evening on an expedition the object of which was of very great importance to the garrison. If the expedition was successful it would return to Kingston but if it failed it would go on to Niagara if circumstances would admit. An old officer belonging to the Commissariat had been in recent conversation on this subject (the object of the expedition being concerned with his Department) with the General when Charles was admitted, he expressed a wish that he might be furnished with a party of twenty reliable followers and he would go with them himself and stake his life and repuation on success. Charles had at once volunteered himself and his party and his wishes had been accepted.
"I knew you would not blame me, dear Heart," said he, "and yet I felt I acted cruelly in undertaking to leave you and Tilly friendless and alone as you will be in this strange Land." My heart beat quickly for a few moments but I managed to reply that he had done exactly what was incumbent upon him under the circumstances and that we must do our best.
After a little consultation it seemed there was a possibility that the schooner might go on to Niagara and he would be on board with his whole party. He consented to [illegible] if I could smuggle Tilly and myself on board and take my chances with him. Our being there, as we thought, could do no injury to the public service and the risque and discomfort would be all our own and balanced against reputation and the various expenses in securing us a lodging, if he could get them, the alternative of going or staying was not long in being decided in my mind. ...... If I succeeded in getting aboard no one could interfere with Mr. Maund and that the General had expressed great approbation of his conduct and had thanked him repeatedly and the old Commissariat officer had been very warm in his expressions on the subject. He felt satisfied that he had done his duty as a soldier though as a Husband and a Father he had his doubts whether he had any business to incur any risque that was not strictly in the "way of business."
The rain ceased in the middle of the day and the sun looked out from the black clouds as Charles marched his little detachment to the place of embarkation. Our travelling bags were already on board and with Tilly in my arms I followed at a short distance, not wishing to make myself conspicuous as I would have been had I kept with the party. This, thought I, is one of the consequences for which I thought myself quite prepared. The moment was approaching when I must either be separated from my Husband or take my chances with him in [on an] actual perilous mission. It is exactly what I expected and wished and I tried to think it very exhilarating and kept up my spirits and my courage by talking to Tilly and telling here as we walked what a Hero and Heroine she had for a Papa and Mama and what a fearless girl she ought to be with such an example of valour.
I was obliged to recall all my resolutions never to be let an expression of alarm or discontent pass my lips under any possible extremity when I saw the little sloop in which I was to embark not only my own life and fortune but all heads that I could boast in the world. It was extremely small, there was no cabin but a sort of dark round tunnel under which a dozen inadvertently sized persons might creep for shelter in stiff weather. It had an old and crazy look and the single mast was swaying and creaking in the wind although it was not yet violent, the sun too had disappeared and the clouds were ominous of tempest. The evening was fast approaching. The craft seemed already crowded with soldiers and their arms, no prospect of quarter deck privileges for any of the party.
In spite of this discouraging appearance I was resolved not to flinch from my determination never if I could help it to be separated from my Husband. Indeed there seemed no easy tempting alternative for ... I did not know a single human being in the garrison, we were so suddenly leaving. I depended upon my own courage and [illegible words] with sufficient conviction never to feel ashamed that Charles would find his wife a troublesome appendage and it was an object with me to habituate him to my being with him without allowing him to feel my presence a burdensome impossibility.
Influenced by these notions which every woman can or ought to feel, I suppressed the momentary conviction to "turn the white feather" and putting my plaid mantle closely round little Tilly I quickly stept on board without raising any objections from any one so that the first glance of my Husband looking for us found me seated very comfortably in a corner of the deck upon a pile of greatcoats which I had arranged for my own accomodation. From seeing there was an expression of dismay on his countenance which he endeavoured to turn off with a laugh to which I responded rather in the same part. No one spoke to us but I heard in reply to a question the words, "Sure, it is our Captain's lady, God help him" in a tone of commiseration.
My worst fear for myself was unfortunately realized for just as I was trying to persuade myself that noone would interfere with us, the old commissary came on board accompanied by a young naval officer who it appeared was to command the sloop and the expedition. Mr. T_____, the commissary, was a very old gentleman whose views had been heard long before that it was necessary to get out of the Harbour before it was dark. His glance fell upon us as I sat crouching on the pile of greatcoats and making myself as small as I could in the hope of escaping observation.
"Hallo, what the devil have we here?" was his first exclamation. "Maund, sergeants, corporals, yay, hello! here is a woman on board ... walk off Madam, if you please, who in the name of wonder brought you here or gave you leave to come."
"I am here with my husband," was my reply.
"Your husband! My goodness are you a mad woman to talk of Husbands and think of following them in an affair as this. Walk off, Madam, go on home and thank your stars that I found you before it was too late."
Charles, who had just come on board, having gone on shore for biscuits for his men, came to my rescue and very ceremoniously presented "Mrs. Maund, my wife" to Mr. T. and said that we really had no choice but to bring me as we had not a single friend in the country and had been encamped for four and twenty hours of torrential rain in Kingston and I was accustomed of late to fatigue and exposure in my life and he would trust us to meet them without complaining
"It might be all very true," Mr. T____ said, "but at present there is but one course to pursue, she must go on shore without a moment's delay and there is no time to argue about it." The service on which they were going was not likely to be very Lady like and I was stark mad and so was my Husband fit for Bedlam for thinking of such a thing.
I now thought to try the aspect of my pretty face which I have sometimes found a very powerful ally when all other means failed so I thereon gave the old gentleman the full benefit of my most insinuating smile while I pleaded for permission to stay where I was. I gained however only a small measure of success, he offered me his arm very decidedly and cleared off to place a hand on the other side and seeing that there was no alternative, I gave up the point with as good a grace as I could and requested him to have my travelling bag put on shore as well as I myself. Charles was more distressed than I was but I assured him that situated in point of comfort and security on shore was perhaps better and that he need not fear my taking good care both of myself and Tilly. We had small time to sentimentalize over this our first separation for in a very few minutes the sloop had glided from the wharf and I saw a look of agony from my Husband which made my heart feel for him much more than for myself.
Even as the Woodpecker was fairly under weigh I began to resort to a habit which I have tried to acquire of looking my fate full in the face with a view to seeing the worst and making the best of it, though my cheerfulness ... had hitherto been exerted without the supporting calm of my Husband. ...... We were separated for the first time. I would not let myself possibly think how long it would be before we were to meet again but I did not and would not despair. ...... My innocent child still sleeping quietly in my arms, so far from adding weight to my anxieties seemed only a pledge that her Mother would not be disconsolate ...
Standing under the growing clouds of a stormy evening on a wharf crowded with soldiers and Sailors with baggage and myself the only female in sight and my poor child sleeping in my arms and the only human being upon whom I had depended now flying from us toward the wild Lakes in a vessel which seemed clearly incapable of weathering the coming tempest, I stood still for a moment watching the receding sail of the Woodpecker, trying to collect my thoughts and decide what next was to be done.
[to be continued]