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AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL JOURNAL Of JOHN MACDONALD
Part III


Just at that time Sir George Augustus Eliott, Governor of Gibraltar, wanted a butler, the old man who served him formerly in that capacity being quite infirm and superannuate; and I being well recommended to the governor by his steward, [His steward was a Captain Mackay, as Macdonald afterwards informs us.] with whom I was intimately acquainted, was immediately hired to come to the family as soon as I had passed the Board. On the 15th November 1785 all the discharged men were put on board the "Admiral Parker" and "Jane" transports, and sailing that same day for England landed at Portsmouth on the 7th December, after riding six days’ quarantine at Mother-Bank. After four days’ stay at Portsmouth, I set out for London, where I arrived on the 12th December. On the 22nd I passed the Board, and on the 6th of January 1786 I received my first pension.

Gibralter from the Spanish coast

Having settled my little business in London, I waited very impatiently for a ship for Gibraltar till the 6th of February, and that day went on board the "Mercury," Captain Stocker, which sailed down the River Thames and landed at Gibraltar on the 13th of March, after a tedious and dangerous passage of five weeks. Immediately after landing I was joyfully received by my friend, Mr Mackay the steward, and on the 17th March entered on the office of butler to General Eliott, in which station I continued during his lifetime.

About the beginning of May 1787 General O’Hara arrived from England to take the command of the garrison of Gibraltar, General Eliott being then called home. The "Mercury," Captain Stocker, being then in the bay, was hired to take the governor and his family home; and having been fitted out for that purpose and everything got on board, General O’Hara took the command on the 29th May, while General Eliott embarked that same day at the New Mole, and setting sail immediately we were out of sight of Gibraltar in a few hours. When we got out to sea the general turned sea-sick and went below to his cabin, where he continued during the rest of the passage. We had a very pleasant passage, arriving at Spithead on the 17th of June and the day following came into Portsmouth harbour, where the general and his retinue landed and proceeded to London, I being ordered to go round with the ship and baggage to the River Thames. Accordingly, on the 23rd June we sailed from Portsmouth, and on the 28th arrived at Horsley Down, but we landed none of the baggage until the 7th of July on account of the press of business at the Custom House. Having got all that baggage, &c., examined and passed at the Custom House, I was ordered to land, and then went to the general’s house at No. 21 Charles Street, Berkley Square.

On the 6th July 1787 General Eliott was created Lord Heathfield, and took his seat in the House of Peers accordingly. I remained at my lord’s house in town until the 12th of August, and then was ordered to a country house he had taken at Brentford End, near Sion House, the seat of the Duke of Northumberland, about seven miles and half from Hyde Park Corner.

July 8th, 1788. – His lordship being in town was suddenly seized with a paralytic stroke which almost immediately deprived him of the use of his left side, from the top of his head to the sole of his foot. He was seized at the door of his town house, and being helped into his carriage ordered it to be driven to his country house immediately. He was for some days a little delirious, which soon subsided into a settled sickness. About the middle of September his lordship gave up the country house and lived constantly in his town house – which was then at No. 21 Great Marlborough Street – for the convenience of being nigh the physician who attended him.

In the beginning of March 1789 his lordship began to get a little better and bought a large house with a garden and about twelve acres of pleasure grounds at Turnham Green, five miles from Hyde Park Corner. His lordship had a second paralytic stroke very soon after coming to this house, which brought him very low, but he soon recovered a little strength and seemed much inclined to go to Bath for the benefit of the waters. Accordingly, on the 24th of March we set off for Bath and stayed there for two months. Another servant and I daily attended his lordship to the Pump Room and bathing place during his stay there.

Having received some benefit by drinking the water and bathing at Bath, his lordship ordered things to be got in readiness for a trip to the Continent to try the efficacy of the waters at Aix-la-Chapelle in Germany. We set out for this place in the beginning of June 1789, and having landed at Calais in France we traveled through part of France, Flanders, and Brabant, and arrived at Aix-la-Chapelle about the 12th of June. Soon after he took a country house at a place called Kalkhofen, about a mile from the town, to have the purer air. And from this place his lordship came very morning to town to bathe and drink the water. We stayed there until October and then returned to his lordship’s house at Turnham Green, where we spent the winter at home.

In the latter end of April 1790 his lordship applied to his Majesty for leave to go to Gibraltar to take the command of the garrison, which was granted to him infirm though he was, for he had often expressed a great desire to end his days in the place where he had gained such immortal honour and universal applause. We left England with an intention of going to Gibraltar over land and arrived at Aix-la-Chapelle about the 12th of May. Here his lordship attended the baths and water as before until the 5th July, but that day he felt unwell and towards the evening grew worse. About ten o’clock at night he was seized with a third paralytic stroke attended with strong convulsion, and was at once deprived of speech and motion, in which state he continued until one o’clock the following afternoon, when he expired, 6th July 1790.

His lordship’s body was embalmed a few days after his death and conveyed to England, when it was laid in a vault made on purpose in Heathfield Church in Sussex, [Although buried in England Lord Heathfield was a native of the south of Scotland, and of the Border Elliots.] on the 2nd September 1790, in the seventy-second year of his age. After the death of Lord Heathfield, his son, the present lord, discharged all his father’s servants, I among the rest.

I remained in London after being discharged from Lord Heathfield’s service, and meeting with no employment to my liking my money began to grow low. After a long and fruitless attendance on different gentlemen who gave me promises of providing for me, I at last engaged with Captain Alexander Gray of the "Phoenix," an East Indiaman, to go a voyage to India in the character of a servant and to play the pipes occasionally. Accordingly, I went on board, having rigged myself out for the voyage, and on the 4th April 1791 we left the Downs. On the 1st of May we cast anchor in Port Paya, in the island of St Iago, belonging to the Portuguese. Two nights after we were driven from our anchors to sea by a violent gale of wind, and very nearly struck on a reef of rocks that runs out into the sea on the north-east side of the harbour; it was twelve o’clock next day before we regained our former station in the harbour.

After having taken in fresh water and such provisions as the island afforded, we left St Iago on the 8th of May and, having a favourable wind for the most part of the rest of the voyage, anchored in the roads of Madras on the 4th August of that same year. The next day we landed all our treasures and such passengers as were for Madras, together with three officers and 220 recruits for the 72nd and 76th regiments. On the 7th August we left Madras and proceeded to Bengal, and on the 11th were met by a pilot boat off Balasore roads, which conducted us safely as far as Diamond harbour, where we moored ship on the 13th and landed the rest of our passengers.

That same day Captain Gray went to Calcutta, and a few days later I and the rest of the servants followed and lived constantly at the captain’s house in Bond Street. We stayed in Bengal, sometimes ashore and sometimes aboard, until the middle of October 1791, and then took on board 450 sepoys with their officers, and a cargo of rice, paddy, gram, doll, and gee for the army on the Malabar coast. It was near the end of October before we landed our troops and cargo at Madras; and Captain Gray, having a private property of rice of his own, sent me to be a check on the black man who took an account of it ashore. The captain had a house in Fort St George at which those on shore always lived.

In the beginning of November we left Madras roads, and about 4 o’clock the following morning, the ship being under a firm easy sail, we were overtaken by such a sudden squall as had very nigh proved fatal to all of us. All hands were instantly called up, but before the running rigging could be let go we had scarcely a rag of canvas left. The wind was at that time a little abaft the larboard beam with the sails braced forward, and the ship being very light she heeled to starboard so far that we could not stand upon deck without a hold. As soon as possible we bore away before the wind, set about taking down the rags left us by the squall, and began rigging up others in their place. With contrary winds we were three weeks coming to Bengal, and at last reached Diamond harbour towards the latter end of November.

Having moored ship the captain and some passengers from Madras went to Calcutta; next day I and the other servants followed. The ship at Diamond harbour began to take in her cargo about the middle of December, and on the 25th dropped down the river as far as Cox’s Island, where we took in the last of our cargo. On the 8th January 1792 we left Cox’s Island in the kingdom of Bengal and proceeded for Madras, where we arrived on the 16th, and after taking in some passengers and invalid soldiers to the number of 150, we left Madras on the 20th day of January and set sail for England. We had very favourable weather till we were off the Cape of Good Hope, but were baffled there with contrary winds for ten days: at last, having got into the trade wind, we arrived at St Helena on the 3rd of April.

We stayed at St Helena for twelve days taking in water and fresh provisions, and on the 16th April unmoored ship and set sail. On the 4th June we arrived safely at the Downs, where we landed some of our passengers, on the next day proceeded to Gravesend, and on the 7th of June moored ship in Long Reach.

At this time Lord Macartney with a large retinue was preparing to go upon an embassy to China in the "Lion" man-of-war of sixty-four guns, and the "Hindostan" East Indiaman was ordered for the same expedition to carry part of his lordship’s suite, and a great many models and other valuable presents for the Emperor of China. Having left Captain Gray’s service, I was at my own request recommended by that gentleman to Captain William Macintosh of the "Hindostan" to go the voyage with him to China. I agreed with Captain Macintosh, and after buying such things as I wanted for the voyage went on board the "Hindostan" then lying at Deptford on the 5th of July 1792, and in a few days we dropped down the river to Gravesend. After taking on board there the remainder of our cargo, some of my lord’s retinue and part of his bodyguard, we set sail on the 3rd September to join the "Lion" at Portsmouth, and after making a little stay at the Downs arrived at Spithead on the 6th.

It took some time for my lord and his attendants to get in readiness, so that it was the 26th September before we left Portsmouth, and the next day we were met by a gale of wind that obliged us to put into Torbay till it abated. On the 1st October 1792 we left Torbay with a favourable breeze in company with the "Lion," and on the 10th anchored in Funchall Bay in the island of Madeira. We stayed at this place for some days to take in wine and provisions, and weighing anchor on the 18th arrived at Santa Cruz Bay, Teneriffe, on the 22nd.

Some of the gentlemen of both ships landed on the island with a view of exploring their way to the summit of the Peak of Teneriffe, but found it impracticable after a fruitless attempt of three days, and were obliged to return half famished with cold and wet. During the time the gentlemen were ashore we had a very severe gale of wind which parted one of our cables and obliged us to let down the sheet anchor; by this time we were within a cable’s length of the shore, which if we had reached we must all have perished, for nothing but the most dreadful rocks lay before us. The gale having subsided a little we put to sea, and the next morning got the gentlemen on board, this being the 27th.

Having got clear of Teneriffe we set sail for St Iago, where we anchored on the 2nd November in Port Piya Bay; here we supplied the ships with fresh water and some provisions, and on the 7th set sail for South America. We had fine weather crossing the equinoctial, and on the 30th November 1792 dropped our anchor before the town of St Sebastian on the coast of Brazil, in South America, but the "Lion" did not come in till next morning. This town or rather city of Rio Janeiro belongs to the Portuguese, and is very populous and wealthy. The inhabitants are very fond of buying showy things, such as watches, trinkets, swords, fuzees, handsome horse-whips, pocket knives, buckles, &c., for which in general they pay three prices, being very bad judges and having plenty of money.

Here we stayed until the 18th September, such as hand any merchandise going daily ashore to traffic with the natives. We likewise took on board fresh provisions, which were purchased very reasonably, and plenty of fresh water. Both ships weighed anchor on the 18th December, and on the 1st January 1793 anchored at Trestiun de Cuchna, an uninhabited island claimed by no nation. As it blew very hard we were obliged to weigh next morning, and on the 2nd February came to another island called St Paul’s, likewise uninhabited. Here we anchored and caught some of the finest fish I ever saw, and so fat that they fried themselves. This island appears at night to be an entire volcano with its lofty top all on fire. The gentlemen who were ashore declared upon their honour that they had boiled a lobster in ten minutes in one of the hot springs they found on the island.

Left St Paul’s on 3rd February, made Java Head on the 25th, and on the 1st March anchored at North Island in the Straits of Sunda, between the Islands of Sumatra and Java, one of the most unwholesome places in the world, I believe. Here sickness and death began to rage in both ships. On 4th March we left North Island and next morning anchored in Batavia roads. We took in some fresh provisions and other articles at Batavia, especially arrack, a liquor made here, very good when old but most pernicious to Europeans when drunk new. We had a good many sick in both ships, particularly in the "Lion"; and among the rest I had a fit of sickness which, though but of short duration, had nigh hand carried me off. By the help of God, however, a strong constitution and good attendance, I soon recovered so far as to be able to do my duty, but never recovered my former strength while I stayed in that country.

We lost several of our hands in this place, all young healthy-like men, but making too free with the new arrack proved fatal to them. Batavia is so very unwholesome that forty sail of merchantmen lay at moorings there for lack of hands. Some had two or three on board, and a few had but one. The Chinese carry on a great trade here.

We continued moving from place to place, from Batavia to North Island, thence to Angrea Point, St Nicholas Point, Bantam, Onroost and Button Island, all within the Straits of Sunda, until the 30th April, when we came to anchor at the Nanka Islands, in the Straits of Banca, and there took in wood and water. Anchored at Pulo Condore on 19th May, and the day following had several accidents on board our ship in getting up the anchor. One man had his thigh broken, another his arm, a third his knee-pan displaced, and a fourth both his hip joints almost dislocated, besides several small hurts. This was occasioned by the messenger parting between decks, and the men not being able to hold on the capstan, it flew round with such velocity that all the bars flew out in spite of all resistance and did all this damage. We soon got a new messenger shipped, had the anchor up as soon as possible, and on the 26th moored the ship in Turanni Bay, Cochin China.

We stayed at Cochin China till the later end of June, then sailing away passed the Laderoon Islands, and on the 1st July arrived at Chusan Bay in China. On the 6th left Chusan Bay, anchored in Tinchufoo Bay on the 21st, left on the 23rd, and on the 25th moored ship in Tientsin roads, out of sight of land. On the 2nd August 1793 an order came from the emperor to land all the gentlemen of the embassy and their baggage, &c., out of both ships, for which purpose there came upwards of forty junks (as they call their ships), with presents of live bullocks, hogs, sheep, and different sorts of vegetables by the emperor’s orders for both ships. All hands were ordered to work in shifting the presents for the emperor, &c., out of the ships on to the junks, as our ships could not venture nigher the shore for sand-banks.

On 4th August 1793 Lord Macartney and all his retinue landed in the junks, and Captain Macintosh being of the number, the command of our ship devolved upon Mr Mitchell, our chief mate, a sober, judicious, good man, and an able officer. On the 6th August we left Tientsin, and about the latter end of the month arrived again in Chusan Bay in company with the "Lion." We remained here till the end of November waiting for the return of the gentlemen of the embassy, and meantime got the ships fresh caulked, their rigging overhauled, and everything ship-shape for the homeward bound voyage. At last, on the 27th November, Captain Macintosh and a few more came aboard, but Lord Macartney and the rest of his suite went by land to Canton.


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