Irving, John to William Elphinstone Malcolm (1843/07/03)

1 North Charlotte Street,
Edinburgh, July 3d, 1843.

My dear Malcolm,—I have just got your note. The servant said you were to be a fortnight out of town, otherwise I should have waited on purpose to see you. My father had written to me, advising me to return to the Navy; and finding the sheep-farming in Australia a losing concern, and happening to meet the “Favourite” in Sydney, I, through the first lieutenant and surgeon, old messmates of mine in the “Edinburgh,” got on board as an acting mate, the Captain writing to the Admiralty that, having no officers to do duty, he had taken me. I had the second lieutenant’s cabin, and messed in the gunroom. On being paid off they promoted me, dating back to the 23d March; so that I was made Lieutenant within a year after my return to the Navy. I am now enjoying a return home, after a six years’ absence; and it may be some months before I am appointed to a ship. Of course, I am very glad to have got my promotion. In Australia I lived a life of great hardship and deprivation of everything that is considered agreeable in this country. I had never intended to remain there permanently, but had hoped in a dozen years to come home with a competency; but when I found that I should be obliged to remain there all my life—no chance of making any money, sinking into a half-savage state, no one to associate with but graziers and butchers,—I had little hesitation in leaving it. I considered myself fortunate in not having got involved, as many have done, in speculations, and entangled so that they cannot leave the colony.

I was quite at home on board in a few hours. And after being a shepherd and cattle-feeder for four years, I was, in two days’ time, officer of a watch, and reefing the topsails. I left my brother David in Australia. He had married well, and was so connected with his wife’s relations that I saw but little of him. As I could not sell my flock on leaving, prices were so much depreciated, he will now look after them for me. Independently of the great fall of wool, etc., I was never fitted to be a grazier. I never could make a good bargain. The society of horse-jockeys, cattle-dealers, butchers, and keen, sharp, vulgar fellows, was most repugnant to me. And to get on, one must be familiar with these people; indeed, you have no one else to associate with. But it would require a pamphlet to explain all to you. Suffice it to say that wool had fallen from 2s. 6d. per pound to 1s. per pound, and when I had paid wages, etc., at the end of the year I found I was a loser, and if I had remained I must have got into debt and difficulties.

I have sunk all my patrimony there, and have but little expectation of deriving anything from it. You may suppose I regret having ever gone. I must now go to sea again for a living; and I daresay may, in a few years, get another step in the service. I shall, no doubt, be here for some months; and if you come to Scotland this summer, we must meet.

I did not see Kingston. I met old Quarles on the street. He told me your address, and that Kingston was in the Isle of Wight. Of course, you will write me and let me know what you are doing, and what chance I have of seeing you.—Your old and attached, 

John Irving.

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