Irving, John to William Elphinstone Malcolm (1843/12/11)

H.M.S. “Volage,”
Castleton, Berehaven, Ireland,
11th December 1843.

My dear Malcolm,—I am sure you will not be surprised at my writing you, though I have nothing to tell you that will be amusing; but I hope you will write me all the same, as, though it is many years since we met, I still take as great an interest in you as ever. Here I am on board a frigate, and everything reminds me of old days. Godden, whom you may remember a master-assistant, is again my messmate, being master of the “Volage,” and Arthur Kingston (George’s cousin) is one of the lieutenants, so the “Belvidera” is frequently talked of; but I suppose time, and being in such a different society for so long, have nearly effaced from your memory the occurrences of your midshipman’s life. But I hope you still remember me, your old friend. I always look back to these times as the happiest period of my life, varied as it has been, and it was due to your society that it was so. I still remember how sorry I really was when you went over the “Belvidera’s” side for the last time. Don’t think me very childish in thus writing to you. I forget the years which have gone by, and feel as I did when I waited for you to land at Bighi Bay, when you were staying with the Briggs at Malta. I met George Briggs the other day. He is a lieutenant, and has sailed for the East Indies. Good old Kingston is getting on famously at the University. I was very sorry to miss him in London, on my way to join the ship at Cork. I was appointed most unexpectedly, as I had fully intended complying with your kind invitation to come and see you at your border residence. She will not be many months longer in commission, and then I hope to get a sight of you. We and several other men-of-war are employed on the coast of Ireland. At present we are here for some weeks as a protection to the Protestants living in the neighbourhood; but you see in the papers about all these matters, and the military preparations made by Government. This is the extreme west of Ireland, and is a very wild mountainous country. Many of the people speak the English, and are quite primitive, but appear very peaceable. I believe you are aware of how, finding I could do nothing as a settler in New South Wales, and being advised by my friends and promised my promotion if I would return to the Navy, I joined the “Favourite” at Sydney, and was cruising in her in the South Seas for a year, visiting nearly all the islands, came round Cape Horn last March, and on my arrival in England found that I had been made lieutenant.

I left my brother in New South Wales, and made over my little property there to him and together with his own, I daresay he will now do pretty well. He married and has a young family, and will want it, as the colony has gone all wrong. When I went there, sheep were selling at 30s. per head; when I left, they were worth 5s. It was a very losing concern for those who had laid out their capital in those times when the prices were high. Though I led a lonely life there I was very happy and contented; but my father hearing how bad the prospects of settlers had become, was so earnest in his entreaties that I should return to the Navy, that I could not help embracing the opportunity of a man-of-war at Sydney, ready, as it were, to take me home without trouble or expense. He is an old man, upwards of seventy, and had lost my eldest brother, and so I was anxious to see him once again. I am, I fancy, much in the same position in the service as I should at this time have been in if I had never emigrated. Indeed, I found myself not at all adapted for a grazier. The buying and selling part of the business requires a man to be accustomed to dealing, and I never made a profitable bargain.

The people there are very sharp and keen hands, and many of them not very honest in their dealings. My brother there is quite a man of business, and will, I trust, be able to support himself comfortably. Now that lieutenants have had their pay raised from 6s. to 10s. per diem, one can do very well. Sir George Clerk, one of the Secretaries of the Treasury, is my first cousin, and as his son has long since left the Navy, he has no connection in the service but myself, and he has promised to do all he can to get me on, for his uncle’s, my father’s sake. So I live in hope of being some day or other Captain Irving. Sir George was, for many years, a Lord of the Admiralty, and has always been allied to Sir Robert Peel’s party. He got me made lieutenant a very few months after my return to the Navy. During the Whig Ministry he had little interest, so I lost not much by being in New South Wales.

I saw all New Zealand, Otaheite, and the other islands of Cook, and came round the world. If I had come off scathless in the pecuniary way, I should by no means regret my colonising. I am sorry indeed that my want of success there has compelled me to seek a livelihood at sea, which, even as lieutenant, is not much to my taste. But I have done the best I could in everything, and was quite repaid by the glad welcome I received from my poor old father. I have long since become quite as much at home as ever on board ship, and my bush adventures are already fading quite into a dream.

My dear Malcolm, you must be much changed, and I hope you will not consider me, after so long an interval, as at all intruding myself on your notice. I myself am the same; employed in the same way; everything around me associated with the memory of our earlier days. But your life must be so very different, and your society also, that I have no doubt you will require an effort even to recall those things to your mind. I shall be very glad indeed to hear from you, and believe me your attached and faithful friend,

John Irving.

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