Balaklava and the Crimean Peninsular

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Crimea ◄ ● ► Kertch

Accompanying the British forces, were three men who contributed greatly to the recording of the events of the conflict for posterity and to the presentation of the conflict to the British public. William Howard Russell, as correspondent for the Times, presented eloquent descriptions that aroused the feelings of the public. The vivid paintings of artist, William Simpson, add much to the telling of the story of the Crimean War. The third was Roger Fenton who introduced the new technology of photography to recording the places and people of the war. He also photographed all three of them.

Williamhowardrussell William_Simpson_in_the_Crimea Roger_Fenton_self
William Howard Russell
Library of Congress
William Simpson
Victorian Web
Roger Fenton
Library of University ELTE, Budapest

Henry noted on 14 September that “We have just come to an Anchor we are in our position.” The British Army had landed at Kalamita Bay.


The landing at Kalamita Bay, Eupatoria, by William Simpson

I am not going to go into the battles that were fought during the Crimean War. Instead I am going to focus here on Henry’s experience of the war, much of which I have already covered in my thesis. I will concentrate on information I have found since its completion.

Henry’s letter No. 12, of 27 September, was the first he wrote from Balaklava harbour. He described it as follows with a simple sketch:

The place fr. which this is dated is one of the most singular in existence   There is a large Bay of Balaklava in a Corner of which there is an inlet or river I don’t know which we are in – thus    Balaklava sketch    Xentrance quite hidden a ship’s length across   the places crossed ||||| are our own ships lying head & Stern or in a dock, the Agamemnon 1  90 guns cruiser, & several steamers being among them

This is a fairly accurate representation of the harbour which is aligned north to south as can be seen from the following map:


The Siege of Sebastopol, cartographer F.S. Weller
The Internet Map Archive

Roger Fenton provided a number of images of the port:

Head_Of_Harbour,_Balaklava_LACMA_M.2008.40.770 Cossack_bay.Balaklava_1855.3a06075r_(retouched)
Head of Harbour
Public Domain – Wikipedia
Cossack Bay, Balaklava
Public Domain – Wikipedia

and William Simpson painted the harbour on a number of occasions:

L021_image002 L021_image003 L067_image001
Balaklava Harbour
Balaklava Harbour
In spring

Once again, Henry had contact with Mr. Russell of the Times, saying, “he has been unwell with fever, lost his horses & baggage & is in a fix. 2  I am helping him as much as I can which is not much. 3

On 28 September, Henry decided that continuing to stay on board the Hope would not be a long-term solution, so he “Took a house close to Beach in case I want one”. He wrote to Louisa on the 3rd of October, saying:

Did I tell you I had taken a room on Shore lest the Hope should be ordered away, close to Wharf small but clean I write to you from it now. My Interpreter, Horse & Servant are in outbuildings of same house   The Inhabitants are Greeks, Interpreter Hungarian Servant Greek boy who came up from Piræus with me taking care of my horse of which he hardly knew the Head from the Tail

He gave more detail of his accommodation in a letter on 17 October, saying:

Having been obliged to send the “Hope” to Eupatoria to tow down some Corn Ships & as on her return she goes to Constantinople for Supplies – I have moved ashore, bag & baggage, It of course is not so comfortable, but I have as yet nothing to grumble at considering this is campaigning  I have a House such as it is to myself – Office below & Shed for my Horses & Three rooms & Kitchen up stairs – One a tolerable one I am now writing in the other two are dens – in one are two Bedsteads piled with Bedding belonging to the Greek family departed in the other a Sofa (my Bed). the room has two windows very small & my sitting room two to the front & one behind plenty of furniture so I am not very badly off   I have two tables, Chest of Drawers sofa 6 chairs – a dog & a Cat!! My Interpreter is a first rate fellow & Cooks for me   I need not say my living is the best I can get – besides rations I get a Ham, a loaf, some butter, Salt, Pepper some Sherry 3 from the Hope, Brandy 3, Ale12 rum plenty I had so I shall not starve  I have also plenty of Tea

He then started thinking about the possibility of having his wife, Louisa, and eldest daughter, Louisa Maria, join him at Balaklava. He wrote to Louisa on the 22nd, saying:

Many of our Officers are making arrangements for their Wives joining them, and I see no reason why you should not do the same – If I am at Constantinople Louisa might come with you, the same if at Malta or Corfu but if at Varna or this place which may be it would be better for her to remain at home if any arrangement can be made. I think Constantinople & its vicinity the most probable place myself – As there are not Schools at any of these places it would be necessary to arrange so as to let Charlotte 4  & Laura continue to get the benefit of an English Education – if you come by yourself you may arrange to come out as soon as you can by Steamer to Constantinople unless my Lords will give you a passage at the Govt. rate of 7/6 a day in a Govt. chartered Steamer – Constantinople must be the place to which you go first wherever I may be & then meet you [sic] further orders at the Commissariat Office. You will require very few things except your own apparel, I will send you a list of the few things to bring by next mail in fact I know little that is requisite but Six knives forks large & Small Spoons (not Silver) two or three very plain candlesticks, all even flat ones wd. do 4 large white tea cups & saucers milk jug 2 basons [sic] & 4 plates these last are not indispensable but luxuries.

I think, if the C.G. 6  would go to Mr. Grant at Somerset House the Comptroller of Transport 7  he wd. if he could let you have a passage in some Contract Steamer coming out. He was very civil to me & so was Mr. Leybourn 8  Chief Ck. a great friend of Mr. Archers 9  & of Mr. Petrie’s 10  who has much to say on Transport matters with Mr. Grant

It would be impossible for me to make any arrangements from here for you or what you are to do at the other side of the World   I must leave them all to my Father & you   You would only require Cash for your Passages & a little for your pocket – If you wd. ride which I think most likely you must bring a Sidesaddle   Bridles I have plenty, & yr. own gear for it   A Wide awake hat with very small feather is the best for Sun & weather – get a good saddle if not a new one as you please but it will always do to take away again & it is to be hoped we shall not be here for ever.

On 14 November Henry recorded in his Journal one of the most cataclysmic days he experienced in Balaklava – the day of the hurricane.

One of the most miserable & wretched days. I sit down to record our most serious & melancholy disaster. At about 6 a.m. it began to blow very fresh & I got up to see if it was likely to do any damage. I was half dressed when the gale increased in force & blowing in my front window, blew out the two at the back. I went into my sitting room, dressed and looked out. It blew a hurricane. the Sans Pareil 11  ground astern. Ships were grinding against each other, masts & spars falling. The spray went clean over the houses near the beach. The Ships were many of them on shore, all more or less injured. At last the Verandah of the house gave way & with it pulled off most of the roof. I got away with my things into the Office in a part of the house joining but not built with the other & solely a ground floor. We packed up all the office things & moved to the house in which I now write. Report says that several vessels have gone down or ashore & all hands perished. Of these, the fate of the Wild West, No. 63, Progress, Il Malti, Wanderer, Resolute, St. Pinneris almost beyond a doubt & the Pettona has also gone but the crew are all saved. Lady Valiant’s crew, but the ship will be a total loss. In the Steamer Prince were 137 people crew & £140,000 in gold belonging to the Govt., the winter clothing for the Army, a most valuable cargo.

The_Gale_off_the_Port_of_Balaklava_14th_Nov_1854 HMS_Prince_(1854)
The Gale off the Port of Balaklava, William Simpson
DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University
HMS Prince, Ivan Constantinovich Aivazovsky
Public Domain – Wikipedia

He gave more detail in his letter to Louisa of the 17th, saying:

Since my last we have had a most awful hurricane attended with the most disastrous results my last was dated the 13th it left on the afternoon of that day – on the morning of the 14 I woke about ½ past 6 & found a fresh Gale blowing   I began getting up & the Gale increased   When half dressed my front window blew in off the hinges & smashed & the two back windows blew out the other way   I got with my clothes into my sitting room & finished dressing

The Ships even in this harbor were driving about fearfully and rubbing & smashing each other the Sea making a clean sweep over the Wharves & the heavy spray going clear of the roofs of the Houses tiles blowing about  at 9 the Gale became a perfect hurricane – The Verandah in front of my house was carried away – a post smacking a Window which I was trying to hold together & then off came the roof from one end altogether & the tiles and beams gradually followed towards the other end – I had intended moving into the house in which I now write & consequently was all ready for a start   I, with my Interpreter’s Assistance, (my Servant bolted) got all my traps into what I used as an Office which though joined to formed no part of the original building & being only on the ground floor, stood fast – I got my breakfast   My people (Clerks) &c. came in one by one all thinking I was gone with my house & all in danger from beams of wood, tiles, & other things – Booth 12  made much fuss as the Gale went over, it poured with rain – in the afternoon I got into this house which is very comfortable as things go here, stood the hurricane without damage, & is one of the best Houses in Balaklava though Small

I of course caught cold on the 14th as I was wet to the Skin all day & felt for two days the pleasures of back ache & a pain quite round my body especially when I drew a long breath it has gradually lessened & I am nearly all right again today

So much for myself – now for the public Disasters   The following losses have occurred amongst the Shipping

a    Resolute – 25 Steamer Prince   140 men
full of Winter Clothing & many things –
All these are totally gone
x   Kenilworth – 20
x   Wild Wave – 25
x   Rip Van Winkle – 57 Mercia – Lady Valiant
x   Wanderer – 140 15 Caduceus   – Medora
x   Pettona – all saved Pride of the Ocean – Melbourne Steamer
x   Progress – 15 Sir R Sale –
very much damaged – all dismasted
x   Il Malti – 13
x   Commt. supplies H.M. Steamer Ardent do.
a   Powder Ship

13 Ships names unknown went on Shore at the Katska – Crews Prisoners of War Ships all burnt to Water’s Edge   Several also went ashore at Eupatoria but the numbers are unknown –

One of Henry’s colleagues managed to find a silver lining to the hurricane at Balaklava. The report ran as follows:

AN ILL WIND. – Our commissariat officers, who are furnished with marquees and considerable comforts, such as tables, chairs, and pigeonholes for papers, &c., complain nevertheless of the difficulties they experience in going through their duties. Shortly after the storm of the 14th, I met one of these gentlemen coming out of Balaklava, his face radiant with joy which could not be easily accounted for at the time, seeing that it was cold, wet, and the roads were knee-deep. “Congratulate me, I beg of you,” said he; “every blessed paper, return, book, or account I had in the world has blown away yesterday into Sebastopol, and I’m happy.” 13

Recently, there have been reports that the wreck of HMS Prince has been found. BBC & Old Salt Blog & Daily Mail

I did come across a contemporaneous story about Henry’s new house, published in the Daily News in April 1855 (and repeated in a number of other publications), which he himself had described as “one of the best Houses in Balaklava”:

Commissary-General Drake took possession of one of the best houses in Balaklava, after it had been ransacked in every possible way. Some time after he was astonished by a visit from a number of ladies, the former occupants, who politely asked if they might take any of their property still left. Feeling certain there was nothing he readily granted permission, when to his surprise they removed the stone from the threshold, and took a quantity of plate and dresses. 14

As winter set in, the weather worsened. Henry wrote on 25 November that “We have almost incessant rain today & rain by day & night for some time past our roads are all but impassable & our Transport Cattle Knocking up very fast – we are sadly off for Transport & labor both very essential to the wellbeing of an Army.” And on 2 December, again, “Ever since I wrote it has rained, the road to Camp is all but impassable, the Streets of Balaklava knee deep & every Tent in Camp ancle [sic] deep in mud … Balaklava is a most miserable hole.” He was able to reassure Louisa, however, about his own situation, saying:

Among those most comfortably off is Mr. W.H.D. My House is tolerably wind & Water tight – I have two small private rooms furnished No. 1 Bed room has stump Bedstead, flock mattress & feather bed – plenty of blankets, 2 Chairs, one table with Washand [sic] 15  basin & Jug (I brought them from Athens) Sitting room. One sofa!!, one armchair, one table, one chest Drawers (my pantry.) My Servants have all bolted & my Interpreter has been confined to his bed for the past 3 days so that I have dined on board Ship each day by invitation    one of my boatmen a Maltese boy gets me Water boils my Kettle, cleans boots   I make my own bed & fortunately the captain of a Ship sent me ready boiled a large piece of Corned Pork, I have plenty of Tea, Cocoa, Sugar Rice Preserved Meat Soups & Biscuit & Wine is to be had at some 5/- per bottle, so that I am much better off than many. Of course we get meat rations fresh or Salt & I have potatoes & onions to help out, & have just got some Flour & as my Interpreter is better & up today in a day or two I hope to get some sort of Soft tack.

As I wrote in my thesis, the commissary’s work was hard, long, and relentless. They were also severely criticised for problems that occurred during the duration of the war.

Henry was, however, able to find some pleasurable distractions. He wrote on the 18th of December, saying:

The 16th I completed 9 years as an A.C.G. & the evening before or rather in the very early morning of the 16 had a Singular piece of luck it was this; I dined with a large party on board a large Steamer some 20 people besides the Officers of the Ship   After dinner they commenced playing Rouge & Noir 16  as you know I never do play these games in fact I don’t understand R. & Noir so I sat chatting & otherwise amused myself – this went on for a long time when a Light Dragoon who was dealing offered a bet on some part of the Game of 50 to 1 in Sovs. all laughed at him & said the odds were much more. he turned to me, (I was standing near) & said Drake what odds will you take? I said what will you give – he said 55 to 1. I sd. very well – he evidently saw he had caught a tiger; post the Cash Said he – I laid £1 on the table & he made great show & laughed much at me as he put 55 Sovs. on it, all laughed at my throwing away a Sovereign but lo! the thing turned out for me & I won the bet & coolly pocketed his Cash – He is a Dragoon with 10 or 12000 a year so I did not pity him – After this we supped & then had some singing  I put my Pea Coat 17  on & was quietly retiring, but some of the Cardplayers were making what they called a Sweepstakes – we call it fright of 5 Sovs. each & they halloo’d at me to give up my odd £5 for the purpose, I did on condition that my Friend the Dragoon drew for me as I was going to bed & I slipped off plus £50 but what was my astonishment next morning while at breakfast to see the Capt. of the Steamer come in & lay on the table £65 I having won or rather the Dragoon for me – only think £115 – which I litterally [sic] have at this moment – if I were a young fellow this wd. make a gambler of me for life but all I can say is I don’t regret it I am not likely to be injured by it, … – I intend to appropriate £100 to buy Silver to replace!!! what we sold at St John & a Silver Breakfast & Tea Set for you when we go to a decent Station, as D.C.G. in Charge, do you agree to this – one does not often catch a Dragoon asleep. –

By the end of 1854, snow was falling in Balaklava. Henry wrote on 1 January 1855, saying, “Yesterday morning at getting up I found about an Inch of snow covering the ground, but not cold.”


Balaklava Harbour Ices Over, William Simpson

Henry’s duties continued while he waited for his wife, Louisa, and daughter, Louisa Maria, to join him at Balaklava. I will not go into detail about them here, as I have discussed them in my thesis.

There were, however, a number of events which frustrated and angered Henry, such as Prime Minister Lord Palmerston’s suggestion in February 1855 that the Commissariat officers and medical staff were not “gentlemen”. Lord Palmerston had said “that where evil has arisen from the want of capacity, of energy, of intelligence, or of the accurate and zealous performance of duty – it was not that the gentry, nor the aristocracy, not that the noblemen in the army were in fault, but persons belonging to other classes of the community. It is in the medical department, the commissariat department, and the transport department, which nobody contends are filled with the sons of the aristocracy or the gentry. It is there that your system has broken down – it is there that the service has failed; and this it is that has been the main cause of the suffering of which we are all complaining.” 18  Lord Palmerston’s speech caused quite a stir among the Commissaries, who wrote a “remonstrance” to The Times, published on 10 April 1855. 19  Members of the medical fraternity, who also felt maligned by Palmerson’s speech, used the medical journals to complain. The most powerful of these was an excoriating editorial in the Association Medical Journal of 11 May 1855. 20

Fortnum and Mason’s also sent out stores to be sold “with a view to relieve in a measure the distress and hardships endured by officers and men. They are to be sold at cost price to such as wish to purchase.” 21  Henry responded to this by writing to Louisa on 12 February, saying that “I wish Fortnum & Mason & their game pies were at the bottom of the Sea  I am fully occupied by Selling these Stores – & have my Office crowded by Clamorous Officers crying out for Claret – Paté Diable – Bloaters game Pies & other necessaries in Seige operations.”

Then, as the spring brought the thaw, it also brought Henry the news that he had been waiting so long for. On 12 April Henry noted the following in his Journal: “Received my dear wife’s letter saying she should leave Southampton on the 20 April with Lu Jr. Letter dated 28/3/55.” He proceeded to get things in readiness for their arrival, and in early May stayed on board the Hope, his house “being whitewashed & thoroughly cleaned”.

Crimea ◄ ● ► Kertch


1. Agamemnon, 90, screw, Rear-Adm. Sir E. Lyons, Bart., G.C.B., Capt. W. R. Mends, 1852, Mediterranean. [“Stations of the Royal Navy in commission”, in Colburn’s united service magazine, Pt. 1, (London, 1855), p. 148.]

2. Russell describes what must be this incident as follows: “It was cold and dreary and if I could intrude the recital of the sorrows of a tentless and baggage-less man wandering about in the dark from regiment to regiment in hope of finding his missing traps.” He notes that “They were thrown out of the commissariat araba in which they had been placed by order of the Commissariat-General and were abandoned to the Cossacks, so I never saw them again. It was found necessary to make room for some of the reserve ammunition which had been stowed in arabas that broke down on the march.” [W. H. Russell, Russell’s despatches from the Crimea 1854-56, pp. 74-75.]

3. In his family history, The Drake family connection, Brig. A. C. F. Jackson says that Russell of the Times scrounged potatoes off Henry.

4. Henry’s second eldest daughter, Charlotte Augusta Dring Drake.

5. Now, after the death of Emily in 1853, Henry’s youngest child, Laura Mary Drake.

6. Henry’s father, retired CG John Drake.

7. Thomas T. Grant, Esq., F.R.S., Comptroller of the Victualling of the Navy and of the Transport Service. [Navy List, corrected to the 20th June, 1854, (London: John Murray, 1854), p. 190.]

8. William Leyburn, Esq., Chief Clerk of the Victualling of the Navy and of the Transport Service. [Navy List, corrected to the 20th June, 1854, (London: John Murray, 1854), p. 190.]

9. ACG William Spearman Archer (1815-1891).

10. DACG Samuel Petrie (~1798-1871).
NAVAL AND MILITARY INTELLIGENCE. In our obituary on Monday we recorded the death of Mr. Samuel Petrie, C.B., late Director of Commissariat. The deceased gentleman was appointed a clerk in the Commissariat Department in May, 1812, and was employed for nearly 15 years in the Mediterranean, Portugal, and the London Audit Office, becoming meanwhile, on the 25th of December, 1814, Deputy Assistant Commissary General. From May, 1828, until April, 1839, he was in temporary retirement, when it was considered desirable to have the assistance on the Commissariat establishment at the Treasury of an officer who had practical experience of the department abroad, and he was consequently selected, and served as chief clerk from that time until its transfer to the War Department in December 1854, when he became the principal officer of the establishment under the Secretary of State for War. He received the title of Director of the Commissariat in January, 1856, and retired in November, 1859. [Our Malta Correspondent. “Naval And Military Intelligence.” Times [London, England] 9 Mar. 1871: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 18 July 2012.]

11. Sanspareil, 81, sc., Capt. S. C. Dacres, 1840, Medit. [‘Stations of the Royal Navy in commission’, in Colburn’s united service magazine, Pt. 1, (London, 1855), p. 150.]

12. DACG Robert Booth (~1822-1867).

13. “The War.” Salisbury and Winchester Journal [Salisbury, England] 30 Dec. 1854: 4. British Library Newspapers. Web. 21 Apr. 2018.

14. “MANAGEMENT IN THE CRIMEA.” Daily News [London, England] 3 Apr. 1855: n.p. British Library Newspapers. Web. 19 Apr. 2018.

15. Henry probably meant “washstand” instead of “washand”.

16. Rouge et noit: (Literally, red and black). A game at cards in which persons play against the owner of the table or banker – so called because the table is divided into small compartments coloured red and black. [The household dictionary of the English language, p. 652.]

17. Pea-jacket: A thick woollen jacket worn by seamen, &c. [The household dictionary of the English language, p. 532.]

18. “House Of Commons, Monday, Feb. 19.” Times [London, England] 20 Feb. 1855: 3+. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 28 Aug. 2017.

19. “Lord Palmerston And The Commissariat Service.” Times [London, England] 10 Apr. 1855: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 23 Aug. 2017.

20. Association Medical Journal, No. 123, New Series, edited by John Rose Cormack, M.D., London, Friday evening, May 11, 1855, p. 431-433. Google Books.

21. “THE WAR IN THE EAST.” Morning Post [London, England] 13 February 1855: 5. 19th Century British Newspapers. Web. 18 July 2013.

©Megan Stevens 2018

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