Wellington: A Personal History

By Christopher Hibbert | Go to book overview

9 Return to London 1805-6

'What, child! do you think that I have nothing better to do than to make speeches to please ladies?'

MAJOR-GENERAL Sir Arthur Wellesley sailed home in the Trident, walking briskly about the deck in the morning, reading the novels he had bought in Madras in the afternoon, writing papers on farming and famines in India and on the possible uses of Indian troops in the West Indies and of West Indian slaves in India. He went ashore at St Helena where he was much taken with the beauty of the island, its 'delightful climate' and much amazed by the Governor, a most eccentric gentleman 'of a description that must have been extinct for nearly two centuries'. Sir Arthur had never seen 'anything like his wig or his coat'. 1

The Trident reached England in September 1805; and the General listened eagerly to detailed accounts of what had happened in the world in his absence. He heard and read about the Treaty of St Petersburg by which Britain and Russia, later joined by Austria, had agreed to form a European coalition for the liberation of the northern German states; he learned that Napoleon, who had assumed the title of Emperor the year before, had been crowned King of Italy in Milan Cathedral, that the soldiers of the Grande Armée had abandoned their camps around Boulogne and, turning their backs on the English Channel, had marched towards the Danube, and that Lord Nelson had chased a French fleet under Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve across the Atlantic to the West Indies and back again, forcing Villeneuve to seek shelter in Cadiz.

One of his obligations on landing was to settle his debts now that he was in a position to do so, being in possession of what he called 'a little fortune'. Already in India he had been generous in his unaccustomed wealth, lending over 9,000 rupees to the son of an old friend, a junior employee of the East India Company, who had got himself into trouble by extravagance in bad company. Now, so George Elers

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