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Saturday, May 11, 2013

THE PENINSULA WAR IN PORTUGAL SEEN BY THE BRITS


Taken from the book “A Guerra Peninsular em Portugal – English Reports”, by Maria Leonor Machado de Sousa, Centro de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses, Caleidoscópio, Lisboa, 2007

Another good book I found in the local library. I keep telling that it's like a treasure chamber!
This book, as the title refers, is about several documents (letters, diaries, memories) written by several British citizens during the Peninsula War. The author took the parts of those documents, written from people like the Duke of Wellington, to the daughter of Sir Nicholas Trent, Clarissa Trent, to several soldiers and other military personnel, that referred Portugal directly and which I will show just a small part of.
One is from Joseph Sherer (a soldier who was also the author of “Sketches of India” and like most of the enlisted men, saw the military life as a way to see the world*), another one is from Sir Robert Ker Porter (14 letters written to a Mr. S., 7 of which are about Portugal, during the march of an officer under Sir John Moore) and the last one is the famous book of the recollections of Rifleman Harris (the recollections of a rifleman of the 95th, that was a shepherd in Dorset, became a soldier and a cobbler during the campaigns, written by Captain Henry Curling of the 52nd regiment of foot).
Joseph Sherer conscientiously chose to write only the good memories he had from his time as a soldier (and through a very romantic lens) and he states so in his writings, while the letters of Sir Robert Ker Porter, although printed anonymously, have a more personal view of Portugal and quite the oposite of the 1st.
About the underlined passages, those are the ones I found interesting.
Again, excuse me of any translating mistakes.

* «I enjoyed my life more whilst on active service than I have ever done since, and I look back on my time spent on the fields of the Peninsula as the only part worthy of remembrance» (Note by Benjamin Randell Harris in the manuscript)


PLACES&PEOPLE

Recollections of the Peninsula War. By author of “Sketches of India”. Second edition. London. Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Greene, 1824.

(July 1809) «There are few landscapes that can compare to that toast to the eyes of a traveler that, for the first time, from the deck of a ship, on the Tejo, contemplates Lisbon emerging, proudly beautiful, before him (...)»

Praça do Comércio, with a view form the Castle of S. Jorge. This would be one of the first things that the British soldiers would have seen landing in Lisbon. During the 1st French Invasion, the French flag was hoisted at the castle. Picture taken by me.

Wellington landing in Lisbon in 1809, Greenwich Maritime Museum. The tower you see in the water is probably painted by the author throough word-of-mouth; never has a fortification like existed on the Tejo. It could be the Torre de Belém, but I'm not sure.

(Walking around Lisbon) «Right under the window of our cafe, some Moorish loaders, that in Lisbon are numerous, got busy of the most amazing tasks. Their herculean shapes, their little turbans and their singular expressions, alongside with the prodigious effort they made to lift and carry the heavy loads, gave us a new and unique vision. My thoughts turned, naturally, to that time in the past, to the time where these moors, now so degraded and politically insignificant, ruled over this beautiful land (…)»

«On the way back to the square of S. Pedro, where we dined, I entered several churches (…) (and) appreciate the costumes of this country, and believe that from all catholic countries: the fact that the doors of the churches are open at any time of the day and, in their interior, there are always some people, opening their hearts in prayer, before the altars of the saints of their devotion. In moments of affliction, despair and fear it is here that they turn to and, feeling protected and helped by the holiness and solemness of the pace, lay their sorrows and fears in the hands of God, to whom they beg salvation and forgiveness.»

«(...) The Portuguese have been, non rarely, described, by foreign travelers, as careless, relatively to themselves, with their garments and tattered looks. I confess that I don't share it. On the contrary, I had the opportunity to notice that all middle and higher classes of the society showed an extreme care to the quality and brightness of their whites. A plump shape and of medium height, with an amazing healing quality, make the particular dotes of the feminine beauty in Portugal, characteristics that, here, and like anywhere else in the world, define a beautiful woman. About the height of the men in Lisbon, clearly smaller then of the English, is not as short as it has, frequently and falsely, represented.(...)»

«This was the treatment that I received on the first tour in Portugal and, not regarding rare exceptions, corresponded, in general, to the type of reception offered to the British army by the Portuguese, according to their possessions at the beginning of the Peninsula War: poor and rich, clergy and leymen, nobles and peasants, all expresses their good will and readyness to serve and honor us.»

«The English don't adapt themselves easily to the habits of other nations, nor condescend in tolerating (not even flatter) the harmless self-esteem of the amicable foreigners. No! Wherever they march or travel, they assume always an arrogant manner, of conscious superiority, and hope that their ways, costumes and opinions overlap the other countries that they cross or, at least, that others suspend, even temporary, their modus vivendi

«Every time we stopped for a week or two at the same place, the pedlers, that followed the army, surpassed us and opened their temporary shops in the neighboring towns or even at the campsite. So, even for a high price, we could provide ourselves with several delicacies, like tea, sugar, aguardentes, wines, cigars, etc. I must confess that at this type of bivouacs we missed two great things: books and the company of women.»

Letters from Portugal and Spain, Written during the March of the British troops under Sir John Moore. With a map of the route, and appropriate engravings”. By an officer. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1809.

Letter III
«Lisbon, the 13th of October, 1808.
(…) Lisbon, like most of all the continental capitals, looks to an Englishman as deprived of all comforts even the most trivial ones. There isn't one Inn in which one can pass the night without suffering the tortures from hell, just as bad as it's flames and sulfur. I made the attempt in lodging myself in one; but if I were destined to pass the nocturnal hours in the most miserable hovel in England or install myself in that place, I would have preferred the first one. It would be impossible to find in all Great Britain a housing in such ruin, so badly furnished, so filthy, and so infested by bugs: and yet it's the Leon d'Or, the most important hotel in town.»

The hotel Léon d'Or in Lisbon, still standing today. Photo taken by me.

«(...) present to you the women of this country, famous by the romance novells. I'll start at the lower classes: they show a suprising good taste in dressing, wearing as clothing a cape with sleeves that fall from the shoulders. It's generally from red fabric, edged and ornated with black velvet drawn in much ability. The way they fold the cape is extremely graceful and attracts a lot of attention, since one can see all their shape, finishing at an elegant foot or ankle. These extremities are very beautiful and ornated with much care: when we think about the filth of the streets, we are amazed with the cleanness that this sign of female pride is preserved. The heads are covered in a white scarf, from which an interesting face peeks through, even if skinny, with a pair of beautiful brown eyes. This is the tout ensemble of the Lisbon beauty.»

Middle-class woman from Lisbon, William Bradford, in "Esquisse du pays du caractere et du costume en Portugal et Espagne", 1812

Letter IV
«Lisbon, the 19th of October, 1808.
(...)If the weather is good, I propose to go immediately to Cintra, the Switzerland of Portugal, after what I have to prepare for my departure with the army. General Moore hasn't let us yet, but every day we wait for it to go forward. In the meanwhile, I cannot but pray that the rainy season continues and doesn't surprise us during the journey. The consequences for the army would be terrible. The rain here isn't as over there. Comparing to those here, the strongest rain precipitates over your head like mist: but here (and I've experienced it two or three times) the rain falls in cascade, like the water falls. As bad as these floods are, they are a blessing for the city, since they clean all the filth to the vast rive bed of the Tejo. - Goodbye!»

Letter V
«Lisbon, the 29th of October, 1808.
Yesterday, John Moore and his retinue left the capital. We will go to in a day or two, and hope to reach the army before their arrive Salamanca, or even further, in Valladolid. To equip myself for the march it was necessary to acquire mules and horses. From the last ones, they only had one; but now, if you were here, I would present you with a better set. During the negotiations I found out that all the sellers have a passion for extortion, which (because I find it everywhere) I must consider is an absolute vice of the human race. The Portuguese dealers seem to think they couldn't express better their gratitude for the services that we provide them by relieving our purses at every opportunity. Honesty was never a measure of their price, since generally the demanded five times more then the real value of the article.»

THE WAR

The recollections of rifleman Harris as told to Henry Curling”. Edited and introduced by Christopher Hibbert. London, Century Publishing, 1985.

Chapter 3
(Battle of Roliça) «On the 17th, and still at the front, we encountered the French again. I remember seeing the pleasant effect of the sun beams lurking over their weapons as they took position to face us.»

«When the call was made, after the battle, the women whose husbands were missing came to the formation to know the news of them by the survivors. Amongst other names, I heard a female voice calling for Cochan, with no answer.
The name caught my attention and I noticed the poor woman that had called him, sob in front of us and apparently fearful of asking for her husband. (…) Mrs Cochan returned with me to the company to which her husband belonged and laid down in the bushes near us. She was with other women in the same circumstances, with the sky as canopy and the grass as pillows, because we didn't had our tents. Poor woman!»

Chapter 4
«I remember seeing many men weakening during the march from Salamanca. Our marches were long, and the most week were detected. It was everyone for himself, those whose strengths began to fail didn't looked right nor left, they just continued straight ahead, with glassy eyes, stumbling the best they could. If they would fall, sometimes it wasn't easy to get up again, and few were willing to help the comrades when their own energy was diminished. In this march I myself, even being strong, felt completely defeated, and fell down on the streets of a town called, I think, Zamora, where I stayed, like dead, for a while.»

Chapter 5
(Battle of Vimeiro) «As soon as the battle was over; a truce flag had arrived from the French side; I think that it was general Kellerman that brought it. We laid on the floor on the spot we were standing when the firing stopped. A Frenchman laid on the ground near me: he was dieing and asked me for water, which I understood more from his mannerisms then his words (he pointed his finger to his mouth). It's needless to say that I got up and gave it to him.»

(Major Travers)«The Major revealed what no one of us, I think, knew, which was, he was completely bold and had covered the nudity of is head with a wig, which, during the heat of the battle, was dislodged of one way or the other; however, one could see the Major riding his horse from one side of the other, diging his spurs on the sides of the horse and so agitated as at the end of the battle. “A guinea” he would repeat shouting while riding, “to whom finds my wig!”»

Chapter 6
«I had roamed until some distance when I saw a French officer running in my direction with all the energy, chased by at least half a dozen men on horse. The Frenchman was a tall and good looking man, with a blue uniform; he ran so fast like a wild Indian, dodging himself like a rabbit. I lifted my hand and yelled at his chasers to not hurt him. However, one of the riders made him fall down with a despaired blow, already close to me, and on the return tilted himself and thrusted him with the sword.
I'm afraid to say that there was an English dragoon amongst these rascals; the others I thought being, by their uniforms, from the Portuguese cavalry. If the Frenchman slaughtered this way was a prisoner trying to escape, or whatever reason for this episode of cold blooded cruelty, I don't know, because the riders left in gallop immediately without a word of explanation; although regarding it as completely disgusting the scene I've just witnessed, I went back to my comrades, laid down again and soon I was sleeping so profoundly as any other there.»

(August or early September)«Soon after, captain Leech told me to take my cobbling instruments out and start working on the men's belts, many of which had been torn during action; I continued with that occupation as long as there was enough light to see, afterward laying down to rest.
That night we laid on a hill; many men broke of branches from the trees near by, to make a small roofing for the heads, since we didn't had our tents with us.
I remember that it was very cold that night , in such a way that I couldn't sleep because of the cold; my feet had shrunken, as if I had cramps. In fact, I was forced to get up once more during the night and run to keep my limbs warm.»

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