1819 October 15

Eliza Fenwick, Barbados, to Mary Hays, [no address page], Friday morning to Tuesday morning, 15-19 October [1819].1

Friday Morning Octr 15th

3d day of a storm

I scarcely know why I choose such an hour as this to begin a letter to you only that it appears less melancholy to describe past devastation than to look on and see the ruin around us hourly encreasing. We are in the third day of a storm and in our own persons are safe nor has our individual property suffered any very important injury ^as^ yet, but our house is filled with the dripping goods & furniture of our less fortunate neighbours – Last night about eight nine oClock our new Bridge only erected 10 months, gave way & with the Gable ends of two contiguous houses was swept into the Sea. The torrent of water then overflowed the lower story of the houses & the Streets. An opposite wall ^soon^ fell, but that which surrounds our front garden on two sides continued firm, & we appeared as if we were living in the midst of a Lake. Our Cellars are overflowed, which deprived us of one hope, for as they are very spacious and built with uncommon strength upon Arches we were advised, by a Gentleman who requested he might retreat with his wife & children to the same shelter, to remove into the Cellar if the surrounding houses began to fall. I think we shall escape, for it appears to me that the wind is less violent and as our terrific Cabbage tree stood the gusts of Wednesday it will remain. It is a magnificent perpendicular Pillar standing exactly before my Chamber window & its overthrow would demolish that end of the house entirely. Our greatest danger, unless the wind rises to its former violence, is this sweeping torrent of water rushing down from the hilly parts of the Country – in general a narrow stream but now broad as the Thames and roaring with a tremendous noise equal to that of the Sea which if we look out of a window in another part of the house we see lifting its waves mountains high and threatening destruction.

It was only on Monday last that Prayers were said and a general annual solemnity held in commemorating of the dreadful storm of 1780 in this Island and this commenced in the night of Tuesday but was nothing more than a high wind till between one & two on Wednesday and from that time has been tremendous – I write by snatches – it is now 11 oClock – The torrent encreases in power – We have heard the dreadful crash of three more houses falling on the opposite side of that horrid chasm that was yesterday our bridge – Another bridge a small wooden one higher up is overflown & now we are shut out from all possible communication with the other side of the Town. We have no means of getting ^at^ bread or any ^fresh^ provisions & if the servants we have sent out to search the Hucksters shops down the bay, do not get biscuits and salt fish which is all we can hope for, I know not what will be done for the poor children & boarders. My poor & lovely baby is pining in vain for his milk – Dreadful accounts are rumour’d from the Country but no certainty – The best state must be bad enough.

Perhaps this will never reach you – We have just been warned to secure our money & portable valuables. It is expected the flood will rise to our level & sap our foundations. Another very large house opposite to one side of ours & the only one between us & the river is already overflown in the lower story and the wall is cracked – about a quarter of a mile from us two Ladies went with their Husbands & the children one into a Portico out the back of their house to look at the storm. In an instant the ground gave way & they were all lost, but the Husband of one who was washed back to the beach.

This river has divided into two channels & made another passage to the Sea carrying every thing that opposed its progress. <–> We are now also out off from the Garrison & that side of the Country. This little memorial of my last thoughts will probably never meet your eye but if we are saved you will thank me & I shall have in additional claim to your affection.

5 oClock

The rain abates. The water abates. The wind has changed to a favorable quarter.

9 oClock

An hours cessation from rain. Tremendous darkness but we are going to lie down. Mrs Rutherfords presence of mind fortitude & chearfulness & exertions have aided and supported every body.

Saturday morning

We are safe my beloved friend! The Sun is shedding his golden beams over heaps of ruin. I hope this will reach as early as any tidings of our danger. My heart is too full of our deliverance to write more now.

Tuesday Octr 19.

A vessel is about to be dispatched to overtake the last Packet. We pay a high price for the admission of letters but I will not withhold this scrawl.

Farewell Heaven preserve you. I will write again soon Eliza joins in kindest love.

Yrs most truly

E. Fenwick

Address: Mrs M. Hays

Postmark: None

1 Fenwick Family Papers, Correspondence, 1798-1855, New York Historical Library, misdated in Library file as “1816”; Wedd, Fate of the Fenwicks 180-82, also dated “1816”; not in Brooks, Correspondence. Fenwick also sent a letter to Crabb Robinson about the storm, which he shared with Hays on 27 November 1819, writing in his diary later that night that it was “a letter worth printing.” The storm, of course, is a hurricane which barreled through the Islands in October 1819.