I arrived in His Majesty's ship the 'Wilhelmina' Capt. Sind, at Cosseir, from Mocha, on the 14th July 1801, after a passage, against the monsoon, of two months.
July 17th - I was ordered to hold myself in readiness to march across the desert to Kene on the Nile, a distance of about 130 miles, and to take under my command four companies of His Majesty's Sixty-First Regiment, and a detachment of His Majesty's Tenth Regiment, infantry, together with a small party of the Eighth Light Dragoons, - these amounted to 582 soldiers; - twenty boxes of treasure were likewise put under my escort. The line of march consisted of upwards of 850 men, including Indian followers, Arab camel-drivers, &c.
July 18th - Every preparation having been made, I marched at 6 o'clock PM, with the troops, followers, drivers, &c, as already stated; and our line of march was considerably increased by a number of asses, the property of individuals, who had loaded these useful animals with an independent supply of water. We continued our route, keeping a large range of rocky and burnt-up hills on our left; a very fine moon shone only to render this dreary scene the more awful; the setting sun brought us little, if any, relief as to heat. After marching about 5 miles we came to some springs, or rather a black rivulet of water, very bitter, which crosses the valley through which the road leads. I endeavoured in vain to prevent the soldiers from drinking of this infernal brook; thirst was too imperious, and I soon found that my orders had been disregarded by all the rear. Many of the men soon felt the ill effects, and this was much aggravated by the very extraordinary closeness of the heat; what air did exist, was like the breathing of a furnace.
At 12 o'clock we reached the new wells. I reckon the distance about 13 miles, where I found a subaltern officer and a few Sepoys stationed to take charge of, and protect them. After placing the necessary guards, &c, I ordered the detachment to lie down, and we enjoyed a most refreshing repose for about three hours. At this time the captain of the rear-guard came up, and reported that a great many stragglers were still behind.
I ordered the drums to beat half an hour before day, when the camp was pitched, and the men sheltered from the sun, which rose with a most blazing and fiery aspect. From midnight, until a little after sunrise, the air in the desert is delightfully cool and refreshing, (I mean comparatively with the rest if the 24 hours); nature, I suppose, has kindly ordained this comfort to the unfortunate travellers, and still more miserable inhabitants of this dreary waste.
July 19th - It was late in the day when all our stragglers came up. I was much concerned to find that the mussacks (large leather bags made so to hold water, and are placed on the backs of camels like panniers.) had leaked considerably, and that I should be under the necessity of replenishing them from the wells of this post. I must here observe, that General Baird had caused, both at this and other posts on the desert, wells to be dug, in order to procure supply of that greatest of all necessaries of life (in such a climate as this) - water. In these scanty sources, it was thick and muddy; however, even this, could we have obtained it in abundance, would have been reckoned a luxury; but alas! a very limited supply was all we could get: therefore, at half-past five PM, I marched.
We passed for some hours through a long and winding valley; high, brown, rugged mountains, with here and there a solitary eagle perched upon a projecting crag, were the only gloomy objects that presented themselves. We continued our route northerly, through some desolate wilderness, and at 1 o'clock I judged it necessary to halt; but this halting place was not to be distinguished from any accommodations, not from a spring or rivulet of water, not from any shelter from the scorching sun, and more suffocating hot wind, but it became a place of repose merely from the total incapacity of the troops to a move a mile further: here then I ordered the baggage to be unloaded, and the detachment to lie down and rest. I never suffered the tents to be pitched until just before sunrise, as I found the soldiers always marched more refreshed by letting them take their rest the instant they halted, than to undergo the fatigue and confusion of pitching tents in the total dark. No dew falls in the desert; the air is so greedy of moisture, that the least wet is instantly absorbed, and sleeping in the open air was here a luxury.
July 20th - I was much grieved at daylight to find that about 40 men were still behind. I trembled at the horrors these poor fellows would be exposed to, should they be left destitute and forlorn in the desert. After seriously reflecting upon this most melancholy circumstance, I sent for the chief Arab, who, as a kind of scheik, had some sort of control over the camel-drivers, and ordered him to collect some of the principal ones; as soon as they came to my tent, I told them the apprehensions I was under, and proposed to them to return in the track we had come the day before for at least 7 miles, and promised to reward them liberally for every soldier they should bring up. All their attention was called forth by the mention of money, and they became eager to be useful. Twenty camels set off, and my brother, Captain Frederick Barlow, Sixty-First Regiment, very humanely volunteered, notwithstanding the intolerable heat, to attend the camels. I filled a cag with a mixture of port wine and water, which he took with him, and it proved of the most essential service. At the distance of from 4 to 6 miles from camp, he picked up 21 poor exhausted fainting wretches, who, without his assistance, must have died in a very few hours: some not able to speak, and the whole totally incapable of walking a step further. One fine lad in particular, was so far gone, as to lay stretched out on the sand as if expiring; but upon pouring some of the wine and water down his throat, he gradually recovered, and he was brought into camp in a man's arms on a camel. Water, and afterwards some wine, soon restored him to sufficient strength to enable him to proceed on a camel, with other sick men, that afternoon: before 2 o'clock all the absentees got into camp.
This day we contrived to eat tolerably well; but for want of water to wet the bags, our wine was as hot as milk immediately from the cow,- the water we had to drink was the same, therefore to quench our thirst was impossible. At half an hour past 9 I marched, and we had not proceeded 2 miles the heat absolutely suffocating, when we were met by a convoy of camels, loaded with most excellent water. This very seasonable supply had been forwarded to us from Moila, owing to my having sent on to the officer commanding that post, to say how distressed I was for water from the leakage of our mussacks. Many of the soldiers quitted their ranks, and eagerly ran upto the camels to seize upon the water. I had no little difficulty in restraining them. I even told the officers to acquaint their men, that I would not permit the camels to be unloaded if the least irregularity took place. This has an immediate effect; and as the detachment stood in open column of half companies, the whole, in less than an hour, were eagerly served with an ample supply, besides filling their canteens; as this water came in large earthern jars, it was quite cool, and we such an astonishing effect upon the troops, that we were enabled to get on with great vigour, and at half-past 1 on the 21st of July, we reached Moila.
21st July - This extraordinary spot is situated in a ravine between steep and rugged rocks, and is uncommonly romantic. Here, then, I found it absolutely necessary to halt, that is, to remain until the evening of the 22nd, as the men stood in the greatest need of a little repose. In the course of the day many Arabs came to the camp with various articles of provisions for sale. Mutton we recieved as rations in abundance - indee at every post in the desert where water was to be had, even in the smallest quantity, General Baird had made depots of provisions; therefore we had only to carry the necessary supply for those halting places where no water was to be found. All our stragglers reached the camp before 2 PM of this day.
22nd July - I this day ordered the men to wash their persons, and otherwise put themselves into as clean and good order as circumstances would permit. At 6 o'clock PM we marched. The road leads through a most romantic valley; at about 6 miles' distance, under some craggy rocks on the left hand side, are 3 wells or springs of water. Three miles from these are the 9 mile wells, where we arrived at about 10 PM. Here I found an officer and a party of Sepoys, but was informed by him, that my detachment was so numerous it would very soon drain the pits or wells he was posted at; and the next day not a drop of water was to be got from them. At 5 PM I marched, and just before sun-set we saw a wild beast, which proved to be a lion. We continued on our route over the dreary, desolate, and solitary waste for 7 hours, when I found the men were excessively fatigued. Accordingly I gave orders to halt, although we had not arrived at the half-way distance between the 9 mile wells and Legattah. We lay down upon a large and extensive desert plain, and at daylight, as usual, the camp was pitched.
23rd July - I had despatched a light camel or dromedary to Legattah with a letter to the officer stationed there, requesting him to send a supply of water to meet me on my march to that place; and relying upon his being able to comply with my request, I emptied the mussacks before I left this dreary halt, which was by much the worst we had yet experienced. At 6 PM we marched from this abominable and burning spot. After 6 hours' march the men began to complain grievously from the want of water, and I confess I almost feared the officer at Legattah had not found it possible to send a supply as I had required; however, a little after midnight, I had the inexpressible satisfaction to perceive a large escort coming towards us, - the first thing that attracted my attention was the glittering of the Sepoy's arms, the moon shining in great splendour, - which proved to be 28 camels loaded with water. Words cannot express the sensations of our poor fellows when I rode along the line of march, telling them a convoy of water was in front. I halted, and upon inquiry found that a great number had fallen behind; after supplying all the others in an ample way, I caused a captain's guard, a surgeon, and 7 camels' load of water, together with every light and unloaded camel we could spare to remain in this spot, in order to bring up the stragglers.
24th July - I then told the rest that those able to march might go on with me, as after an hour's rest I was resolved to push on for Legattah (then distant 9 miles) with the treasure and those of the troops capable of proceeding. To my great surprise, almost the whole said they could march from the comfortable supply of water they had first had, and the short repose I had given them; therefore, after leaving some of the most weakly with a captain, 2 subalterns, one surgeon, the water and camels as above stated, I continued my route, and after 2 hours' march had the satisfaction to come in sight of the lights of Legattah camp. So fatiguing was this forced march, that I was frequently in danger of falling from my horse from sleep. An officer of the Tenth Regiment fell from an ass he rode, and hurt himself coniderably. I got in just before dawn of day, all of us exceedingly exhausted; and it was not until 3 PM that the captain with the rear-guard and stragglers came up; this made it impossible for me to leave the camp until the evening following - the poor fellows who dropped in during the day, panting and fainting, were incapable of further exertions. The thermometer in my tent was here at 114 degrees.
25th July - At Legattah
we found a large
detachment of Sepoys under Captain Mahony, of the Seventh
Bombay Regiment: he behaved to us in the most liberal and attentive
manner. We were supplied with every necessary by this officer;
and he fulfilled his duties of his post, not to the strict letter
of his orders, but to the fullest extent of every humane and hospitable
constructions of them.
The ensuing march to Buramba was to be a very long one; and I found it necessary to make it in two, as follows:
26th July - At 6 PM on the 26th, we left Legattah, and continued our route for 6 hours and a half by my watch, when I odered the detachment to halt, caused the treasure camels to be unloaded, and directed the rest with the tents, baggage, sick, &c to proceed on Buramba. I then ordered to detachment to be served with plenty of water, when we all lay down and enjoyed 3 hours most refreshing sleep. A little before day the drums beat, the treasure reloaded, and we proceeded, and arrived at Buramba at 6 AM of the 27th.
27th July - Here we first saw verdure: this agreeable prospect opened to us immediately upon the dawn of the day, and infused spirit into everybody. This village seemed to us a little paradise, and, like sailors arrived at a shore of plenty and ease, after the perils of shipwreck, distress, and want, was looked upon by all as a blessed haven. At noon I despatched an officer with a report to General Baird, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian army, who was at Kene on the Nile, of my having reached Buramba without the loss of a single man; and at 2 o'clock AM on the 28th, I marched (having previosuly at midnight sent on the tents and baggage).
28th July to 1st August - Shortly after daylight we passed 2 miserable Arab villages; we then found ourselves in cultivated ground, and were eagerly looking out for the glorious Nile, whose direction we could easily trace from the date-trees and vegitation apparent upon its banks, although we could not see the noble river; shortly afterwards we got sight of Kene, and a mile or 2 from it were met by General Baird and his suite. He ordered me to proceed to the banks of the Nile, and at 7 o'clock we encamped about a quarter of a mile westward of the town of Kene, and 15 yards from the brink of the river. One cannot picture the joy we all felt at arriving amongst our brother soldiers, after the 10 days of uncommon fatigue we had just experienced. Kene abounded with every kind of provision, such as mutton, poutlry, fish, milk, vegetable, &c, the whole at the most reasonable rates. The heat in this camp was excessive, certainly greater than at Cosseir. The General ordered the troops to be in readiness to embark in d'jirms, already collected to convey the army down the Nile, and which were to rendezvous at Cairo, where the General meant to collect all his army, in order to carry it entire to Rosetta, from which place he could make every arrangement for our junction with the English army before Alexandria.
2nd August to 2nd September - We embarked on the 2nd of August, the Sixty-First Regiment, about 900 strong, was allowed 17 d'jirms, and fell down with the current. The distance to Cairo is about 400 miles. We arrived at that celebrated place on the 11th. The army encamped on the island of Rhoda on the Nile, between Cairo and Gaza; and on the 28th. the whole being collected, we re-embarked and proceeded towards Rosetta; and on the 31st we landed an encamped at El Hamed, 4 miles to the southward of that town; two days after which the General changed his camp to Aboumandour, so called from the tower which stands just above the Nile, about 1 mile and a quarter to the S.E. of Rosetta.
J.J. Barlow, Lieut-Colonel, 61st Regiment.