Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

At an early age, he was admitted a scholar at Merchant Taylors' school; and on leaving it was placed, on friendly terms, with a gentleman having the management of an extensive property in Wiltshire*, with a view to his acquiring some knowledge of business; but his singularly pleasing spirit and address were such, that he very soon became the favourite of the family, and his visit turned out to be one rather of pleasure and enjoyment than of improvement. On his return to London, he was placed with an eminent solicitor, and excellent man, in very extensive practice. And here, again, the influence of his attaching qualities operated unfavourably for his welfare; as the master soon became the too kind ar.d indulgent friend.

Running a little out of bounds, the even tenour of young Denham's professional pursuits was interrupted ; and, seeking a more enlarged and enterprising sphere of action, he entered the army, as a volunteer, in 1811, and served during the whole succeeding period of the campaigns in the Peninsula. He did not, however, obtain his commission in the English army until he had served a considerable time in a Portuguese regiment; and it was hardly earned, for rougher and worsepaid service has seldom been endured. But he was supported in it by the peculiar talent which he possessed in surmounting difficulties. At length, however, he was appointed to a lieutenancy in the 23d Fusileers.

The great advantages which his British commission gave him, and of which no one knew better how to avail himself, now made his life one of comparative ease and comfort. Amidst the various vicissitudes of a campaign, battles, skirmishes, and alarms; forced marches and bivouacs; sometimes in tents without food, at others with abundant provender, but exposed to inclement weather, with no other canopy than that of heaven, Denham's sumpter-mule was seldom without at least one well-filled pannier; and every one in the division thought it good luck to fall in with him after a march.

* He had here frequent opportunities of meeting the celebrated Mr. James Wyatt, whose youthful and joyous disposition is well remembered by all who knew him, and who took great pleasure in making himself the playmate of young Denham, when the latter ought to have been sitting at the desk in the counting-house.

Here, also, his happy tact and unfailing flow of spirits made him beloved by his equals, whilst his exemplary attention to his military duties secured him the good opinion and favour of his superior officers. Sir James Douglas, who commanded the regiment of Portuguese infantry to which Denham was appointed, soon became, and ever continued, his fast and powerful friend; and they served together until the return of the British army to England.

His division was actively engaged in the attack on Badajos, and in the battles of Salamanca, Vittoria, and others. At Toulouse, while acting as Aide-de-Camp to Sir James Douglas, he had the distressing yet grateful task of carrying off the field his friend and commanding officer, who was struck, while riding by Denham's side, by a cannon-ball near the ankle. Amputation became immediately necessary; and it was performed amidst the still fast-falling shot from the fort above them. Sir James's horse was killed by the same shot; and Brigade-Major Birmingham received another through the body nearly at the same instant, and fell dead upon the spot. Quarters were found for Colonel Douglas in the town; although with great difficulty; for not only was the hospital filled with wounded, but the court-yard was so crowded with them, that it was difficult to step without treading on the men. The gallantry of a brave Serjeant, however, a fellow-sufferer, who was just able to move, and who instantly offered his bed to his superior officer, enabled Colonel Douglas to receive those attentions which were indispensable at that critical and anxious moment. The writer of this Memoir has heard Sir James Douglas declare that he owed the preservation of his life on that day to Denham's care and exertion; and he, in his turn, derived the most heartfelt gratification from the consciousness that he had made some real return to his kind commander for all his constant favour and protection. Sir James perfectly recovered, and is still in the enjoyment of good health.

On the evacuation of Portugal, Denham was reduced to half-pay; but he sought employment, was soon appointed to the 54th regiment, then commanded by Lord Waldegrave, and, joining the British army in the Netherlands, shared in the honours of Waterloo, and accompanied the allied armies on their entry into Paris.

Again reduced to half-pay on the peace establishment, he passed some years on the Continent, both in France and in Italy; and in 18)9 was admitted into the senior department of the Royal Military College at Farnham. He there pursued his course of studies with great credit, under the excellent system laid down by Sir Howard Douglas, the Governor; and obtained the approbation and confidence of that accomplished officer, whose military and scientific character stands so high as to make his personal favour an enviable distinction: and in that light Denham ever viewed it.

It is, however, as the traveller in northern and central Africa that Colonel Denham's name will be remembered by the world; and it was in that arduous and perilous undertaking that the peculiar strength and energy of his character were most prominently displayed. Whether we consider the intrepid manner in which, after the disheartening interview with the Sultan of Fezzan, he returned alone to Tripoli, and at once charged the Bashaw himself with bad faith towards the English Government, and compelled the fulfilment of his engagements; his happy tact in conciliating the Arabs (the circulating medium, as they may be called, of those barren wastes), and others of the wild family of nature whom he encountered in the desert; or his address in so quickly gaining, on his arrival at Bornou, the confidence of the good Sheikh with whom he resided eighteen months, an admirable union of courage and temper, perseverance and moderation, is discovered throughout his whole career, which proves his singular fitness and ability for such a species of enterprise. A narrative of his Travels and Discoveries in Africa was published by Mr. Murray in 1825; and has been so generally read (having gone through three editions), that it is hardly necessary to say, the mission consisted, besides Colonel (then Major) Denhani, of Dr. Oudney, and Captain (then Lieutenant) Clapperton: the former of whom died at Murmur near Katagum, in Soudan, in January 1824; the latter, though having suffered most severely from climate in the former enterprise, embarked on a second expedition in November, 1825, with the view of penetrating from the southern coast to Sackatoo, in Soudan; at which place he unhappily perished, in April, 1827.*

Thus firmly established as the most successful traveller in those hitherto-unexplored regions, Colonel Denham became an object of peculiar favour and deep interest in the highest circles at home; and his pleasing exterior, manly affability, and travelled air, were such, that he was at no loss to sustain his pretensions in any society. To Earl Bathurst's discriminating and unostentatious kindness he was much indebted: he was an invited guest both in London and at Oakley; and his Lordship's desire to mark his approbation of the zeal and intelligence which the traveller had evinced, led him to offer to his acceptance a new and experimental appointment to Sierra Leone, just then decided on at the suggestion of General Turner, then Governor of the Colony. The lamented death of that zealous officer, however, deprived him of the gratification of seeing his recommendation adopted, and Colonel Denham of the advantage of his co-operation.

No sooner, therefore, had Colonel Denham performed his duty to his fellow-travellers and himself, in presenting to the public his simple narrative of their discoveries (for the death of Dr. Oudney in Africa, and the departure of Captain Clapperton on his second journey to Sockatoo, necessarily left this duty in his hands), than, anxious for enterprise, he was appointed Superintendant, or Director-General, of the liberated African department at Sierra Leone and the coasts of Africa, and became a member of Council. Major-General Sir Neil Campbell had in the interim assumed the government of the colony,on the death of General Turner; and Colonel Denham cheerfully entered on the preparation for his mission. He embarked accordingly, on the 8th of December, 1826, on board the Cadmus, Captain Hallowell, at Plymouth, where was then also lying the British armament about to sail for Portugal, and just ready to put to sea. This could not fail to excite his military ardour, and recal soul-stirring recollections of his old campaigns in the Peninsula; and he says in a letter written at the time:—

* See the Memoir of Captain Clapperton in Volume XIII. of the " Annual Biography and Obituary."

"Here are troops going out to Portugal. I think I should have had a good chance for being now employed, but 'Che sara sara;' and no doubt all is for the best."

In twenty-eight days from the date of this letter he landed at Sierra Leone. His early duty was to visit the villages surrounding Free Town, in which the liberated Africans are located; and the following description will show his simple and characteristic manner of conveying his impressions : —

"I am now, and have been for these five days, among the mountain villages, with superb scenery, a fresh breeze, and a warm sun, in a cool house with a large piazza of wood, in the midst of a population of eleven hundred liberated Africans, and discharged black soldiers. In the market are daily different kinds of fish; bananas and pine-apples are in the garden of the manager's house; oranges, nuts, red peppers, tomatoes, ochroes (as good as asparagus), and excellent water from a brook that runs down the mountain side. My evening rides to the neighbouring villages, where I am endeavouring to establish order, and encourage industry, are quite delightful. What does one want more? Why, I will tell you, — society."

From May to October the wretchedly unhealthy wet season continues; and although Colonel Denham observed in the beginning, that "the rains were nothing when compared to those of the Bornou country," in a subsequent letter he admitted that the debilitating effects of the rainy-season fever at Sierra Leone were dreadful in the extreme; and that the

Vol. xiv. D

« ElőzőTovább »