A Morbid Dread of Water
By Leslie Smith Dow
Cover photo courtesy Debra A. Horwitz.
Table of Contents
Chapter Seven: Particular Frailties
Chapter Eight: The Deepening Waters
Chapter Nine: On The Road to Bog’s
Chapter Ten: At The Beckwith Store
Chapter Eleven: The Price of Allegiance
Chapter Twelve: The Duke’s Strange Malady
Chapter Thirteen: At Vaughan’s Cabin
Chapter Fourteen: Later That Same Day
Chapter Fifteen: Desire and Despair
Chapter Sixteen: The Typical Terrors
Chapter Seventeen: At the Richmond Arms
Chapter Eighteen: A Gargle of Port Wine
Chapter Nineteen: An Idiot in a Skiff
Chapter Twenty: Bleeding or Blistering?
Chapter Twenty-one: A Trickle of Scarlet
Chapter Twenty-two: Colonel Cockburn’s Account
“Oh, no,” said the duke, “the little fellow will not bite me,” but as he put out his hand the fox snapped at him, and made three scratches, causing the hand to bleed. The duke drew it back, saying, “my friend, you bite very hard.”
(William Kingsford in ^^1^^[+)+]
In August of 1819, Charles Lennox, 4th duke of Richmond, Captain General and Governor-in-Chief of Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, began the last leg of a summer-long tour of inspection of fortifications, military settlements and naval establishments in Upper and Lower Canada. Along the way, he was stricken by a mysterious illness and died in agony. The story of the remarkable journey was chronicled by two of the duke’s closest aides, Lt.-Col. Francis Cockburn and Maj. George Bowles, veteran campaigners who found themselves powerless to prevent his untimely demise. Their diaries, increasingly detailed as the illness progressed, make compelling reading.
Copies of the original documents detailing the duke’s death were circulated among senior members of the British cabinet. Yet these “diaries” are misleading in one respect: they contained few personal or cultural details—possibly the most interesting part of any story. While every effort has been made to provide an accurate historical framework for the story, some subjective elements are entirely fictional. Cockburn’s wife had a fling with a young officer during the War of 1812 but how he may have felt about this can only be imagined. Richmond Arms hostess Maria Hill was said to be very attractive, energetic and blessed with a good singing voice as well as a sturdy practicality, having been an assistant surgeon during the same war, a job she took in order to be near her husband, a sergeant—but Cockburn’s attraction to her is invention. Reverend William Bell’s trials and tribulations as spiritual head of the Perth Anglican community were very real, as were his complaints to Cockburn; their conversation is a recreation. Cockburn and Bowles made no reference to Richmond’s being a lycanthrope—a wolf man—or a vampire, his symptoms were much the same as signs reported and feared by villagers throughout Europe where strange epidemics of madness (almost certainly rabies) were routinely experienced. The “madness’ of King George III, now believed to be porphyria, was also consistent with descriptions of so-called ‘wolfmen.’
Quebec City, Lower Canada
July 29, 1818
His trowsers had been bleached, his hose stitched and every bit of brass on his uniform including his shoe buckles had been polished until he could see his reflection. Lt.-Col. Francis Cockburn had to admit that his batsman had done an excellent job, even by his own exceedingly high standards. Admittedly, his outmoded scarlet tunic should have been replaced in accordance with the army’s recently-amended style guidelines, but it was too late now. The new governor’s ship had been sighted and was now entering the harbour. Within the half-hour, Cockburn would see for himself whether His Majesty’s latest representative would help or hinder his ambitious plans.
Cockburn could feel his sparse hair dampening under the heavy black cockade, the molten July sun making short work of the servant’s heroic last-ditch efforts. Every few minutes he was forced to take out his handkerchief and mop away the beads of perspiration that trickled down his brow. Virtually the whole town had turned out in hopeful expectation of a glimpse of the new arrivals. Food vendors hawked their wares up and down the wide cobbled boulevard next to the harbour, narrowly avoiding mountebanks performing cartwheels, musicians playing traditional folksongs on penny whistles and drums, and children playing hoops. Those who had Sunday clothes put them on; those who did not came in whatever rags they had. Despite the early hour, a battery of the town’s prostitutes had turned out, arrayed in all their finery. For now, Cockburn was content to ignore them, so long as they stayed in the background—especially when his Grace arrived. It was not every day that a new governor arrived, at least not one that was a duke. There had been a bit of a run on governors lately. Three years before, Sir George Prevost had been recalled to face a court martial; his replacement, John Coape Sherbrooke, had recently suffered a stroke. Both men had been popular and conciliatory to the Catholic canadien population. It was a fine balance that Cockburn earnestly hoped would not be upset.
Loyal and hardworking, the 36-year-old exuded a single-minded scientific efficiency that brokered little time for marital intimacy. Alicia had not been the sort of woman he had hoped for in a wife. Her problem, in Cockburn’s opinion, was that she had over-educated herself. He blamed books and tea, both of which his wife devoured in harmful quantities, for her willfulness. It had caused her mind to become unbalanced and her nerves to weaken. Lately she had even attempted to engage him on the frightening subject of women’s rights. Alicia didn’t even bother debating the dangerous subject of women’s exercise, wandering off at will on wintertime expeditions to Montmorency Falls, attending skating parties, sleighing parties and dancing until the wee hours. She loved nothing better than to spend an entire day walking the mountainous countryside, thrilled at the idea she might be mistaken for some coarse and hardy habitant –or even a savage—instead of the wife of a respectable gentleman officer in His Majesty’s army. “I am so beautifully brown,” she had written to her cousin Charles Sandys in England, “that I am thinking of having my portrait painted in the garb of an Indian princess.”
Though often misunderstood as being pompous, many people--officers, soldiers and civilians alike-- nonetheless turned to him to fix their problems. He never failed to make himself available to sort out misunderstandings, errors and omissions, and this felicitous talent (which his wife called an obsession) was one of the reasons he had been appointed to the staff, first as assistant quarter-master general, then raised to the deputy’s post. The promotion had been a Godsend, appreciated all the more given the deep and merciless paring of the British forces world-wide. Cockburn had to admit that his priority, indeed his entire focus, was his career. As the youngest son of a disgraced baron, he had few prospects other than the army or navy. He had not been picky. Cockburn had a talent for observing and cataloguing what others failed to notice, especially tidbits of information dropped during unguarded moments of informal conversation. Though he was too irascible to be a natural diplomat, Cockburn’s impeccable English manners learned from a mother renowned for her graciousness tempered this tendency.
He had even tried, in his own fashion, to please his impulsive, temperamental wife. Malcontent at her embroidery and barren to boot, she did have money and that counted for something. Lord knows he sent for her to join him whenever he could on his field assignments. They were often together for several weeks on end, and she rarely spent more than six months at a stretch alone. Virtually every winter he returned to her in either Montreal or Quebec, often devoting hours at a time to comprehending her latest theories. During their time apart, Alicia had easily made the acquaintance of several of the colony’s political luminaries and lotharios, men who could easily become the new governor’s chief allies—or his worst enemies. That, too, could prove useful. He often found himself keeping close company with the powerful and influential and, as his wife so often reminded him, he preferred it that way.
As the longboat neared shore, Cockburn noticed some of the mollies had begun plucking wildflowers from between the cobbles, fashioning favours to sell to prospective clients. Directly behind him, a company of soldiers had assembled, some of the younger ones glancing warily from side to side, in a not-unfounded expectation of trouble. Cockburn had already heard some anti-English sentiments muttered, though he pretended he hadn’t. There was no point in looking for trouble, though trouble was probably exactly what Louis-Joseph Papineau wanted. The firebrand had made his way to the front of the crowd, quietly claiming pride of place next to Chief Justice Jonathan Sewell and Anglican bishop Jacob Mountain, two of the most prominent members of what Papineau scathingly called the Chateau Clique. It would not do to cross them; those who had foolishly done so found out to their peril who wielded the colony’s true power.
Beside him, a little breeze playfully lifted the brim of Alicia’s lavender cloche hat and ruffled the succession of lacy frills on the bodice of her mull day dress. With every wave of her fan, she conveyed the unmistakable impression that she would gladly exchange her present circumstances for almost any other that promised the least bit of novelty. Cockburn gave an unbecoming snort, marveling at her adroitness. He was fairly sure a duke could offer her endless amusement, especially one who had not brought his wife along. He could already envision the difficult task he would have keeping his wife away from the Chateau’s new arrival. Already word had spread of the duke’s passion for the ladies, and this healthy regard for affairs de coeur hadn’t hurt his reputation in the slightest.
What mystified them both, Cockburn reflected, were the subtleties of matrimony. Though the notion of sensibility had swept English society years before, Richmond and Cockburn remained immune to its central tenets, which postulated the enjoyment of a meaningful, loving and above all monogamous relationship-- preferably with one’s legal spouse. Though the duke and duchess had wisely remained an ocean apart, anyone could see that the Cockburn’s marriage was in trouble. He might be able to build a road, or oversee the repair a crumbling fort, but Francis knew some things could never be fixed. Like Richmond, he had given up trying.
Chapter One: A Question of Loyalty
August, 1819. Kingston, Upper Canada
17th Left York in the Steam Boat Frontenac
18th Arrived at Kingston
19th Remained at Kingston
20th The Duke of Richmond, Major Bowles, and myself left Kingston about ½past 7 o’clock a.m. on our way to Perth. The first 7 miles we went in Waggons. The Road becoming bad we quitted the Waggons and mounted our horses, on which we rode for about 18 miles We halted at a Tavern kept by a Man named Hoskiss.
…Excerpt from “Particulars of The Death of Charles 4th Duke of Richmond,” Lt.-Col. Cockburn’s Account.2
It was often said that Lt.-Col. Francis Cockburn was acquainted with every facet of the workings of His Majesty’s North American Forces, and this was perfectly true. It was also said that no man serving under the colonel dared commit any offence, even if only in thought, for he was always found out. Some said Cockburn had the Sight. This, however, was pure conjecture.
There was no doubt the commander was a master of discovery. What he wished to know, he found out, through observation, discreet enquiry, and often by pure, unnerving intuition. Like this morning. Something had nagged at him all night, and he had finally risen at dawn, employing his time checking and re-checking every item that would be needed for the upcoming journey. By the time they were ready to depart several hours later, he still could not lay his finger on what was wrong.
Two of the 70th Regiment’s best teamsters backed a pair of horses into the traces of an army buckboard, and the metal-rimmed wheels squealed sharply, protesting the early hour. Cockburn winced involuntarily. There were to be only four passengers in the little expedition, and two vehicles were, strictly speaking, unnecessary. The second wagon had been added at his insistence. One never knew what uncertainties might lay ahead.
Despite the earliness of the hour, the entire garrison had turned out to see Cockburn off, or more particularly, his vice-regal charge. The governor never seemed to tire of the tedious duties that went with the office of King’s representative. Cockburn was struck by how much His Grace seemed to genuinely enjoy its pomp and ceremony, even such a meagre effort as this one. Cockburn closed his eyes for a few moments, and inhaled deeply, trying to erase the worry that washed over him. His headache had returned with a vengeance, and he knew full well its cause.
The men of the 70th proudly presented themselves for one last inspection and Richmond finally took his leave of the commandant to the rousing strains of The Grand Overture of Quebec, played with more pride than polish by the regimental band. Cockburn winced at the cacophony, recognizing with regret the tune that had been penned in Richmond’s honour by the regiment’s former bandmaster. The governor climbed--a bit unsteadily, Cockburn noticed-- into the lead wagon and Blucher, the little spaniel who accompanied him everywhere, jumped immediately into his lap.
Cockburn stepped up into the second wagon with considerably more lightness than his commanding officer, taking his place on the left-hand side beside the driver. Baptiste, the duke’s body servant, was left to fend for himself amongst the provisions in the back. The teamster tied the last of the saddle horses to the rear wagon, then swung onto the bench. Cockburn gave the signal for their departure. The driver gathered the reins, calling his ‘gee-up’ and slapping the horses encouragingly on their haunches. The animals put their shoulders into their collars and the wagons creaked to life.
The troops marched them out Fort Henry’s gates and down the hill as far as the marshy juncture of Lake Ontario and the Cataraqui River, the band reprising (needlessly in Cockburn’s view) its enthusiastic theme song. Cockburn sat uneasily in the buckboard as it jolted after its counterpart, then angled north-east onto the road for the King’s Mills. Here the men of the 70th halted, saluting sharply at the governor’s diminishing figure. The final leg of this long journey had begun.
That Richmond had any legs whatsoever on this morning was a wonder. It had been a riotous night. Though Cockburn had imbibed as little as possible, the duke had regaled the officers with ribald tales of his early service with the Edinburgh-based 35th Regiment. Paymaster Thomas Scott had responded with tales of his own, some of which would doubtless be committed to the page by his famous brother, Walter. Few officers had been left standing by the time the duke polished off his fifth bottle of claret, then retired alone to his chamber, smoking cigars until the wee hours. His Grace was nearly at the end of the summer-long tour of Upper and Lower Canada which, despite a punishing and sometimes danger-fraught itinerary, had gone like clockwork. In two weeks, thanks to the lieutenant-colonel’s superb planning, they would be back in Quebec, the duke rejoining his sprawling family, the lieutenant-colonel back in lodgings with Alicia.
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A werewolf? Maybe. In August of 1819, Charles Lennox, 4th duke of Richmond, Captain General and Governor-in-Chief of Upper and Lower Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, began the last leg of a summer-long tour of inspection of fortifications, military settlements and naval establishments in Upper and Lower Canada. Along the way, he was stricken by a mysterious illness which transformed him in strange ways and gave him a kind of superhuman power. His weird and agonizing death was chronicled by two of the duke’s closest aides, Lt.-Col. Francis Cockburn and Maj. George Bowles, veteran campaigners who found themselves powerless to prevent his untimely demise. Their diaries were hushed up by the British authorities to prevent the startling details becoming public. Did the Third Duke of Richmond become a werewolf? The Diary of Death 1819 finally tells the gripping story of the last days of Charles Lennox, the "finest formed man in England."