“AS COMMANDER OF THE EXPEDITION, IT WAS MY DUTY TO BRING FORWARD THE WORK OF THE OFFICERS COMPOSING THE EXPEDITION, NOT AS WORKS OF ART SUCH AS YOURS, BUT AS BEING DESCRIPTIVE OF THE COUNTRY…”
CHESNEY, FRANCIS RAWDON . (1789-1872). British General, soldier and explorer of the Euphrates River whose expedition proved the practicability of the Euphrates route to India. Two, relatively rare, Autograph Letters Signed, “F.R. Chesney”. Four full pages total, quarto. Integral address leaf of March letter has Chesney’s franking signature at lower left, and ‘Holborn WC’ straight line cancellation. Both: Woolwich, [U.K.] March 23 and April 6, 1843. To David Roberts. Chesney, evidently writing concerning issues in the production of what was to be The Expedition for the Survey of the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris, writes:
[March 23, 1843] “My dear Sir, Although I did not then, nor do I now, see anything that could be done, I am not sorry that we had some conversation, because it gave an opportunity to correct misapprehensions. I have made a point of seeing Mr. Coulton who tells me that Mr. Day stated to him, that he expected his expenses of every description to be paid, and that he would not consent ever to pay a £5 note to a charitable institution, to settle the matter. Mr. Coulton on hearing this observed, that such terms were so far wide of anything I had a right to expect, that it would be useless to enter farther upon the subject. I have never heard what Mr. Coulton meant to propose, but he states most positively, that Mr. Day left him without his having made anything like a proposition. Perhaps Mr. Day may have confounded the contents of my letter which he percused [?] at Mssrs. Aernesley and Reade’s, with what he thought had passed with Mr. Coulton. With respect to the original Drawings to which you called my attention as being defective, I have no desire to blink [?] this matter. As Commander of the Expedition, it was my duty to bring forward the work of the Officers composing the Expedition, not as works of Art such as Yours, but as being descriptive of the Country: this having been the case, and their execution undertaken by Messrs. Day and Hague, as will be shown in writing; I have prepared the whole of them to produce side by side with the prints, that the Jury may be enabled to Judge for, or against me, in this matter. In June 1840 Mr. White of Marlbro [?] Street wrote to Day and Hague, but the proceedings were stopt [sic] by me, in consequence of the promises then made that my work won’t be speedily completed. If Mr. Hague was ignorant of this circumstance, the fault was not mine, and at any rate, he must have known that Mr. Coulton went to him and his partner for months in succession in 1841, to urge the completion of the Drawings, as I did also by letters from Ireland at that period. Towards the end of Oct. 1841 I instructed Messrs. Arnesley and Reade, either to get the work, or take other steps, but as promises of completion were made, I determined to wait for a time, and then to proceed if again disappointed. Accordingly on the 30th of May 1842 I directed Messrs. Sunesley and Reade peremtitorily [?], to commence a suit, should they not find the work completed; which unfortunately proved to be the case. I naturally expect that a Jury must award me very heavy Damages in consideration of the time lost, the Money lying idle, and the loss to the publication in consequence; but there is no Sum they can give, which could be anything like a compensation to my feelings for all the trouble and vexation experienced during the 5 years proceeding the action. I am quite at a loss to conceive why I was thus treated, but as it has been so, my great object is to let the whole affair appear before the World just as it was. I hope and expect to be able to prove that I did my utmost by the employment of others, and by writing urgent letters myself, to get the work completed without resorting to the last alternative; but I believe at the same time, that nothing else was to have answered the purpose: and I have a right to say so with confidence, as the result of the lengthened period in question; for if there was anything like a turn, mine must have come at last. Mr. Hague states that I am the first to whom he has not given satisfaction, & should this appears to be the case, it must add to the grievance I have experienced; for why should I be the only individual who was to suffer, and why should an action be commenced against me after all the delay and vexation? I hope these observations will convince you that if Mr. Hague did not know long previously, that I meant to resort to an Action at Law, it was not my fault: as the letters and evidence to be produced in Court will fully show: and the more the thing is sifted, the better shall I be pleased; having nothing from the beginning, which I wish to keep out of sight. As you have taken some trouble about this affair, I think it will be but right to explain to Mr. Hague those circumstances of which oddly enough he seems by what you stated to have been ignorant; more especially my purpose to proceed at Law, which as you will see was repeatedly made clear. Believe me my dear Sir very truly yours, F R Chesney”.
[April 6, 1843] Chensey writes: My dear Sir, In the matter of his absence in Germany, Mr. Hague is either forgetful or he is [?] deceiving himself; for Mr. Coulton saw him several times at the period alluded to, and found him occupied at one time for the Exhibition, at another on [?] on something in that place, and again about something on the continent. These and the results generally of Mr. Coulton’s visits were made known to me by letter from time to time; till at length Mr. Coulton announced that is was useless to continue to go. But the affair has taken a more serious shape in consequence of Orders to be in readiness to proceed to China. This will make easy work for my lawyers because it is evident that the work must be given up till my period of Command has expired; and then, its interest must be totally lost. I shall ask and hope to obtain permission to remain in England until the Suit is heard, and all things thus made known to the public. The move is so far unexpected, that my turn for Foreign Service was not likely till next year by which time the Book might have been out. Believe me my dear Sir very truly yours, F.R. Chesney”.
Chesney was a general and the explorer of the Euphrates and the founder of the overland route to India. It was also on the strength of his report on the feasibility of a canal at Suez that de Lesseps put in hand his own great project and in fact de Lesseps styled Chesney “The father of the Suez Canal”. In 1835, Chesney was voted £20,000 by the House of Commons and put in command of the expedition which was to open up the overland route to India in which he succeeded despite overwhelming difficulties. In 1837 he returned to England where “…he busied himself in working for the reward and promotion of his officers and in preparing his great work on the expedition (Expedition for the Survey of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, published in 1850), but was interrupted in this task by being ordered to China to command the artillery at the Hong Kong station in 1843…” (DNB). Chesney never “…accepted any rewards from government, though some offers were made him. He barely exacted the payment of his expenses in the expeditions and the cost of his great work on the survey…” (DNB).
While books of his expedition in various editions abound, full autograph letters of his, are scarce; and those specifically linked to the expedition for which he is best remembered are rare indeed, in our experience. Fine condition. The two letters: