Mrs Frances Duberly, or 'Fanny' as she was widely known, would have been a remarkable woman in any age; as the wife of a serving soldier in the Victorian era she was doubly so. This was a strong minded, resolute woman whose thoughts, opinions and values were her own. She was fiercely independent, courageous and adventurous in an age when many women of her class preferred or accepted the 'genteel' life. This would never do for Fanny Duberly. She craved a life of variety and action and found it in the company of her husband on campaign. She left us two unprecedented accounts of her experiences of warfare in the mid-nineteenth century—both of which appear in this special and superb value Leonaur edition. From the gruelling battlefields of the Crimea which were enough to satisfy anyone's lust for military experience, Fanny then travelled to India where the great Indian Mutiny had broken out and the British Army were called upon to suppress the rebellious Bengal Native Army in a war to the knife. Fanny always rose to the occasion—this is a riveting, highly recommended, double read.
A little further on we came to the harbour, and by the many mast-heads we count the number of ships. Here, too, are fragments of the bridge which I had watched the Russians building, and across which I had seen them so often pass and repass. There is a kind of terrace, with a strong wooden railing, overlooking the sea, and underneath us is a level grass-plat, going down with handsome stone steps to the water’s edge. Following the wooden railing, we overlooked what had evidently been a foundry, and a workshop for the dockyard; Russian jackets, tools and wheelbarrows, were lying about, and hunting among the ruins was a solitary dog.<b>
But all this time we are trying to find our way to Brigadier General Windham’s office near the custom house. To get there we must ride round to the head of the dry docks, as the bridges are either broken or unsafe. What is it that makes the air so pestilential at the head of the dry docks? Anything so putrid, so nauseating, so terrible, never assailed us before. There is nothing but three or four land transport carts, covered with tarpaulin, and waiting at the corner. For Heaven’s sake, ride faster, for the stench is intolerable.<b>
We go on towards the custom house, still followed by this atmosphere: there must be decaying cattle and horses behind the houses; and yet they do not smell like this! Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons and Admiral Bruat are riding by, so we stop in a tolerably sweet place to congratulate each other on meeting in Sebastopol. We then continue our road to the custom house. What is it? It cannot surely be—oh, horror!—a heap, a piled-up heap of human bodies in every stage of putrid decomposition, flung out into the street, and being carted away for burial.<b>
As soon as we gained possession of the town, a hospital was discovered in the barracks, to which the attention of our men was first attracted by screams and cries. Entering, they found a large number of wounded and dying; but underneath a heap of dead men, who, as he lay on the floor, fell over him and died, was an English officer of the 90th Regiment, who being badly wounded, and taken prisoner, was put into this foul place, and left, as in the case of the hospital near the custom house, to perish at his leisure of hunger and pain.<b>
He had had no food for three days, and the fever of his wound, together with the ghastly horrors round him, had driven this poor Englishman to raving madness; and so he was found, yelling and naked. I think the impression made upon me by the sight of that foul heap of green and black, glazed and shrivelled flesh I never shall be able to throw entirely away. To think that each individual portion of that corruption was once perhaps the life and world of some loving woman’s heart—that human living hands had touched, and living lips had pressed with clinging and tenderest affection, forms which in a week could become, oh, so loathsome, so putrescent!<b>
At the moment, however, and I think it a wise ordinance, no sight such as war produces strikes deeply on the mind. We turned quickly back from this terrible sight, and soon after left the town. Riding up towards the Little Redan, we saw where the slaughter of the Russians had principally been. The ground was covered with patches and half-dried pools of blood, caps soaked in blood and brains, broken bayonets, and shot and shell; four or five dead horses, shot as they brought up ammunition for the last defence of the Malakoff. Here we met Colonel Norcott, of the Rifles, who had been reported a prisoner, riding the same chestnut pony which has had honourable mention before.
Our congratulations on his escape, when we fancied him marching with the retreating Russians, were neither few nor insincere. The Malakoff lay just before us. I am told that it is, and it struck me as being, one of the most wonderful examples of engineering work possible. It is so constructed, that unless a shot fell precisely on the right spot, it could do no harm. What with gabions, sand-bags, traverses, counter-traverses, and various other means of defence, it seemed to me that a residence in the Malakoff was far safer and more desirable than a residence in the town.<b>
Buried underground were officers’ huts, men’s huts, and a place used as a sort of mess room, with glass lamps, and packs of cards. We are not allowed to carry any outward and visible signs of plunder, but I filled my habit pockets and saddle pockets with various small items, as relics of these famous batteries and the famous town—lasts, buttons, and grape shot from the Redan; cards, a glass saltcellar, an English fuzee, and the screw of a gun from the Malakoff; a broken bayonet from the Little Redan; and rifle bullets from the workshop in the town.<b>