Skip to main content
View PDF

J[ohn] Van Buren to MVB, 1 November 1838

My dear father,

I fear the non-arrival of the 'Liverpool' will have caused you much uneasiness, which my present communication will hardly allay—for the intelligence that I shall remain here or hereabouts 'till Spring will be almost as much satisfaction as may have been the confession that I had stopped on the way over for a longer time. Mr. Clarke’s business took a turn on the eve of my departure, which made it highly probable that my prudence & attention here during the Winter would ensure his recovering his money or a portion of it before Spring: but my arrangements being all made to return to the U. States this sudden information did not stop me. My desire to get home to my business, & to the election was so great that I took the Liverpool which, had she made the passage, would have accomplished both these objects. My health had been so bad as to confine me to my bed, for three weeks before starting, & to oblige me to abandon the visits of which I wrote you & confine myself as far as I was able entirely to my business. The newspapers will apprize you of the misfortune that befell us. We sailed from L. on the 20th. & as soon as we got to sea, we found that the vessel had been hurried to sea, in an entirely unprepared state, probably to anticipate the Great Western—that she had no candles, pure water, bread, blankets or napkins that could be used. She was very wet, the water pouring into her cabin from all quarters. One of the cabin <door> windows was <shoved> in, & we suffered the greatest distress. I cannot say that we were in absolute danger but we were extremely uncomfortable & many of the passengers were much terrified, tho’ I cannot say I was. On our 6th. day out, when we had been pitched about dreadfully with a Westerly gale for 4 days, the Engineer communicated the astounding information that 1/2 of our fuel was consumed & we only 850 miles advanced. Of course we had no alternative but to bear up & <run> for the nearest port (Cork) which we reached on the 29th. at 3. P. M. having consumed nearly all our fuel in 9 days. The manager of the Steamer now starts her again, but gives passengers the option of going or receiving back their passage money & being conveyed gratis to Liverpool. Before he arrived, I had determined to abandon the ship at all hazards & shall now do so, for this reason. The consumption of coal per hour day in the L. is upwards of 40 tons. She is to start again with 600 tons—so she must make the passage in 18 days, or not at all, & she is so constructed that without her engine she cannot lay to even. If she encounters therefore, the head winds which prevail at this season so uniformly, she cannot get thro’. What then am I to do?

If I return this autumn, I must go in a sail vessel. At least 2/3ds of the passengers of the L. have abandoned her without waiting to hear from the Directors. The Captain & engineer think she cannot make the passage now. Little Will. Butler who is under my charge will not go in her. On the whole, the L. is out of the question. A sail vessel at this season of the year must be 35 days on the passage & may be much more. I have already been 9 days, at sea & been more dizzied & bruised than in an ordinary passage between N.Y. & Liverpool. I should arrive at N.Y. about the middle of Decr. in midwinter. If I stay, I miss only the Jany term & shall have plenty to keep me occupied here. The party here who is to pay Mr Clarke, offers him instead of £1000 a year, £500 a year, but insists that the legacy to him of £1000 a year being charged on lands, becomes an interest in lands which an alien cannot take; he offers, if <all> refuses his offer, to submit this question to the decision of an amicable <business> in which he will admit everything necessary to present the point. I have examined the question with much care & have taken Sir William Follett's opinion, as a friend, who agrees with me, that it is clearly in favour of Mr. Clarke. If so, he must get his money & I mine. This will relieve me from my only serious difficulty in staying here, to wit, the want of money: tho’, I believe the revival of many concerns in the U. States must, if Mr. Clarke manages my affairs as I request, leave me able to pay you & even less honest creditors & six months sustenance to boot.

I go to Dublin from here & shall there hear from the Solicitors in London: if my staying 'till spring will not certainly bring this matter to a Termination, I shall take the packet of the 19th Novbr. from London—it was that I came out in.

I send you by the Liverpool three cheeses two of Stilton & one of double Gloucester. Mackintosh of the E. Legation will take charge of them. The second Stilton you had better present to some one—Mr. Forsyth, or Mr. Poinsett. The Stilton is to be cut in two in the middle, but using one end at a time & occasionally, wetting the cut part with port or sherry (a few drops). I send also a saddle for the Major, as requested—he will pay you six pounds for it. If these things do not arrive, they will be in the Custom house at New York.

Stevenson I see by the Times today, has written a note in reply to O'Connell's last, in which he denies the charge of breeding & selling slaves, & declares O’Connell’s charge to be destitute of truth & without authority & that as O’Connell disavows responsibility for what he says, nothing remains but that the public should judge between them. So this war is ended—but another is begun. There is every indication that a war has already begun between Russia & England. We have the packet of the 18th inst.: she might have brought the result of the Penna. elections but seems to have brought nothing. I infer, therefore, that we have carried the State, & I trust, this letter will find you exalting over our success in New York. A maj. of Congress & the Legre. we shall have: but about Marcy I have doubts & should not cry much if he was beat. I tried hard to get home to vote for Gallup, but it was decreed otherwise.

I had an interview with Lord Palmerston about the 12th. or 18th. inst to take go say "Good byes". He spoke in the highest terms of our Country, hoped I had been pleased with my visit & was satisfied of the kind feeling towards U. States that prevailed in England—told me that Ld. Durham would remain in Canada (the day after we got news of his intended return)—spoke much of the disturbances on the line—but said nothing of the Caroline. He was very frank, ordered & kind & desired to be kindly remembered to you.

Cass pressed me very hard, when here, to come & spend some time with him at Paris. If I can go, I shall—anything to get clear of the infernal expense of London. Give my love to Major & Martin & Smith, to whom I shall write, when I once again get settled.

The Cork authorities have been vastly civil to me—the Mayor himself called on me. So also the Genl. from the Cork station, I dined with him yesterday. Also Captain <David> of the Navy & Callagan the M.P. for Cork.

In great haste &

very affy. yours


Images for this document are currently unavailable.
Source: PSt Pennsylvania State University, Pattee Library
Collection: Alexander Duer Harvey Collection of Martin Van Buren Correspondence, 1814-1866 (PSt)
Series: Series 9 (1 January-31 December 1838)