March 29th 1858
My dear Papa,
I am afraid Ela’s <1> letter will not have given you a sufficiently splendid idea of our party, which, I assure you, really was a most successful affair; and ever since we have received, on all sides, nothing but praises and compliments on the perfection of all the arrangements, and every one says it was one of the best and pleasantest balls of the season.
We invited as many as 223 people, but only about 150 came; however that was quite enough to fill the rooms, which were brilliantly lighted: the doors were taken off, and white muslin curtains hung in their stead.
We had a very fine and good supper, to which the company did ample justice: indeed supper is never thrown away upon Scotch people, who consider eating by no means the least agreeable part of a ball. Dancing was Kept up till three o’clock, and everybody looked remarkably gay and entrain. <2> The reels were most famous, as there was an unusual number of Highlanders in costume, and they always dance so much better, seeming to take pride in showing off, when they appear in Highland dress.
We have become acquainted with a very
distinguis remarkable family of the name of Ross, <3> of Rossie castle, Ross-shire. They are five brothers, all distinguished for their great talent for shooting, and all sorts of Highland sports and for [illegible deletion] their great bravery. One of them was at our ball, and his beautiful costume attracted general admiration; and the eldest, Hercules,<4> though not much more than twenty, has already greatly distinguished himself in India. He had just entered the civil service, when the insurrection broke out, and he immediately volunteered to help in the reduction of the rebels. He was appointed to command some artillery, and rendered great service in the defence of some forts, having apparently an intuitive Knowledge of war, as he had never had any training. One of his exploits is almost incredible: – he had hid himself, with a single attendant, in some woods near a [illegible deletion] ferry, upon which several hundred of the Sepoys were advancing. Armed with his single rifle he Killed every man in the first boat that attempted to cross – several others put off, and shared the same fate; till at last the Sepoys finding that not a man escaped, and unable to discover from whence the deadly fire proceeded, took to flight, leaving young Ross, says the paper, alone in his glory! – For these services he has been publicly thanked by the gouvernment [sic].The mother of this young hero is said to be the best shot in Scotland! Mama <5> made her acquaintance today, and found her very agreeable. She talked of the delightful life they lead in Ross-shire, and how they go out shooting, salmon fishing in their own river etc etc. She and her husband have quite a passion for photography, and their room was is full of views of the wildest scenes on their estate. Tilly <6> says she never saw a more perfect waterfall, than one done by Mrs Ross herself. She said to Mama, “that they were so grateful to Mr Talbot for his invention, as it was the delight of their existence.”
We are getting on with Mr Steel
le, <7> and like the lessons extremely – he is making us study rocks and foreground – but he always says; what you want is to paint from nature, – so we are looking forward with great delight to spending a fortnight at the lakes on our way home, and mean to employ the time as diligently as possible.
We have been enjoying the most delightful summer weather for the last week, but today the wind is rather cold. Everybody however is crying out for rain, as the crops are beginning to suffer from such an unusually dry season.
Were you not sorry to hear that poor Mamie <8> was unable to leave her room on the day of our party? Her cold is not yet well, but she ventured out today for the first time
today, and went with us to the picture exhibition.
Tomorrow Charles’s <9> holydays [sic] begin, and he goes to Markeaton <10> till’ Saturday. I hope he will enjoy his visit. He says he has been working unusually hard this quarter, and I hope he will get his remove.
The garden at Lacock must be beginning to look quite gay. You have not told us any thing about it lately, and indeed, dear Papa, it is a good while since we have had any letter at all from you.
But for the present, good bye, Your affectionate daughter
1. Ela Theresa Talbot (1835–1893), WHFT’s 1st daughter.
3. The sons of Horatio Ross (1801–1886), himself one of the finest shots in the country. His father was Hercules Ross (1745–1816), a Scottish merchant who made a fortune in Jamaica (but later fought for abolition of the slave trade) and became an intimate friend of Horatio Nelson; and his wife, Henrietta, née Parish (d. 1811), a banker's daughter. Horatio became highly respected as a pioneering Scottish photographer. In 1859, he presented the Gold Medal of the Photographic Sociey of Scotland to WHFT - see Doc. No: 07826. His wife was Justine Henriette, née Macrae.
4. Hercules Ross was described as the "crack rifle-shot of India" and had a reputation as a tiger slayer. In the incident outlined here, during the Indian Mutiny, Ross road eighty miles to a ford in the River Gogra, where the mutineers were planning to cross. He dug a pit and, assisted by two attendants who re-loaded his rifles, picked off each man who tried to cross, especially officers, single-handedly delaying the crossing for hours until the British troops arrived, and thereby protecting the defenseless women and children. The story grew in stature over the years, eventually giving him four attendants re-loading a dozen fine rifles.
5. Constance Talbot, née Mundy (1811–1880), WHFT’s wife.
6. Matilda Caroline Gilchrist-Clark, ‘Tilly’, née Talbot (1839–1927), WHFT’s 3rd daughter.
7. Gourlay Steell (1819–1894), Scottish painter.
9. Charles Henry Talbot (1842–1916), antiquary & WHFT’s only son.
10. Markeaton Hall, Derbyshire, NW of Derby: home of the Mundy family.