April 2 1815: Hobhouse #centjours

On April 2 1815, John Cam Hobhouse arrives at Ostend, on what is to be the first stop on his journey to Paris. He writes in his diary:

Sunday April 2nd 1815: At six in the morning I heard we were off Dunkirk, and at eight off Ostend. I got up after nine and found we were at anchor a mile from the harbour, the tide being out, and the sandbank – which is daily encroaching – preventing us from coming in. However, we went in in boats at half past ten, I having no difficulty as to passport or customhouse.

The harbour was full of English transports, and they were landing some horses of the 11th dragoons. The town appeared in military occupation, swarming with redcoats. It is well built, with pitching and no trottoir, but had to my nose the smell of all continental catholic towns. Most of the shops had boards with Flemish, French and English inscriptions.

Many people about the port spoke English a little, and at the Cour Imperial Hotel, where I put up, I got a decent room, the bed in it, and then walked about the town and nearly round the fortifications, at which were two or three parties of our soldiers, 54th and 44th, at work. There are several broad ditches, flooded by the tide, and the works are extensive. It is said to be liable to a coup de main. Ostend stands on the tip of a flat tongue of land with a long narrow creek of a fort.

In walking round it in my bagged blue greatcoat the English sentries took me for an officer, and asked me no questions, but I was stopped by the first soldier of the German legion, who made me walk down from the parapet. This may show the exactness of German discipline – nothing is left to individual conjecture.

The women of Ostend of the middle classes are dressed in black hooded long rough cloaks which gives them the air of religious. They are fresh complexioned and lively-eyed, but blunt-featured, well-made in the lower limbs, but do not carry themselves well. The men look much like Englishmen, and the lower classes dress much the same. Every person who has any connection with the posts or the inns or the police, and every better sort of man and woman, speaks French – the streets have French names – in the place d’armes I saw the 44th march off, with the Colonel Commandant and the civil authorities dressed in black. Some boots, some silk stockings, and all great cocked hats with orange cockades and small cut swords by their sides.

I dined at one o’clock, the usual hour at the table d’hôte of our inn – there were six or seven people, of the town apparently, and three officers of the 11th dragoons. We had a variety of dishes not badly dressed – at thirty sous I believe, per head, and I drank a bottle of ordinary bordeaux. I strolled about town again, drank tea, went down to see my carriage landed, and walked about with a fat Belgian who deprecated war and deprecated the Bourbons. Louis XVIII, or as the French now call him, the Count de Lille, left this place on Thursday morning. He owned the Belgians were more for the French than the Dutch.

Lord Waterford’s carriages were putting on board a packet. As mine was landing, whom should I see but Dicky Prime and Lord Sligo, and a Mr Coffin, who is reported drowned, and has had his horses sold at Tattersall’s therefore by his relations – they left Naples only three weeks ago, came through Switzerland, report great things of the armaments of the Allies, and will have the Emperor Napoleon must fall – I bet Prime twenty five guineas he does not succumb. The King of Naples stands out for the best bidder.

Caroline the Queen asked Lord Sligo whether it was true the English had assisted the Emperor Napoleon in making his escape. Lord Sligo was a week in Elba and could not obtain an interview with the Emperor, but he lived much with General and Madame Bertrand145 and at that time evidently saw and said that some scheme was in preparation. Madame Bertrand said that “Avec de l’argent il pourroit bien faire quelque chose”. My friends give me most extraordinary accounts of the behaviour of our poor Princess of Wales – she is now entertaining her own courier, a man seven feet high,146 and she positively made an assignation with the King of Naples.147 The démêlés of her and Lady Oxford148 are of the most ridiculous kind. All but Dr Holland149 have left the Princess. The Italian ladies are scandalised at our female manners, which they think too free in public – Lady Oxford walks about Naples with Byron’s picture on her girdle in front. She comes in half an hour too late for the dinner of the King and Queen – puts her hand over the Queen’s shoulder to shake hands, and gives her excuse that she had been attending the sick Lord Oxford, so loud that all the company are grave and silent. Lord Sligo is a great man at the Neapolitan court. The King gave him his picture, so Prime warned me I must never call him “Murat” before Sligo. The conduct of the Allies in hesitating to acknowledge him has been most ridiculous – he, however, talks of wishing to be for England, and promised Sligo that, let what would happen, the English should be safe in his dominions. Sligo stayed only one night in Rome. Prime was terribly disappointed there. He says Lucien150 is a solemn coxcomb. I played at whist with the three and lost two napoleons, fifteen francs. Went home. Wrote to Byron and Charlotte.152 I observe in this country – bells and bell ropes, and necessaries, and looking glasses – went to bed near half past eleven but did not sleep well.

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