The arrival in 2020 of Rena Lalgie as Bermuda’s latest governor perpetuated one of the island’s most durable traditions: London’s despatch of a seasoned administrator to advise on the affairs of what are now called Britain’s “overseas territories.” Lalgie brings years of experience in Her Majesty’s Treasury and consequent insight into the flows of international capital in this age of faltering globalisation. Her predecessors have similarly arrived with varied tool kits: military, political and diplomatic skills have predominated. The tenure of most Bermuda governors has been pleasant and constructive. For some, however, it has been otherwise.
For those intrigued by gubernatorial history, the island’s churches and graveyards abound with reminders that the paths of glory lead but to the grave. On a hilltop just outside the old Prospect military barracks, for instance, lies the body of Governor Walter Kitchener (serving 1908–14), a decorated veteran of imperial campaigns in Afghanistan, the Sudan and South Africa who succumbed to appendicitis while governor. St. Peter’s Church in St. George’s is perhaps the epicentre of commemoration of governors who never went home. Governor Allured Popple (1738–44) lies on the east side of St. Peter’s, victim of a nine-day losing battle with “bilious fever.” A macabre carved skull guards his grave while a marble plaque inside the church attests to his worldly talents. Next to Popple lies the grave of Governor James Bruere (1764–80). Bruere’s body was discovered under the floor of the church in 2008 and, a year later, laid to rest outside in a Bermuda cedar coffin after an overdue service of interment. Not far away lies the grave of Governor Sir Richard Sharples (1972–73), “assassinated” in the garden of his residence amid civil unrest in the colony.
St. Peter’s yields another talisman of bygone governorship—not a grave, but a handsome marble plaque prominently displayed inside on a wall near the pulpit. It attests to the death of Governor Lt.-Colonel William Campbell mere days after his 1796 arrival in Bermuda. Floridly inscribed and ornately sculpted, the plaque was erected by Campbell’s widow, Alicia. Eager to celebrate her husband’s “public virtues,” his “solitary relict” commissioned one of England’s leading sculptors, John Bacon (1740–99), to fashion a memorial to honour her husband’s “much lov’d Name.” Bacon enjoyed the patronage of King George III; his bust of the monarch still graces St. George’s Hall at Windsor Castle. Elsewhere in London, his likeness of writer Samuel Johnson stands in St. Paul’s Cathedral while his bust of architect Inigo Jones resides in Carpenters Hall. Few of those memorialised in Bermuda have ever been honoured by such a gifted artist.
For all the elegance of Campbell’s memorial in St. Peter’s, there is ambiguity about the governor’s brief tenure in Bermuda. Alicia’s testimonial plaque and Henry Wilkinson’s authoritative Bermuda: From Sail to Steam (1973) date Campbell’s death as December 1, 1796. The Bermuda Historical Quarterly’s compendium listing of Bermuda’s governors similarly gives December 1st as the day of his demise. However, William Zuill’s much-read Bermuda Journey of 1946 (p.192) gives the death a date of December 4th. Adding to the confusion, the Royal Gazette of December 3, 1796, simply comments on his “melancholy death,” not giving a precise date.
Similarly, the cause of Campbell’s death is conjectural. The St. Peter’s plaque describes Campbell being “seized with a fever” which despatched him “by one fatal Stroke.” Wilkinson (p.110) more precisely attributes Campbell’s demise to “yellow fever,” suggesting that his aide-de-camp suffered the same grim fate shortly thereafter. However, the visitor’s guide to the church tells a different story: the governor purportedly succumbed to “an illness contracted after a sumptuous turtle-soup banquet in his honour” hosted by the Corporation of St. George’s in the home of the widow of a local merchant, Bridger Goodrich. Whatever the discrepancy (and one can assume that his widow got the date of her beloved’s death right), in dying Campbell secured the dubious distinction of being Bermuda’s shortest-ruling governor. During the one week of his tenure, he appears to have adjudicated only a single maritime protest. He also had the dubious distinction of being preceded and succeeded in office by the same interim appointee: Henry Tucker, President of the Council.
The context of Campbell’s brief Bermuda sojourn is illuminated by the availability of his military diary, a document that provides a first-person chronicle of his decisive role in the Northwest Indian War during the years 1794 to the eve of his Bermuda appointment in 1796. The thin diary, whose polished leather cover to this day provokes the image of its being repeatedly slipped in and out of Campbell’s tunic, is packed with Campbell’s tight, scrawling handwriting. This richly detailed, intimate narrative tracing Campbell’s path to glory is available at the Queen’s University Archives in Kingston, Ontario, where it was painstakingly transcribed by then head archivist Anne MacDermaid into an accessible 119-page typed script.
Born in 1750, William Campbell emerged from obscurity to become a soldier of the Empire. By 1794, he was a major in the 24th Regiment of Foot. The 24th had been created late in the seventeenth century, drawing its enlistment from the counties of Hereford, Monmouth and Brecknock along the Welsh border. The regiment had fought at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, helping to defeat the French army of Louis XIV. Later in the century, the 24th was assigned to garrison duty in the Caribbean and then despatched to Québec during the American Revolutionary War. In 1777, it suffered an ignominious defeat at the Battle of Saratoga under General Burgoyne, many of its number being subsequently imprisoned by the Americans until peace came in 1783. Campbell’s precise role in these years is uncertain, but what is clear is that in 1789 when the regiment was redeployed to North America, Campbell was amongst its officers. By the early 1790s, Campbell and his regiment found themselves posted to the ragged edge of the Empire, deep in the Ohio Valley south of Lake Erie and present-day city of Toledo.
Under the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Britain may have ceded autonomy to its thirteen rebellious colonies, but it also left a lingering legacy of ambiguity over the Indian Territories of the Midwest. These were lands long woven into the fur trade but now increasingly coveted by the nascent United States for agricultural settlement and as a screen for its emerging dedication to a manifest destiny. Control of these lands would open a portal to the western plains and their bounty. The Paris treaty required the British to vacate seven fortified outposts in what was called the “Northwest”: territory today broadly encompassing the present-day states of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. The British were to withdraw “with all convenient speed.” Instead the British remained in the Northwest, fearful that by vacating the territory they would leave the back door to British North America open to American incursion and thereby cut its merchants off from lucrative trade in the continental interior. The forts were strategically located on arterial rivers and at crucial constriction points, such as Detroit and Michilimackinac, in the Great Lakes chain.
In 1790, US President George Washington directed his army to assert itself in the Northwest but they
proved no match for the Shawnee (above).
In 1790, President George Washington ordered his fledgling army to assert America’s ambition in the Northwest. Over the next two years, however, the ragamuffin American army suffered ignominious defeats at the hands of superior Shawnee and Miami Native forces led by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket. Sensing the swelling American threat, the Native forces strengthened their existing loose confederacy into a defensive alliance, determined to hold a line along the Ohio River against white incursion. To the north in Upper Canada, Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe (1791–96) revelled in America’s woes, hoping that Britain’s aboriginal allies in the Northwest might constitute a buffer between British North America and the burgeoning republic.
President Washington persisted. He found more vigorous military leadership in the person of General Anthony Wayne, charging him to create a new army—the Legion of the United States—to force the Natives to cede control of the Northwest. In many respects, Wayne was a departure from America’s reliance on citizen soldiers: his devotion to training and practice had the mark of modern military professionalism. He established a boot camp in Legionville, in western Pennsylvania, where he worked up the Legion into a disciplined, cohesive force. His troops were trained, for instance, to abandon the old practice of firing blanket volleys at the enemy and to adopt precision targeting of individual targets. Wayne’s nickname of “Mad” Anthony conveys a sense of his aggressive mettle. He had fought in the Pennsylvania militia in the Revolutionary War and had sat in the House of Representatives representing Georgia, before harkening to the President’s call in 1792. “Issue the orders, Sir,” Wayne famously declared, “and I will storm Hell.”
Leader of the Legion of the United States, General Anthony Wayne was hand-selected by President George Washington to take on the Shawnee and Miami Natives and force them to give up control of the Northwest.
In the fall of 1793, Wayne led his Legion into the Northwest Territory and began asserting America’s presence there. After wintering at Fort Jefferson in the Ohio Valley, he pushed further north in the spring of 1794 and began skirmishing with aboriginal forces allied to the British. America’s new-found militancy jolted the British in Upper Canada into action. Lord Dorchester, the Governor General for the Upper and Lower Canadian colonies (1791–95), ordered his subordinate, Lieutenant Governor Simcoe of Upper Canada, immediately adjacent to the American frontier, to take preemptive action. Supplies were despatched to the Native confederacy and British militia officers began coaching the colony’s erstwhile Native allies. More boldly, Dorchester ordered the reoccupation and refortification of Fort Miamis (once a French fur trading post) on the Maumee River deep in the Northwest Territory as a bulwark against the American advance.
Enter Major William Campbell of the 24th Regiment of Foot. In April 1794, Governor Simcoe himself travelled to Fort Detroit and then pushed about fifteen kilometers south of present-day Toledo to the dormant site of Fort Miamis, construing his action as forceful self-defence against the menace to British North America posed by General Wayne’s army to the south. Learning of Simcoe’s bold sortie, Thomas Jefferson, the American Secretary of State, raised the alarm about a British “invasion.” To put substance into his initiative, Simcoe despatched Major Campbell and fifty men of the 24th—soon reinforced by engineers, labourers and artillery men—to Miamis, where feverish reconstruction of the fort began. Howitzers and nine-pounds were installed on its new earthen bastions. America and Britain thus stood at the trip wire of war.
Beyond the delicate strategic implications of his situation, Campbell faced incessant day-to-day challenges. His men deserted with regularity, disappearing into the woods, eager to join the ranks of eastern traders or to head back into Upper Canada, where they might blend into the agrarian frontier. By the same token, American deserters appeared at Campbell’s gates, eager to turncoat. Garrison discipline was unruly. There were drunken fights. Famished soldiers stole from the stores. Campbell, for instance, sentenced one miscreant, who had robbed the storeroom, to 400 lashes, a fate the accused escaped by biting a chunk out of his arm, thereby incapacitating himself. The fort’s tenuous supply chain was always on Campbell’s mind. His diary is punctuated by constant instances of shortage—“reduced literally to salt beef and Pork,” he wrote, noting that the officers’ supply of wine had mercifully held up.
In the Battle of Fallen Timbers, the Native confederacy was bolstered by British supplies and Canadian militiamen. Though they fought hard, they were overcome by American sharpshooters, a bayonet charge and flanking cavalry, all led by General Anthony Wayne.
All the while beyond the gates of the fort Campbell found himself in an uneasy relationship with his Native allies. A great cultural and racial gap existed beyond the white garrison and the “savages” (as Campbell described them in his diary, a commonplace perception of the era). A nervous dependency existed between the British and the Natives: indigenous scouting and fighting skills helped to sustain the fort, while British supplies and armaments in turn sustained the Native confederacy.
The paramount challenge of Campbell’s lonely command was, however, what he called “the sickly season.” The summer heat brought mosquitoes and they in turn transmitted malaria, or, as it was then called, “the ague.” Malaria’s debilitating effect was uppermost in Campbell’s mind when he eventually came face-to-face with Lieutenant Governor Simcoe back in Upper Canada. As Campbell’s diary recorded: “This day spoke to the Governor upon the subject of the sickness at the Miamis—in hopes he would have permitted part of the troops to be withdrawn for the sickly season—but in vain.”
Here we arrive at the first strong hint of the “fever” that would eventually kill Campbell in Bermuda. Again and again, the diary records the classic symptoms of malaria destroying the major’s health—stabbing pains, fever, sweats, severe headaches, vomiting, anemia, loss of appetite, bloody stools, and sleeplessness. For days on end, Campbell existed in a delirium: “never suffered so much in my life,” “a most dreadful night,” “I was in perfect Purgatory.” The regimental surgeon dosed his commanding officer with the remedies of the day: “Bark” (a tincture of the bark of the Peruvian cinchona tree, containing quinine), apple tea, vinegar mouthwash and “Jones’ Powders.” There were periods of relief, but Campbell’s malaria returned with hellish regularity.
All the while, to the south of Fort Miamis, “Mad” Anthony was undeterred. With a force of 2,000 now-hardened troops guided by his own Native scouts, General Wayne confronted about 1,500 Aboriginals along the Maumee River near Fort Miamis on August 20th. The Native confederacy was backed by British supplies and a small contingent of Canadian militiamen. Thinking that the Americans might be deterred by a tangle of fallen timber, the Natives took their stand. A rout ensued. American sharpshooters repeatedly found their marks. A bayonet charge and flanking cavalry quickly sealed the victory. The Battle of Fallen Timbers was swiftly over. The shattered Native forces hastily retreated to the precinct of nearby Fort Miamis, expecting to shelter under the protection of its bastions. To their horror, Major Campbell, mindful that Wayne’s army was hot on the heels of the vanquished Natives, closed the gates of the fort, fearful that any harbouring of his Native allies might provoke open conflict with the Americans. Stymied, the Natives scattered into the surrounding forest. As expected, Wayne’s Legion soon arrived, establishing itself on the heights above the fort.
Over the next several days, an uneasy standoff persisted. Campbell sent a message to Wayne stating that he knew of no declaration of war between Britain and America, thereby challenging his right to lay siege to Miamis. Wayne belligerently replied that Fort Wayne stood on American soil. Indeed, Wayne brazenly appeared alone outside the fort’s gates hurling abuse at its inhabitants. Despite such swagger, Campbell held his peace, telling Wayne that his behaviour had been insulting to the British flag, but instructing his men to suppress their animus toward the Americans. After a few days, Wayne withdrew. In modern military parlance, Wayne had “blinked.” Viewing this spectacle of brinksmanship, the Aboriginals concluded that they were now on their own and that the British had forsaken them. The Battle of Fallen Timbers, in retrospect, marked the tipping point in the American campaign for the Northwest. By December of the same year, the confederacy buckled and a number of its members signed the Treaty of Greenville, ceding a large chunk of the Northwest to American control. A year later, “Mad” Anthony died of gout. By then, Britain was engaged in abandoning its frontier forts.
After the Battle of Big Timbers, the Aboriginals agreed to sign the Treaty of Greenville, giving up a large portion of the Northwest to the Americans.
Facing a much larger force, Campbell had demonstrated that discretion can at times be much the better part of valour. He proved a resourceful, ruthless and savvy leader, resistant to glory-seeking folly, mindful of his men’s safety and savvy of the broader Imperial context of his position. His conduct was shaped not just by the daunting odds he faced, but also by his intuition that open conflict with the United States was not in Britain’s strategic interest. Campbell’s diary, which takes up the chronicle at this juncture, reveals that although he was at the end of a long, tenuous chain of communication deep in the heart of the continent, he was aware that the mood in London had sharply turned against further confrontation in the remote Northwest. Thanks to reliable if sporadic despatches from Simcoe in Upper Canada and dribs of news gleaned from American newspapers, Campbell was aware that Britain and America had come to the peace table. Simcoe’s initial bullishness along the Northwest frontier was now being sapped by Britain’s preoccupation with France’s revolutionary expansion across Europe. Why? Conflict in the Ohio Valley might dangerously precipitate Britain into open war on two distant fronts and possibly shunt the Americans into alliance with the hated French.
Campbell’s intuition about the wider implications of his situation in the Northwest was soon borne out by the signing in London of Jay’s Treaty on November 19, 1797. Named for the American negotiator John Jay, America’s Chief Justice and soon to be Governor of New York, and co-signed by England’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Grenville, the treaty normalised Anglo-American relations and precluded a Franco-American alliance. The treaty, styled a “treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation,” finally tidied up the unresolved issues from the 1783 Paris treaty. Thorny issues were sent to arbitration, a precedent-setting diplomatic innovation. Amongst other things, Jay’s Treaty opened the British Caribbean up to American traders. The treaty also acknowledged the British surrender of the forts it had provocatively held onto in the interior. Furthermore, although a staged withdrawal from the forts was to culminate in mid-1796, the Northwest was in future to remain open to traders from both sides of the border. Thus, by Christmas 1794, America had won peace with both the British and the Native peoples, thereby throwing open an inviting corridor of national expansion. In 1803, the newly created state of Ohio joined the Union.
Major Campbell’s presence on the frontier had accordingly become strategically redundant. By September 1794, Campbell and his troops—“many sick”—trekked north to Fort Detroit, where he prepared to overwinter. There he received news that Jay’s Treaty had indeed been signed. Campbell also began to receive commendations for his actions at Fort Miamis. He noted that one such accolade stated that his superiors were “highly pleased with my conduct at the Miamis and considers it entirely owing to me, that the mid countrys were not plung’d into a war and that Genl. Wayne’s conduct execrated by all…” Through the winter, Campbell hibernated at Detroit, still battling his malaria and coping with his unruly and poorly supplied troops. In the spring, he caught a schooner north to Fort Michilimackinac at the strategic junction of Lakes Huron and Michigan. There, he encountered fur traders of the famous Northwest Company on their trek westward. From them, he harvested further praise: that his action (perhaps inaction would be more accurate) had preserved Canadian access to their lucrative trade with the Natives on both sides of the now-confirmed border.
The plaudits continued when Campbell arrived at Lieutenant Governor Simcoe’s Upper Canadian headquarters at Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake). From “all ranks,” he heard that “my extraordinary good and wise conduct had saved the Country.” On August 10th, members of the colony’s fledgling legislature unanimously resolved to praise Campbell for “his temperate and dignified forbearance and otherwise exemplary and meritorious conduct at Fort Miamis.” At the same time, the colonial Legislative Council—its cabinet, in effect—saluted Campbell’s “judicious, prudent and spirited conduct.” Simcoe, sensing that he had a hero in the making who might lend kudos to his own reputation, duly transmitted news of these accolades to Lord Dorchester, his superior in Lower Canada. Such was Simcoe’s delight over Campbell’s discretion on the frontier that he sent £100 to be distributed among the men of the 24th.
There were other more tangible rewards for Campbell. In keeping with the British colonial practice of inducing military officers to take retirement in the colonies in the hope they would provide the backbone of a militia army ready to defend the colony against the Americans, Simcoe offered Campbell a land grant of 2,000 acres. Campbell declined, noting in his diary that other officers had been offered larger grants. Nonetheless, Campbell, now joined by his wife, Alicia, graciously accepted Simcoe’s invitation to a farewell dinner.
Throughout the late summer and early fall of 1795, Campbell worked his way up the St. Lawrence River towards tidewater. Accolades awaited him at every stop. In Montreal, the hub of Canada’s continental trading system, local merchants toasted him at a banquet, telling him that “had any other conduct been pursued by the officer commanding them [the 24th Regiment], than what I used—that their Trade was gone and themselves ruined.” Finally, on September 11th, the Campbells embarked at Québec City for London. As a parting gesture of gratitude, Governor General Dorchester gave Campbell a letter commending his service to the Duke of Portland, England’s Home Secretary. Campbell spent much of the voyage in his bunk contending with a “high fever,” dosing himself with Jones’ Powders. On October 13th, the Campbells set foot in Dover and were home at last. A promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel awaited Major Campbell.
Lt.-Colonel Campbell arrived in London weak but full of ambition. Having declined a land grant in Upper Canada, he now sought preferment elsewhere in the Empire. His diary does not pinpoint that ambition, but Campbell’s assiduous promotion of his Ohio achievement in London’s corridors of power broadcast his hope of considerable advancement. Soldiering in the late eighteenth century was usually not a lifetime vocation. Officers served by commission, the latter often purchased and sometimes resold for a profit. Campbell thus had to forge his next opportunity, not await it passively.
Within three days of coming to London, he was “most graciously” received by Portland, the Home Secretary, who was rabidly opposed to French revolutionary pretensions. The Duke “ask’d me a thousand questions not only about the Miamis but about Canada in general, particularly.” At the same time, Campbell obtained letters from London merchants involved in the Canada trade attesting to “the high sense and approbation of my conduct at the Miamis in 1794.” Campbell’s lobbying culminated with interviews with the Duke of York, George III’s second son, and Lord Grenville, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who had put his signature to Jay’s Treaty. Lord Grenville, for instance, frankly told him that he was “happy to have it in his power personally to testify his thanks for my conduct.” England was indebted, Grenville said, to a military man, as opposed to a civilian, for “averting…[war’s] terrors.”
In a culture steeped in patronage and deference, the signs looked promising for the newly minted Lt.-Colonel. Diaries are, of course, often self-serving documents; their authors unconstrained in embellishment and exaggeration. Nonetheless, there is convincing veracity in Campbell’s self-record. Too many influential names are dropped, supported by verbatim quotations from those in a position to shape the soldier’s future. Regrettably, Campbell’s diary ends abruptly at the end of January 1796, leaving us to speculate on how his London lobbying campaign unfolded. What is clear is that on November 9th of that year HMS Asia appeared off St. George’s, Bermuda, and sent a gig into the harbour carrying a despatch from Secretary of State Grenville appointing Lt.-Colonel Campbell governor of the colony. Windy weather and the damaged and depleted condition of the ship obliged the Asia to divert, with Campbell and his wife still on board, to the Royal Navy base in Halifax. Finally, on November 22nd, another ship, the Prevoyant, landed the gubernatorial couple in Bermuda. Campbell arrived with a mandate to restore order in a troubled colonial society. Historian Henry Wilkinson cites (p.110) the Secretary of State’s rationale that it had been “indispensably necessary” to appoint a new governor.
Campbell’s appointment fit an established mould of despatching seasoned military men to administer civil affairs of the Empire. From 1788 to 1794, Bermuda’s governorship had been filled by just such a man with martial achievements remarkably similar to Campbell’s. Henry Hamilton (1734–96) arrived in Bermuda a hardened veteran of Britain’s North American campaigns. An officer in the 15th Regiment of Foot, Hamilton had fought in the Seven Years’ War, done garrison duty in the Caribbean, and then served as civil governor of the British outpost at Detroit and had subsequently fought against the Americans in the Revolutionary War. In this last conflict, he was captured in 1779 at the Battle of Vincennes and imprisoned in Virginia. The Americans accused Hamilton of deploying his Native allies in vicious raids on their colonial settlements. Rumours (never substantiated) suggested that he placed a bounty on white scalps brought to him after such raids—hence the nickname “hair-buyer general.” As Lieutenant Governor of Québec in the early 1780s, he clashed with his superiors over what he deemed the inequitable treatment of French-Canadians. In short, Hamilton was a man of forceful personality, whose career in many ways paralleled that of Campbell. He left his mark on Bermuda as a visionary governor, most conspicuously by laying out a plan for a new town in central Bermuda, thereby opening the way for the eventual shift of the colonial capital from St. George’s to Hamilton. Campbell, however, differed from Henry Hamilton in one crucial respect: his military reputation rested on the exercise of discretion, not head-long engagement. And with Britain now locked in war with the French republic in Europe and French warships cruising the Atlantic, Bermuda needed a firm hand on its tiller.
Having arrived in Bermuda on November 22nd, 1796, Governor Campbell fell ill two days later and died December 1st. A notice in the December 3rd issue of The Royal Gazette announces the governor’s death.
By 1796, Bermuda’s affairs were in need of such discretion. Hamilton’s successor, a civilian named James Craufurd 0, had factionalised the colony. A man of temper and suspicion, Craufurd alienated the military, which under Major Andrew Durnford was hurriedly, and expensively, engaged in fortifying the colony against the new American republic. At the same time, Craufurd grated the sensibilities of local merchants over his handling of prize ships. With the military in near mutiny and his daughter dead of yellow fever, Craufurd, who fled the island for the United States on October 27th, was nonetheless stunned by his fall from grace: he was in effect being cashiered. In his absence, Henry Tucker stepped into the governor’s role awaiting Campbell’s arrival.
Of course, it was not to be. Campbell was dead within days of his arrival. We are therefore left to speculate and draw our conclusions. A number of observations suggest themselves. First, the far-flung career of William Campbell (and that of Henry Hamilton before him) reminds us always to set Bermuda’s particular, insular history in the broad context of the Empire. In recent decades, scholars have often tried to de-compartmentalise the histories of colonial societies ranged around the periphery of the Atlantic. The concept of an “Atlantic world” stresses the reciprocal interconnection of these societies. William Campbell emerged out of this multihued world, his skills honed in battle and on the Northwest frontier. The aptitude for discretion and strategic vision he displayed at Miamis shaped his reputation with Britain’s colonial overlords in London and thereby probably influenced his selection as Bermuda’s governor. The sense that he possessed a capacity for sane governance lingered after his death. The Bermuda Assembly voted a £200 stipend to alleviate the financial strain of his passing on his widow, Alicia. The War Office and the Upper Canadian Assembly subsequently provided her with a pension. Alicia would ultimately join the royal household as a tutor and a prestigious Lady of the Bedchamber. And, through all this, as the plaque in St. Peter’s Church attests:
- … on her wounded Heart she wears
- His sacred Name in deeper Lines.
As in all autopsy reports, historians are obliged to arrive at some conclusion on the cause of death. In early 1796, yellow fever had indeed arrived in the west end of the colony and moved through the island, arriving in St. George’s in August, claiming amongst its unlucky victims Governor Craufurd’s daughter. The epidemic ran its course by late December. It seems natural that Campbell’s death was therefore automatically attributed—“by one fatal Stroke”—to the epidemic. However, medical science tells us that, after being bitten by a malarial mosquito, the yellow fever virus incubates in its victim over a period of three to six days. Having arrived on November 22nd, Governor Campbell was incapacitated just over two days later, on the morning after his banquet reception at Bridge House. (Turtle soup was certainly not the villain; others would have probably succumbed.) Campbell thus experienced a remarkably short incubation for yellow fever. Similarly, yellow fever’s active phase of infection unfolds over the next five to ten days. If we reliably conclude that Campbell did indeed die on December 1st, then we are left with a case of yellow fever that ran an improbably impatient course. Sadly, we have no direct account of the symptoms suffered by Campbell. Dying of yellow fever was always a gruesome affair—projectile black vomit, etc.
One is perforce left to ponder what effect the lingering and debilitating effect of the malaria Campbell acquired in the Northwest had on his constitution. Those malevolent effects are a predominant theme of Campbell’s diary. Can one therefore conclude that either Campbell’s already-weakened constitution was overwhelmed by an early onset of yellow fever or, perhaps, a deadly and untimely return of his undulant malaria delivered the fatal blow? Or some combination of the two? All we can be certain of—in the words of the St. Peter’s memorial—is that “the blessings of his public Virtues” were consigned to the grave before being tested in Bermuda.
Duncan McDowall is University Historian at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and has written about Bermuda’s history and heritage for many years. The Campbell diary is available at the Queen’s University Archives in Kingston, Ontario (Locator #2999).