Tuesday, February 11

A Letter to the Doctor

To: Dr. Albert Roberts,
Ship’s surgeon,
HMS Acasta,
Bermuda Naval Station.

From: Captain Thomas Hurlbut
Royal Navy Dockyard,
Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Februrary 4th, 1814.

My Dear Doctor Roberts,

Our lengthy conversations in Halifax before you shipped out for Bermuda show us to be gentlemen concerned with matters that go beyond that of the actions of single ships of war and more to the greater strategies of our global struggle against tyrants large and small. As such, I feel that I can touch on some of the less public elements of the war with you, and mull over options for various projects, if you take my meaning? As you have been open and forthcoming with me on sensitive matters, I feel I can do likewise.

As command opportunities here are few, and those reserved for officers for whom Sir James has a special attachment, I have been pushed about the upper colony, doing various assignments as necessary and as possible. It seems in many cases that the decisions to perform these tasks are often taken too late to be wholly successful, or to have any success at all, such as the mission to deliver ordnance to Amhertsberg for HMS Detroit. However, in my wanderings about the inland seas, I have become something of an “Exploring Officer” much as Lord Wellington employs in Spain to gain and deliver information through difficult terrain and circumstances. You are aware that I have obtained and passed on specifics of American ships of war to my superiors but I have not mentioned how that was done. I dare not, for it might endanger not just myself, but others whose risk is greater than my own.

I will tell you this much. While I attempt to bolster the spirits of our sailors here in the Canadas and those blockading the American coast by telling of our massive ship construction on the lakes, I tell the other side of the story to only those whose decisions matter, that the Americans will again demonstrate their resourcefulness and that they have plans to dominate the lakes in the new season. I will therefore seek the particulars of their constructs by all the means at my disposal.

It is interesting to note that those in power do not appreciate the methods of this information gathering, or those who collect it. Still, they clamour for it, and are quite willing to put those who do the work at risk. And who reaps the reward? I ask you, how many exploring officers have received a knighthood? Or command of a ship..

So, to work..

With the loss of the Lake Erie fleet, we need to find other ways to supply the base at Michilmackinac. We have one transport schooner on Lake Huron and, as long as it can stay out of harm’s way, it can continue to make trips to and from the island from supply depots at the mouths of rivers that empty into Georgian Bay. One such is the French River that the Canadian fur trading voyageurs have used for over a century. Another is the Nottawasaga River which is connected to Lake Ontario by some smaller rivers and lakes. I expect to be given the task of opening up these routes to greater use for military purposes.

Some 20 years ago, the Lieutenant-Governor, John Simcoe, traveled Georgian Bay by canoe and discovered a hidden inlet he deemed suitable for a naval station. I will suggest that we re-examine the possibility and perhaps construct a fleet of warships there, hidden and unknown to the enemy until the moment they sortie out to do battle.

Recent history would suggest that it will be difficult to get men and material from Sir James to complete this project, let alone haul it through the wilderness to the hidden harbor. Still, we must try. Perhaps ships can be constructed in frame in Britain, dismantled and shipped here and reassembled and planked after arrival? That bears some consideration..

I must to bed, for we leave by sleigh early in the morning. I shall write soon to keep you up on activities here.

Your Servant,

Thomas Hurlbut.

Post Script: After I put out the candle, I gazed out through the window upon the ground behind the cottage where I have my bed and saw a white wolf! Could it be canis lupus arctos this far south? Doctor, were I a superstitious man, I would take it as a bad omen.

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