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Autograph Letter Signed (“Florentia Sale”) 

SALE, Florentia 1790-1853. Author of A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan and wife of the British Army Officer Robert Henry Sale


Available to view at our Curzon Street shop.

to Miss Nicholson, 1 ½ page 8vo with integral blank leaf and envelope sheath, paper seal and postmarks for India and Rochester, Mobarckpore? [India], 11 February 1843.

Florentia Sale was the quintessential nineteenth century officer’s wife. Known as “the grenadier in petticoats” she travelled alongside her husband to far off climes including Mauritius, Burma and India. In 1842 she was part of the retreat from Kabul where approximately 4,500 troops and 12,000 camp followers died due to a combination of exposure to bitter temperatures and the onslaught of Afghan tribal forces. It was one of the major catastrophes of the first Anglo-Afghan war and has been considered one of the great failures in British Military History. Only one European and a handful of Sepoys reached Jalalabad unharmed but a further number of civilians and soldiers were taken hostage by Akbar Khan, including Florentia Sale, her youngest daughter Alexandrina Sturt and her son-in-law Lieutenant John Sturt.

In this letter, written only five months after their release, Sale writes of her gratitude for their “restoration from Captivity” and stoically asserts that her sufferings are “not [. . .] to be compared to those of my husband the intense anxiety he must have felt or the sorrows of my unfortunate daughter.” Her son-in-law John Sturt was murdered during their imprisonment and her daughter gave birth not long after. Sale here refers to how Alexandrina and her baby are faring since enduring “such trials”. The letter also contains information about her husband Major General Sir Robert Henry Sale and logistic and military details regarding their position at a new station “in the Hills at Kussowlie”.  

“On our arrival at this place a few days since we found all our [. . .] letters awaiting us, and to my no small surprise and pleasure one of them proved to be from you. I little thought short as our acquaintance had been that you would have recollected me or have taken any interest in my fate. This is indeed delightful to have the Congratulations of so many friends greeting us on our restoration from Captivity, we have great reason to be thankful for the Providence that has sustained us tho’ such trials as we have endured not that mine are to be compared to those of my husband the intense anxiety he must have felt or the sorrows of my unfortunate daughter. You who take such a friendly interest in our fate will be glad to hear that Mrs Sturt is well and now enjoying the society of one of his sisters Mrs Hill [. . .] She has a lovely little girl born in Prison now 6 months old. The 13th are so much changed [. . .] That I do not think there are any Officers with us now that are known to you except ourselves. A new station is forming in the Hills at Kussowlie [Kasauli] about 30 miles from hence. Sale is gone to see how the Barracks are getting on as he is anxious to get the men housed before the hot weather returns. There are as yet only three houses there for the officers we have been fortunate in securing one of the best and I hope soon to be settled in it [. . .] It is probable [. . .] that we shall be ordered home and then both Sale and I will be delighted to renew our acquaintance with your family. In the mean time pray accept [. . .] our united kindest remembrances and best wishes for health and every happiness this world can bestow.”

Florentia Sale kept a journal throughout the ordeal in Afghanistan and it was printed in 1843 under the title A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan.

Stock Code: 217670