Lady Eleanor Dundas is painted as a beautiful Scottish widow.
Her husband, MajorGeneral Thomas Dundas, had been sent to seize the island of Guadeloupe from French control, as, following the French Revolution of 1789, slavery had been abolished in the French colonies. The enslaved Africans were eager to gain their freedom, but to avoid compliance, the French plantation owners had asked to become a British protectorate.
In an arrangement "regularized" under the Whitehall Accord of 1794, Britain would protect the counter-revolutionary colonists of the French West Indies from their own Government, in return for a generous share of the prodigious wealth extracted from the slave labor on the Island.
When Major-General Thomas Dundas arrived in the West Indies in December 1793, he wrote home to his wife in Scotland how delightful it was. He hadn't been at all eager to go, in spite of being offered Governorship of Guadeloupe, having been away from home for a long time and being on half pay.
He sent many sweet, tender letters to Lady Eleanor, sending his love to their many daughters and one son, and crediting the warm flannel underwear she supplied for keeping him and his nephew healthy by sweating it out in the warm weather.
All his letters, - he missed her and wrote as often as he could - survive and are published in The Dundas of Fingask. Her letters in return are lost. The British were able to defeat the French garrison and take over. As the weeks passed the weather became hotter an Yellow Fever began to take hold, with more and more of the men dying in the pandemic. The doctor became so exhausted that he fell asleep in the bed of one of the victims, and soon fell ill and died himself.
Dundas had some very ugly and racist remarks to make about the enslaved Africans. He also admitted to an undescribed deed that he felt guilty about, which he said he was prompted to do to provide dowries for his daughters. The small coal mine they owned (there were no safety regulations or restrictions on child labor in those days) in Scotland apparently didn't provide enough.
Lady Eleanor's family were said to have heard about his death before she did, and kept the news from her, so as not to threaten her pregnancy, toasting every evening to the success of his campaign. But this can't be true, as her daughter Elizabeth was born on the 8th of June, only five days after he died of the fever. News would take many more days to cross the Atlantic by ship and reach Scotland.
Thomas Dundas died in June 1794 Guadeloupe of yellow fever. The French under Victor Huges, a fervent revolutionary and guillotine enthusiast, retook Guadeloupe. Huges ordered that Dundas's body be dug up and scattered to the birds. Huges, who racially integrated his troops, became governor of Guadeloupe. He declared and end to "chattel slavery" - but required the enslaved people to continue enforced work for free.
The promise of freedom in the French Revolution was denied the African descendants in the West Indies. It took the famous Revolt on the Island of Haiti to succeed in overthrowing the slaveowners. The whole region was convulsed by rebellions, in spite of the scarcity of arms and being trapped on small islands, but all others were brutally extinguished.
Lady Eleanor's portrait looks as though she may have seeking another husband to support her large family. But she sold the family silver and never remarried. When she was 21 she had lost her only brother, William in the American War of Independence, and must have been very anxious when her only son Thomas went to fight in the Napoleonic wars.
Probably Thomas Dundas's portrait by Henry Raeburn
Very probably also his portrait by George Romney
More info including a picture of their home, Carron Hall and another portrait of Thomas Dundas
3:45 PM (16 hours ago)