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Scottish Regiments
Seventy-Fifth Regiment or 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders


1787-1886

WHILE Major-General Sir Archibald Campbell was appointed Colonel of the 74th, the colonelcy of its coeval regiment, the 75th, was conferred on Colonel Robert Abercromby of Tullibody. He had commanded a light infantry brigade during six campaigns in the American war; and as several companies of this brigade had been composed of the light infantry of the Highland regiments then in America, the colonel was well known to the Highlanders, and had acquired an influence among them rarely enjoyed by officers born south of the Grampians. There are instances, no doubt, such as those of the Marquis of Montrose and Viscount Dundee, and others of modem date, "where Highland corps have formed attachments to officers not natives of their country, and not less ardent than to the chiefs of old;" and if the instances have been few, it must be attributed entirely to want of tact in officers themselves, who, from ignorance of the Highland character, or from some other cause, have failed to gain the attachment of the Highland soldiers.

From personal respect to Colonel Abercromby, many of the Highlanders who had served under him in America, and had been discharged at the peace of 1783, enlisted anew, and, with about 300 men who were recruited at Perth, and in the northern counties, constituted the Highland part of the regiment. According to a practice which then prevailed, of firing the headquarters of a regiment about to be raised in the neighbourhood of the colonel’s residence, if a man of family, the town of Stirling was appointed for the embodying of the 75th; and here, accordingly, it first assembled in June 1788, and immediately thereafter proceeded to England, and embarked for India, where it arrived about the end of that year.

For eighteen months after its arrival in India, the regiment was subjected to extreme severity of discipline by one of the captains, who appears to have adopted the old Prussian model for his rule. A more unfortunate plan for destroying the morale of a Highland regiment could not have been devised, and the result was, that, during the existence of this discipline, there were more punishments in the 75th than in any other corps of the same description. But as soon as the system was modified by the appointment of an officer who knew the dispositions and feelings of the Highlanders, the conduct of the men improved.

The regiment took the field in 1790, under the command of Colonel Hartley, and in the two subsequent years formed part of the force under Major-General Robert Abercromby, on his two marches to Seringapatam. The regiment was also employed in the assault on that capital in 1799, the flank companies having led the left columns.  From that period down to 1804, the regiment was employed in the provinces of Malabar, Goa, Goojerat, and elsewhere, and in 1805 was with General Lake’s army in the disastrous attacks on Bhurtpoor.

The regiment was ordered home in 1806; but such of the men as were desirous of remaining in India were left behind. In 1809 there were not one hundred men in the regiment who had been born north of the Tay; on which account, it is believed, the designation was at that time changed.

It still retained its old number, and, while known as the "Stirlingshire Regiment" from 1809 to 1881, had a distinguished career, having taken part in the Kaffir War of 1835, as well as in many of the engagements which have been noticed in connection with the other Highland Regiments. As will be seen in the account of the 78th Highlanders, the 75th formed part of the force with which Sir Colin Campbell marched to the relief of Lucknow in November 1857, and guarded the Alum Bagh, while Sir Colin, with the rest of the force, made his way to the besieged garrison on the 14th of that month.

Under the Territorial Scheme, however, introduced in 1881, the 75th was once more restored to its position among the Highland Regiments, and, resuming the kilt and Highland dress after a lapse of seventy-four years, became the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders, the 92nd Regiment forming the 2nd Battalion, and the Royal Aberdeenshire Militia the 3rd. The depot was fixed at Aberdeen. When this change was announced by a Special General Order, dated the 11th of April, as to come into force on the 1st of July, the 75th was stationed at Malta, where it had arrived from England on the 20th of March, and where, on the 18th of June 1882, it paraded, for the first time since 1808, in full Highland uniform.

In consequence of the outbreak of hostilities in Egypt, the battalion embarked on H.M.S. "Euphrates," and, having reached Alexandria on the 7th of August, landed and occupied Gabari Railway Station—the total strength being 690 of all ranks. In this position it remained till the 19th of August, furnishing, meanwhile, detachments for duty at Mex Fort, Moharrem Bey Station, Rosetta Gate, and Ramleh Station; but on that date it moved to Ramleh, where it was shortly afterwards joined by the 1st Battalion Black Watch, the 2nd Battalion Highland Light Infantry, and the 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, these four regiments forming the Highland Brigade. While stationed at Ramleh, the duties were mainly confined to furnishing outposts for the protection of the base at Alexandria, and for watching the enemy’s strongly intrenched positions at Kafr Downr and Kinji Osman. Along with the rest of the Highland Brigade the regiment sailed from Alexandria on the 31st August for Ismailia, and took part in the subsequent march to Kassassin, and the attack on and capture of Arabi Pasha’s works at Tel-el-Kebir; but as these operations have been already described in connection with the Black Watch and the 1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry, it is unnecessary here to enter into further details. During the advance and attack, the 75th occupied the right centre of the Highland Brigade, next the Black Watch which was on the extreme right. The loss of the battalion at Tel-el-Kebir was 1 officer and 4 non-commissioned officers and men killed, and 1 officer and 29 non-commissioned officers and men wounded. On the 14th of September the battalion marched to and occupied the important railway junction at Zagazig, proceeding by train the following day to Benha, and on the 17th to Tantah where it received the surrender of the Salahiek Garrison, consisting of 3000 infantry, one regiment of cavalry, and 24 guns. At Tantah a halt was made for several days, there being among both officers and men a considerable amount of sickness brought on by the hardships endured, and the unhealthiness of the climate. On the 28th of September the regiment proceeded to Cairo, and, after taking part in the great review held by H.H. the Khedive on the 30th, went into quarters at the Citadel, where it remained as part of the Army of Occupation till February 1884.

For services during the campaign, Lieutenant-Colonel D. Hammill received the Companionship of the Bath, and from the Khedive the 3rd class of the Medjidieh; Major J. E. Boyes, the 4th class of the Osmanlie; and Lieutenants Burney and Pine, the 5th class of the Medjidieh; and Major Boyes was also promoted to a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonelcy.

The medals awarded by Her Majesty the Queen for the Egyptian Campaign of 1882 were presented to the battalion on February 14th, 1883, by Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Alison, Bart., K.C.B., Commanding the Troops in Egypt, who, after the presentation, addressed a few words of sincere congratulation to the battalion on the part taken by it in the recent operations. The bronze stars granted to the British troops who took part in the Egyptian Campaign by H.H. the Khedive, were presented to the battalion, as well as to the other troops stationed in or near Cairo, at Abdin Palace, Cairo, on the 2d of June .1883, His Highness himself handing the stars to the officers who were entitled to them, and, to a selected non-commissioned officer or private from each company, those intended for the non-commissioned officers and men.

In consequence of an outbreak of cholera at Cairo on the 15th of July, one company was, on the 18th, sent to Heluan to form and take charge of a camp to which the battalion might be moved should such a step be deemed advisable; but although the epidemic appeared among the men on the 27th of July, and continued to be prevalent until the 14th of August, no change was considered necessary, and the 1st Gordon Highlanders remained in quarters at the Citadel, being indeed at this time the only infantry regiment at Cairo. Thirteen non-commissioned officers and men fell victims to the disease. The company sent to Heluan rejoined headquarters on the 3d of September, and on the 15th of the same month a detachment was sent to Port Said to relieve a portion of the Black Watch, and did not rejoin the battalion till the 27th of January 1884.

In September 1882, a General Order had been issued announcing that Her Majesty the Queen had been graciously pleased to approve of certain specified infantry regiments being permitted to bear on their standards, colours, or appointments, in commemoration of their gallant behaviour when engaged in warfare in South Africa during the years 1835, 1846-47, 1851-53, the words "South Africa," followed by the date of the operations in which they took part, and the Gordon Highlanders thus became entitled to add to their former distinctions "South Africa, 1835." By a General Order issued in February 1883, Her Majesty was further graciously pleased to approve of the Gordon Highlanders, along with other regiments engaged in the Egyptian campaign, being permitted to bear the words "Egypt, 1882;" "Tel-el-Kebir" on their standards, colours, or appointments in commemoration of their distinguished and gallant behaviour during the war recently finished.

The rebellion of the Arab tribes in the Eastern Soudan under Osman Digna, and the total defeat near Suakim of the Egyptian force which, under Baker Pasha, had been despatched to the relief of the garrison at Tokar, rendered operations by a British force necessary in that quarter in the beginning of 1884. The battalion was accordingly, on the 15th of February, ordered to be held in readiness for active service, and after marching to Suez on the evening of the 16th, embarked on the 17th on the steam transport "Thibet" for Suakim, the total strength being 22 officers and 668 non-commissioned officers and men. On arriving off that port, it was found that Trinkitat, 30 miles farther south, had been adopted as the base of operations, and thither the "Thibet" at once proceeded, reaching its destination on the 21st. The regiment landed on the 23d, and after remaining under canvas for two days, marched on the 25th, along with the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Fusilers, and details of departmental corps, to occupy and hold Fort Baker—an earthwork about 3 miles inland. This position was maintained till the 29th, when the whole force destined for the relief of Tokar moved forward to attack the enemy at El Teb, about 4 miles distant from Trinkitat. The order of march and details of the battle have been already given in the account of the Black Watch, and need not be here repeated. During the flank movement and the advance on the village of Teb, only the left half battalion, which was then in the actual front of the square, was seriously engaged, and the casualties were consequently slight, amounting merely to 10 privates wounded. The march to Tokar was resumed on the 1st of March, but when that place was reached the same afternoon, it was found that the garrison had surrendered, on the 16th of February. On the 3d of March the battalion returned to Trinkitat, whence it was conveyed by the s.s. "Utopia" to Suakim on the 8th.

During the subsequent operations at the battle of Tamaai, two companies of the 1st Gordon Highlanders were left to garrison No. 2 Zareba; three companies formed part of the front face of the square of the 1st Division, one company formed part of the right face, and one company acted inside the square as an escort for the guns. Details of the engagement will be found in the account of the Black Watch, The losses at Tamaai were 4 privates killed and 9 non-commissioned officers and privates wounded—one of the non-commissioned officers dying afterwards of his wounds.

After returning to Suakim on the 15th, the battalion proceeded on the 18th along with a detachment of the 19th Hussars to the wells of Handoub, 11 miles west of Suakim on the Berber road, and there formed a zareba from which the cavalry made frequent reconnaissances. It also took part in the subsequent advance on Tamanieb, and after returning to Suakim on the 28th, embarked on the steam transport "Utopia" for conveyance to Suez, that port being reached on the 5th of April, and the return to the old quarters at the Citadel of Cairo effected the same day. During this expedition Lieutenant Payne and 34 non-commissioned officers and men served with the mounted infantry. In recognition of services rendered during the campaign, Lieutenant-Colonel B. Hammill, C.B., was promoted to a Brevet-Colonelcy, Major Cross, who died at Cairo on the 28th of February 1885 of disease contracted while on duty with the forces up the Nile, to a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonelcy, and Captain Menzies to a Brevet Majority, while the Egyptian medal and bronze star were granted to all not already in possession of them. Two clasps were also issued, one marked "Suakim 1884" and the other "El Teb—Tamaai," for those who had been present in both these actions, and "El Teb" or "Tamaai" for those who had been present at one or other but not at both. A gratuity in shares of 2 was also issued to all officers, warrant-officers, and noncommissioned officers and men; and by a General Order dated the 1st of January 1885, permission was granted to the battalion to add the date "1884" to the inscription "Egypt 1882," already on the colours, in commemoration of its distinguished and gallant behaviour during the campaign in the Eastern Soudan. From the Khedive, Lieutenant-Colonel F. F. Daniell received the 3d class of the Medjidieh, and Captain Kevill Davies the 4th class, and Lieutenant Payne the 5th class of the same order.

The British Government having at last, in the autumn of 1884, decided to despatch an expedition to the assistance of Major-General Gordon, C.B., who had been besieged in Khartoum since March by the rebel forces under their chief leader the Mahdi, the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders received orders on the 23d of October to hold itself in readiness to form part of the relieving force, and, on the evening of the 5th of November, left Cairo, with a strength of 24 officers, and 757 non-commissioned officers and men, and proceeded by train to Assiout, 229 miles farther up the Nile, and the end of the railway system. Immediately after arrival the following morning the regiment embarked on two steamers, each towing two barges, and proceeded up the Nile to Assouan, at the lower end of the first cataract, and the head of ordinary steam navigation. This point was reached on the 19th; and the advance continued thereafter by Shelal to Wady Haifa (a distance of 233 miles), partly in the whale boats specially constructed for the expedition, and partly in diabehas, each company working independently. From Wady Haifa each company, as it arrived, was conveyed to Gemai at the head of the second cataract, where whale boats were served out to the different detachments. The C company, with a strength of 87 officers, noncommissioned officers, and men, under command of Major Mathias was left to garrison Wady Halfa. After the boats had been loaded at Sarras, 12 miles above Gemal, the real hard work of all concerned began, the soldiers being unaccustomed to handle boats, and the river itself becoming more difficult of ascent, in consequence of the number of sharp rocks, and the strength and swiftness of the current. The men, however, settled down to work with a will, and their splendid behaviour under all trials, and their eagerness to push on, were very marked throughout the whole expedition. 

The general difficulties of the passage up the various cataracts have been already described (p. 454), and we shall here notice only the particular incidents affecting the Gordon Highlanders. At the cataract and rapids of Semneh the stores were portaged round the rough water by native labour, while the boats were dragged through the "gate" by Egyptian soldiers, one of the Canadian boatmen steering. During this passage Corporal Taylor was drowned through the capsizing of a boat at the Ambigol Cataract, 19 miles farther up, several companies were delayed for two or three days by a block in the passage, and between that place and Dal several boats were wrecked, but fortunately no lives were lost. At the cataract of Shaban a boat under the command of Lieutenant Burney, struck a rock, when under full sail, and capsized, the whole crew being thrown into the water. Several of the men could not swim, and Lieutenant Burney, at the peril of his life, gallantly swam from one to another, giving them boxes, &c., by the aid of which they might keep themselves afloat, and rendering them other assistance till they were all in safety on various rocks. He himself was picked up by a company of the Black Watch, greatly exhausted, after being three-quarters of an hour in the water. Several other boats were also wrecked in the Shaban rapids, but there was no loss of life. Above Hannek the Nile— which is here skirted by low banks, with lines of palm trees and tracts of cultivated ground on both sides—became opener, and of great breadth, sandbanks taking the place of rocks; and in this clear water the boats made a rapid passage by Dongola to Korti, where a track strikes off across the Bayuda Desert to Matammeh, and which was now the headquarters of Lord Wolseley and his staff, and the base of further operations. Here the force which had proceeded up the Nile was to be broken up into two columns, one of which was to proceed under Major-General Sir Herbert Stewart by the desert route to Matammeh, and the other—the River Column—under Major-General Earle, along the banks of the river, in order to punish the murderers of Colonel Stewart, who had been treacherously killed by Suleiman Wad Gamr, sheik of the Monassir tribe, while descending the Nile from Khartoum with despatches from Major-General Gordon. The Gordon Highlanders accompanied the latter force. The regiments forming the column were collected at Hamdab, five days sail above Korti, whence the forward movement began on the 24th of January 1885, the D Company of the 1st Gordon Highlanders being detached to form the escort for Major-General Earle and Brigadier-General Brackenbury, a service which they performed throughout the expedition. The rest of the regiment remained at Hamdab to await the arrival of the G Company, which was daily expected, and which would complete the battalion. When, however, news arrived from the front that the column was in touch with the enemy, and that a battle would probably take place at Birti within a few days, Lieutenant-Colonel Hammill immediately despatched a messenger to General Earle requesting permission to push forward at once and join the rest of the force without waiting longer for the company that was awanting, and a reply, ordering the battalion to close up with the main body, was received the same evening. The cataracts above Hamdab were found very difficult, and the progress correspondingly slow. A considerable amount of portage had to be done, and several of the boats were wrecked and many injured.

On the 6th of February the battalion suddenly received orders to halt, and accordingly stopped at "Palm Tree Camp," about 5 miles below Birti, and formed a zareba at a spot with a large open plain in front and on both flanks. The fall of Khartoum had become known at Headquarters, and further operations depended on official orders from England. On the 8th the regiment was ordered to proceed, and reached Birti on the 10th and Castle Camp on the 11th. Whilst the necessary steps were being taken against surprise during the night, a messenger arrived from the front with the news that a successful engagement had taken place the day before at Kirbekan, about 5 miles farther on, the enemy, who were strongly posted on the rocks commanding the passage of the river, having sustained a severe defeat, and been completely dispersed. The victory had, however, been somewhat dearly purchased by the loss of General Earle, and the Lieutenant-Colonels of the Black Watch and the 1st South Staffordshire Regiment. A document sent by the Governor of Berber to the Governor of the section, intimating the capture of Khartoum by the Mahdi on the 26th of January, and the death of General Gordon, was picked up by a private of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, about 400 yards in rear of the battlefield.

The regiment advanced to Kirbekan on the 12th, and, on the following day, under orders from Brigadier-General Brackenbury who now commanded the River Column, proceeded through the Shokook Pass, where a vigorous resistance had been expected, as the river is here narrow, and the banks are formed by perpendicular cliffs rising to a height of 300 feet. That the enemy had intended opposing the advance was evident, as every advantageous position among the rocks was carefully strengthened by small walls, but the defeat sustained at Kirbekan had caused such utter disorganisation in the Arab plans that the column passed through unmolested. On an island at the head of the Uss Cataract, which lies beyond the Shokook Pass, several articles belonging to Colonel Stewart’s steamer were found; and General Brackenbury having determined to inflict severe punishment on the natives, all villages, houses, and sakiyehs or water wheels were destroyed as the column advanced. One of the villages specially selected for destruction was Salamat, where the whole portion belongjng to the Sheik Suleiman Wad Gamr was levelled to the ground. From this point onward the Gordon Highlanders had the honour of leading the advance, a post they continued to hold till the return of the force. Hebbeh, the scene of the treacherous murder of Colonel Stewart and his companions, and where his steamer was still lying on the rocks, was reached on the 25th of February; and as the point was suitable for the operation General Brackenbury determined to cross to the opposite bank of the river with his artillery, cavalry, and transport—an operation safely accomplished the following day under cover of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry on the right bank and the Gordon Highlanders on the left. On the 23d the heights of Mograt Island, at the corner of the great bend of the Nile above Korti, where the enemy was reported to occupy a strongly fortified position, were in sight, and every one was looking forward to a fresh struggle; but, on the morning of the 24th, a messenger arrived with despatches from headquarters ordering the column to return, "having completed its object of punishing the Monassir tribe," and intimating that, as the hot season was approaching, Lord Wolseley intended that summer quarters should be taken up between Abu Dom and Dongola. One hour afterwards the descent of the river was begun, the Gordon Highlanders now forming the rearguard. As the boats had, during the return, the full strength of the current to carry them on, the passage downwards was much more dangerous, though not so toilsome as the ascent, and too much praise cannot be bestowed on the Canadian voyageurs for the skilful manner in which they worked and steered the boats during the return of the expedition. Special precautions were taken for the passage through the Shokook Pass, as it was considered probable that the rock positions might have been reoccupied by an Arab force from Berber. The Gordon Highlanders led the advance, two marksmen being placed in the bow of each boat ready to fire should the enemy appear. No resistance was, however, offered, and the boats passed through unmolested, and reached Abu Dom in safety on the 6th of March. During the descent several boats were wrecked, and three men were unfortunately drowned.

On the arrival of the battalion at Korti on the 8th of March, it was inspected by Lord Wolseley, who expressed his approbation of the conduct of the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men whilst on active service during the expedition. During the hot weather the regiment was attached to the brigade stationed at Kurot under the command of Brigadier-General Brackenbury, and though the straw and mud huts which were erected for the men were found to be an efficient protection against the sun, and kept comparatively cool, yet the state of health of the battalion became very unsatisfactory. The reaction told heavily on all ranks, and ten deaths occurred from enteric fever, while no fewer than 49 non-commissioned officers and privates were invalided to Cairo.

The Home Government having decided on the evacuation of the Soudan, the Gordon Highlanders, with a total strength of 19 officers and 509 non-commissioned officers and men, left Kurot on the 1st of June in 44 whale-boats, and reached Abu Fatmeh at the head of the third cataract on the 4th of the same month. From Abu Fatmeh the regiment proceeded by half-battalions to Akasheh, where the boats were left for good, and after a march of 26 miles across the desert to the railway, continued its journey by train to Wady Halfa, and from that place to Assouan in diabehas towed by steamers.

From Assouan, which was reached on the 21st June, to Assiout, the means of conveyance was by barges towed by steamers, and from the latter place the regiment was conveyed by rail to Alexandria, where it took up quarters, under canvas, in a camp established at Fort Mex. The total distance traversed by the Nile River Column from Cairo to Ellemeh—the farthest point reached—between the 5th November 1884 and the 24th February 1885, was nearly 1400 miles. For their services in the Soudan the whole force received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament, and Lord Wolseley was raised to the rank of Viscount.

In recognition of their services while on duty with the battalion during the operations on the Nile, Major W. A. Smail was promoted to a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonelcy, and Captain C. H. Payne to a Brevet Majority; and a gratuity was issued to all officers, noncommissioned officers, and men who had served at or south of Assiout, a private’s share being 5. All who served at or south of Korosko received the Egyptian medal, if it was not already in their possession, with a clasp inscribed "Nile 1884-85." Those who had the medal before received the clasp. A detachment of 31 non-commissioned officers and men who, under Lieutenants Payne and Stewart, had served with the mounted infantry, and, having accompanied General Sir Herbert Stewart’s Desert Column, had been present at the battles of Abu Klea and Gubat, received in addition the clasp inscribed "Abu Klea," while the officers and men of the detatchment which had served as the General’s escort with the River Column, were awarded the clasp for "Kirbekan," where they had of course been present.

On the 8th of September 1885, the battalion left Fort Mer and embarked at Alexandria on H.M.S. "Tamar" for Malta, which was reached on the 12th, and quarters taken up at first at Fort Ricasoli and subsequently at Floriana Barracks, A and B companies being detached to Pembroke Camp. On the 15th of October Colonel D. Hammill, C.B., retired with the honorary rank of Major-General, and on the 15th of December Lieut.Colonel F. F. Daniell rejoined from England and took up the command. In 1886 the only event of importance was the inspection by Major-General C. F. T. Daniell, which took place on the 15th of March, the companies on detachment duty at Pembroke Camp being inspected on the following day.


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