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The Royal Edinburgh Volunteers


The Edinburgh (or, as they were afterwards called, the Royal) Volunteers, were embodied in 1794. The plan of instituting the corps was first contemplated in the month of June of that year; and, on the third of July following, a general meeting of the proposed members was held in the Sheriff Court-Rooms, when certain leading articles of regulation were established, and a committee of management appointed. The Volunteers were to bear all their own expenses of clothing and other necessaries; and half-a-guinea of entry-money was exacted from each member, towards defraying contingencies. Subsequently, however, on application to Government, the usual pay was obtained for an adjutant; pay and clothing for a sergeant-major and twenty sergeants; and also for twelve drummers and twelve fifers. The entire scheme of embodying the citizens as volunteers, it is said, was solely projected by the late James Laing, Deputy City Clerk. By one of the articles, the uniform is described to consist of a blue coat, with a red cape and cuff, white lining turned up in the skirts, two gold epauletes. and a button bearing the name of the corps and arms of the city; white cassimere vest and breeches, and white cotton stockings; short gaiters of black cloth; a round hat, with two black feathers and one white; and black cross-belts. The belts of the Edinburgh Volunteers were painted white, which soon gave the corps an awkward appearance on account of the paint scaling off, and leaving portions of white and black alternately. They were accordingly soon laid aside, and the common buff belt substituted. The uniform underwent many other changes. The two grenadier companies had a bear-skin and a grenade on the hat, and grenades at the joining of the skirts of the coat; while the officers of the corps were only distinguished by their swords.

The regiment, being assembled in Heriot's Green on the 26th September, 1794, was presented with a stand of colours by the Lord Provost (Sir James Stirling), attended by the two senior Magistrates, the Principal of the University, and the whole Members of the Town Council, in their robes. The colours were very handsome: the one elegantly embroidered with a crown, and the letters G. R.; and the other with the City Arms. A vast crowd of spectators attended to to witness the presentation.

The original officers of the corps were : Lieutenant-Colonels—Thos. Elder, Old Provost; "William Maxwell, Colonel in the Army (now General Sir William Maxwell). Majors—Roger Aytoun, Lieutenant-Colouel in the Army; Archibald Erskine, late Major of 22nd Foot. Captains—Patrick Crichton, a Captain in the Army; Charles Kerr, late Captain 43rd Foot; Andrew Houston, late Lieutenant of the Carbineers ; John Anstruther, late Lieutenant 17th Foot; Robert Hamilton, late Lieutenant 82nd Foot; William West, Captain in the Army; Robert Arbuthnot, Lieutenant in the Army, Thomas Armstrong, late Lieutenant 80th Foot; Captain-Lieutenant George Abercromby. Lieutenants—Baine Whyt, W.S.; William Coulter; Malcolm Wright; John Clark; David Reid ; John Pringlo; Thomas Hewen, late Captain in 4th Dragoons; Archibald Campbell, late Lieutenant in the Army; David Hume, late Lieutenant of Marines; Henry Jardine (now Sir H. Jardine), W.S.; Robert Dundas (the late Sir Robert Dundas. Baronet, of Dunira); Robert Hodgson Cay, Advocate. Ensigns— John Dundas, John Menzies, John Wood, Lachlan Mactavish, Jame.s Brown, James Dickson, Charles Phin, Morris "West. Chaplain— Rev. G. Baird. Adjutant—Patrick Crichton. Quarter master—David Hunter. Treasurer—Hugh Robertson. Secretary—Henry Jardine. Surgeon—Thomas Hay. Assistant-Surgeons—John Rae and James Law.

In a pamphlet, entitled "View of the Establishment of the Royal Edinburgh Volunteers," published in June, 1795, an alphabetical list of all the members is given, amounting to 785; which, but for its extreme length, might have been worth transcribing. At that period, no less than 55 members of the celebrated "Cape Club" were enrolled in the corps. Five old sovereigns of the Cape were doing duty in one company, and seven knights were officers of the Volunteers.

The Lord Provost, by virtue of his office, was Colonel of the regiment; and all the other commissions were conferred by the King on the recommendation of the Volunteers themselves. The privates of each company were permitted to name individuals of their number to be their officers; and it is related as a curious fact, that several of these officers owed their elevation solely to their being unfit to march, or keep their places in the ranks properly, having been selected by the privates in order that they might get rid of the annoyance of an awkward comrade.

The first review of the Volunteers took place at Bruntsfield Links, on the 22ud November, 1794, when they were inspected by the Duke of Buccleuch, Lord Lieutenant of the County. On this occasion the spectators were very numerous, and highly respectable. Among the nobility aud gentry present were—the Duchess of Buccleuch and family, the Earl of Morton, Lord Ancrum, the Lord President, the Lord Advocate, and many of the Lords of Session. On the 6th of July, 1795, they had another "grand field-day" at the Links, when the Right Honourable Mr. Secretary Dundas was received as a volunteer into the corps. The same day he gave an elegant entertainment in Fortune's Tavern to the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Council, and to several other gentlemen. As a mark of respect, Mr. Dundas was immediately afterwards requested by the Lord Provost, in name of the corps, to accept the station of Captain-Lieutenant, which he declined, but gratefully acknowledged the honour in a highly complimentary letter.

The patriotic example of arming in defence of their country, which had been shown by the gentlemen of Edinburgh, was speedily followed throughout Scotland. Every district had its band of armed citizens—the discontented became silent, and loyalty was the order of the day—

"We'll give them a welcome, we'll give them a grave,"

was the prevailing sentiment, should the enemy dare to set a foot on Scottish ground. Burns, in his impassioned song of "The Dumfries Volunteers," seems to have thoroughly embodied in it the spirit of the times—

"Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?
Then, let the loons beware, sir:
There's wooden walls upon our seas,
And volunteers on shore, sir.
The Nith shall rin to Corsincon,
And Criffel sink in Solway,
Ere we permit a foreign foe
On British ground to rally!"

* * * * *

"The kettle o' the Kirk an' State,
Perhaps a clout may fail in't;
But deil a foreign tinkler loon
Shall ever ca' a nail in't.
"Our fathers' bluid the kettle bought
And wha wad dare to spoil it?
By heaven ! the sacrilegious dog
Shall fuel be to boil it."

In consequence of the alliance of Spain with France, a meeting of the Lieutenants of the city, and the officers of the Edinburgh Volunteers, was held on 14th September, 179G, when they resolved,—"that as this apparent increase of strength, on the part of our enemies, must give them additional confidence, it is highly necessary to show them that this country is capable of increasing its exertions in proportion to the force brought against it." Accordingly, an augmentation of their corps being deemed necessary, another battalion was speedily organized, called the Second Eegiment of Edinburgh Volunteers.

In 1797, when the French were every day expected to attempt a landing in Ireland, the First Regiment tendered their services to perform the duty of the Castle, in order to allow the withdrawal of the regular troops; and, in 1801, when the danger seemed more immediately to menace our own shores, the former offer of service was followed up with characteristic spirit.

The Lieutenant-Colonel commanding, the Eight Hon. Charles Hope (afterwards Lord President and Privy Councillor), in his letter to General Wyse, at this alarming crisis, says—"In the event of an enemy appearing on our coast, we trust that you will be able to provide for the temporary security of Edinburgh Castle by means of its own invalids, and the recruits and convalescents of the numerous corps and detachments in and about Edinburgh; and that, as we have more to lose than the brave fellows of the other volunteer regiments who have extended their services, we trust you will allow us to be the first to share in the danger, as well as in the glory which we are confident his Majesty's troops will acquire under your command, if opposed to an invading army."

On the cessation of hostilities in 1802, the Volunteers were disbanded, after eight years of military parade; during which period they had "many a time and oft" marched to and from the camp at Musselburgh, and, on the sands of Leith, maintained the well-contested bloodless fight. They closed their first period of service on the 6th of May, 1802. Early in the afternoon of that day they assembled in Heriot's Green, where they first obtained their colours; and, having formed a hollow square, the Lieutenant-Colonel read Lord Hobart's circular letter, conveying his Majesty's thanks, and also the thanks of the two Houses of Parliament. He likewise read a resolution of the Town Council of Edinburgh, conveying, in the strongest and most handsome terms, the thanks of the community to the whole Volunteers of the city; and a very flattering letter from his excellency Lieut.-General Vyse. The regiment was afterwards marched to the Parliament Square, where, being formed, the colours were delivered to the Magistrates, who lodged them iu the Council Chamber, and the corps was dismissed.

Such is a sketch of the first era of the Eoyal Edinburgh Volunteers. They were not, however, allowed to remain long unembodied. The peace, which had been proclaimed with great ceremony at the Cross of Edinburgh, on the 4th of May 1802, lasted something less than a year, when the threatening aspect of affairs again roused the scarcely tranquil feelings of the country. The preparations made by the Emperor Napoleon to invade this country, were met by a corresponding effort on the part of the British Government, which was supported by the united energies of the whole people. In few places was the spirit of the country more signally displayed than in Edinburgh. Upwards of four thousand volunteers were enrolled; and notwithstanding the great sacrifice of time which the proper training to arms required, all men seemed actuated with one spirit, and cheerfully and without complaint submitted to the tedious process of military instruction, aware of the importance of order and discipline against an enemy whose bravery was unquestioned, and who had given so many woofs of great military skill and enterprise. On the 30th September, 1803, the Royal Edinburgh Volunteers resumed their warlike banners. Ou this occasion the regiment was augmented to a thousand rank and file; and in conformity with the general orders previously issued, their dress was changed to scarlet with blue facings.

Notwithstanding the "mighty note of preparation," the military operations which followed this new enrolment were happily not of a. more sanguinary nature than those of the former. With the exception of forming guard occasionally when a fire occurred in the city, the duties of the Volunteers were confined to the usual routine of drills, field-days, and reviews—and these they continued to perform year after year with unabating zeal. In 1800, when new regulations were issued limiting the allowance to voluuteer corps, the First Regiment stood unaffected by them. The circumstance seemed rather to stimulate their patriotism. "I wish to remind you," said their Lieut.-Colonel, addressing them one day while on parade, "in that we did not take up arms to please any minister, or set of ministers, but to defend our land from foreign and domestic enemies."

One of their great field-days occurred en his Majesty's birth-day, 1807, when the Lieutenant-Colonel, the Right Honourable Charles Hope (then Lord Justice-Clerk), was presented with a valuable sabre, of superb and exquisite workmanship, in testimony of their regard for him as an officer and a gentleman. The sword was presented by Thomas Martin, Esq., sergeant of grenadiers, in name of the non-commissioned officers and privates.

In the year 1820, during the disturbances of the West, the Edinburgh Volunteers garrisoned the Castle, to enable the regular troops stationed there to proceed to Glasgow. The corps volunteered, it necessary, to leave Edinburgh, and co-operate with the regular troops, and one night remained actually under marching orders. It was then. as many professional gentlemen were enrolled as privates, no infrequent occurrence to find barristers pleading in the Parliament House, attired in warlike guise, with their gowns hastily thrown over their red coats. A short time afterwards the corps was somewhat unceremoniously disbanded.


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