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The Forty-Second Regiment, or Royal Highlanders


The Forty-Second Regiment, or, as it is commonly called in Scotland, the "Forty-Twa," was originally formed about the year 1729, and obtained the name of the "Black Watch," from the nature of the duty, and the appearance of the soldiers, whose Celtic dress was of a more sombre description than the showy scarlet uniform of the regular troops.

The services of the "Black Watch" were strictly local. The corps consisted of six independent companies, raised by gentlemen favourable to constitutional principles, and was scattered over the Highlands in small detachments, for the purpose of overawing the disaffected, and checking plunder and "lifting" of cattle. The ranks were filled by persons of the utmost respectability, and were open to all who chose to enrol themselves; but the officers were selected from among those who were known or supposed to be zealous in favour of the Hanoverian succession.

In 1740, these bands were formed into a regular regiment of the line, with the addition of four new companies. The uniform at that period consisted of a scarlet jacket and vest, with "buff facings and white lace, tartan plaid of twelve yards plaided round the body, the upper part being fixed on the left shoulder, ready to be thrown loose and wrapped over both shoulders and firelock in rainy weather. These were called belted plaids, from being kept tight to the body by a belt of strong thick leather." The arms were a musket, a bayonet, and a large basket-lnlted sword, which were furnished by Government; but the men were at liberty to carry pistols and dirks, if they chose to provide them for themselves.

In 1743, the regiment was ordered for England, a circumstance which excited considerable alarm in the minds of the men, who, notwithstanding the late change, still considered that their services were limited to Scotland ; but they were flattered by the assurance that they were merely to proceed to London, for the purpose of being reviewed by the King, who had never seen a Highland regiment.

An interesting yet melancholy occurrence is connected with the history of the "Black "Watch" at this period. Having reached London about the end of April, the regiment was at once an object of curiosity and of terror to the Cockneys. Two of the Highlanders, despatched to London prior to the regiment leaving Scotland, had been introduced to the King; and, in the great gallery of St. James's, performed the broadsword and other exercises before his Majesty, the Duke of Cumberland, Marshal Wade, and a number of general officers. The audience were highly gratified, and the Highlanders were rewarded with a gratuity of one guinea each, which they "presented to the porter at the Palace-gate as they went out." Immense crowds resorted to their quarters, and amongst others many individuals disaffected to the Government. The latter tampered with the feelings of the Highlanders, by representing the pretext of their having been ordered to London for the gratification of his Majesty as a mere hoax, as the King had actually set out for Hanover previous to their arrival; and that they were entrapped for the purpose of being sent out to the American plantations—the Botany Bay of that period. Indignant at the breach of faith and degradation which seemed intended for them, the Highlanders began to meditate escaping to their own country. Accordingly, the night immediately following the review, which took place on the 14th of May, the men, unknown to their officers, assembled on a common near Highgate, and commenced their march for Scotland.

No sooner had their flight been discovered than troops and messengers were despatched in all directions. Nothing but the desertion of the Highlanders was talked of in London ; but so rapid and secret had been their movements, that no trace of them could be discovered till the 19th of the month. They were then as far as Northampton, ;md had entered a place called Lady Wood, between Brigstock and Deanthorp, about four miles from Ormdale. Here they were surrounded by a strong force under General Blakenay, and after a good deal of negotiation, induced to surrender. They were then brought back to London, and a court-martial having been held, three of them suffered capital punishment, and two hundred wero ordered to serve in different corps abroad.

We gladly turn from this unfortunate incident to a brighter page in the annals of the regiment. Order having been speedily restored, the corps embarked for Flanders, where it became distinguished no less for exemplary behaviour in quarters than for gallantry in the field. j>y the uncommon daring at Fontenoy, the soldiers showed that the late desertion had originated in other motives than the fear of a foreign enemy. In the words of one of the prisoners on the trial,—"They were willing to fight the French and Spaniards, but not to go like rogues to the plantations." Many interesting anecdotes are told of the "Black Watch" at this their first engagement, where, after a day of hard and continued fighting, it had the honour of being ordered to cover the retreat of the Allies, as the "only regiment that could be kept to their duty"—a task which was performed with unprecedented success in the teeth of a victorious enemy.

It is not our intention to enter into a minute detail of the subsequent services of the " gallant forty-twa." In 1745, on the breaking out of the Rebellion of that period, the regiment was recalled from Flanders, but fortunately had no occasion to act offensively against the partisans of the house of Stuart. After a variety of services in the three kingdoms, it embarked for North America in 1756, and shared in all the harassing and sanguinary operations of the first American war. At the siege of Ticonderago the exertions of the corps, although unsuccessful, were distinguished by the most desperate valour; and, as a testimony of his Majesty's satisfaction and approbation, the title of Royal was conferred upon the regiment.

The Royal Highlanders returned to Ireland in 1768. While stationed there some slight alterations were made in the regimental dress. On marching to Dublin, the year following, the men received white cloth waistcoats, instead of their old red ones; and were supplied by the Colonel (General Lord John Murray) with white goat-skin purses, as an improvement upon those of badger-skin, which they formerly wore. About this time, also, it is said the words of "The Garb of Old Gaul," originally in Gaelic, were composed by some one of the regiment; but though the authorship has been attributed to three individuals, it has never been satisfactorily ascertained. The words were set to music, of his own composition, by Major Reid, who was one of the most accomplished flute-players of the age. Major Reid left at his death, in 1806, .£52,000 (subject to the liferent of his daughter) to the University of Edinburgh, for the purpose of instituting a Professorship of Music in the College. The first Professor, Mr. John Thomson, son of the late Dr. Andrew Thomson, appointed in 1839, only survived about a year. He was succeeded by Mr. (now Sir H. R.) Bishop.

The regiment remained in Ireland till 1775, when, after an absence of thirty-two years, it embarked at Donaghadee for Scotland, where it did not long remain. The War of Independence having broken out, the corps was again destined for America. Previous to leaving Glasgow, in 177G, the soldiers were supplied with new arms and accoutrements, including broadswords and pistols, which latter were provided by the Colonel. They sailed from Greenock on the 14th of May, and were constantly engaged in the arduous struggle which ensued in the new world, until peace was concluded in 1783. Here we may mention that during this war the broadsword was laid aside, from a belief that it retarded the progress of the men while marching through the woods; and it has never since been resumed. At the termination of the war, the regiment was removed to Nova Scotia, and did not return to Scotland till the year 1790.

On the breaking out of the war with France, in 1794, it was again actively engaged in Flanders—fought at the battle of Nimeguen, and suffered in the harassing retreat to Bremen; and when that short and unsuccessful campaign had been finished, was embarked for the West Indies, where, under the gallant Abercromby, it assisted in reconquering these islands from the French.

The next "field of glory" was the well known campaign in Egypt. The conduct of the Royal Highlanders at Alexandria, where the Invincibles of France were broken and defeated, became the theme of general commendation. It is worthy of remark, that the only man in all England who attempted to depreciate their fame, was the late William Cobbett, who attempted, in his Register, to show that the standard surrendered to Major Stirling of the 42d had. been taken by one Lutz of another regiment. This petty hostility, on the part of the "Lion of Bottley," proceeded from the vulgar and narrow minded prejudice which his splenetic disposition entertained towards every thing appertaining to Scotland or Scotsmen; an antipathy, however, which he had the candour to renounce after he had actually visited the country and seen Scotland as she is. So great was the enthusiasm of the public at the success of the British arms, that the Highland Society of London resolved to present their soldier-countrymen, of the 42d regiment, with a handsome mark of their approbation ; but the affair of the standard led to a communication with some of the officers, which, from a mistaken notion of honour on the part of the latter, had the effect of retarding for a time the intentions of the Society.

Much national feeling prevailed at this period. "At a fete given at the Assembly Booms in Edinburgh, on the 13th of January, 1802," says a journal of that date, "Major Stirling, of the 42d regiment, appeared in the full uniform of that gallant corps. He was received with loud and most enthusiastic applause, the music striking up the favourite air of ' The Garb of Old Gaul.' " The same paragraph thus briefly relates the story of the standard, which had caused so much speculation :—

"On the celebrated 21st of March, when the French Invincibles found, their retreat entirely cut off by the Highlanders, two French officers advanced to Major Stirling, and delivered their standard into his hands, who immediately committed it to the charge of Sergeant Sinclair. Sinclair being afterwards wounded, it was picked up in the field by a private of the Minorca corps, who carried it to his own regiment.' The standard was marked with the names of the different victories of the Hero of Italy, but considerably worn. The name of the battle of Lodi was scarcely visible."

The following short account of the third monthly meeting of the Highland Society of Loudon, on the 23d of April, 1802, is from a newspaper of that period, and may not be deemed unentertaining:—

"The meeting was held at the Shakspeare Tavern, Covent Garden, Lord Macdonald, president for the year, in the chair. The company was very numerous, among whom appeared Lieut.-Colonel Dickson, and thirteen officers of the 42d regiment, in their uniforms, wearing the gold medals presented to them by the Grand Signior. An elegant dinner was served at half-past six o'clock, during which several national airs on the pipe were performed by the pipers of the Society; and a few pibrochs, with wonderful skill and execution, by Buchanan, Pipe-Major of the 42d regiment. After dinner, several loyal and appropriate toasts were given in the Gaelic language, and many plaintive and martial songs were sung; and the greatest harmony and conviviality prevailed during the evening. On the complimentary toast to the 42d regiment, and the two other Highland corps on the Egyptian service, having been given, the following stanza, the extempore composition of a member present, was introduced by Dignum in the characteristic air of 'The Garb of Old Gaul:'—

"The Pillar of Pompey, and famed Pyramids,
Have witnessed our valour, and triumphant deeds;
The Invincible standard from Frenchmen we bore,
In the land of the Beys, the laurels we wore:
For such the fire of Highlanders, when brought into the field,
That Bonaparte's Invincibles must perish, or must yield;
We'll bravely fight, like heroes bold, for honour and applause,
And we defy the Consul and the world to alter our laws."

The "Royal Highlanders" returned to Scotland in 1802, and experienced the most gratifying reception in all the towns as they inarched from England towards the capital of their own country, where they were welcomed with excess of kindness and applause. During their stay in Edinburgh at this period, the regiment was presented with a new set of colours, on which were the figure of a Sphinx, and the word Egypt, as emblematic memorials of their gallant services in the campaign of 1801. The interesting ceremony took place on the Castle Hill, where, the regiment having been formed, the Rev. Principal Baird delivered an appropriate prayer; after which the Commander-in-Chief, General Vyse, presented the colours to Colonel Dickson, and addressed his "brother soldiers of the 42d regiment" in a very energetic harangue. A vast concourse of spectators were present on the occasion, amongst whom were the Duke of Buccleuch, General Don, Colonels Cameron, Scott, Bailie, Graham, and several other military officers.

The peace, however, which had brought them this happy relaxation was not of long duration. The regiment marched to England next year ; and, in 1805, embarked for Gibraltar. From thence removed to Portugal, it served in the memorable campaign under Sir John Moore in 1808; next in the fatal expedition to Walcheren; and returned for a short time to Scotland in 1810.

From England, in 1812, the forty-second regiment again embarked for Portugal; and, joining the army of the Duke of Wellington immediately after the capture of Badajoz, was consolidated with the second battalion of the corps, which had been two years previously in the Peninsula. The share of the united corps in the engagements which followed from that period till the short peace in 1814, is too well known to require repetition. The gallant band then returned to Ireland, but speedily re-embarked for Flanders, where, as every one knows, it was present at the decisive fields of Qnatre Bras and Waterloo. The glory there acquired by the various Scots regiments is matter of history, and interwoven with many a "tale of Waterloo." The warm reception with which the Royal Highlauders were greeted on their return to England, after the peace of Paris, at once demonstrated how their conduct was appreciated by our neighbours of the south; and in Edinburgh, where they arrived in the spring of 1816, their welcome was most enthusiastic. The following account of their reception is interesting:—

"Arrival of the 42i Regiment in Edinburgh.—On the 19th and 20th March, the 42d regiment marched, in two divisions, into Edinburgh Castle from Haddington. Colonel Dick rode at the head of the first division, accompanied by Major General Hope, of the North British Staff, and Colonel David Stewart of Garth, who formerly belonged to the regiment, and who was wounded under their colours in Egypt. Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm with which these gallant veterans were welcomed in every town and village through which their route lay. Early on the 19th, vast crowds were collected on the streets of this city, in expectation of their arrival. The road, as far as Musselburgh, was crowded with people; and as they approached the city, so much was their progress impeded by the multitude, that their inarch from Piershill to the Castle (less than two miles) occupied nearly two hours. House-tops and windows were also crowded with spectators; and, as they passed along the streets, amidst the ringing of bells, waving of flags, and the acclamations of thousands, their red-and-white plumes, tattered colours (emblems of their well-earned fame in fight), and glittering bayonets, were all that could be seen of these heroes, except by the few who were fortunate in obtaining elevated situations. The scene, viewed from the windows and house-tops, was the most extraordinary ever witnessed in this city. The crowds were wedged together across the whole breadth of the street, and extended in length as far as the eye could reach; and this motley throng appeared to move like a solid body, slowly along, till the gallant Highlanders were safely lodged in the Castle."

The non-commissioned officers and privates were sumptuously entertained at dinner in the evening, in the Assembly Booms. Sir Walter Scott was amongst the gentlemen who superintended the entertainment. Each soldier was also presented with a free ticket to the Theatre. The 78th, "another of our gallant Scots regiments," having arrived in Edinburgh a few days after, a splendid fete, in "honour of the heroes," was given in Corri's Rooms, on the 3d of April following. We shall quote the description of this animating scene :—

"Upon entering the lobby of Corri's Rooms, the soldiery were so placed as to be seen forming a string of sentries leading to the principal portico, which, upon entrance, struck the eye with that magical illusion we read of in fairy tales. It was impossible to say which might be considered the head of the room, as much attention as possible being paid to avoid any point of precedence, each end blazed with hundreds of lamps. The band of the 42d occupied the large orchestra, being more numerous than the 78th. The front bore a very neat transparency of a thistle, surrounded by a motto, 'Prenez Garde' Festoons of the 42d tartan reached from side to side, on the front of which hung the shields of the Duke of Wellington and the Marquis of Huntly, supported by appropriate trophies. On the top were three cuirasses, taken at the late memorable battle. Over the band, figures 42, surrounded, by a wreath of laurel; the whole, formed of lamps, had a most brillant effect. This was surmounted by an illuminated crown. Along the cornice of the room the word ' Waterloo,' also in lamps, supported by wreathed pillars of the same brilliant materials, completed the device in compliment to the Royal Highlanders. We ought to add that other trophies, formed of musketry, flags, and cuirasses, against the walls, supported the words 'Egypt' and ' Corunna.'

"At the other end, the band of the 78th Regiment occupied the smaller orchestra, the device in front of which was composed of lamps similar to that of the other regiment, with the shields of Sir Samuel Aucbmuty and General Picton ; instead of a crown, a brilliant star topped tbe number 78. On each side were the words 'Assaye' and 'Maida.' Under this orchestra was a beautiful transparency, representing an old man, with his bonnet, giving a hearty welcome to two soldiers of the 42d and 78th Regiments, while a bonny lassie is peeping out from a cottage door, smiling upon the newly arrived heroes. The background formed a landscape, with Edinburgh Castle in the distance.

"The bands in succession played some most beautiful military airs, whilst the centre of the room, filled with all the beauty and fashion of Edinburgh, enlivened by the uniforms of the officers of the several regiments, seemed to move in a solid mass to the clash of the cymbals and beat of the hollow drum. About eleven o'clock, Gow was called for, and his corps succeeded that of the 42d. The light fantastic toe was soon upon the trip; and twelve sets were soon made up, which continued the merry dance until after two o'clock. In fact, the tout ensemble was a scene quite enchanting."

Such was the genuine enthusiasm with which the return of the heroes of Waterloo was hailed.


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