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Scottish Regiments
The Black Watch - The Mutiny


After remaining nearly eighteen months in quarters near Taybridge, the regiment was marched northward, in the winter of 1741-2 and the men remained in the stations assigned them till the spring of 1743, when they were ordered to repair to Perth. Having assembled there in March of that year, they were surprised on being informed that orders had been received to march the regiment for England, a step which they considered contrary to an alleged understanding when regimented, that the sphere of their services was not to extend beyond their native country. When the intention of employing them in foreign service came to be known, many of the warmest supporters of the government highly disapproved of the design, among whom was Lord President Forbes. In a letter to General Clayton, the successor of Marshal Wade, the chief commander in Scotland, his lordship thus expresses himself: "When I first heard of the orders given to the Highland regiment to march southwards, it gave me no sort of concern, because I supposed the intention was only to see them; but as I have lately been assured that they are destined for foreign service, I cannot dissemble my uneasiness at a resolution, that may, in my apprehension, be attended with very bad consequences; nor can I prevail with myself not to communicate to you my thoughts on the subject, however late they may come; because if that I am to suggest has not been already under consideration, it's possible the resolution may be departed from". After noticing the consequences which might result from leaving the Highlands unprotected from the designs of the disaffected in the event of a war with France, he thus proceeds: "Having thus stated to you the danger I dread, I must, in the next place, put you in mind, that the present system for securing peace of the Highlands, which is the best I ever heard of, is by regular troops stationed from Inverness to Fort William, along the chain of lakes which in a manner divides the Highlands, to command the obedience of the inhabitants of both sides, and by a body of disciplined Highlanders wearing the dres and speaking the language of the country, to execute such orders as require expedition, and for which neither the dress nor manner of the other troops are proper. The Highlanders, now regimented, were at first independent companies; and though their dress, language, and manners, qualified them for securing the low country against depredations; yet that was not the sole use of them; the same qualities fitted them for every expedition that required secrecy and dispatch; they served for all purposes of hussars or light horse, in a country where mountains and bogs render cavalry useless, and if properly disposed over the Highlands, nothing that was commonly reported and believed by the Highlanders could be a secret to their commanders, because of their intimacy with the people and the sameness of the language". Notwithstanding this remonstrance, the government persisted in its determination to send the regiment abroad; and to deceive the men, from whom their real destination was concealed, they were told the object of their march to England was merely to gratify the curiosity of the king, who was desirous of seeing a Highland regiment. Satisfied with this explanation, they proceeded on their march. The English people, who had been led to consider the Highlanders as savages, were struck with the warlike appearance of the regiment and the orderly deportment of the men, who received in the country and towns through which they passed the mostly friendly attentions.

Having reached the vicinity of London on the 29th and 30th April, in two divisions, the regiment was reviewed on the 14th of May, on Finchley Common, by Marshal Wade. The arrival of the corps in the neighborhood of the metropolis had attracted vast crowds of people to their quarters, anxious to behold men of whom they had heard the most extraordinary relations; but, mingled with these, were persons who frequented the quarters of the Highlanders from a very different motive. Their object was to sow the seeds of distrust and disaffection among the men, by circulating misrepresentations and falsehoods respecting the intentions of the government. These incendiaries gave out that a gross deception had been practiced upon the regiment, in regard to the object of their journey, in proof of which they adduced the fact of his majesty's departure for Hanover, on the very day of the arrival of the last division, and that the real design of the government was to get rid of them altogether, as disaffected persons, and, with that view, that the regiment was to be transported for life to the American plantations. These insidious falsehoods had their intended effect upon the minds of the Highlanders, who took care, however, to conceal the indignation they felt at their supposed betrayers. All their thoughts were bent upon a return to their own country, and they concentrated their measures for its accomplishment with a secrecy which escaped the observation of their officers, of whose integrity in the affair they do not, however, appear to have entertained any suspicion.

The mutiny which followed created a great sensation, and the circumstances which led to it formed, both in public and in private, the ordinary topic of discussion. The writer of a pamphlet, which was published immediately after the mutiny, and which contains the best view of the subject, and an intimate knowledge of the facts, thus describes the affair:-

"On their march through the northern counties of England, they were every where received with such hospitality, that they appeared in the highest spirits; and it was imagined that their attachment to home was so much abated, that they would feel no reluctance to the change. As they approached the metropolis, however, and were exposed to the taunts of the true-bred English clowns, they became more gloomy and sullen. Animated, even to the lowest private, with the feelings of gentlemen, they could ill brook the rudeness of boors - nor could they patiently submit to affronts in a country to which they had been called by invitation of their sovereign. A still deeper cause of discontent preyed upon their minds. A rumor had reached them on their march that they were to be embarked for the plantations. The fate of the marines, the invalids, and other regiments which had been sent to these colonies, seemed to mark out this service as at once the most perilous and the most degrading to which British soldiers could be exposed. With no enemy to encounter worthy of their courage, there was another consideration, which made it peculiarly odious to the Highlanders. By the act of parliament of the eleventh of George I, transportation to the colonies was denounced against the Highland rebels, &c as the greatest punishment that could be inflicted on them expect death, and, when they heard that they were to be sent there, the galling suspicion naturally arose in their minds, that 'after being used as rods to scourge their own countrymen, they were to be thrown into the fire!". These apprehensions they kept secret even from their own officers; and the care with which they dissembled them is the best evidence of the deep impression which they had been made. Amidst all their jealousies and fears, however, they looked forward with considerable expectation to the review, when they were to come under the immediate observation of his majesty, or some of the royal family. On the 14th of May they were reviewed by Marshal Wade, and many persons of distinction, who were highly delighted with the promptitude and alacrity with which they went through their military exercises, and gave a very favorable report of them, where it was likely to operate most to their advantage. From that moment, however, all their thoughts were bent on the means of returning to their own country; and on this wild and romantic march they accordingly set out a few days after. Under pretence of preparing for the review, they had been enabled to provide themselves, unsuspected, with some necessary articles, and, confiding in their capability of enduring privations and fatigue, they imagined that they should have great advantages over any troops that might be sent in pursuit of them. It was on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday (17th and 18th May) after the review that they assembled on a common near Highgate, and commenced their march to the north. They kept as nearly as possible between the two great roads, passing from wood to wood in such a manner that it was not well known which way they moved. Orders were issued by the lords-justices to the commanding officers of the forces stationed in the counties between them and Scotland, and an advertisement was published by the secretary of war, exhorting the civil officers to be vigilant in their endeavors to discover their route. It was not, however, till about eight o'clock on the evening of Thursday, 19th May, that any certain intelligence of them was obtained, and they had then proceeded as far as Northampton, and were supposed to be shaping their course towards Nottinghamshire. General Blakeney, who commanded all Northampton, immediately dispatched Captain Ball, of General Wade's regiment of horse, an officer well acquainted with that part of the country, to search after them. They had now entered Lady Wood between Brig Stock and Dean Thorp, about four miles from Oundle, when they were discovered. Captain Ball was joined in the evening by the general himself, and about nine all the troops were drawn up in order, near the wood where the Highlanders lay. Seeing themselves in this situation, and unwilling to aggravate their offence by the crime of shedding the blood of his majesty's troops, they sent one of their guides to inform the general that he might, without fear, send an officer to treat of the terms on which they should be expected to surrender. Captain Ball was accordingly delegated, and, on coming to a conference, the captain demanded that they should instantly lay down their arms and surrender as prisoners at discretion. This they positively refused, declaring that they would rather be cut to pieces than submit, unless the general should send them a written promise, signed by his own hand, that their arms should not be taken from them, and that they should have a free pardon. Upon this the captain delivered the conditions proposed by General Blackeney, biz, that if they would peaceably lay down their arms, and surrender themselves prisoners, the most favorable report should be made of them to the lords-justices; when they again protested that they would be cut in pieces rather than surrender, except on the conditions of retaining their arms, and receiving a free pardon. 'Hitherto', exclaimed the captain, 'I have been your friend, and am still anxious to do all I can to save you; but, if you continue obstinate an hour longer, surrounded as you are by the king's forces, not a man of you shall be left alive; and, for my own part, I assure you that I shall give quarter to none'. He then demanded that two of their number should be ordered to conduct him out of the wood. Two brothers were accordingly ordered to accompany him. Finding that they were inclined to submit, he promised them both a free pardon, and, taking one of them along with him, he send back the other to endeavor, by every means, to overcome the obstinacy of the rest. He soon returned with thirteen more. Having marched them to a short distance from the wood, the captain again sent one of them back to his comrades to inform them how many had submitted; and in a short time seventeen more followed the example. These were all marched away with their arms (the powder being blown out of their pans), and when they came before the general they laid down their arms. On returning to the wood they found the whole body disposed to submit to the general's troops.

"While this was doing in the country", continues our author, "there was nothing but the flight of the Highlanders talked of in town. The wiser sort blamed it, but some of their hot-headed countrymen were for comparing it to the retreat of the 10,000 Greeks through Persia; by which, for the honor of the ancient kingdom of Scotland, Corporal M'Pherson was erected into a Xenophon. But amongst these idle dreams, the most injurious were those that reflected on their officers, and by a strange kind of innuendo, would have fixed the crime of these people's desertion upon those who did their duty, and staid there.

"As to the rest of the regiment, they were ordered immediately to Kent, whither they marched cheerfully, and were from thence transported to Flanders, and are by this time with the army, where I dare say it will quickly appear they were not afraid of fighting the French. In King William's war there was a Highland regiment that, to avoid going to Flanders, had formed a design of flying into the mountains. This was discovered before they could put it into execution; and General M'Kay, who then commanded in Scotland, caused them to be immediately surrounded and disarmed, and afterwards shipped them for Holland. When they came to the confederate army, they behaved very briskly upon all occasions; but as pick-thanks are never wanting in courts, some wise people were pleased to tell King William that the Highlanders drank King James's health, - a report which was probably true. The king, whose good sense taught him to despise such dirty information, asked General Talmash, who was near him, how they behaved in the field? 'As well as any troops in the army', answered the general, like a soldier and a man of honor. 'Why then', replied the king, 'if they fight for me, let them drink my father's health as often as they please'. On the road, and even after they entered London, they kept up their spirits, and marched very cheerfully; nor did they show any marks of terror when they were brought into the Tower".

Though it was evident that the Highlanders were led to commit this rash act under a false impression, and that they were the unconscious dupes of designing men, yet the government thought it could not overlook such a gross breach of military discipline, and the deserters were accordingly tried before a general court-martial on the 8th of June. They were all found guilty, and condemned to be shot. Three only, however, suffered capitally. These were corporals Malcolm and Samuel M'Pherson, and Farquhar Shaw, a private. They were shot upon the parade within the Tower, in presence of the other prisoners, who joined in their prayers with great earnestness. The unfortunate men met their death with composure, and acted with great propriety. Their bodies were put into three coffins by three of the prisoners, their clansmen and connections, and were buried together in one grave at the place of execution. From an ill-judged severity, one hundred of the deserters were equally divided between the garrisons of Gibraltar and Minorca, and a similar corps in the Leeward islands, Jamaica and Georgia, - a circumstance which, it is believed, impressed the Highlanders with an idea that the government had intended to deceive them.

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