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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter XII - St. Lucia, West Indies, India, America, 1801-1816


Seizure of Island of St. Martin—Life in the West Indies— Demerara and Berbice—St. Lucia—Depleted ranks— Service in India—Campaign against the United States— Changes in uniform.

We must now return to the doings of the first battalion.

In February 1801 it sailed for the West Indies to : take part in the expedition against the Swedish and Danish islands. Sweden and Denmark had joined with Russia in an armed neutrality in the interests of France and against England. Lt.-General Thomas Trigge was in chief command, and on March 24 a landing on the Danish island of St. Martin was made successfully. The Royals were to the fore, but the Governor showed more discretion than valour, and after his surrender the battalion was divided. Six companies remained there in garrison, and four went on to the capture of St. Thomas and Santa Cruz. A home letter of this time from St. Martin’s, written by Lieut. John Gordon of the regiment, gives a picture of life on these colonial expeditions and shows that fighting was tempered by occasional diversions—

"I intended to have written to you by last Packet, but a sudden call to leave the island on business prevented me. I have now been near three months in this country, and tho’ I cannot say I am much in love with it, I think I shall stand the climate. We are fortunate in being stationed in this island, which is one of the healthiest i$ the West Indies. Some of the captured islands are quite the reverse, particularly St. Croix, where the 64th Regiment, which came out along with us, has already lost three officers, and upwards of 150 men. There is four companys of the Royal detached at St. Thomas, and we have lost there two officers and 50 men; our loss here is one officer and seventeen men. The officer we lost here went to St. Thomas to pass a few days with his friends, and only lived one day after his return. Tho’ this island be healthy, it is one of the hottest in the country. The heat is so excessive, that we can scarcely stir out of the house from nine o’clock in the morning till three in the afternoon. The inhabitants here like the British Government and pay us every attention. Colonel Nicholson of ours is Commandant of the Island, and the Council have voted him 2,000 Sterling a year for his table. He gave a Ball and Supper on the 4th inst., in honour of His Majesty’s birthday wnich cost him 300 guineas. It was known in the Island for several weeks that he was to give a Ball on that day, and the Ladies, who are excessively fond of finery, were at uncommon pains on this grand occasion. There was many dresses which I was told (and from their appearance I don’t doubt it) cost upwards of 150 Sterling."

In August 1801 General Lord Adam Gordon died, and was succeeded in the Colonelcy of The Royal Regiment by his Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, from the 7th Royal Fusiliers.

A return dated 1802 shows that of 1290 men in the battalion 223 were “convicts, culprits, and deserters.” Many of these, doubtless, were Irish rebels, good fighting material, but an awkward team to drive. The West Indian captures did not long remain British, for by the Treaty of Amiens they were restored to their original owners. Some of The Royals were moved to Antigua. Others were quartered at St. Kitts in 1803, when war broke out again in July.

In September, 650 of The Royals, with other troops, went on an expedition against the Batavian Republic in South America. There was no fighting, for Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice surrendered, and in 1804 Major Hardyman was complimented on his skill in getting the Dutch prisoners to enlist on the British side.

From 1805 to 1812 the first battalion was on garrison duty at various West Indian stations and at Demerara and Berbice, varied by occasional fighting, but not of sufficient importance to merit detailed description.

Meanwhile, the second battalion had gone, in 1803, to the West Indies with the expedition against the French island of St. Lucia. The Royals led a Fig. 16.—Private’s gallant assault with the Sixty-fourth against the strong post of Morne Fortunee, and carried it with the bayonet. The pluck of one officer deserves especial mention. Captain Johnstone, who had already been wounded in Holland and in Egypt, owing tc his lameness from the last-mentioned wound, was carried at the head of the light company and literally thrown into the fort, which he was the second man to enter. The Royals altogether did so well that the King added “St. Lucia” to the Colours. The island of Tobago surrendered without fighting in July. They remained on garrison duty in Tobago and Dominica during 1804, and there and in other islands in 1805, where they met some of the first battalion. They were back in England by January of 1806, their ranks tragically depleted; indeed the strength was returned as “1 rank and file fit, 53 sick, 30 on command, 704 wanting.” The deficiencies were partly made up during 1806 from their own third and fourth battalions (of which more hereafter), and from other regiments. The latter source shows that the First Foot were popular.

Early in 1807 grave difficulty arose with the Sepoys in the service of the East India Company, and the spirit of insubordination was rife throughout India. The second battalion was ordered to embark, and filled its ranks from the third and fourth battalions. The voyage was long and trying, and the story is set out in a journal kept by the Fife-Major of the regiment, who was on board the transport Coutts. There was great scarcity of water, and in consequence much sickness. They had been five months afloat when The Royals landed at Penang, or Prince of Wales Island, on September 18, for their first Indian service. The barracks were temporary sheds, lightly built of stakes covered with cocoanut leaves. As the diarist picturesquely says: “When it came to blow hard, the barracks had the appearance of waving corn in harvest.” Beds there were none, and the buffalo beef and rice was very sorry fare, which made the soldiers “long for the flesh pots of that land we had left.”

The Grenadier company, which had sailed in the Surat Castle, had an even longer and more eventful voyage. The ship was so leaky that she parted with the main fleet, and if the Grenadiers had not worked the pumps night and day as she made for Rio Janeiro she would certainly have gone down. Presumably the exercise was useful, for they had little sickness, but one was struck down by a thunderbolt, and another killed by the natives of an island where they touched for soft water. On this latter adventure, the landing party only got back to the boat by the skin of its teeth. Many of them were a good deal battered in the retreat, and some remained on shore as prisoners of the natives. This did not please The Royal Scots, so they landed again fully armed and marched to the town where the King lived. The natives did not like the look of them, and there was no opposition until they got into the presence of his Majesty. One of them, named John Love, then took the trembling Nabob by the neck and shook him like a rat. At this point the royal suite made prudent haste to restore the prisoners to their angry messmates, and so all returned on board in great content. By the end of the year, six hundred and thirty-one of the regiment were at Madras, and three hundred and forty-one at Penang, where many died of disease. By the following February, the adventurous Grenadiers arrived and joined the rest of the battalion at Wallajahabad, but the climate started to make short work of the whole regiment, and they sought salvation by going to the sea at Sadras. By that time they could only muster five hundred effectives, and in the first day’s march three hundred of these fell sick, chiefly of brain fever. This was going from bad to worse, so they turned tail and marched back to Wallajahabad, carrying with them a hundred and fifty men who were unable to march.

The sergeant who has already been quoted was also careful to set down how the spiritual needs of the battalion were met. “We had prayers read for the first time since we came to this country, by the Adjutant, who had fifty pagados a month for doing the duty of chaplain. But this was, I think, little short of making a mock of the divine ordinance, for here was truly ‘like people, like priest.'"

It is to be hoped that the Adjutant was, in a more recent phrase, “an ecclesiastically-minded layman,’’ because the return of births shows it was part of his duty to baptize all the children born in the regiment. In any case, it is clear that the adjutancy of The Royal Scots was no sinecure.

The battalion was in garrison and on campaign at various places in India from 1809 to 1816, but saw very little active service during this period. That does not mean that they had an easy time. The constant moves were trying work, as the roads through the jungles were no more than rough tracks, and rations were very irregular both in quality and quantity. The troops always travelled barefoot, because no shoes were obtainable and the tracks were sand or puddles, and a march of sixteen miles would often take nine hours. There was some excitement during 1811, when the battalion was quartered at Masulipatam. There were murders and suicides by men who had run amok, and a still less pleasant incident was a plot engineered by the Roman Catholic privates against their Protestant comrades, which, however, was discovered before mischief was done. At this time only about thirty per cent, of the men were Scots as against about fifty per cent. Irish, and the rest English. The year 1812 brought a slight diversion, when four companies were sent to Quilon, in Travancore, to suppress a mutiny amongst the Company’s native troops. The year 1816 was the last of comparative quiet, but the second battalion’s exploits in 1817 must be dealt with in chapter XV.

We now return to the doings of the first battalion. The strong sympathy between France and the United States, and the help which the States rendered to Napoleon in carrying out his policy of destroying British commerce, led to a state of war between Great Britain and the States in 1812. The first battalion of The Royals was ordered to proceed to Quebec from Demerara and the West Indian islands over which it was scattered. At an inspection which took place in June, it was clear that the battalion was not in good fettle for active service. It contained three hundred of the rawest recruits, and two hundred and twenty-six privates were on the sick list. Discipline cannot have been of the best, for the inspecting general found that there had been a hundred and fifty-three courts-martial. This is hardly to be wondered at, for there was much opportunity for racial bickering. The battalion was now Scots only in name, for of the total strength of twelve hundred, five hundred and five were Irish, three hundred and fifty-two English, and fifty-six foreigners. They set out for Canada in seven transports, but one of them, the Samuel and Sarah, carrying three officers and a hundred and fifty-six rank and file, was captured by an American privateer. The report of the master of the ship, one Samuel Sower, has survived. When the enemy frigate approached, the mate who kept the watch thought it was the ship of the commodore of the escorting British squadron. When its captain invited Sower to heave to, he replied that he must first signal to his commodore. To this the Yankee answered that any such proceeding would result in a broadside which would sink the transport. Sower then consulted with Lieut. Hopkins, who was in command of The Royal Scots, and, as they agreed that the smallest signal or resistance would be attended with great slaughter, they yielded the ship as a prize. The American captain stipulated that the whole of the arms and ammunition should be given up, and that the troops should give their parole not to serve against the United States unless regularly exchanged, but the officers were to retain their swords. Master Sower had to ransom his ship by giving bills for twelve thousand dollars, but, that done, they were allowed to proceed to Halifax. By September, their parole was cancelled by the exchange of the crew of a captured Yankee ship.

The rest of the year was taken up with marching and counter-marching, but there was no fighting.

In January 1813 the battalion was divided between Montreal and Quebec, and its composition was again exercising the minds of the headquarters staff. Lt.-General George Provost wrote to the Commander-in-Chief about the great number of Frenchmen serving in the regiment. He considered them “a very improper class of soldiers to serve in Canada, where the French language was so generally spoken, and the habits and manners of the mass of the population assimilates the French.” In May, a small detachment of the battalion was engaged in the attack on Sackett’s Harbour, and in the following month two companies seized a strong post occupied by the Americans at Sodus, where a quantity of stores was captured. Four companies of the battalion then enjoyed a change of service, for they were embarked on board the fleet to serve as marines. From July to October the rest of the battalion was busy with skirmishing engagements, and in December the Grenadier company assisted in the storming and capture of Fort Niagara. They sustained no loss, but it was a brilliant bit of work and won them high praise. After this success five companies crossed the Niagara river and were employed on December 29 in storming the enemy batteries at Black Rock and Buffalo. This time they did not escape so easily, for they had fifty-one casualties, mostly incurred while they were landing from batteaux under a heavy fire. Their courage and skill in these operations is the more notable when it is remembered that they were carried out in the rigours of a Canadian winter and without any of the comforts which soften such work for modern armies.

Early in 1814 the battalion was posted on the enemy’s frontier, but they did not get to close quarters until the beginning of March. A strong body of Americans was then posted at Long Wood, near Delaware town, well fortified on a hill and protected by timber breastworks. The light companies of The Royals and of the Eighty-ninth (now merged in Princess Victoria’s Royal Irish Fusiliers) made a frontal attack in a most gallant manner, while some *other detachments attempted flanking movements, but unfortunately they had to retire without dislodging the enemy. No more success attended a severe engagement on July 5, in which The Royals lost seventy-eight killed and a great many more wounded. This reverse was followed by the surrender to the enemy of Fort Erie. None of The Royals, however, was in the garrison, and they returned to Fort George at the end of July. They took part in the violent engagements near the Falls of Niagara, when the British division under Lieut.-General Drummond, himself an old Royal Scot, was attacked by the Americans. Drummond’s official report of the engagement is full of praise for The Royals, who behaved with perfect steadiness and intrepid gallantry, and excited his warmest admiration. Still better, the enemy’s attack was repulsed and his retreat considerably harassed. The distinguished bravery then shown was rewarded by the royal permission to bear Niagara on the colours of the regiment. In August the British attacked Fort Erie, but with no success, and eight companies of The Royals carried out with great steadiness the trying duty of covering the retreat. In September the enemy made a sortie, and it was largely owing to the fine performances of the regiment that it was driven back, but at the cost of the life of Lt.-Colonel Gordon.

In January 1815 the battalion left Fort Niagara for Queenston, and later for Quebec, but peace soon followed with the United States, and they sailed for England in July.

About eighty years afterwards, on July 25, 1893, the remains of three soldiers of The Royal Scots, found on a farm near Niagara, were reburied with fitting solemnity at Lundy’s Lane, when Canon Houston, in an eloquent address, rehearsed the gallant deeds of the heroic Scots.

The beginning of the century saw a great change in the uniform of the army. In the year 1800 the time-honoured cocked hat was discarded in favour of a cylindrical chaco of lacquered felt with a leather peak and an upright tuft or plume. On the chaco was fixed a thin brass plate. This applied not only to the battalion and light companies, but also to the Grenadier company when not wearing the bear-skin cap (see Fig. 15). Side views of the privates’ and officers’ chacos are shown in Figs. 16 and 17, and of the chaco plate in Fig. 18.

When the title of the regiment was changed early in 1812, to “The Royal Scots,” the new chaco was furnished with a plate, illustrated in Fig. 19, with the Sphinx to commemorate the Egyptian campaign. The pattern of belt-plate established in 1800 seems to have lasted until 1816 (Fig. 20).

There are two especial points of interest in the arming of The Royals during this period. In May 1796 an order was issued directing that officers’ swords should be straight and made to cut and thrust, but the regiment certainly did not conform with this, as the sword used had a blade of the Andrea Ferrara pattern (Fig. 21). It is possible that this type was used by officers in The Royals before 1796, but it is clear that during the Peninsular War the regimental sword was unique in the British Army. In 1812 also The Royals wore a gorget, the last decorative survival of defensive armour, which was distinguished from that used by other regiments by reason of the ornaments being “laid on” instead of engraved (Fig. 22).


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