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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


Military Annals of the Highland Regiments

Athole Highlanders
or
Seventy-seventh
1778

The influence possessed by the family of Atholl in the Highlands of Perthshire has been noticed in the preliminary sketch of the character and manners of the Highlanders. This influence was so extensive, that the Duke of Atholl could, at one period, command the personal services of 3000 men in arms; and, on important occasions, as in the beginning of the last century, this number could be augmented to "6000 of the best men in the kingdom, well armed, and ready to sacrifice their all for the King's service." [Lockhart Papers.]

As the exercise of such power was almost too great for any subject, it was found necessary to reduce it by legal authority; but though law deprived chiefs of their power, it could not, for many years, destroy the great influence they enjoyed, founded on the voluntary attachment and fidelity of their people. It is unnecessary to recur to the many instances I have already given of this disinterested fidelity, of which the period in question, thirty years after the law had abrogated all power formerly vested in chiefs and great landed proprietors, afforded several very striking and memorable examples. In times when so many Northern patriots stepped forward in the service of their country, the young Duke of Atholl was equally ready, and Government, acceding to his application for authority to raise a regiment of Highlanders for general service, with power to appoint officers, a corps of 1000 men was soon recruited, and embodied at Perth, Colonel James Murray, son of Lord George Murray, and uncle to the Duke of Atholl, being appointed colonel.

This was a respectable corps, both in point of officers and men. The former were young and spirited; the latter of the best description, in respect of morals, bodily strength, and personal appearance; although, unluckily, it was not their fortune to prove in the field how much these qualities conduce to military success. But as they were exemplary in quarters, attached and obedient to their officers, (with one exception, [See Appendix, "Mutinies of the Highland Regiments."]) there is no doubt, that the usual qualities of the Highland soldier would have been displayed by them in the field.

In June 1778 they were marched to Port-Patrick, and thence transported to Ireland, where they were quartered during the whole war, being thus deprived of that opportunity of distinguishing themselves in active service, which every enterprising soldier so much desires.

The Athole Highlanders had every advantage of discipline while commanded by Colonel Gordon, an officer of great experience, and firmness of character, though too much of the German school for a Highland regiment. But although he was of a temper to trust little to the native character of his men, and too apt to enforce his orders with a strictness which did not always yield to circumstances, he seldom had occasion to resort to corporal punishment. The honourable feelings with which the soldiers were animated, gave him a sufficient hold of them without resorting to such unpleasant means of coercion, the disgrace attendant on disorderly conduct being in general a sufficient restraint. It is creditable to the character of the regiment, that, under so close an observer of their discipline, much accustomed to look on soldiers as pieces of machinery, destined to obey his orders without thought or reflection, beyond the immediate orders they received, very few punishments were inflicted; and that these were only of the kind usually inflicted on Highland regiments of that period.

In 1783, the regiment was ordered to England, and marched to Portsmouth for the purpose of being embarked for India. The unfortunate occurrences, which threw such a shade over its character on that occasion, are mentioned under another head, and, therefore, need not be detailed in this place. I shall only add, from the best authority, that these occurrences would not have taken place had the intentions of Government been previously explained, the inclinations of the soldiers been consulted, and their extended service to India left to their own choice, instead of an attempt being made to embark them contrary to their terms of service.

After the affair at Portsmouth was adjusted, the regiment marched to Berwick, and was disbanded there in April 1783.

The. officers of this regiment lived on the happiest and most friendly footing. Those of them who survive, still cherish their former friendships, and, at the distance of forty years, indulge in the recollections of early intimacy. These feelings extended to the soldiers, who, before the occurrence just mentioned, were respectful, and attached to their officers. The whole corps was, in short, like a family, which General Murray was the common father and friend. Before the reduction, he assembled the officers, and, taking a memorandum of the wishes and views of each individual he made such good use of his own and his family's influence, that, before he died, and without any further application on their part, he got every one who was so inclined re-stored to full pay.

This good man was indefatigable and unwearied in his zeal to serve his officers. The late Lord Sydney, when Secretary of State, used to call him the Bishop of Dunkeld; for, said his Lordship, "I never see his face but when there is some vacant church, or some office in Perthshire, or some-thing formerly in the gift of the Bishop of Dunkeld, to give away." The late Mr Lewis, of the War Office, called him the Athole Forester; "not," says he, "as the forester or keeper of Athole deer, but as the guardian and friend of his Highlanders of the Athole regiment, for whom he will take no refusal."

General Murray was wounded in a singular manner at the capture of Martinique in 1762, then a captain in the 42d. A musket ball entered his left side, under the lower rib, passed up through the left lobe of the lungs, (as was ascertained after his death), crossed his chest, and, mounting up to his right shoulder, lodged under the scapula. His case being considered desperate, the only object of the surgeon was to make his situation as easy as possible for the few hours they supposed he had to live; but, to the great surprise of all, he was on his legs in a few weeks, and, before he reached England, was quite recovered, or at least his health and appetite were restored. He was never afterwards, however, able to lie down; and, during the thirty-two years of his subsequent life, he slept in an upright posture, supported in his bed by pillows. He died in 1794, a Lieutenant-General, Colonel of the ?2d regiment, and representative in Parliament for the county of Perth.


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