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74th Highlanders

AFTER being stationed a short time at Canterbury and Gosport, the 74th removed to Scotland in detachments in the months of August and September 1846, two companies being sent to Dundee, three to Paisley, one to Perth, headquarters and three companies to Aberdeen, and detachments to Stirling and Dunfermline. In November of the same year, all the companies united at Glasgow, and in July 1847 the regiment proceeded to Ireland. While stationed at Dublin, the 74th, in consequence of the disturbed state of Tipperary, was sent to that county on July 29th, to be employed as part of a movable column under Major-General Macdonald. The regiment, along with the 75th and 85th, a half battery of Artillery, a detachment of Sappers, and three companies of the 60th Rifles, the whole forming a movable column, was kept moving about in the neighbourhood of Thurles and Ballingarry during the month of August. Happily, however, the column had none of the stern duties of war to perform, and returned to Dublin in the beginning of September, after having suffered much discomfort from the almost incessant rain which prevailed during the time the men were under canvas.

The 74th remained in Ireland till March 1851, on the 16th of which month it sailed in the "Vulcan" from Queenstown, having been ordered to South Africa to take part in the sanguinary Kaffir War of that period, in which, as will be seen, the regiment maintained its well-won reputation for valour in the faithful performance of its duty. The 74th arrived in Simon’s Bay, Cape of Good Hope, on the 11th of May, when it was ordered to proceed to Algoa Bay to join the first division at Fort Hare, under Major-General Somerset, who was engaged in active operations against the Kaffirs and Hottentots. Having arrived at Algoa Bay on the 16th, the regiment disembarked at Port Elizabeth, where, owing to the want of transport for the camp equipage, it remained for a few days before proceeding to Grahamstown, which, from want of grass and the consequent weak condition of the oxen, it did not reach till the 27th of May. [On its arrival in South Africa, the 74th, with the exception of about 80, mainly Irishmen, consisted of men raised in the northern counties of Scotland.]

While the 74th was at Grahamstown, a sudden outbreak of the Hottentots at the mission station of Theopolis occurred. Four companies of the regiment, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce, together with a few native levies, proceeded to the scene of disturbance, and succeeded in destroying the rebel camp, and capturing about 600 head of cattle: the Hottentots, however, made their escape.

The regiment having resumed its march for Fort Hare, arrived at that place on June 12th, and encamped near the fort, Though but a few days in the country, Colonel Fordyce saw that the ordinary equipment of the British soldier was in no way suited to African campaigning, and while at Fort Hare he made a complete change in the appearance of the regiment. The dress bonnets, scarlet tunics, black pouches, and pipe-clayed cross belts, were put away in the quartermaster’s stores. Common brown leather pouches and belts were issued, while an admirable substitute for the tunic was found in the stout canvas frocks of which a couple are served out to each soldier proceeding on a long sea voyage. These had been carefully preserved when the regiment landed, and now, with the aid of copperas and the bark of the mimosa bush, were dyed a deep olive brown colour, which corresponded admirably with that of the bush, and was the least conspicuous dress of any regiment in the field, not excepting the Rifle Brigade and 60th, both of which corps had a battalion engaged. The cuffs and shoulders were strapped with leather, and this rough-looking but most serviceable tunic was worn by both officers and men as long as they were actively employed in the field. The forage cap, with a leather peak, completed the costume.

On the 18th of June Major-General Somerset ordered the following troops, divided into brigades, to form a camp in advance for field operations:-

First Brigade—Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce, 74th Highlanders: the 74th Highlanders; the 91st Regiment; the 1st European Levy; and the Alice European Levy.

Second Brigade—Lieutenant-Colonel Sutton, Cape Mounted Riflemen: the George Levy, the Graaff Reynett Levy, the Kat River Levy, and the Fingo Levies.

Cavalry Brigade—Major Somerset, Cape Mounted Riflemen: the Royal Artillery, the Cape Mounted Riflemen, the George Mounted Levy, and Blakeway’s Horse; and besides, a detachment of Royal Sappers and Miners, under the orders of Lieutenant Jesse, R.E., Deputy Quartermaster-General.

These troops marched from Fort Hare on the 24th for the Quesana River; near the base of the Amatola Mountains, where a standing camp was formed.

The division moved before daylight on the 26th of June, and ascended in two columns the western range of the Amatola heights, halting on the ridge while Major-General Somerset reconnoitered the position of the enemy. While doing so, his escort was attacked, but on the arrival of a reinforcement the enemy was driven from his position, and forced into the valley below. While these operations were in progress, the 74th Highlanders, Cape Mounted Rifles, European and Kat River Levies, with the Alice and Port Elizabeth Fingoes, were moved into the Amatola basin. A formidable body of the enemy, chiefly Hottentots, were now seen strongly posted on the extreme point of the ridge of the northern range of the Amatolas, partly concealed and well covered by large stones and detached masses of rock; these the 74th, flanked by the Alice and Port Elizabeth Fingoes, under Lieutenant-Colonel Fordycs, was ordered to dislodge. The enemy opened a gaffing fire upon the advancing troops, but the 74th deployed into extended line, and having opened fire, drove the Hottentots from their position and gained the summit. After moving along the ridge, which was intersected by a narrow strip of forest bush, the troops were again attacked, and three men of the 74th killed. Having halted for a short time to refresh themselves, the 74th, flanked by the Fort Beaufort Fingoes, was again moved on the enemy’s position, when some sharp firing took place, and the enemy was compelled to abandon his position altogether, retiring into the forest and mountains. The division descended into the Amatola basin, and at 5 P.M. bivouacked for the night. It was reported that some Gaika chiefs and a considerable number of the enemy were killed on this occasion; while the casualties in the 74th were one corporal and two privates killed, and one officer, Lieutenant W. W. Bruce, and nine men wounded. Nothing of importance occurred during the next two days, and on the 29th the division marched to the camp on the Quesana.

The conduct of the 74th in the above services was highly spoken of in various orders, but we need only quote from a general order by Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, Bert, dated "Headquarters, King William’s Town, 3rd of July, 1851:—

"Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce and the 74th Highlanders seized every opportunity of assailing them and driving them before them, and the Major-General reports in the strongest terms of admiration the gallantry and the discipline of the corps."

On the 2nd of July the division again ascended the Amatolas, and its operations were thus detailed by Major-General Somerset in the following letter to the Deputy Quartermaster-General :—


"3d ,July 1851.

"Sir,.—I have the honour to acquaint you, for the information of his Excellency the Commander-in-Chief, that I proceeded with my division yesterday morning, and ascended the Amatola, with the view of clearing the eastern range of the Victoria Heights, and also of again attacking the enemy’s fastnesses in the forest, at the southern point of Hogg’s Back Ridge. This latter point was thoroughly cleared by the European Levy and a company of the 91st under Lieutenant Mainwaring. The enemy abandoned the forest when their huts were destroyed, and took refuge in the extreme and highest points of the Chumie Mountains. I then directed my attention to the southern point of the Victoria Heights, placing a gun under Lieutenant Field; the 74th Highlanders, under Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce; and the Cape Mounted Rifles, under Major Somerset, in position on the middle ridge. I detached the Graaff Reynett Levy, under Captain Heathcots, senior, the Fort Beaufort Fingoes, under Captain Verity, and destroyed all the kraals east of the Victoria range. While this movement was going on, I detached Captains Cambers and Ayliff with their levies, and Captain Hobbs with the Kat River Levy, down the valley of the Amatola, destroying all the kraals at the base of the middle ridge, and nearly succeeded in capturing the Kaffir chief Oba or Waba, Tyali’s son, whom I saw lately with the Commander-in-Chief at Fort Cox, as it was his kraal that was surprised by the Kat River Levy under Captain Hobbs, and his wives and family, with all their household property, were captured, including the chief’s crane feathers for his tribe, his smart forage cap and jacket, given to him by his Excellency, and much other property; and distinctly saw the chief ride off from his kraal just before the patrol got there. The enemy was completely routed, and made off in every direction. In my attack on the Amatola position on the 26th instant, the chiefs Beta and Pitoi, the son of Vongya (brother of the late Tyali), were killed, and many others of less note. This information I have received from the Kaffir Dakana, residing at the Quilli station."

In a despatch from the Governor, Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, Bart, to Earl Grey, the regiment is mentioned as follows:—

"Major-General Somerset speaks in the highest terms of Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce and the 74th Regiment, recently arrived from England, upon whom the brunt of these operations fell in the first division."

During the next month the standing camp of the division was moved about from place to place, and patrolling parties were constantly sent out to check the depredations of the enemy. About the middle of August, when the standing camp was fixed at Riet Fontein, Major-General Somerset proceeded to Lower Albany with a large portion of the division, leaving Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce, of the 74th Highlanders, in command of the troops remaining in camp.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sutton, Cape Mounted Rifles, commanding at Fort Beaufort, communicated with Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce, about the beginning of September, regarding many bold and frequently successful attempts at the robbery of cattle made by the hordes of Kaffirs in the neighbourhood of that post, which it became necessary, if possible, to check. A force, consisting of 11 officers and 245 men of the 74th Highlanders, 3.officers and 36 men of the Cape Mounted Rifles, and 22 officers and 372 men of the various levies in camp and at Fort Beaufort, were assembled at Gilbert’s farm, on the Klu Klu, on the night of the 7th of September, and marched about 2 o’clock A.M. on the 8th, under Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce, to the lower edge of the Kroome, where they arrived at dawn, but found none of the enemy in that locality. The force ascended the Kroome heights by the steep and difficult ridge called the Wolf’s Head. It being well known that the enemy, under the Gaika chief Macomo, were in great force in the adjacent valleys of the Waterkloof, Fuller’s Hoek, and Blinkwater it was determined to halt in a hollow, where there was good water, until future operations were determined upon. Strong picquets were posted on the surrounding ridges, and the usual precautions taken to guard against surprise. Some large bodies of the enemy were seen collecting at various points, and about 3 P.M. the alarm was given that the Kaffirs were approaching in great force. They ran almost with the speed of greyhounds, but the troops, many of whom had to toss away their half-cooked dinners, got under arms with the utmost promptitude, and were soon posted in extended order on the ridges surrounding the bivouac, reinforcing the picquets. The enemy approached in swarms from all quarters of the contiguous bush, and as soon as they were within range, opened fire, which they kept up without intermission for about half an hour. Their force, at the lowest computation, was about 2000 men, and was led by Macomo in person, who was seen riding about on a white charger, well out of range. The troops being posted behind a ridge, were enabled to keep up a sharp fire without much danger to themselves, and the enemy were soon compelled to withdraw to the bush. Nearly half of the ammunition being now expended, the troops were ordered to retire; and Lieutenant-Colonel Sutton, with a few mounted men, was directed to occupy the pass leading from Kroorne heights to Niland’s farm. Between two and three hundred mounted Kaffirs were now seen endeavouring to turn the left flank, but they were kept in check, and all the troops were enabled to gain the pass—a narrow defile, in many parts of which not more than four or five men could walk abreast. The retreat was going on with perfect regularity, when a strong force of the enemy opened fire from the bush, and a detachment of the Fort Beaufort Fingoes became panic-stricken, rushing among the regular troops in great disorder, and thereby preventing them from using their arms with effect against the enemy. This no doubt encouraged the Kaffirs, who, seizing the advantage, rushed from the bush and stabbed many of the men with their assegais. The enemy continued their fire until the troops cleared the bush, but they scarcely showed themselves beyond it. The ammunition being nearly expended, the retreat was continued until the force arrived at Gilbert’s farm, which they did shortly after dark, and bivouacked there for the night, sending an express to Riet Fontein for waggons to convey the wounded to camp. The casualties in the regiment on this occasion were 8 privates killed, and 1 officer Lieutenant John Joseph Corrigan, 1 corporal, and 8 privates wounded. Hans Hartung, who had for many years been bandmaster of the regiment, and was much respected by all ranks, lost his life on this occasion; he had accompanied the force as a volunteer.

The troops returned to Riet Fontein and Fort Beaufort on the following day.

An officer, [Captain Thackeray, who is intimately acquainted with the history of his old regiment, and to whom we are greatly indebted for having carefully revised this history of the 74th Highlanders, and otherwise lent us valuable assistance and advice.] who was with the regiment during the whole of this war, states that this was the only instance in which the 74th really met the Kaffirs face to face, and the latter even then had the advantage of possessing a thorough knowledge of the intricacies of the bush, and were in overwhelming numbers. There were numerous hand-to-hand conflicts, and several of the enemy were killed with the bayonet.

Major-General Somerset having arrived at Riet Fontein in September, the division marched on the 3rd of October to Fort Beaufort and encamped there, awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from the second division, under Lieutenant-Colonel Michel, of the 6th Regiment, intended to act with the first division in a combined attack on the Waterkloof, Kroome Heights, and Fuller’s Hoek.

The necessary preparations having been made, Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce marched on the 13th of October with the Reserve Battalion 12th Regiment, Beaufort West Levy, Graaf Reynett Mounted Levy, and Fort Beaufort Mounted Troop. The Major-General had previously proceeded with the Cape Mounted Riflemen and Fort Beaufort Fingo Levy to meet Lieutenant-Colonel Michel on his march from King William’s Town.

The force under Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce arrived at the Gola River on the afternoon of the 13th, and on the southern point of the Kroome Heights about sunrise next morning. The Waterkloof and Krooine Heights were that morning enveloped in a dense fog, which for a time prevented Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce from acting in concert with the Major-General, according to previous arrangement; but about noon the fog cleared away, and the Major-General was then seen to be engaged with the enemy at the head of the Waterkloof. Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce joined him with his brigade, and the enemy having been dispersed, they all marched to Mandell’s farm, where they remained until the morning of the 16th.

The force was now divided. Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce’s brigade, reinforced by the Reserve Battalion 91st Regiment, marching by the Bush Nek to the entrance of the Waterkloof; while the remainder of the division, under the personal command of the Major-General, proceeded to the head of the Waterkloof. Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce, on his arrival at the entrance of the Waterkloof, extended a line of skirmishers across the valley, seeing but few of the enemy, and meeting with no opposition until they emerged from the bush at the head of the Waterkloof, when a brisk fire was opened upon them; fresh skirmishers were thrown out, and the enemy dispersed. The force then joined the Major-General near Mount Misery, and the division marched to Eastland’s Farm and bivouacked. The casualties in the regiment on this occasion were 2 privates killed, and 1 lance-corporal and 1 private wounded.

In another skirmish at the head of the Waterkloof, on the 23rd, 2 privates were killed and 2 wounded.

Various operations were carried on at the head of the Waterkloof and Kroome heights until the 28th, when Lieut.-Colonel Fordyce’s brigade was ordered to the Blinkwater, where it arrived the same day, having been in the field exposed to heavy rains, and frequently with only one blanket per man, and since the 13th without tents.

The Commander-in-Chief, Sir Harry Smith, spoke, in his general order of October 31, in deservedly high terms of the conduct of the officers and men in these most trying duties; for this kind of desultory warfare, entailing constant marches from place to place without shelter, amid almost constant frost, snow, wind, and rain, and frequently with short supplies of food, and even of ammunition, against an immense number of savages, with whom it is impossible to come to close quarters, is far more trying to the temper and endurance of soldiers than a series of pitched battles with a powerful, well-disciplined, and well-equipped enemy.

This particular post of the enemy, at the head of the Waterkloof, was one which seemed almost impregnable, although it was held by only a few hundred Hottentots. The rebels had taken up a position near the summit of the Kloof, which they had fortified with a breastwall of detached rocks, from behind which they long bade defiance to all efforts to eject them. Occasionally, when the British soldiers were receding from the bush, the enemy would appear in the open ground, firing at the former with fatal precision, and seeming as if to invite them to open combat. Our brave soldiers accepting the challenge, and returning towards the Hottentots, or "Totties," as they were facetiously called, the latter would precipitately retreat to their stronghold, reappearing when their opponents’ backs were turned, sending death to many a poor fellow, whose brave comrades could never get a chance to avenge him. Such a mode of warfare is harassing in the highest degree. It was at the deathful Waterkloof that the 74th sustained the loss of one of its bravest and best-beloved officers.

The troops belonging to the second division having marched to King William’s Town, and the Major-General having assembled at the Blinkwater all the available force of the first division, he ascended the Blinkwater Hill on the 4th of November, and bivouacked at Eastland’s Farm, leaving the tents and baggage at the Blinkwater under a guard.

On the morning of the 6th of November the infantry under Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce marched about two hours before daylight, the cavalry under the Major-General following at dawn, to the head of the Waterkloof, where, as we have said, a considerable party of the enemy was seen posted in strong positions. The infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce, were ordered to attack the position. The Colonel led his men in column into the Waterkloof, when suddenly his march was arrested by a rocky precipice which flanked him in the form of a semicircle, where he found the enemy in considerable force, and these knew too well the rules of military tactics to let so favourable an opportunity escape for inflicting a penalty. Though the bayonets of our brave soldiers seemed powerless in such a position—for they had to contend against an enemy concealed among inaccessible rocks—yet Colonel Fordyce placed his men in position for an assault, and it was while calmly surveying them to see that all was ready for the desperate work, that he was struck in the side by a ball, which proved fatal to him in a quarter of an hour. His last words, it is said, were, "What will become of my poor regiment" He was indeed the father of his regiment, looking with parental solicitude after the comforts of men, women, and children, and by all he was lamented with unfeigned sorrow.  His men, notwithstanding their irreparable loss, stood firm against the enemy, and the Major-General having arrived and assumed the command, the enemy was driven from his position, and the troops bivouacked for the night on Mount Misery, near the scene of the day’s operations.

The casualties in the regiment on this occasion were 2 officers (Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce and Lieutenant Carey), 2 sergeants, and 2 privates killed; and 1 officer, Lieutenant Gordon (who died shortly afterwards), and 8 men wounded. The greater number of the casualties on this occasion occurred in No. 2 company, under the command of Lieutenant Carey, until he was mortally wounded, and then of Lieutenant Philpot. They were opposed to a strong body of the enemy posted behind rocks, but being assisted by the light company, they succeeded in dislodging it.

The bodies of the dead were next day carried in a mule waggon for burial at Post Retief—15 miles across the table-land. "The funeral will never be forgotten by those who were present. The thunder, mingled with the booming artillery, rolled grandly and solemnly among the mountains. As the rough deal coffins were borne out, the ‘firing party,’ dripping wet, and covered with mud, presented arms, the officers uncovered, and we marched in slow time out of the gate and down the road—the pipers playing the mournful and touching ‘Highland Lament’—to where the graves had been dug, a few hundred yards from the Post."

The following division order by Major-General Somerset by no means exaggerates the soldierly merits of Colonel Fordyce

"Nov. 9th, 1851.

"It is with the deepest regret that Major-General Somerset announces to the division the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce, commanding the 74th Highlanders. He fell, mortally wounded, in action with the enemy, on the morning of the 6th, and died on the field.

"From the period of the 74th Highlanders having joined the first division, their high state of discipline and efficiency at once showed to the Major-General the value of Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce as a commanding officer; the subsequent period, during which the Major-General had been in daily intercourse with Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce, so constantly engaged against the enemy in the field, had tended to increase in the highest degree the opinion which the Major-General had formed of Lieutenant-Colonel Fordyce as a commander of the highest order, and one of Her Majesty’s ablest officers, and whom he now so deeply laments (while he truly sympathises with the 74th Highlanders in their irreparable loss), as an esteemed brother soldier."

Small parties of the enemy having again taken up positions near the head of Fuller’s Hook, they were attacked and dislodged on the 7th; and on the following day the division marched to its camp at the Blinkwater.

The 74th was engaged in no enterprise of importance for the next two months, headquarters having meantime been removed to Fort Beaufort. In January 1852 preparations were made under Major-General Somerset, by the first and second divisions, for a combined movement to destroy the enemy’s crops in the Chumie Hoek, Amatolas, and on the left bank of the Keiskamma River. The Major-General marched from Fort Beaufort on the 26th of January 1852 for that purpose, with a force which included upwards of 250 of all ranks of the 74th. Detachments of the regiment were left at Post Retief, Blinkwater, Riet Fontein, and Fort Beaufort.

The Major-General, with the force under his command, arrived at the Amatolas on the 27th, and on the 28th commenced the destruction of the enemy’s crops, which was carried on at the Amatolas, Chumie Hoek, and near the Gwali Mission Station, up to the 24th of February, with little interruption from the enemy and no loss to the regiment.

The destruction of that part of the crops allotted to the first division having been completed, the Major-General marched on the 25th en route for Haddon on the Koonap River, where he arrived on the 29th, and formed a standing camp.

At about two o’clock on the morning of the 4th of March, a patrol under Lieutenant-Colonel Yarborough, 91st Regiment, consisting of all the available men of that corps and of the 74th Highlanders, together with a troop of the Cape Mounted Riflemen, marched to the Waterkloof to destroy a number of kraals belonging to a party of the enemy who had located themselves on the sides of the mountain near Browne’s Farm. This force arrived at the scene of operations about sunrise, and immediately attacked the kraals, which they completely destroyed, and captured a number of horses and cattle which were concealed in a dense bush in an adjacent kloof. These kraals were well defended by the enemy, and the time necessarily occupied in securing the horses and cattle allowed the enemy to collect in large numbers from every part of the Waterkloof. They kept up an incessant fire upon the troops until their arrival at Nel’s Farm, where a position was taken up by the 74th and 91st Regiments, which kept the enemy in check until the horses and cattle were driven beyond their reach, after which the enemy dispersed, and the troops returned to camp. The casualties in the regiment on this occasion were 1 private killed and 4 wounded.

On the 7th of March the Commander-in-Chief arrived at the Blinkwater with all the available force of the 2nd division, for the purpose of carrying out, in connection with the 1st division, a combined movement against the Fuller’s Hook, the Waterkloof, and Kroome Heights, which were still occupied by Macomo and his best warriors. These operations were carried on between the 10th and the 16th of the month, and the regiment was engaged with the enemy on several occasions during that time, but happily without sustaining any loss. 410 women, among whom who Macomo’s great wife, many children, 130 horses, 1000 head of cattle, and a number of goats were captured, together with some arms and ammunition, and all the property in Macomo’s Den.

The Commander-in-Chief, in referring to these six days’ operations in a general order, spoke of them as a success which may well be expected to lead to a permanent and lasting peace. "The Kaffir tribes," he said, "have never been previously thus punished, and the expulsion over the Kei being effected, tranquillity on a permanent basis may be hoped for. No soldiers ever endured greater fatigues, or ever encountered them with more constant cheerfulness and devotion to their sovereign and country."

On the 16th of March the 1st division returned to its standing camp, which had been removed on the 13th to the Gola River, near the entrance of the Waterkloof; and the troops belonging to the 2nd division returned to their stations.

The Waterkloof, Fuller’s Hoek, and Blinkwater being now considered cleared of the enemy, the Commander-in-Chief ordered a combined movement to take place against large bodies of the enemy that had established themselves between the Kaboosie Mountains and the Kei River. To effect this, the 1st division marched on the morning of the 18th of March; and having been joined on the 26th at the Thorn River by a burgher force, which was to co-operate with the troops, reached the Thomas River on the 29th, where a standing camp was formed. The 2nd division, at the same time, sent patrols to the Kaboosie Nek, Keiskamma Hoek, and the banks of the Kei River, and a large number of burghers was in the field co-operating with the troops.

On the 5th of April a patrol, under Lieutenant-Colonel Napier, Cape Mounted Riflemen, consisting of 162 men, from the headquarters of the 74th, along with detachments of the various other corps, marched for the junction of the Thomas and the Kei Rivers, where it was supposed large numbers of the enemy’s cattle were concealed.

This force arrived at and bivouacked on the Quantino, a branch of the Thomas River, on the evening of the 5th, and on the following morning resumed their march in three separate columns. Large herds of cattle were seen about ten o’clock in the morning near the junction of the Thomas and the Kei Rivers, and signal fires were lighted up by the enemy in various directions. After a successful contest of several hours’ duration, in which 100 of the enemy were supposed to have been killed, this force captured, with little loss, large numbers of cattle, horses, and goats, with which they returned to the standing camp on the Thomas River. The Commander-in-Chief, Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Smith, Bart., in a general order, spoke in the highest terms of these services, as being of such a character that a speedy termination of the war might be looked for, which must lead to the establishment of permanent peace to the country.

The standing camp was moved on the 10th of April to the Windvogel, a branch of the Kei River. Lieutenant-General the Hon. George Cathcart, appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Cape of Good Hope in succession to Sir Harry Smith, who was recalled, having assumed the command and arrived at King William’s Town, Major-General Somerset proceeded to that town to receive instructions regarding future operations.

Lieutenant-General Sir Harry George Wakelyn Smith, G.C.B., Bart., on resigning the command, bade farewell to the army which he had so efficiently commanded in a general order, in which he said:-

"I have served my Queen and country many years; and, attached as I have ever been to gallant soldiers, none were ever more endeared to me than those serving in the arduous campaign of 1851 and 1852 in South Africa. The unceasing labours of night marches, the burning sun, the torrents of rain, have been encountered with a cheerfulness as conspicuous as the intrepidity with which you have met the enemy in so many enterprising fights and skirmishes in his own mountain fastnesses and strongholds, and from which you have always driven him victoriously." [There is no doubt that the energetic Sir Harry Smith was made the scape-goat of the shortcomings of the Government at home. Among other things, he had been accused "of using the language of hyperbole in describing the numerous rencontres which have occurred, and of giving praise to the gallant officers and troops as well as burghers." Possessing, however, some experience in war, he says, in his spirited despatch to Earl Grey, dated Camp, Blinkwater, March 17, 1852, "I must maintain that such is not the case. Troops acting in the open field expect not the stimulus of praise; the soldier sees his foe, and his British courage rises at each step; but he who, after perhaps a night-march of great length, has to ascend mountains, or penetrate dense bush and ravines, filled probably with a daring and intrepid enemy, as resolute as athletic, ready to murder any one who may fall into his hands, and when warfare is of the most stealthy and enterprising kind, appreciates the praise of his commander, because, when his acts are conspicuously daring, he is conscious he deserves it. He does his duty; but human nature renders even the soldier’s intrepid heart sensible of the approbation of his superior, which he is proud to know may reach the eye of his parents and friends."]

During the next few months the 74th was kept incessantly moving about in detachments from one post to another, the bare recital of which movements would only fatigue the reader. The regiment was constantly employed either on patrol, in waylaying parties, or on escort duties, the work involved in such movements being, as we have already said, far more trying and fatiguing to the soldier than a regular series of field operations against a large and thoroughly disciplined army.

The long protracted war was definitely brought to a close by the "final clearing of the Waterkloof," in September 1852, under personal command of General the Hon Sir George Cathcart; when a large number of prisoners and of horses were taken, many Kaffirs killed, and their villages and strongholds destroyed. The names of "Capt. Bruce, 74th, commanding a detachment from Post Retief," and of "Lieut. W R. King, commanding a detachment of the 74th Highlanders," were mentioned in General Orders on this occasion, with some others from different regiments engaged.

We have only heard of one instance in which an attempt was made to sully the honour and honesty of the 74th; that was by the Rev. Henry Renton, a Scotch missionary, who at a public meeting in Glasgow made some remarks reflecting on the conduct of the 74th Highlanders. We cannot believe that a Scotchman would maliciously attempt to sully the honour of a Highland regiment; and, of course, a Christian minister never so far should forget himself as to give utterance to a statement which he does not believe has a foundation in truth, especially when that statement, as in the present case, involves the reputation of so many of his fellow-countrymen, and, it is to be presumed, fellow-Christians. That the Rev. Henry Renton, whose honesty of intention, then, we cannot doubt, was under a misapprehension when he rashly—perhaps in a gush of "holy rapture," as Burns puts it—made this statement at the public meeting in Glasgow, is clear from the following letter written on the subject by Major-General Somerset :—

"Grahamstown, August 18, 1852.

"SIR,—Having observed in several of the public journals that, at a recent public meeting, Mr Renton, a Scotch minister, took occasion to attack the character of the 74th Highlanders for their conduct when encamped at the Owali Station on the Chumie River, in the month of February last, stating that the men of that corps had plundered and destroyed the garden of the widow Chalmers while the savage enemies had always spared her property; I desire to state, in justice to the 74th Highlanders under your command, that the statement is a false and gratuitous attack on your gallant regiment, whose unvaried discipline and excellent conduct have ever met my fullest approbation.

"Shortly after the troops arrived in camp at Gwali, a guard was detached to afford Mrs Chalmers protection, and if any produce was taken out of her garden, it must have been in total ignorance that any person was residing on the property—the Kaffirs who had been residing on the grounds having all fled into the bush.

"I consider the attack of Mr Renton, whose character is so well known on the frontier, to be an attempt to enhance the value of his statements in favour of those barbarians whose atrocities he has attempted to palliate, and whose cause he so earnestly patronises.

"You will be good enough to make this expression of my sentiments known to the 74th Highlanders under your command.

"I have the honour to be, &c,
"H. Somerset,

"To Major Patton,
"Commanding 74th Highlanders."

Major-General Somerset having been appointed to the Staff in India, Colonel Buller, C.B., Rifle Brigade, assumed the command of the 1st division on the 27th of August 1852.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Macduff, from the St Helena Regiment, having been appointed to the 74th Highlanders, joined at Fort Beaufort on the 17th of October 1852, and assumed the command of the regiment.

The Commander-in-Chief having determined upon sending an expedition into the Abasutus country against Moshesh, to enforce the payment of a fine of cattle and horses imposed upon that chief the detachments from Fort Browne, Koonap Port, Riet Fontein, Post Retief joined headquarters at Fort Beaufort in the beginning of November, and on the 10th of that month the headquarters, under Lieutenant-Colonel Macduff—strength, 2 captains, 5 subalterns, 3 staff, 12 sergeants, 5 buglers, and 244 rank and file—marched for Burghersdorp, where the forces intended for the expedition were to assemble under the personal command of His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief. A detachment was left at Fort Beaufort under Major Patton, consisting of 2 captains, 1 subaltern, 2 staff, 11 sergeants, 4 buglers, and 141 rank and file.

On the 11th of November, the force was joined by a detachment of artillery and 2 guns under Captain Robinson, and a detachment of the Cape Mounted Rifles, under Major Somerset, the whole being under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Macduff. Proceeding by stages towards its destination, the force was joined on the 16th by Captain Brydon’s company from Whittlesea, consisting of about 150 men, increasing the strength to 1 lieutenant-colonel, 3 captains, 6 subalterns, 3 staff 17 sergeants, 7 buglers, and 404 rank and file; on the 17th to the Honey Klip River; on the 18th to Kisas Smidts River; on the 19th to the Vleys on the Stormberg Mountains; on the 20th to the Stormberg River, on the 22nd it reached Burghersdorp, and joined the troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre of the 73rd regiment, who had arrived at Burghersdorp on the previous day.

On the 23rd, the headquarters of the Cape Mounted Rifles joined the force, and on the 28th, His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief arrived, and the troops were divided into brigades, the 74th Highlanders, the 2nd (Queen’s Regiment), and one Rocket Battery, forming the first brigade of infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Macduff, 74th Highlanders.

On the 28th of November, the march was recommenced by brigades, and the village of Plaatberg was reached on the 13th.

Moshesh’s sons, Nehemiah and David, arrived in camp the same evening, and on the 15th, that chief himself appeared and had an interview with the governor, who informed him that if his fine of horses and cattle was not paid within three days, he would be obliged to go and take them.

On the 18th, Nehemiah arrived with 3450 head of cattle; but the remainder not having been sent within the stipulated time, the cavalry and 2nd brigade advanced on the 19th to the Drift on the Caledon River, leaving the camp and cattle at Plaatberg in charge of the 1st brigade. This force moved against Moshesh on the morning of the 20th, and after a sanguinary contest on the Berea Mountain, which lasted during the day, captured 4500 head of cattle, and some horses and goats. During that night Moshesh sent a letter to the Governor, saying that he had been severely punished, and suing for peace, which the Governor granted on the 21st, and the troops returned to camp on the 22nd.

One company of the 2nd, or Queen’s, and one of the 74th, under Captain Bruce, marched for Plaatberg on the afternoon of the 19th, and reinforced the troops engaged. The cattle were sent for distribution to Bloem Fontein, and the troops commenced their march on their return to the colony on the 24th of December. On their arrival at the Orange River, it was found so swollen from recent rains that the troops, waggons, and baggage had to be conveyed across on two pontoons, which operation occupied six days.

The troops marched on their return to the colony by nearly the same route by which they had advanced, a detachment of the regiment, under Captain Bruce, of 2 sergeants, 1 bugle; and 40 rank and file, being left at Whittlesea.

The Governor and Commander-in-Chief took his leave of the troops in a general order dated "Camp Boole Poort, 26th December 1852," in which he spoke in the highest terms of their conduct during the expedition.

Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre also, on resigning command of the division, published a division order, in which he spoke of the general character of all non-commissioned officers and soldiers as having been most exemplary. "To the officers generally he feels that his thanks are especially due; their example and exertions have rendered his task of commanding very easy." Among the officers particularly named by Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre were,— Lieutenant-Colonel Macduff of the 74th Highlanders, commanding the 1st brigade, from whose judgment and experience he derived great assistance; Captain Hancock, 74th Highlanders; Lieutenant and Adjutant Falconer, 74th Highlanders, acting Brigade-Major, and Dr Fraser, 74th Highlanders, &c.

The first brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel Macduff, arrived at Bryce’s Farm, on the Kat River, on the 19th of January, 1853. On the following day the regiments composing the brigade returned to their stations; the 74th proceeding to Fort Beaufort, where it arrived on the 21st, and where, on the 20th, a small detachment from the regimental depot had joined.

In the beginning of February orders were received for the regiment to proceed to King William’s Town to reinforce the 2nd division. It accordingly marched from Fort Beaufort on the 3rd, under Lieutenant-Colonel Macdun; leaving a small detachment at Fort Beaufort. The regiment arrived at King William’s Town on the 7th, and was ordered to proceed to the Duhne or Itembi Mission Station, accompanied by detachments from the 12th Royal Lancers, the Royal Artillery, and the Cape Mounted Riflemen; the whole under the command of lieutenant-Colonel Macduff, of the 74th Highlanders, the intention being to form a connecting link in a chain of posts surrounding the Amatolas. Numerous patrols were sent out to keep up a communication with the post at Kaboosie Nek, and to examine the country near the sources of the Kaboosie and the Buffalo rivers, and the valley between the Iseli range and Murray’s Krantz.

Peace, however having been established in March, the regiment marched from the Duhne Station to Fort Beaufort, arriving there on the 26th.

On the termination of the war, His Excellency published a general order, which we shall give at length, as serving to convey the idea formed by a competent judge of the urgent nature of the duties which the soldiers engaged in the Kaffir War had to perform, and also showing the important results of the operations in which the 74th bore so conspicuous a part.

"March 14, 1853.

"The Commander of the Forces congratulates the army under his command on the termination of the war of rebellion which has troubled the eastern frontier of Her Majesty’s South African Dominions for more than two years, and which at one time assuming the character of a war of races, had it not been arrested by their gallantry, perseverance, and unparalleled exertions, must have overwhelmed the inhabitants of the eastern district of the colony. And indeed it is impossible to calculate the extent to which it might have reached.

"In conveying his thanks to the army for their meritorious services, His Excellency desires to include those of the Colonial service, Europeans, Fingoes, and Loyal Hottentots, who, under gallant leaders, nobly emulated the brilliant examples set them by Her Majesty’s troops.

"The field of glory opened to them in a Kaffir war and Hottentot rebellion is possibly not so favourable and exciting as that which regular warfare with an open enemy in the field affords; yet the unremitting exertions called for in hunting well-armed yet skulking savages through the bush, and driving them from their innumerable strongholds, are perhaps more arduous than those required in regular warfare, and call more constantly for individual exertions and intelligence.

"The British soldier, always cheerfully obedient to the call, well knows that when he has done his duty, he is sure to obtain the thanks and good opinion of his gracious Queen.

"It is His Excellency’s duty, and one which he has had the greatest pleasure in performing, to call Her Majesty’s attention, not only on particular occasions, but generally, to the noble conduct of all officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers of this army, throughout the arduous contest in which they have been engaged; and they may rest assured it will not pass unheeded.

"It cannot fail to be an additional gratification to them to reflect that the result of their exertions has been the total and final clearance of the Waterkloof, Fish River, and all the other strongholds of the enemy within the colony. The surrender of the rebel chiefs, Sandilli, Macomo, and the Gaika people, who have been expelled from all their former territories, including the Amatolas, which now remain in possession of Her Majesty’s troops, and the removal of that hitherto troublesome race to the banks of the Kei; the complete submission of the Bassutus, the Sambookies, and the Anna-Galiekas, and the extinction of the Hottentot rebellion; and that thus, thanks to their noble exertions, where all was war and rebellion two years ago, general and profound peace reigns in South Africa."


"Colonel Buller, C.B., Rifle Brigade, commanding 1st Division, made his inspection of the regiment on the 5th of May, when he expressed to Lieutenant-Colonel Macduff his entire satisfaction with the regiment in every respect.

Before concluding our account of the doings of the 74th Highlanders during the Kaffir War, we must tell the story of an action which sheds more glory upon those who took part in it than a hundred well-fought battles, or the taking of many cities; an action in which discipline and self-denial triumphed gloriously over the love of dear life itself.

On the 7th of January 1852, the iron paddle troopship "Birkenhead," of 1400 tons and 556 horse-power, commanded by Master Commanding Robert Salmond, sailed from the Cove of Cork, bound for the Cape of Good Hope, with detachments from the depots of ten regiments, all under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Seton of the 74th Highlanders. Altogether there were on board about 631 persons, including a crew of 132, the rest being soldiers with their wives and children. Of the soldiers, besides Colonel Seton and Ensign Alexander Cumming Russell, 66 men belonged to the 74th.

The "Birkenhead" made a fair voyage out, and reached Simon’s Bay, Cape of Good Hope, on the 23rd of February, when Captain Salmond was ordered to proceed eastward immediately, and land the troops at Algoa Bay and Buffalo River. The "Birkenhead" accordingly sailed again about six o’clock on the evening of the 25th; the night being almost perfectly calm, the sea smooth, and the stars out in the sky. Men, as usual, were told off to keep a look-out, and a leadsman was stationed on the paddle-box next the land, which was at a distance of about 3 miles on the port side. Shortly before two o’clock on the morning of the 26th, when all who were not on duty were sleeping peacefully below, the leadsman got soundings in 12 or 13 fathoms: ere he had time to get another cast of the lead, the "Birkenhead" was suddenly and rudely arrested in her course; she had struck on a sunken rock, surrounded by deep water, and was firmly fixed upon its jagged points. The water immediately rushed into the fore part of the ship, and drowned many soldiers who were sleeping on the lower troop deck.

It is easy to imagine the consternation and wild commotion with which the hundreds of men, women, and children would be seized on realising their dangerous situation. Captain Salmond, who had been in his cabin since ten o’clock of the previous night, at once appeared on deck with the other naval and military officers; the captain ordered the engine to be stopped, the small bower anchor to be let go, the paddle-box boats to be got out, and the quarter boats to be lowered, and to lie alongside the ship.

It might have been with the "Birkenheid" as with many other passenger-laden ships which have gone to the bottom, had there not been one on board with a clear head, perfect self-possession, a noble and chivalrous spirit, and a power of command over others which few men have the fortune to possess; this born "leader of men" was Lieutenant-Colonel Seton of the 74th Highlanders. On coming on deck he at once comprehended the situation, and without hesitation made up his mind what it was the duty of brave men and British soldiers to do under the circumstances. He impressed upon the other officers the necessity of preserving silence and discipline among the men. Colonel Seton then ordered the soldiers to draw up on both sides of the quarter-deck; the men obeyed as if on parade or about to undergo inspection. A party was told off to work the pumps, another to assist the sailors in lowering the boats, and a third to throw the poor horses overboard. "Every one did as he was directed," says Captain Wright of the 91st, who, with a number of men of that regiment, was on board. "All received their orders, and had them carried out, as if the men were embarking instead of going to the bottom; there was only this difference, that I never saw any embarkation conducted with so little noise and confusion."

Meanwhile Captain Salmond, thinking no doubt to get the ship safely afloat again and to steam her nearer to the shore, ordered the engineer to give the paddles a few backward turns. This only hastened the destruction of the ship, which bumped again upon the rock, so that a great hole was torn in the bottom, letting the water rush in volumes into the engine-room, putting out the fires.

The situation was now more critical than ever; but the soldiers remained quietly in their places, while Colonel Seton stood in the gangway with his sword drawn, seeing the women and children safely passed down into the second cutter, which the captain had provided for them. This duty was speedily effected, and the cutter was ordered to lie off about 150 yards from the rapidly sinking ship. In about ten minutes after she first struck, she broke in two at the foremast—this mast and the funnel falling over to the starboard side, crushing many, and throwing into the water those who were endeavouring to clear the paddle-box boat. But the men kept their places, though many of them were mere lads, who had been in the service only a few months. An eye-witness, speaking of the captain and Colonel Seton at this time, has said—"Side by side they stood at the helm, providing for the safety of all that could be saved. They never tried to save themselves."

Besides the cutter into which the women and children had been put, only two small boats were got off, all the others having been stove in by the falling timbers or otherwise rendered useless. When the bows had broken off, the ship began rapidly to sink forward, and those who remained on board clustered on to the poop at the stern, all, however, without the least disorder. At last, Captain Salmond, seeing that nothing more could be done, advised all who could swim to jump overboard and make for the boats. But Colonel Seton told the men that if they did so, they would be sure to swamp the boats, and send the women and children to the bottom; he therefore asked them to keep their places, and they obeyed. The "Birkenhead" was now rapidly sinking; the officers shook hands and bade each other farewell; immediately after which the ship again broke in two abaft the mainmast, when the hundreds who had bravely stuck to their posts were plunged with the sinking wreck into the sea. "Until the vessel totally disappeared," says an eyewitness, "there was not a cry or murmur from soldiers or sailors." Those who could swim struck out for the shore, but few ever reached it; most of them either sank through exhaustion or were devoured by the sharks, or were dashed to death on the rugged shore near Point Danger, or entangled in the death-grip of the long arms of sea-weed that floated thickly near the coast. About twenty minutes after the "Birkenhead" first struck on the rock, all that remained visible were a few fragments of timber, and the main-topmast standing above the water. Of the 631 souls on board, 438 were drowned, only 193 being saved: not a single woman or child was lost. Those who did manage to land, exhausted as they were, had to make their way over a rugged and barren coast for fifteen miles, before they reached the residence of Captain Small, by whom they were treated with the greatest kindness until taken away by H.M. steamer "Rhadamanthus."

The three boats which were lying off near the ship when she went down picked up as many men as they safely could, and made for the shore, but found it impossible to land; they were therefore pulled away in the direction of Simon’s Town. After a time they were descried by the coasting schooner "Lioness,’ the master of which, Thomas E. Ramsden, took the wretched survivors on board, his wife doing all in her power to comfort them, distributing what spare clothes were on board among the many men, who were almost naked. The "Lioness" made for the scene of the wreck, which she reached about half-past two in the afternoon, and picked up about forty-five men, who had managed to cling to the still standing mast of the "Birkenhead." The "Lioness," as well as the "Rhadamanthus," took the rescued remnant to Simon’s Bay.

Of those who were drowned, 357, including 9 officers, belonged to the army; the remaining 81 formed part of the ship’s company, including 7 naval officers. Besides the chivalrous Colonel Seton and Ensign Russell, 48 of the 66 men belonging to the 74th perished.

Any comment on this deathless deed of heroic self-denial, of this victory of moral power over the strongest impulse, would be impertinent; no one needs to be told what to think of the simple story. The 74th and the other regiments who were represented on board of the "Birkenhead," as well as the whole British army, must feel prouder of this victory over the last enemy, than of all the great battles whose names adorn their regimental standards.

The only tangible memorial of the deed that exists is a monument erected by Her Majesty Queen Victoria in the colonnade of Chelsea Hospital; it bears the following inscription :—

"This monument is erected by command of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, to record the heroic constancy and unbroken discipline shown by Lieutenant-Colonel Seton, 74th Highlanders, and the troops embarked under his command, on board the "Birkenhead," when that vessel was wrecked off the Cape of Good Hope, on the 26th of February 1852, and to preserve the memory of the officers, non commissioned officers, and men who perished on that occasion. Their names were as follows:-

"Lieutenant-Colonel ALEXANDER SETON, 74th Highlanders, commanding the troops; Cornet Rolt, Sergeant Straw, and 3 privates, 12th Lancers; Ensign Boylan, Corporal M’Manus, and 34 privates, 2nd Queen’s Regiment; Ensign Metford and 47privates, 6th Royals; 55 privates, 12th Regiment; Sergeant Hicks, Corporals Harrison and Cousins, and 26 privates, 43rd Light Infantry; 3 privates 45th Regiment; Corporal Curtis and 29 privates, 60th Rifles; Lieutenants Robinson and Booth, and 54 privates, 73rd Regiment; Ensign Russell, Corporals Mathison and William Laird, and 46 privates, 74th Highlanders; Sergeant Butler, Corporals Webber and Smith, and 41 privates, 91st Regiment; Staff Surgeon Laing; Staff Assistant-Surgeon Robinson. In all, 357 officers and men. The names of the privates will be found inscribed on brass plates adjoining."

Lieutenant-Colonel Seton, whose high-mindedness, self-possession, and calm determination inspired all on board, was son and heir of the late Alexander Seton, Esq. of Mounie, Aberdeenshire, and represented the Mounie branch of the old and eminent Scottish house of Pitmedden. His death was undoubtedly a great loss to the British army, as all who knew him agree in stating that he was a man of high ability and varied attainments; he was distinguished both as a mathematician and a linguist. Lord Aberdare (formerly the Right Honourable H. A. Bruce) speaks of Colonel Seton, from personal knowledge, as "one of the most gifted and accomplished men in the British army."

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