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The Story of the Royal Scots
Chapter XV - Forty Years of Little Wars, 1816-1853

Peace Service of First Battalion—Second Battalion in Mahratta Wars—Nagpore—Maheidpoor—Asseerghur—Burmese War—Ava—The Rebellion in Canada.

The history of the first battalion from 1816 to 1853 is summed up in peaceful moves from one station to another at home and abroad, but there are a few items which must be recorded. On January 23, 1820, the regiment lost its royal colonel by the death of H.R.H. the Duke of Kent. He took his colonelcy seriously, and did much for The Royals. He was succeeded by George, Marquess of Huntly, afterwards Duke of Gordon, who had been in the 42nd Highlanders.

A year later George IV ordered that the regiment should resume its earlier name of the “First or the Royal Regiment of Foot,” and “The Royal Scots” ceased for a time to be its official title.

In 1826 the first battalion moved from home to the: West Indies, and there pursued an uneventful career until 1835.

In 1834 Colonel the Duke of Gordon was removed to the Scots Guards, and The Royals welcomed as Colonel their old friend Sir Thomas Graham, Lord Lynedoch, who had fought alongside them at Toulon more than thirty years ago and had seen their work on many a stricken field. In 1843 he died, and was succeeded by General Sir George Murray.

Second Battalion

We have to look to the second battalion during this time for maintaining the fighting tradition of the regiment. We pick up the story of their service in India where it was left on p. 143, busy with the Pindarees.

In 1817 fresh trouble was brewing with the native princes, which soon turned to war. Part of the battalion under Brevet-Lieut.-Col. Fraser was with the second division commanded by Doveton and part with the first division of the army of the Deccan under Hislop. A British force wras attacked at Nagpore, the capital of the Mahratta territories, and The Royal Scots went by forced marches to its relief, the only European regiment in Doveton’s division. The Rajah was a treacherous gentleman, so the General walked warily when he offered ta surrender his guns and disperse his troops. On December 16, the day arranged for the surrender, the British marched forward in battle order to take over the guns. The first battery was given up without opposition, but on the troops entering a plantation the enemy fired. The Royals and their Indian comrades made short w’ork of their enemies and captured 40 elephants and 75 guns. The siege of the city of Nagpore followed. The Arabs and Hindus put up a good defence, and successfully resisted the storming parties of The Royals, even though they w'ere led by veterans from the Peninsular wars. On December 24, however, the enemy surrendered, and “Nagpore” marks on the regimental colours the gallantry of the assault.

Meanwhile the two flank companies with Hislop’s army, in Sir John Malcolm’s brigade, were busy with the campaign against Holkar, another of the Mahratta princes, near Maheidpoor. As they were crossing the Suprah river, they suffered from a heavy cannonade. The Royals rushed forward with irresistible 61an, bayoneted the artillerymen, and saved the situation: Lieut. M'Leod fell gloriously in the charge. The rout of Holkar’s army followed, and “Maheidpoor” tells the story on the colours.

But Holkar’s army was not yet broken beyond redemption, and the flank companies joined in its pursuit.

By February 27,1818, they had marched southward to Talnere, a fortress which Holkar had agreed to give up. Its defenders, however, treacherously fired, and a summons to surrender brought no answer. The Royals were ordered to attack a gate which looked weak, and they entered in single file.

At the third gate they were met by the Killedar, Holkar’s commander, and some parley took place. At the fifth and last gate they were stopped, but The Royals entered by the open wicket. Four fell dead, including Major Gordon, but Private Sweeny kept the wicket open with his musket until the rest of the storming party could break through.

Captain M‘Gregor was killed at their head, but the fort was won. The Killedar did not play the traitor again, for they hanged him that night, [ and the whole garrison was put to the sword. The Royals were soon after engaged at the reduction of the forts at Trimbuck and Malleygaum. While the light companies had been thus busy, the eight battalion companies were, with the army of the Deccan, pursuing the Peishwah until his surrender, and returned then to Taulnah.

Five companies were engaged in the siege of Asseerghur, “The Gibraltar of the East,” when Lieut.-Col. Fraser fell.

Four years of peaceful duty followed, but the battalion embarked in January 1825 for Rangoon, to take part in the Burmese War. The operations were trying in the extreme owing to the poisonous climate, and the battalion lost 9 officers and 418 men mostly from disease, but the fighting casualties were few. Nevertheless the signing of peace at Ava, the Burmese capital, in February, crowned a campaign which, for all its lack of spectacular elements, proved the solid determination of The Royals to achieve success, and “ Ava ” on the colours represents much heroic work.

The Indian service of the battalion closed in 1831, and it was not back at its quarters in Edinburgh until January 6, 1832, “ tattered and torn.” Of all those who embarked with the battalion at Gibraltar in 1807 one private alone returned, to die soon after he got home. For four years it remained at home stations, and in 1836 went to Canada, and the year after was employed in suppressing the attempted Revolution organized by the “Fils de la Liberte.”

Captain Bell, afterwards Sir George, and Colonel of the regiment, did good service when in command of the Fort at Couteau-du-Lac on the St. Lawrence. In the middle of the hard Canadian winter, he recovered 16 guns which had been sunk in the river, and succeeded in unspiking and remounting them. The Royals were in the action at St. Charles when the rebels there were annihilated amidst scenes of horror too unpleasant to be set down here, and took part in Colborne’s expedition which marched from Montreal to St. Eustache and so roughly handled the rebels that the flames of the Revolution died out.

The next six years passed in Canada uneventfully, except for the wreck of the transport Premier with the headquarter wing on board as the second battalion was on its way to the West Indies.

All behaved with notable coolness and courage, and no lives were lost.

Garrison duty in Barbadoes brought little excitement. Two companies were sent to Demerara, and Colonel Bell makes the following grim note about the barracks there—

The graveyard was under the men’s windows — a very remarkable and interesting view — and well chosen by the authorities to keep invalids in remembrance that the garrison was deposited there every seven years.

The battalion was home again in 1846, and continued at various stations until 1852.

During the forty years covered by this chapter there were many changes in uniform and equipment. They are set out in great detail in The Records, and a very few words of description will suffice here.

After the abolition of the cocked hat in 1816, the regimental chaco was worn by officers on all occasions. In 1820 short-tailed coats or jackets were forbidden, and in 1823, breeches, leggings and shoes gave place to trousers and half-boots. The discarded patterns, however, have had their revenge, for the present service uniform with knickers and puttees is only a modem translation of the old practical kit. From 1816 to I^55 there were continual changes in the form of the chaco (Figs. 27 and 28), but the Grenadier companies

wore the bearskin until they were abolished, as the left-hand figure in Fig. 30 shows. Officers were loaded  with embroidery, and the coatees were so tight, in this most dandified period of military costume, that movement of any sort must have been governed by severe discretion. The middle figure in the same illustration is in Court dress, and wears the single epaulette (shown in detail in Fig. 29), which was proper to officers in battalion companies. The right-hand figure was of the Light Company.

In 1829 the reaction against the elaboration and high cost of uniforms began to set in, and a year later the gorget was abolished. White duck trousers, which had long been worn at home in summer, were discontinued, because they were responsible for colds and rheumatism.

Fig. 31 shows that the private's drill order in 1849 was simple and practical enough, but the bugler was still a gorgeous person with his rich loops and large worsted wings of red, yellow and blue.

About this time the lavender trousers, which looked so delicate when new and so deplorable when faded to a hundred different shades, were discontinued.

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