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

Fencible Regiments


The name of Fraser, as connected with the military annals of this country, must be familiar to all who are conversant with the history of the two wars on the continent of America. Connected always with honour and a military name, and remembered with feelings of respect, founded on the coincident opinion of friends and enemies, the examples shown by those two corps, the Fraser's Highlanders of the Seven Years' War, and that of the American Revolution, afforded a gratifying proof of the influence of honour, derived from moral principles, on the minds and actions of men, uneducated in the general acceptation of the word, but with an education that served every purpose of more formal instruction.

With the recollection of the name and character thus obtained, when the youth of the nation were called to arms at the commencement of the last war, the clan Fraser did not forget how their kindred and clansmen had obeyed the call in former times. The then Chief of the clan Fraser, the youngest son of the last Lord Lovat, and brother of the late General Fraser, being advanced in years, Letters of Service were issued to James Fraser of Belladrum, the head of a respectable branch of the family, and who had served under his Chief in Canada during the Seven Years' War. The orders were dated in the latter end of 1794; and in the following spring, Colonel Fraser, supported by Lovat and the principal gentlemen of the clan, completed his regiment. On the 14th of June 1795, the whole were inspected and embodied at Inverness. Of the soldiers, 300 bore the name of Fraser, and were chiefly from the Fraser's country, the districts of the Aird and Stratherrick. The others were from the neighbouring districts, except 30 Lowlanders and 18 English and Irish, old soldiers, enlisted by some officers to fill up their complement.

The uniform was the usual Highland garb, with belted plaids and philibegs of the Fraser tartan, but without broad swords, which, as I have already noticed, were laid aside at the commencement of the American War.

The regiment was marched south in July, and, crossing over to Ireland, landed there on the 1st of August. In that country, "the general character of the corps was excellent: they had a high degree of the esprit du corps; were obedient, active, and trusty; gaining the entire confidence of the generals commanding, by whom they were always stationed in the most disturbed districts, previous to and during the Rebellion. Many attempts were made to corrupt them, but in vain: no man proved unfaithful. The men were not in general large, but active, well made, and remarkable for steady marching, never leaving any stragglers, even on the quickest and longest marches." Such is the character given of this corps by an able and intelligent officer, who knew them well. [Major Fraser of Newton.] In November 1797, Colonel Fraser of Belladrum resigned, and Simon Fraser, the younger of Lovat, was appointed colonel. Soon after this period, the disturbances which had so long agitated Ireland began to assume a more formidable appearance; and Government found, that, in attempts to keep down the spirit of disaffection and disloyalty, some of the troops showed symptoms of the same disposition. In this situation, full confidence was placed in the Fraser Fencibles. When invasion was attempted by the French, and a landing effected at Killala, this regiment, along with others, was pushed forward; and, in the unfortunate rencounter at Castlebar, they were so circumstanced, that a just opinion of their conduct cannot well be formed, farther than that they were the last to retreat.

In Musgrave's History of the Rebellion, the following instance is given of intrepid execution of duty intrusted to "a Highland Fraser sentinel, whom his friends desired to retreat with them, but he heroically refused to quit his post, which was elevated, with some steps leading to it. He loaded and fired five times successively, and killed a Frenchman at every shot; but, before he could charge a sixth time, they rushed on him." If all the soldiers at Castlebar had behaved with equal firmness, the French invasion would have ended on that day.

This corps remained in Ireland till the conclusion of the war. In barracks, their conduct was uniformly good, and, except in such cases as I have had frequent occasion to notice, corporal punishments were equally unnecessary and unknown, and in this respect there was no deviation till the reduction of the regiment at Glasgow in July 1802.

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