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

Mutinies of the Highland Regiments

As the preceding details will have afforded some idea of the nature and extent of the service performed by the Highland regiments of the Line and Fencibles, I now introduce the following statements of a series of very distressing events which have occurred in the course of these military duties, —disgraceful to those with whom they principally originated, and much to be lamented on account of the impressions they have left on the minds of a race of people originally unsuspicious, and disposed to place unlimited confidence in their superiors, but who, in the cases in question, were too frequently considered as ignorant, unable to comprehend the nature of their stipulations, and incapable of demanding redress for any breach of contract. Attempts were, therefore, made to violate these engagements, both in the nature of the service expected of them, and in the pay and allowances promised. Finding their expectations disappointed, the sense of candour was diminished, and that appearance of suspicious illiberality produced which people entertain when they believe that they have not met with fair or honourable treatment from a quarter where the reverse was to be expected. When they found themselves thus treated, their ignorance of the language rendered them more jealous and less able to explain the nature of their grievances or to vindicate their rights; and when their complaints would not be heard, and redress was refused, no other mode of obtaining justice occurred to them but to refuse to perform their part of the contract till the whole was fulfilled. The peculiar dispositions and habits of the Highlanders contributed to increase and to give an unusual degree of irritation to these misunderstandings, which were the more noticed, as their conduct, in other respects, had been orderly and obedient. These peculiarities I have already attempted to explain. One of the most prominent, and which most powerfully influenced their conduct, was the bond of fidelity and affection by which they were held to their superiors and to one another. Accustomed to yield implicit obedience to their immediate chiefs, who durst not break a compact with a people subject to them, chiefly through the ties of love and hereditary reverence, and accustomed also to have promises punctually fulfilled, this implicit submission was not yielded when they had rights to preserve, or agreements to be fulfilled. In later times, when they entered the King's service, they considered themselves as a contracting party in the agreements made with Government, from whom they naturally expected the same punctual performance of their engagements, as well as some degree, at least, of the kindness and attention which they and their fathers had met with, from their ancient and. hereditary chieftains. When they found themselves, therefore, disappointed in these respects, and the terms which had been expressly stipulated with his Majesty's officers violated, the Highlanders, naturally irritable and high-spirited, warmly resented such unexpected treatment. Hence the real origin of the resistance to authority in Highland regiments, as will be rendered more evident by a plain narrative of facts.

The mutiny and desertion of the old Highland Regiment or Black Watch, has been already noticed; and I shall now give a brief detail of similar acts of insubordination among other Highland corps. By placing the whole in one view, instead of introducing each under the proper section of the different regiments, the general principle will be rendered the more apparent and instructive.

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