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

Military Annals of the Highland Regiments

Seventy-eighth Regiment
Seaforth's Highlanders, now the Seventy-second Regiment

The Earl of Seaforth, having engaged in the Rebellion of 1715, and been included in the subsequent Act of attainder, forfeited his estate and title. His grandson, Kenneth Mackenzie, repurchased the property from the Crown, was created an Irish Peer by the title of Lord Viscount Fortrose, and, in the year 1771, restored to the ancient title of the family, as Earl of Seaforth. In gratitude for these favours, he made an offer to his Majesty, in the year 1778, of raising a regiment on his estate, which in former times had been able to furnish 1000 men in arms whenever the Chief required their service. Whether in poverty and exile, or in possession of rank and fortune, Seaforth experienced no difference of respect, or disinterested and effectual support. [An instance of this will be seen in the Appendix, volume first, where 400 of Lord Seaforth's followers, or rather those who had been so when he was in possession of his estate and honours, marched to Edinburgh, to lodge a sum of money, part of their rents, to be remitted to his Lordship when in exile in France in 1732.] On the present occasion, the offer was accepted, and, in the month of May of that year, 1130 men assembled at Elgin, immediately after Lord Macleod's Highlanders had marched to the south. They were principally raised by gentlemen of the clan of "Caber Fey," as the Mackenzies are called, from the stag's horns on the armorial bearings of Seaforth. [The arms and crest of the Mackenzies were assumed in consequence of Kenneth, the ancestor of the family, having rescued Alexander II. King of Scotland, from a wounded stag, which had attacked him. The animal, furious from pain, ran in upon the King, threw him down, and would have gored him on the spot, had it not been for the prompt assistance of Kenneth Fitzgerald, who, happening to be in sight, run up, and dispatched the deer. In gratitude for this assistance, the King gave him a grant of the castle and estate of Ellen Dounan, and thus laid the foundation of the family and clan Mackenneth, or Mackenzie, so called from the name of their ancestor, who was an Irishman, by birth. The crest is a stag's head and horns. It is a curious circumstance that the last Lord Seaforth's life should have been endangered in the same manner as that in which the first of the family saved the King's. Lord Seaforth was attacked by a hart in the parks of Brahan Castle; but, being a powerful man, and possessed of great strength of arm, he closed on the animal, and, seizing him by the horns, pressed his breast against the deer's forehead. A long and desperate struggle ensued, till he was relieved by a game-keeper, who was attracted to the spot by the bellowing of the hart. His Lordship was bruised; but not materially injured. The late Mr West painted the rescue of King Alexander. The figures are portraits, in full size, of persons on the Seaforth estate, his Lordship being one of the number. Mr West told me, the last time I saw him, that he considered this painting the best of his earlier pieces.] After being reviewed at Elgin, they marched southward for embarkation.

Of this number, 500 men were from Lord Seaforth's own estate, and about 400 from the estates of the Mackenzies of Scatwell, Kilcoy, Applecross, and Redcastle, all of whom had sons or brothers in the regiment. The officers from the Lowlands brought upwards of 200 men, of which 43 were English and Irish.

The clan of Macrea had long been faithful followers of the Seaforth family, and, on this occasion, the name was so general in the regiment, that it was known more by the name of the Macreas than by any other. So much was this the case, that a memorable, but too common occurrence in Highland corps, which took place in Edinburgh, is still called in Scotland "The affair of the Macreas." This unfortunate misunderstanding proves the absolute necessity of preserving the utmost fidelity in transactions, or engagements, with soldiers. Independently of the dishonour that attaches to all breaches of promise, it is quite evident that the evils of the example are great and manifold, and that, according all the known principles of human nature, fidelity cannot be expected from those who believe themselves to have been deceived.

In the month of June the corps was inspected by General Skene, and embodied under the denomination of Seaforth's Highlanders, or the 78th regiment. The whole were found so effective, that not one man was rejected. There being several supernumeraries, they were formed into a recruiting company, a measure the more necessary, as the corps was ordered for the East Indies, which destination was much more fatal to troops at that time than now, when the voyage is shortened by less than one-half, the quality of the provisions much improved, and the accommodation allowed, in ships employed as transports, greatly enlarged.

In the month of August the regiment marched to Leith for embarkation ; but on its arrival there the men began to show symptoms of dissatisfaction. The transactions that took place on this occasion I have noticed in another place. [See Appendix - Mutinies of the Highland Regiments.] It is sufficient here to remark, that, after full attention was paid to their claims, the men embarked with much cheerfulness, and with a more complete re-establishment of their confidence, as their Colonel, the Earl of Seaforth, was to accompany them on service.

The intention of sending them to India having been postponed, they landed in Guernsey and Jersey in equal divisions, whence, at the end of March, they were removed to Portsmouth, where, on the 1st of May 1781, they embarked for the East Indies, amounting to 1110 rank and file, all in high health, and well disciplined. But however hardy their constitutions, and however capable of active exertions on land, they did not withstand the diseases incident to a voyage of eleven months, in bad transports, and living on food so different from that to which they had been accustomed. Lord Seaforth died, suddenly, before they reached St Helena, to the great grief and dismay of his poor Highlanders, who looked up to him as their main sup-port. The loss of their Chief [The sudden and unexpected death of this spirited nobleman made a deep impression on the minds of his faithful followers, who knew that it was on their account alone he had determined to forego the comforts of a splendid fortune and high rank to encounter the privations and inconveniences of a long voyage, in a Newcastle collier fitted up as a transport, and the dangers and fatigues of service in a tropical climate. He was succeeded in his estate, and in the command of the regiment, by his cousin, Colonel Humberstone Mackenzie, of the 100th; on whose death, in 1783, his brother, Francis Humberstone Mackenzie, the late Lord Seaforth, succeeded to the family estate.] was naturally associated in their thoughts with the recollections of home, with melancholy remembrances of their absent kindred, and with fore-bodings of their own future destiny; and so strong was this. feeling, that it was believed to have materially contributed to that prostration of mind, which made them succumb: more easily to the effects of disease.

Before they reached Madras, on the 2d of April 1782, 2S0 men had died of the scurvy; and out of 1100 who had sailed from Portsmouth, only 390 men were fit to carry arms when they were landed. The pressure of the service not admitting of delay, those who were able to march were moved up the country under the command of Major James Stuart, and joined the army under Sir Eyre Coote, in the be- ginning of May, at Chingleput. Many still being weak from the effects of the scurvy, and more liable to be affected by the heat on account of the impure state of their blood occasioned by the salt provisions, on which they had so long subsisted, they suffered extremely on this march. "This regiment was composed of men sinewy and robust, which rendered them much more susceptible of the sun's violence than those of more slender habits." [Colonel Munro's India.]

General Coote found them so unfit for active service, that he ordered the corps into quarters, leaving the few who were healthy attached to the 73 or Macleod's Highlanders, the only European corps then with the army. In the month of October the health of the 78th was so much established, that upwards of 600 men were fit for duty, and ever afterwards they preserved their health and efficiency in a remarkable manner. The colours, which had been laid up, were again unfolded; and, in April 1783, the regiment joined the army under Major-General James Stuart for the attack of Cuddalore, as has already been noticed in Lord Macleod's Highlanders. [As there were two officers of the same name on this service, it may be mentioned, that Major-General James Stuart was of the family of Torrance, and brother of Andrew Stuart, the author of the celebrated Letters to Lord Mansfield. Colonel James Stuart was of the family of Blairhall, and died a Lieutenant-General, and Colonel of the corps he had so long commanded.] This army consisted of the 73d and 78th Highlanders, and the 101st regiment, with a considerable body of Native troops, and was subsequently reinforced by a detachment of Hanoverians under Colonel Wagenheim. On the 6th of June, the army took up a position on sandy ground two miles distant from the garrison, with its right on the sea, and the left resting on the Bandipollum hills, having a second line in reserve in the rear. The enemy, commanded by Monsieur Bussy, assumed an intermediate position, nearly parallel, and half a mile in front of the fort. On the 13th of June a general attack was made on the enemy's position in front of the garrison. After a severe conflict, which lasted from four o'clock in the morning till near five in the evening, the enemy were driven from their principal defences, on their right; when a cessation of firing took place as if by mutual consent. It was the intention of General Stuart to renew the attack next morning, but the enemy retired within the garrison in the course of the night. In this affair, the 78th lost Captain George Mackenzie, and 23 rank and file, killed; and 3 sergeants, and 44 rank and file, wounded.

On the 25th of June, the enemy made a sally on the British lines, but were repulsed at every point, losing 150 men in killed and prisoners, including, among the latter, the Chevalier de Dumas, who is said to have been inconsolable because he was not wounded; probably wishing to found upon that circumstance a good excuse for his capture. [Among the wounded French prisoners was a young sergeant, whose ap-pearance and manners attracted the notice of Colonel Wagenheim, who took him to his tent, and treated him with much kindness, till he recovered, and was released. Many years afterwards, when the French army, under General Ber-nadotte, entered Hanover, General Wagenheim attended his levee. He was immediately accosted by Bernadotte, who asked him if he recollected a wound-ed French sergeant to whom he showed kind attention at Cuddalore. After some recollection, the General answered, that he did remember a very fine] young man of that description, but he had lost all sight of him, and would now be happy to hear of his welfare. " That young sergeant," said Bernadotte, "was the person who has now the honour to address you, and who is happy of this public opportunity of acknowledging, and will omit no means within his power of testifying, his gratitude to General Wagenheim."]

Hostilities now ceased with France, but continued against Tippoo. Colonel Fullarton, who had marched to strength-en the army before Cuddalore, was ordered again to the southward, being reinforced by Seaforth's, and the 101st regiment, with some additional battalions of Native troops; the whole forming an united force of more than 13,000 men. Colonel Fullarton was occupied with this army for some months in keeping down some refractory chiefs, and, in October, he moved on Palacatcherry, seizing, without difficulty, on some intermediate forts. It will be seen, in the proceedings of the second battalion of the 42d, in the year 1782, that Colonel Humberstone Mackenzie had made an attempt on this place, but was induced to desist. The ar-my encountered much fatigue on their march, during which, a detachment of Grenadiers and Eight infantry, under the Honourable Captain (afterwards General Sir Thomas) Mait-land, was extremely useful, by acting on the flanks, and pre-serving a communication through thick woods and a broken country. Early in November they reached the place, which was immediately besieged with such judgment and spirit, that the enemy surrendered on the 15th; an event accelerated by a gallant dash of Captain Maitland and his flank corps, who, taking advantage of a shower of rain, from which the enemy had taken shelter, advanced unperceived by them, and quickly overpowered and drove them through the first gateway, which they left open; but the second being shut, Captain Maitland's farther advance was checked. However, with the same spirit with which he had ac-nuired this post, he defended it till he was reinforced, upon which, the enemy became so much alarmed, that they immediately surrendered a garrison capable of a long defence under more resolute troops. Leaving a small garrison in the place, Colonel Fullarton marched back to Ttinchinopoly and Coimbatore.

In the course of this year the regiment was again unfortunate in the loss of Colonel Humberstone Mackenzie, who died of wounds received in an action at sea, on the passage from Bombay. [Colonels Macleod and Humberstone had gone to Bombay, and, on their return in the Ranger sloop, accompanied by Major Shaw, on the 7th of April 1783, they fell in with a Mahratta fleet off Geriale. In a vain attempt to resist so superior a force, the Ranger was taken, and almost every man on board either killed or wounded. Major Shaw was killed, and Colonel Humberstone so severely wounded, that he died a few days afterwards, in his twenty-eighth year, "universally lamented as a young man of superior accomplishments, and great promise in his profession." Colonel Humberstone was succeeded in the command of the regiment by Major-General James Murray, from the half-pay of the 77th regiment.]

In consequence of the peace, the 91st, 100th, and 102d regiments, were ordered home for reduction, in 1784; such of the men as chose to remain in the country were to receive a bounty of ten guineas. Seaforth's regiment having been raised on the condition of serving for three years, or during the war, those of the men who stood to this agreement, were allowed to embark for England, while those who preferred staying in the country received the same bounty as other volunteers. The number of men who claimed their discharge reduced the regiment to 800 men, but so many Highlanders volunteered of those who had enlisted with Colonel Humberstone Mackenzie, in the 100th, and the other regiments ordered home, that the strength of the corps was immediately augmented to 800 men; and, in 1785, a detachment of 200 recruits, from the North, joined the regiment.

The following year the number was changed to the 72d, in consequence of the reduction of the senior regiments. Success continued to attend the recruiting service of this respectable corps. Another considerable detachment of recruits joined in 1789; so that, in the year 1790, when war commenced with Tippoo, the 72d, still under the command of Colonel Stuart, was upwards of 1000 strong, the men being healthy, seasoned to the climate, well disciplined, and highly respectable in their moral conduct. In this state they formed part of the army under Major-General Meadows, in July 1790. Their first service was under Colonel Stuart, with other troops, ordered to attack Palacatcherry, which, in the preceding war, had been the scene of success and disappointment to a corps now destined to sustain a second disappointment. The detachment being overtaken by the rains, which fell in almost unprecedented abundance, Colonel Stuart got so entangled among the mountain streams, that, for a short period, he could neither proceed nor retire:—when the waters abated he returned to head-quarters.

After a short rest, the same officer, with the same troops under his command, was again detached against Dindegul, before which place he arrived on the 16th of August. This is one of those insulated granite rocks, so common in that part of India. The fort on the summit had been lately repaired, and mounted with fourteen guns, the precipice allowing only of one point of ascent. The means of attack, both in guns and ammunition, were very deficient. However, a small breach was made on the 20th, and Colonel Stuart, judging that more loss would be sustained by delay than by an immediate attack, resolved to attempt an assault, small as the breach was; as, besides other difficulties, he was short of ammunition. Accordingly, on the evening of the 21st, the attempt was made. The defences were unusually complete, and the resistance more firm then had been experienced on any former occasion. Every man who reached the summit of the breach was met and forced down by triple rows of pikes from the interior of the rampart. After a bold, but fruitless effort, they were repulsed with considerable loss. But the enemy were so intimidated, and dreaded so much the consequences of a second, and, perhaps, successful attempt, that they surrendered next morning; ignorant of the want of ammunition, the real cause of the premature attack.

From this service Colonel Stuart was again directed to proceed against Palacatcherry, the season being now more favourable than on the former occasion. The fortifications of this place had been much strengthened since its capture by Colonel Fullarton in 1783, and the guns and ordnance stores necessary for the attack were, therefore, on a more extended scale. On the 21st of September, two batteries were opened within 500 yards of the place, and, the same day, a practicable breach was made. Every preparation was completed in the course of the night for an assault the following morning, but before day-light the enemy demand-ed terms of capitulation, which were granted, and the usual protection to prisoners and private property promised and secured. Colonel Stuart, having left the place well provisioned and in a respectable state of defence, marched back, and, on the 15th of October, joined the army in the neighbourhood of Coimbatore. From this period Colonel Stuart, with his regiment, followed all the movements of the army, till the 29th of January 1791, when Lord Cornwallis arrived and assumed the chief command.

In the preceding service and marches, the casualties of the regiment were few. The subsequent operations of the 72d were, along with the 71st, in the second attack of Bangalore, the first attack of Scringapatam, and the attack on Sundidroog and Ootradroog, the fall of the last of which places was accelerated by the promptitude of Captain John M'Innes of the 72d, who, being ordered out with a small party to reconnoitre, and observing a favourable opportunity, turned this duty into an assault, scaled the walls, and carried the place without loss.

In the same manner the service of the regiment is connected with that of the 71st and 75th, in the second attack on Seringapatarn, and afterwards down to the conclusion of the war with the Sultan. While this corps, when on service, was under the command of so respectable and judicious an officer as Colonel Stuart, the Colonel at home was equally unremitting in his exertions to promote the welfare of his regiment, and attentive to the promotion of his officers, and the supply of good and efficient men to support the character of the regiment. From 1783 downwards, they received a full compliment of excellent recruits from Scotland. General Murray had established a party at Perth, whose success was such, that one sergeant enlisted 273 men. This affords a proof of what may be done, under proper encouragement, and when men qualified for the duty are employed. When a man of address and knowledge of human nature meets with proper encouragement, recruiting has seldom failed in the North.

In the year 1793, the regiment was employed on the expedition against Pondicherry, and, in 1795, formed part of the force under their old commander Colonel, now Major-General James Stuart, in the capture of Ceylon. This was the last service of the regiment in the East at that period. In 1797, they were removed from Ceylon to Pondicherry, when orders were received, in December, to draft the regiment, then 800 strong, into the corps on that station, and for the officers, non-commissioned officers, and invalids, unfit for service, to embark for England. This was one of the last instances in the East Indies of enforcing, as that of the 42d and 79th Highlanders in the West Indies was the first instance of relaxing the system of drafting and transferring soldiers without their consent—a system which deprived men of nearly all hopes of ever revisiting their native land, and every good soldier of the great incitement to regular conduct. The suppression of this unfeeling practice encourages him to preserve regular habits, and to be careful of his constitution, as he has now a prospect of revisiting his native country, of enjoying the reward of his service, and that his good character will meet with the approbation of his friends and countrymen.

The skeleton of the regiment embarked at Madras in January 1798, and, after a short passage, landed at Gravesend. From thence they were ordered to Perth, where they arrived in August, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Fraser, who had gone out the third eldest Captain, and remained constantly with the regiment. Soon after they reached Perth, Major-General James Stuart, who had so long commanded them in India, was appointed Colonel in room of General Williamson, who had succeeded General Murray in 1794.

During two years that the regiment was quartered in Perth, recruiting was not successful. Whether it was that the emaciated appearance of the few permitted to return home, did not hold out much encouragement to the young men,—or the observation, that none of the great number of men who had left Perth to join the regiment returned with it,—or the great drain of men from the Highlands at this period; from one or other of these causes, or probably from all combined, the corps did not recruit 200 men in three years. However, when removed to Ireland in 1802, the ranks were filled up to 900 with young men from the Scotch Fencible regiments, then reduced. This opportunity was eagerly embraced by Colonel Macfarlane, who succeeded to the command by the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Fraser. He was now at the head of an efficient body of young men, which formed a "fine regiment, possessing as pure and true a spirit as any corps. One-fourth of the men and officers were English and Irish, and three-forths Scotch Highlanders; and, singular as it may seem, the former were as fond of the kilt and pipes as the latter, and many of them enter-ed completely into the spirit of the national feeling." And, "in all the solid essential qualities which form the character of the British soldier, they were perfect."

This regiment formed a part of the expedition, under Sir David Baird, against the Cape of Good Hope, on which occasion they maintained the long established character of the corps. The loss by the enemy was trifling, being 2 privates killed, and Lieutenant-Colonel Colquhoun Grant, Lieutenant Alexander Chisholm, 2 sergeants, and 34 privates, wounded.

Agreeably to the general orders of 1809, the designation of Highland, and the ancient garb, were altered along with the other corps, and the uniform was the same as that of the line till the year 1823, when the corps received a new designation of "The Duke of Albany's Highlanders," and reassumed the plaid and bonnet, but with tartan trews instead of the kilt or belted plaid.

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