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

Fencible Regiments


In pursuance of the resolution to raise Fencible corps whose service was to extend over the whole of the British Isles, Colonel Campbell of Stonefield received permission to raise a regiment, to be called the Dumbarton Fencibles, of which he was to be appointed colonel. The orders were dated the 11th of October 1794, and in summer 1795 the regiment was inspected by Major-General Sir James Stewart, and reported complete.

The regiment was immediately removed to Guernsey, and, in 1796, was reduced to 500 men—orders being issued to discharge all above that number. In consequence of this measure the regiment was benefited by the dismissal of some indifferent characters recruited in Glasgow and other adjacent towns; so that, although reduced in numbers, it gained in character. It was now an efficient body of men, and in 1797 was removed to Ireland. At this period Lieutenant-Colonel Maclaine of Lochbuy was removed to the Argyle Fencibles, and Lieutenant-Colonel Scott, an officer of much experience, succeeded him.

During the Irish rebellion, this corps was actively occupied ; and, after this unpleasant service, was employed as a Light infantry corps in the mountains, under Sir John Moore, who kept it constantly near his person. It was a gratifying compliment to a young corps to be thus noticed by so correct a judge of military merit, under whom they might expect to be kept in constant activity while action was necessary, and their military experience and habits improved both by precept and example. By the recommendation of General Moore, a detachment of the regiment was ordered as a guard to 400 rebel prisoners sent to Prussia, with directions that "the detachment should consist entirely of Highland-ers, as the service required confidential, trust-worthy men." [For a similar reason, a party of this regiment, under Captain Alexander Graham, then quartered in Dublin, was chosen to accompany the Magistrates when Lord Edward Fitzgerald was apprehended.] After the party had performed this duty, and delivered their prisoners, instead of being landed at Leith, as originally directed, they were sent to Deal, on their return from the Continent, and disembarked in Kent, without either money or necessaries. In this state they marched to Holyhead, and crossed over to Ireland, the officer commanding drawing subsistence at the different military stations as he marched along. He joined his regiment with his party complete, and without a complaint against any individual during this long march.

The regiment remained in Ireland till 1802, when they crossed over to Scotland, and were reduced. In testimony of the character of this regiment, I give the opinion of a respectable officer and good judge, the late Colonel Scott of Horseleyhill. "In my long service, I knew not more sober trust-worthy soldiers than those of the Dumbarton regiment, and if at any time any unpleasant circumstance occurred, the men enlisted in the country were exempted."

Thus every concurring testimony, the experience of every officer of observation, and the unerring evidence of time and of innumerable examples in our army, tend to prove that it is to the agricultural population we must look for the best soldiers, and best defenders of the country. They will not only fight with courage in the field, but will raise and preserve the National character by their conduct in quarters, and in no small degree contribute to the safety of the State; for no State is more safe or free from foreign invasion, or in less danger of attack, than when rival or neighbouring nations look on her soldiers with a respect not unmixed with fear. Encroachments and all causes of offence will be avoided and guarded against; and our garrisons may be less numerous, and less expensive, and our military establishments reduced. Such could not be the case, if our troops were of dissolute habits, and of courage as unsteady as their principles. Thus, by employing a proper description of men, the character of the nation is maintained with honour, its defence is supported at less expense, and a smaller number of men will be drawn from the productive labour of the country. It has often happened that our colonial conquests have been retaken, owing to the sickness, mortality, and disorganized discipline of those left to defend them, originating in a great measure from intemperance and immoral habits. The cheapness of spirituous liquors in the colonies admitting of an intemperate use of them, dissipation has frequently occasioned mortal diseases, aggravated by the deleterious nature of the spirits, (being generally, hot, fiery, and fresh from the still, as these are the cheapest and readiest to be obtained), to such an extent as not only to weaken the garrison by sickness and death, but to inspire with hope an enemy incapable of resisting our attacks while temperance and discipline were preserved. After the conquest of Guadaloupe in 1794, General Thomas Dundas was left in the command of the island. His talents, zeal, and animated example, preserved order and discipline in his garrison; but when he died, disorganization followed, and the inhabitants who had been friendly, and invited Sir Charles Grey to make a descent on the island, were now irritated by the conduct of the troops. They rose, and with the assistance of Victor Hugues, and a small body of men arrived from France, attacked and defeated the troops in detail, and retook the colony.

[The enemy were fully sensible of the talents of General Dundas, of which they saw proof in the spirit with which he made his attacks when the island was taken; but, instead of respecting, like a generous liberal enemy, the memory of a gallant soldier, they showed so different a feeling, that, with the revengeful and savage ferocity of the revolutionary and republican school, they disinterred his body when they got possession of the island, and, after burning it publicly) scattered the ashes in the air; thus paying a greater compliment to this brave and chivalrous soldier, whom the grave could not shelter from their revenge, than if they had raised a monument of brass to prove, that he " was wise, yet unassuming,—brave, mild, and generous. " (Mr Secretary Dundas's Speech, 5th June 1795, on a motion to erect a monument to General Dundas in St Paul's.)

When Guadaloupe was taken by General Beckwith and Admiral Cochrane in 1810, I commanded a brigade of Light infantry, and being anxious to show a mark of respect to an officer whom military men might take as their model, and under whom I served early in the war in Flanders, 1 proposed a subscription among the officers, who united in similar sentiments, to erect a monument to his memory. A sufficient sum was quickly obtained, the General and Admiral warmly joining in this tribute, and an elegant marble monument, executed by an eminent artist in London, was sent out; but as the cession of Guadaloupe at the peace was contemplated, the monument was put up in Trinidad, a colony permanently established as a part of the British dominions.]

Unfortunately, such instances are not singular.

To such an excess was drunkenness carried in the garrison of Gibraltar, before the government of the Duke of Kent, (by whose exertions that vice was greatly checked), that it greatly diminished, if not destroyed, the high respect the Spaniards formerly entertained for the British troops; and it was not till after the experience of more than one campaign under the Duke of Wellington, that the conduct of the army restored the confidence of that jealous nation. That the character of British troops should be lowered in the esteem of the world by the prevalence of a vice which may be said to be the root and principal cause of immorality, crime, and unmilitary conduct, whenever such has happened in our army, is a subject of deep importance, and greatly to be deplored. When temperance prevails among the troops, the men are orderly, quiet, and exemplary; crimes, misdemeanours, and unmilitary conduct, rarely occur; and, as the vice generally originates, and is encouraged by a comparatively small proportion, it is certainly an object of vital importance to prevent as much as possible the introduction into our military ranks of such men as not only vitiate the principles, but, by their example, promote such habits as destroy the health and constitution of our troops. On a reference to the conduct and habits of the Highland regiments included in the preceding notices of military Service, it will be found, that, without an exception, their original habits were so temperate, and free from any tendency to excess in the use of liquor, or otherwise, as to attract general observation ; that this sobriety withstood many years of example and temptation; that many corps, whose career of service was short, never changed to the last; and that others preserved the same line of conduct till the introduction of men of different characters, the force of example, and the influence of climate, caused a relaxation, It was not till after many years' service in India that climate so changed the habits of the 78th regiment, that directions to drink their own allowance of spirits, and not to dispose of it to other soldiers, or to the inhabitants, was no longer necessary.

The same moderation in the use of liquor prevailed in the 42d during the American War, when their allowance was served out twice a week; whereas to the other troops it was done daily, with an officer present to direct the proper delivery and proper use of it; and it was not till the recruits from Chatham, and the draft from the 21st and 26lh regiments, were received, that any change took place. Therefore, as there can be but one opinion as to the propriety of preserving temperance among our troops, it is certainly of high importance that so desirable an object should be accomplished. In the Highlands many of the people are deplorably vitiated by smuggling, and the operations of the Excise laws, with their train of false swearing, hatred, jealousy, and revenge against informers; by fradulent habits, bad payments, lying and deception, forced upon them, as they say, by these laws; by the demands of landlords; and by the new customs and manners now getting into fashion. Yet, notwithstanding these appalling appearances, and the approach of a new order of things, ("the encouraging and reviving pro-sped of Highland civilization," as the changes are termed by some reporters of the state of religion and moral improvements in the North), the evil may be checked, and pure religion, morality, and fair dealing between man and man, may yet be preserved, if a warning be taken from the fearful state of Ireland, where, as in the Highlands, politics form no part of the complaints of the people. The example of the peasantry of Ireland shows, in too strong colours, that no increase of revenue to the Government, no increase of rent to the landlord, can be equivalents for the disaffection, demoralization, and despair of subjects and tenants, who contemplate relief only from the destruction of those who, they think, cause their distress. It is a calculation worthy of notice, what proportion of high revenue or high rents is lost, or how much they are lessened in their value, when collected, as in Ireland, under the protection of the bayonet, and when tenants cannot take new farms without the risk of being shot at their own doors. The Highlanders are yet far from this state; but the approach, however distant, should be guarded against. We have still much honourable principle and moral feeling. These may be destroyed, but they may also be preserved ; so that, when a regiment is raised in the Highlands, a party of them may be selected for important duties, (as in the case of the Dumbartonshire), because "the nature of the service requires confidential, trustworthy men."

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