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

Fencible Regiments


Government having determined to raise Fencible regiments on a more extended scale of service than those embodied in 1793, Major Baillie of Dunean received Letters of Service to raise a Fencible corps of 600 men, with the privilege of appointing one field officer with permanent rank in the army.

The service of the men was to extend to England, Ireland, and the British Isles. Major Gordon Gumming of Pitlurg was appointed to the permanent step of lieutenant-colonel. The Letters of Service were dated the 21st of November 1794, but the corps was not completed till October 1795, when the whole was embodied at Inverness, under the name of the Loyal Inverness Fencible Highlanders. Though the uniform was the full Highland garb, there were not more than 350 Highlanders in the regiment. A considerable proportion of the men was from the Lowlands of Aberdeenshire; a few from the South Lowlands; and some from England; with about forty Welshmen, who appeared more partial to the plaid than some of the Highlanders. To the Lowlanders of Aberdeen, as well as Perthshire, it was more objectionable than to either the English or Irish. When dislikes and jealousies subsist between neighbouring countries or districts, the nearer they are, the more bitter their animosities. The Spaniards and Portuguese hate one another more cordially than they do any other people on earth. Not seventy years ago, antipathies of this nature were very prevalent among this now united people of the Lowland and Highland borders of Angus, Perth, and Stirling; nor was there a town in Scotland where prejudices ran stronger against the Mountaineers than in Perth. Any anecdote favourable to character or conduct was received with a kind of credulous contempt, or ascribed to that species of virtue sometimes seen among savages. In no town in England, or in any other country wholly strangers, could they be more ridiculed for their poverty, their dress, and all their real or supposed characteristics of ferocity, ignorance, indolence, and superstition, than by the people of that city, in the daily view of the Grampians, and in constant communication with the inhabitants. I know not if it was any remnant of this feeling that made some of the Lowlanders assume the garb with some degree of sulky dislike, while the young men of Wales wore it with great cheerfulness, and seemed to be quite pleased with their own appearance when they put it on.

Immediately after the final inspection, the corps was ordered for Ireland, without waiting for clothing or arms, which were delivered to them at Glasgow, as they marched through to embark. Kilkenny was their first quarters in Ireland; but, in the course of a few years, they traversed the greatest part of that country. Colonel Baillie died in 1797, and Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon Cumming was appointed Colonel. [Colonel Gordon offered to raise a regiment at the same time as Colonel Baillie, but lest their recruiting should interfere with each other, they united, and formed one corps.]

The recital of the intestine commotions of distant ages, with their characteristic incidents, and the chivalrous fidelity of each party to the cause in which it had embarked, seldom fails to command fixed attention, and to inspire a deep interest. Their remoteness softens down the more unpleasant sensations ready to be awakened at the idea of the mi-sery of a country in such a state, where perhaps brother was arrayed against brother, and friend against friend: And when we read of the battles between the houses of York and Lancaster, of the feuds between the Borderers of England and Scotland, of those of the Clans, and of the chivalrous exploits of Montrose and others, in the different intestine commotions and feuds down to that of 1745; the interest with which the imagination views the heroism displayed, outweighs the painful consideration of individual suffering, and mitigates the regret, that talents and courage, which ought only to be exerted against an enemy, and in support of the honour, liberty, and independence of the country, should be wasted by intestine conflict.

The Rebellion in Ireland is too recent to be read with any feeling but that of regret; nor does the recital of the battles in America, however successful, cause any very agreeable emotions. But on those occasions when the Americans behaved with more than usual bravery, it affords a satisfaction to perceive, that the descendants of our forefathers retain a part of their ancient character, although transplanted to a distant region. The well known anecdote of James II. at the battle of La Hogue, shows that, however blinded by religious bigotry, he felt strongly for the honour of his country's arms; and although so much depended on the success of that battle, and in overpowering or scattering the English fleet; yet, when he was informed that one of the English line of battle had fled, he exclaimed, in a rage, that it was false, as an English man of war never ran away.

The Inverness-shire Fencibles were actively employed during the Rebellion, and on every occasion behaved with spirit. But, actuated by the considerations I have just noticed, and from the unpleasant feelings which many of the events of the late unhappy insurrection creates, with so few circumstances to relieve them, I wish to abstain from all the details of the particular duties of the different corps employed on that occasion; and following the same rule in this instance, I shall only add, that, when placed in what was called free quarters, as in an enemy's country, the soldiers composing this corps conducted themselves throughout with great and conciliating moderation towards the misguided and unfortunate inhabitants.

After the suppression of the Rebellion, in compliment to their good behaviour, the designation of the corps was changed to "the Duke of York's Royal Inverness-shire Highlanders." The establishment was increased, and blue facings were substituted for the former, which were yellow. In 1801, the whole regiment made a voluntary offer of their service for any part of the world. This spirited offer of the corps is highly creditable to the discipline of Colonel Gordon and his officers. Thus ready for the service of their country will British soldiers always be found when they are properly treated, when their feelings are consulted, and when the nature of their duty, and what may be expected of them, are fully explained. In cases where this spirit has failed in producing the proper effect, the fault has generally, if not always, consisted in the want of address, of proper management, and of proper attention to the soldiers on the part of those who had the immediate command, or who had been specially intrusted with such orders and instructions. In those instances of failure, or apparent want of spirit in corps, which I have had occasion to notice, (in the course of my attempt to give an account of the conduct, character, and service of Highland regiments), it invariably proceeded from a want of previous explanation, and a consequent misapprehension on the part of the soldiers, or the misrepresentations of malicious and designing men. As I will more fully explain afterwards;, no improper spirit would have been displayed by the detachments of the 42d and 71st regiments, or by the Athole Highlanders, Grant Fencibles, &c. had it not been for these causes; and as they are so easily avoided, and as a proper British spirit may be easily preserved among our regiments, these circumstances have been more frequently alluded to, as a warning not unworthy the attention of those who may henceforth be intrusted with the command of a spirited, generous soldiery, emulous of glory, and jealous of the character of their native country.

This voluntary offer of the Inverness-shire Fencibles, on which the preceding reflections are founded, could not be accepted, as the speedy termination of the war put an end to all active operations, and the regiment had no opportunity of showing how far their regular and approved conduct in quarters could be confirmed by their courage, and success in the field.

In 1802, the regiment was removed from Ireland, and reduced at Stirling in the month of March.

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