Thursday, 17 October 2013

MacKenzies Coat Of Mail.



A rewrite of an earlier post.

Another one from my hobby of Scots history

The Mutiny Of the 78th Seaforth Highlanders.
Edinburgh, North Britain, September 1778.

Thirty five years after the mutiny of the Black Watch , a Highland regiment once again felt it necessary to take up arms to prevent itself being treated dishonourably. Since Samuel Macpherson, Malcom Macpherson and Farquhar Shaw were shot in front of  the 300 tearful men of The Black Watch who were made to witness the execution of their three comrades in the Tower Of London, much had changed in their distant glens.

The final Jacobite attempt to reinstate a Stewart to the throne of Britain had ended strewn across the field in front of redcoat lines on Culloden Moor on a sleet cold April morning, signalling the start of the final chapter for the old clan-based way of life. This age old system, which had been decaying for generations as the power and influence of the south had turned clan chiefs heads and purses to focus on things other than their people had its head chopped off on Culloden moor, although the body would not realise for many years. The rebelling clans, and they were the minority, were torn from their loyal disloyalty by way of musket, bayonet and rope, by transportation and execution, imprisonment and exile of their chiefs, the robbing of homes, burning of glens, the carrying off of cattle and by the harrying of their homeless men, women and children.

After Culloden even those clans loyal to the crown found that their chiefs too were relieved by law of that ancient authority of legal rule - the medieval right to control by pit and gallows - and the power to independently raise men in times of war or neighbourly conflict - and many chiefs now quickly considered themselves free of any inherent responsibility to their people in return for that feudal homage. Needs would force them even more to look to the south and the example of lowland gentlemen or English squire.

Vestiges of the past remained, in the loyalty of the people and their lack of recognition of changing times. The clan chiefs now regarded their tenants as commodities to be charged rents instead of feudal warriors, to be cajoled and coerced with threats of lost tenancy or appeals to ancient loyalty to provide manpower for regiments to be used in service of the crown. A visible and protective example if one was needed, of the loyalty of the clan chief and his potential importance and usefulness to the King in London.

The disarming act had forbidden the highlander to bear or own weapons and;

'from and after the 1st August 1747 no man or boy in Scotland shal on any pretence whatsoever wear or put on the cloaths commonly called highland cloaths other than shal be employed as officers or soldiers in the Kings army'

For a first offence there was a prison term of 6 months, a second meant transportation for 7 years.



The Act was meant to break the aggressive spirit of the clans but it also offered a way for those young men, those likely trouble makers and high risk subjects, to be channelled, separated from much of the rebellious influences of their society, and most importantly it allowed them to be controlled, reducing threat of further rebellion. It had a secondary facet in that it also in some ways held those men in ransom for the good behaviour of those left behind. This chance to wear the tartans of their heritage and to bear arms as their fathers and grandfathers had done, even if in the service of an English King had made it easy to recruit ten regular regiments from the highlands in the years following 1745. Once mustered these regiments were quickly sent away overseas. A lesson learned from Ladywood and the Black Watch in no small part perhaps.

The use that might be made of these sons of highlanders who had charged so successfully at Prestonpans or Falkirk and so disastrously at Culloden wasn't lost on the hierarchy of the British army. Where else would courage be so usefully used and losses be so little regretted. General Wolfe, one of the heroes of that army, who had faced the charge at Culloden and would later find immortality on the Heights of Abraham said of the highland soldiers who would help him become the English legend that he is,

'They are hardy, intrepid and accustomed to rough country and no great mischief if they fall. How can you better employ a secret enemy than by making his end conducive to the common good'


In fairness to general Wolfe, he is also known for his refusal in the killing time at the end of the battle on the moor of Culloden  , to pistol an injured highlander. {An act of humanity perhaps, but no biographer I know of has thought to record his reaction on the order then being given to another who had no such qualms. But perhaps I judge him harshly. I am partisan and not a fan.}

So started the illustrious history and enforced tradition of Scots service in the British army and the imperial blueprint for subjugating far off lands. It was a lesson well learned. Scotland since those days has consistently contributed higher levels of its population to the forces than any other part of the realm. By the time of the American Wars less than ten percent of the national population was supplying more than twenty percent of its standing forces..

While by the time of the American Wars, the highlands had given many sons to the army, those left behind were feeling the combined effects of a changing world and economy. When it became known that the government again proposed to raise regiments from among the clans, chiefs and tacksmen {absent chiefs representatives} were eager to curry favour by supplying this need, especially as each man supplied would provide a bounty from the government for his service.

Simon Fraser of Lovat {an ex Jacobite who's father had been executed at Tower Hill and who had himself fought for Charlie at Culloden}  raised 2300 men for two battalions of the new 71st regiment of foot and personally delivered them to the boats in Glasgow which would ship them on to Boston, neglecting of course to join them on board himself.  But available and willing manpower in the highlands was becoming scarce and this also meant that the fee paid by recruiters out of the recruitment bounty was raised to encourage every last drop of available manhood, and in many cases too this resulted in money over promised to recruits not being paid for their service as agreed, leaving recruits being owed significant sums of money for their enlistment. Agents recruiting would themselves also often try for the chance of preferment as an officer in the regiment and would also barter their recruits for a higher price or to a preferred regiment or for a higher seniority for themselves. All in all it was often an unsavoury and corrupt situation.

It was in this scenario that the Seaforth Highlanders were recruited.


                                                   Crest of the Seaforth Highlanders

The head of the Army in North Britain, as Scotland was now officially called, General James Oughton, advised the government that with so many men having gone from the region that it would be very difficult to recruit.

"No effectual service can arise from the Act { of recruitment} in this country"

Lord Seaforth had offered to raise 1000 men for a regiment from his lands of the MacKenzies and Macraes which stretched from the Great Glen and Easter Ross in the east to Lewis and the wilds of Kintail in the west. His family had come out for the rebellion of 1715 and paid heavily for it, and he himself had been successful in gaining reinstatement to his title from the resulting dispossession the year before. It was both a statement and a test of his loyalty to the crown.

The chief of the Macraes was promised a commission in the regiment for his son and he dutifully delivered his full quota of men for his overlord accordingly. The loyal Macraes were the hereditary bodyguards of the McKenzies senior chief and known since early times as 'McKenzies coat of mail' Both clans had been decimated at Sheriffmuir in 1715.

The London living Lord Seaforth found with some difficulty that he was able to provide 90% of his regiment from his own northern lands and the remainder was supplied from elsewhere - mainly the lowlands. As they mustered he would have been happy no doubt that McKenzies coat of mail still shone brightly. The only tarnish, and it would be a critical one, was that of the 38 officers required only 8 came from the Seaforth lands. Most officers joined from other regiments and these men, used to regular army and its harsh and - to our modern eyes - brutal discipline, also contained many with no understanding of, or indeed contempt for, highland people, old enemies and an ancient clan system which had delivered the raw material of the regiment which in their eyes needed to be licked into shape.



The thinking of the day dictated that a soldier should be in fear of his officers to ensure his obedience at all times. The main method of enforcing discipline was the lash. Strapped to an A frame, the subject would be whipped on the bare back by teams of muscular drummers, in front of the regiment, in numbers counted slowly in tens, scores, hundreds or thousands depending on the offence. It could literally be a deadly affair. While English soldiers were conditioned to this treatment and often either bore it stoically or in some cases with perverse pride, this was not the case with highlanders. The thought of it horrified them as an inhumanity and an overwhelming affront to their dignity. The lash flayed their self respect as much as the flesh on their backs. Highland regiments were therefore by nature of duty and honour and by fear of humiliation, normally very docile and compliant to command. There were other disciplinary methods of course, a man could be put in the pit for two days on limited rations for a first offence of being late for parade increasing to a week for a second offence, but even these were seen as humiliating and rarely required for highland regiments where men were conditioned from birth to respect and obey authority without compulsion.



Just as it is hard to understand the brutality of the day, its also difficult to understand the effect this treatment would have on someone who - however reluctantly - had followed tradition and the instruction of the clan chief to put on the red coat. These people were bound by duty and by honour in a way that is almost incomprehensible to us today and yet also subject to a discipline that could be applied at whim by an officer without the need for sentence of a court martial.


                                         

The men of the 78th Seaforth Highlanders would complain bitterly about the treatment they received from their officers, the frequent use of the pit and the kind of verbal and physical abuse that was common to the English soldier accustomed to the hierarchy of social structures and class system of the south. This was foreign to highlanders who could not understand the need for abuse and the requirement to receive a blow from a member of your own race or clan without being able to return it. Forbidden to swear or curse, an ordinary soldier was faced by officers who thought that this was the normal way to command and subjected soldiers to constant harangue and pushing, prodding and petty beatings; anything from a slap in the face to a cane across the back.

By the time Lord Seaforth had joined his regiment on the long march south to Edinburgh and its castle he was aware of the growing discontent in the men at the harsh discipline, poor treatment and long overdue arrears of pay. However, he did nothing constructive to address these complaints. He did urge General Oughton that the regiment be sent on as soon as possible, but by the time the regiment was in place at the top of the Royal Mile the east coast was being targeted by that rebellious American brigand John Paul Jones and his crew and the seas needed to be made safe before the transports could arrive. The regiment therefore was billeted in the castle and subjected to drill parades morning and evening. The regiment had also now been told that it had been raised to go to America to deal with the ungrateful colonists who were rebelling against the proper rule of His Majesty. How they felt about going to fight against forces that would obviously contain members of their own race - and even clan - is unrecorded as far as I know, but in any case when the word came they were ordered to the Channel Isles to replace a regiment there. This appears to have been the final straw to the men who were fearful of being duped and sent to the Indies {the Caribbean, a destination incredibly feared because of its plagues} and may have seen this as both a broken promise made to encourage enlistment and a short stop on the way East instead of West. It came to a head on the morning of 22nd September when the men were assembled to march to the waiting transport that could be seen from the castle battlements at anchor off Leith.

At Edinburgh Castle, the great Lord Seaforth must have felt his duty done and his position safer that morning as he stood in all the finery of a gentleman soldier of the day, cocked hat, white breeches and cutaway coat of finest cloth, and watched his regiment be pushed and pummeled into lines by the sergeants, their halberds, red coats and polished weapons bright in the sun and plaid of their kilts moving gently in the breeze. But when the order was given to begin the march down the Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyrood through the windowed glen of high tenements and closes of the Royal Mile there was a huge commotion in the ranks. A swarm of red coats and raised voices demanded that they should not be sold to the Indies, demanding overdue pay and redress for the brutal treatment by their officers. A large group of Macraes at the heart of the disturbance ignored the call of their chiefs son to obedience and order. They screamed in fear and frustration and shook their muskets at Lord Seaforth, these same people who had died for his family over the years, moved forward from the ranks in their fury and need to confront him. In the confusion of the moment swords were drawn, muskets charged and men fixed bayonets as officers and NCO's attempted to bring order and force the men back to line. Shots were fired and the officers withdrew. Some men tried to shoot one particularly vicious officer but missed. Muskets were hastily reloaded and the ranks of the dissenters were swelled with more angry men of the regiment who had initially been caught off guard.

Soon there were literally hundreds of men angrily shouting and waving weapons.

For Lord Seaforth, humiliation. For the army, perhaps another spectre raised its head. Once more there was a rebellious highland army in Edinburgh



The men moved down castle esplanade in good order, four abreast with muskets and bayonets at the ready and behind a piper and the regimental tartan held up, banner like, between two halberds that had been wrestled from the sergeants in the struggle. Out into the mouth of the Royal Mile itself Mackenzies Shirt of Mail marched away followed closely by their sergeants and the officers. Within a short distance, the commotion began to raise attention in the local community and soon people were pouring out of the closes and peering from the windows as hundreds of armed men marched past with arms at the ready. There were shouts of encouragement to the men and abuse at the officers chasing after them and the throng grew as the men marched away down the cobbles, past the tall spire of St Giles Cathedral and the old Parliament Halls.

Back on the castle esplanade there was stunned silence and the five hundred men who remained looked on in fear and astonishment at the officers before them, their bloody faces, wigs torn off and coats torn from the struggle that had just taken place, before they were commanded to form up and under control of their officers to follow after their mutinous comrades. I don't know if Lord Seaforth and these troops actually intended to physically bring the mutineers to heel but he must have been in turmoil with open disloyalty before him and uncertain loyalty at his back as he marched after the rebels down the hill through the jeering crowds around him. He was soon to find himself faced with the men in front turned to face him in open challenge, lined across the street and with bayonet and swords to the fore in open defiance and in public before the Tron kirk.

He tried to speak to the men in front of him, approaching with open arms and a plea to return but he was shouted down, and in the thronging press was either forced to his knees or, as some said, fell to his knees to beg his men to obedience. He narrowly escaped with his life as two officers pulled him away and in the ensuing tussle several men were bayoneted or cut with swords before the mutineers turned and continued down the hill. Seaforth witnessed more defections from the ranks at his back, but initially marched his men after them but then turned his remaining troops across the North Bridge and away on down the road towards the sea, unsure of their loyalty but determined perhaps to get them to Leith and the isolating security of the waiting transport ships.



The mutineers continued down the Royal Mile, past the vanishing perimeter of the old Flodden wall and the inn still known as the 'Worlds End', followed by a mob eager to see what happened next. They halted at the Canongate Tollbooth which was the regimental guard house and demanded the release of comrades unfairly held, in their eyes, and forced their way in to release them at gun point. As they left some turned and fired a volley at that dour icon of institutional repression that can still be seen on its face today. By this time  sympathetic townsfolk - and not just the baying crowd - came forward and offered gifts of food and drink in support of those angry men wearing the red coat and green tartan.



                                                        Canongate Tolbooth, Edinburgh

By the time Lord Seaforth and his men had arrived at the links where the transports waited they found that the mutineers had outpaced them and were yet again arrayed in front between the remains of the regiment and the waiting ships, calling to their comrades not to board and become prisoners of the King. This time Seaforth did not hesitate and called his troops to attack. There was a charge and a brief and bitter struggle before again there was a bizarre breakdown of violence into groups of heated debate. Officers were seen to be arguing with the men once more, giving promises that the regiment was bound for Guernsey and nowhere else. Lord Seaforth called again on the men to have loyalty to the King, to clan Kenneth and to him, promising that outstanding money and grievances would be addressed as soon as the troops were boarded - but he was roundly denounced as a bare faced liar. An enormous crowd was now milling around with many more on the way across Constitution Street and over the links keen to see what would be the outcome. The mutineers fired volleys over their heads to keep them clear and by the time the musket smoke cleared the mutineers were on their way back to Edinburgh in the direction and defensibility of the rocky viewpoint of Arthurs Seat. With them went another two hundred of Seaforths men, having perhaps decided when faced with the reality of waiting transports that they should at last trust their fellow clansmen over anyone else.



By night-time on the 22nd of September General Oughton was faced by several hundred armed men well laid out across an easily defended position with commanding views across Edinburgh in all directions. From his official residence in the mansion of Caroline Park a couple of miles north by the edge of the river Forth he could probably see the watch fires of the mutineers studding the rocky outcrop. It must have occupied all his immediate attention although he also had a rowdy city with now no real military presence to keep the crowds under control,{ this was the duty of the army in those pre- police force days} as well as pleas from various towns for arms and ammunition to defend themselves from the threat of John Paul Jones.

Oughton is an interesting man. Apart from service in Flanders and a spell as Lieutenant Governor of Antigua, he had served all his military life in Scotland. He had fought and felt defeat at Falkirk and victory at Culloden with Wolfe but unlike him had a keen respect for the culture and the martial values of the Scottish soldier. Considered to be a soldiers soldier, he was well read, had learned to speak the Gaelic and unusually for the day - and to be understood in the harsh terms of his time - was regarded as a humanitarian. He had been Commander of His Majesties Forces in North Britain for only three or four months. He firmly believed it was right that an Englishman had authority and control over Scotland and regarded the population with a stern but compassionate eye. He may have genuinely wanted to end the affair without bloodshed - but he had also ominously once written of the rebelling Americans,

'Treating with rebels while they have a gun in their hand would demonstrate a weakness which no victory could compensate for'



He sent for troops from Glasgow and any unit within a days reach of Edinburgh to make haste as Seaforths officers made a last late night attempt at reconciling the men to their duty. Shortly the 11th dragoons, the Duke of Buccleuchs Fencibles and the Glasgow Volunteers were on their way to the capital. Oughton meanwhile was worried that the mutineers were receiving solid support from all elements of Edinburgh society and was no doubt alarmed when informed they had even been supplied with powder and ball. He could not stop it and with no force to hand could only fret on the situation for now. It would be 24 hours before help could arrive and at least 3 days before any reply from London.

By the end of the next day the dragoons were close by and Oughton had begun to talk via intermediaries to the men on the hill. The reports back were that the men believed force would be used against them and that they had been sold to the Indies. Lord Seaforth, who had been present, had again been harangued for his betrayal, his lies and his poor leadership. The men on the hill insisted that before they would come down they must have a written promise that they would not be sold to the Indies and that the grievances against their officers would be investigated and that every man should have a pardon for the actions taken.

On day 3 while troops began to position at the foot of the crag another team of negotiators attempted to persuade the men from their stubborn refusal to obey orders. This time they included men of the cloth, perhaps to persuade them that God would not be served by the spilling of blood on that windy hill. They received the same message as those the day before.

That evening Oughtons representatives again climbed the steep hill. They told the men that Oughton would meet all their demands.

It would appear that Oughton had done some investigation into the claims of the men's grievances but what he thought of them in reality is unknown. He was aware of the honour code of the highlands and the often simplistic world view that gave, but I think it is more likely that he chose not to assault the hill for mainly purely military reasons. He probably thought that any arrears could and should be paid to the men immediately and that the claims of brutality should be investigated as they were focused on two or three officers in the main , but the over riding factor must have been that in effect the country was at war and could not afford to lose so many men. While he had proven time and again that he was a capable leader and unafraid to send men into danger he must have considered how much life would be lost in the fight between the well positioned highlanders on Arthurs Seat and the other Scots regiments below. That would also have had a huge impact across all other Scots, and especially highland, regiments.

The six hundred men marched down off the hill to meet Oughton on Friday morning, piper in the lead and in proper military order. As they appeared in the throat of the valley exit a huge cheer arose from the Edinburgh crowd that had gathered which must have been hugely embarrassing for Oughton and Seaforth who waited below. On flat ground, by the side of Holyrood palace the regiment formed three sides of an open square where Major General Robert Skene read them the terms of surrender. Slowly, line by line, it was translated into the Gaelic. They would be sent to the Channel islands. They would not be sold to the Indies. Arrears would be paid and there would be a court of enquiry into the grievances of ill treatment heard immediately. Bonnets were lifted high on muskets as the men cheered Skene and Oughton. Seaforth must have been squirming in humiliation in his saddle. It was a bloodless victory for common sense and the men from the hill.

What Oughton could not tell the men of course was that he had capitulated without approval from London and that he did not have the authority to promise that the regiment would never be sent to the East at some time in the future. They were also not told that Seaforth and the officers of the regiment would fight the enquiry tooth and claw, that many in the Army believed that Oughton had acted too leniently, too out of character for a senior officer and against the best interests of ongoing discipline. Or that in many ways Amherst, commander of all the Army would agree with them.

The court of enquiry was a farce. Few men from the regiment appeared before it and the evidence they gave was loudly condemned as lies by their officers and found to be hearsay by the court. Although argument would rumble on, the case was dismissed. Those men appearing were anxious not to be considered as ringleaders of the mutiny to be singled out for future punishment perhaps by the officers, and this may be why so few of the men would testify in the cold light of the court room. The court amazingly also found that no pay was in arrears and dismissed this claim too. By the time the men found out the detail they had been boarded on the transports and ready to depart for the Channel Islands.

As a precaution before they arrived in the Channel Islands, the regiment of highlanders who were already serving there were boarded for their return to the mainland to prevent them being infected with the disease of mutiny. They were after all largely from the same clans.

The 78th served in the Channel Islands for two and a half years during which they endured the same harsh treatment they had originally complained against. Lord Seaforth it seems preferred the society of London as he did not join his regiment until the next transfer. When Seaforth did return the men were again shipped on to transports and this time sent, not to the feared Indies but to the equally frightful India. The official terms of their surrender and probably their spirit had been finally been broken completely.

By the time they arrived in Madras eleven months later Seaforth and two hundred and fifty of his men had died of illness en route. Less than half who arrived were fit for service. Those who were fit were transferred into another regiment and went on to fight with red coat, bonnet and plaid in the heat of the Indian sun. At the end of the American Wars when they were legally entitled to discharge from the Army. Few chose to stay on. The men who refused the ten guinea bounty to remain were entitled to be repatriated back home but there is a record left in the form of a Gaelic poem called the lament of Sergeant Christopher Macrae:

'When we got the order
from the consul we were not pleased.
Our discharge put in our hands,
free to go where we wished but without a bounty
and there was no ship no boat and no sail.




They were left where they were, a final betrayal. The army able to say that the regiment had not been disbanded and therefore was not due to be repatriated home at that time. Many men never came home and the scarce few that did took several years to make the journey.

{Lieutenant General James Adolphus Oughton avoided most of the blame which was directed at him and continued to control the forces in North Britain. Perhaps his critics and his own comments on treating with rebellion were right. In the next year he would face three more highland regiments who mutinied in the face of harsh treatment, overdue pay and lies over postings. Shortly after he would be dead. But before then he would not again be so lenient in his reply to mutiny.}

See you later........

2 comments:

Jack Sparrow said...

Wow - that was a long post but very interesting. Thanks

Alistair Robertson said...

Why Jack - thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm sure you have plenty of experience of the British forces of the day.

The Sunday Posts 2017/ Hush Hush

Hush, hush, time tae be sleepin'. Hush, hush, dreams come a-creepin'; Dreams of peace and of freedom, So smile in your sleep,...