The Black Watch 1739-1881


In the years after the 1715 Rebellion, the Highlands of Scotland were largely impenetrable and home to many discontented Highlanders with no love for the English crown.

In 1724 General George Wade was appointed as Commander in Chief for Scotland and one aspect of his tenure in office was the construction of roads into the Highlands along which his soldiers and their baggage wagons could move. Also General Wade oversaw the construction of forts such as Fort Augustus and Fort William. More pertinent still to this present text was the raising in 1725 of six Independent Companies Of Highlanders from the loyal Clans of Campbell, Grant, Fraser and Munro who were authorised to carry arms when others were forbidden to do.

Totalling perhaps 500 men overall, the purpose of these Independent Companies of picked non Jacobite Highlanders was to prevent inter clan fighting, prevent raids into the Lowlands, enforce the anti arms laws and prevent plotting against the Government and Crown.

Most if not all the private soldiers in these Companies belonged to the upper ranks of Highlanders - the privilege of bearing arms drew in a great many young men of quality - and they were frequently accompanied by a servant or two.

1739-1749 Highland Regiment or 43rd of Regiment of Foot

Gradually the Independent Companies became known as The Black Watch, due to the watch they maintained over the Highlands and the dark tartan which they wore.

In September 1739 King George II authorised the Companies to be formed into regiment of foot, with the Earl of Crawford, a Lowlander, as the first nominal commanding officer. Command was actually exercised by Sir Robert Munro of Foulis the lieutenant colonel, representing the Earl.

In March 1743 the Regiment was ordered south and marched to London to be reviewed by the King. The soldiers however were not told the reason for their move and rumours about being shipped to the unhealthy West Indies abounded. Over 100 of the young, home sick and confused young men finally slipped camp and started to make their way back to Scotland. They were captured and tried for mutiny - few of the men could speak English and were clearly confused about the whole affair as they were enlisted for home service only.

The remainder of the Regiment did sail to Flanders, but it was not until 1745 that they took part in their first battle at Fontenoy. the Regiment played a leading part, losing 32 killed and 90 wounded, and were chosen to cover the withdrawal of the Allied army.

During the next few years the Regiment were constantly on the move, finally settling in Ireland, broken up into detachments.

1749-1758 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot

In 1751 the Regiment received the number "42nd" by Royal Warrant. The 42nd was previously Oglethorpe's Regiment which was disbanded.

In 1756 war broke out in North America between the British and the French. The Regiment were sent to New York and spent the next two years campaigning along the Hudson River and its environs. It was at Ticonderoga in July 1758 that the Regiment fought its fiercest battle yet. The French were occupying the fort, situated some 200 miles north of New York, which the Regiment attacked for four hours. In spit of losing half their men and two thirds of the officers, the 42nd had to be deterred from attacking once again.

1758-1861 42nd (The Royal Highland Regiment) of Foot

In 1758 the worth of the Regiment was officially recognised as King George granted the title "Royal " to the Regiment and authorised the raising of a second battalion.

The newly raised 2nd Battalion fought at Martinque and Guadeloupe in the West Indies during 1759 and then joined the 1st Battalion at Oswego on Lake Ontario.

Interestingly both battalions fought side by side in another attempt against Fort Ticonderoga when this time victory was won in under half an hour.

The two battalions remained together for the next three years, sharing in the capture of Montreal, the Windward Islands, Martinque and Havannah. In 1762 the 2nd Battalion suffered the first of their five temporary losses of identity and were amalgamated with the 1st Battalion.

In 1767 the Regiment sailed from America to Ireland where they were to spend the next eight years, returning to Scotland in1775, after an absence of 34 years.

The American War of Independence 1775-1783

The stay in Scotland was to be a short one however as the outbreak of the American War of Independence meant that the Regiment sailed once again for North America, arriving in New York in July 1776. The 42nd added to their already considerable reputation as a fighting unit whilst serving in Long Island, New York and New Jersey campaigns of 1776-1777 - the Regiment particularly distinguished itself at the storming of Fort Washington in November 1776 - plus Charleston, Brandywine and Monmouth. In 1778 the Regiment moved to Florida, returning to New York and then Nova Scotia in 1783, before returning to the British Isles in 1789. Another 2nd Battalion was raised in 1779 and it was this Battalion from which in turn sprang the 73rd Highlanders.

Flanders and Beyond 1793-1798

The Regiment remained in the British Isles until 1793 when the Regiment was ordered once more to Flanders. This particular campaign was short and before too long the 42nd were back in England under orders to sail to the West Indies.

A change in plan gave the Regiment a new destination of the French coast. In pursuance of this they reached the Channel Islands before returning to Portsmouth only to return to Flanders - and subsequently to Holland - six months later.

The Flanders campaign of 1794 - 1795 was a hard one, but the Regiment were next sent to the West Indies. Bad weather scattered the convoy - an occurrence which as also blighted the Regiment's passage in 1776 - only this time five companies duly arrived in Barbados, but the other five companies and regimental headquarters found themselves in Gibraltar, nearly 4,000 miles away.

The Barbados "wing" added to the 42nd's history by taking part in the capture of the islands of St. Lucia and St Vincent. Finally they were shipped to Gibraltar to join their comrades who by this time had been there for nearly three years.

The Napoleonic Wars

In 1798 the Regiment took part in the capture of Minorca, reaming there until August 1800 when they returned to Gibraltar. there followed a tour as marines, with soldiers of the 42nd serving on Royal Navy ships or on detachment in Gibraltar and Malta.

The Regiment were part of a British army which landed at Aboukir Bay off Alexandria on 8th March 1801, with the defending French forces being defeated. The 42nd also fought at the battle of Alexandria on 21st March, a hard fought action during which the regiment distinguished themselves, losing 64 men killed and another 261 wounded. It was as a result of this that the Regiment won the honour of bearing the Sphinx with the word EGYPT as a badge on their colours.

The 42nd returned to England in 1801 and two years later whilst the Regiment was in Edinburgh a second battalion was raised. In 1805 the 1st Battalion went once more to Gibraltar whilst the 2nd Battalion was posted to Ireland.

The war against the forces of France waged in the Iberian Peninsula did not start well for British arms and a failed link up with a Spanish army resulted in a long British retreat to be embarked from Corunna on Spain's north west coast.

Sir John Moore, commander of the British Army was forced to fight an action there to defend the embarkation of his men and died from the wounds which he received. It was a soldier of the 42nd who carried the general to cover and six more who carried him to the rear. The withdrawal was successfully completed, but only as a result of the stout defence offered by the 42nd's 1st Battalion, who suffered 215 men killed or wounded, and the other British regiments.

Early in 1809 the 1st Battalion returned to England, but the 2nd Battalion went to Spain from Ireland at the same, thus maintaining the 42nd's presence in the Peninsula. The 2nd Battalion fought many battles including Busaco (1810), Fuentes d'Onorg (1811) and Ciudad Rodrigo (1812).

The final actions of the Napoleonic Wars, the so termed "Hundred Days Campaign" 1815 witnessed the 42nd (and indeed the 2/73rd) taking part in the somewhat disorganised battle of Quatre Bras on 16th June and being one of only four regiments singled out by the Duke of Wellington for a special mention in his despatches.

Two days later, the battle of Waterloo saw the forces of Napoleon finally defeated. The 42nd served in Major General Pack's Brigade, which in turn formed part of the reserve 5th Division under Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton.

The Crimean War

After a period of almost 40 years, the Regiment was sent to the Crimea as war broke out in 1854. The 42nd with the 79th and 93rd formed The Highland Brigade under Sir Colin Campbell was soon in action at the battle of the Alma. After taking part in the battle of Balaclava the Regiment settled down to endure the severe winter of 1854/1855 in the trenches before Sebastopol.

The Indian Mutiny

The Crimean War Dragged to a close in 1855 and the 42nd returned to England, but only for a short time as the Indian Mutiny erupted.

The Regiment landed at Calcutta in early November 1857 and in December carried out a remarkable march of nearly 80 miles in 56 hours and fought two actions - at Cawnpore and Seria Ghat - in three days. In January 1859 Captain John Lawson, who received his commission in Crimea from the ranks, with 37 men held 2,000 mutineers at bay from dawn till dusk. Lawson was severely wounded and died seven months later. Two soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross for this action. This group became known as "Lawson's men" - now a famous pipe tune. In all the Regiment gained eight Victoria Crosses during the Indian Mutiny.

New Colours were presented to the 42nd at Bareilly on New Years Day 1861 by General Sir High Rose the Commander in Chief and with this came the official notification of a new Regimental title.

1861-1881 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot
(The Black Watch)

Ever since their formation the Regiment has been known as "The Black Watch", but in 1861 Queen Victoria authorised the name to be added in parentheses. Thus the Regiment officially became The 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot (The Black Watch).

After tours of duty throughout northern India, the 42nd sailed for home in January 1868.

Early December 1873 saw the Regiment bound for the Gold Coast, where it landed just 10 days before Christmas. Pushing on to the Ashanti capital Coomassie - 150 miles inland - early in the new year the 42nd faced tough opposition over difficult terrain and in an unhealthy climate. The campaign was commemorated by the award of Ashanti to the Colours and of another Victoria Cross.

A five year foreign tour in Malta, Cyprus and Gibraltar followed before a return to Edinburgh after after two years in English stations.

It was in Edinburgh on 1st July 1881 that as a result of the Cardwell reforms the 42nd were linked with their former 2nd Battalion, the 73rd. The two regiments were combined into a single new regiment to become the 1st and 2nd Battalions. The Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch), with a recruiting area of Fife, Forfashire (now Angus) and Perthshire.

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