The 73rd Regiment of Foot 1780-1881


The 73rd Highlanders came from the 2nd Battalion 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot, which was raised in 1779. Eight officers were detached from the 1st Battalion to raise the new 2nd Battalion, which soon took shape.

The Birkenhead

In 1851, in company of troops from other regiments, men of the 73rd Regiment sailed in the Birkenhead to reinforce the British army engaged in the Kaffir War in South Africa.At two o'clock in the morning in the morning of 28th February 1852 the ship struck a rock just east of Cape Town and broke in half 10 minutes later. The troops were drawn up no deck and told by the ship's officers that their only hope of safety lay in jumping overboard and swimming for the boats. Their own officers explained that to do this would imperil the chances of escape for the many women and children who were already in the boats. The men stood firm in their ranks as the Birkenhead sank - 357 were drowned, 56 of them from the 73rd, more than from any other regiment.

Service in India

It wasn’t long before the Battalion were despatched to South Africa, but en route the situation there changed and the men were diverted to India instead. There had been unrest in India for some time as local princes took advantage of Britain’s preoccupation with the American War of Independence. French officers had been invited to train the soldiers of some Indian princes and it was clearly necessary to strengthen the British presence in the sub-continent.

The Battalion arrived in India in 1782, a company at a time and some of the companies were in action before the Battalion as a whole and the commanding officer Colonel MacLeod were assembled.

As a whole the Battalion were involved in some fierce fighting during this the First Mysore War, including the occupation of the coastal town of Mangalore and in turn being besieged there for some 20 months. The principal opponent was Tippoo Sahib who with a huge army facing 250 men of the 2nd Battalion and 1,500 loyal Indians under Colonel Campbell, allowed them to march out with all the honours of war on 26th January 1784. In fact, Mangalore was defended so resolutely and for so long that its name was added to the Regiment’s Battle Honours, despite the fact that it was a defeat.

In April 1786, Shortly after this period of intense action, the 2nd Battalion 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot became the 73rd Highlanders in their own right, with green facings on their uniforms.

Some years of peace followed and the 73rd remained in India, serving in the successful assault on Tippoo’s capital of Seringapatam during the Third Mysore War (1789-1792) in 1792. In 1795 the Regiment fought in Ceylon and in 1797 returned to Madras until 1799 when they took the field in the Fourth Mysore War, taking part also in the subsequent mopping up operations under Colonel Arthur Wellesley.

A 2nd Battalion is Raised

In 1806 the 73rd returned to Scotland and raised a 2nd Battalion of its own. Due to recruiting difficulties, in 1809 the Battalion were ordered to discard Highland dress and no longer to be recognised as Highland – no vestige of tartan was to be worn, so that Englishmen could be encouraged to join the ranks.

The 2nd Battalion of the 73rd arrived at the battle of Quatre Bras 1815 at a crucial moment in the fight, in which they lost 53 men killed and wounded. Two days later at Waterloo whilst serving with Major General Halkett’s Brigade of Lieutenant General Sir Charles Alten’s 3rd Division, the Battalion was charged no less than 11 times by French Cavalry as it stood solidly in square and was then fired upon by French artillery.

The 2nd Battalion was disbanded in 1817, but 300 of the men went out to Ceylon to join the 1st Battalion.

The 73rd Regiment of Foot 1809-1862

In 1809 the 1st Battalion of the 73rd sailed for Australia, a voyage which lasted for more then six months. Whilst there, time was spent putting down disorders among the colonists, before the battalion sailed to Ceylon in 1814 to take part in an expedition against the king of Kandy who surrendered after a six month campaign.

In the following 30 years to 1844, the 73rd served in stations around the world. Indeed, from the sailing of the 2nd battalion to India in 1782 to the 1881 amalgamation with the 42nd, scarcely a dozen years of the Regiment’s life were to be spent at home.

During 1846 – 1847, 1851 – 1853 and 1856 the Regiment were actively employed in South Africa during the Kaffir Wars. In 1858 they were sent to India, arriving in time to take part in the closing stages of the Indian Mutiny.

Return to England in 1860, the Regiment received a graceful acknowledgement of their Highland origin for the first time since their separation from parent regiment as on 4th August 1862, the Regiment became officially known as The 73rd Perthshire Regiment.

The 73rd Perthshire Regiment 1862-1881

The Regiment served in Ireland, Hong Kong, Ceylon, India and England during the next 16 years.

It was whilst they were stationed in Portsmouth in 1881 when the news came that they were to return at last, after an absence of 95 years, to the regiment from which they had originated. The 73rd paraded for the last time as a separate regiment in front of the Commander in Chief of the British Army, the Duke of Cambridge.

From 1st July 1881 the 42nd and 73rd were joined to The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders.)

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