Seaforth Highlanders

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Seaforth Highlanders military uniform art prints of the Seaforth Highlanders by Richard Simkin, Haswell Miller and Harry Payne, published by Cranston Fine Arts, the military print company.

The Seaforth Highlanders-Regimental District No.72-consists of the 72nd and 78th Foot.  The former date from 1778, when they were raised by the then lord Seaforth in recognition of the graceful act of the Government in restoring to him the forfeited title of his ancestors.  By a somewhat strange coincidence the first number borne by the Regiment was that of their present 2nd battalion, 78.  The first years of the regiment were somewhat tempestuous; the relations between England and the Scottish Highlanders were still somewhat strained, and each side was only too eager to allege bad faith on the part of the other.  From this feeling originated the affair of “the wild Macraes,” a sept or small clan who had enlisted under Lord Seaforth.  They refused to embark for Foreign Service, and with colours flying and pipes playing betook themselves to Arthur’s Seat, where they continued for some days in a state of ingressive mutiny.  But this was got over by a little tact, and before long the brave Highlanders marched back to their regiment with their colonel and other officers at their head.  They then set sail for India, but on the voyage out lost their Colonel-Seaforth-from illness, an occurrence that exercised a most depressing and fatal effect on his men, many of whom sickened and died.  On arriving in India they joined Stuart’s force and marched against Cuddalore, and at that place, as at Palghantchery, Savendroog and Outra Durgum, proved how valuable an acquisition the Seaforth Highlanders were to the British Army.  Palghantchery and Outra Durgum may indeed be said to have owed their capture chiefly to the “heroic ardour” of the 72nd.  At Seringapatam they were in the third column, to which was entrusted the storming of the Pagoda hill, under Colonel Maxwell, and not a little of the credit of the day is due to the dashing manner in which he carried out his plan.  They also served at Ponicherry, and in Ceylon; after which, in 1798, they returned home.

           In 1805 they embarked for the Cape of Good Hope, and at the Blaw Berg in the following year suffered somewhat severely, the list of casualties including Colonels Grant and Campbell of the regiment, while Lieutenant M’Arthur and thirty men distinguished themselves by engaging and repulsing a very superior force of Dutch.  Three years later, in accordance with a “fad” of the government, the Seaforth Highlanders discontinued the wearing of the Highland costume, which, however, they have subsequently re-adopted.  After this, for again we must pass over much, the 72nd were employed in the Mauritius and in India, about the time of Waterloo being employed in South Africa.  During their sojourn here a somewhat characteristics incident occurred with the Boers.  The latter appealed to the British for aid against the Kaffirs who were making raids upon their homesteads, and accordingly Captain Gethin of the regiment with some men went to the scene of a recent disturbance.  Here a body of Kaffirs in ambush and cut to pieces surrounded them, Captain Gethin himself receiving no fewer that thirty-two wounds.  It will surprise no one who has studied the history of the Boers to learn that the people whom Gethin came to help looked placidly on while he and his gallant men of the 72nd were being butchered.  The regiment returned home in 1821, and two years after received the title of the “Duke of Albany’s Highlanders,” after the then Commander-in-Chief, his Royal Highness the Duke of York and Albany, at the same time receiving the Highland costume, only with trews instead of kilt.  Their next service was again at the Cape of Good Hope and during the operations against Macumo, the hostile Kaffir chief they greatly distinguished themselves.  After another interval of rest the Duke of Albany’s Highlanders were dispatched to the Crimea, where they arrived in May 1855, and from that date to the close of the war served in all the duties, which our troops were called upon to perform.  After the Crimea followed with deadly haste the Mutiny, where the 72nd earned lasting praise.  Their chief exploits were while serving with Sir Hugh Rose’s force in Central India, and at Kotah the fortune of war decreed that their chef opponents should be the revolted 72nd naïve regiment, whose uniform in some degree resembled that of the Duke of Albany’s.  The storming party was to abide the blowing up of the great gate, and owing to the unexpected delay in doing this found them exposed for some time to the fierce ire of the enemy.  But when the explosion was heard, and the pipes struck up their martial tune, it required but a very few minutes to capture the town, thanks to the impetuous ardour of the 72nd and their comrades, who with a ringing shout-“Scotland for ever!” literally drove all before them.  Throughout the struggles in Baroda the 72nd, who were subsequently with the Rajpootana Field Force, fought well and successfully, well meriting the unstinted meed awarded to them.  The next important campaign in which the 72nd were engaged was in the Afghanistan in 1878.  Here they were brigaded under General Roberts, and rendered most signal service at the storming of the Peiwar Kotal.  Here the 72nd and the “brave little Ghoorkas” fairly divided the honours of the day between them, though Lieutenant Munro and several rank and files were in the list of casualties.  During the march through the Sappri defile Sergeant Green gained his commission from the gallant defence he made of Captain Goad, and it it is recorded by a Scotch writer that “a sick Highlander (of the 72nd), who was being carried in a dhooley, fired all his ammunition, sixty-two rounds, at the enemy, and as he was a good marksman, he never fired without getting a fair shot.”

           The following year they were still more actively employed, and round and about Cabul, under Roberts, came in for much more fierce fighting, from which they gained a full sheaf of honours.  Sergeant MacDonald, Cox, and M’Ilvean distinguished themselves at the assault of the Takt-I-Shah; Lieutenant Ferguson was twice wounded; Sergeant Jule (who was killed the next day) was the first man to gain the ridge, capturing at the same time two standards.  Corporal Sellars, the first man to gain the top of the Asmai heights, gained a Victoria Cross; before that day’s sun had set Captain Spens and Lieutenant Gainsford of the regiment had fallen fighting like heroes to the last; Lieutenant Egerton was badly wounded, and several rank and file put hors de combat.  The regiment fought well in the attack on Sherpur, and in Robert’s famous march to Candahar were brigaded with the Gordon highlanders and 60th Rifles.  In the attack on Candahar Sir Frederick reported that “the 72nd and the 2nd Sikhs had the chief share of the fighting;” of the second brigade Colonel Brownlow, Captain Frowe and Sergeant Cameron were among the killed; Captain Stewart Murray and Lieutenant Munroe were badly wounded.  In 1881 the regiment resumed the kilt, adopting the Mackenzie tartan, and were engaged in the Egyptian war of the following year, when they served with Macpherson’s Indian Contingent; under Colonel Stockwell they brilliantly inaugurated their campaign by the capture of Chalouffe.  At Tel-el-Kebir they were leading on the extreme left, “advancing steadily and in silence until an advanced battery of the enemy was reached, when it was gallantly stormed by the Highlaners” (Sir G. Wolseley’s Dispatch), and after this they pursued the flying enemy and occupied the important town of Zagazig.  Their losses were very slight, two men killed and three wounded, owing “to the excellent arrangements made by General Macpherson,” and to the fact that the earlier attacks had so shaken the enemy that they could not withstand “the impetuous onslaught of the Seaforth Highlanders.”

           The 2nd battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, consisting of the 78th regiment, the Ross-shire Buffs, also owes its existence to the loyal family of Seaforth, being raised in 1793 by the then head of the clan.  Their first service was under the Earl of Chatham in the disastrous Walcheren Expedition, after which they took part in the campaign in Holland under the Duke of York.  The value of the service rendered by the Highlanders during the terrible retreat to Bremen has been before mentioned; at Gildermalsen, however, the 78th ran a somewhat serious risk.  “A regiment of the enemy’s hussars, dressed in a uniform similar to that worn by the Emigirant regiment of the Duke de Choiseul in our service, pushed on, treacherously shouting ‘Choiseul!’ and got close to the 78th Highlanders undiscovered.”  They were however repulsed by some scathing volleys from the Black Watch.  The 78th reserved for a time at Cape of Good hope, and in 1797 were ordered to India, where they gained the first of their many distinctions.  Under Wellesley they assisted in the capture of the strong town of Ahmednughur, and under the immediate command of the same great leader fought with splendid courage at Assaye; they were on the left of the first line, and at the close of the day were led forward by Wellesley in person to clear out the village, which they did at the point of the bayonet after some desperate fighting.  They fought at Argaum, and in 1811 were with the forces under Sir Samuel Achmuty in the operations in Java.  On returning home they experienced the misfortune which our troops seem so often to have suffered namely, that of being shipwrecked; the reports at the time speak in the most energetic terms of the courage and endurance displayed by the 78th, of whom, fortunately, not a man was lost.  But the regiment had been reaping its harvest of honour in the West as well as in the East.  Under Stuart they had been serving in Sicily, and are amongst the regiments whose colours bear the name “Maida.”  The record of the regiment narrates that the aspect of the regiment caused the general some apprehension; they looked so very young; quite six hundred of their number were under twenty-one.  But there was nought of weakness or youthful instability in that splendid charge they made, led by their gallant Colonel, Patrick Macleod.  Opposed to them was the French 42nd regiment of Grenadiers, led by a brave and skilful commander.  But commander and troops alike were hurled back by the 78th.  The retreat became a headlong flight, and so far did the Highlanders with fierce slaughter pursue the flying foe that an aide-de-camp was sent to bid them halt.  “At the moment the order was delivered to Macleod he was incapable of speech, and was stooping from his horse on the shoulder of a sergeant of his regiment; a rifle ball had passed through his breast within an inch of the heart, inflicting a painful and perilous wound;” yet he never quitted his saddle or the field, but remained at the head of his Ross-shire Buffs during the remainder of the battle and the long pursuit that followed it.  Again and again they charged during that day, and no regiment more nobly acquitted itself.  In 1807 they fought in Egypt and gained undying fame at the disastrous conflict at El Hamet.  Colonel Macleod with one company of the regiment and some of the 35th were surrounded and assailed by an overwhelming force.  The colonel was killed; “there also fell Lieutenant Macrae with six more of his name; Sergeant John Macrae slew seven assailants with his claymore before his head was cloven from behind.  Of Macleod’s detachment, consisting of two hundred and seventy-five, all were killed to thirty, of whom fifteen only were unwounded.”  Strangely enough two of the prisoners of the 78th rose to high eminence in the land of their capacity.  Ibrahim Aga, the famed governor of Medina and one of the Sultan’s most able generals, was Private Thomas Keith on that dreadful day when his officers and comrades fell around him in El Hamet; Osman, “the learned leech” of Alexandria, who acquired a large practice and a larger fortune, was a drummer boy in the 78th, whose medical training had been limited to assisting the regimental surgeon to tie bandages and mix medicines.

           The Ross-shire Buffs have ‘Persia’ and ‘Khoosh-ab’ on their colours, words which recall their conduct in a campaign in which they earned a very high encomium from Sir Henry Havelock: they “behaved remarkably well at the battle of Koosh-ab, and during the Naval action on the Euphrates and the landing, their steadiness, zeal, and activity were conspicuous.  They never seemed to complain of anything, but that they had no further chance of meeting the enemy.  I am convinced that the regiment would be second to none in the service if their military qualities were drawn forth; they are proud of their colours, their tartan, and their former high achievements.”  On the night preceding the battle of Khoosh-ab, the enemy attempted a surprise on our forces, but thanks to steadiness and discipline, the only result was to somewhat lessen the number of the morrow’s assailants.  During this midnight attack the 78th were exposed to a somewhat bewildering ruse on the part of the Persians, one of whose buglers had learned the “calls” in our service, and repeatedly sounded “cease firing” close to the Ross-shires-fortunately, however, he entirely failed to mislead them.  When the mutiny broke out “the high military qualities” of the regiment were called forth with a vengeance, and the result proved how admirably General Havelock had gauged the calibre of the corps.  We shall not attempt to follow seriatim the services the 78th rendered throughout the Mutiny; these services are matter of history, and will be recalled whenever the Indian Mutiny is mentioned.  They were with Havelcok in his march to relieve Cawnpore and Lucknow; marching in eight days a hundred and twenty-six miles, fighting four battles, and capturing a score of guns.  As is sadly well known the force arrived too late at Cawnpore, despite their heroic efforts and splendid victories, and the terrible sight that met their eyes- mangled bodies, torn clothing, children’s little frocks and toys, tresses of long hair torn out by the roots, all be dabbled with blood-lives yet, an awful memory.  Not many years before, a poet had put into the lips of a singer of old Rome the String couplet which spoke of       “The inexpiable wrong, the unutterable shame    That turns the coward’s heart to steel, the sluggard’s blood to flame”

           There were neither cowards nor sluggards in this band of heroes, and men told at the time how the Ross-shire Buffs, finding amongst the blood-boltered debris a tress of black hair torn from the head of one of poor, murdered General Wheeler’s daughters, divided it amongst their number, each vowing, like the knight of Snowdon, to stain it deep in rebel blood.  Splendidly did they fight at the Alumbagh, when, at last, Lucknow was taken.  A countryman, each having for its hero a piper of the 78th, records two incidents.  In one case the piper was wounded and a couple of his comrades were carrying him off, when they saw, to their dismay, a rebel trooper approaching with drawn sword.  The position was critical, but the piper was equal to the occasion; “going through the ordinary manoeuvres of loading a gun he lifted the longest shank of his pipes to is shoulder and pointed it at the Sepoy’s head.”  As a result the latter “turned tail and ran off.”  On another occasion-the capture of Lucknow- a piper found himself alone, lost in the tortuous streets, with gun discharged and bayonet unfixed.  “To him enter,” round a sudden corner, one of the rebel cavalry, who forth with made at him.  Whatever views may be with held of the relative merits of sword and bayonet, there can be but opinion as to the superiority of the former when the latter is not fixed.  The days of the brave 78th mad seemed numbered.  “Suddenly,” he wrote, “a bright idea struck me; all at once I seized my pipe, put it in my mouth, and gave forth a shrill note which so startled the fellow that he bolted like a shot, evidently imagining it was some infernal machine; so my pipe saved my life.”           The 78th gained to many of those crosses inscribed “For Valour” for us to be able to do more than quote some of the circumstances.  Private James Hollowell, 78th Highlanders, received the Victoria Cross for conduct officially described as follows: -           “A party on the 26th September, 1857, was shut up and besieged in a house in the city of Lucknow by the rebel Sepoys.  Private James Hollowell, one of the party, behaved throughput the day in the most admirable manner; he directed, encouraged, and led the others, exposing himself fearlessly, and by his talent in persuading and cheering, prevailed on nine desperate men to take a successful defence in a burning house, with the enemy firing through the windows.”            “Assistant surgeon Valentine Munbee M’Master, 78th Highlanders, was recommended for the Victoria Cross for the intrepidity with which he exposed himself to the fire of the enemy in bringing in and attending to the wounded on the 25th September, at Lucknow.  He had served in the Persian War and in all Havelock’s operations for the succour of the Residency.  After arriving at the latter place he accompanied many sorties and was wounded.  He was with out ram’s force at the Alumbagh, and took part in the Rohileund campaign.” 

           “Surgeon Joseph Jee was selected by his brother officers for the Victoria Cross.  On September 25th, 1857, the 78th Highlanders had been left behind to protect the passage of the Char Bagh Bridge.  The enemy. Seeing their isolated position, gathered round them from every quarter, occupying all the neighbouring buildings.  From the tops of these came a perfect hail of musket bullets, while two heavy guns were enfilading the regiment with deadly accuracy.  Ordered not to move until every bullock had crossed the bridge, the regiment for a long time remained halted.  At length, becoming desperate, they charged the guns, dashing up the street with a loud cheer, led by their Adjutant, whose horse had been shot under him.  A volley received them, and men dropped in numbers; but the survivors preserved, reached the guns, and after a short, sharp struggle captured them.  Dr. Jee contrived, by great personal exertions, in getting the wounded that had been hit in the charge carried off on the backs of their comrades, till he had succeeded in collecting the dhooly-bearers who had fled.  He is said to have exposed himself in the most devoted manner.  Later on, while trying to reach the Residency with the wounded under his charge, he was obliged to throw himself into the Moti Mehal, where he remained besieged the whole of the following night and morning.”  The official account says that he repeatedly exposed himself to a heavy fire “in proceeding to dress the wounded men who fell while serving a 24-pounder in a most exposed situation.  He eventually succeeded in taking many of the wounded, through a cross fire of ordnance and musketry, safely into the Residency, by the River Bank, although repeatedly warned not to make the perilous attempt.”              The gallant adjutant who led the 78th Highlanders in the brilliant charge above mentioned was Lieutenant Herbert Taylor Macpherson, afterwards the Sir Herbert Macpherson who commanded the Indian contingent in the Egyptian War, and is now a C.B.           After Lucknow the 78th joined Rochilcund Field Force, where they, needless to say, did yeoman’s service.  The following years were passed in Gibraltar, Canada, and Ireland; after this they served under general Phayre in Afghanistan, but were not actively engaged.  No important operations coming within the scope of this sketch have since that date fallen to the lot of the gallant Ross-shire Buffs.  (Excerpt from Her Majesty's Army by Richards)

            ROSSHIRE BUFFS, THE DUKE OF ALBANY'S SEAFORTH HIGHLANDERS  The regiment was formed in 1778 as the 78th Highland Regiment, and in 1786  the  72nd Highland Regiment. was added. in 1881 both Regiments became the two battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders.

Battle Honours

  • 1780 - 1784  India

  • 1790 - 1792  India

  • 1789 - 1791  Mysore during the third Mysore War

  • 1806   Cape of Good Hope, against the Dutch

  • 1803 - 1815  Battle of Maida. during the Napoleonic wars

  • 1811 - Java,  War against the Dutch

  • 1835 - Sixth Kaffir War, South Africa

  • 1854, -1856 Sebastopol during the Crimean War

  • 1856 - 1857 Kooshab, The Persian War

  • 1857 - 1858  Lucknow, and Central India during the Indian Mutiny.

  • 1878 - 1890 Peiwar Kotal, Charasiah, Kabul, Kandahar Second Afghan war

  • 1882 - Tel El Kibir  The revolt of Arabi Pasha

  • 1882 - 1884  First Sudan war

  • 1895 - Chitral.  Chitral Campaign

  • 1896 - 1898  Atbara, Khartoun, reconquest of the Sudan

  • 1899 - 1902, Paardeburg, During the Boer War

  • 1914 - 1918  Marne 1916, 1918 Ypres 1915, 1917, 1918, Loos, Somme 1916, 1918, Arras 1917, 1918 Valenciennes. Palestine 1918, Baghdad. during World War One

  •  1939 - 1945  St Valery-enCaux, Caen, Rhineland, El Alamein Akarit, Sicily 1943, Anzio Madagascar, Imphal Burma 1942, 1944.

Also shown on the Colours is an Elephant inscribed Assaye.  VICTORIA CROSS AWARDS.  18 members of the Regiment have been awarded the Victoria Cross.  9 during the Indian Mutiny, 1 during the Second Afghan War,  1 in the Ashanti campaign,  and 7 during World war One.