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The Black Watch

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Early Years | 1725-45

The Black Watch was raised in an unique way. In the wake of the 1715 Jacobite rebellion companies of trustworthy Highlanders were raised from loyal clans, Campbells, Grants, Frasers, Munros.

43rd regiment 1742

Six companies were formed from 1725 and stationed in small detachments across the Highlands to prevent fighting between the clans, deter raiding and assist in enforcing the laws against the carrying of weapons.

In 1739 King George II authorised the raising of four additional companies and these all to be formed into a Regiment of the Line of the regular army with the Earl of Crawford as the Colonel. The men were to be “natives of that country and none other to be taken".

The first muster of the new Regiment took place near Aberfeldy the following year and is commemorated by a monument in the form of a soldier dressed in the uniform of those days.

In 1825, Stewart of Garth wrote that "Although the commissions of the officers were dated in October, and the following months of 1739, the men were not assembled until the month of May 1740. The whole were then mustered, and embodied into a regiment in a field between Taybridge and Aberfeldy, in the county of Perth..."

Image right: illustration from George II's "Cloathing Book" of a Black Watch soldier from this early period.

The Black Watch Dress

The original uniform was a twelve yard long plaid of the dark tartan which is now so well known as The Black Watch tartan. This was fastened around the body with a leather belt. The jacket and waistcoat were scarlet with buff facings and white lace and a blue bonnet was worn. The men were armed with a musket and bayonet, a broadsword and generally also a pistol and dirk (long dagger).

BW tartanIn 1825, Stewart of Garth wrote that "The uniform was a scarlet jacket and waistcoat, with buff facings and white lace, tartan plaid of twelve yards plaited round the middle of the body, the upper part being fixed on the left shoulder, ready to be thrown loose and wrapped over both shoulders and firelock in rainy weather. At night, the plaid served the purpose of a blanket, and was a sufficient covering for the Highlander."

Name

The title “The Black Watch” was derived from the dark colour of the tartan and the original role of the Regiment to “watch” the Highlands . The name has remained and is now incorporated in the official name of the Regiment.

In 1825, Stewart of Garth wrote that "The whole were then mustered ... under the number of the 43d regiment, but they still retained the country name of the Black Watch."

Mutiny

farquhar shawIn 1743 the new regiment was ordered to march to London for an inspection by the King. However word had it that the Regiment was to be shipped to the unhealthy climate of the West Indies, a rumour which was reinforced when it was discovered that the King was not to inspect them. Many of the men genuinely believed they had been enlisted only for service in Scotland and decided to return home. Leaving London and marching by night over a hundred of them reached Northamptonshire before they were eventually surrounded and brought back to London. They were tried by court martial and three of the leaders were condemned to be shot in the Tower.

The remainder of the Regiment proceeded to Flanders for action against the French. It must remain a question for speculation whether the 1745 Rebellion could ever have taken place had The Black Watch been left fulfilling its role in policing the Highlands rather than being posted to the Continent two years previously.

Image right: Contemporary print of Farquhar Shaw, the accused leader of the Mutiny.

Fontenoy

Fontenoy painting

The Regiment was first in action at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Although this was a British defeat, The Black Watch gained great distinction by its conduct being described by a French officer as "Highland Furies who rushed in on us with more violence than ever did the sea driven by tempest". Image above: "Fontenoy 1745" by Skeoch Cumming