Mutinies of the Highland Regiments
In the year 1804, orders were issued to raise a regiment in the Highlands, to be called the Canadian Fencibles, and to serve in Canada only. Owing to several circumstances the corps was speedily filled up. One extensive glen in Inverness-shire was in that year improved in the modern merciless style, and depopulated. Several other detached parts of the country had been similarly treated. To the young and active, who had thus lost their homes and their usual mode of subsistence, this corps appeared to present the means of reaching a country whither many of their friends and immediate neighbours had gone before them, and where they were taught to expect a permanent settlement without being subject to the “summary ejectment still practised in some parts of the north, when tenants prove refractory,” namely, burning their houses about their ears,—a mode of ejecting a virtuous peasantry, for which the civilized revivers of this obsolete, but efficient practice, have not received the notice they deserve.
The men of this corps were ordered to assemble in Glasgow, where it was discovered that the most scandalous deceptions had been practised upon them, and that terms had been promised which Government would not, and could not sanction. The persons who had deceived these poor men by representing the terms in a more favourable light than truth would justify, obtained a great number of recruits without any, or for a very small bounty.
When these men discovered their real situation, they were loud in their remonstrances, and, becoming very disorderly and disobedient, were ready to break out into open mutiny but an immediate inquiry being made into the foundation of their complaints by General Wemyss of Wemyss, who then commanded in Glasgow, they were found to be of such a nature, that it was necessary to satisfy them; in the mean time the regiment, consisting of 800 men, was marched to Ayr. The ordering them so far south from Greenock, the port of embarkation for Canada, gave a kind of confirmation to the previous report, that they were to be sent to the Isle of Wight, and thence to the East or West Indies. However, after a full inquiry, the whole were discharged; the promises made could not be confirmed, as they were founded on the grossest deception, and inconsistent with the objects of Government and the terms proposed. But it was an additional cause of discontent that they had been sent so much farther from home, and that those who still intended to go to Canada were so much farther removed from the usual place of embarkation. As the second battalions of the 78th and 79th regiments were, at that time, recruiting, numbers of the men enlisted with Colonel Cameron, and a few (twenty-two) with me, for the 78th. Several, who had money to pay for the passage, emigrated to America. Those who had not the means spread themselves all over the country, proclaiming their wrongs, and thus helping to destroy the confidence of their countrymen, not only in Government, but in all public men, whom they now began to think utterly unworthy of credit.
The happy auspices under which the British army is now placed, the justice done to the soldier, and the regard paid to his comforts, and even to his feelings as a man, are the best and most certain security against future acts of insubordination. It is, therefore, the less necessary to point out the baneful effects of using any deception towards soldiers, as the thing is now unknown; but, should any individuals be base enough to make such an attempt, the certain infamy that would follow a discovery forms an effectual preventive. It may however be useful, indeed my great object in adverting to the unfortunate misunderstandings which occurred so close upon each other in the American War is, to convince the soldier of the present day how different, and how much more honourable his treatment now is, contrasted with the deceptions practised on credulous and unsuspicious men, which, by rendering them jealous and distrustful, were so pernicious in their effects to the service in general, and tended, as I have frequently noticed, to give an unfavourable impression of their character, where these circumstances were unknown.