Breadalbane Fencibles

The portrait below, by Sir Henry Reaburn, is of Francis MacNab, the eccentric 12th Laird of Clan MacNab dressed in the uniform of Lieutenant-Colonel of the Breadalbane Fencibles.

The MacNabOn 1 February, 1793 Great Britain was again at war. The declaration of war by the French Republic caught Britain at a disadvantage as it had both disbanded most of the regular regiments raised for the American Revolutionary War of 1776-1783 after that conflict had ended and reduced its own peacetime establishment to practically nil. While it immediately took steps to recruit its regular regiments for general service, it also established a regular force of Fencible Regiments, for home service only, to augment the embodied  militia of the kingdom. This force was especially necessary in Scotland, which had no large militia force of its own until 1798. See rest of the account by R. McGuigan.

The '45 entrenched pre-existing wig propaganda that equated clanship with non-industrious and disorderly behaviour. The fact that Argyll and Breadalbane had raised men in 1746 was important. Later in the century, Westminster continued to act on the assumption that the Highlands had not developed from its militarised condition of the 1740s.

Warrants were dispatched from The Court at St. James with the expectation that 'beating a drum' would rustle up highlanders with nothing better to do but volunteer and take an oath that they were Protestant, had no rupture, were not subject to fits or lameness and had full use of their limbs. Recruiting did not turn out to be that simple.

In 1759 Breadalbane argued that maintaining a large number of men necessary for estate recruiting was incompatible with the process of improvement so stated that he was not in a position to offer a substantial number of recruits. In response to Argyll dominating patronage, Breadalbane offered 500 men which would involve conceding one year's rent (£2162) but only if, in return, he got complete control of commissions as a form of indemnity (20 officer posts would be worth £2309). This offer was refused. Hardwicke, the lord chancellor, instructed Breadalbane to raise men for Argyll's regiment or face political oblivion. He raised 200 men.

Between 1793 and 1795 John Campbell the 4th Earl got command of an entire regiment which ensured his commitment to military levying. He raised two battalions of 500 men each in February 1793 and these were subsequently increased to 1000 men each in March 1793. Only 12.5% of the second Battalion were from the parishes of the Earl's estate. 368 men were raised from the population within his Perthshire estates or as a consequence of their monetary resources. 63% of the farms contributed to the process.

The government offered Breadalbane three guineas per recruit but this covered only a small proportion of the real cost. Andrew McKillop's Military recruiting in the Scottish Highlands 1739-1815 explains in detail the process that led Alexander Fisher to purchase James Rutherford. I quote one paragraph from this long and detailed thesis;

To explain how the estate mirrored and interrelated with this market is crucial to any understanding of why Highland landlords continued to recruit. As with the other fencible regiments raising at the same time, the government allowed Breadalbane three guineas per recruit. Due to various market conditions, including the strength of the Lowland economy and the purchasing power of the British crown, the real cost of recruits was substantially higher. However, if a man cost Breadalbane £15 in the open market, the government would still only forward three guineas, leaving the other £11.17.0 to be made up by the landlord. Conversely, if Breadalbane gained a man for free, he was still entitled to the three guineas. By offering the manpower on his estate proxy bounty money in the form of land, Breadalbane increased his chances of gaining free or very cheap men, while reducing the extent to which he needed to enter the wider and substantially inflated recruiting market. In this context, estate recruiting made perfect economic sense. From lists of recruits and estate petitions it appears that Breadalbane gained sixty recruits completely free of charge, a clear profit to the Earl of £189. In reality, the level of free recruits was much higher than sixty. That figure is only for those clearly described as 'Free Gratis'. However, widow MacEwan on the farm of Callelachen in the Taymouth district is described on the general lists as having given in a recruit gratis. Yet she is described in her own petition of 1796 as having purchased a recruit to present to Breadalbane. This logically suggests that any person on the estate who is described as having 'purchased ' did, in fact, give in a free recruit.

Page last updated - 27/10/14