The Recruitment of the Scottish Regiments by Donald C.E. Gorrie MA.

I am working on a Ph.D. thesis on the recruitment of the Scottish Regiments – probably from 1756 to 1899. Some MacDonalds interested in family history may be able to help me with details about their ancestors. As one part of my study I am trying to build up a brief life history of as many soldiers (and sailors) of all ranks as possible, to show their place of birth, profession, where enlisted, if married, details of military service duration, wounds, why discharged etc.- and where they settled afterwards.

The aim is to discover what sort of people enlisted or took commissions, where and why, the career structure in the army – promotion, expectation of death, rewards (if any) – whether veterans returned home or settled elsewhere and so on. While there are many books on the daring deeds of the Scottish regiments, there has been little study of the social effects and causes of recruiting. Were the Highland Regiments full of Highlanders, Glaswegians or Irish? Were their city recruits former Highlanders now out of work? How far did the Lowland regiments retain their Scottish identity and recruit locally? Why did so many men prefer to stay and probably soon die of disease in India or the West Indies when their regiments returned home? What percentage of the gentry entered the forces? The questions are endless.

For those entering this field from the family historian’s point of view, the best hunting ground is the Public Record Office in London where many old muster rolls are kept. Some regimental depots also have a few old lists. Officers are easier to trace, with the annual Army Lists available as well as lists in some regimental histories and depots. It is a matter of chance whether the lists you need, especially of rank and file, still exist. Until well into the 19th century regiments took all their records about with them, and left them behind when retreating in a hurry – which they often did, despite the all-conquering impression given in some school history books – or they might lose them through shipwreck, fire or earthquake. The records of the many regiments raised for a particular war and disbanded at the end of it are especially sketchy.

The best starting point for study of this subject is Stewart of Garth’s “Sketches of the Character of the Highlanders” (1822) and Keltie’s “The Scottish Highlands” (1875). Apart from regimental histories, some good regional studies exist, such as “The Military History of Perthshire.” edited by the Marchioness of Tullibardine, and J.M. Bulloch’s works on North East Scotland.