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42nd Royal Highland Regiment (Australia)

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Historical notes on the 42nd Highland Regiment (1815)

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An Officer of the 42nd The 42nd was formed in May 1740 from many small independant companies throughout the highlands of Scotland, which were originally formed to combat banditry, blackmail and extortion which was rife throughout the highlands of Scotland in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The name "Black Watch" is thought to havecome from this period, when the "Watch" patrolled the highlands at night to prevent crime. Another theory is that because of the contrast of the plaid worn against the red of the usual English uniform, the 42nd looked drab, or dark. When the 42nd was formed it was allocated the 43rd Regiment, this was changed to the 42nd in 1749. The term "Black Watch" was officially added to the title in 1861.

The new Regiment continued to serve as the Highland Watch, in Scotland, but the British command sent the regiment as reinforcements in Flanders and Germany, in the war of the Austrian Succession. This resulted in a mutiny in 1743, but ended without bloodshed. (Save the executions of those responsible!) The regiment received its baptism of fire in the Battle of Fontenoy, 1745, and returned in 1745 during the Jacobite Rebellion, where they were stationed in the south, in anticipation of a French invasion. In 1747, they were garrisoned in Ireland, where they remained for 9 years.

The tartan and kilt seems to some, as a mystical item of clothing clouded in mystery and steeped in history, prior to the 19th century it was regarded as an item of mens clothing worn throughout the highlands. It did not develop its mystique till the late 18th, early 19th centuries. The clan tartan seems to have developed from area tartan patterns, from which each clan chieftan developed his own distinctive weave. The 42nd or "Black Watch" sett is said to have come from Lord John Murray, given by him, to the Regiment, this was basically the same as today, apart from a small red line woven through the set, this was the Athole sett or tartan. Another theory was that the first commanding officer, the Earl of Crawford was a lowlander with no clan tartan so he "invented" a pattern to be worn by his men, as was traditional in the highlands. No one really knows and so the debate goes on.

The original plaid was 12 yards long and was worn around the waist and up over the shoulder, held in place by a broach and waist belt. This was gradually shortened till in 1815, the other ranks kilt was only 3.5 yards long. Short by todays standards, where the average kilt is 7.5 yards long. Contrary to popular belief, undergarments were worn by most men, this consisted of a long shirt, with the tail pulled up between the legs and pinned or buttoned to the shirt front. Part of the mystique today is that when people ask "What's under the kilt", today, we continue to play the game and don't tell them.

The 1815 bonnet has developed from the earlier flat beret type to the one we use today, shaped like a pork pie. The chequer band has its origins in the "fesse chequy" from the Stuart coat of arms. The ostrich feathers originating from the highland custom of wearing feathers in the bonnet. These were supplied and paid for by the men themselves and were not an issue item. The wealthier you were, the more feathers you had. The feathers were also used as stakes in the many forms of gambling within the unit. The sphinx worn on the bonnet signifies the regiments involvement in the Egypt campaign in 1800 - 1801.

The checked hose prior to 1796 were cut from diced cloth, cut on the bias to obtain a tight fit, after this date the hose were knitted and joined up the back.

The red hackle worn on the bonnet has a history all of its own. In 1795 during service in Flanders, the English were defending a village called Gildermalson on the river Hauss. The French cavalry made a dash forward and captured two guns being guarded by the 11th light Dragoons (hussars). The 42nd ralliedforward and drove the French off, regaining the two cannon previously lost by the Dragoons. In reward the 42nd were awarded the red vulture hackle worn by the 11th Dragoons. The 11th Dragoons were stripped of their hackle and were made to wear a white hackle instead.

The history of the 42nd is long and proud, below is a list of campaigns to 1815. The 73rd Regiment which served right here in Australia under Governor Lachlan Macquarie, from 1810 till 1814 was formed from the 2nd batalion 42nd in 1780 and returned to the 42nd in 1871.

Campaign list

  • North America. 1756 - 1763
  • North America. 1776 - 1782
  • Flanders. 1794 - 1795
  • West Indies. 1795 - 1800
  • Egypt. 1800 - 1801
  • Gibralter. 1805 - 1808
  • Coruna. (Portugal) 1809
  • Peninsular Campaigns. 1810 - 1814
  • Quatre Bras & Waterloo 1815


"Scottish Military Dress" - Peter Cochrane Publ. 1987

"The Black Watch" - Archibald Forbes Publ. 1896

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Craig Prince