Seaforth Goes After his Deserters

From the appendices of the Historical Record of the 72nd Highlanders, Vol. 2.  I’m not aware of a particular Uig aspect to this issue, though there are tales of deserters here.  Alexander Gillanders was the son of George Gillanders, Chamberlain of the Lews, and succeeded his father in that role (about 1790?); and Seaforth was Lt Col Thomas Mackenzie Humberston, proprietor of the island and personally responsible for his regiment. The introduction is by the editor of the volume.

The following letter will show that the habit of desertion, all too prevalent in newly raised corps and in the ordinary marching regiments of that day (but usually less so in Highland corps) was not unknown even in the Seaforth’s regiment.  Some of the men in the more remote districts of the Highlands were not eager to go to the East at that time a great deal further away than in these days of quick travel; to serve at home or even in American or Europe was different.  A few no doubt had also enlisted under some pressure and not having done so of their own free wil, tried to evade serving.  It would appear that there were about 20 deserters from the island of Lewis.  As the regiment was under orders to proceed to India at the time this letter was written, it was necessary to get back these men and also by enlisting a few more, to bring the regiment up to strength before it proceeded overseas.  As a matter of fact the regiment did not actually sail until June 1781 but movements of troops were made slowly in those days of no telegraph and sailing ships.  The letter given below came into the possession of Colonel Mackenzie of Ord (who commanded the 3rd Seaforth Highlanders from 1913 to 1918) and who in 1919 presented it to the officers mess, 1st Seaforth Highlanders.

To Alex Gillanders Esq
Seaforth Lodge
Island of Lewis
N Britain

Guernsey 15th Dec 1779

Sir —

This covers an offer of a pardon to such deserters of my Regt as shall on or before 1st of March next deliver themselves up to you, and you will be pleased to have it put in the Gaelic Language & pasted up at the doors of different Parish Churches, also subsist them at a rate of 6d. a day from the time they deliver themselves up.

Lieut. Hogart of my Regt who I have ordered on the Recruiting Service to your part of the country, will repay you the money you advance to the deserters, to whom they are to be given up & I expect you will give him every Countenance and Assistance in your power in getting Recruits, the number he is directed to raise 40 at least & he must be back with the Regt by the 15th of May, you will therefore see the necessity for diligence & activity, in order that he may be able to perform the service that is expected from him & I cannot doubt but you will give him every possibility in Complishing it.  I should be glad before he arrives you would have an Eye to such men as can be best spared, who come under the denomination of defaulters etc.  We can make Honest Men and Good Soldiers of Deer Stalkers and Potchers provided they are not too old & that they are able-bodied and fit for service.

I am, Yours etc


If you know of any deserters in your part of the country who you think are likely to surrender themselves in consequence of the enclosed Pardon, endeavour to get them apprehended and lodged in some safe gaol, until Lt Hogart arrives, who will give directions about them.  Taking care at the same time that they are regularly subsisted.