Friday, 1 February 2019

Scotland's Fencible Regiments - Part 2: Breadalbane's Fencibles

Yesterday I placed an article online about the Fencible Regiments from Scotland, which were drawn up towards the end of the 18th century (see Now, for a more specific example!

In this post I am providing a case study about one member of Breadalbane's Fencibles, my four times great grandfather Private William Paton, who was a handloom weaver in Perth. It will help to illustrate the kind of information that you can derive from estate records, in this case being mostly derived from a series of papers called the Breadalabane Muniments, the archive of the Campbell Family, Earls of Breadalbane, which are held at the National Records of Scotland ( in Edinburgh, catalogued under GD112. William is a bit of a hero of mine - he refused to go to Ireland in 1798 to put down the United Irishment rebellion, along with many in his batallion.

If you have a research enquiry about a fencible soldier, and I can access the relevant records, I may be able to help! Details of my research service are available at

In the meantime, here we go!

Case Study: William Paton, Breadalbane's Fencibles

William Paton was born during the reign of the British king George III at Sconieburn, Perth, on Thursday, March 11th 1779 (OPR:387/7):

Sconieburn March Seventh One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Nine was born William Paton, Lawfully procreated betwixt John Paton weaver and Ann Watson his spouse and baptized March Eleventh by the Revd Mr Ian Moody Minr at Perth.

As a young child, William grew up in Sconieburn watching his father John working as a weaver on a handloom, and ended up taking up the profession himself, which he worked at until the age of 19.

But in 1797, everything changed. William joined up to become a soldier in Breadalbane's Fencibles, a Perthshire regiment raised in 1793 by the Earl of Breadalbane, to replace the troops in Britain who had gone off to fight the French.

William was recruited by Sergeant Robert Mckay of the Second Battalion on Saturday, March 25th 1797, a fortnight after his nineteenth birthday. From the battalion's recruitment book (NRS: GD112/52/544), we get a detailed physical description of William. It tells us that he was aged 19 and born in the city of Perth in the County of Perth. He was five feet, eight and a half inches tall, had black hair, brown eyes, a fair complexion, and was a weaver by trade.

The fact that William was a weaver caused Sergeant McKay some real problems. William signed up with four other gentlemen on the same day - George McKay, John Garvie, John Herres and James McLagon - and it appears that most of these gentlemen were weavers too. They were recruited on the 25th, but they told Sergeant McKay that they were not going anywhere until they had finished the webs they were currently working on. The rules of recruitment which McKay was working to included the following note (NRS: GD112/52/538/10):

III: You must take care not to inlist any indented Apprentices, without previously getting up their Indentures discharged. Nor are you to inlist Deserters from other Corps, nor any Weavers engaged with an unfinished web, unless he agrees to purchase it out of his bounty, previous to his being attested.

The lads were obviously not going to buy their own webs! Sergeant McKay was under some pressure to get them to the battalion's headquarters in Edinburgh. He received two letters from Captain J. Roy in Edinburgh Castle, instructing him to hurry up in getting the problem sorted. McKay wrote the following letter to Roy explaining the problem:

Perth, 24th March 1797


I had the honour to receive your two letters and in answer to the first letter, I wrote the commanding officer mentioning that the most of my party were weavers by trade and some of them were committed to stay until they should find security to finish and work the webs they had in the looms at the time they were inlisted; and indeed the greatest part of them had webs incurring fines at that period, which they were obliged to finish therefore I could not get them away until all these points were settled; but now I think it will be in my power to march 8 recruits from here on the 28th March to head quarters, and I expect they will arrive there in due time.

I have the honour to be

Sir, your humble servant

Robert McKay,
Sergeant 2nd Battalion, 4th Fencibles

The problem was obviously sorted quickly, and on the following day, the 25th, William became a private. Before he could join, he had to have a physical examination by a local qualified surgeon, and was then given a bounty of money by Sergeant McKay as part of his enlistment.

On Monday, March 27th, 1797, Sergeant McKay was able to report in his weekly recruiting return that he had sent William and the other four weavers to Edinburgh, in the charge of a Corporal Stewart (NRS: GD112/52/499). Curiously, all five of the weavers were listed in the return, but only William has his age, height and birthplace listed again, the details for the other four remained blank.

On arriving in Edinburgh at the battalion headquarters, the new recruits had to be kitted out in uniform, which they had to pay for themselves out of their recruitment bounty. Again, the recruiting orders describe the uniform necessary:

XIII: Each Recruit must purchase out of his Bounty, Necessaries according to the List annexed; the Recruiting Officer reserving the sum of 3 Guineas out of the Bounty Money, for which the recruit will be supplied with Slop Cloathing, immediately on his joining at head quarters.

List of Slop Cloathing and Necessaries to be furnished for each recruit out of his bounty:

Slop clothing: scarlet jacket with white cuffs, collar and buttons; a twilled white Flannel waistcoat; a pair of flannelled drawers; a bonnet and feather

Necessaries: three shirts with frills; two pair of hose; two pair of shoes; a comb; a pair of brushes and black-ball; a black leather stock and buckle; a leather rose; a haversack

William was stationed in Edinburgh Castle for several weeks, where he was taken as a private into Captain William Maine's Company, a company within which he was to serve until his eventual discharge. He is recorded as being present in the castle in the monthly return on May 27th 1797 (NRS: GD112/52/338). On June 17th, he is again found listed there, in the "Return of the Country age, size and time of service of Captain Maine's in Edinburgh Castle" (NRS: GD112/52/339). In this, he is described as aged 18 (not 19), 5ft 8inches tall, and born in Scotland, with the column for duration of service left blank. On the monthly return dated June 28th 1797, William is again listed in the castle at Edinburgh (NRS: GD112/52/340).

At some point in the next three months, William and his comrades were ordered on a march to Fife. In the regulations on marches, we get an idea of how this would have occurred (NRS: GD/112/52/538).

The evening previous to a March, the men are to parade in marching order, with every article of necessaries in their Knapsacks, which must be packed with uniformity according to the order fixed for the battalion.

After this initial review, and a night's sleep, the men would be ready to march off on the following morning, with the baggage train ahead of them and the officer in charge at the front. The way the men marched was equally disciplined:

The March in open column is invariably to be adhered to, the division to contain as many files as the breadth of the road will conveniently admit.

William is next recorded in the monthly company returns to headquarters for October 1797, in which we learn that he has now been billetted in St. Andrews, Fife, as part of Captain Maine's Company. Then, in the battalion muster at Kirkcaldy in April 6th 1798, we learn that William had been sent to St Andrew's, where he was detached as a private, from between June 24th until December 25th 1797. William's battallion had some 149 privates in it, and was under the command of a Captain David Williamson. From the adjutant's rolls at the National Archives in Kew, near London (TNA: WO13/3811), we learn that from 25th December 1797 to 24th May 1798 William was again quartered at St Andrew's, receiving an average monthly pay of one pound and eleven shillings.

During this period, William must have had a brief leave to return to Perth, although no such leave is listed in the battallion furlough book (NRS: GD112/52/560). But on Wednesday, 7th February 1798, he married Christian Hay in the Gaelic Chapel (St.Stephen's) in Perth. From their OPR record:


Perth the Third of February One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety eight contracted William Paton, Soldier in the second battalion of Breadalbanes Fencibles and Christian Hay, Daughter to the Deceased Lauchlan Hay, Resident in Perth, Parties both in this Parish Elder Thomas Robertson

The Persons before named were regularly proclaimed and married the seventh day of February said year by Mr Duncan MacFarlan Minister of the Gaelic Chapel in Perth.

The Kirk Session records for Perth also give a note of how much they had to pay to the church for the privilege, by way of pledge money, which would have been returned to the couple upon the marriage being completed, minus a small donation for the poor (NRS: CH2/521/26/485):

7 March 1798 Contract Money

From William Paton and Christian Hay Three shillings and fourpence

The wedding took place in St.Stephen's Gaelic Chapel in Perth. This particular church was built in 1788, after a fund raising drive by the town's other parishioners. The population of the town at that time was mushrooming due to economic prosperity, and one of the results of this was an increase in the number of Gaelic speaking Highlanders being attracted to the town from the surrounding countryside.

Two and a half weeks after his wedding, the Times newspaper of February 21st records that the Second Battalion of the Breadalbane Fencibles had given a voluntary donation of 500L to the fund for national defence, in response to an appeal that had recently been made by the Prime Minister William Pitt. The General Order Book of the battalion in February outlines how each soldier, including William, had donated one day's pay each month towards the fund, and that the money raised from his battalion had been the highest within the various Perthshire corps.

Although quartered in St Andrew's in Fife, on 6th April 1798, the battalions of the regiment were mustered at Kirkcaldy in Fife, and from the muster roll we learn that there were 149 privates in total in the Second Battalion; 35 were absent on leave, or sick, leaving 114 present for the inspection. William is listed as "William Paton, private, detached".

From Friday, 25th May 1798 to Sunday, 24th June 1798, we learn that William was not on duty, and presumably returned to Perth for a brief period of R&R. But in June, upon his return to duty, his regiment left Fife and marched to Glasgow, marching through Queensferry, Bathgate and Airdrie, and by Sunday, August 19th had reached Ayr, where his company was reviewed by General Drummond. The reason for the move was in case British troops in Ireland needed back up in countering the United Irishmen rebellion. But by June the rebellion had been crushed.

On Wednesday, 22nd August, the regiment heard news that a French force had landed at Killala, Ireland. Volunteers from the regiment were asked to go on an expedition to Ireland to help counter this, but only half of them took up the cause, receiving a commemorative medal from Lord Breadalbane himself, who had been inspired by their zeal. They set sail for Ireland on Wednesday, September 12th 1798, arriving at Carrickfergus, and from there, marching on to Donegal. But it has now become clear from the surviving battalion muster rolls at the Public Records Office in London and the Scottish Records Office in Edinburgh that William did not volunteer to go, and instead stayed behind in Scotland.

What had happened was a major political realisation on the part of William and the others who refused to go that they were not simply chattels, and that they did have the right to do as they believed was correct. These were the days when France and the United States had already rebelled against their rulers and had created republics for themselves after violent revolutions, and the same political thought was running riot throughout Britain. The rebellion in Ireland was a part of this political awakening. But William and his colleagues knew that their regiment had not been drawn up to put down the Irish - it had been created as a form of home guard to defend Scotland in the advent of invasion. They weren't going anywhere.

The following description in George Penny's "Traditions of Perth", recorded in 1836, outlines the reaction to both William's and his colleagues' refusal to go to Ireland (p.76):

These troops having been only raised as Scotch Fencibles, when disturbances broke out in Ireland, no argument could induce them to serve in that country. Lady Breadalbane, who had taken great interest in these proceedings, was so incensed at their obstinancy, that she is reported to have declared, that she would raise a regiment that would march to the devil if she desired it. A third regiment was accordingly embodied to serve in Ireland. By this time the new doctrines of the Rights of Man had been extensively spread through the country, and produced an important change in the public mind. The officers who had formerly been in the service, now found it a different business to deal with the men. They had acquired a knowledge of what was their due, and courage to demand it. One of the battalions of Breadalbane Fencibles, had not received their arrears of pay and bounty: on the morning on which they were to march, the regiment was drawn up in front of the George Inn; when ordered to shoulder arms, each man stood immovable! The order was repeated, but still not a man stirred. Upon enquiring into the cause of this extraordinary conduct, the officer in command was informed, that not having received their arrears, the men were determined not to leave the place till these were settled. This was a dilemma as great as it was unexpected. The paymaster had no funds at his disposal, and the Earl of Breadalbane was not at hand. After much argument and entreaty, they were prevailed upon to march to Kinross; the officer pledging himself that every thing would be settled there on the return of an express from the Earl. A mutiny broke out some time afterwards in the first battalion; in consequence of which two of the men were shot, by order of a general court martial.

In the muster roll for Saturday, August 25th to Monday, September 24th 1798, William is listed as quartered for eleven days only - possibly he was either redeployed to another location or perhaps sent on leave again? The next five adjutant's book's entries list him as "in Scotland" only, until Sunday, February 24th 1799. From Monday, February 25th to Saturday, March 24th, William was "detached in Beith".

From the book A Military History of Perthshire, we learn that the volunteers to Ireland from the regiment returned to Scotland at the beginning of March 1799, and rejoined "the detachment from Ayr" towards the end of the month (p.162). They had returned somewhat disillusioned that they were about to be asked to journey to the continent to campaign. This went against their ethos, they were created to be a sort of "Dad's Army", whose duty was to protect Scotland in the advent of invasion. Their trip to Ireland went above and beyond this call, and having basically worked as policemen, which was not what they had expected to do, they had decided that enough was enough, and the order was given to return to Scotland for disbandment.

On their return to Scotland, on April 2nd 1799, the battalion marched to Paisley from Ayr, and on the following day, the battalion's final muster in the town recorded that there were 552 soldiers of all ranks in the regiment, some 34 below establishment. Two weeks later, on April 18th 1799, the two battalions of Breadalbane's Fencibles were disbanded. The disbandment order obviously came as a sudden surprise to the regiment, as noted in the General Order Book, and Lord Breadalbane himself seems to have had not much prior warning of such an event happening. The medals he had promised to the volunteers to Ireland were not ready by the time the disbandment order was given, and details of the volunteers forwarding addresses had to be taken so that the medals could be sent on when they were ready. The final adjutant's book, dated 24th April 1799, records that Private William Paton was "discharged, the battalion being disbanded".

(c) Chris Paton

My next Scottish Research Online course starts March 11th 2019 - see Details of my genealogical research service are available at For my Scottish and Irish themed books, visit Further news published daily on The GENES Blog Facebook page, and on Twitter @genesblog.


  1. Thanks so much for a really interesting article. I have to declare a particular interest as my 4xgreat-grandfather, William Spence (1776-1835), a shoemaker in Perth was also in the Breadalbane Fencibles for a few years (1795-1802, in the 3rd Battalion, and did go to Ireland, promoted to Corporal 1801). I have managed to find some information, mainly at Kew, but am hoping to be able to ‘flesh out’ this information and your article gave me a great idea of what might be possible.

  2. Hi! Thanks for sharing that. Are the Muniments available in digital form, or do we need to go to Edinburgh to consult them in person? (I live in the Hebrides, so it's a bit difficult!) My ancestor, George MacPherson (b.1764, Moulin, m.1792 Perth) was in the second battalion of the Breadalbane Fencibles and eventually settled in Glasgow where he had his family. I'd love to know more about his brief career and any information documents may give about him. Thanks!

  3. They need to be consulted in Edinburgh, but likely worth the effort!


  4. my great times 3 Grandfather Donald Andrew of Caithness was a private in 2nd battalion 4th Breadablane fencibles. he married in 1798 Kirkcaldy. this has been a interesting article . Donald settled in Paisley until his death in 1838