Ne Obliviscaris – 230 years of the Argyllshire Highlanders

Did you know that it has been 230 years since the Argyllshire Highlanders were raised? To celebrate this momentous anniversary, this blog looks back to the early history of the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders from their formation in 1794 to their amalgamation with the Sutherland Highlanders in 1881.

Watercolour painting of the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders on manoeuvres at Aldershot, Hampshire, 1871, by Orlando Norie.
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

With the nation at war with France, His Majesty King George III requested John Campbell, 5th Duke of Argyll to raise a new regiment of 1064 men for foreign service in 1794. By May, the 98th Argyllshire Highlanders had 25 officers, 32 sergeants, 20 drummers and 689 men. About a third of the men were from Argyllshire and the Isles, and many were Gaelic speakers, steeped in Highland culture with a great tradition of piping and storytelling. Many men from Argyllshire were already serving in the British Army or Navy and so others were recruited from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ireland. The 98th was renumbered as the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders in October 1798. Their motto “Ne Obliviscaris” means ‘Do Not Forget’.

The Regiments first overseas post was in 1795 to Cape of Good Hope, a vital link on the strategic sea route to India which was seized by the Dutch. The 91st had to secure the colony and keep order among the Dutch Boer settlers until the 1802 peace settlement that ceded the Cape colony back to French-Dutch control. During this time, the War Office ordered the 91st to give up the kilt for the uniform of an ordinary line regiment, however, they kept their title ‘Argyllshire’ and its pipers. In 1864, some Highland identity was restored to the 91st including tartan trousers which featured a red stripe. However, the kilt was not restored until 1881.

Glengarry cap, 91st Argyllshire Highlanders, c. 1870s
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

The 91st Argyllshire Highlanders frequently returned to South Africa between 1794 and 1881. The journey to South Africa was dangerous and proved perilous on more than one occasion. In 1846, the Abercrombie Robinson was shipwrecked while carrying reinforcements to the Cape and over 100 women and children disembarked before the 700 men of the 91st made it off the ship before it sunk. In 1852, the Birkenhead, carrying reinforcements for the 91st, hit rocks near Simons Town. The women and children escaped on the only boats whilst the men of the 91st stood fast, alongside other regiments onboard, and went down with the ship. Only eight Argyllshire Highlanders survived. From this incident came the tradition of ‘women and children first’‘ which became known as the Birkenhead Drill.

Print of the sinking of the Troopship Abercrombie Robinson 27th August 1842.
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

The 91st Argyllshire Highlanders also fought in the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) which took them to France, Portugal, Spain, and the Low Countries. In freezing weather during December 1808, they fought a famous rearguard action, covering the Army’s withdrawal to Corunna across some of the roughest terrain in Europe. In the space of only two weeks, the 91st covered 80 miles while fighting off the French! The 91st were present at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 before occupying Paris.

Waterloo Medal awarded to QM J Stewart, 91st Argyllshire Highlanders.
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

Officers of the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders provided the Guard of Honour at Princess Louise’s wedding to John Campbell, Marquis of Lorne at Windsor Castle in 1871. In recognition, Queen Victoria renamed the regiment Princess Louise’s Argyllshire Highlanders. Princess Louise continued to be involved with the regiment, designing parts of uniform and starting benevolence funds.

Cap badge worn by a member of the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders c. 1871-1881. From the design by Princess Louise.
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

Despite lasting as an independent regiment for 90 years, the Argyllshire Highlanders amalgamated with the 93rd (Sutherland Highlanders) Regiment of Foot in 1881 under the Childers Reform.

The museum cares for objects and stories of the 91st, and some of these can be seen in the museum today.

Written by Caitlin Stewart, Digital Content Volunteer