8782: Seaforth Highlanders 78th Regiment

The 78th Seaforth Highland Regiment (the Ross-shire Buffs) was originally proposed and recruited by Seaforth Mackenzie, Kenneth Og, the Lewis proprietor, in 1778 in gratitude to the Crown for their favour in 1771 of restoring the family Estates and the Seaforth title which had been forfeited as a result of the Earl of Seaforth taking part in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

Of 1130 men, 500 came from his estates and 200 of these were Lewismen. Kenneth accompanied the men out to India in defence of the Realm but died en-route, as did 247 of his men of scurvy, before they reached Madras in 1782.

Command of the 78th was taken over by Kenneth’s cousin Col FM Humberston, who was also then proprietor of Lewis. He died in 1783 of wounds and was succeeded by his brother, FH Mackenzie (Deaf Mackenzie or MacCoinnich Bodhar), later Lord Seaforth. Some of the troops returned home at this point, but others stayed on. The Regiment served all over the world: India, Ceylon, South Africa, Afghanistan, the West Indies and Crimea.

The 1st Battalion of the 78th Regiment was raised in 1793 by Lord Seaforth, who personally travelled through his estates (on Lewis and the mainland) to recruit, with the mediation of Rev Hugh Munro. Press-ganging was also in evidence in parts of the island. He succeeded in making up a battalion of a thousand men, which became known in Lewis as Saighdearan Mhic Coinnich Bhodhair, Deaf Mackenzie’s Soldiers.

This Battalion was sent to the Netherlands to prevent a French invasion and served at Nijmegen, Capetown, India and the West Indies; 350 men were lost.

Another Battalion was raised in 1794, though with some difficulty in Uig as the men took to the hills on Seaforth’s approach, and he was faced with the women of Uig on Cnoc a’Champ. It seems the Rev Munro talked them round.

The battalion was sent to South Africa to fight the Dutch, resulting in the Cape Colony becoming British. The remnants of the 1st Battalion joined the others in South Africa and the two were amalgamated in June 1796. They were known thereafter as the 1st Battalion of the 78th Seaforth Highlanders, with 970 Highlanders 129 Lowlanders and 14 English and Irish men. 300 were from Lewis.

From Cape Colony the 78th went to India where they fought in the Maharatta War and at the Battle of Assaye. They were in India until 1811 when they went to Java, where they remained until 1816.

In 1804 a 2nd Battalion (known as Saighdeirean Mac a’Mhinisteir, Soldiers of the Minister’s Son) was raised from the Seaforth Estates. Amongst the officers was Ensign John Munro, son of Rev Hugh Munro, Uig, whose commission dates from April 1804 (and who was later killed in Batavia, Java in 1811, presumably having moved to join the 1st Battalion.) By September 1804 this Battalion had landed in Gibraltar en route for Sicily; they crossed Italy and were engaged in the Battle of Maida, commanded by Sir John Stewart. They defeated the French; 5000 French were lost to 44 British.

In 1807 the new Battalion was engaged in the Egyptian Campaign, or Cogadh na Tuirc as it was known in Gaelic. Hundreds of British were taken prisoner and sold into slavery, and others were blinded, wounded or killed. The force evacuated from Egypt in 1808, though without the prisoners. The Battalion also served in South Africa and North West India, and the survivors had made it home to Lewis by 1817.

In 1806 Seaforth had written to the Duke of York commending the gallantry of his Regiment and offering to raise a 3rd Battalion; the Duke declined the offer.

Medals for the campaigns of 1801-1814 were finally issued in 1847 to any surviving veterans.

In 1881 after Army reforms, they became the 2nd battalion with a territorial district comprising Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney and Moray. They also had a regimental depot at Fort George.

After 1881 they fought in Egypt, the Sudan, South Africa and on the north west frontier of India.

Nine battalions fought in World War One with another nine reserve and training battalions.

During World War 2 the 1st battalion served in Java, Malaya and Aden. After the war they were in Egypt, Gibraltar and BAOR in Germany.

In 1961 they were amalgamated with the Queens Own Highlanders.

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