The raising of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, in April 1799, was an even more feudal affair than the raising of the 98th. In the remote and mountainous north, Elizabeth Countess of Sutherland delegated the task of raising a Sutherland Regiment to her cousin Major-General William Wemyss of Wemyss.
He assembled 259 men from the recently disbanded Sutherland Fencibles and most of the rest were drawn from the Countess’s tenantry by a process which, though highly original, amounted to a form of conscription.
General Wemyss would assemble the available young men of each parish and would walk down the line carrying a large, silver-bound, horn snuff mull, with an attendant bearing a bottle of whisky.
Each likely young man was invited to step forward and take snuff with the General and, having drunk his dram, was understood to have been attested without further formality. The only fierce objections came from the parents; and most of these the Countess was able to reconcile by the grant of a more advantageous lease.
In the end Wemyss had 419 Highlanders, including 91 Mackays and 61 Sutherlands.
The 93rd wore the same tartan as the 91st. Lochnell called it ‘the Campbell Tartan’, the 93rd referred to theirs as the ‘Sutherland Tartan’. It is exactly similar to that worn by the Regiment today.
There were only three Englishmen, two of whom, however, had good Scots names; and in any case all three were discharged within two years as unfit for service. Right from the start the 93rd became the most solidly and characteristically Highland of all the Scottish Regiments and it remained so to the day in 1948 when it went into what the War Office called ‘suspended animation’.
Unlike the 91st, from 1800 to 1815 the 93rd had a relatively peaceful existence. They sailed, in July 1805, to recapture Cape Colony from the Dutch. There, like the 91st, they had their baptism of fire and won their first – for many years their only – Battle Honour. Cape Town was surrendered and there they remained for eight uneventful years.
The Regiment’s distinctive character sprang from the close territorial connection of nearly all the officers and men. They even grouped together, in the companies, all the men from any one parish. Almost all came from households where morning and evening prayers and Bible reading were an integral part of family life.
Almost every private had his own Bible; and the later reputation of these men for steadfast endurance undoubtedly sprang from the deeply rooted religious habit established in their early years. Yet it was noted in Plymouth, when they returned to England in 1814, that ‘their religious tenets were free of all fanatical gloom’, and that ‘they always promoted that social cheerfulness characteristic of the homes from which they came’
In 1808 while serving in the Cape of Good Hope the men of the 93rd Highlanders felt the need of a Kirk Session, and without further ado elected one, and engaged a minister whose stipend was paid for by the soldiers from their own pockets. This Kirk Session has continued in existence in the 93rd, 2nd Battalion, and now in the 1st Battalion to this day.
All in all, it was a very cheerful and united body of men, much given to Highland dancing, which set sail in 1814 to take part in the British government’s latest folly: an attempt to capture New Orleans.