18th of May

St Venantius, martyr, 250. St Theodotus, vintner, and seven virgins, martyrs, 303. St Potamon, martyr, 341. St Eric, King of Sweden, martyr, 1151.

Died. – Charles Perrault, miscellaneous writer, 1703; Bishop John Douglas, 1807.


Early in the last century [18thC], the government raised six companies of highland soldiers, as a local force to preserve the peace and prevent robberies in the northern parts of Scotland. These companies, the famous Black Watch of Scottish song and story, were formed into a regiment in 1739, and four years after were marched to London, on their way to join the British army, then actively serving in Germany. Many of the men composing this regiment, believing that their terms of enlistment did not include foreign service, felt great dissatisfaction on leaving Scotland; but it being represented to them that they were merely going to London to be reviewed by the king in person, no actual disobedience to orders occurred. About the time, however, that the regiment reached London, the king departed for the Continent, and this the simple and high-minded Highlanders considered as a slight thrown upon either their courage or fidelity. Several disaffected persons, among the crowds that went to see the regiment in their quarters at Highgate, carefully fanned the flame of discontent; but the men, concealing any open expression of ill-feeling, sedulously prepared for a review announced to take place on the king’s birthday, the 14th of May 1743. On that day Lord Sempill’s Highland regiment, as it was then termed, was reviewed by General Wade, on Finchley Common. A paper of the day, says: ‘The Highlanders made a very handsome appearance, and went through their exercise and firing with the utmost exactness. The novelty of the sight drew together the greatest concourse of people ever seen on such an occasion.’ 


The review having taken place, the dissatisfied portion of the regiment, considering that the duty for which they were brought to London had been performed, came to the wild resolution of forcing their way back to Scotland. So immediately after midnight, on the morning of the 18th of May, about one hundred and fifty of them, with their arms and fourteen rounds of ball-cartridge each, commenced their march northwards. On the men being missed, the greatest consternation ensued, and the most frightful apprehensions were entertained regarding the crimes likely to be perpetrated by the (supposed) savage mountaineers, on the peaceful inhabitants of English country-houses. Despatches were sent off to the officers commanding in the northern districts, and proclamations of various kinds were issued; among others, one offering a reward of forty shillings for every captured deserter. The little intercourse between different parts of the country, and the slow transmission of intelligence at the period, is remarkably exemplified by the fact that the first authentic news of the deserters did not reach London till the evening of the seventh day after their flight. 


The retreat was conducted by a corporal, Samuel Macpherson, who exhibited considerable military skill and strategy. Marching generally by night, and keeping the line of country between the two great northern roads, they pushed forward with surprising celerity, carefully selecting strong natural positions for their resting-places. When marching by day, they directed their course from one wood or defensive position to another, rather than in a direct northern line – thus perplexing the authorities, who never knew where to look for the deserters, as scarcely two persons agreed when describing their line of march. 

General Blakeney, who then commanded the north-eastern district, specially appointed Captain Ball, with a large body of cavalry, to intercept the Highlanders. On the evening of the 21st, Ball received intelligence that about three o’clock on the same day the fugitives had crossed the river Nen, near Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire. Conjecturing that they were making for Rutlandshire, he placed himself in an advantageous position at Uppingham, on the border of that county; Blakeney, with a strong force, being already posted at Stamford, on the border of Lincolnshire. But the Highlanders encamped for the night in a strong position on a hill surrounded by a dense wood, about four miles from Oundle, in Northamptonshire. 


Early on the following morning, a country magistrate named Creed, hearing of the Highlanders’ arrival in his neighbourhood, went to their camp, and endeavoured to persuade them to surrender. This they refused to do without a grant of pardon, which Creed could not give. After considerable discussion, both parties agreed to the following terms. Creed was to write to the Duke of Montague, Master-General of the Ordnance, stating that the deserters were willing to return to their duty on promise of a free pardon; they engaging to remain in the place they then occupied till a reply arrived from the duke; Creed also was to write to the military officer commanding in the district, desiring him not to molest the Highlanders until the duke’s wishes were known. At five o’clock in the morning the letters were written by Creed, in the presence of the Highlanders, and immediately after despatched, by special messengers, to their respective destinations. In that to the military officer, Creed says, ‘These Highlanders are a brave, bold sort of people, and are resolved not to submit till pardon comes down.’ 

In the meantime, a gamekeeper of Lord Gainsborough, having reported the position of the Highlanders to Captain Ball, that officer, arriving on the ground on the forenoon of the same day, demanded their immediate surrender. They replied that they were already in treaty with the civil authorities, and referred Captain Ball to Mr Creed. At the same time they wrote the following letter to Mr Creed, then attending church at Oundle:- 

   ‘Honoured Sir, – Just now came here a captain belonging to General Blakeney’s regiment, and proposed to us to surrender to him, without regard to your honour’s letter to the Duke of Montague, which we refused to do; wherefore he is gone for his squadron, and is immediately to fall on us. So that, if you think they can be kept off till the return of your letter, you’ll be pleased to consider without loss of time.’ 

With this letter they also sent a verbal message, stating that they were strongly posted, and resolved to die to a man, rather than surrender on any other terms than those they had already proposed. Creed replied, advising them to surrender, and offering his good offices in soliciting their pardon. Ball, finding the position of the deserters unassailable by cavalry, rested till the evening when General Blakeney’s forces arrived. The Highlanders then sent out a request for another interview with Ball, which was granted. He told them he could grant no other terms than an unconditional surrender. They replied that they preferred dying with arms in their hands. They took him into the wood, and showed him the great strength of their position, which, from Ball’s military description, seems to have been one of those ancient British or Roman earthworks which still puzzle our antiquaries. They said they were soldiers, and would defend it to the last. Ball replied that he too was a soldier, and would kill the last, if it came to the arbitrament of arms. They then parted, a guard of the Highlanders leading Ball out of the wood. On their way, Ball, by offering an absolute pardon to the two by whom he was accompanied, succeeded in inducing them to return to their duty. One went with him to the general; the other, returning to the wood, prevailed upon a number of his comrades to submit also; these persuaded others, so that in the course of the night the whole number surrendered to General Blakeney. 


As the Highlanders in their retreat conducted themselves in the most unexceptional manner, none of the fearful anticipations respecting them were realized. So, on their surrender, the public fright resolved itself into the opposite extreme of public admiration. The flight of the deserters was compared to the retreat of the Ten Thousand; and Corporal Macpherson was regarded as a second Xenophon. But the stern exigencies of military discipline had to be satisfied. By sentence of a court-martial, two corporals, Macpherson and his brother, and one private named Shaw, were condemned to be shot. The execution took place on the 12th of July, a newspaper of the day tells that – ‘The rest of the Highlanders were drawn out to see the execution, and joined in prayer with great earnestness. The unfortunate men behaved with perfect resolution and propriety. their bodies were put into three coffins by three of their clansmen and namesakes, and buried in one grave near the place of execution.’ 


General Stewart, in his Sketches of the Highlanders, says, ‘There must have been something more than common in the case or character of these unfortunate men, as Lord John Murray, who was afterwards colonel of the regiment, had portraits of them hung up in his dining-room. I have not at present the means of ascertaining whether this proceeded from an impression on his lordship’s mind that they had been victims to the designs of others, and ignorantly misled rather than wilfully culpable, or merely from a desire of preserving the resemblances of men who were remarkable for their size and handsome figure.’ 

Whatever stain may have been cast on the character of a brave and loyal regiment by this ill-judged affair, was soon after effectually washed away by their desperate courage on the sanguinary field of Fontenoy. One of Sempill’s Highlanders, named Campbell, killed nine Frenchmen with his broadsword, and, while aiming a blow at a tenth, had his arm carried away by a cannon-ball. The Duke of Cumberland nominated him to a lieutenancy on the field; his portrait was engraved; and there was scarcely a village throughout England but had the walls of its cottages decorated with the representation of this warlike Celt. Sempill’s regiment, losing its distinctive appellation about the middle of the last century, became the 42nd Highlanders, and as such can boast of laurels gained in every part of the globe where British valour and determination have stemmed and turned the headlong tide of battle.


MAY 18, 1843.

This was an event of very great moment in Scotland, and perhaps of more importance to the rest of the United Kingd0om than the rest of the United Kingdom was aware of. It took its origin in a movement of zeal in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, mainly promoted by Dr Chalmers, and to which a stimulus was given by a movement in the Scotch dissenting bodies for putting an end to the connexion of church and state. Eager to show itself worthy of the status it enjoyed, and to obtain popular support, the church in 1834 passed a law of its own, ordaining than thenceforth no presentee to a parish church should be admitted or ‘settled’ (a duty of the presbytery of the district), if he was objected to by a majority of the male communicants of the congregation. This of course struck at the face of the system of patronage, long established – a system involving important civil rights. A presentee objected to next year claimed the protection of the civil courts, and had his claim allowed. The Veto law, as it was called, became a dead letter. It was after several years of vain struggling against the civil powers on points like this, that a large portion of the national clergy formed the resolution of withdrawing from an Establishment in which, as they held, ‘Christ’s sole and supreme authority as king in his church,’ was dishonoured. 

When the annual convocation or assembly of the church was approaching in May 1843, it was generally understood that this schism was about to take place; but nearly all cool on-lookers fully assured themselves that a mere handful of clergymen, chiefly those specially committed as leaders, would give up their comfortable stipends and manses, and all the other obvious advantages of their position. The result was such as to show that to judge of a probable course of action by a consideration of the grosser class of human motives only, is not invariably safe – on the contrary, may be widely wrong. The day of the meeting arrived. The assembly met in St Andrew’s Church, in Edinburgh, under its Moderator or President, Dr Welsh, and with the usual sanctioning presence of the royal commissioner – an anomalous interference with the very principle concerned, which had been quietly submitted to by the church ever since the Revolution. There was a brilliant assemblage of spectators within, and a vast crowd without, most of them prepared to see the miserable show of eight or ten men voluntarily sacrificing themselves to what was thought a fantastic principle. When the time came for making up the roll of the members, Dr Welsh rose, and said that he must protest against further procedure, in consequence of proceedings affecting the rights of the church which had been sanctioned by her Majesty’s government and by the legislature of the country. After reading a formal protest, he left his place and walked out of the church, followed first by Dr Chalmers, then by other prominent men, afterwards by others, till the number amounted to four hundred; who then walked along the streets to another place of meeting, and constituted themselves into the Free Church of Scotland – free, as distinguished from one fettered by the state connexion. There was of course general astonishment, mingled with some degree of consternation, at the magnitude of the separating body, indicating, as it did, something like the break-up of a venerable institution. But the full numbers of the seceding clergy were not yet ascertained; they reached four hundred and seventy, or not much less than a half of the entire body. It was a remarkable instance of the energy of religious (though, in the estimation of many, mistaken) principles, in an age of material things. When Lord Jeffrey was told, an hour after, what had taken place, he started up, exclaiming, ‘Thank God for my country; there is not another upon earth where such a deed could have been done!’ 

Within four years the new church numbered 720 clergy, for whose subsistence a very fair provision was made by the contributions of their adherents; thus, by the way, proving the energy of that voluntary principle, to check which this movement had partly been made, and to which this sect still professed to be opposed. The real importance of the event lay in its taking away the support of a majority of the people from the Establishment, in one more of the three divisions of the empire.

On this Day in Other Sources.

The 18th of May, this year, 1426, the King adjourned his parliament to Stirling from Perth, until the 24th day of the said month; before whom was accused Walter Stewart, eldest son to Murdoch, Duke of Albany, who received sentence of death, and lost his head this same day, before the castle, on a little rock; and on the morrow, likewise, Murdoch, Duke of Albany, with his 2nd son, Alexander Stewart, and his father-in-law, Duncan, Earl of Lennox, being accused, were all 4 forfeited, and condemned to lose their heads, by an assize of their peers. 

– Historical Works, pp.153-166.

The Gordons had become a powerful family in Strathbogie, and the Laird of Strathbogie, “The Cock of the North,” as he was called, was created Earl of Huntly. King James made him lieutenant-general of the kingdom. He attacked the Tiger Earl near Brechin, and defeated the Linsdays there on the 18th of May, 1452. The Tiger Earl as he fled to Finhaven Castle, was heard to say, that he would readily abide seven years in hell, to have such a victory as Huntly had won that day. he soon afterwards made submission to the king and was forgiven. Huntly afterwards marched to the north and burned half the town of Elgin. 

– A History of Scotland, Chapter IX.

The battle of Brechin, fought on the day of Ascension [18th of May],* between Alexander [Gordon], Earl of Huntly, the King’s lieutenant, and [Alexander Lindsay,] the Earl of Crawford, in assistance of the Earl of Douglas, in the year 1453. In this battle was Crawford overthrown, his brother James killed, with many of his men also, and the rest routed. 

– Historical Works, pp.166-189. 

*  The Battle of Brechin took place in 1452.

This same year the King calls a parliament at Edinburgh, the 18th day of May [1491]; the first act of which was, the confirmation of the alliance and confederation with France, concluded in the former year; with diverse other acts and statutes of less consequence, being for administration of justice especially. 

– Historical Works, pp.214-238.

The shipwrecked Spaniards were not everywhere so well treated. The kirk-session of Perth, May 18, 1589, ordered the keepers of the town-gates to exclude Spaniards and other idle vagabonds and beggars, and commanded that all such persons now in the town should immediately leave it. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.99-123.

Adjoining the house of Knox (which we shall describe presently) once stood a timber-fronted fabric, having a corbelled oriel, and flats projecting over each other in succession, and a roof furnished with picturesque dormer windows. Its lintel bore the date 1601, and it was said to have been the mansion of the early Lords Balmerino. On a Sunday morning in 1840 this entire edifice suddenly parted in two – the front half was precipitated into the street with a terrible crash, while the back part remained in its original position, thus giving a perfect longitudinal section through the edifice to the people without, presenting suddenly a scene as singular as some of those displayed by the diable boiteux to the gaze of the student Don Cleofas, when all the roofs of Madrid disappeared before him. 

Some of the inmates were seen in bed, others were partaking of their humble morning meal, and high up in the airy attic storey was seen an old crone on the creepie stool, smoking at her ingle side. The whole in habitants of the place were filled with consternation, but all escaped without injury. The ruins were removed, and on their site was built, in 1850, a very handsome Gothic church in connection with the Free Church body, and named after the Reformer. Its foundation-stone was laid on the 18th of May, being a day memorable in the annals of the great Non-intrusion movement in Scotland. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.212-218.