Outliers: The Black Watch Mutiny

In this Outliers blog series, we’ve been uncovering the true history that inspired our podcasts’ compelling stories. If you haven’t listened already, Outliers is a history fiction podcast that tells stories from the perspective of those on the edges of historical events. In this final episode, For King and Country, we heard the story of the Black Watch Mutiny. 

Samuel McPherson, one of three Black Watch soldiers shot at the Tower of London on 19 July 1743 after being found guilty of mutiny. Image courtesy of the National Army Museum, London

 

In 1743 three soldiers of the Black Watch were put to death at the Tower of London. Their sentence was mutiny but what is most interesting was their refusal to defend themselves in their court martial. Why did they choose to stay silent, and does the truth have anything to do with the mysterious stranger who visited them on the eve of their court martial? 

The Black Watch were a Scottish infantry regiment; their official name was the 42nd Royal Highland Foot Regiment.  They were created after the first Jacobite rebellion in order to help deter crime in the highlands, the name ‘watch’ being because they watched the highlands, and the name ‘black’ from the dark tartan they were known to wear.  

In 1743 the Black Watch were ordered to march to London, which had never happened before. The Black Watch was a regiment that was created to protect the highlands and so the motivation behind marching all the way to London caused uneasiness in the men and Scottish officials. They feared they would be sent abroad but were reassured that King George II simply wanted to inspect the troops.  

The mutiny started when the regiment reached London, and King George was rumoured to not be there. Their suspicions turned out to be true: the regiment were to be sent elsewhere, and not simply inspected by the king! Rumours flew around that the men would go to the West Indies, and while it was more likely they would actually go to Flanders, the mutineers did not differentiate. They wanted to be home in Scotland, and that is where they headed. 

The mutineers were rounded up and brought to the Tower of London, with the alleged leaders Corporals Malcolm and Samuel McPherson and Private Farquhar Shaw agreeing to surrender on the understanding that they would be pardoned.  

The memorial in front of the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula, where the three soldiers of the Black Watch are remembered. Copyright Historic Royal Palaces

 

In this story, writer Jonathan Sims creates an air of mystery by writing from the perspective of a stranger who supposedly visited the three convicted men the night before their court martial, imagining that he persuaded them not to defend themselves. The reasons why these men chose not to defend themselves remains a mystery. Instead the leaders were executed by firing squad. 

The regiment was disbanded, the ‘pardoned’ mutineers were sent to the West Indies (where most were expected to die from diseases), and the rest to Flanders. A sad end for a regiment who had been tricked into leaving Scotland. Corporals Malcolm and Samuel McPherson and Private Farquhar Shaw are remembered on a memorial on Tower Green at the Tower of London. 

For King and Country is now available to download. Listen to the new story and to all previous episodes on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or Stitcher

You can read the full transcript of For King and Country here

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