Military Wiki
78th Highland Regiment
Colours of the regiment
Active 1793-1881
Country United Kingdom
Branch British Army
Type Infantry Regiment
Role Infantry
Garrison/HQ Fort George
Mascot(s) Elephant
Battle honours Assaye (1803)
For other units with the same regimental number, see 78th Regiment of Foot (disambiguation)

The 78th Regiment of Foot (after 1796 sub-titled the Ross-shire Buffs) was a Highland Infantry Regiment of the Line raised in late 18th Century Scotland for service against the French during the French Revolutionary Wars. The Regiment later led to involvement in worldwide military activities in countries such as India, Egypt and South Africa. The regiment is most well known for its involvement in the Siege of Lucknow. Their deeds were commemorated by poets such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.[1]

On 7 March 1793, Francis Humberstone MacKenzie raised the "78th (Highland) Regiment of Foot".[2] Francis Humberston Mackenzie was chief of the clan Mackenzie and a descendent of the earls of Seaforth. (Its associations were all with the clan Mackenzie and it bore no relationship to the earlier 78th Fraser Highlanders that fought at Louisbourg and Quebec under Wolfe in the French and Indian War.)

Today there is a re-enactment Regiment and the 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel) Pipe Band stationed at Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada, Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the original 78 Regiment were stationed for three years (1869-1871).

French Revolutionary Wars

Founder of the 78th Highlanders - Francis Humberstone MacKenzie by Sir Thomas Lawrence


During the French Revolutionary Wars, just a year after they were formed, the 78th found itself at the defence of Nijmegen in the Netherlands (1794). About the end of October the 78th proceeded to Arnheim, the Duke of York’s headquarters, and thence, by a night march, to Nimeguen, against which place the French were erecting batteries, On the 4th of November a sortie was made, when the 78th was for the first time under fire, and did such execution with the bayonet, as to call forth the highest encomiums from experienced and veteran officers. The loss of the regiment in this engagement was Lieutenant Martin Cameron (died of his wounds) and seven men, killed; wounded, Major Malcolm, Captain Hugh Munro, Captain Colin Mackenzie, Lieutenant Bayley, 4 sergeants, and 56 rank and file.[3]

South Africa

In June 1795, the 78th attacked the Cape of Good Hope (the Dutch having become revolutionary allies of the French) and forced the surrender of Cape Town and Wynberg in South Africa. In June 1795 a British fleet under Sir George Elphinstone arrived off the Cape, having Major-General James Henry Craig and the 78th Highlanders (second battalion) on board. The Dutch were strongly posted in their fortified camp at Muysenberg, six miles on this side of Capetown. A force of 800 British seamen having been sent to co-operate with the troops on shore, the whole body moved to its attack; while the ships of the fleet, covering them from the sea, opened such a terrific fire upon the colonists that they fled precipitately.[4]

Muysenberg was taken on the 7th of August, and on the 9th a detachment arrived from St Helena with some field-pieces; but it was not till the 3rd of September, when Sir Alured Clarke, at the head of three regiments, put into the bay, that an advance became practicable. Accordingly, the Dutch position at Wineberg was forced on the 14th, and on the 15th Capetown capitulated, the garrison marching out with the honours of war. Thus, after a two months campaign, during which they suffered severely from the unhealthiness of their situation, the scarcity of provisions, and the frequent night attacks of the enemy, the 78th Highlanders saw the object of the expedition accomplished, and the colony taken possession of in the name of his Britannic Majesty.[5]

Napoleonic Wars

The 78th was to spend a good portion of its career in India, which became the locale of its greatest military accomplishments. Thus it was one of three British (as distinct from Indian) regiments that won fame under Sir Arthur Wellesley at the battle of Assaye.

Battle of Assaye

During the Napoleonic Wars, In September 1803, during the Maharatta campaign, the 78th took part in the famous engagement at Assaye under the overall command of Major General Arthur Wellesley (who later became the Duke of Wellington), occupying the crucial left flank of the leading attackers. The 78th was the first infantry to reach the Maharatta and was instrumental in capturing the enemy guns and routing their infantry. Shortly after the Battle of Assaye, the 78th were sent in pursuit of fleeing Mahrattas at Argam. Later in the year, they besieged the Fortress of Gawilghur to help finish the job they had commenced at Assaye. The 78th were awarded an Assaye Colour. The 2nd Battalion of the regiment served in the Mediterranean for the Sicilian Campaign of 1806, quartered at Syracuse, and the Alexandria expedition of 1807.[6] Three companies of the 78th were surrounded by Turkish cavalry and captured in the expedition. Among the prisoners was Thomas Keith who converted and entered Ottoman service. One hundred sixty-three men and officers were killed, including the Commanding Officer Lt-Col. MacLeod. The remainder of the 78th's 2nd battalion withdrew to Alexandria.

During the Napoleonic wars probably its most notable achievement was its participation in Invasion of Java (1811), when they laid siege to and captured Fort Cornelis on the island of Java on 26 August 1811.[7] The British lost 154 men in bitter fighting, including the 78th's acting C.O., Brevet Lt-Col. In early 1812 a detachment of 100 men participated in an unsuccessful punitive expedition against the Sultan of Sambas in Kalimantan, West Borneo.

Sukkar, Sindh

Sindh memorial to the 78th Highlanders in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh

In 1842, the 78th were back in India because of the First Anglo-Afghan War. While at Sukkar Sindh, the regiment suffered its greatest losses. Major-General Simpson, Sir Charles Napier’s lieutenant (who afterwards commanded our armies in the Crimea), was at Sukhur at the time, and on his return to Hyderabad, caused to be erected there at his own expense a monument to the memory of all those who died. The remainder of the regiment also erected a monument in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, to the memory of their comrades who died in Sindh. The regiment lost, between the 1st of September 1844 and 30 April 1845, 3 officers, 532 men, 68 women, 134 children —total, 737 souls. In 1844, cholera wiped out 535 officers and more than 200 members of their families.[8]

Anglo-Persian War

It fought in the Anglo-Persian War of 1857 under the command of General Foster Stalker. They were in Persia leading the attack at the famous Battle of Khushab and Mohammerah.

Indian Mutiny

78 Highlanders Monument, Lucknow

The regiment probably gained its greatest military renown, however, in the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58. Under the command of Sir Henry Havelock, the 78th was instrumental in the first British thrust down the Ganges into rebel held territory. The 78th was involved in the recapture of the town of Cawnpore on 16 July.

78 Highlanders Monument, Edinburgh Castle

The Sepoys laid siege to Cawnpore for 20 days. Without any water, the besieged British defenders and civilians now weak, and with tropical sickness endemic in the sweltering heat, could no longer hold out, and on 25 June 1857, they surrendered. The survivors, now only numbering about 400, were promised safe conduct out of the city but as they departed, they were brutally massacred with the exception of 3 men, 73 women, and 124 children who were taken prisoner and held in part of the buildings of the emplacement known as the Bibighar. After the three men were summarily executed by firing squad, the rebels, by now in a murderous frenzy, embarked upon a bloodletting slaughter and literally hacked the women and children to pieces with their swords and proceeded to cast their remains into a dry well. The enormity of the massacre made “Remember Cawnpore!” the British battle cry for the duration of the Indian Mutiny. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the 78th was instrumental in the recapture of the garrison town of Cawnpore in July 1857.[9]

The Regiment then was involved in the first relief of the besieged British garrison at Lucknow. On September 25 the 78th arrived and although battle weary burst through and led a furious push into the residency. The 78th fiercely defended the residency for six weeks until it was finally relieved by Sir Colin Campbell's forces on the November 17. 256 men of the 78th Highlanders died in the siege.

For their defense of Lucknow and gallantry in the Indian Mutiny, eight men of the 78th Highland Regiment were awarded the Victoria Cross (V.C.), including another one awarded to the regiment as a whole.

In 1858, the 78th found themselves part of the Rohilkand Field Force, in company with the Highland Brigade. They marched northwest, capturing the town of Bareilly on May 5. The 78th garrisoned the town until ordered back to Britain in 1859.

These feats, against a vastly more numerous enemy, in the hottest season of the year in India when British troops usually lay sweltering in their barracks, became one of the most celebrated epics of the Victorian army. Indeed, dubbed with such sobriquets as “saviours of India” and “heroes of Lucknow”, it is no exaggeration to say that the officers and men of the regiment for sometime afterwards enjoyed the status of great popular heroes.[10] Later in 1861, their noted runic cross monument was erected at Edinburgh Castle Esplanade.The monument was erected on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle to the memory of the 256 men from all ranks of the 78th that had fallen during the Indian Mutiny. This toll included the lives of six drummers.

Halifax, Nova Scotia

HMS Crocodile - transported the 78th to Halifax

Although there were then only four officers left who had participated in these feats, and probably not a great many more rank and file, this aura to a great extent remained intact when, during the second leg of a North American tour (it was in Montreal from 1867–69), it spent two and a half years in garrison in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Two years was a normal posting period.)

The 78th arrived in Halifax on the afternoon of May 14 aboard the HMS Crocodile. A total of 765 men disembarked in full dress uniform. The Regiment was divided into two depots and eight service companies, consisting in all of 34 officers, 49 sergeants, 21 drummers, 6 pipers, and 600 rank and file.[11]

For two years, the regiment spent its time billeted at the Halifax Citadel and at Wellington Barracks (the latter at present-day CFB Halifax). Each summer, men from the regiment camped at Bedford to practice musketry at the military range.[12]

On their departure in 1871, a farewell ball complete with a musical tribute was composed in their honour. It was hosted by the famous brewmaster and then Grandmaster of the Masonic Lodge of Nova Scotia, Alexander Keith.[13]

On November 25, the regiment set sail for Ireland on board the HMS Orontes. With them went 17 young Nova Scotian women who had married members of the regiment.[14]

The Freedom of the City has been exercised annually by the 78th Highlanders in Halifax, Nova Scotia since 1999.[15]


In April 1873 under the "Linked Regiments Depot System" the 78th Highlanders were linked with the 71st Highland Light Infantry at 55 Brigade Depot, Fort George. In 1881 it was amalgamated with 72nd Highlanders forming the 2nd Battalion of The Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs).




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