The Fife Militia

The Militia is a descendent of the old feudal systems of medieval times and before where the local Lords would be required to muster armed men for service to the Crown. This system required Landowners to support the Crown with levies when required and by its very nature was a part time force, with soldiers returning home once the particular service was completed. Scottish Militias existed in one form or another until they were officially banned from training by King James II (from 1685-1688). Although there is mention in some sources of Militias during the Jacobite Uprisings of 1715 and 1745 the next official mention of Scottish Militias begins again with the passing of the 1797 Militia Acts. Fife raised several regiments of Militia during the Napoleonic Period the 1st one being

The 5th North British or Fifeshire Regiment of Militia

(also referred to in some documents as the Stirling Militia or the 5th Scots Militia) raised in April 1798 was commanded by James Graham, 3rd Duke of Montrose, the Lt.-Colonel was Alexander Leslie, Lord Balgonie. The recruiting area covered Fifeshire, Stirlingshire and Kinrosshire and the men were drawn by ballot from these 3 counties with the first enlisted men appearing on muster rolls in June 1798. The regiment was embodied in two stages, to begin with there was approximately 250 all ranks (in 8 companies) but in the winter of 1798/99 the second half of the militia was called out and the size of the regiment doubled. The widespread dislike of the Militia Ballot is evident by the large numbers of drawn men who failed to report and were declared deserters. Even after joining several more men deserted during the first year.

The 5th was initially raised in Stirling but marched to Perth after a couple of months, whilst stationed in Stirling one private was assaulted and robbed in a drunken fracas. In January friction between local men and the Militia led to an assault in the streets of Perth and 3 locals were convicted later in the year. In the spring of 1799 the regiment was ordered first to Aberdeen and then in quick succession to Fort George. The weather was viciously cold on the week of the march to Aberdeen, deep snows had prevented chaises and even horse riders from attempting the roads. The Militia battled through the snows to arrive and after 2 weeks there were marched on again to Fort George. The weather had taken its toll however, sick men were left at Aberdeen and several other places along the route, some travelled from Aberdeen to Fort George by sea but the majority marched.

The Militia was stationed at Fort George until the summer of 1800. At this remote garrison it is recorded they were guarding Irish state prisoners, presumably the leaders of the United Irishmen in Belfast that were seized in raids in the spring of 1798 and shipped to confinement in Fort George. After Fort George the regiment marched to Aberdeen where its headquarters were based for the next year, during it's time in Aberdeen to detachments were stationed at Banff and Peterhead. Each detachment was a little under a company strong. Whilst stationed in Aberdeen the Band of the Militia took part in a grand civic procession to lay the foundation stone of a new bridge over the Denburn in July 1801. Shortly afterwards the regiment marched back from Aberdeen to the more familiar city of Dundee. In November the Militia was hurriedly marched to Arbroath where there were signs of rioting. In April 1802 the Militia band played at the laying of the foundation stone of the new parish church at Dysart.

The reliability of the Fifeshire Militia was called into question in 1802 when informers claimed that "the whole regiment, except seven stupid fellows, was composed of United Scotsmen". Fear of revolutionary elements still worried the government, although the storm seemed to have passed.

In the summer of 1802, following the peace of Amiens the regiment was reduced and the private men were paid off and allowed to return home.

The 34th or Fifeshire Regiment of Militia

Following the renewal of war in 1803 the Scottish Militia was reraised, in place of the 10 previous regiments there would now be 15. The county Militias were rearranged and now Fife would form it's own Militia whilst Stirling would combine with Dumbarton, Clackmannan & Kinross. The Stirling Militia was commanded by the Duke of Montrose and several officers, NCO's and men from the old 5th NB Militia would join it. For the Fife men they would become 34th or Fifeshire Regiment of Militia. Unlike the previous Scots Militia who were only liable to serve in Scotland the new Militia could be stationed anywhere in Great Britain and the Fife men would soon find themselves south of the border.

In 1803 the 34th was commanded by the Earl of Crawford and was assembled at Cupar, it was larger than the previous Militia having a total of 10 companies. In June the regiment crossed the Forth on route to Dunbar, the fear of invasion from the French was huge and large concentrations of troops were amassed along the coast. West Barnes Camp near Dunbar was alive with troops, the Fife, Perthshire, Lanarkshire and Gallway Militias along with dragoons were all camped there under the command of Major General Sir George Don. The Fife Militia were marched again, in Haddington in November, Morpeth, Alnwick and Newcastle in the following spring. The regiment was stationed in Tynemouth Barracks in June when it proceeded south to the huge Lexdon Heath Camp near Colchester. 10,000 men were camped there including the 42nd Royal Highlanders and Gordon Highlanders and 6 different regiments of Militia. If Napoleon's Army amassing on the French coast could cross the Channel the British would need to react quickly, thousands and thousands of troops were stationed around the south east of England ready to counter attack. The Fife Militia was just one of the scores of regiments marching to and fro over the Southern countryside. Stationed in Yarmouth in November 1804 they would start to be used in a role that would become more familiar as the war progressed, Prison Guards.

In November 1804 the British sloop HMS Cruizer captured a notorious French Privateer and its crew were marched from Yarmouth to the Great Prisoner of War Camp at Norman Cross by a party of the Fife Militia. During the Napoleonic wars as more and more prisoners were captured by the British, the Militia would be used as the jailers of these men either in the newly constructed Camps or the dreaded Prison Hulks moored in the Medway and the Solent.

From December until May 1805 the Militia were stationed in Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

In the month following the call for recruits to the regular army in April 1805 the Fife Militia sent forward 4 sergeants, 7 corporals, 1 drummer and over 155 private men (see the database). By May the Regiment was in Kent, at first Canterbury before ending up at the Chatham Lines in July 1805, in November they were on the move again to Deal Barracks and Dover castle in December. Again in 1807 166 privates volunteered for line regiments and at the end of the year and the start of 1808 another 58 followed, which demonstrates how the Militia served to give recruits basic training and a taste for army life.

In February 1808, the Regiment's Colonel The Earl of Crawford died and The Earl of Morton was appointed as the new Commander.

In 1809 the regiment spent the first 6 months around the military area at Portsmouth staying at Hilsea Barracks, Fort Cumberland and Fareham but by September were back in Scotland for the first time in six years at Mussleburgh. The Lt Colonel at this time was Thomas Durham Calderwood (formerly of the Fencible Infantry) and 3rd in command was Major William Rutherford who had risen through the ranks from Lieutenant in 1798. In 1810 and 11 the Regiment is in the cold barracks at Aberdeen, with detachments at Peterhead just as the 5th North British had been 10 years earlier. In 1812 the Regiment marches to Perth to guard prisoners at the newly constructed Depot there, the spring cold weather is no kinder now than it had been to the earlier Militia. A small party is left behind to hand over the barracks to the incoming Regiment and when they left to rejoin the Militia the snowy march weather was atrocious. Corporal Lennie is found in the snow half frozen between Stonehaven and Bervie and is fortunate to recover.

1813 brought shame to the Regiment when in February soldiers from the Renfrewshire and Fife Militias formed a mutinous riot in Perth (more to follow). It was quickly subdued and the Regiments quickly sent away to other stations. The Fifes were dispatched back to Kent. Another scandal surrounded the regiment later that year but this time it was the government procurement system at fault. The soldiers were supplied with flour for baking but the suppliers provided such poor quality flour it was virtually inedible. A post war investigation showed that the suppliers had been profiteering by cutting the flour with sawdust and other materials to make it go further and happily charging the state for the awful and in some cases harmful product.

For the time being the complaints of the soldiers got nowhere and the Militia was marched to Portsmouth and Gosport. In 1814 following the treaty of Paris the war with Napoleon is over, the Emperor has abdicated and Europe is finally at peace. In June there is a grand Imperial Visit to Portsmouth in June attended by the Prince Regent, Emperor Alexander of Russia, King Frederick of Prussia, Marshal Blucher and Prince Platoff, the Militia is one of the many regiments that parade before the dignitaries. In the August the Regiment embark at Deptford for Leith and return to Cupar 11 years after leaving. The Regiment is disembodied later in the year.

In 1815 whilst Napoleon wages his final 100 day campaign and is finally defeated at Waterloo, the Militia remains only on paper. Strangely though they are reraised in November for service in Ireland and as the regular army is now shrinking lots of officers apply to the Militia for vacant positions. The Regiment serves at Belfast, DownPatrick, Newry, Drogheda Barracks, Dundalk and Donaghee before returning to Scotland in May 1816.

The Regiment was briefly reembodied in 1820's and 30's for training. The 4 weeks drilling took place in Cupar, the Regiment assembled in 1820, 1821, 1825 and 1831 but afterwards existed with only the Adjutant and a small group of aging permanent NCO's on the Payroll at Cupar until the 1850's when they would reform as the Artillery Militia. One small change would be the title, when the thorny issue of Militia Precedence was decided by lots in 1833 the Fife Militia became the 78th Regiment of Militia.

Officers would continue to be appointed and pay for elaborate uniforms but they would be unpaid and the Militia at this time was a paper force.

Basic Databases of the 5th N.B. Militia 1798-1802 and Fife Militia 1803-54 are now online in the database section after many months of studying dusty muster rolls in the National Archives and typing up the results. The 2 databases show every soldier who is recorded as serving with the regiment, nearly 4,000 entries.

These databases will show basic careers in the Militia but if you want more detail, you can order a report on an individual soldier which will contain much more detail from the shop. The sort of details you may find are the soldiers company, duties and assignments (such as guards on the notorious Prison Hulks), promotions/reductions, punishments, descriptions (in a few cases), + details if I have any of births, marriages, deaths etc.