Sunday, September 14, 2014

Donald Sutherland Died at Quatre Bras, Waterloo, 16 June 1815

The Memorial Monument at Badbea, Highlands, Scotland
Donald Sutherland is just a name on the Badbea memorial. Yeah right!  Donald was a living, breathing, working man and an important contributing member of his family and the Badbea community.  Donald died at the great conflict of Waterloo in 1815.
Donald was born in Ausdale (aka Ousdale) in 1788.  James his father died while the family was still young. There were several long established Sutherland families in Ausdale. They are complicated to follow because the name Sutherland was so common, and they used family naming patterns for the given names of their children. Donald’s father James Sutherland was a son of John Sutherland who was a son of James Sutherland the miller of Ousdale. Of Donald’s great-grandfather a fine old man it was said: 
  • "James Sutherland, Miller of Ousdale and also for some years at Auldi Cleavan, near Rangag. He was highly spoken of by the old people as a man of fine physique and hospitable parts. James the miller flourished about 200 years ago. He is mentioned in the Rent Roll of the estate of Forse. His father was John, a son of the Laird of Langwell at that time."                                 Source: John Sutherland pg 137 Sutherlands of Ngaipu 1940
Donald’s mother Catherine was a daughter of David Sutherland, born in Ausdale about 1722, whose father was William Sutherland born in Langwell about 1652. Donald was a cousin of Christina Sutherland (who married John McLeod) and her other siblings. Christina would have known Donald well as he was only ten years older than her and they lived next door to each other for several years.

Evicted from Ausdale

In 1804, when Donald was about sixteen his family, mother Catherine, brother John, sisters Elizabeth, Margaret, Janet and one more, name not known, were evicted from Ausdale to Badbea without a roof over their heads. I have no doubt Donald helped his brother John build a house for the family.

Joined a Regiment

Donald enlisted as a soldier when he was about 20 – 22 years old.
Caithness Roll of Honour
I don’t know which regiment Donald joined but there is a published account telling of other men from nearby Badbea who also enlisted as soldiers.

The Caithness Roll of Honour

To the Editor of the Northern Times. Sir - As Mr Horne may be interested in being furnished with a few additional names of old soldiers and pensioners in the country, I may say that I am able from personal acquaintance with the undernoted names, with the exception of two, to give information about them, others that I knew passed away upwards of sixty years ago: - Captain Sutherland, Bridgend, Dunbeath; John Murray, Achavroil; Angus Macgregor, Tormore; ……Macgregor, Tormore; Alex. Keith, Houstry; George Keith, Houstry; Major Wm Gunn, Houstry – as fine a figure of an officer as could be seen in an army, who rose from the ranks in India. Donald Mackay, Achow, Dunbeath, who was one of Sir John Moore’s army in the famous Corunna retreat, and all through the Peninsular war and Waterloo, and held three medals. Robert Sutherland, Balnabruich, Dunbeath; Donald Grant, Knockally do.; David Brodie, do., do. ; Neil Macleod, Berriedale, fought at Waterloo; Angus Bruce, do., do. ; Sergeant Charles Munro, Achincraig, Berriedale, Waterloo; Donald Gunn, jun., do., do., Donald Sutherland, Badbea- slain at Waterloo, brother of Godly John Badbea; Donald Gunn. Sen., Achincraig, who carried Sutherland three miles on his back after being mortally wounded at Waterloo: Captain Wm Mackay, Berriedale, who was promoted from the ranks in the first Zulu war; Captain…Murray, Braemore, rose from the ranks in South Africa. Mrs Smith, a daughter of Captain Murray, nobly attended the wounded and dying at the fatal Majuba disaster and tore every stitch of her underlinen to bandage the wounds of wounded and dying. I knew this brave lady well. William Campbell, Achincraig, also Waterloo – pensioner; Hugh Matheson, do., do. ; John Polson, do., do. etc
CRAGAN MOR  Newspaper reference and date not given. Probably Alexander Gunn

Life in a Regiment

Once men joined a regiment they were loyal to that regiment no matter what.  There was also a strong nationalism to the regiments with men seeing themselves not only part of a certain regiment but also part of a ‘Scottish’ regiment. Efforts were made by regiments to recruit within a specific area and to retain their Scottish character, for example, in the recruitment of Gaelic speakers. Conditions were so bad in the Highlands with evictions that enlistment was seen by some as their only survival option, while lairds and landlords saw the enlistment of local young men as complementing the exploitation they were inflicting upon their tenants.
Poster showing 42nd Highlanders uniform
Regiment training was often not in Scotland but from the day they joined, soldiers were a ‘Cameron, a Gordon or a Royal Scot’ and resented any forced change of allegiance. The recruits were looked after and had their own beds and regular food each day – which in many cases was more than they had had at home. The rules were clear and discipline was harsh. Men expected to be going overseas and as part of their training they had to learn marching and trooping. They were moved overseas in troop-ships in fairly cramped conditions.

The Highland regiments wore an adapted form of national dress which changed a bit depending on what they were doing but was a scarlet tunic with a kilt, feather bonnet and a back-pack. No matter where they were Scottish regiments always kept their bagpipes which were used to announce various routines during the course of the day and also went to war. In some cases wives and children were allowed to live and even travel with the regiment and were looked after well.                                              Source: The Scottish Soldier Abroad 1247-1967 Ed Grant Simpson


Source: Wellington at Waterloo by Jac Weller 1967
In Brussels, two days before the Battle of Waterloo, on 16 June 1815 a battle was fought around the strategic crossroads of Quatre-Bras.  Quatre Bras was a small hamlet with only four houses. At Quatre Bras, the Allied army under the Duke of Wellington defeated the French under Marshal Ney.
Size of the armies: Around 25,000 allied troops against 24,000 French troops.
The standard infantry weapon across all the armies was the musket. It could be fired three or four times a minute, throwing a heavy ball inaccurately for only a hundred metres or so. Each infantryman carried a bayonet which fitted the muzzle of his musket.
Casualties: The battle cost Ney 4,000 men to Wellington's 4,800. 

The Plains of Waterloo (Original has14 verses)
1   It was on the 16th day of June in Flanders where we lay
     Our bugles did the alarm sound before the break of day
     We British Belgians Brunswickers and Hanovarians too
     All Brussels left that morning for the plains of Waterloo.

2   By a forced march we did advance till three in the afternoon
     Our British hearts with ardour burnt to pull the tyrant down
     Near Quatre Bras we met the French their shape to us seemed          new
     For in steel armour they were clad on the plains of Waterloo
7   For full four hours and longer we sustained the bloody fray
     Then during a long weary night upon our arms we lay
     The orders of our General next day we did pursue
     And retired in files for full six miles on the plains of Waterloo.

Death but not alone.

On 16 June 1815 Donald Sutherland was killed at the battle of Quatre Bras in the Waterloo campaign Source: Roydhouse unpublished. The battlefield was chaotic with thousands of casualties but somehow Donald Sutherland was found by Donald Gunn of Achnacraig who carried him on his back for three miles looking for help. I wonder if they were in the same regiment and had talked about looking out for each other. Apparently the old farm house on the crossroads at Quatre Bras served as a hospital after the battle but would have been overwhelmed with the dead and dying. Some of the dead were buried by the local peasants.
Old farmhouse at Quatre Bras which was used as a hospital
The following letter gives an insight into the battle and conditions after.

42nd Highlanders at Quatre Bras

Extract of a Letter from a Private in the 42d Regiment to his Father

General Hospital, Antwerp, June 24, 1815.
“On the 15th, about twelve o'clock at night, we turned out, and at two in the morning marched from the city of Brussels, to meet the Enemy, who were advancing in great force on that city. About three o'clock in the afternoon of the 16th, we came up with them. Our whole force did not exceed 12,000 men, who were fatigued with a long march of upwards of twenty miles, encumbered with knapsacks and other luggage. The day was uncommonly warm and no water to be had on the road; however, we were brought up in order of battle. The French being strongly posted in a thick wood, to the number of 40,000 men, including cavalry and lancers, gave us very little time to look round us ere the fight commenced on both sides, in an awful and destructive manner, they having every advantage of us, both as to position and numbers, particularly in cavalry, and the British dragoons had not yet come up. The French cavalry charged the British line of infantry three different times, and did much execution, until we were obliged to form squares of battalions in order to turn them, which was executed in a most gallant manner, and many hundreds of them never returned. Still they sent up fresh forces, and as often we beat them back. The battle lasted until it was quite dark, when the Enemy began to give way; our poor fellows who were left alive following them of long as they could see, when night put an end to the fatigues of a well fought day. Thousands on both sides lay killed and wounded on the field of battle; and, as the greater part of the action lay in corn fields along a vast tract of country, many hundred must have died for want of assistance through the night, who were not able of themselves to crawl away. I was wounded by a musket-ball, which passed through my right arm and breast, and lodged in my back, from whence it was extracted by a surgeon in the hospital of this place. Captain M. is most severely wounded, having several shots through his body, and the regiments, in general, are mostly cut off. We have heard, since we came here, that our fine brigade, which entered the field on that eventful day, consisting of the 3rd battalion Royal Scots, 42d, 44th, and 92d regiments, are now formed into one battalion, not exceeding in the whole 400 men. Lord Wellington retired in the night to wait for reinforcements, and next day our cavalry and the rest of the army arrived. Thus I have given you as full an account of affairs, principally what I witnessed on the 16th. Nothing can exceed the kindness and attention of the inhabitants of this city to our wounded men; the hospital is constantly filled with ladies and gentlemen, who, although speaking a different language, personally administer to our wants with the kindest attention, distributing clean shirts, bread, wine, coffee, tea, milk, and fruit of all sorts, with every requisite for our comfort and accommodation.”
 Source: Booth’s “The Battle of Waterloo, also of Ligny, and Quatre-Bras Volume 1 (London 1817) pp. 74-76.
Source: Wellington at Waterloo by Jac Sheller 1967

Some Came Back to Caithness

The Caithness Roll of Honour article mentions the names of other men who also fought in the Waterloo Campaign. I have looked for them on Freecen and have found what maybe some of these men who returned to Caithness to live. The names are:
Census 1841, 1851, 1861: Neil McLeod, Latheron, Berriedale, age 60 & 72, Army Pensioner
Census 1841: Donald Gunn Latheron, Berriedale, age 75, Army Pensioner
Census 1841, 1851: David Brodie, Latheron, Berriedale, Age 41 & 55, Army Pensioner
Census 1851: Donald McKay, Latheron, age 70, Pensioner
I imagine the story of Donald Gunn carrying Donald Sutherland on his back came home through these men. How good that a dear friend was caring for Donald as he died.

Battle of Quatre Bras by (after) Heath, William

Bi-Centenary of Quatre Bras & Waterloo

Next year 2015 is the bi-centenary of Waterloo and Quatre Bras
 “If there’s one moment in history – other than the defeat of Hitler – that every citizen of Europe should be encouraged to commemorate, it’s the day the Battle of Waterloo decided the shape of our continent for a hundred years. It was the final climax in the titanic struggle between the French Emperor Napoleon and the rest of Europe. Waterloo was one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles ever. It was the last great conflict of the age of the sword, cannon and musket in Western Europe. And it was one of the first battles to be widely reported in detail by hundreds of those who fought in it on all sides. They provide us with an unprecedented commentary on the human face of battle 200 years ago. Waterloo 200′s marking of this bicentenary gives us a unique opportunity to study one of the most seismic events in world military history." Peter Snow


  1. Great Article Farr! thanks for your research and care. If people are interested on the Battle of Waterloo, check out my blog, There I am writing about the life of soldier William Gunn, another man from the Caithness area. All the best, Janet "Canadian Cousin" McLeod

  2. Thanks Janet for your comments. Yes the stories of these Highlands men who went to Waterloo are extraordinary. I agree with the connections you make on your blog between the terrible things that were happening at home at the time of the Clearances and these brave Highlands men who went off to Waterloo. Your blog is utterly fascinating with its original sources and a 'must read'.

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