The regimentally important Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Victoria with clasp for Orthes and entitlement for Pyrenees, Peninsular War and North America War of 1812 Companion of the Order of the Bath, and 1835 Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order of Hanover group awarded to Lieutenant General Robert B. Macpherson, 88th Regiment of Foot - the Connaught Rangers, sometime 71st Highlanders and Colonel of the 73rd Perthshire Regiment of Foot, and only the seventh Colonel of the Connaught Rangers from 1857 to 1858. A great-grandson of the eleventh Lord Lovat, who was executed for his part during the Jacobite rising of 1745, his “sympathies were strongly with the people of his boyhood - the brave Highlanders of Scotland.” Having seen service in the West Indies with the two companies of his regiment present during 1795 to 1796 in the siege of Saint Lucia, and the reduction of the Brigands and the capture of Grenada, including the storming of Port Royal, he then saw service in India during the period of the Second Mahratta War from 1800 to 1804. Slightly wounded as a Captain during the ill-fated second expedition to the River Plate in the attack on Buenos Aires on 5th July 1807, an action described by the British commander, as “violent in the extreme. Grape-shot, at the corners of the streets, musketry, hand-grenades, bricks, and stones, from the tops of all the houses, every householder, with his negros, defending his dwelling, each of which was in itself a fortress; and it is not, perhaps, too much to say, that the whole male population of Buenos Ayres was employed in its defence.” The commander was truly astonished and on a truce being signed, reasoned ‘how little advantage would be the possession of a country, the inhabitants of which were so absolutely hostile’. Macpherson was with the force which then surrendered and was repatriated.
During the Peninsula War, as a Major, he commanded the 1st Battalion of his regiment with distinction at the Battle of Vittoria on 21st June 1813, when despite incurring a verbal tirade in the midst of the battle, and delivered by the famously irritable Divisional Commander, Sir Thomas Picton, they drove the French from two positions and charged several times during the day. Macpherson was awarded the Field Officer’s Gold Medal. During the actions in the Pyrenees in July 1813, Macpherson would be belatedly issued a clasp to his Gold Medal circa 1848, though not present with his award, this would be recompense for a regimental slight that would not see the Connaught Rangers gain the battle honour till 98 years later in 1911, despite having played a most pivotal role in repulsing Marshal Soult’s final assaults, and evicting the French from Spain. Present as second-in-command at Nivelle, it was in a similar role at Orthes on 27th February 1814 that on his commanding officer being wounded whilst leading his men up a difficult lane and being met by the fire from a battery of 8-pounders and a charge from a regiment of French cavalry, the 88th opened a deadly fire upon the horsemen, and at this point Macpherson galloped up and, putting himself at the head of the Connaught Rangers, drove the French column before him. For assuming command at a critical time and for driving the French column before him, Macpherson gained the gold clasp Orthes to his Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Vittoria, his first, though technically his second clasp. He was once again second-in-command for Toulouse.
In late 1814 he saw further active service in North America, commanding his battalion during the latter stages of the War of 1812 in Quebec, when part of his regiment, mostly probably including Macpherson, fought at the Battle of Plattsburg. Appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath in June 1815, he was created a Knight of the Military Division of the Royal Guelphic Order of Hanover by King William IV in January 1835, and rose to Lieutenant General on the Retired List, being granted a ‘Reward for Distinguished Services’ in 1847, which he gave up on being appointed Colonel of the 73rd Foot in July 1852, he gave this up when the opportunity arose to be the Colonel of the Regiment of the Connaught Rangers, a position he held from 1857 till his death a year later.
Group of 4: The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Companion, C.B., Military Division,, 22 carat gold and enamels, hallmarked London 1815, maker’s mark ‘IE’ for John Edwards, fitted with replacement gold wide suspension bar and gold ribbon buckle; The Royal Guelphic Order, Knight, K.H., Military Division, gold and enamels, fitted with ring suspension and gold ribbon bar; Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Vittoria, clasp, Orthes (Major R. B. M’PHERSON) suspension neatly re-affixed with small additional gold reinforcing plate, complete with gold ribbon buckle; Military General Service 1793-1814, 3 Clasps: Pyrenees, Nivelle, Toulouse; (R. B. MACPHERSON, MAJR. 88th FOOT)
Condition: first fitted with replacement gold wide suspension bar, third with suspension re-affixed and with small additional gold reinforcing plate, overall Good Very Fine.
Robert Barclay Macpherson was born circa 1774, the son of Colonel D. Macpherson of Bleaton, north of Rattray in Glenshea, and Margaret, daughter of Ewan Macpherson of Cluny. He was a great-grandson of the eleventh Lord Lovat, who was executed for his part during the Jacobite rising of 1745.
Gazetted as an Ensign into the 88th Regiment of Foot - Connaught Rangers on 3rd June 1795, he was promoted to Lieutenant by purchase on 22nd July 1795, and was then with the regiment when a detachment of it embarked for the West Indies in autumn of 1795 and, after a difficult voyage, two companies took part in the siege of Saint Lucia, and the reduction of the Brigands and the capture of Grenada, including the storming of Port Royal, and at several other places in that island. The detachment returned to Cork in November 1796 and the regiment was at Portsmouth in April 1797 at the time of the Spithead Naval Mutiny. Macpherson was present at all of the above mentioned actions.
In 1798 it moved to Jersey but in December of that year it embarked at Portsmouth for Bombay, where it arrived in May 1799. Macpherson was promoted to Captain by purchase on 3rd December 1800. The greater part of the regiment took part in the 1801 campaign in Egypt, afterwards returning directly to England. Macpherson, however, remained in India with two companies of the 88th, some of whom served with the 76th Foot, at that time engaged in the Second Mahratta War, including the battles of Allighur, Delhi, Laswarree, and Deig, but there is no record of troops from the 88th being involved. Macpherson’s detachment was brought home in 1804, rejoining the remainder of the regiment stationed in Sussex and Kent.
The Second Invasion of the River Plate 1807, wounded during the attack on Buenos Aires
Macpherson was with the 1st Battalion went it was sent to the Cape of Good Hope in November 1806, and then embarked on the ill-fated expedition to South America, arriving at Monte Video in June 1807. It formed part of Lumley’s Brigade, taking part in the several skirmishes on the march to and in front of Buenos Ayres, and at the storming of it on 5th July 1807, when Macpherson was amongst those wounded.
The force had originally assembled at Monte Video on the 15th June 1807, and then having re-embarked aboard ship, on 28th June it disembarked at a place called Ensinada de Barragon, a small bay about 30 miles to the eastward of the town of Buenos Ayres. The 88th formed part of the force under Brigadier the Honourable William Lumley together with the 17th Light Dragoons and the 36th Foot. After some fatiguing marches, through a country intersected by swamps, and deep muddy rivulets, the army reached Reduction, a village about 9 miles from the bridge over the Rio Chuelo, on the opposite bank of which the enemy had constructed batteries, and established a formidable line of defence. The force therefore resolved to turn this position by fording the river further up, which they duly did and met up in the suburbs of Buenos Ayres. The Light Column under Major General Leveson Gower, crossed the river at a pass called the Passo Chico, and falling in with a corps of the enemy, gallantry attacked and defeated it. The next day, having come up with the main body of then enemy, the force extended in line towards the convent of Recoletta on one side and Residencia on the other. Each regiment was tasked with penetrating a specific street, attacking in the knowledge that the enemy were intending to uses the roofs of the houses and positions to fire down onto the attacking troops. They advanced parallel to the River Plate. It was the morning of the 5th July 1807. The attack went forward and the regiments suffered much from sharpshooters and g, rape-shot but moved forward taking 32 pieces of cannon, 600 prisoners and an immense quantity of ammunition. After fighting through the strong defensive positions of Retiro and Plaza de Toros, they took possession of the church and convent of St Catalina, which the 88th and 38th possessed, but were then opposed by heavy and continued musketry from the tops and windows of the houses, the doors of which had been barricaded in so strong a manner and to render them impossible to force. The streets were intersected by deep ditches, in the inside of which were planted cannon, pouring showers of grape on the advanced columns. In defence, however, of this opposition, the 36th Regiment, headed by Lumley, reached its final destination, but the 88th, being nearer to the fort, and principal defences of the enemy, were so weakened by his fire as to be totally overpowered and taken. The flank of the 36th thus exposed, together with the 5th Foot, retired on the Plaza de Toros. As the battle ebbed and flowed, positions which had been earlier taken, were found necessary to become defensive positions for the attacking force to hold off the enemy who were now getting the upper hand, and individual regiments found they were besieged. The enemy numbered about 6000, and were eventually beaten back, and by the end of the day the Plaza de Toros on the enemy’s right, and the Recidencia on his right were held by the British, as well as an advanced position in the centre, but at heavy cost, with about 2500 men being killed, wounded, and prisoners. The nature of the fire throughout was described by the British commander, as “violent in the extreme. Grape-shot, at the corners of the streets, musketry, hand-grenades, bricks, and stones, from the tops of all the houses, every householder, with his negros, defending his dwelling, each of which was in itself a fortress; and it is not, perhaps, too much to say, that the whole male population of Buenos Ayres was employed in its defence.” Amongst those slightly wounded in this hard day of fighting was Captain Macpherson.
The next day negotiations were begun, in which Liniers, the French officer in Spanish employ who was commanding the defence, offered to hand over all the prisoners from the failed 1806 expedition, in return for a British retreat, as otherwise he could not answer for the safety of the prisoners at the hands of the local population if offensive measures were continued. The British commander, Lieutenant General Whitelocke therefore agreed to a treaty, as in his own words: “influenced by this consideration, which I knew from better authority to be founded in fact, and reflecting of how little advantage would be the possession of a country, the inhabitants of which were so absolutely hostile, i resolved to forgo the advantages which the bravery of the troops had obtained, and acceded to the annexed treaty”. The treaty was however only a truce, and Liniers, at the end of 24 hours ordered an artillery attack. The fighting went on for a number of days, and on 12th August Whitelocke, by then running short of everything, and holding on in the defensives position originally attained back on 5th July, signed an Armistice on 12th August, after local forces had defeated Brigadier-General Robert Craufurd and his two thousand troops at the Battle of Plaza del Mercado which is now recalled by the people of Buenos Aires as 'The Defence’. In the confusion of defeat, many British soldiers deserted their units and more than 50 were returned to the British and were court-martialed, while others were allowed to stay and would form part of the 1,200-strong British contingent that would help in the liberation of Chile.
During the two days of heavy fighting, at Ensinada on 4th July the 88th had lost 8 other ranks killed, one Lieutenant and 8 other ranks wounded, and on the 5th July in the attack on Buenos Ayres, it had lost one Lieutenant, one Ensign, one Staff, 8 Sergeants 70 others ranks killed, and one Major, four Captains including Macpherson, six Lieutenants, 1 Staff, 7 Sergeants and 98 other ranks wounded.
Whitelocke left the Río de la Plata basin taking with him the British forces in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Colonia, but leaving behind 400 seriously wounded. On his return to Great Britain, he was court-martialled and cashiered, mainly for surrendering Montevideo. There was much criticism in the British newspapers in the way Whitelocke had conducted himself and for having surrendered to a largely militia force.
In November 1807 the 88th Foot were safely back in Portsmouth, and Macpherson was promoted Major on 17th March 1808 and then posted to 2nd Battalion 88th Foot, stationed in Connaught.
The Peninsula War, command of the 1st Battalion at Vittoria, in the Pyrenees, and at Orthes
With the outbreak of the Peninsula War, in 1809 the battalion embarked at Cork for Lisbon but was diverted for garrison duties in Gibraltar. Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. Wallace was commanding the battalion but was transferred to the 1st Battalion, being relieved by Lieutenant-Colonel J. Taylor. Early in 1810 the 2nd Battalion was sent to Cadiz where operations were in progress against the French in Fort Matagorda. Afterwards the battalion was moved to Isle de Leon, where Macpherson assumed temporary command but was superseded by Taylor when it was transferred to Lisbon in August 1810.
In April 1813 Macpherson transferred back to the 1st Battalion and assumed acting command on 16th May, on which day the battalion left Portugal where it had been quartered. It now formed part of Brisbane’s Brigade of Picton’s Division of Graham’s force and took part in the Battle of Vittoria on 21st June 1813
At daylight on 21st June 1813, the men of the 88th were under arms an hour before daylight, with the regiment being in the centre of the line and tasked with ejecting the French from a hill of considerable elevation, which they succeeded in doing. The French on this position then retired to a second hill in their rear. The 88th now made an advance on this second hill, and having hitherto been deployed on column, now deployed into line, and notwithstanding a heavy fire, of musketry and artillery, continued to advance, till the enemy having rallied and brought up fresh troops, there was a momentary halt by order of Sir Thomas Brisbane, commanding the brigade. At this instance Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton coming up, and feeling displeased at the halt, made use of some harsh expressions on the 88th as the leading corps, which led to an immediate explanation from Sir Thomas Brisbane, when the regiment again moved forward and headed the brigade in the attack upon the town of Vittoria.
During the day the 88th charged several times, but the enemy never waited to receive them, and it was generally observed amongst the soldiers that, that so far as this regiment was concerned, King Joseph’s army at Vittoria proved decidedly the worst fighting army they had encountered.
The 88th however lost one officer and 30 rank and file killed, and 4 officers and 197 rank and file wounded. Sir Thomas Picton later sent a letter of apology to the regiment for his earlier words, ‘declaring that after the many instances of gallantry he had witnessed in the 88th, it could never have been his intention to cast any reflections on that corps, by words uttered in a moment of irritation, and adding, that his division order after the battle should be received as sufficient proof of this.’ They were selected to head up the division in the future operations. For his part, in commanding his battalion at Vittoria, Macpherson was awarded the Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Vittoria.
Macpherson then continued to command his regiment through to 9th September 1813, and in this period the 1st Battalion, 88th, also took part in the battles of the Pyrenees from 28th July to 2nd August.
On 28th July two companies of the 88th had an opportunity of earning distinction for themselves and their corps under the immediate eye of the whole of Picton’s 3rd Division, as well as of a strong and select body of the French. The attempt of Marshal Soult to raise the siege of Pampeluna, which had been invested by the Duke of Wellington’s army shortly after the battle of Vittoria, and the series of actions which took place between the covering army and that of Soult’s in the passes of the Pyrenees between 25th and 30th July, which ended in the complete repulse of the French, gave rise to the display of British valour with a splendour never exceeded in the annals of war. On the 25th the French sent forward sharpshooters to test the British, and were held off by the light company of the 88th under Captain Robert Nickle. The French then made a more determined attack which was held off by two companies of the 88th, who as the French charged forward with cries of “Vive l’Empereur” were met with the bayonet by them men of the 88th and repulsed. The next day, 26th July, heavy column of French infantry was then repulsed in by Brisbane’s brigade which included the 88th, and many prisoners were taken. After this the 3rd Division then re-occupied the pass of Roncesvalles, and remained there till the 8th August, when Brisbane’s brigade was relieved by a Spanish unit, and made its way down the valley of Los Alduides to the pass of Maya. On the 31st August the whole of the 3rd Division crossed the frontier into southern France.
The famous Connaught Rangers medal collector, Lieutenant Colonel Jordain, notes at interesting fact on Macpherson’s awards relating to the action in the Pyrenees, and this refers to the clasp he should have received for commanding his battalion during this pivotal action which saw the French finally repulsed from Spain. Officers of regiments which played even less of a part received there Gold Medals, so why not Macpherson. It is interesting to note that it was not until 98 years later in 1911 that the regimental was granted the battle honour ‘Pyrenees’, something which it had truly been hard done by. The same applied to Macpherson, who would later complain of his not being award a clasp, he having ‘been at first disallowed the clasp for the battle of Pyrenees. As such when he got his Military General Service Medal in 1848, it was awarded with three clasps, namely Pyrenees, Nivelle and Toulouse, representative of all the major actions that he was in for which no gold medal or clasp had been awarded to him. However on receiving his Military General Service Medal, Macpherson then protested and was duly awarded a clasp Pyrenees to his Gold Medal, though he clearly never had it fitted to his medal, and it is not present with the group, which has always been known as existing with the Gold Medal for Vittoria and single clasp Orthes. His however is a most unusual case of a man being technically entitled to both the Pyrenees clasp to the Field Officer’s Gold Medal and the Military General Service Medal.
Lieutenant-Colonel Taylor took command of the 1st Battalion on 9th September, with Macpherson being relegated to second-in-command as Taylor outranked him in seniority, and Taylor then led the battalion through the battle of the Nivelle on 10th November 1813, in which Macpherson fought, when his battalion stormed the formidable French defences that had been erected there.
Taylor also commanded the battalion at the battle of Orthes on 27th February 1814, but having advanced at the head of his men up a difficult lane, on reaching the end they were met by a battery of 8-pounders and a regiment of French cavalry. Taylor was wounded, but the remainder ran up and opened a deadly fire upon the horsemen. At this point Macpherson galloped up and, putting himself at the head of the Connaught Rangers, drove the French column before him. For assuming command at a critical time and for driving the French column before him, Macpherson gained the gold clasp Orthes to his Field Officer’s Gold Medal for Vittoria.
Casualties in this battle of Orthes were 3 officers and 41 rank and file killed and 11 officers and 214 rank and file wounded. Lieutenant-Colonel Taylor is thought to have recovered from his wounds in time to rejoin the regiment to command at the battle of Toulouse on 10th April 1814, in which Macpherson was once again present as second-in-command, in which action the the 88th had 86 killed or wounded.
The War of 1812, the Battle of Plattsburg, a Companion of the Order of the Bath and Knight of the Royal Guelphic Order, and Colonel of the Regiment of both the 73rd Perthshire Regiment of Foot and of the Connaught Rangers.
Hostilities having been suspended with the abdication of Napoleon, by the end of May the battalion was in camp at Blanquefort, near Bordeaux. Macpherson was awarded a Brevet of Lieutenant-Colonel on 4 June 1814 and, once again in command of the battalion, embarked with it at the end of the month for Quebec, where forces were being gathered for the closing stages of the war against the United States.
The battalion arrived in August 1814 and split, with some 300 men being left at Quebec and Fort William Henry, while the remainder took part in the battle of Plattsburg on 11th September. The battalion was reunited at Fort William Henry by the end of the month and there it spent the winter of 1814-15. In April 1815 it moved to St John’s on the south side of the St Lawrence River and it was noted that the 88th had no deserters, unlike many other regiments. The battalion returned to Europe in July 1815, landing at Ostend on the 21st having missed the battle of Waterloo. By the end of the August it was quartered at St Denis, Paris, where Lieutenant-Colonel Wallace took over command.
Macpherson had been created a Companion of the Military Division of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath on 4th June 1815 and in November 1816 he was placed on half-pay in the 71st Foot. He was created a Knight of the Military Division of the Royal Guelphic Order of Hanover by King William IV on 10th January 1835, was promoted Colonel on 10th January 1837, and to Major-General on 9th November 1846.
On 26th July 1847, he was granted a ‘Reward for Distinguished Services’ which he gave up on being appointed Colonel of the 73rd Foot on 29th July 1852. Promoted to Lieutenant-General on 20th June 1854, and, upon the death of his old friend Sir John Wallace, he asked for and obtained the Colonelcy of the 88th Foot, which he held from 11th February 1857 until his death, aged 84, on 23rd February 1858, at Viewfield Lodge near Stirling. He was the seventh Colonel of the Regiment of the Connaught Rangers, The Stirling Journal noted that Robert Macpherson’s “sympathies were strongly with the people of his boyhood - the brave Highlanders of Scotland.” A portrait of Macpherson is held in the collection of the Clan Macpherson Museum.