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History of Montrose
Chapter XIX. - Volunteer Movement in Montrose


IT must be in the recollection of many of us, that for a number of years there was a constant recurrence of something approaching to panic in the minds of many, through dread of an invasion by the French, or some other hostile people, whose whereabouts was not clearly defined. The causes of this perturbation of mind were the defenceless state of the country, and the alleged easy practicability of invasion. In the dearth of news during the parliamentary recess, our country’s weakness was made a constant subject of discussion, to warn the public, and fill up our daily broadsheets. Again and again a sort of mania recurred, and in 1859 reached a climax, in consequence of the well remembered boasting of certain bellicose French colonels, who, in a fit of valour, not only demonstrated how easily the country could be invaded, London sacked, and Great Britain made a French Province, but intimated their opinion that they would be soon invited to give their aid in finishing the little affair.

A happy thought seems simultaneously to have occurred to various influential men in different quarters of the country; and none pressed the subject on public attention more warmly, than our neighbour Colonel Kinloch of Logie. These gentlemen suggested, that throughout the country, and especially on our seaboard, Volunteer Corps should be organised to be drilled, so as to act as irregular troops, and to be specially trained as marksmen. It was considered that a large body thus imperfectly trained, yet possessing a great amount of skill and undoubted courage, would be a most efficient aid to the regular army in case of invasion; and, in opposing the landing of a hostile force, might be found quite as useful as the regular army itself. Besides, as corps would be found located at short distances apart along the coast, they would form a sure protection against any surprise from an enemy’s cruiser.

The chord thus struck, at last took hold of the ear of the community, who seemed for the first time to become alive to the fact, that there was a possibility of danger to be apprehended; and what we now term the “Volunteer Movement,” at once sprung into existence. The present state of that movement is known to most of us. From a force at first of 50,000 or 60,000 men, the number has increased to not less than 170,000 in the seven years which have elapsed since its commencement. Of that great force, no less than 140,000 were last year entitled to be ranked as “efficients,” who had earned the Government allowance. But these figures, large as they are, give but a partial view of the success of the movement. Those who are conversant with the working and management of Volunteer Corps, are aware, that year after year many men retire from their companies, most of whom have learned the elements of a good military education, and many of whom are well trained soldiers. We are probably therefore not far wrong when we state, that since the movement commenced, it has given to the country a force of intelligent and well trained soldiers—probably twice as large as the muster rolls at present shew—and it should be bom, in mind, that this large force embraces all arms of the service, including Engineers, Mounted Rifles, Artillery, and Rifle Corps.

It need not have been wondered at, that the Volunteer Force should soon produce a large body of the finest marksmen ; but it seems to have astonished the Government and the military authorities of the country, that so large a body of men, chiefly engaged in arduous occupations, should have so rapidly acquired all the knowledge of military evolutions, to which it was expected they would even attain. The Volunteers very soon aimed at becoming, if not equal, at all events not very inferior to their more professional brethren of the line; and hence the instructions contained in the small manual of instruction, furnished by the War Office, as containing all that the Volunteers learn, were speedily acquired; the manual itself was soon superseded, and the manuals adopted for the instruction of the army became also the manual for the Volunteers. Though the Volunteer Army cannot pretend to the same state of minute efficiency as the regular army, it is known, that its high discipline has astonished the military authorities of our own country, and has attracted the highest praise from those of foreign lands.

The success of the movement has been fully equal to that which was anticipated by its most ardent promoters; for not only has a large and formidable army been brought into existence which is maintained at a small expense to the country, panics at the dread of invasion have now entirely ceased, and brave French colonels no longer give forth their bravadoes.

The people of Montrose were not behind their neighbours in the movement. In the autumn of 1859, public meetings were held in the town, at which it was unanimously and heartily resolved to offer to the Queen the services of two Volunteer corps, one of Artillery and another of Rifles. Under the auspices of Provost Napier and the other Magistrates of the burgh, Colonel (then Major) Renny Tailyour of Borrowfield, and the most of the gentry of the town and neighbourhood, many of whom actually enrolled themselves as members, two companies of Artillerymen and Riflemen were speedily organised, and drill commenced. The Artillery selected Francis B. Paton, Esq., Acharroch, as their first Commanding Officer, while the Riflemen elected Colonel Renny Tailyour to be their Captain. From November, 1859, when the first companies were organised, the popularity of the movement rapidly widened in the town, as it did throughout the country; and in March, 1860, it was found necessary to organise a new company of Riflemen, so as to enable the working classes of the town to share in the movement. The services of the new company were at once accepted by the Government, and it selected Robert H. Arkley, Esq., as Captain. During the first year it was necessary to give a large sum of money for the clothing and accoutrements of corps. One method adopted to raise funds was by turning the interest of the ladies in the town and neighbourhood to profitable account. They heartily joined the sterner sex in wishing success to the cause; and by a great effort succeeded in getting up a grand sale of fancy work—mostly the produce of their own fair fingers—which realised to the corps nearly 600. The magistrates contributed handsome subscriptions from the burgh funds, and most of the inhabitants contributed liberally. The sums collected in the town, and spent by the Volunteers themselves, in organising the corps, cannot be ascertained, but it could not be less than 1200.

Since the formation of the two corps they have continued to increase in numbers and efficiency; and though the fervour and excitement which preceded and accompanied the movement at first has died away, the young men of all classes of the inhabitants have not only recognised the importance of the movement itself, but finding the drill and shooting practice a healthful recreation, have continued to interest themselves in its success, and no difficulty is found in keeping up the different companies to their required strength. Indeed, it is believed that there would be no difficulty in raising one or even two more companies in the town. Those who have hitherto taken the greatest interest in the matter, however, are quite satisfied with the progress which has been made, feeling assured that the existing companies form a nucleus sufficiently large for speedily organising a force twice or thrice their present strength, if the necessity for their services should arise.

In carrying out the proper organisation of the Volunteer Force, the War Office authorities thought it advisable to form several detached corps, not sufficiently strong, into brigades and battalions for administrative purposes. In this way, the Montrose Volunteer Artillery Corps, which then, and has ever since been, commanded by their energetic Captain, Robert Walker, Esq., was formed into an Administrative Brigade, under the command of Lieut.-Col. James Erskine Paterson, along with the corps at Dundee, Arbroath, and Broughty Ferry. In like manner, Colonel Renny Tailyour, having been appointed to the command of the First Administrative Battalion of Forfarshire Rifle Volunteers, the Montrose corps were joined with the Arbroath, Brechin, and Friockheim corps, in forming that battalion. The first company of Montrose Rifles, having thus lost their commanding officer, by his promotion to the command of the battalion, were successful in securing Major James Fitzmaurice Scott of Commieston, as their Captain.

We have thus endeavoured to trace shortly the Volunteer Movement in Montrose. It has from its commencement been a great success. All the companies have been harmonious together and the greatest courtesy and kindness have been manifested by the members to each other. How different it was in 1745, when the town was at one time in possession of the Royalists, and at another held by the Rebels, who captured the Hazard sloop of war, sent to drive them out of town. Now all are united in their allegiance to Queen Victoria. The Volunteers have been exceedingly fortunate in the selection of their commanding officers, all of whom are gentlemen in the highest sense of the term; and there are a few ardent spirits in every company, who, by their desire for perfection in drill and in shooting, stimulate the most of the others to a healthy emulation, which has, up to the present date, aided the officers and instructors of the different companies, in bringing the greater number of the members to a high state of efficiency and discipline.

In connection with the Volunteer Movement, and with the view of promoting the skill of the Volunteers as marksmen, great rifle competitions have been established in various parts of the country. In 1860, the National Rifle Association was organised, under the patronage of Her Majesty, the Prince Consort, and the Nobility, and has had its annual competitions ever since. It having occurred to several of the Volunteer Officers, that the spacious links and level fields surrounding Montrose, formed as fine shooting ranges as could be had, they resolved, also in 1860, to form a Rifle Association, which they named the “Angus and Meams Rifle Association.” This was the first Association of the kind in Scotland, and as it was originally proposed that it should be a truly National Institution, it received a large amount of support, not only from townsmen and the neighbouring gentry, but from a distance. A large number of competitors came from all parts of England and Scotland, and the Association at once took a high place among similar bodies. Since the institution of the Association almost every large town in the kingdom has started a similar Association for itself. The effect of the increase in the number of Associations has been to reduce the attendance at the Montrose competitions of parties from a distance; but they still attract a large number of Volunteers from the adjoining counties, and a large number of the best marksmen in the kingdom regularly attend its meetings. Our Montrose Volunteers, in trying their skill against their brethren from a distance, have hitherto found that the facilities for the rifle practice afforded by our excellent shooting ranges, have had a good effect, as they have generally been able to retain a considerable number of the prizes.

THE PRESS-GANG

In the time of the French war, the town was frequently annoyed by the Press-Gang, which had its head quarters at Arbroath, although a tender would sometimes lie off at the water-mouth or come into the harbour. On one of these occasions, Captain James Greig of the “Southesk” was learning navigation at Christison’s school in Crawford’s close, when hearing of the Press-Gang he and another took out the lower sash of the window, and down the close they went, and never halted till they got to Laurencekirk. Mr Greig lived three weeks in a hut in the woods of Kinnaird. How different now! the young sailors volunteer their services, and go to Dundee and Aberdeen to be drilled, for which they get 30s. a quarter, besides a guinea a week when on drill, which lasts 4 weeks in the year.


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