Published By Ken Trotman Books June 2018
The journal of Sergeant D Robertson is already well known (in parts) and is often quoted, so it may be wondered why I have therefore chosen to re-print it now. The reason is simply so that readers can enjoy the entire journal, probably for the first time, as the original publication of his journal, during his own lifetime, is extremely rare (only two are listed in British collections) and although a reprint was issued by Maggs & Brothers in 1982, they only produced it in a limited edition of 100 copies. Therefore, the journal remains very rare indeed in its original full form and almost all collectors of Napoleonic memoirs that I know have not got a copy and have it as top of their ‘wish list’, I include myself in those numbers.
Edward Bruce Low published a few short sections of Robertson’s journal in his book With Napoleon at Waterloo , including his description of the Battle of Corunna and the march to Burgos, the action at Arroyo de Molinos as well as Waterloo – despite the title – whilst Lieutenant Colonel Gardyne quoted numerous odd passages from the journal in Volume I (1794-1816) of his The Life of a Regiment; The History of the Gordon Highlanders but neither quotes extensively and are not satisfactory. I have therefore obtained a copy of the entire original 1842 publication from the National Library of Scotland with the intention of publishing it at a reasonable cost to finally allow it to be readily available and thoroughly enjoyed by all, as the high quality and entertaining journal of a soldier of the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) who fought from Egypt, to Corunna, Walcheren, the Peninsular war, to Waterloo.
Unfortunately, the private life of David Robertson (not Duncan as stated by Gardyne and many sources since) begins in a great deal of obscurity, but we have some hints. We know from an analysis of Army records, that David Robertson was born at Dunkeld in Perthshire in 1781 although no definite baptism in either Dunkeld Cathedral or the nearby Church of Scotland Presbytery has been found . Because of the surprisingly large numbers of Robertson’s in the Dunkeld area, it has proven impossible to identify David’s exact family, although he almost certainly had a number of siblings.
We are even lucky that the journal survives at all. Although the journal was published in 1842, which makes it appear that it was written many years after the events described and therefore making them more suspect. However, David explains that he actually wrote them shortly after his return to Dunkeld after the wars around 1820. He then handed the journal to a ‘literary friend’ to improve, who luckily for us, this friend died before he could ‘improve’ them. The journal was then lost for some twenty years and when thankfully found again, was handed back to David and published without further re-working. Thus we have today an unvarnished journal from a non-commissioned officer, written up soon after the wars from notes made at the time. It is therefore of great value and really should never have been allowed to lie in such obscurity for so long.
David joined the Caithness Highlanders a volunteer unit, on 5 April 1795 and served with them until 6 July 1800 when he volunteered for enlistment into the regular army with around 220 others. He joined the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders) officially, on 7 July at Cork for unlimited service and eventually served with them until he retired on 2 June 1818 at Belfast because of his ‘length of service’ and the reduction of the size of the regiment ‘as ordered by the Commander in Chief on 30 May 1818’. David served with the regiment in Egypt, the Corunna campaign, Copenhagen, Walcheren, the Peninsula, Southern France and the Waterloo campaign. His service record shows that he served as a private for 3 years and 5 days, then as a corporal for 3 years and 331 days, before he finally arrived at the rank of sergeant, and he served as such for 10 years and 360 days, with the addition of 2 further years for serving at Waterloo. In total, with his one year’s service officially allowed in the Caithness Highlanders, he was deemed to have a pensionable service length of 20 years and 331 days, when he was assigned his pension of 1 shilling 10 pence per day from the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham as an out-patient. He is recorded as having been wounded twice, once in Egypt on 21 March 1801 (severely – although he does not appear to have been wounded according to his own account) and at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 (actually at Quatre Bras – slightly). His discharge document is signed by Captain Archibald Ferrier of the 92nd. David Robertson is described in 1818 as being 41 years old (he was actually 37), 5 feet 9 inches tall, with fair hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion. He is described as having been a shoemaker previously to joining the army. On the back of the discharge document, it is recorded that David Robertson was paid 12 shillings at the rate of 1 shilling for every ten miles of his journey from Belfast to Dublin and his family was paid the regulated fee (not stated) to allow them to travel back with him to Dunkeld from Dublin.
He tells us little regarding his personal life but does mention that he was married when in the Pyrenees in 1813 and that his wife had a daughter around that time. Only recently has his Marriage Certificate been discovered, which proves that he married a Margaret Crearer in Perth on 23 September 1799 ie before he joined the 92nd. It is likely that Margaret did not follow the regiment until the Spanish campaign of 1810 onwards, as he does not refer to her at all before then and there is no sign of any children early in the marriage. Three baptisms registered in Dunkeld are proven to be David’s children, David baptised on 21 July 1818, Christian baptised on 28 March 1820 and Alexander baptised on 8 March 1822. It has been confirmed that these are David’s children, but were incorrectly registered with the mother shown as Margaret Crenan. We also know that they certainly had a number of other children, those discovered to date are, Margaret born in 1811, Catherin born around 1813 (the only birth mentioned in the journal) and Ann and Robert who died as infants (no dates or ages given). Margaret Robertson (nee Crearer) died on 31 December 1837 at the age of 55 (which makes her year of birth 1782, so that she was one year younger than David).
The Census of 1841 shows David (aged correctly as 60 and described as an ex-soldier), living with Margaret, born 1811 (his daughter) Christian (his son), Alexander (his son), Janet (his daughter?), David aged 7 (Margaret’s son?) and John aged 1 (Margaret’s son?) all living in High Street, Dunkeld.
The Perthshire Courier of Thursday 8 January 1846 records the ‘Death of a Veteran – It is now more than thirty years since the mighty contest, between lawless ambition and the just rights of mankind, took place of the field of Waterloo, which terminated with the overthrow of the unprincipled usurper, and secured the peace and liberties of Europe; and the brave men who fought on, and survived, that awful day are now departing fast from this world. We have to include in this number, Sergeant David Robertson, late of the 92nd Foot, a native of this place, who died here last week, and was interred on Tuesday. It has fallen to the lot of few soldiers to have been in so many engagements as Sergeant Robertson. He was generally termed the Hero of 40 battles, and some say 53; from all of which he came out without any serious injury and has ever since enjoyed the pension due to his rank and services. Some years ago, he published a very interesting journal of his ‘moving accidents by flood and field’, which he encountered in the different campaigns between 1797 and 1818, in Egypt, Walcheren, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, France and Belgium, which is likely to be more appreciated than ever. His funeral was well attended and some of his companions in arms were present, but only one of the Waterloo men was there – he had his medal and enjoys a pension. We have another Waterloo man in Dunkeld, who was in the Artillery, and had three horses shot under him on that day; but, unfortunately for him, as he was not a sufficient time in the army, he has no pension . It would be interesting to know how many Waterloo soldiers are alive at this day.’
His pension papers show that he is recorded as having died on 1 January 1846 aged 68 years (incorrect age, as taken from his Army records), he was actually 65. Fortunately a book of pre 1855 monumental burials at Dunkeld shows that a stone slab was laid over their grave in the grounds of Dunkeld Cathedral and was inscribed
‘Colour Sergeant D. Robertson, late 92nd Highlanders died here 1.1. 1846 aged 68 . Widow Margaret Crearer died 31.12.1837 aged 55, child Margaret .9.1845 aged 34, Catherin .4.1842 aged 29, and Ann and Robert as infants, by son David Builder , Perth.’