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Memorandum Book of Sergeant John Matheson


(I have previously labelled him as John the Diarist, or as John, the Soldier-Business man, or as the Tree-planting Diarist. He was born at Craigkilisie in Strath Carnaig, and passed the rest of his youth at Rearchar, and then at Brea (Brae) up till the age of 12 or 13, after which year he had jobs in various parts of Sutherland and Ross, until he joined the Fencibles in 1793. He served therein for six years and then began a successful business career in Glasgow. He was born in 1772 and died in 1856. RLM)

The Memorandum Book is the property of Dr. Molly M. Johnstone, of No. 1, Dalkeith Street, Joppa, Edinburgh, who generously gave me the opportunity of making a copy of it. James M. Matheson, of Glasgow, a direct descendent of the Diarist has kindly decided to make copies of the Document for the interest of Mathesons, Murrays and Mackays.

The following pages, particularly to page 105 inclusive, contain a sort of a Ledger, or rather an abstract of something nearly in the form of a ledger, containing many of the money transactions of John Matheson.

Born in the year 1772 (See Page 4 of this narration in particular) in Craigkilisy of Strathcarnack, Parish of Dornoch, Shire of Sutherland, but having left Craigkilisy when a child with my parents, I spent the most years when a boy in Rearchar in said parish, and afterwards in Bray in said Parish. My parents were of the class of small farmer in that country, and though not rich, they were willing to give their children common education, suitable to their own situation in life. But even in Rearchar when I was very young we were three miles, and in Breay six miles, from the Parish School, probably more, which will account for my deficiency in that respect, but as soon as I was able to bear the fatigue I was sent to the nearest school (such as it was) and for a short time to some distant schools viz. Cromarty, etc. However these remarks are not necessary here.

So far as I know I must have left my Father's house between the age of 12 and 13 years, and was employed in the country in various situations. Being some time a boy about Major Sutherland's house, Rearchar, afterwards with a sort of country shop-keeper, Inverchawly (?), Parish of Creich and then a sort of a Teacher in the Parish of Lairg, and my last service in Sutherland was with Capt. Alexander McKinsie (sic) of Grunard, lately arrived from the East Indies.

I left my parents' house for the last time, at Breay, early in the year 1791 when I was nearly 19 years of age. I went to Glasgow where I remained principally at Mrs. Baird's, Bleachfield, Pollockshaws (after having tried several other employments which I found too heavy for me), and returned to my Father's house the latter end of 1792, where I remained only till the Spring of 1793 when I entered the Sutherland Fencible Regiment, not as a matter of choice, but owing to the old feudal system of the Country I was obliged to go to please the Laird. Plainly every farmer was under the necessity of giving at least one of his sons if he had any fit for service to this Regiment. I continued in this regiment for the six years they were embodied and during the last five years I was pay serjeant of Major Sutherland's Company.

The Regiment having been disbanded at Fort George in the latter end of the Spring of 1799 I went to Sutherland to see my friends, where I remained till the Harvest, when I came to Glasgow. Having no trade I paid David McKay for teaching me in the weaving of muslin, etc. Being about two years at this trade I left it and engaged with Messrs Dale and McIntosh at Dalmarnock to learn the Turkey Red Dyeing. My terms after the first year was 50 per year, House, Coal etc. and 2 1/2% of the profits of the work. But having a view of selling the works they did not dye much, and sold the works in January 1805 and retired from the trade.

I then engaged with Henry Monteith Bogle and Co. as Assistant Manager at Barrowfield Dyework, under Mr. John McIntosh (my brother-in-law) and remained in that situation till the end of 1815 when he went to Dalmarnock Dyeworks, and I had the charge, having my cousin Neil Matheson as my assistant till the end of 1823 when he went to take the charge of Blantyre Dyework, and Donald McKay my sister's son (i.e. Elspeth's son. RLM) assisted me.

My first engagement was for 14 years to the end of 1818, and my salary was only 90, free house, coal, etc. till I got the Management when my Salary was to be 100 per annum. But my employers were very generous and made my salary always more than my agreement was, having made my salary for the last 2 years of the 14 up to 250 per annum. I entered another engagement for 5 years from the 1st of January 1819 to the end of 1823 at 500 per annum, free house, coal, candle, soap. And having served the 5 years I now write this in the beginning of 1824, when I am only engaged for this year, at the rate of 500 per annum, the same as the last five years.

N.B. An alphabetical Index is entered at the end of this book.

N.B. (This is in Red Ink. RLM) I should have said in the narrative on Page 1 that I was born on Saturday, held in the old style as St. Peter's Fair Day in the country, which must be either on the latter end of March or what is more probable on the beginning of April 1772. This being the year is certain, but the day of the month cannot be ascertained.

Having served the years 1824 and 1825 on the same terms of the preceding five years, being in all 7 years at 500 per annum, exclusive of coal, house, candles and soap this period of my time may be considered as ended on the 31st. December 1825.

How I spend my money during the above time may be seen in the following pages, the principal part being laid out in building a house in Monteith Row in the years 1821 and 1822, being only finished at Whitsunday 1822, although it was commenced at Whitsunday 1821. This House cost when completely finished (Here follows a completely blank space for 2 lines. RLM).

All the transactions entered in this book carried to a larger book where they are more regularly arranged, alphabetically till the end of 1825, and this book is kept mainly as a copy, and should this book be destroyed or lost it would be of no consequence as all the transactions of this sort is entered in another Ledger to the 30th December 1826, inclusive.

John Matheson

(What I have typed out above derives from five consecutive loose pages in John Matheson's Memorandum Book of 12 January 1799. The next 7 pages consist of payments to men of his Fencible Unit beginning in January 1799 at Ayr. There is much repetition in them, and I would find it difficult to copy the curious arrangement of his columns, and extra insertions. I will give one page or so. The whole would require careful photocopying, and that might be difficult. The pages again are numbered 1 to 7. I'll decipher as best I can. RLM)

(Omitted. RHM)

Serjeant John Matheson's Story of some of his service with The 2nd Sutherland Fencible Regiment.

Though a narrative of the life and transactions of an obscure individual, who has nothing remarkable to relate of himself cannot be of any material consequence to his friends after his death, still I think everyone (who is capable of doing it) ought to have a short memorandum of their transactions in life, which might be both useful and entertaining to themselves if they would be honest and free in their narrative. No doubt many things might be related in the lives of young men that might be a warning to their succeeding young relations, or such young persons as might have seen such narratives if properly and prudently narrated.

I was somehow so far of this opinion in my youth, and especially from the time I left my native County that I wrote a sort of a Journal of any particular thing I met with, having begun it with what I recollected of my past adventures, but the Regiment, having volunteered for Ireland, then in a complete state of Rebellion, my return again to Scotland was very uncertain, and my Journal which I intended to insert in a clean book, which I had not time to do at the time, happened not to be so clearly wrote as I could wish in case of its falling into the hands of others, I therefore burnt it with other papers and letters which I regret very much since to have done, as it should now enable me to continue the narrative on my return from Ireland. However as it so happened I shall only now record an account of our marching with perhaps a few remarks while in Ireland, and our return home to be disbanded at Fort George in 1799.

I have however wrote a very short abstract account of myself in a Pocket Book No. ... which I have done merely for the reasons and motives mentioned already in this page.

The 2nd or Sutherland Fencible Regiment of Foot marched from Ayr Camp on Saturday 16th June 1798 and encamped that night at Girvan and marched from Girvan on Monday the 18th and encamped that night at Stranraer. Marched from Stranraer on Wednesday 20th and embarked at Port Patrick at 2 o'clock p.m. and landed at Carrick Fergus in Ireland at 7 o'clock Thursday, a.m. the 21st June.

Then half of the Regiment marched to Belfast, and the other half remained at Carrick Fergus to Saturday the 23rd June when they marched and joined the other half of the Regiment at Belfast, where they all remained till the 29th of June.

The next march was to Lisburn and Hillsborough and from thence on June 30th to Bambridge and Newry. From 2nd to 5th Dundalk, after which a half of the Regiment marched for Drogheda, namely the Flank Coy. Colonel's, Lieut Colonel's and Captain McKay's Company.

On Saturday 14th July, 200 rank and file with Officers, N.C.O.s etc commanded by Major Alexander Sutherland and also part of the Dumfries-shire Fencible Cavalry marched from Dundalk in pursuit of the rebels who were assembled to a considerable amount on the Boyne. We arrived that night at Ardu and marched from there on Saturday 15th July, encamping at Old Bridgetown on the Boyne Water. We halted that day at The Speaker's House at Cullen and got some refreshment of Porter, Bread and Cheese from him. (I mean the Speaker of The House of Commons).

A part of our detachment went that night to Slanu under the command of Captain McDonald. However the half of our Regiment who were at Droghea attacked and dispersed the rebels on the 14th July (the day we marched from Dundalk). They took some prisoners and killed and wounded many, I am told some hundreds, but I do not know how many as I was not there myself, nor did I hear any official account given of them. On Tuesday 17th July we arrived back at Dundalk.

We remained at Dundalk till the 25th August when we got the rout to march to join Marquis Cornwallis who was marching against the French and rebels in the North-West of Ireland. (The route was Ardu, Kyles, Longford, Ballymahon, Athlone!!! RLM). At Athlone we joined the main army under Marquis Cornwallis.

This army made a very fine appearance on the high grounds above Athlone. Indeed a great part of what was there never did see such a fine body of men before, and, in my opinion, might be in an army of 40-50,000 men that could not see the third or fourth part of them at a time.

On our march on the subsequent days we had sometimes the opportunity of seeing the greatest part of this body of men, and for my own part I think I would cheerfully go 50 miles at any time to see such a fine view. I have no doubt but many would go three times longer. The English Militia in particular made a very fine appearance. I saw, before the march was over, that they were too full and heavy to stand the fatigue of a long march. There were also some Hessian Cavalry who had a very warlike appearance. The martial appearance of the English Cavalry as well as the Scottish Fencible Cavalry was very admirable, at least very much so to me who never saw anything like it before.

From Athlone, 30th August (I am sparing you Mathesons something! RLM) Ballimore, Knock-hill, Tuam, Holy Mount, Ballyhargus (?), French Park, Carrick upon Shannon, where we were boiling some potatoes for supper, and preparing to go to bed when we were ordered to strike up our camp, as quietly as possible and march. As the potatoes were not boiled enough for eating them we had to leave them and to pack up our camp kettles and tents. We marched as quietly as possible all night, having guides. But unfortunately, as we were informed afterwards, our guides brought us round by a road that was several miles off our proper course so that we had to turn back a long way on a certain road that we took.

When marching at night we passed through a small town on the Strath of the Shannon that was in general brilliantly illuminated tho' it was some time before daybreak. The people were all up and they were well rewarded by the fine view they got of the army whose bright arms that were glittering in the light of the candles and torches made a very grand appearance.

Having been travelling all night and the preceding day the men were getting faint and weak and many of them by this time were lying down by the road side with their knapsacks under their head and were in great danger of being trampled on by men, horses, carts, etc. So far as I could judge they were mostly (tho' not altogether) of those English Militia Regiments which I admired so much when I saw them first at Athlone. Upon the whole, before we halted next evening that is to say on the 8th at St. Johnstone there was not (I suspect) a Regiment in that Army but had several lying on the road or near it, or at least, they were falling behind their respective Regiments.

As mentioned on the other side, by our going a long way off the right road and returning back again a certain distance to come to the right road again the French and Rebels would have gotten the start of us completely and got into the heart of the Country, if not to the Capital, had not General Lake been detached some days before, by another road. A division of the Army fortunately came up with the enemy a little before the main army came in sight.

We had only arrived in time to see the battle at a great distance, and the enemy surrendering, and the rebels running away and pursued by cavalry in all directions. However this cannot be called a battle as the French were but few in numbers though they fought valiantly and so far as I could understand the Rebels saw that they had no chance of success and therefore whenever the engagement took place they dispersed and ran. At least this was the information we had, for we were ourselves at too great distance to see, for we could hardly see the lines and the flash of their guns, but we had a very clear view of the cavalry in pursuit of the Rebels. The place where this affair took place was called Carnglanhaugh near Balnamuck, not far from Saint Johnston.

After the French surrendered their Commander-in-Chief (Humbert) and their other principal officers arrived at our camp, and so far as I understand went through the whole army, and saw the different regiments. They were at the same time accompanied by some of the principal officers of the British army and a guard, after which the whole of the British Army were marched to Dublin. The rebels that were taken were imprisoned for trial. Some of them were tried instantly and hanged. I saw six of them myself hung on one tree together, and of course there must have been many of them hanged throughout the whole encampment. However I saw enough to convince me of the misery and cruelty that must of necessity be the consequence of War, at least of Rebellion.

These wretched like creatures threw away the greatest part of their clothes, some of them to their very shirt, when they broke their lines and dispersed in order that they might be enabled to run the faster, and perhaps for other reasons, say that they knew that their own lives were forfeited, they would not wish their families to be discovered. For that reason they threw away their clothing and everything about them that might be the means of discovering their families and friends, etc.

As there were no prisons of jails to keep them they were gathered in crowds and guardian rings of guards or soldiers under the canopy of heaven and rain and dew of the night till their trials came on.

They all had a fair trial, tho' it took some days to try them all, and as their friends who were near at hand were admitted to see them and other near relations tearing, wringing their hands together with all the other signs of grief and despair which of course must be attended with such an awful interview which would be the last upon earth. As they knew they were taken in the act of Rebellion they were sure they were to be launched to Eternity as soon as their trial would come on.

There were, however, some of these women who came to see them, so hardened as seemingly to be little affected but encouraged their sons, and husbands and brothers etc., telling them that they were Martyrs for their Country and dying in a good and honorable cause, and suchlike phrases. As they in general spoke the Irish language they made no scruple in expressing their minds freely, thinking that we would not understand them. However, I understood so far as particular subjects, or at least a word here and there what they were saying. Although they were our enemies and the enemies of their country still I felt very much for their suffering. I believe from what I have seen and heard that the greatest part of them sacrificed their lives for their country so far as they knew.

However the affair of the 8th September 1798 gave the finishing stroke to the Rebellion in Ireland at this time, and on the 12th September the different Regiments marched for their respective quarters. (Route was Phinea, near OldCastle, Kells, Ardu and old quarters at Dundalk. RLM). After an excursion of about three weeks through North West Ireland during which time I did not change my shirt, except on the 11th September I put it off and was washing it in a stream before the camp when a soldier's wife newly arrived from Athlone observed me, and insisted that she would do it better herself. I allowed her to finish the washing of the shirt and she got it dried as soon as she could, and tho' not dressed I had now a clean shirt. The privates had their knapsacks with some few things but I had nothing as I left my trunk at Athlone with the heavy baggage which we got back again quite safe at Dundalk. We had all haversacks and canteens where we carried our provisions.

This march tho' short, and would be a mere trifle in the eyes of a veteran soldier, was by us, who nothing of fatigue felt as a specimen of hardship. We returned to our quarters at Dundalk just as well and healthy as when we went away, only a little shabby in our appearance as our clothes were dirty.

I must confess that on the 8th Sept. when the army arrived at St. Johnston they seemed to be very fatigued. Not above half of the army arrived in their ranks on the ground of encampment. Some fell out from curiosity in order that they might see the French prisoners and also the different regiments as they came up to the ground of encampment.

It was my lot to mount guard immediately, and as I had nothing to carry on the march and moderately well supplied with bread and Spirits, having fortunately got some Spirits at Carrick on Shannon and Tuam, in my canteen which served me on the road occasionally, so that whatever others suffered I was quite well, only that my hose and shoes were completely in rags. Still, my feet were not blistered nor very sore.

We marched from Dundalk on Tuesday 21st September 1798 and arrived at Newry, then by Drumore, Hillsborough, for Belfast. On 3rd January 1799 the first division of the Regiment embarked for Scotland. On the 4th Jan. the second division embarked at 8 a.m. and landed at Balintrae at 11 o'clock on the 5th Jan. I was with the second division. We marched on the 7th for Girvan. The whole arrived at Ayr the Saturday 13th January 1799, nearly seven months from the time we left it, and fully as well as when we left!

And in justice to the Irish Nation I must record of them that I never met with more undeserved and unmerited kindness than I did while among them. They are a very hospitable, generous people, at least the merchants or shopkeepers and the middle rank of tradesmen, etc. in their towns with whom I had the most conversation and intercourse. For my own part I shall always remember with gratitude the liberality and kindness of the families with whom it was my lot to lodge while in Ireland, and particularly the family of Mr. John Bell, Merchant, High Street, Newry. Indeed, both poor and rich are more generous, kind and warmhearted than what they are in general represented to be. I am, however, almost tempted to think that they are not the same people when they come to Scotland as what they are at home or that it is only the very worst of them that comes in general to Scotland. But this is no doubt an erroneous opinion, for good and bad comes to Scotland as well as to England. But be this as it may, I never met with more disinterested kindness nor even with as much as I did among them. However I shall at present leave them as I got them and follow the Sutherland Fencibles for a short time yet.

On Saturday the 9th March our company marched from Ayr in two detachments, the first to Galston under the command of Lieut. William Grant, and the second to Mauchline under Ensign MacLeod. I was with the latter detachment. Our Taylors and recruits remained at Ayr. And we had also 15 of our company on furlough. We joined the regiment again at Ayr on Tuesday 26th March 1799. (Stopping places were Kilmarnoch, Glasgow, Kilsyth, Stirling for two nights, then Auchterarder, Perth, Coupar in Angus, Forfar, Brechin, Laurencekirk, Stonehaven, Aberdeen, Kintore and Inverury, Huntly, Fochabers, Elgin, Nairn. RLM). We marched from Nairn to Fort George on Saturday the 20th April 1799 on which day we were disbanded or discharged, I mean the division with which I was.

The Regiment was embodied at Inverness about six years ago, and have since that time been through almost every town in Scotland, together with the short time they have been in Ireland as related in the preceding pages. They were a fine body of men, upwards of a thousand strong!

(RHM: The remainder of the memorandum book is concerned with:

an account of Matheson's cash flow from 1799 to 1804;
beasts belonging to his brother, George;
a journey North to help his mother and sister-in-law;
details of his possessions in a chest in Sutherland;
debts of his family at the time of William's death.

Also attached is a declaration by the members of the 2nd Fencible Regiment of loyalty and an offer of a reward of 200 Guineas for people apprehending persons attempting seduction of soldiers, signed by John Matheson.)

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