Bonnets o' Blue, The

DESCRIPTION: "I'll sing ye a sang in praise o that land Whaur the snaw never melts ..." Culloden is recalled: "nae traitors were there mang the bonnets o blue" The "brave Forty Twa" in Egypt, Waterloo, Lucknow and "avenging Cawnpore" is recalled.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1908 (GreigDuncan3)
KEYWORDS: pride army war Scotland nonballad patriotic
Apr 16, 1746 - Battle of Culloden Muir ends the 1745 Jacobite rebellion
1801 - Black Watch fought at Aboukir (Mar 8) and subsequent battles between March and August in the Egyptian campaign against Napoleon (source: "French & Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815: Egyptian Campaign 1801" at Land Forces of Britain, the Empire and Commonwealth [] site)
June 18, 1815 - Battle of Waterloo
Sept 20, 1854 - Battle of Alma. The allies win an expensive victory over the Russians
July 17, 1857 - Recapture of Cawnpore in the Sepoy Rebellion (source: "Background" in _Second Battle of Cawnpore_ at Wikipedia)
November 1857-March 1858 - Capture of Lucknow in the Sepoy Rebellion (source: "Indian Sepoy Rebellion 1857-1858" at Land Forces of Britain ...)
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (1 citation):
GreigDuncan3 524, "The Bonnets o' Blue" (1 text)
Roud #6006
NLScotland, L.C.Fol.70(22a), "The Bonnets o' Blue," The Poet's Box (Dundee), c.1890
cf. "McCaffery (McCassery)" (subject: 42nd Highlanders or Black Watch) and references there
cf. "Wha Saw the Forty-Second" (subject: 42nd Highlanders or Black Watch) and references there
cf. "The Gallant Forty-Twa" (subject: 42nd Highlanders or Black Watch)
cf. "Here's to the Black Watch" (subject: 42nd Highlanders or Black Watch)
NOTES: Commentary to broadside NLScotland L.C.Fol.70(22a): "This ballad sings the praises of the Royal Highland Regiment, better known as the Black Watch, who wore small round blue bonnets. It concerns an incident during the Crimean War, 1854-6, when Queen Victoria sent her 'lads wi' the Bonnets o' Blue' 'up the Alma's grim heights for tae conquror[sic] or die'." If so, it celebrates other deeds as well. GreigDuncan3 replaces "Victoria" with "King Edward" in broadside lines "Victoria kens ; aye, she kens braw an' weel, That oor ain kiltie lads are as true sa their steel" - BS
Re "avenging Cawnpore": Cawnpore was captured by the Indian rebels in 1857. The rebels broke a safe-conduct agreement condition of surrender, killed some of the British and took others hostage. When the British were about to recapture Cawnpore in July "the prisoners, about two-thirds of whom were women, children & babies, were butchered by their captors." (source: "First War of Independence 1857" in Kanpur at Wikipedia).
General Neill was left in charge of Cawnpore and avenged the massacre by lashing and hanging those identified as perpetrators, "a piece of savagery unrivalled in British military history." (source: "James George Neill" at, which describes itself as "Scotland's humour site." )
For another discussion of Cawnpore see David. The massacre of the British is discussed on pp. 199-200, the retribution on pp. 258-260. The discussion of the retribution illustrates how the perpetrators were forced through tabus against their caste. David writes (p. 259) that the retribution was considered just by most Britons in India at the time. - BS
Farwell, p. 107, gives an example of British feeling. Major William Hodson "appears to have worked himself into a frenzy. Seizing a carbine from one of his sowars, he ordererd the princes to strip and then personally shot each of them in cold blood, one after the other. The horrified crowd drew back in silence. Hodson ordererd the corpses to be thrown into a bullock cart and then carried them into Delhi. 'I am not cruel,' he wrote to his brother, 'but I confess I did rejoice at the opportunity of ridding the earth of those wretches.'"
Chandler/Beckett, p. 184, report, "British authority [in India] was restored only after fourteen months of fierce fighting which assumed, on both sides, the horrors of a war of races marked by mindless slaughter and bloodthirsty reprisals. Public opinion at home [in Britain] was shocked and outraged at the challenge to Britain's civilizing mission and lurid accounts in newspapers of atrocities perpetrated on European women and children stirred up fears, fantasies, and racial animosities. Vengeance and retribution were demanded of the army, and subsequent victories were reported by a jubilant press which overlooked the indiscriminate killing, burning, and looting committed by British troops, the vital contributions of loyal sepoy troops, and the defects of supply and medical service (8,987 of the 11,021 British casualties died from sickness or sunstroke)."
Spear, p. 142, notes that the British were greatly shaken by the attack on their supremacy: "The British on their side seemed hopelessly outnumbered and saw themselves and their families suddenly threated with destruction. Their world of easy authority had dissolved in a moment, their most trusted subordinates had risen in revolt, they could no longer distinguish between friend and foe; their former self-confidence was profoundly shaken. Many of the atrocities on the British side were an index of this shaken morale. The later reprisals were inexcusable but must be understood as the acts of men distraught by the loss of their families as well as their comrades, and by many months of campaigning in conditions of terrible strain."
Spear, p. 139, blames it ultimately on cultural differences: "[The] Mutiny of 1857-1858... has been variously regarded as a military mutiny only, as a deep-laid conspiracy set off too soon, as a popular movement of protest against innovations of various kings, and as the first modern Indian war of independence. There were elements of all these factors to be found in the upheaval, but it is best understood by viewing it against the social and ideological background of nineteenth-century India....
"[A]n exhausted country in 1818 was quite ready to accept another foreign regime... provided that the socio-religious fabric of society, both Hindu and Muslin, was left untouched.... But this imposition of neutral rule over a traditional society was... just what the British did not do.... Western civilization, through the medium of western education and learning, of Christian missionary propaganda, of western material techniques and instruments, and above all the English language, was to be introduced. There was to be no destruction of the old, but an introduction of the new alongside."
The mutiny started over the stupidest of reasons: rifle bullets greased with animal fat -- of both cows and pigs, which made the bullets unclean to both Hindus and Moslems (Spear, p. 141). The British apologized -- but the lack of cultural sensitivity was obvious. He does point out that planning for revolt had apparently begun earlier: the Mutiny, "though commencedc on caste grounds by Hindus, was blamed on the Muslim community as an anti-British revolt."
Still, before we start making pious-sounding comments about cultural imperialism, I have three words: the already-mentioned "Caste," plus "Thuggee" and "Suttee." The latter two had in fact largely been suppressed by 1857 -- but the memory was still very recent. Three wrongs no more make a right than do two, but British-Indian relations were still scarred by the very recent memories of ritual murder.
For the Battle of Culloden, see especially the notes to "The Muir of Culloden." For Alma, see "The Heights of Alma (I)" [Laws J10]. It is interesting to note that the commander of the Highlanders at both Alma (where he commanded the Highland Brigade) and the Indian Mutiny (where he was the overall boss) was Sir Colin Campbell, for whom see "The Kilties in the Crimea." - RBW
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