JUST over 230 years ago a Highland soldier, Colonel William Baillie of Dunain, Inverness, took the blame for one of the greatest ever defeats suffered by a British army in India.
The destruction of Baillie’s East India Company force by an army under the command of Tipu Sultan — who was later to be defeated himself by Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington of Waterloo fame — led to widespread fears in Britain that its Indian colonies were lost, with the imprisoned Baillie a convenient scapegoat.
Author Alan Tritton, himself a descendant of the Baillie family, is not so convinced of his ancestor’s guilt and in his book When The Tiger Fought The Thistle, asks whether Baillie deserves to be remembered as a Scottish military hero rather than as a failure.
IF you go south of Inverness on the A82, you will very shortly come to Dunain.
On the left of the road, you will see the Loch Ness Country Hotel formerly the Dunain Park Hotel, whilst to the right of the road, you may be able to see its farmhouse predecessor which belonged to the Dunain Baillies, who died out in 1890.
To the south, its grounds lie adjacent to the lands of the Dochfour Baillies, who are still going strong.
Continuing our little excursion, if you go a few miles east of Nairn, you will come to Lochloy, the erstwhile home of the Lochloy Baillies an off-shoot of the Dochfour Baillies. This was the home of my grandfather Ronald Baillie.
West of Nairn, you will come across the village of Croy and Kilravock Castle, owned by the Rose family for many centuries into which my grandfather married. The Dunain Baillies, the Lochloy Baillies, the Dochfour Baillies and the Kilravock Rose families were all intertwined.
Our final excursion is to Novar, which you reach by taking the A9 road out of Inverness to Evanton, the home of the Munro family.
The reason for all these excursions is that all these places are linked by Scottish Indian history and thus to William Baillie, who lived from 1739 to 1782. Without the Scots there would not have been much of a British Empire, which, in any case, mainly came about as the result of the Union between England and Scotland in 1707. The civil and military staff of the Honourable East India Company were mainly Scottish like William Baillie.
And now we go to Bangalore in India and when you arrive there by plane after a 10 hour flight, you take either the road or the train south to Mysore and eventually arrive at Seringapatam — the former palace and fortress of Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan and there, close to their Muslim tombs, you will see a recently restored large fine classical memorial bearing the following inscription:
"To the Memory of Colonel William Baillie, who, with a Detachment of British troops under his command, after a most noble and gallant resistance to a superior force on the plains of Perambakkan, was ultimately compelled to surrender to the united armies of Hyder Ali and Tipoo Sultan on the 10th day of September 1780 and died in the fortress of Seringapatam on 13th November 1782."
Because the rentals from their tenants were low, the Baillie family of Dunain was hard up and William, who was born in 1739, decided to join a new Regiment, the 89th Highland Regiment of Foot, which was in course of being raised by the Duchess of Gordon. She did this for two reasons, firstly to get her eldest son the 4th Duke a job — that is to say a commission — and secondly to get her new much younger second husband also a job, by having him appointed Colonel of her new Regiment.
Her plans were, however, greatly upset when the Regiment came under orders to sail for India thereby depriving her of her new much younger husband for an indefinite period of time or perhaps permanently given the casualty rate in India from either disease or war — two monsoons was the average length of life in India in those days.
The Regiment arrived at Pondicherry the French capital in south India, which was then being besieged by the British and here William Baillie had his first baptism of fire. In 1765 the 89th Highland Regiment of Foot returned to Scotland to be disbanded, but Baillie had not benefitted financially from his campaigns unlike Major Hector Munro of Novar, who had made a fortune as a result of his defeat of the combined armies of the Nawab Wazir, Shuja-ud-Daula of Oudh, the Moghul Emperor Shah Alam 11 and the deposed former Nawab of Bengal Mir Kasim at the battle of Buxar in 1765.
He therefore transferred to the Honourable East India Company and fought in nearly all the Carnatic wars and battles in the 1760s and 1770s and emerged victorious from all of them, earning a high military reputation.
However, he lost his last battle at Pollilur, not too far from Madras, when he was let down by Munro of Novar, the then Commander-in Chief of the Madras Army.
What really happened in this short but disastrous campaign, for which Colonel William Baillie seems to have been blamed, has been revealed by my researches at the Highland Archive Office in Inverness and the Scottish National Archive Office in Edinburgh and the India Office Library in the British Library — none of this material has hitherto been researched.
It proves conclusively from all the officers’ diaries, reports, memoranda etc — in other words all those who were engaged in the campaign — that Sir Hector Munro of Novar was almost entirely to blame for the disaster that befell Colonel William Baillie and his Brigade Column. The result was that the wounded Colonel Baillie was forced to surrender, forced to watch his fellow officers being decapitated in front of him and then forced to march for several weeks from Pollilur to Seringapatam — some of the time in fetters — being spat at by the inhabitants of the villages and towns through which he was marched.
In the Seringapatam dungeons, for most of the time he was placed in irons and manacled to the wall. He became ill and being denied medical help by Haidar Ali died in November 1782 as far away as is possible from his beloved Dunain, its woodlands and his fishing on the River Ness — it was indeed a tragedy.
• The Tiger and the Thistle: the Tragedy of Colonel William Baillie of the Madras Army, is published by I. B. Tauris Ltd.
Alan Tritton was born in 1931 and was evacuated to Lochloy near Nairn soon after the beginning of World War II to stay with his Baillie relations.
He later joined the Seaforth Highlanders at Fort George and served with the 1st Battalion in Malaya where he was severely wounded in action in the jungle and repatriated.
He went on to serve with the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, now the British Antarctic Survey, and led one of the Survey Stations for nearly a year and a half and also took part in the construction of the International Geophysical Year Scientific Station in the Antarctic as well as the 1954 Antarctic Relief voyage.
A Vice-President and Council Member of the Royal Geographical Society and Committee Member of the Mount Everest Foundation, he was a member of Chris Bonington’s British Everest South West Face Expedition in 1975 and established the Calcutta Tercentenary Trust which restored and conserved the British and European heritage paintings in the possession of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta.
Formerly a director of Barclay’s Bank, he was warded the CBE for his services to India and the preservation of its cultural heritage and lives in Essex where he has been successively High Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant for the county.