The ‘Cameron Bagpipe’ on display in the Greenjackets Museum, Winchester (photo courtesy of the Museum trustees)

On the website of the Royal Greenjackets Museum in Winchester the pipes shown above are described as ‘the bellows pipes of the ‘Highland Company’ of the 1st Battalion, 95th Rifles (later The Rifle Brigade)’.  The website text adds ‘Unsurprisingly, the members of the Highland Company were very proud of their roots and included amongst their number one or more pipers who, at appropriate moments, would play the bellow pipes.”1
Now a record of the use of bellows-pipes, not only in a military context, but in a ‘Highland’ Company must be worth exploring, since it would currently be unique. The following is therefore an attempt to retrieve what information is available about these pipes, their history and their military use.
The presence of this picture on the internet was first uncovered by Paul Roberts in a post to the Dunsire Forum in October, 2010.  Straightaway questions were being posed about the validity of the website’s claims; chiefly arguing that the pipes appear to be in extremely good condition for an instrument used in a military context more than 200 years ago.
An enquiry to the museum archive produced a number of items reproduced from the Brigade Chronicles. Between them, these articles seem to represent the source of the website’s description and attribution. The crucial item is from the 1955 volume: under the heading ‘The Regimental Museum’ is the following:
“among the many articles added to the Museum during the year--
Bagpipe used by the Highland Company when saved in 1800 by Alexander Cameron of Inverailort,  later to become General Sir Alexander Cameron. Given by Mr Francis Head of Inverailort, a direct descendant of the General …”2
The Alexander Cameron mentioned was son of Donald Cameron of Glendessary and Murligan, and a lineal descendant of Ewen, XIIIth Chief of Lochiel.  In 1797 he was appointed to an Ensigncy in the Breadalbane Fencibles, and served with them most of two years, and soon after the Holland Expedition he received an Ensigncy in the 92nd Regiment (‘Gordon Highlanders’). In March 1800 he volunteered to serve in the Rifle Corps then being formed. The Regimental Orders state: ‘February 24th, The detachment of riflemen will march to-morrow at ten-o-clock under the command of Ensign Cameron. The major expects that the detachment will conduct themselves in such a manner as to do credit to the regiment they belong to, and that Ensign Cameron will so exert himself on the march, and after he has arrived at Horsham, that his detachment will appear as respectable in the corps they are to join as the regiment has always done among other regiments”3 This was part of the process whereby the ‘Experimental Corps of Riflemen’ was created; the commanding officers of fourteen regiments of the line were directed to select from each 2 sergeants, 2 corporals, 30 privates and 1 person qualified for a bugler, to compose a rifle corps, and to send in to the Commander in Chief the names of 1 captain, 1 lieutenant and 1 ensign willing to volunteer for this service. The detachments from the 79th and 92nd regiments retained their own dress, and later became informally known as the ‘Highland Company’. Cameron volunteered to accompany the 92nd to Egypt and was severely wounded, probably at the Battle of Alexandria.  Despite his wound, on his return to England in 1801, having been elevated to Lieutenant rank, he re-joined the Rifle Corps, whose Standing Orders as the new ‘Corps of Riflemen’ had come into effect in January of that year.
 So far, we have followed the regimental records. However, it is at this crucial point that the story’s details are filled in by Mrs Cameron-Head, grand-daughter of Alexander Cameron. In a footnote in the Brigade Chronicles article she says: “When my Grandfather returned to England after the Battle of Alexandria, and rejoined the Rifle Corps, of which he was one of the first ten officers, Colonel the Hon. William Stewart, of the Galloway family, asked him to go up to the Highlands and recruit as many men as he could; and he recruited between 150 and 200 men in Lochaber, and they marched all the way to Horsham (where I have always understood they joined somewhere about August) to the music of the bagpipes; and it is on record that Colonel Cameron’s men took the bagpipes into action.”
The Brigade Chronicles also contain an article on ‘The Highland Company’ at the end of which a letter from Mrs Cameron–Head is quoted in which the subject of the bagpipes is revisited.  “In your letter to me dated 26th December 1914, you said that you could not get to the bottom of the Highland Company. There is no doubt that my Grandfather took a big batch of men from the Fort William district in 1801, and that they marched all the way to Horsham, where they joined the old 95th. There is also no doubt that these men had bagpipes. I remember three very old sets of bagpipes at Inverailort, which were kept in a horsehair ottoman there when I was quite a small child, and I was always told that these had belonged to my Grandfather’s Highland Company. Whether they were returned to him when the Regiment gave up using pipes or how they came to be there I do not know; most unfortunately, after my Father’s death in 1874, when I was quite a child, these pipes disappeared and I can now find no trace of them…”
It seems that it is these two written items, and perhaps other verbal reminiscences from Mrs Cameron-Head, that have provided all the evidence to link the set of bagpipes in the museum to the Rifle Corps and their march to Horsham in 1801. I put this question to Keith Sanger, whose work on piping history will be well-known to Common Stock readers; Here are extracts from his replies:
“I have now searched the army pension records, the contemporary newspapers and re-checked my notes on material in the NAS and there is not a shred of evidence that anyone raised 150 men in Lochaber to join the 95th…
“The idea that one junior officer on his own could raise 150-200 men when people like Col Cameron [of the 79th] with some 30 plus officers all engaged raising a regiment were struggling simply does not make sense especially when you consider the paper trail that would be involved. [Keith Sanger provided me with copies of the reports of the efforts made to raise the 79th, Cameron Highlanders in 1799].
“Firstly, to recruit at all required a warrant to do so. On arriving in an area to recruit the senior officer of the recruiting party had to go to the local JP and show his warrant and also inform any other regiments operating in the same area.
“Secondly every recruit needed to be medically examined and sworn in front of said JP, (and in the case of transfers from the fencibles they too would require re-attesting because their original attestments were for home service only). The recruiting officer would have needed letters of authorisation to draw money locally because apart from the recruits ‘bounty money’ each recruit was required to be issued with some basic clothing and would require subsistence from the moment he had signed on. Then until the men were ready to move they would also have needed authorisation in the form of a written order from the War Dept to enable them to be billeted locally.
“Having assembled these men, if he did, he would then have had to await the written order from the War Dept to move them down to where the 95th were stationed, the order giving the route to take including where to stop at the end of each days march, (so that orders could be sent from the War Dept in advance to the ‘stops’ requiring the local magistrates to accommodate and arrange food for the stop). It was all highly organised and generated masses of paperwork; it would also have involved the Lord Lieutenant of the County concerned which in the case of Lochaber was Inverness, and Sir James Grant. Now I have been working my way through the Grant papers for some time including the lieutenancy military papers for that period and I have seen nothing to suggest any of those recruiting events happened.”
One is left wondering what was the origin of this story, if, as the evidence suggests, it left no trace in any of the required military sources? Alexander Cameron had been dead for nine years when Cristian his grand-daughter was born. Her remark ‘I was always told’ seems to be the only indication of her source; although she says ‘it is a matter of record’ she does not say where that record was; it has certainly proved impossible to locate it up till now, though the full collection of Inverailort papers remains un-researched.
There are, however, a number of other questions which are pertinent to the question of whether the Rifle Brigade in any of its manifestations ever had pipers. Keith Sanger has pointed to the difficulties experienced by more than one recruiting drive to locate the usual two pipers to join the Grenadier Companies, whether they were highland pipers or other. He did however provide a copy of the Paybooks of the Lochaber Fencibles Regiment for the relevant years. These seem to indicate that the regiment maintained two pipers [listed in the paybooks among the 4 ’drummers’ since the pre-printed paybooks had no space for pipers] from 1799 until it was disbanded in 1802; though some of the fencibles, including the pipers, could have joined the Rifles in 1802 when other fencibles did provide recruits, we can be sure that they were not present in Cameron’s 1801 march. In fact Keith added: “I have checked the pension records cross checking the Lochaber, fencibles or origin, against the 95 or rifle brigade. I only found 2 matches having both in common, one was a Scot but was discharged in 1802 so his time with the 95th must have been pretty short, the other was a man from Cork.”
Of equal importance is the evidence of the pipes themselves; and here we encounter a further mystery. When I first began to investigate these pipes, Hugh Cheap put me in contact with Loch Ailort local historian Iain Thurnber. Iain kindly supplied a photo which he believes was taken when the pipes were first presented to the Museum in 1955.

 Now this set is clearly not that now on display in the Museum. Unfortunately the current archivist at the Museum was unable to shed any light on this mystery; “we are very much in the hands of those who received and documented the pipes at the time”.
However, closer inspection of both sets of pipes only muddies the water further; comparing the styles of drone-tops, mounts and beadings leads to the strong suggestion that whilst the second set here may be the earlier, neither are likely to have been made before 1800 and post-1830 seems to be a more reliable date, with the first set, those now in the museum, being even later.
The 1919 letter from Mrs Cameron-Head however describes how she had seen three ‘very old sets … when I was quite a small child’. If we accept this part of her story, that would imply sometime in the mid to late 1860’s. ‘Very old’ of course would have a different meaning to a small child. She also tells us that these pipes disappeared after her father’s death [in 1874] when she was 15.
At the end of May 1940 Inverailort Castle, “like many others at the time, had been requisitioned by the military. Although the house was cleared and the contents sent to Fort William for storage, it seems storms had washed away a number of bridges in the area, and that when the lorries carrying the contents encountered a collapsed bridge on the road, the soldiers unloaded the valuable antique furniture from up to three of the lorries in order to bridge the gap and continue on their way.”
If it were not for Mrs Cameron-Head’s remark in her letter that the pipes had disappeared before 1874 one might perhaps guess that it was at this time that they either passed to Fort William or were lost; how they were returned to the family remains a mystery; Keith Sanger has told me that he recalls as a boy seeing them in the Fort William Museum some time in the early 1950’s, shortly before Francis Head presented them to the museum.
Mrs Cameron-Head mentions having seen three sets of pipes in the ottoman. Hugh Cheap tells me that he has been in touch with someone who owns a set of bagpipes purporting to be from Inverailort, but has yet to see them; these  appear to be the set in the 1955 photo, implying that this set was not presented to the Museum. The mystery remains and we await the result of Hugh Cheape’s investigation with some interest. In the meantime, it seems we have, albeit reluctantly, to dismiss the notion of bellows-pipes being played before the Rifle Corps in 1801, whether in action or on the march.

2. Rifle Brigade Chronicle, various dates
3. The Gordon Highlanders The Life of a Regiment p73
4. Described and reproduced in British Rifleman 1797-181, Philip Haythornthwaite • Illustrated by Christa Hook