Pipers in the 18th Century 42nd Highlanders [Part 2]

Piper, 1755

To follow up on the 2010 blog post about pipers in the 18th century 42nd, we’d like to present some fresh tidbits about the 42nd’s pipers and their dress.

To recap: our unit has opted to present pipers dressed as drummers, due to several factors:

  • The portrait of the 25th’s piper at Minorca
  • Pay records listing pipers earning drummers’ pay
  • Inspection reports describing pipers dressed as drummers.
  • Pipers being moved to drummer slots on the rolls

Thanks to information graciously shared with us by historian Paul Pace of the 42nd Light Co (Tennessee, USA) , we’ll share some further information that strengthens the case that the 42nd’s pipers were indeed dressed as drummers.

Waterford Inspection, 30 May, 1775

We know from  the 1775 inspection at Waterford, that the regiment had 12 drummers – 1 per company, except for Earl Balcarres’ company with 3.  A corresponding 12 drums and 12 drum slings were accounted for. Returns of the regiment’s clothing note that also:

Ten of the Rank and File are Cloathed as Musicians

With the 12 drums, slings, and drummers already accounted for, who were the additional 10 of the Rank and File dressed as musicians?

Recruiting pipers

Perhaps the answer to the question lies in the Edinburgh Advertiser, of Oct. 27, 1775. The paper ran the following advertisement to recruit pipers for the 42nd :


WHEREAS HIS MAJESTY has been graciously pleased to allow, that TWELVE PIPERS, being one for each Company, with Drummers pay be appointed for the 42d or Royal Highland Regiment of Foot under my command, and as some are still wanting to complete that number, whatever able bodied Highlanders, who are well skilled in playing PIBROCHS, if they offer to enlist with any of my recruiting officers; they will not only receive THREE GUINEAS enlisting money, when approved of by the commanding officer at Glasgow, but a present from me of a pair of new pipes with flags, and other advantages, till the number is complete; and he that is the best piper, and regularly bred at the colleges in the Isles of Skye and Mull, will be appointed piper major. Bannercross near Sheffield, Yorkshire, 21st Oct. 1775.


Note that these new 42nd pipers were to be enlisted with drummer’s pay – which would make sense if they were on the rolls as drummers, and dressed as drummers. Perhaps this recruitment of new pipers would allow the 10 of the rank and file dressed as musicians to return to their muskets!

Uniform Orders and Invoices

Paperwork from the regiment also sheds more light into the dress of the pipers. References in both 1775 and 1778 to “drummer’s and piper’s coats” (as a line-item together) adds further credence to uniforming the pipers as drummers.

Letter from Capt. Lt. John McIntosh, 42nd Regt., to Glasgow Customs Collector, Glasgow, Dec. 14, 1775 [1]

“I am directed by Lieut Colol Stirling of the 42nd Regt to request you would be so good as send a licence to him here for 12 Packs, or Bales of Cloathing, containing as follows viz:

12 drummers coats
12 fronts of vests for ditto
11 drummers and pipers coats
11 vests for ditto

Note that “drummers” and “drummers and pipers” coats are separately accounted, with the 12 “drummers coats” going to our 12 drummers, who have 12 drums and slings just a couple months prior. The quantity of 11 “drummer’s and piper’s” coats nearly matches up with the newspaper ad above describing the authorization of 12 pipers, and the Waterford inspection’s observation of 10 extra men dressed as musicians.

Invoice of 42nd Regt. Clothing Supplied to the Regimental Agents by “Shippey & Hetherington” June 1778 [2]

24 Drummers and Pipers Coats    at 32/11.5

60 Corporal Epaulettes                at 2/
2 Piper Shoulder Knots                at 3/

1 Drum-Major’s Coat                                       (2 pounds, 3 shillings)

1 Piper-Major’s Coat                                       (3 pounds, 5 shillings, 2 pence)

Only a couple of years later, we see invoices for uniforms purchased by Regiment. Again, coats for the authorized 12 drummers plus 12 pipers matches up with the invoiced amount of 24. By now the requisitions make no attempt to separate drummers and pipers’ coats.

Return of 42nd Regt. Clothing Shipped to America on H.M.S. Tortoise on Aug. 10, 1778  [2]

Pack’d for the 42nd (or Royal Highland) Regt of Foot, The Right Honble Lord John Murray’s [25 bales with]

Pipe Major’s Coat 1
Drum Major’s Coat 1

Drumrs & Pipers Coats 20

Pipers Knots 2

Costs and appearance of pipers’ coats

Drum Major, Foot Guards (1792)

Paul Pace notes that the 32-shilling drummer/piper coats would have a “ridiculous” amount of lace:

Doing the math,  an original 42nd Piper coat would have 17s 8 1/2 d worth of extra lace cost divided by 5 d worth of extra cost per yard of lace  (assuming the base cost of the coat was the same) or 42.5 yds plus the extra yard or [for a total of] 43.5 yds of lace.

It’s worth noting the cost of the pipe-major’s coat in the June, 1778 invoice: 65+ shillings, vs 43 for the drum major’s and 53 for the Sgt-Major – both of which are among the most ornate in the regiment. A sergeant’s coat cost 27/2, and a private wore a coat costing just 15/3.

New Questions

Corporal's Shoulder Knot

For me, this is the most interesting mystery: Just how ornate was the 65-shilling pipe-major’s coat, to be the most expensive one purchased by the regiment? A 1784 review notes that two musicians (likely the drum and pipe majors) were issued sergeant’s plaids, suggesting their treatment as sergeants. A reasonable assumption would be that the additional cost for the pipe-major’s coat, above a regular piper/drummer or sergeant’s, was due to its being copiously laced in silver in the same manner as the pipers, rather than laced with the yellow and blue drummer’s lace.

Another question is the listing of “piper’s shoulder knots”. The quantity of two knots likely corresponds to the two pipers officially on the establishment in the grenadier company, but what these knots were is unclear – were they similar in appearance to the knots formerly worn by a corporal? (depicted to the right)

The Minorca portrait of the 25th’s piper doesn’t show a shoulder knot, but its position in the invoice with epaulettes and wings suggest they may be related, meaning they’re worn on shoulders rather than being, for example, cords for the pipes themselves. A cost of 3s vs 2s for the corporal’s could indicate that they’re of similar design, but made of silver lace.


Now, with these additional resources, the evidence pointing to the 42nd’s pipers being uniformed as drummers is longer:

  • The portrait of the 25th’s piper at Minorca is dressed as a drummer
  • Pay records listing pipers earning drummers’ pay
  • 1768 Inspection reports describing pipers dressed as drummers.
  • Pipers being moved to drummer slots on the rolls
  • The 1775 inspection at Waterford lists 10 extra men dressed as musicians
  • An October, 1775 newspaper ad seeking 12 pipers for the 42nd, at a drummer’s pay.
  • A Dec 1775 order for 12 drummers coats plus 11 “drummers and pipers coats”
  • A 1778 invoice for “24 drummers and pipers coats”
  • And finally, 20 drummers and pipers coats were actually shipped to America after said invoice was paid.


1: CE60-1-18 Customs Collector to Board of Customs p. 221, Mitchell Library, Glasgow, Scotland
2: Lord John Murray Papers

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One Response to Pipers in the 18th Century 42nd Highlanders [Part 2]

  1. Gerry Orvis says:

    You may be interested to read Peter E. MacDonald’s new paper on the 42nd Regiment Band or Musicians’ Tartan at http://www.scottishtartans.co.uk/42nd_Band_Tartan.pdf.
    In this paper, Mr. MacDonald states that there is no evidence that the tartan was used by the 42nd before 1780. From my research, I’ve not seen any references to pipers wearing this unique tartan prior to the 1780 period. So it may be a moot point as regards the uniform of your band, but it’s worth a read nevertheless.

    Gerry Orvis
    Formerly of the Major’s Company, 42nd, or Royal Highland Regiment of Foot (1775)

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