Robert Brownlee 1833-1908

An obituary of Ayr's famous veteran, published in the Ayr newspaper, ‘The People’s Journal’ on July 25 1908


Death of ‘Old Bob’: Stories of Persia and India

Death has claimed Ayr’s most popular army veteran in the person of ex Colour Sergeant Robert Brownlee, South Harbour Street. Brownlee, or ‘Old Bob’ as he was generally styled, was a native of Kinross and was 75 years of age in May next. Deceased had the distinction of having spent nearly 41 years of his life in the service of his country.

The veteran was the possessor of the Persian Medal, the Indian Mutiny Medal with two clasps, the Good Conduct Medal, which carries with it a gratuity, and recently was presented with the Meritorious silver Medal with annuity.

His service with the 78th Regiment was 21 years 17 days including one year’s additional service for entering Lucknow and 19 years 358 days in the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. Altogether 41 years and ten days at the end of which time he was discharged in consequence of termination of engagement – A truly wonderful record.

Colour Sergeant Brownlee enlisted in the 78th Regiment of Highlanders (the well known Ross Shire Buffs) now the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders, on 17th September 1851 at the age of 18 in Edinburgh. In the year following his enlistment he was ordered with his regiment to India and the vessel with which he sailed arrived in Bombay in December 1852. Four years later, when hostilities broke out in Persia his regiment was ordered thither, and embarked at Bombay in January 1856 arriving some weeks later at Bushire Persia. He was present at the battle of Kooshab and the bombardment of Mahommerah, the army being under the command of Sir James Outram and Sir Henry Havelock.

Brownlee had a fund of amusing reminiscences on the campaign in Persia, just after the battle of Kooshab, an Aide de Camp rode up to the Colonel and asked him to send a small detachment to a native village to protect the women and children. Brownlee, at the time a Corporal, was told off with three men for the duty. They arrived just in time, as the camp followers were almost there before them bent on plundering. Dressed as they were in kilts, the women were at first greatly afraid of the four highlanders, but when they saw latter dispersing some looting camp followers they were greatly relieved. The corporal ordered all the women into a shelter for the day. The old women who made repeated attempts to get him to bring in the hens and chickens also sorely tried his patience.

It took the regiment 40 hours to march the 40 miles, which lay between Kooshab and Bushire, the way was through a saltpetre marsh and the men’s shoes were literally dragged off their feet. General Outram saw that footwear was provided prior to their embarking for the return voyage to India.

No sooner had his regiment reached the shores of India than they had to engage in active warfare once more. The Indian mutiny had broken out and one of their first duties was to disarm three regiments of Sepoys. Proceeding up country, the regiment stayed at Benares until reinforcements had arrived.  At Jaghporrah a magistrate, Mr. Moore, had been murdered, an interim magistrate was appointed at this place in the person of Mr. Chapman, an indigo planter. Stern justice was meted out to the witch doctors and rebels who had taken any part in the rebellion and murders, they were brought before a court martial and in three days a large number were hanged from the branches of trees.

All that Brownlee would say about the fighting at Lucknow was “We took the Residency together with the Battery but they managed to get a Howitzer away”. The desperate nature of the encounter can well be imagined. That brave band was led by Major Napier, later Lord Napier of Magdala. This position they held until relieved by Sir Colin Campbell. During that time they had not a bed to lie on and no change of clothing. The rations given out to them to last each man a day could have been eaten with ease at one meal. Their principal food was rice and water. They had however plenty of good water and to this fact the Sergeant attributed their wonderfully good health.

At the end of the siege, although gaunt and starved looking, the gallant little band were in good fighting trim.
Of some of the terrible sights he witnessed at Cawnpore, and especially at the well in which the women and children were cast into, the Sergeant did not like to dwell.

About a year after peace in India his regiment returned to Fort George in 1859, and was for a time in Dublin, but the regiment again embarked in 1865, this time for Gibraltar whence they proceeded to Canada in 1867. They were ordered thither in connection with the Fenian raid under “General” Riley. On arrival in Montreal their services were not required, as the rising had been quelled. From there the regiment went to Nova Scotia and afterwards returned home to the depot at Dunbar.

Colour Sergeant Brownlee then transferred to the 3rd battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, in which ever a popular Non Commissioned Officer, he spent his remaining service in peace.

Colour Sergeant Brownlee had three sons in the army but all are dead, but there is a son alive, a First Class Petty Officer in the navy. The Sergeant has many relations in the North and 22 nephews alive in Cowdenbeath.

The funeral took place on Monday 20th July when the remains of the old veteran were laid to rest with full military honours.

Above: 3225 Colour Sergeant Robert Brownlee at age 44, Montreal, Quebec 1868

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