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Corporal William Bowman

Waterloo 200

of 2nd Battalion, The Black Watch

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Submitted by: David Simpson

Date added: 27 Jan 2015

William Bowman was my third great grandfather. I have discovered that he was with the Black Watch at the Battle of Waterloo. It is surprising how exciting it can be when family research merges with momentous history.

I was fortunate that his daughter Isobel stayed alive until 1863 thus providing me with a proper death certificate and parental detail: she died in Upper Denburn St. in Old Machar Parish, Aberdeen; her father, William Bowman had been a Colour-Sergeant in the 42nd Regiment. She too, had been married to a Black Watch soldier.

I had no knowledge of regimental history at this stage, although I was very confident of the various steps in the family tree. Isobel Bowman Mackay was certainly the mother of John Mackay, and in turn, he was the father of Mary Mackay, who was without doubt my father’s mother. It was quite some time later that I wrote to the regimental museum in Perth.

Their reply was comprehensive. William Bowman claimed to have been born at Footdee, Aberdeen in 1794. He enlisted on 1st August 1812 at Inverness. He was recruited to the 1st Battalion 42nd Regiment. Private Bowman was shipped to Lisbon, landing 6th September 1813 and served in Wellington’s Peninsula army. He was soon transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Black Watch. He was wounded by gunshot to the right arm at the battle of Toulouse, the final confrontation of that campaign. It was a very bloody battle. The 42nd distinguished itself and only a few men in the regiment were left standing at the end. Many years later, in 1848, he received the General Service Medal for the Peninsula Campaign. They were fairly tardy in recognising these men. I think it was the first time than ordinary ranks were awarded medals. Wellington had insisted. His medal had four clasps, NNOT- Nives, Nivelle, Orthez and Toulouse.These were the last four battles and the dates match his arrival to join the regiment. Corporal Bowman, newly promoted, was shipped back from France to Ireland. I think he would have been based at Carlow, no doubt recuperating from his wound.

Following Bonaparte’s escape, the 42nd was called on again and was returned to Ostend in 1815. Corporal Bowman served at Quatre Bras on the 16th June two days before Waterloo itself. I presume he was part of the celebrated manoeuvre painted by William Barnes Wollen. The 42nd came under sudden attack from French cavalry. They converted so rapidly from line formation to square formation, that several French curassiers were actually trapped inside the square. Casualties were shocking.

On June 18th at Waterloo, William served in Brevet-Major Murdoch MacLaine’s Company. Luckily, regimental casualties were much lighter. William survived. He would have received his Waterloo medal in 1816 along with the credit of two years extra pensionable service.

The 42nd marched the length of Britain on their homeward journey, cheered and spoiled at every town, with a final triumphant entry to Edinburgh where half the city turned out to welcome them home. William was promoted to sergeant in 1817, and later became colour sergeant.

He was married in the Canongate, Edinburgh in 1818. He took his own discharge in 1834 at Aberdeen: pension 1/8d per diem. He had brown hair, blue eyes and had been 22 years and 95 days in the army.

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