Whilst the work of the Scottish Register of Tartans may genuinely be fascinating for some people, I’m not one of them. And whilst Holyrood showed an adroit admixture of economic management and national pride in its creation, there’s something a bit naff about coming up with a pale brown fashion variation on a traditional tartan (the meaning of “camel” in this context) and registering it. It’s like copyrighting a houndstooth check or a chess board.
Regimental history doesn’t interest me much, as a general rule.
Whilst it’s useful as source material for gaming and historical reconstruction, it tends to carry a whole bunch of poppy-fascist presuppositions that make it essentially unreadable.
The history of military units (as a general rule) is also pretty difficult even to make a case for a long-term organisational interest in. Units can be disbanded and reassembled at the drop of a hat, with different people, barracks, gear and everything else carrying the same badges and numbers. As happened, incidentally to the British Army’s Scotch Regiment in the Nineteenth Century. So, nope, the name has nothing to do with any one of the various Scotch Brigades or Scotch Regiments that have existed in any army.
Or, at least, in any state-approved army.
It’s odd that, when it comes to a certain type of alcohol, the Scots are cool with it being referred to as “Scotch” rather than “Scottish”.
Especially since Scottish people have been know to complain about their “whisky” being spelled like the American “whiskey”.
Still, when all’s said and done, who really cares?
It’s just a quirk of spelling that comes from an archaic usage. However, this particular archaic usage leads does lead us – possibly – to the first half of the bad pun upon which this entire website is based.
Amongst careers open to Scots during the Nineteenth Century expansion and consolidation of England’s Empire was working as administrators in the colonies; whether directly for the British State that their nobility had decided to unify with, or indirectly on behalf of the English-speaking gentry that it was being run for.
In Wales, ruled from England for rather longer than Scotland had been, but still separated from the imperial centre by larger barriers of religion, class and language, there were numerous radical and imaginative attempts to resist Empire.
One of these was that of the “Scotch Cattle”.
To be honest, the definitive medium-form blog on this crew has already been written, at welshnot.com. There’s lots of other good stuff on Welsh history and politics there too, as well as a blogroll of even more Welsh blogs and bloggers. But, as you’re here , have an executive summary:
The Scotch Cattle were a large number (we don’t know how many, but it’s somewhere in the thousands) – of men in the mining valleys of south-eastern Wales during the 1820, 1830s and early 1840s. They used disciplined and imaginative ‘rough music’ techniques of physical force resistance against mineowners, blacklegs, bailiffs and truck shop owners.
They posted anonymous warning on the walls of the offenders house, often written in animal blood. If notice was not taken, a terrifying mob dressed in animals skins or petticoats would appear, blowing horns, faces blacked with coal dust, deep in the night, to rough them up, and smash windows and selected possessions. Once the victim was sufficiently chastened, the mob would leave a red bull’s head painted upon the door as they made their exit.
It’s unfortunate that this was the era just before photography, because it’d be great to have an idea of the artistic techniques of Nineteenth century rebellion. And (given that this was a noisy mob raid intended to terrify and impress) I want that mob to have included vituoso artists vauntingly proud of their technical skills and the frequency, daring and distinctiveness of their tagging. I want the people the Scotch Cattle targeted to have had their door stolen the day after because of the artistic brilliance the visit finished with.
Whilst there’s a bunch of origin theories about the name (recounted in the welshnot article), the most obvious is that it was drawn from the highland cattle owned by many of the big landowners. These (or at least their meat) would have been coveted by bitter and desperate men who resented the number of Scotsmen who acted as managers and landowners’ agents on Welsh land and in the Welsh mines.
They also, not incidentally, look hard as fuck. As we see in the picture above.
The world that the Scotch Cattle (the people, that is, not the cows) made did not disappear when their exploits ended. They existed during the decade before the Merthyr Rising, when the Red Flag first ever flew as a symbol of rebellion, around many of the same corners of a small country. And they were still active as the Newport Rising kicked off only eight years later and kept a little fire burning for the hope of democracy.
Communism might have come out of Manchester, at least as far as its economists consciously reasoned, but its anger and its spectacle were anything but English.
I just really like camels. It’s not complicated.