Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cameron, John (1771-1815)

CAMERON, JOHN (1771–1815), of Fassiefern, colonel, Gordon Highlanders, a great-grandson of John Cameron eighteenth of Lochiel [see Cameron, Sir Ewen, ad fin.], was one of the six children of Ewen Cameron of Inverscadale, on Linnha Loch, and afterwards of Fassiefern, in the parish of Kilmallie, both in Argyleshire, by his first wife Lucy Campbell of Balwardine, and was born at Inverscadale on 16 Aug. 1771. Nursed by the wife of a family retainer, whose son, Ewen McMillan, was his foster-brother and faithful attendant through life, young Cameron grew up in close sympathy with the traditions and associations of his home and people, who looked to his father as the representative head of the clan in the enforced absence of the chief of Lochiel. He received his schooling in part at the grammar school at Fort William, but chiefly by private tuition. Later he entered the university of King's College, Aberdeen. He was articled to a writer to the signet at Edinburgh, James Fraser of Gorthleck, but after the outbreak of the war, at his special request, a commission was procured for him, and he entered the army in May 1793 as ensign, 26th Cameronians, from which he was promoted to a lieutenancy in an independent highland company, which was embodied with the old 93rd foot (Shirley's, afterwards broken up in Demerara). In the year following, the Marquis of Huntly, afterwards last Duke of Gordon, then a captain, 3rd foot guards, raised a corps of highlanders at Aberdeen, which originally was numbered as the 100th foot, but a few years later was re-numbered, and has since become famous as the 92nd Gordon Highlanders. Cameron was appointed to a company in this regiment on 24 June 1794. He served with it in Corsica and at Gibraltar in 1795–7, and in the south of Ireland in 1798. There he is said to have lost his heart to a young Irish lady at Kilkenny, but the match was broken off in submission to his father's commands. The next year saw him in North Holland, where he was wounded in the stubborn fight among the sandhills between Bergen and Egmont op Zee on 2 Oct. 1799, one of the few occasions on which bayonets have been fairly crossed by contending lines. He was with the regiment at the occupation of Isle Houat, on the coast of Brittany, and off Cadiz in 1800, and went with it to Egypt, where he was wounded at the battle of Alexandria, and received the gold medal given by the Ottoman Porte for the Egyptian campaign. He became major in the regiment in 1801, and lieutenant-colonel of the new second battalion (afterwards disbanded) on 23 June 1808. After some years passed chiefly in Ireland, Cameron rejoined the first battalion of his regiment soon after its return from Corunna, and commanded it in the Walcheren expedition, subsequently proceeding with it to Portugal, where it landed, 8 Oct. 1810. At its head he signalised himself repeatedly during the succeeding campaigns, particularly at Fuentes de Onoro, 5 May 1811; at Arroyo dos Molinos, 28 Oct. 1811; at Almaraz, 19 May 1812; and at Vittoria, 21 June 1813, where his services appear to have been strangely overlooked in the distribution of rewards; at the passage of Maya, 13 July 1813 (see Napier's Hist. v. 219–21); at the battles on the Nive between 9 and 13 Dec. 1813 (ib. p. 415); at the passage of the Gave at Arriverette, 17 Feb. 1814; and at the capture of the town of Aire (misprinted ‘Acre’ in many accounts), 2 March 1814. Some particulars of the armorial and other distinctions granted to Cameron in recognition of his services on several of these occasions will be found in Cannon's ‘Historical Record, 92nd Highlanders.’ In the Waterloo campaign the 92nd, under Cameron, with the 42nd Highlanders, 1st Royals, and 44th, formed Pack's brigade of Picton's division, and were among the first troops to march out of Brussels at daybreak on 16 June 1815. On that day, when heading part of the regiment in an attack on a house where the enemy was strongly posted, on the Charleroi road, a few hundred yards from the village of Quatre Bras, Cameron received his death-wound. He was buried in an allée verte beside the Ghent road, during the great storm of the 17th, by his foster-brother and faithful soldier-servant, private Ewen McMillan, who had followed his fortunes from the first day he joined the service, Mr. Gordon, the regimental paymaster, a close personal friend, and a few soldiers of the regiment whose wounds prevented their taking their places in the ranks. At the request of the family, however, Cameron's remains were disinterred soon afterwards, brought home in a man-of-war, and, in the presence of a gathering of three thousand highlanders from the then still populous district of Lochaber, were laid in Kilmallie churchyard, where a tall obelisk, bearing an inscription by Sir Walter Scott, marks the site of his grave. In 1817 a baronetcy was conferred on Ewen Cameron of Fassiefern, in recognition of the distinguished military services of his late son. Sir Ewen died in 1828, at the age of ninety, and the baronetcy has since become extinct on the demise, some years ago, of Sir Duncan Cameron, younger brother of Colonel Cameron, and second and last baronet of Fassiefern.

About thirty years ago a memoir of Cameron was compiled from family sources by the Rev. A. Clerk, minister of Kilmallie, two editions of which were privately printed in Glasgow. In addition to many interesting details, which testify to the keen personal interest taken by Cameron in his highland soldiers and to his kindly nature, the work contains a well-executed lithographic portrait of him in the full dress of the regiment, and wearing the insignia of the Portuguese order of the Tower and Sword, with other decorations, after an engraved portrait taken just before his fall, and published by C. Turner, London, 1815.

[Burke's Landed Gentry, vol. i.; Army Lists and War Office Muster-Rolls; Cannon's Hist. Rec. 92nd Highlanders; Napier's Hist. Peninsular War; Siborne's Waterloo; Clerk's Memoir of Colonel John Cameron, 2nd ed. (privately printed, Glasgow, 1858), 4to; Gent. Mag. vol. xcix. pt. i. p. 87.]

H. M. C.