Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fraser, Simon (1726-1782)

FRASER, SIMON (1726–1782), sometime Master of Lovat, thirty-seventh Macshimi, a lieutenant-general, colonel 71st or Fraser highlanders, was eldest son, by his first wife, Margaret Grant, of Simon, twelfth lord Lovat [q. v.], who was executed in 1747. He was born 19 Oct. and baptised 30 Oct. 1726 (baptismal register, Kiltarlity parish). When the rebellion broke out in 1745, he was studying at the university of St. Andrews, and was sent for by his father to head the clan against his inclinations. When the rebels advanced southwards the clan Fraser set up a sort of blockade of Fort Augustus. With six hundred of his father's vassals Fraser joined Prince Charles at Bannockburn, before the battle of Falkirk, 17 Jan. 1746, and was one of those who met in the house of Mr. Primrose of Dumphall, on the evening of the battle, uncertain of the issue. Thenceforward he was active in the prince's cause. He was not at Culloden, where the Frasers were led by Charles Fraser, jun., of Inverallochy, who, according to stories current at the time, was cruelly shot by the personal order of the Duke of Cumberland when lying grievously wounded on the field of battle. The Frasers fought well and left the ground in some order, and when halfway between Culloden and Inverness met the master coming up with three hundred fresh men. He was one of forty-three persons included in the act of attainder of 4 June 1746. He surrendered to the government, and was kept a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle from November 1746 to 15 Aug. 1747, when he was allowed to proceed to Glasgow to reside there during the king's pleasure. A full and free pardon for him passed the seals in 1750. On 25 July 1752 Fraser entered as an advocate (Aikman, List of Advocates). He was one of the counsel for the pursuers in the trial of James Stewart of Aucharn, before a high court of justiciary, opened at Inverary 21 Sept. 1752, by Archibald Campbell, third duke of Argyll [q. v.], as lord justice-general, and Lords Elchies and Kilkerran as judges. The panel was arraigned as art and part in the murder, on 14 May previous, of Colin Campbell of Glenure, a factor appointed by the exchequer to the charge of a forfeited estate. A good deal of political significance attached to the trial, which is said to be the only one in which a lord justice-general and a lord advocate both took part (Arnot, pp. 225–9). The evidence on which a conviction was obtained was entirely circumstantial, and it is admitted that the view of the law upheld by the crown side was utterly indefensible. Fraser and James Erskine were counsel for the widow of the murdered man, and the former's address to the jury is given in full in a printed report (Trial of James Stewart, p. 81). Fraser appears to have come to London with Alexander Wedderburn, afterwards Earl of Rosslyn and lord chancellor. Boswell refers to kindnesses shown by the father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan to Fraser and Wedderburn when they came to London as young men (Life of Johnson, 1877 ed. p. 394). Wedderburn entered the Middle Temple in 1753. Fraser, by his own account, was offered a regiment in the French service, but declined, preferring to serve the British crown (petition in Gent. Mag. xliv. 137). At the commencement of the seven years' war Fraser obtained leave to raise a corps of highlanders for the king's service. By his influence with his clan, without the aid of land or money, he raised eight hundred recruits in a few weeks, to which as many more were shortly added. The corps was at first known as the 2nd highland battalion, but immediately afterwards became the 78th or Fraser highlanders, the first of three British regiments which in succession have borne that numerical title. Fraser's commission as colonel was dated 5 Jan. 1757. Under his command the regiment went to America, and was much remarked for its brilliant conduct in the field during the ensuing campaigns, and the thrift and sobriety of the officers and men (Knox, Hist. Mems.) Wolfe, in a letter to Lord George Sackville, speaks of the regiment as ‘very useful, serviceable soldiers, and commanded by the most manly lot of officers I have ever seen’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 9th Rep. iii. 74). Fraser was with it at the siege of Louisburg, Cape Breton, in 1758, and in the expedition to Quebec under Wolfe, where he was wounded at Montmorenci. He was wounded again at Sillery, 28 April 1760, during the defence of Quebec, and commanded a brigade in the advance on Montreal. He appears to have been still serving in America in 1761. In 1762 he was a brigadier-general in the British force sent to Portugal, and was one of the officers appointed to commands in the Portuguese army, in which he held the temporary rank of major-general. At the peace of 1763 the 78th highlanders were disbanded, and Fraser was put on half-pay. In the ‘Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament’ Fraser is shown in 1768 as a lieutenant-general in the Portuguese service, and in 1771 as a major-general in the British army. He petitioned the government for the restoration of his family estates (Gent. Mag. xliv. 137), and as it was held that his military services entitled him to ‘some particular act of grace,’ all the forfeited lands, lordships, &c., were restored to him on the payment of a sum of 20,983l. sterling, by a special act of parliament (24 George III, c. 37), ten years before the same grace was extended to any other family similarly circumstanced. The family title was not revived until 1837. At the outbreak of the American war of independence, Fraser, then a major-general, raised another regiment of two battalions, known as the 71st or Fraser highlanders, the third of five regiments which in succession have been so numbered. Many officers and men of the old 78th joined the colours, for Fraser appears to have been liked by his men, and possessed in a remarkable degree all the attributes of a highland military chieftain. Stewart relates a story of an aged highlander who, after intently watching Fraser harangueing his men in Gaelic, accosted him with the respectful familiarity then common, ‘Simon, you are a good soldier. So long as you live Simon of Lovat never dies’ (Scottish Highlanders, vol. ii.) Mrs. Grant of Laggan, however, describes him as hard and rapacious under a polished exterior. Fraser did not accompany his regiment to America, where, after several years of arduous and distinguished service, the men were taken prisoners with Lord Cornwallis at York Town, 19 Oct. 1781. The two battalions of the 71st or Fraser highlanders, and a corps known as the second 71st regiment, formed after the surrender at York Town, were disbanded at the peace of 1783, after Fraser's death. Fraser was returned to parliament for the county of Inverness, when away with his first regiment in Canada in 1761, and was thrice re-elected, representing the constituency until his death. A speech of his in the house, in which he accused the government of lukewarmness in prosecuting the war with the colonies, is given in ‘Gent. Mag.’ xlviii. 657. Fraser married a Miss Bristo, an English lady, by whom he left no issue, and who survived him and was alive in 1825 (see Anderson). He died in Downing Street, London, 8 Feb. 1782.

Fraser's only brother, the Hon. Alexander Fraser, born in 1729 (reg. Kiltarlity parish), became a brigadier-general in the Dutch service, and died unmarried in 1762. By a deed of entail dated 16 May 1774, and registered in Edinburgh 18 June and 28 July 1774, the recovered estates passed at Fraser's death to his younger half-brother, the Hon. Archibald Campbell Fraser [q. v.], M.P. for Inverness county and colonel of the Inverness local militia.

[Anderson's Account of the Family of Frisel or Fraser (Edinburgh, 1825, 4to); Foster's Peerage, under ‘Lovat;’ Aikman's List of Advocates, in Library of Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh; Arnot's Scottish Criminal Trials (Edinburgh, 1785, 4to); Trial of James Stewart of Aucharn (Edinburgh, 1753); Army Lists, 1757–82; London Gazettes; Knox's Hist. Memoirs (London, 1769); Journal of Siege of Quebec, printed in Proc. Hist. Soc. of Quebec, 1870; Stewart's Sketches of the Scottish Highlanders (Edinburgh, 1822); Beatson's Nav. and Mil. Memoirs (London, 1794); Scots Mag. various vols. vi. to xliv.]

H. M. C.