The Drums

Drums in the British Field Music

42nd Drumline

The drums in the late 18th century field music were of utmost importance, they signalled most all aspects of daily life for the British soldier; they would beat calls, the camp duty, provide cadence while on the march, and even beat to coordinate loading and firing. Drummers were also used for duties such as lashing court-martialed soldiers ("Taking them to the halberds"), and drumming hooligans out of the service.

The Regimental Drum Major Association makes available the British Army's Infantry Drummer's Handbook, which contains a wealth of information about the history of the drums in the military in general and the British Army in particular.

Selection of Drummers

Drummers in the British Army were frequently young boys (orphans or sons of soldiers?), and were trained at an early age by the drum-major. These drummer boys were given the pay and the training of a private until they were able to perform "in a tolerable manner"

The Drum-major was also cautioned to mind the morals and character of his drummers, as their growing up in the regiment might make them likely to become excellent noncomissioned officers, since "such boys, from being bred in the Regiment from their infancy, have a natural affection and attachment to it.." 1.

Uniform of the Drummers

The uniform of the drummers were many times fancier and brighter than the common soldier, due to his cerimonious function, as well as making him much more easy for the captain to locate him, the regiment's signalman. (Conversely, it also made him an obvious target to the enemy).

The Drum-major

The job of Drum-major was apparently one of high consequence and esteem, as his qualifications for selection included "An executing hand himself upon the drum, ... the method of giving instructions in a cool and intelligent manner, adapted to the early age of those he is to teach, activity, sobriety, and cleanliness... his behaivour must be an example to the Drummers, with whom he is to keep a distance requisite to enforce obedience...", as well as "A remarkable degree of honesty is also necessary in his character...".

Drum Major, Foot Guards

The Drum-major was requested not to associate with the drummers, but to keep company with the non-commissioned officers, as "from the minute of his appointment, as he then becomes an Officer of consequence, and not to be looked on altogether in the light of a Drummer". 2

Additionally, the Drum-major's duties would include responsibility for the dress of his drummers, and as the regiment's postman. The Drum-major supervised lashings administered by the drummers, as well as ensuring that "no cat has more than nine tails".3

The British Drum-major was dressed even more elaborately than the common drummer. Cuthbertson noted "It should never be object to a Drum-major, that he is too great a coxcomb: such an appearance is rather to be encouraged, provided it does not exceed the bounds of proper respect to his superiors: his dress and appointments should all tend to promote that character as it is absolutely necessary for him to strut, and think himself a man of consequence, when marching at the head of the Drummers." 4

The Drums

Picture of a Rope-Tension Drum
Close-up of a 42nd snare drum

Appearance of the Drums

The drums to be wood.
The front to be painted with the color of the facing of the regiment, with the King's cypher and crown, and the number of the regiment under it.

The drums of the 42nd were painted with the device ordered for the Regiment. 5

Our band carries snare drums, bass drums, and a tenor drum, each adding a distinct sound to the underlying beats. The drum sound of the 42nd is unlike anything else - different than the rhythms found in ancient fife and drum music, and a dramatically different ancient rudimental sound than today's pipe band.

The Drummers of the 18th Century 42nd

The following lists of drummers are taken from muster rolls available in the UK National Archives, WO 12/5478 and WO 12/5479.

Year Location/Date Company Drummers' Names
1765 Fort Loudoun, 5 June Major Allan Campbell's Donald McLean
Fort Pitt, 13 June Captain John Campbell's Andrew McEachnid
Fort Pitt, 13 June Captain Forbes' James Grant
Fort Pitt, 15 June Captain John Graham's William Little[ford??]
Fort Bedford, 8 June Captain William Grant John Cameron
Fort Pitt, 15 June Captain William Murray's [Donald?] McPherson
Alex Harvie
Fort Ligonier, 20 June Captain John Stuart's John Sinclair
Donald Fraser
York[..] province PA, 30 June Captain Balneavies James Grant
Fort Pitt, 13 June Major John Reid's Alex?? Shaw
Fort Loudoun, 5 June Lt Col Graham's Donald McLean
Fort Pitt, 15 June Captain Thomas Graham's Douglas Robertson
Fort Pitt, 13 June Captain James Murray's Robert McDonald??
Fort Pitt, 15 June Captain William Murray's Donald Fraser
Fort Pitt, 13 June Captain Thomas Stirling's [James??] Grant
1776 9 July, 1776 Captain Alexander Donaldson's Donald [Munro?] Drummer
Donald [??] Piper
1777 Piscataway, 30 April Lt Col Stirling's John Cameron
James McGrigor
Piscataway, 30 April Major William Murray's George Cunningham
Piscataway, 30 April Captain William Grant's Archibald McLachlan
William McDonald
(McLachland's discharge records name him a piper)
Piscataway, 30 April Captain Duncan McPherson's John McGriggor
Alex Stewart
(Labeled "Drummers and Pipers")
Piscataway, 30 April Captain Erskine's John Young
Thos[?] McGrady[?]
Brunswick, [??] April Captain Charles Graham's John Kirkham [?]
Hugh McLeod
John Adams
William Adams
(Labeled "Drummers and Pipers")
Piscataway, 30 April Earl Balcarras' John McKinzie
John Younge
Piscataway, 30 April Captain George McKinzie's Duncan McIntyre
?? McLean
Piscataway, 30 April Captain John Smith's Robert McFarland
Robert Athole
1778 Philadelphia, 28 March Capt-Lt. John McIntosh's ??
John McIntosh
Donald McDonald
  Major William Murray's George Cunningham Drummer
Robert McFarlane Piper
Camp Bedford, 27 July Captain John McIntosh's George Cunningham
Robert McFarlane
(Labeled "Drummers and Pipers" - and Prisoners with the Rebels)

Drummer and Piper from
Major Murray's 1778 Muster Rolls

1 Cuthbertson, Chap. IV, Sec XI, XII, XIII
2 Cuthbertson, Chap. IV, Sec I, II
3 Camus, Military Music, Chap. 1, p14
4 Cuthbertson, Chap. IV, Sec III
5 1768 Uniform Warrant
Last modified: April 12, 2021
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Preston M. Smith and the 42nd Royal Highlanders, Inc.
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