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James Wolfe and the Gorbals Fire of 1749

James Wolfe, Lord Sackville's Regiment and their involvement in the Gorbals fire of 1749

On the evening of 4 June 1749, a devastating fire raged through the Gorbals area of Glasgow. Stationed in the city was Lord George Sackville’s Regiment of Foot who assisted with the fire-fighting and relief effort. Commanding the regiment in Glasgow was Major James Wolfe the later “Hero of Quebec”.

Sackville’s regiment had been serving on the continent with the British Army in the War of the Austrian Succession before it was recalled to help deal with the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and saw action at the final Jacobite defeat at the battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746. In January 1747, James Wolfe, who had served with distinction during the war on the continent and as a staff officer at Culloden, was gazetted major of Lord George Sackville’s Regiment of Foot, then stationed at Stirling. Shortly afterward the regiment moved to Glasgow with detachments sent out on road-building duties, working on Major William Caulfeild’s Stirling to Fort William road.

On 4 June the city authorities requested the assistance of Sackville’s regiment when a major fire broke out in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, on the south side of the River Clyde.

The Glasgow Journal of 5 June 1749 reported:

On Saturday night last, between seven and eight o’clock at night, a fire broke out in the Gorbals of Glasgow, which burnt with great violence till four o’clock on Sunday morning, notwith- standing of the utmost endeavours of the watchmen, with three fire-engines, which played upon it incessantly all that time. It is reckoned upwards of 150 families have been burnt out, most of their furniture and a great deal of manufactures being likeways consumed. The fire began in the back-houses, on the east side of the Main Street, burnt to the foreside, and communicated itself to the west side of the street, and burnt from New Street to Paisley Loan on both sides. There has not a fire happened within these sixty years, in or about this place, attended with so much devastation. So grievous was this calamity felt to be, that sub-scriptions were sent in from many towns and districts of Scotland in aid of the sufferers.

The Glasgow Courant reported:

Major Wolfe and the other officers of Lord George Sackville’s regiment were present all the time, and were of singular service, by placing guards on the bridge and at all the avenues, to keep off the crowd and prevent their stealing the effects belonging to the poor sufferers. Many of the soldiers exerted themselves in quenching the flames and saving people’s lives.

The Scots Magazine of June 1749 reported that “Lord George Sackville, the colonel of the regiment of foot quartered in Glasgow has given £50 ster to the unhappy sufferers of the late fire in the Gorbals”. Wolfe and the other officers of the regiment also gave generously to the fire relief fund.

Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie is the founder and editor of ScottishHistory.org. Neil is also the editor of other online publications covering military history, defence and security. He can be found on Twitter: @NeilRitchie86.

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