086: Sergeant William Dobson of the 72nd Highlanders

The Seaforth Highlanders were formed in 1881 by the amalgamation of the 72nd and 78th Highlanders. Serving in the former was William Dobson, number 218. Born in Cape Colony, South Africa he had reached Britain with his mother who was an ayah (nursemaid) to a British army family. Dobson was an African.
Born around 1840, he joined the 72nd Highlanders in Edinburgh in 1857/1858 and was sent to India where he was a drummer. By the early 1870s he was a sergeant, ‘popular among the soldiers’ and ‘in every respect a typical Scot’ but for his colour. When the regiment went to Afghanistan (1878-1880) Dobson was at Umballa, in charge of the rest camp. He completed 21 years and retired to Edinburgh ‘with his wife and family’ and may have died in 1898.
Like James Durham, the Sudanese who joined the Durham Light Infantry in 1898 and died in Fermoy, Co Cork in 1910 detailed with photograph in my Black Edwardians (London, 1998, pp 68-70) the presence of Sergeant William Dobson in Britain’s Victorian army raises some interesting questions (see page 092 of this site).

Thanks to Bernth Lindfors for supplying ‘A Kaffir Scotsman in the British Army’, The Christian Express (Lovedale, South Africa) 2 April 1900, pp 53-54.


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