Learn English in Scotland

In this blog, we are looking at the remarkable life and death of Black Watch soldier Private Farquhar Shaw. 

He died a traitor but is celebrated as a hero. 

Let me tell you about him.

I ask, is he our best, worst soldier?

Use this blog to learn English with Scottish history, and to get a taste of what an immersion English holiday in Scotland feels like with us. 

At Blue Noun Language Hub, we offer culture-led English learning for those who want to know what happening behind the scenes.

There is a practice English exercise for you at the end of this blog too. 

Learn English in Perthshire the life of Private Farquhar Shaw Black Watch
Black Watch Memorial, Aberfeldy

A Visit to Aberfeldy

This statue stands in a public park overlooking the historic Wade’s Bridge over the River Tay in Aberfeldy, Perthshire.

I took the photo two weeks ago when the trees (copper beeches) were magnificent with autumn colour.


The statue is sited very intelligently: at this time of remembrance, the leaves on the tree make a striking symbol of all dear lives lost.


By the way, we regularly visit Aberfeldy on our English immersion excursions. It’s a cracking little town! I’d love to show it to you.

Scotland’s Best (or worst?) Soldier


While the memorial itself is to all the soldiers of the Black Watch Regiment (the Royal Highlanders) it is a depiction of Private Farquhar Shaw and his story is a sad one.

Unlike most military monuments, the subject died not as a war hero but was executed in the Tower of London, after being court-martialled, tried by the government and sentenced to death for desertion.
As you learn his story, the statue becomes a powerful memorial to every Black Watch soldier’s life and sacrifice as Private Farquhar Shaw acted with courage and a sense of right, even if history proved him technically to be wrong.

What Happened?

In 1743, The Black Watch was given the unusual order to march from Scotland to London.
Until this point, the regiment had only patrolled in Scotland.
They were told they were to be inspected by the King, but when they reached London, they were inspected by Field-Marshal Wade instead.
Rumour spread that they were to be transported to the West Indies.

The Highland Clearances were already was already dispersing Highlanders from across Perthshire and the highlands and islands of Scotland.

Ultimately thousands and thousands of families would be displaced, ‘cleared’ off land, and (through desperation) ‘willingly’ joining boatloads of emigres. Thousands more were punished, sold or tricked onto boats.

Also, at this point in history, the destination of the West Indies was thought to be synonymous with inevitable disease and likely death.

The Decision to Flee 

Many soldiers were so alarmed that they left London, intending to march back north to Scotland. Conspicuous in their clothing, they were stopped after just 2 days.
Imagine 139 soldiers in kilts and speaking Gaelic all heading North, trying not to be seen.

The Black Watch soldiers who remained in London set sail to fight in Flanders, not the rumoured West Indies.

Even though the ‘deserters’ made their decision based on false rumours, all were tried by court-martial and sentenced to death.

In the end, only three men were executed, including Private Farquhar Shaw. The other two were likely singled out as their families had allegiance with the Jacobites.
It is said that Private Farquhar Shaw was singled out as he was known to have been the best shot, and so he was made an example of.

Heroic or Ignominious Death? 

Private Farquhar Shaw died both for being outstanding as a soldier and for failing as a soldier on duty.

A scapegoat, he took bullets for all the other 136 men who had also made their decision to leave.


Historians argue whether any Black Watch soldiers of his time had ever even signed up for overseas duty.

If not, there is no doubt that he was wronged. 

The British Museum has a print depicting the three men’s execution. In it we can see three men kneeling blindfolded,
encircled by 100 fellow prisoners and 300 Scotch guards. A firing squad of around 20 men all taking aim. You can view it in full here.
Learn English in Perthshire the life of Private Farquhar Shaw Black Watch
British Museum Collection: Print showing the execution of the three unfortunate men – click on the link to see the full image. 

Remembering the Heroes

Today, it’s Remembrance Sunday.
It’s the day in which our nation remembers all the men, women and children who have lost their lives to war, but especially those remarkable people who knew just what they were sacrificing and willingly went to war to protect their country and their country’s freedoms.
I am grateful every day.

With gratitude to: 


Many thanks to Highland and Perthshire website and the Britain Express websites for the information I’ve used here. Thank you also to the British Museum. 

Live language learning!
Learn English in Perthshire the life of Private Farquhar Shaw Black Watch
Private Farquhar Shaw, commemorating the death of every Black Watch soldier.

Learn English with Blue Noun Language Hub

Thank you for reading about the life and death of Private Farquhar Shaw.

We hope you’ve had an introduction to how our language school can help you learn English in Perthshire, using an interest in culture, and visits around our region.

We cover a broad range of topics in our language school blogs – some a lighthearted look at Scotland, others an in-depth look at art and culture. There’s something for everyone.

If you’ve liked this blog, you might want to read about when our interview with local artist June McEwan, which includes a conversation on an installation at the Black Watch Museum in Perth

Perthshire Artist June McEwan Interview

Your Blue Noun English Language Challenge is:

Tell us about a local hero, either in contemporary times or in history. What did he or she do? Why are they remarkable? Has the passage of time brought a new interpretation of their actions?

Write as much as you like, and if you would like us to check &  correct your English, write CP  (correct please) at the end.


Live language learning!

” Describe a local hero