By James Irvine Robertson
The statue to David Stewart of Garth, erected by the Stewart Society in 1925, in the uniform of a Black Watch captain of 1800 depicts his spirit rather than his likeness. He was a small, short-sighted man who even wore his spectacles when posing for his portraits. Both his grandfathers fought at Culloden - one was killed - and Stewart's boyhood was steeped in the stories and legends of the Highlands which he heard round firesides in households across his father's four estates. The second son, he joined the army at the age of fourteen and ended his career a Major General. His troops loved him. On one occasion his weeping soldiers blocked the departure of his carriage when he was transferred to another unit. In consequence the move was rescinded. He was severely wounded at Alexandria in 1801 and again at the battle of Maida in Italy in 1806.
His fame rests with his book, 'Sketches of the Character, Institutions, and Customs of the Highlanders of Scotland' which is a source book of all subsequent descriptions of Highlanders and Clans. This began as a history of the Black Watch whose records had been lost in a shipwreck. He then extended it to include the history of all the Highland regiments. That complete, he decided to describe the society which produced soldiers of such exceptional quality, and he finished with a ferocious broadside against the Clearances which he saw as destroying that society. He witnessed clearing as a young officer when his company was sent to maintain order in Ross-shire in 1792. He later wrote 'On no subsequent occasion were my feelings so powerfully excited as on this.'
On behalf of the Highland Society of London he was the first to link a specific tartan to each clan when he wrote to all the chiefs asking for samples of their pattern to begin a register. Many had no idea and chose the prettiest of the myriad of tartans worn in some ancestral portrait. As lieutenant to Sir Walter Scott, Stewart played a large part in organising the Highland extravaganza laid on to greet King George IV on his visit to Edinburgh in 1822. He can thus be held largely responsible for the distinctive image of the kilted Highlander which is recognised as the symbol of Scotland world-wide.
The general fathered two children on his tenants - a modest tally for a laird before Victorian morality took hold - but in spite of pressure from his extensive range of friends and acquaintances he never married. In 1829 he was appointed to the post of governor of St Lucia but he died of fever a year after his arrival.