General Sir David Baird ( 1757 to 1829 )

"Oor Davie"

General Sir David Baird (1757 –1829)

David Baird was born at Newbythe in East Lothian, the fifth son of David Baird an Edinburgh merchant on the 26th December 1757. Technically he is not a Strathearn man but such was the impact he made on our community, that it is incumbent on the author to include “ Oor Davie “ in this "Blog". The family were descended from the Bairds of Auchmeddan in Aberdeenshire and moved a few years later to a large house at the top of Castle Hill in Edinburgh .His father died when he was only eight and his mother found herself having to bring up seven boys and seven girls. He purchased a commission in the 2nd Foot (the Queens Regiment) that had been intended for one of his older brothers who had died unexpectedly. He was an ensign and not yet fifteen. After a year at a Military Academy, Baird joined his Regiment at Gibraltar and so began his illustrious military career. What transpires from early on is that Baird was unlike so many of his contemporaries such as Wellington, Moore, Hope and Graham. He did not spend time moving in the social and political circles of the time which were regarded by the others as an essential part of career advancement. Physically Baird had grown to some 6’ 3” and his imposing physique was to stand him in good stead. On returning from Gibraltar, Baird joined the newly formed McLeod’s Highlanders which were essentially Gaelic speaking having a muster of some 850 Highlanders, 236 Lowlanders and a some 36 English and Irish. The regiment marched from Fort George to Portsmouth a distance of 600 miles. Their transportation to India was not available and they move to Jersey to thwart a possible French invasion which did not materialise. Returning to Portsmouth they spent some time awaiting the ships being billeted about the town. The attitude of the southern natives was one of total disregard considering them little better than savages. 

He was sent to India in 1779 with McLeod’s Highladers, who became  the 73rd (afterwards 71st) Highlanders, in which he was a captain. Immediately on his arrival, Baird was attached to the force commanded by Sir Hector Munro which was sent forward to assist the detachment of Colonel Baillie, threatened by HyderAli.  In the action which followed the whole force was destroyed, and Baird, severely wounded, fell into the hands of the Mysore chief. The prisoners remained captive for over four years. Baird's mother, on hearing that her son and other prisoners were in fetters, is said to have remarked, "God help the chiel chained to our Davie." The bullet was not extracted from Baird’s wound until his release.

He was promoted to major in 1787, visited Britain in 1789, and purchased a lieutenant-colonelcy in 1790, returning to India the following year. He held a brigade command in the war against Tippoo Sultan and served under Lord Cornwallis in the Seringapatam operations of 1792. He captured Pondicherry being promoted colonel in 1795. Baird served also at the Cape of Good Hope as a brigadier-general, and he returned to India as a major-general in 1798. In the last war against Tippoo in 1799 Baird was appointed to the senior brigade command in the army. At the successful assault of Seringapatam , Baird led the storming party, and soon took the stronghold where he had previously been a prisoner.

Disappointed that the command of the large contingent of the nizam was given to the then Colonel Arthur Wellesley and that after the capture of the fortress the same officer obtained the governorship, Baird felt he had been treated with injustice and disrespect. He later received the thanks of parliament and of the Honourable East India Company for his gallant bearing on that important day, and a pension was offered him by the Company, which he declined, apparently in the hope of receiving the Order of the Bath from the government. General Baird commanded the Indian army which was sent in 1801 to co-operate with Ralph Abercromby in the expulsion of the French from Egypt.  Wellesley was appointed second in command, but owing to ill-health did not accompany the expedition. Baird landed at Kosseir, conducted his army across the desert to Kena on the Nile and then to Cairo He arrived before Alexandria in time for the final operations.

On his return to India in 1802, he was employed against Sindhia but being irritated at another appointment given to Wellesley he relinquished his command and returned to Europe. In 1804 he was knighted, and in 1805—1806, being by now a lieutenant-general, he commanded the expedition against the Cape of Good Hope with complete success, capturing Cape town and forcing the Dutch general Janssens to surrender. But here again his usual ill luck attended him. Commodore Sir Home Popham persuaded Sir David to lend him troops for an expedition against Buenos Aires the successive failures of operations against this place involved the recall of Baird early in 1807, though on his return home he was quickly re-employed as a divisional general in the Copenhagen expedition of 1807. During the bombardment of Copenhagen Baird was wounded.

Shortly after his return, he was sent out to the Peninsular War in command of a considerable force which was sent to Spain to cooperate with Sir John Moore, to whom he was appointed second in command. It was Baird's misfortune that he was junior by a few days both to Moore and to Lord Cavan, under whom he had served at Alexandria, and thus never had an opportunity of a chief command in the field. At the Battle of Corunna he succeeded to the supreme command after Moore's death, but shortly afterwards his left arm was shattered, and the command passed to Sir John Hope. Once again thanked by parliament for his gallant services, he was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath and a baronet in 1809. Sir David married Miss Campbell-Preston, a Perthshire heiress, in 1810. He was not employed again in the field, and personal and political enmities caused him to be neglected and repeatedly passed over.

After losing his arm at the Battle of Corunna in 1809, Baird convalesced in Hertfordshire in southern England. He was awarded a KB and a Baronetcy for his military achievements and a year later met and married Ann Campbell Preston on the 4th of August 1810. She was descended from the Prestons of Culross and Valleyfield in Fife and was niece of Sir Robert Preston of Valleyfield, Bart.  The family had connections to the ancient Bruces and had made their monies from coal and salt panning over the centuries. Lady Campbell Preston owned Ferntower Estate in Crieff. Baird was not given the full rank of general until 1814, and his governorship of Kinsale was given five years later. In 1820 he was appointed commander-in-chief in Ireland and made a Privy Counsellor for Ireland, but the command was soon reduced, and he resigned in 1822. Baird  was made Governor of Fort George near Inverness in 1828 but died at Ferntower the following yerar aged seventy two . He  had no children and the title passed to his nephew .

The sales particulars drawn up for the disposal of  Ferntower in 1911 by Edinburgh solicitors Mesrrs T & RB Ranken WS make fascinating reading. Extending to over 3 300 acres and falling into the parishes of Crieff, Madderty and Monzievaird, they are a fascinating insight into the social structure of the times. The small mansion house of Ferntower sitting on the southern slopes of the Knock is alas all but no more. The vicissitudes and ravishes of time had played their part and the building was partially demolished by the army in the early 1960s leaving only the former stable complex standing. It was not even by local standards a particularly large dwelling having twelve bedrooms, two dressing rooms a double drawing room, two sitting rooms and dining room. When David Baird married Ann Preston a number of improvements and extensions were implemented between 1810 and 1820. The picture below gives some indication of the charm exuded by the old building. Accommodation comprised an entrance hall, dining room, double drawing room. two sitting rooms , twelve bedrooms , two dressing rooms and ample servants’ quarters . This must have the view that Queen Victoria had when she called upon Lady Baird during her trip to Strathearn in 1842. Indeed when the Queen and her consort Prince Albert arrived in Crieff from their sojourn in Taymouth Castle, they passed through the town heading south to Drummond Castle where they were to reside during their visit. The bridge at Bridgend had, according to Porteous, triumphal arches at either end. At the north end was McLaurin of Broich with his tenantry whilst on the south side Lady Baird on horseback had drawn up her tenantry.   

Ferntower itself failed to stand the ravages of time and with rot and decay rampant was eventually partially demolished in the 1960s by the Army. Parts were still utilised as staff accommodation for the owners, Crieff Hydro up until the late 1980s. 

David Baird’s memory will not easily be forgotten. His grieving widow established the small hamlet of St Davids Madderty as a sanctifying gesture to her departed spouse and also erected that impressive pinnacle on top of Tom Na Chastille, the ancient site of one of the many castles of the Earls of Strathearn. As a vociferous member of the Parish Kirk over the years, it is not surprising that a memorial tablet was placed in the old St Michaels in Church Street. This was removed and replaced in the foyer of its successor in Strathearn Terrace.
Sir David Baird was a man whose memory does indeed live on!

Baird's most significant achievement was the defeat of the Indian ruler of Mysore, Tipu Sahib, at Seringapatam in 1799. By this action, British ascendancy in southern India was assured and the influence of France diminished in the sub-continent. Ten years later Baird was with General Sir John Moore in Spain; he was injured at Corunna and lost an arm. Sir David's wife considered that her husband had been insufficiently rewarded. After his death, she commissioned Wilkie to paint a heroic picture in which the general is seen discovering the dead body of Tipu Sahib. The painting now hangs in the Scottish National Gallery. 


  1. Really interesting Colin, thanks. I've wondered for a while if the gushing inscriptions on the Baird Monument were really from the heart of the local people or whether they were a colonial PR job by Baird's family. I get the impression from what you've written that overall he really was well thought of and quite a man. Someone they should make a movie about in fact!

  2. Thanks for the bio! WOW! I'm off to Amazon to see if there are any books on him. Cheers. Kim Stacy

  3. Vol. 1 & 2 are in Google Books.

  4. Hi there, my son and I are researching Sir General Baird as he was our ancestor my Granny was a Baird. We want to try and trace the line of the family tree, any thoughts how we could do that? Or good books to read? Many thanks
    Katherine and Oscar

    1. There is a Baird Family/Clan website with a family tree here, where you may find some clues:

  5. Great information, thanks very much. I wandered up to the monument west of Crieff about 10yrs ago and was instantly captivate by those 3 words 'Taken By Storm'. I've since read a little bit about the man over the years in webpages like yours and in a facsimile biography I bought on Amazon. I wondered where he was buried. Do you have any idea? That would be great, thanks.

  6. Any sources for your info here?

  7. Baird is a character in the Bernard Cornwell series on Sharpe , in Sharpe's Tiger - see
    Bernard Cornwell seems to quite admire him as he's written Baird into a couple of other Sharpe books too.


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