Bryce Gilliland (1769 – 1805), Irvine-born sailor who fought and died at the Battle of Trafalgar.

On the 21st of October, 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought at Cape Trafalgar off the South-Western coast of Spain.  

The British Royal Navy fought against the fleets of France and Spain with Admiral Horatio Nelson at the helm of the HMS Victory and Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood on the HMS Royal Sovereign. Also onboard the Royal Sovereign was 1st Lieutenant Bryce Gilliland from Irvine.   

Bryce was born on the 10th March 1769 to John Gilliland and Agnes Dickie.  It would seem he sent himself off to sea and was most probably press-ganged into service with the Royal Navy. By 1794 aged 25 he was listed as an Able Seaman on board the HMS Diana where he stayed til February 1795. He worked his way through the ranks to Quatermaster on the HMS Standard and Midshipman & Master’s Mate on the HMS Northumberland. By 1801 he was a Lieutenant on board the HMS Druid. During this time he also became part of the Impressment Service, press-ganging sailors for the HMS Determinee. This article from “The Times” in July 1801 gives an insight into what went on during press-ganging –  

On Thursday evening a press-gang, consisting of about 14 persons, having received information of a number of sailors who lately belonged to the Company’s ships being secreted in some public houses in Leadenhall-street, proceeded thither, properly armed, with the intention to impress them and take them on board the tender. The sailors, however, having intimation of their approach, instantly collected together and resisted the gang. An engagement ensued, and the sailors, after a difficult scuffle, proved victorious, and obliged the press-gang to relinquish their purpose. 

Several were wounded on both sides, and a number of windows were broken during the affray.” 

After this he was transferred from HMS Determinee to HMS Dreadnought. It was here that he came to the attention of Admiral Collingwood, so much so that Collingwood wrote to Nelson requesting that Gilliland be transferred to HMS Royal Sovereign with him to serve in the Battle of Trafalgar. 

During the battle Gilliland (who had been onboard the ship for 10 days) was amongst the 47 men killed on the HMS Sovereign. He was 36 years old. Nelson was amongst the 57 men killed on the HMS Victory. There were of course many more casualties of this conflict – the 27 ships from the Royal Navy and the 33 ships from the French-Spanish fleet all had sailors on board who were killed, wounded or captured. 

There are many well-known memorials and monuments to Nelson and the Napoleonic Wars throughout the country but maybe not so well-known is the one in Irvine Old Parish Church to 1st Lieutenant Bryce Gilliland, native of Irvine who “..fell at his Post, In his Country’s Cause, And with NELSON.” It is a monument of tribute and respect, erected by his Townsmen.