New Project: Black Watch Officer’s Uniform Pith Helmet

I’m working on a new Steampunk outfit, but I’m not going to reveal the Steampunk elements yet!

The outfit is a Victorian Black Watch Officer’s Uniform, the desert (Africa) version:

British Victorian Era South Africa campaign Scottish Regiment Uniform

The image is a Argyll & Sutherland Regiment and I’m doing Black Watch, but it’s mostly the same. There are a number of cool parts of this uniform: the khaki colors were originally issued white, that was either mud or tea dyed by the troops. Apparently the Boer guerrillas in Africa had a great time picking off the British Officer’s in their nice white uniforms, so the troops used “field expedient” methods to make themselves less of a target.

My first step has been creating the pith helmet. I started with an “Imperial” style British Pith Helmet. These are the taller ones that were more common earlier in the 19th Century. Later on the flatter wider “Wolseley” Pith Helmets became more common. The Black Watch had a couple of special uniform elements that were unique (or semi-unique) to their uniforms: first was they wore a Black Watch tartan patch under the badge on the side of the helmet, and second they had the right to wear a red feather “hackle” on their helmets. This is a period example from the Canadian precursor to the Black Watch, of the later part of the 19th Century:

Wolseley-style 5th Royal Canadian Highlanders

I later found a recreation of the exact helmet I wanted: the 42nd Black Watch Pith Helmet, with tartan patch, helmet badge, and red hackle:

Reproduction Black Watch Pith Helmet

I got the Pith Helmet from Gentleman’s Emporium and the badge and hackle from ebay. A friend had some extra Black Watch fabric from when they were in the SCA, so that became the patch. So here is my version, ready to be attached!

 photo 1970702_10202831911737356_755132670_n_zps46d2e52d.jpg

An interesting note is that this is before the commonplace pin-and-clamp on the back of pins and badges now…they used a seperate cotter pin to hold the badge on, through holes in the puggaree (the wrapping around the helmet). I may use those if the Artist Wife helps with the cutting/pinning, or I may just glue the whole setup on.

5 Responses to New Project: Black Watch Officer’s Uniform Pith Helmet

  1. Chris, I’m also thinking of doing the Black Watch for an event my group will be doing in the new year. I plan to copy the painting “No Surrender”
    It shows a highland officer standing up under a withering fire. I also have the taller Pith Helmet from “Thin Red Line” and I’m thinking of putting a
    Helmet cover over it. I’ll need a piece of Black watch Tartan for this and wondered if you might have bit of your SCA fabric that you might be willing to part with for a price?
    Who are you going to for the cut away jacket?
    Good luck anyway,


    • Sounds fun, Tony!

      I’d be happy to send you a square of the blackwatch fabric, I have plenty. I’ll send you an email.

      As for the doublet, I bought it from Stan Dolan of — Stan was AMAZING and has a great deal of knowledge about Black Watch. I highly recommend contacting him via his website.

  2. Pingback:Xoff's Projects Blog | Project Redo: Black Watch Officer’s Uniform Pith Helmet

  3. Avatar arthurmcclench
    arthurmcclench says:

    Hello. It may be far too late and I realise Steamplunk is a far away galaxy, but if you were interested in genuinely depicting the Black Watch icirca 1900, then you should know that the regiment did not wear a tartan flash on the tropical helmet, nor the regimental badge, which was reserved either for the glengarry or the full dress feathered bonnet. Only the small version of the red hackle, more of a tuft, was worn, fixed in the puggaree on the left hand side. The hackle you have is far too long, It is a modern anomaly that came into use circa the year 2000 for wear on the khaki Tam o’ Shanter bonnet, shortly before the Black Watch was absorbed into the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

    However, you would be advised to choose carefully the circumstances in which you wear the hackle. It is an emblem regarded with considerable reverence and some may not take kindly to frivolous display. In the wrong company you risk coming in for some flack.

    Nemo me impune lacessit

    By the way, no one wore white uniforms during the 2nd Boer War. The expedient of dyeing white tropical uniforms first took place during the Indian Mutiny, and then was adopted as a short -term campaign measure over the next twenty years or so, until a permanent khaki dye was developed in 1884. Barring a few eccentric episodes, British troops took the field in khaki thereafter. The Boers were nonetheless perfectly capable of picking off British troops exposed to the fire of high-powered breechloadig rifles.

    You might find this website interesting for information on khaki and many other aspects of the Victorian army:

    • Thanks for the information!

      Finding a hackle that wasn’t a modern version was impossible, and my attempts to make the smaller version were subpar. Ebay won that round, with a convenient cheap modern hackle available.

      Certainly I wouldn’t be wearing this at anything other than a Steampunk Event or ComicCon, and I’ll happily discuss anyone who is offended at those events. I wouldn’t dream of wearing it at a Highland Games, for example, or even just the Black Watch little kilt. (FWIW, I was married in a Breacan Feile with a modern Cameron Tartan, and the fabric cost more than my wife’s dress!)

      I also realize that the White Uniform is an anacronism, partially made popular by a series of 70s films — but the original reasons for not having a white uniform do stand true, and I’m well aware that a Boer sharpshooter probably laughed at the khaki uniforms as form of camouflage.

      Thanks again for the comments, Cheers!