1 There is a gravestone in Glasgow’s Southern Necropolis which quietly pays tribute to a woman whose story is generally unknown here in the city. Agnes Harkness is recorded on the monument to her husband James Reston as the ‘Heroine of Matagorda’ for her bravery in 1810.

2 Agnes was born in 1771. She married a sergeant in the 94th Scots Brigade Regiment of Foot, responsible for the defence of the small fort of Matagorda, near Cadiz in Spain, under attack from French forces. Agnes was one of the few women allowed to follow their husbands on campaigns and with her was her young son.

3 Her exploits are detailed by Joseph Donaldson, a sergeant of the 94th, in his book The Eventful Life of a Soldier. The order to withdraw from Matagorda was given by General Graham on April 22 and during the ensuing chaos, Agnes tended the wounded, carried sandbags to and fro amid shots and shellings, as the soldiers battled to repair the batteries, and brought ammunition and water to the men at the guns.

4 In his book, Donaldson says that when she saw how frightened a drummer-boy was, after being sent to get water for the wounded from a well that was under French fire, Agnes exclaimed: “The puir bairn is frightened, and no wonder! Gie the bucket to me!”

5 After her husband’s discharge some officers who admired her heroism proposed her for a pension, but it never materialised and she was left destitute. She went on to work as a nurse in her 70s in Glasgow, and her courage was immortalised in verse, in William McGonagall’s poem A Humble Heroine. Agnes died after a short illness on Christmas Eve, 1856, aged 85 years.