The town of Fort William's origins are military. The area itself, at the westernmost end of the Great Glen fault that runs from Inverness, has historically been of great strategic and political importance to the control of the Highlands.

Much of the area's more renowned military stories revolve around the events leading up to and arising from the Jacobite risings of the mid-eighteenth century.

An important episode in this saga was the now infamous Massacre of the MacDonalds at Glencoe, when thirty-six people were slaughtered by soldiers they were housing and feeding, in order to make an example of their Chief's delay in signing an oath of allegiance to William III. (The museum holds objects and correspondence related to this event, including a facsimile of the letter giving the order for the massacre). For general background, please take a look at the Jacobite section of our website.

As well as holding a wealth of material relating to the Jacobite story, the museum also holds a fascinating collection of clothing, guns, medals, and other paraphernalia relating to the Highland regiments, from the Boer War to the Second World War.

One of our newest sections is the Commando Room which tells the story of the Commandos who trained in Lochaber during the Second World War. Download our Commando leaflet here.

Shields Up

The word 'Targe' was used for a shield in Old English. Targes in Scotland were usually round and were generally made of wood covered with leather and embossed and studded in brass. The leather on the back covered a thin steel plate attached to an arm strap and a hand grip. The inside of the targe was tightly packed with wool.

The central boss of the targe was, in some cases, false. The true boss lay beneath it and the unscrewed portion lined with horn acted as a drinking cup. If the boss had a spike set in it, the drinking cup required a finger held over the hole to prevent the liquid running out.


The targe pictured is from an eighteenth century pattern, with leather stretched over wood.

"Some time in the eighteenth century, the word 'target' (meaning little shield) came to mean an object to be aimed at."