The regiment was raised by Major General Albermarle Bertie in response to the French Republican threat on 23 September 1793. However, no levy money would be provided. The original compliment was composed of the Militia of Lincoln volunteering to serve in the new regiment. Originally known as the Loyal Lincoln Volunteers, the regiment was embodied in January 1794.
On 25 January 1794, the Loyal Lincoln Volunteers were redesignated as the 81st Regiment of Foot. The regiment was quartered in Lincoln and Gainsborough. The first commander was Lieutenant Colonel Lewis.
After a year's service in Ireland, the regiment was detailed to serve under Major-General Ralph Abercromby in the West Indies. The regiment sailed from Southampton and arrived in the West Indies in March 1794. The 81st was sent as reinforce British operations on Saint-Domingue in what is now the Haiti.
As was common during the era, the European troops of the 81st suffered heavily from tropical diseases, in particular yellow fever. By November 1795, less than a year after, the regiment's losses to illness were so heavy that it was temporarily amalgamated with another battalion, of the 32nd Regiment, to produce a unit that would be combat effective. Despite the 32nd/81st capture of the French defences at Bompard, the British Expedition to St. Dominque was a failure. In April 1797, the 81st was ordered to return to the England.
After returning home from the West Indies, the 81st spent much of the year recruit and refitting. The regiment was made part of the garrison for Guernsey beginning in October 1797. During this time, the rank and file took up a subscription to help support the war effort, each NCO and enlisted man contributing between two and seven days pay to the war effort.
In 1798, the 81st was dispatched to help put down an uprising in the Cape Colony. Arriving in the new year, the regiment was quartered at Cape Town. Although sent to put down an insurrection, most of the 81st fighting came against Rarabe tribesmen under their chief Gaika. On 5 May 1799 a party of the 81st grenadier company was ambushed by Rarabe tribesman. All but the detachment's drummer were killed in the fighting. Emboldened by their success, Gaika's force attacked the 81st at its encampment on the Sunday River. The Rarebe were repulsed with heavy casualties by the 81st.
This was to be the regiment's last major action during its stay in the Cape Colony. For the next four years, the 81st continued to garrison the colony until the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. With the signing of the treaty, the men of the 81st were offered the chance to volunteer to serve in India in different regiments, for a sizable bounty, or to return to England with their regiment. More than six hundred of the regiment volunteered for Indian service, many being sent as replacements with the 22nd Regiment of Foot.
After South Africa, the regiment returned to England as the Amiens peace was ending. Once back in England, the regiment began recruiting and eventually had enough men to bring the battalion up to full strength as well as for a reserve battalion. The 2nd Battalion of 81st was formally embodied on 15 October 1803 at Mills Bay Barracks under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Knight.
Under the initial plan, the 1st/81st would be for universal service while the 2nd/81st would be kept for home service in the British Isles. As such, in 1804, the 2nd/81st was stationed Ireland, initially at Kinsale, but later moving to Cork, Galway, and Dundalk.
In 1805, the 1st/81st was assigned to Lieutenant General Sir James Craig's expeditionary group. The 1st/81st participated in the invasion of Naples, but then retreated to Sicily once word of the Napoleon's victory at Ulm was received.
Still in Sicily in 1806, the 1st/81st was part of Major General Stuart's force that attacked the French in Calabria. On 4 July 1806, Stuart's force engaged the French at the Battle of Maida. After stopping the initial French advance with musket fire, the Stuart ordered forward the Colonel Acland's brigade (containing the 1st/81st). At bayonet point, the 81st and 78th drove off French Forty-second regiment, as well as two battalions of Polish infantry before pausing to fire into the now exposed flanks of the French forces. Among the spoils of the battle was a silver tortoise snuff box, taken as a trophy by the 81st and kept as a regimental trophy of the battle. For its actions, the 81st was granted the battle honour Maida and voted the thanks of Parliament.
Despite its victory at Maida, the 81st would soon withdraw to Sicily after Stuart's campaign failed to produce a general uprising against the French. The 1st/81st would remain on Sicily, participating in the unsuccessful relief of Colonel Lowe's forces at Capri, as well operations to prevent the French from taking Sicily until withdrawn in 1812
In September 1808, the 2nd/81st was transferred to join Lieutenant General Sir John Moore's command. Along with the rest of the 15,000 men, the 81st was destined for Corunna where it would take part in Moore's campaign in northern Spain during the winter of 1808 – 1809 to assist the Spanish Armies against Imperial France. It retreated with the rest of Moore's forces to Corunna. On 16 January 1809, as part of Lt.Gen. Baird's division guarding the right flank of the British forces, the 81st fought in some of the heaviest fighting of the battle. The 81st advanced in support of the Black Watch and the 50th Foot. Despite being driven back from their initial gains, counter-attacked with the 42nd Highlanders and 50th, the 81st then held their position until relieved. With the surviving units of Moore's army, the 81st was withdrawn by sea to England the next day. For their part in the battle, the regiment was granted the battle honour "Corunna".
After refitting in England, the 2nd/81st was assigned to Lord Chatham's command for the Walcheren Campaign. During the siege of Flushing, the principal action which the 2nd/81st participated, the battalion casualties were 3 killed and 5 wounded. Over the next five months, malaria and other diseases cost the battalion 298, nearly a third of its authorized strength. Along with the rest of Chatham's command, the 2nd/81st was withdrawn in December 1809.
After spending almost six years defending Sicily, the 81st was withdrawn and assigned to Lieutenant-General Frederick Maitland's expedition to Catalonia. Maitaland's expedition was a feint to help with the main Allied thrust in 1812. After an aborted initial landing, the 1st/81st landed in Spain in August 1812. Throughout the rest of the year, the campaigned continued on inconclusively in the region of Alicante.
Eventually, after Maitland relinquished command due to illness, General Sir John Murray assumed command of the expedition in 1813. With him came an addition 12,000 men, the Anglo-Sicilian force contained approximately 16,000 men. They were opposed by Marshal Suchet. Advancing, Murray's command, and the 1st/81st, encountered and defeated Suchet's forces at the Battle of Castalla on 13 April 1813. A month later, after besieging the city of Tarragona, the 1st/81st retreated offshore with the rest of Anglo-Spanish-Sicilian force when General Murray was fooled into believing that advancing French columns were significantly larger than they actually were. After Murray's relief and replacement by Lieutenant General Lord William Bentinck, the 1st/81st returned with the rest of the force to the region around Alicante. With Wellington's victory at Vittoria, Succhet began a withdrawal from Valencia and Catalan. Bentick's force began its slow, ineffective pursuit.
After spending the previous four years in England and Jersey supplying the 1st/81st with drafts of men and officers, the 2nd/81st were dispatched as reinforcements to General Sir Thomas Graham's expedition to the Low Countries. Arriving in February 1814, they were assigned to the 2nd Division's 2nd Brigade. The 2nd/81st did not participate in the ill-fated assault on Bergen op Zoom on 8 March 1814. With Napoleon's abdication after signing the Treaty of Fontainebleau, the 2/81st remained in the Netherlands, stationed at Brussels, rather than being despatched to North America to fight against the United States.
While the 2nd/81st remained in the Netherlands, the 1st/81st, along with the rest of its brigade was transferred, upon Napoleon's abdication, from Spain North America. Arriving in August 1814, the battalion landed in Quebec and was ordered to move south. However, the 1st/81st did missed the major engagements of the 1814 campaign. With the news of peace in March 1815, the 1st/81st remained in garrison until later in 1815 when word of Napoleon's escape from Elba spread.
1st/81st embarked for Europe on 15 June 1815. It would arrive at Portsmouth later that year, missing the final campaign against Napoleon.
2nd/81st had been held in reserve in Brussels since Napoleon's abdication. However, upon learning that Napoleon had left Elba, the battalion was put back on war footing. The 2nd/81st was assigned to the 10th Brigade under Major-General Lambert part of Lieutenant General Lowry Cole's 6th Division.
With the rest of the division, the 2/81st missed the Battle of Quatre Bras on 16 June 1815. The 2/81st brigade was still in the process of concentrating at the time of the battle. As the odd battalion out, it was chosen to be the treasure guard in Brussels. Even after the rest of the brigade was ready and on the road, the 2nd/81st was still left behind to guard the hospitals and treasury in Brussels. Just as its sister battalion missed the campaign, the 2nd/81st were held out of the fighting during the Hundred Days. The next year, the 2nd/81st would be disbanded.
The 1st Battalion was sent to the continent and served in the occupation army in France until April 1817 at which time it was posted to Ireland.
After the disbandment of the 2/81st in 1816, the 81st was sent to Ireland in 1817. The Loyal Lincoln Volunteers would garrison the island until being transferred to Canada in 1822. After seven years in Canada, the 81st would be sent to the West Indies, spending two years in Bermuda before being returned to England in 1831.
After rotating through stations in England and Ireland, the regiment was on the move again, being stationed at Gibraltar in 1836, reinforcing the garrison there when tensions started to escalate during the First Carlist War. After nine years on the Rock, the 81st was once again sent back to the West Indies. Three years in the West Indies outposts of Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and St. Kitts were followed by years in Canada. The regiment would be returned home to England in 1847. After serving in various stations in England and Ireland, the regiment was sent on foreign service again, this time in 1853 to India.
The regiment arrived in India in 1854. Initially sent to Meerut, the regiment would eventually be sent to Lahore in 1857 on the eve of the Sepoy Mutiny. There they were stationed at the Meean Meer cantonment with three infantry battlaions, one cavalry regiment, and some artillery units of the Company. On the eve of the mutiny, many of the officers were on leave, despite evidence that something was happening. When word reached the Punjab of the mutiny, the 81st disarmed the Company battalions at Meean Meer during a surprise parade inspection. The initial operation took the mutineers by surprise, and they were disarmed without no casualties. As the sepoy units at Meean Meer were being disarmed, three companies of the 81st tricked their way into the fort guarding Lahore, surprsing and disarming the native infantry units there as well. In one fell swoop, the 81st became almost the sole British battalion in the Lahore area, requiring the battalion to be stretched thin maintaining British control over the region. This was a region which until less than ten years earlier had been an independent entity, the Sikh Empire.
With the recapture of Dehli in September 1857, British control of the Punjab became easier as the rebellion in lost its momentum. By February 1858, the situation had improved to the point where the 81st could be transferred to the North-West Frontier. The 81st was assigned to Major-General Sir Sydney Cotton's Sittana Field Force. The objective of Cotton's command was to carry out a punitive expedition against Hindustani fanatics who had been instrumental in the mutiny of a native regiment stationed near Peshawar. Crossing through the Daran pass, the 81st participated in the destruction of the stronghold at Mangal Thana. After destroying the fortifications at Mangal Thana, the expedition turned its attention to the main fanatic base at Sittana. Despite resistance from the Fanactics, the upper and lower Sittana villages were captured by the British forces, including the 81st. After burning them to the ground, the Cotton's expedition returned to British India. The success of the expedition resulted in a treaty between the various tribes and the British resulting in the expulsion of the Hindustani Fanatics as well as an agreement by the various tribes to resist attempts by the Fanatics to return.
The 81st would not see any further active service in India during its tour of duty there. In 1864, after nearly ten years in India, the regiment returned to England after surviving sailing through a hurricane. The regiment would recruit and rotate through the various posts in England and Ireland from 1865 through 1870 when the regiment was once again posted to Gibraltar.
Returning to in India in 1878, the 81st was assigned to take part in the Second Afghan War. Assigned to The Peshawar Valley Field Force, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Sam Browne VC, the regiment took part in the Battle of Ali Masjid. As part of Brigadier-General Frederick Ernest Appleyard, the 81st participated in the front assault into the Khyber Pass. Following up on the capture of the Khyber, the Peshawar Field Force also captured Jalalabad. The Battle of Ali Masjid would be the 81st last battle honour as an independent unit.
As part of the Cardwell Reforms of the 1870s, where single-battalion regiments were linked together to share a single depot and recruiting district in the United Kingdom, the 81st was linked with the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot, and assigned to district no. 12 at Fulwood Barracks in Lancashire. On 1 July 1881 the Childers Reforms came into effect and the regiment amalgamated with the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot to form the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in 1881.
The regiment's battle honours were:Napoleonic Wars: Maida, Corunna, Peninsula
Second Afghan War: Ali Masjid, Afghanistan 1878-9
Colonels of the Regiment were:1793–1794: Gen. Albemarle Bertie, 9th Earl of Lindsey
1794–1795: Lt-Gen. Winter Blathwayte
1795–1797: Gen. Hon. Chapple Norton
1797: Gen. Gordon Forbes
1797–1798: Gen. Sir Hew Whitefoord Dalrymple, 1st Baronet
1798: Lt-Gen. John Graves Simcoe
1798–1819: Gen. Sir Henry Johnson, 1st Baronet., GCB
1819–1829: Gen. Sir James Kempt, GCB, GCH
1829–1840: Lt-Gen. Sir Richard Downes Jackson, KCB
1840–1842: Maj-Gen. Sir John Waters, KCB
1842–1844: Lt-Gen. Sir Maurice Charles O'Connell, KCH
1844–1845: Gen. Sir George Henry Frederick Berkeley, KCB
1845–1847: Lt-Gen. Sir Neil Douglas, KCB, KCH
1847–1863: Gen. Thomas Evans, CB
1863–1879: Gen. William Frederick Forster, KH
1879–1881: Gen. Henry Renny, CSI