The Jacobite Gold, or The Loch Arkaig Treasure
The Jacobite Gold, The Loch Arkaig Treasure; whatever name you give it, is about a pot of gold at the end of a tartan patterned rainbow; or most likely, several pots of gold. It is a symbol of happiness just beyond your ability to attain it, the symbol of some valuable thing receding with every step you take towards it.
Real Jacobite Gold
I want to talk a bit about the legendary and real Jacobite gold, and put it in the context of what was happening on the west coast in the weeks after Culloden.
One day in early May, 1746, if you looked out to sea on the west coast somewhere in the Morar area, you would see two French frigates sailing towards the shore. The Bellona and Mars have arrived to help the Jacobite war effort. They land weapons, ammunition, some food and drink, a fwe basic medical supplies, and seven wooden caskets of Louis d’ors amounting to some 1.2 million livres. What does this represent? It represents the resupplying of an army on the march by it’s foreign allies.
France and Spain Send Help – Too Late!
Louis XV of France and Philip V of Spain have come up with what they have been promising on and off for the last three years, since Prince Charles Stuart left Rome in the winter of 1743; material support to restore the House of Stuart to the British thrones. Now they send it, to an army that was thrown together in July 1745 when Prince Charles landed on the Western seaboard of Scotland. An army that, as far as anyone on those French ships is aware, has never yet suffered defeat; and only enjoyed a series of spectacular successes, after Charles Stuart’s semi-guerrilla army stormed down the country, effectively taken Scotland, and reached Derby in five months.
A Narrow Escape
The French sailors unload their cargo and, swiftly as possible theysail out where the enemy waits for them. The Royal Navy men o’war, the Terror and the Furnace have been deployed to patrol the west coast and the islands, to try and pick up fugitive Jacobite officers attempting to escape to France, and the biggest prize of all, Charles Edwared Stuart.
The French see off the Royal Navy vessels and run for home. On land, of course, the Jacobites take advantage of the distraction the French have provided, and the cargo is huriedly taken away and hidden all over the place.
You might think, what were the Royal Navy doing? Surely, the goal is not to engage two empty French frigates on their way back to France. But to collect this treasure and supplies to prevent the uprising reviving, now they’ve got the Jacobites on the run after Culloden. You can only conclude they had not idea what these ships contained. Or, they would do what they did a month earlier in similar circumstances. It’s a question of poor intelligence, the British do not know these are supply ships. The French do not know this treasure has come too late and the Jacobites are in disarray.
The Skirmish of Tongue
In early March 1746, the French ship, Le Prince Charles (formerly the British frigate HMS Hazard) appeared off the coast of Caithness. On board sat up to 200 soldiers and 13,000 gold livres.
The Roayl Navy vessel, HMS Sheerness chased her into the Kyle of Tongue, where Le Prince Charles beached itself, and then disembarked its soldiers and money overnight.
The next morning Captain George Mackay, son of the chief of Clan Mackay, challenged the disembarded troops to battle. In what became known as The Skirmish of Tongue, Mackay’s government forces captured the Jacobite soldiers, their arms and their gold. They divereted the booty to the British cause, and received good prize money as a reward.
Captain George Mackay, Sir Harry Munro, Lord Charles Gordon, John MacLeod, Lieutenant Reid, and Ensign MacLaggan received £700 each. Ensign Aeneas Mackay received £200. Lieutenant Daniel Forbes received £100. The sergeants each received £50 and the privates each got £7 or £8 which was the equivalent to eight or nine months’ pay. (MacLeod, Ruairidh. H. F.S.A. Scot. Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, 1984, vol. 53: 338)
Starving, Shattered Jacobites need supplies in Inverness
What Le Prince Charles had attempted to bring in was the first instalment of Spanish and French financial and material support of the Jacobite uprising. What Mackay and his men cut off was money and professional soldiers, over 200 of them, heading for the prince in Inverness. Desperate for both, Prince Charles badly needed this support in order to pay troops, supply, equip and feed those who endured and forced march back from Derby. Did preventing soldiers and money reaching the prince affect the Battle of Culloden? It might not have taken place, while they rearmed, rested and mustered more men. If the battle had gone ahead, as it did, I don’t know if the Jacobites would have won it, but they would have gone into it in quite a different frame of mind. Surely their morale would have been boosted by concrete evidence, at long last, of support from such powerful allies. The prince had alwasy said this was coming.
The awful irony to me is that in March, the Jacobites lost the cargo of Le Prince Charles when it might, just might have made a difference. And in May, they kept the cargo of the Bellona and the Mars when it made no difference to their cause at all. It was far too late. By now, Culloden has happened and the coherence of the Jacobite army as a force to be reckoned with has been blown to smithereens.
Each side acts in response to their own intelligence. The government vessels are here on a search and destroy mision, to mop up the officers of a defeated rebel force. The French and Spanish are here to encourage this amazingly successful spree by Bonnie Pince Charlie which is now the talk of Europe.
In March, the government forces made the right choice in Caithness – seize the cargo and further cripple the Jacobite’s war effort. Here, they made the wrong one in lots of ways – they clearly assumed the ships were here to take away the Jacobite high command not offer a way to reinforce and revive the rebellion.
A LOST OPPORTUNITY
If you think about it, that could have been an awful error by the Royal Navy captains. Hd the Jcobites been able to regroup, and really make use of this cargo, they might have hung on and kept being a thorn in the government’s side, and perhaps been able to offer better protection to their horribly exposed clansmen.
But, as we know, the Jacobite leadership were utterly rudderless now, incapable of making practial use of the treasure to maintain a presence in the Highlands, either to revive the rebellion or make so much trouble they could exact better terms and treatment for their people from Cumberland. And that is the point where the treasure enters legend and becomes that pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL THAT GOLD?
The records of Murray of Broughton and the Camerons show that various sums were distributed to the leaders to reimburse the costs of levying their kin, and equipping them, and other out of pocket expenses. But the bulk of it is said to have been hidden in various places, against the return of Prince Charles.
Ashley Cowie, expert treasure hunter, drilled its most likely burial places to four locations when he mounted a serious treature hunt in 2016. To see them see his website
First, the Callich Burn, and his evidence for that comes from the Cameron archives. They record that Dr Archibald Cameron and Alexander MacMillan of Glenspeanmore ‘hid the Prince’s gold at the Callich burn, while Hanoverian troops were hot on their heels, coming from Muirlaggan private burial ground where they hid it for a time among loose soil from a newly opened grave’.
Second, Glen Mallie/Kinlocharkaig. Chambers History of the Rebellion in the Years 1745-46 reports the attempt to rally a group of high powered Jacobite leaders to plan a revival of the campaign. The meeting place was in Glen Mallie, by one of the burns running into Loch Arkaig. They had some of the gold with them, and hid it there. ‘15,000 of the louis d’ors were secretley buried in the wood on the south side of Loch Arkaig, about a mile and a half from the head of the loch, by Doctor Cameron, in the presence of Sir Stuart Thriepland, Major Kennedy, and Mr. Alexander MacLeod; and when the day at length arrived, only two hunder Camerons, a few MacLeans, a hundred, divided into three parcels of 5000 louis D’ors each, two of which were buried in the ground and (the thrid placed under a rock in a small rivulet)’.
The third hiding place was in Arisaig according to a contemporary letter that only resurfaced in 2003 in, of all places, a secondhand shop in Winchester, Hampshire. The finder passed it to the West Highland Museum in Fort William. It is the last testament of one Neill Iain Ruairi. He claims to have been passing the loch when he saw a group of men burying something. He did not think it was a body; and he waited. He hid himself in some trees, and when the men finally disappeared, he came out, dug it up, found gold and took a bag away with him. His letter claims that “a bag of gold coins is buried near Arisaig, under a black stone, with a tree root springing from it.”
What I love is the detail of the locations – so precise and, when you look out across the hundreds of square miles of these areas, so very unhelpful.
Fourth, Dr Cowie mentions Cluny’s cage, the cave or cage in which Ewen MacPherson of Cluny hid out for nine years, waiting for the return of the Prince, and keeping what heat he could in the Jacobite cause. One theory is that Cluny’s lair is somewhere on the southern slopes of Ben Alder on the north western shore of Loch Ericht. Cluny was the son-in-law of Lovat of the ’45 by the way, married to Lovat’s daughter, Janet.
So perhaps you want to go looking for it – Ashley Cowie’s website has these locations and map references – and just crack on. It is likely not to have been all put in one place, but divided up for security reasons. So there might be treasure in all or none of these places.
But something about this treasure makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I am wary of it. It is not merely a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. There is a whiff of Tutankhamun’s tomb to so many treasure hunts. This treasure too has blood on its hands.
DR ARCHIBALD CAMERON
I am thinking of Dr Archibald Cameron, the man who is supposed to have buried some of the treasure by the Callich Burn, and then again in Glen Mallie. He fled after the collapse of the ’45, and in 1752-3, he was serving Prince Charles as a Secretary, as the prince moved restlessly, impoverished, dissatisfied and growing bitter, between Basle and Paris.
The prince ordered Dr Archibald to return to Scotland and retrieve what he could of the gold and bring it back to him. Short of money by this time, out of favour with those among the major European powers who used to support the restoration of the Stuarts, the prince neurotically suspected some of his supporters of trying to steal his gold bit by bit while he was in Europe. He was not a pleasant man by this time. Dr Archibald, younger brother to the Cameron chief, Lochiel, agreed. In addition to treasure hunting, he came to participate in a mad scheme to assassinate George II and other members of the Hanoverian royal family.
But, when he reached Scotland and was lodging at Brenachyle near Loch Katrine, Alasdair MacDonell of Glengarry, the notorious ‘Pickle’ the spy, betrayed him. Some Camerons aided him.
Many clansmen were by now sick and broken by the consequences of the failure of the uprising: the brutal retribution and pacification measures, and what Jacobitism had meant for them and their clan, and the Gaelic speaking civilisation of the Highlands.
Dr Cameron was arrested and attainted of high treason, imprisoned first in Edinburgh Castle, and then taken south to the Tower. There he was sentenced to the traitor’s death of hang, draw and quartering. That sentence was partially commuted and he endured it on 7 June 1753. As an aristocrat, the younger brother of the Cameron chief, the death for nobles was beheading. As a commoner, since he was not a peer, the death for common criminals was hanging. He suffered a bit of both.
THE EXECUTION OF DR CAMERON
What I mean is, they hung him slowly for 20 minutes, then took him down more dead than alive, but probably alive still, and beheaded him. He is the last Jacobite ever to be executed for high treason. Simon Fraser, Lovat of the ’45 was the last peer of the realm to be beheaded. Dr Cameron is the last Jacobite.
Wherever this gold lies, and some of it surely is still here, a lot of turbulent history lies buried with it. If you go after it as so many have before you, including Dr Archibald Cameron, good luck – but handle with care.