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  • Writer's pictureMike Shepherd

An English soldier in Jacobite Aberdeenshire, 1746

Fort Cumberland in 1746, now Robert Gordon's College, Aberdeen.

James Ray, born in Whitehaven, Cumberland, volunteered to fight against the Jacobites. These are excerpts from his memoir of the time relevant to Aberdeenshire.

Inverbervie: I crossed over eight miles of a most wretched bad country, to Bervie, the road being excessive, I lost a shoe off my horse; it likewise rained and blew hard, by which I was pretty much fatigued. At the going into this end of this town, which had a miserable appearance, I met with a discrete like man, considering the place, of whom I asked the question, if there was ever an honest smith in the town, that would not take pleasure in laming the King’s horse (although the horse was my own, give me by his Royal Highness [the Duke of Cumberland] after the Siege of Carlisle). To which the gentleman answered that their smiths were not accustomed to such horses, but desired me to alight, and he would order his servant to take care of my horse.

In this bad country I was desirous to know who I had met with so civil to one in the Government’s service, whom I understood to be the Minister of the established Church, who were always zealous friends to the Government. He took me to his house, and while my horse was shoed, had dinner dressed and brought to the table in a very neat manner by a man servant. As the minister was a bachelor, he kept no other but men servants, who brewed his ale, dressed his victuals, and did the other business about the house with as much decency as any maid-servant I had seen in the country.

After dinner we had extraordinary good ale of their own brewing, and as a fence against the inclemency of the weather, was advised to drink some very good brandy, I suppose of the produce of France, and perhaps never paid duty, for this and all other little towns along the Shore, appear to live mostly by smuggling and fishing.


Aberdeen: much exceeds the rest of the cities in the north of Scotland: in bigness, trade and beauty. The air is very wholesome and the inhabitants well-bred.

...there were two Episcopal meeting houses in town [members of the Episcopalian Church supported the Jacobite cause], whom our soldiers burnt, but with good husbandry and frugality, not consuming the pile at once, as was often the case; the wood being industriously reserved to heat our baker's ovens. What gave me the most concern was, that for many of the handsomest of the Scots Ladies, were attendants of those meeting-houses; but their agreeable accomplishments were a sufficient protection from the resentment of well-bred men. As for their pretty gentlemen, we could manage well enough when we met with them.

Bridge of Balgownie

The Bridge of Balgownie: This bridge has been remarkable to travellers, but more so at this time, for we had taken a rebel spy, who was hanged on a tree close to this bridge, with this writing fixed upon his breast, ‘A Rebel Spy’, which of consequence would hinder crows from building nests in that tree for a season.

Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen: There is at the end of Aberdeen a stately large house with gardens called Sillerton's Works, built by one of that name; and after his decease, the Town bought it, intending it for an Hospital, but it never came to any perfection in that Way. This house his Royal Highness, the Duke, fortified with a deep trench, palisades, horn-works, etc, for the use of a magazine and hospital for our sick and wounded soldiers; and at the same time left a sufficient force in it, under the command of Major Crosby, to secure the Town and it from any insults from Glenbucket's People or any other.

For some days before we marched [to the Battle of Culloden], there were scandalous written libels dropped about the Town by the Rebel Party: I happened to find one of them in the lane, going out of Broad Street to the Duke's Quarters [in what is now Provost Skene’s House], where I carried it. The substance of which was to admonish our Soldiers of the danger that attended us in the pursuit of the Rebels; and that there were several mines about the Spey ready for blowing us up on our approach.

In order to find the authors of which, several of the inhabitants were obliged to show their handwriting to people appointed for that purpose, which, by comparing with the libels, was hoped would be found, but was ineffectual.

New Machar: On Tuesday the 8th of April [1746], his Royal Highness marched from Aberdeen, with six Battalions of Foot, and Lord Mark Kerr's Dragoons, in order to seek the Rebels [The Battle of Culloden was fought on April 16, 1746]: it being fine weather, our transports, at the same time, moved along shore, with a gentle breeze and fair wind.

We marched through Old Aberdeen, from thence passed through several small villages of no Fame (except New Machar, noted for a famous Bawdy-House, kept by an old woman and her two daughters) to Old Meldrum, a poor old dirty town, where the army quartered the first night, after twelve miles march.

Turriff / Banff: Our next march was to Banff, in our way thither we came to Turriff, a poor little Town, built irregularly on a hillside, which made a much better prospect at a distance. The chief manufactury here, as well as at Old Meldrum is stockings. From hence I passed with the Advance Guard over a fine hilly country till I came to Banff, where his Royal Highness gave the army a day's rest.

Here were two rebel spies taken, the one was notching on a stick the number of our forces, for which he was hanged on a tree in the town; and the other a little out of town, and for want of a tree, was hanged on what they call the ridging-tree of a house, which projected out from the end, and on his breast was fixed in writing, ‘A Rebel Spy’; which, with the addition of good entertainment might have been a very famous sign.

Copyright Mike Shepherd 2022.

If you like my articles, why not read my latest book North Sea Heroes: True Stories from a Scottish Shore. In it are seven tales from the east coast of Scotland. 'Using rare original sources and well-researched analyses of events, Mike Shepherd has 'brought to life' epic adventures and historic events in and around the North Sea over four and a half centuries. Great reading.'

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