It Started with Bonnie Prince Charlie: Treachery and Skullduggery Accompany a Hunt for Lost Jacobite Gold in the Scottish Highlands
Although only one leather bag of gold coins has ever been recovered, no other treasure in Scottish history has inspired such controversy as the lost Jacobite Gold. The story begins in 1745 when Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) arrived in Scotland claiming the thrones of Scotland, England and Ireland, in the name of his father James Stuart (the Old Pretender). Charlie managed to secure financial support from both Spain and Rome.
The Story of the Jacobite Gold
Spain pledged 400,000 livres (or Louis d'or) per month for the Jacobite cause in Scotland, but getting these funds to the rebel army was proving difficult. The first instalment of gold was dispatched in 1745 by Charles' brother Henry, who was residing in France. The French sloop Hazard (renamed the Prince Charles ) successfully landed its monies on the north coast of Scotland at Tongue, but it was intercepted by men of the Clan Mackay, who were loyal to King George II of England.
In 1746, after Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army was massacred at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness, he fled to the Western Isles. Before news of his defeat reached France, two frigates, the Bellona and Mars, were loaded with hundreds of casks of brandy, medical supplies, guns and ammunition, and hidden below deck was the payroll for Charlie’s Jacobite army and funds for his rebellion – 8 big bags of gold coins amounting to 1’200’000 livres. On the 10th of May 1746, the Bellona and Mars sailed into Loch nan Umah near Fort William on Scotland’s west coast - where they unloaded the stores and treasure. Six caskets of gold were transported about 20 miles (32.19 km) overland and buried somewhere near the banks of Loch Arkaig, just north of Fort William.
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The Battle of Culloden, oil on canvas, David Morier, 1746. ( Public Domain )
The secret location of the gold was entrusted to Murray of Broughton, a Jacobite fugitive who was expected to distribute the gold to the clan chiefs. But when he was apprehended by government forces the treasure was entrusted first to Lochiel, chief of Clan Cameron, and then to Euan Macpherson of Cluny, chief of Clan Macpherson. In September 1746, Prince Charles escaped on the French frigate L'Heureux and Macpherson of Cluny retained control of the treasure. And for the next 8 years he famously lived in exile in the Scottish Highlands at a mysterious location known as Cluny’s Cave, which was featured in Robert Louis Stephenson's ‘Kidnapped’.
Prince Charles became obsessed with securing his treasure in Scotland and in 1753 he sent his loyal supporter, Dr. Archibald Cameron, Lochiel's brother (who was acting as secretary to the Old Pretender) back to Scotland on a covert mission to secure the treasure. Dr. Cameron based his treasure recovery mission at Brenachyle, by Loch Katerine, but he was betrayed by the notorious 'Pickle', a Hanoverian spy. After being arrested and charged for his part in the 1745 Jacobite uprising, he was drawn and hanged in 1753, becoming the last Jacobite to be executed.
Dr. Archibald Cameron. A central character in the story of the lost treasure. ( Public Domain )
The Stuarts' papers are currently in the possession of Queen Elizabeth II and they record several accusations, claims, and counter-claims among the Highland chiefs and Jacobites in exile as to the fate of the gold. They also include an account from around 1750, drawn up in Rome by Archibald Cameron, which prove Cluny " had not or could not" account for all of the gold. Charles finally accused Cluny of embezzlement and the gold became a source of discord and grievance among the surviving Jacobites.
Having spent over a decade researching the known historical texts and records pertaining to the whereabouts of this treasure, I have been able to derive four solid clues as to the possible whereabouts of the gold, from the hard evidence and stories associated to this gold hoard.
Clan Cameron archives record that before Dr. Cameron was arrested, he and Alexander MacMillan of Glenpeanmore hid the Prince’s gold at the Callich burn. It is also a family tradition that he and Doctor Archibald Cameron of Lochiel hid the Prince's gold at the Callich burn while the Hanoverian troops were hot on their heels coming from Murlaggan private burial-ground, where they hid it for a time among loose soil from a newly opened grave – Bygone Lochaber, Somerled MacMillan (1971). It might be wise to study Parish records to determine who might have been buried in this cemetery at the time of Dr. Cameron’s arrest.