Lost Jacobite Gold and the 275th Anniversary of the ‘Skirmish of Tongue’
Today marks the 275th anniversary of The Battle of Culloden , which was fought three miles east of Inverness at Drumossie Moor, in northeast Scotland. This was the final Jacobite uprising where supporters of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, “The Bonnie Prince,” drew a line in their territory against the governmental forces of England. But it all ended tragically, and a lot of Jacobite gold was lost in the process . However, only a few weeks before this monumental battle a series of lesser-known events occurred much further north in Tongue, in Sutherland, that “almost” changed the course of European history. And this was where some of the Jacobite gold was lost, as were so many lives.
The slaughter of an entire culture that came after this dark day in 1746 is remembered as “The Highland Clearances.” Forbidden from speaking their language, wearing their traditional dress and practicing their religion, millions of Scottish farmers were kicked off their lands in what could be described as the conquest of Scotland.
This could have been the scene of the Skirmish of Tongue where the Jacobites had to flee into shallow waters and make their way inland where they were eventually captured by British forces, as was most of their gold. (Musée national de la Marine / CC BY-SA 2.0 FR )
A Ship Filled With Jacobite Gold for the Bonny Prince
Tongue is a picturesque coastal village in the Scottish Highlands, and it was here, three weeks before The Battle of Culloden , that a crew of Jacobite sailors beached their ship, Le Prince Charles Stuart . The ship was originally named the HMS Hazard but Jacobite troops had seized it in Montrose harbor (Scotland) a few months earlier and sailed it to Dunkirk in France where it was refitted and given its new name.
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Louis XV of France manned Le Prince Charles Stuart with around 150 highly-trained French, Spanish, Irish and Scottish Jacobites. And he loaded the ship with “£13,000 in gold.” According to the Culloden Battlefield website this treasure would be worth over 2.1 million dollars (1.73 million Euros) in today’s money.
Captain Talbot aimed to land at Portsoy, a harbor town located about 50 miles (80 km) from Aberdeen on Scotland’s northeast coast. Unfortunately, the Le Prince Charles Stuart was being pursued by four British destroyers.
The Kyle of Tongue, Sutherland, Scotland where some of the Jacobite gold was recovered but not all of it. (2011 Schotland Ben Loyal aan Kyle of Tongue 3-06-2011 19-25-02.png: Paul Hermans *derivative work: Hogweard / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The Skirmish of Tongue and the Capture of the Jacobites
Being smaller and lighter the Le Prince Charles Stuart headed up the east coast ahead of her English pursuers, but the gargantuan 24-gun HMS Sheerness began to catch up with Talbot.
Having calculated the immense draft of the Sheerness, Talbot knew if he sailed into the Kyle of Tongue the huge English ship couldn’t follow. Unfortunately, he beached his Jacobite-gold-carrying ship on a sandbank at Melness within range of the Sheerness’ awesome firepower. So began what history remembers as “The Skirmish of Tongue.”
Sheerness bombarded Le Prince Charles Stuart but the Jacobite crew stood fast for several hours until Captain Talbot ordered that they unload “the goods.” In a desperate attempt to save, not their own lives, but the greater cause, the sailors transported the five chests of Jacobite gold coins up the midge infested Kyle River attempting to reach Inverness. Exhausted, they rested at Lochan Hakel.
The Jacobite gold that was carried in the Le Prince Charles Stuart was not completely recovered and today the search continues. ( Thicha / Adobe Stock)
The Jacobite Army is Dismantled And Some Gold Is Recovered
The crew of the Sheerness had approached Lord Reay who was loyal to King George II of England and he sent a group of militia led by his son, Captain George Mackay, into the hills after the sailors. After a brief “skirmish” resulting in several Jacobite and Mackay deaths the Jacobites finally surrendered, but not before reportedly throwing as much of the gold into the water as they could.
To stop them fighting at the Battle of Culloden the surviving Jacobites were imprisoned aboard the Sheerness and their ship, Le Prince, was repaired and was renamed the HMS Hazard.
As for the Jacobite gold, it was largely recovered and shared among the Mackay men as a reward for capturing the Jacobites. But as you will see, not all of the gold was recovered.
Ashley Cowie with the team of treasure hunters looking for the lost Jacobite gold in the Kyle of Tongue area of Scotland, which is now a YouTube video called HIGHLAND GOLD. ( Ashley Cowie blog site )
Some Weekend Treasure Hunting Sir?
In 2018, I researched this story and discovered a 19th-century map of the small loch at the head of the Kyle of Tongue. A section of writing on the map said, “Spanish Gold Coin found.” A Canmore Scotland entry says, “in 1840 a gold coin, now in Dunrobin Museum, was taken out of Lochan Hacoin (Lochan Hakel) in the cleft of a cow's hoof.”
In terms of filmmaking, a “gold coin in a cow’s hoof” was an incredible image that I couldn’t get out of my mind.
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It was the summer of 2018 and I had just filmed an episode with Josh Gates’ Discovery Channel show “Expedition Unknown” called “Lost Scottish Gold ” searching for another lost Jacobite gold treasure destined for Culloden.
After this shoot I headed far north into the highlands of Scotland and met another team of treasure hunters and filmmakers and we followed the trail of the ill-fated Jacobite sailors and their five chests of gold coins.
Please mention that you are an “AO viewer” in the YouTube comments section and I will personally answer any questions you might about the film, or the treasure.
Top image: The Battle of Culloden was a huge defeat for the Jacobites, who had already lost most of the Jacobite gold provided by the king of France at the Kyle of Tongue. But not all the gold was recovered and the search for this lost treasure continues. Source: David Morier (1705?–1770) / Public domain
By Ashley Cowie