Tag: skullduggery

A Game of Dress-Up

Alexander Robertson’s report of impressment on the Airlie Estate, 9 December 1746.

In early December 1746, well after the active threat of the last Jacobite rising had waned, the British government was still collecting intelligence regarding known rebels who had not yet been apprehended. The report of Alexander Robertson of Straloch from that month, presumably sent to the Duke of Newcastle, is especially interesting for two specific reasons. First, it explicitly calls out the forceful tactics of impressment used against unwilling tenants on David Ogilvy, 6th Lord Arlie’s estate. Second, within it Straloch proposes an elaborate plan to trick lurking Jacobites into revealing themselves – a plan that is both impressively calculated and devious.1

Known informally as Baron Reid, Alexander Robertson of Straloch was a gentleman from the Strathardle area of Perthshire whose family had long been aligned with the house of Argyll and the Hanoverian government. He was a vassal of James Murray, the loyalist Duke of Atholl, and he spent much of the rising assisting the government by providing intelligence reports and offering counsel regarding methods to suppress the rebels.2 Straloch was evidently quite well connected during the Forty-five, corresponding directly with Newcastle – the secretary of George II – and Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Lord President of the Court of Session. To these officials he sent a series of bulletins between 1745 and 1747 leveraged from the network of Presbyterian ministers in Perthshire and the north-east who received and conveyed useful intelligence about Jacobite movements.3 Straloch was effective enough as an informant to warrant a mandate for capture from Atholl’s brother William, the Marquess of Tullibardine and titular Jacobite Duke of Atholl.4

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Something Rotten?

MitchellNote

Hugh Blair to Colin Mitchell, Edinburgh, Tuesday, 26 September 1745

One of the benefits of working with a prosopographical database for historical research is being able to find commonalities in large amounts of data hitherto disconnected and, therefore, often unnoticed. A most intriguing example of this within my studies is the discovery that about one-half of the active goldsmiths, or ‘hammermen’, in Edinburgh during and just after the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6 gave evidence against the other half, citing rebellious activities to the government authorities. That the extent of this strange web of blame occurs nowhere else and within no other occupation with such frequency is striking, and while there is no direct evidence yet uncovered that marks this as anything other than a curious coincidence, one gets the feeling that there might be something more to the story.

                                               I beg the
favour you will come to my house this
day att half an hour after two precisely
about a piece of Necessary business. I am
                                                  Dr Sir
                                              Yours
                                                   Hugh Blair 1

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