Spotlight: Jacobites - Care and Feeding of a Rebel

16 October 2023
In our newest edition of Spotlight: Jacobites, Dr Darren S. Layne discusses the manner in which penal authorities were instructed to treat Jacobite prisoners who were held in British facilities on both sides of the border during the 1745 rising.

Archival accounts from the many prisons in both Scotland and England during the mid-eighteenth century are remarkably grim. The horrid conditions were well-documented both by those who were incarcerated and by those who held the keys, and historians generally agree that the squalor and disease described in these facilities was no exaggeration. [1] Virtually no significant repair, improvement, or expansion was undertaken on British prisons between the two Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745, yet the number of inmates who were jailed for treasonous activities or suspicion thereof doubled from one to the other. [2] Making matters worse was the nature of this particular class of prisoners, who were seen by many government officials as traitors at best, and at worst, as in the case of some Jacobite Gaels, subhuman. Well over 3500 prisoners were taken up during and after the ’45, and this number represents only around 30% of the total estimated strength of the Jacobite army in 1745-46. But not all of these inmates were soldiers; many were civilians who served as abettors, intelligencers, and logistical support, and many others were simply brought in upon suspicion of seditious behaviour alone. [3] This rapid influx of captives was more than the government was prepared for and certainly more than it could comfortably regulate, which accordingly brought up some difficult conversations between high-level government ministers and the keepers of the gaols at the local levels. Meanwhile, the prisoners themselves suffered in horrible confines with neither a clear nor reliable system of support to manage or sustain them.

Graphic accounts came in from both small and large prisons, from the transport ships and prison hulks sitting on the Thames, and even from the houses where Crown-appointed bailiffs, or messengers, who looked after prisoners of high status and state witnesses for the prosecution. Space was at a premium and nobody had enough of it. One keeper at Berwick had to house his prisoners in the town barracks and guard rooms, while the gaoler in Stonehaven had no choice but to confine one of his inmates to a tiny cell that had held a rotting corpse just two days earlier. [4] Adding to the turmoil, financial support from the government for providing subsistence to prisoners in the form of food, clothing, and bedding had been delayed due to procedural red tape, leaving wardens and local magistrates to front these costs from their own pockets. The board of commissioners for the Sick and Wounded Office was responsible for establishing a system of timely repayment, but complaints and petitions for remuneration were still coming in one week before Culloden, nearly eight months after the conflict had begun. [5] This procedural chaos directly affected thousands of prisoners being held as unwilling guests of the British government, and in many cases this was all before the Crown had even begun official prosecution to enforce the charges of high treason against them. [6] As miserable as all of this sounds, the disorganisation was not necessarily for the lack of trying on the part of the Sick and Wounded commissioners.

In the middle of January 1746, around two weeks after Carlisle was recaptured by the Duke of Cumberland’s troops and the nearly 400 Jacobites garrisoned there were taken into custody, Naval Board and Treasury Board officials conversed about a proper scheme to subsist and care for the quickly growing prison population in Britain. [7] On 28 February after six weeks of discussion, board commissioners Charles Allix and Tyrwhitt Cayley signed off on a published rubric that was to be distributed to prisons in Scotland and England. Entitled ‘Instructions to be observed by the Persons appointed to take care of the Rebel Prisoners, &c. in Great-Britain’, the pamphlet listed ten rules for dealing with captive Jacobites and included guidelines for registration, provisions, caring for the sick and wounded, and post-mortem regulations. It also contained a short scheme of recommended subsistence and five forms to help establish a standardised method of tracking the characters, locations, and status of individual prisoners across scores of penal institutions. [8]

This document offers some insight into how the government sought to manage expansive amounts of information relating to the rising, and it demonstrates the attempt to set a precedent for monitoring the whereabouts and welfare of those imprisoned along the way. Orders were given for securing prisoners of war and those taken up on suspicion of treason, with explicit directions on how to account for them in writing and what information to record. A subsistence allowance of 4d per diem was introduced for each prisoner, with portions of wheat bread, cheese, and meat or broth to be given out every day. [9] The rebels were also to be furnished with as much fresh water as they wanted and enough clean straw on which to lie. Under this rubric, sick prisoners would receive double the subsistence funding and sufficient medical aid, including a space set aside from the other inmates so as not to spread illness. And if any were to die in captivity, they should be provided a grave at the government’s expense – at the cheapest possible rate that could be found.

The other regulations in the Sick and Wounded board’s ordinance pertained to efficient documentation of the warding and discharging of Jacobite prisoners. The commissioners were adamant about conducting regular communications with the many keepers of the gaols in Britain, and the templates they provided in this bundle were essentially early spreadsheets to better organise and reference information. Not only would regular weekly and monthly reports contribute to knowing who was interred where, but presumably they would assist with tracking subsistence and credit so proper compensatory disbursements could be made in a timely manner. The best laid plans often go awry, however, and the commissioners would soon be confronted with the difficulties of regulating an unwieldy, gargantuan penal scheme with so many moving parts.

From the evidence that still exists in archives, it appears that some prisons in Scotland made a good attempt at following the board’s instructions. Weekly returns from Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, and numerous smaller facilities show the ebb and flow of the respective populations of their inmates, but only for a limited period of time and relatively late in the game. Aberdeen’s warding books, for example, track thirty-five prisoners from early October 1746 to early August 1747, while the records from Stirling Castle follow thirty-three between early February 1747 and mid-July of the same year. Hundreds of more detailed rosters of prisoners, however, retroactively attempt to consolidate carceral information from the start of the rising and continue until most of their constituents were either discharged or sent to England for trial. [10] The records from English prisons have not survived in the same state, raising the question of whether their administrators ever abided by the regulations of the Sick and Wounded board’s directive. A robust aggregation of English lists certainly was drawn up – some meticulously – but they simply do not follow the same template provided by the commissioners. [11]

The most revealing result of the efforts that went into designing and requisitioning these rules for treating Jacobite prisoners is the lack of return on investment. Widespread eyewitness accounts of abhorrent treatment and conditions suggest that whatever guidelines were in place were not enforced to any demonstrable standard in either Scotland or England. The comprehensive dearth of sufficient funding and adequate facilities obviously had something to do with this, but it may be argued that the collective character of the prisoners as rebels and traitors in the eyes of local officials also contributed to the situation on the ground. Regardless of individual motivations, however, a wealth of testimonies, petitions, and personal correspondence combine to substantiate the failure of most prison staff to adhere to the appointed rules.

According to the journal of James Miller, for example, the garrison taken at Carlisle were ‘barbarously treated’ before they were interned at London, where the keeper was instructed to ‘load [them] with heavy irons’. Despite government orders to allow 4d per diem for each inmate, in this case and in many like it, the prison officials only spent some of it on ‘the refuse of the Market’, keeping the rest for personal profit. In October 1747, four prisoners at Southwark lodged a petition speaking out against ‘the cruel avarice of the gaoler and turnkeys’, who they claimed instituted arbitrary rules to extort maintenance funds from the inmates. Charles Oliphant despaired his warden's refusal to let him outside for air without a bribe, prompting his former master, Alexander Brodie, Lord Lyon, to advocate on Oliphant’s behalf that ‘it were much better He had been hang’d and put out of Pain than be kept to dye a Lingering Death in an unhealthy Prison’. [12] Receipts from Scotland show that many keepers only paid out 3d each day instead of the mandated 4d while repeatedly voicing concerns about reimbursement, while others asked for additional payout in exchange for the care of particularly sick or troublesome prisoners. [13]

Indicating that ill Jacobites in prison were often left amongst their fellow captives instead of being isolated and given medical care, Sir James Kinloch complained of the conditions in his London cell, where he was held with his two brothers, and asked to be moved because one of them was suffering from a ‘Violent Feaver’. Crown clerk Henry Masterman reported from Lincoln that around one-third of the prisoners there were either dead or ‘so distemper’d, yt they could not be remov’d, or brought out of their Rooms, without manifest Hazard of their Lives’. [14]

Other rebel elites, such as the Earl of Cromartie and Lord Macleod, depended upon the petitions of doctors in government employ to demand their transfer or isolation. Even plebeians like James Carnegie, who was held for over two years without official charges at the messenger Nathan Carrington’s house, was supported by four different doctors insisting that his health was so compromised and his surroundings so unhygienic that if he was not moved, ‘he must soon acquire Such an ilness, as may endanger his life’. [15] How much of this willful inaction on the part of carceral authorities to follow the Sick and Wounded board’s rules was simply part of the usual power politics of prison culture is unclear, but collectively their defiance or dismissal of those regulations signals that the government’s ambitious scheme to accommodate the great influx of Jacobite prisoners from the ’45 was neither as well-received nor as effective as they might have projected.

Darren Scott Layne received his PhD from the University of St Andrews and is creator and curator of the Jacobite Database of 1745, a wide-ranging prosopographical study of people who were involved in the last rising. His historical interests are focused on the protean nature of popular Jacobitism and how the movement was expressed through its plebeian adherents. He is a passionate advocate of the digital humanities, data cogency, and accessible, open research for all.


1 Joy Cameron, Prisons & Punishment in Scotland from the Middle Ages to the Present (Edinburgh, 1983), pp. 38-42; B. G. Seton and J. G. Arnot, The Prisoners of the ’45, 3 vols (Edinburgh, 1928-9), i, p. 165; Christopher Duffy, Fight for a Throne: The Jacobite ’45 Reconsidered (Solihull, 2015), pp. 488-90; Bruce Lenman, The Jacobite Risings in Britain, 1689-1746 (Aberdeen, 1995), p. 275; Frank McLynn, The Jacobites (London and New York, 1985), pp. 128-9.

2 James Neild, State of the Prisons in England, Scotland, and Wales (London, 1812), passim; Cameron, Prisons & Punishment, pp. 38-67; Seton and Arnot, Prisoners of the ’45, i, pp. 66-73, 85-92; Margaret Sankey, Jacobite Prisoners of the 1715 Rebellion: Preventing and Punishing Insurrection in Early Hanoverian Britain (Aldershot and Burlington, VT, 2005), pp. 48-50; D.S. Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle’ The Popular Constituency of the Jacobite Rising in 1745-6 (PhD thesis, University of St Andrews, 2016), p. 179; Accommodation Returns, TNA TS 20/60/5.

3 Most modern estimates of the Jacobite army’s strength in 1745-6 range from 12-14,000 through the entire campaign, see Duffy, Fight for a Throne, p. 320-1; Murray Pittock, The Myth of the Jacobite Clans: The Jacobite Army in 1745 (2nd ed., Edinburgh, 2009), pp. 69-74. A survey of prisoner data beyond that of Seton and Arnot’s 1928-9 compilation and an expansive analysis of both martial and civilian participation is provided in D. S. Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle', pp. 20-6, 80-121, 177-208.

4 Some colourful examples are recorded in Pulteney to Newcastle (1 February 1746), TNA SP 44/133/60; Bracken to Ramsden (11 March 1746) TS 11/1081/5608; John Price to Newcastle (13 April 1746), SP 36/83/1/44-5; James Hulkes to Newcastle (4 August 1746), SP 36/86/1/40; William Brenan to Anon (22 August 1746), SP 36/86/2/65; John Wright to Anon (11 October 1746), SP 36/88/2/5; Many to Stone (22 December 1746), SP 36/90/2/18; Memorandum re: Alexander Garioch, NRS SC5/75/11/24; Archbishop of York to Hardwicke (14 February 1746) reprinted in Philip C. Yorke, The Life and Correspondence of Philip Yorke, Earl of Hardwicke, Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain (3 vols., Cambridge, 1913), i, p. 501.

5 See archival references in Layne, ‘Spines of the Thistle’, pp. 180-3. The full name of this institution was Office of the Commissioners of Sick and Wounded Seamen, also known as the Sick and Hurt Board.

6 Things were generally no different for government bureaucracy during the 1715 rising. See Daniel Szechi, 1715: The Great Jacobite Rebellion (New Haven and London, 2006), p. 133.

7 Treasury Board Minute Book (March 1744 to April 1747), TNA T 29/30; Sick and Wounded Commissioners to Various (24 January to 25 February 1746), TNA SP 36/80-82.

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8 Material relating to prisoners (1745-49), NLS MS.287. Regulations are reprinted in Seton and Arnot, Prisoners of the ’45, i, pp. 178-80.

9 A note on the scheme of provisions stipulates that the meat is ‘to be Boiled into Broth, with Oatmeal, Salt, &c.’. Gloucester was the cheese of choice, ‘or other Cheese equivalent to it’. 4d per diem was also the standard subsistence payment for most Jacobite prisoners from the 1715 rising, Margaret Sankey, Jacobite Prisoners of the 1715 Rebellion: Preventing and Punishing Insurrection in Early Hanoverian Britain (Aldershot, 2005), p. 52.

10 Weekly Statistical Returns of Jacobite Prisoners, NLS Acc.5982, 4815. See also Official Returns from the Different Prisons, NLS MS.288-9.

11 See TNA TS 11 and 20 for examples of lists from English prisons. Seton and Arnot note the same of the Secretary of State Papers, Prisoners of the ’45, i, p. 180. 

12 ‘The Diary of James Miller, 1745-50’ in Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (3:14, October 1924), pp. 208-26; Prisoners to Newcastle (October 1747), TNA SP 36/102/1/25; Charles Oliphant to Alexander Brodie (22 August 1747) and Alexander Brodie to Andrew Stone (3 September 1747), TNA SP 54/36/53a-b.

13 Memorial from the Keepers (18 February 1746), NLS MS.17526 f. 134; Disbursements from Dumbarton (September 1745 to February 1746), NLS MS.3730 f. 61; Aberdeen Magistrates to Craigie (3 October 1746), ACA Parcel L/R/2; Account of James Wells, NLS MS.17530 f. 45. Some prisoners ranked as ‘gentlemen’ were allocated a higher rate per diem, like Thomas Ogilvy of East Mill, who was given one shilling each day during his prison term many years after the rising was over, Alexander Mackintosh, ed., The Muster Roll of the Forfarshire or Lord Ogilvy’s Regiment (Inverness, 1914), p. 144.

14 Masterman to Newcastle (21 March 1746), TNA SP 36/82/2/67-8.

15 Petition of James Kinloch (25 April 1747), TNA SP 36/96/1/139; Doctors’ Certificate (10 March 1747), TNA SP 36/95/1/42-4; Medical Assessment, TNA SP 54/26/123j; Doctors’ Certificate (12 May 1748), TNA SP 36/107/1/17.

Links to more information:

• The Jacobite Database of 1745 
• Little Rebellions, the JDB1745 Research Blog

Archival leads:

National Library of Scotland, Material Relating to Prisoners MS.287-9

Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen City Archives, Jacobite Papers Parcel L/R

British National Archives (Kew), Treasury Board Minute Book T29/30

British National Archives (Kew), Secretary of State Papers, Domestic SP 36/95-6

Further reading:

• Joy Cameron, Prisons & Punishment in Scotland from the Middle Ages to the Present (Edinburgh, 1983)

• James Neild, State of the Prisons in England, Scotland, and Wales (London, 1812)

• Margaret Sankey, Jacobite Prisoners of the 1715 Rebellion: Preventing and Punishing Insurrection in Early Hanoverian Britain (Aldershot and Burlington, VT, 2005)

• Bruce Gordon Seton and Jean Gordon Arnot, The Prisoners of the ’45 (3 vols., Edinburgh, 1928-9)