Spotlight: Jacobites - Scars of Battle

11 May 2023
In this Spotlight: Jacobites column, Dr Darren S. Layne examines some of the medical records from prisons and infirmaries to assess the types of wounds sustained in the battles of the ’45.

Warfare is a nasty business no matter the era, and the human cost of combat is inevitably ledgered with the scars of both the physical and emotional wounds of the combatants, as well as the loss of life and limb that inevitably result from it. To justify and make sense of the frenzy of battle and the horrors of its aftermath, civilians commonly remember historical clashes in the contexts of bravery, heroism, righteousness, or even sovereignty. The major battlefields of the ‘45, too, are steeped with legends that conjure all of these terms and cast a long memorial shadow perhaps disproportionate to their size and certainly to their duration. Eyewitness accounts from the actions at Prestonpans, Falkirk, and Culloden invariably describe the fighting as brief, explosive, and generally unbalanced toward one side or the other. But perhaps the qualities that stand out the most in these narratives is the hotness and brutality with which the martial engagements of the last Jacobite rising were waged. Moving beyond the memorial legend and sanitised mythologising that permeates even modern popular portrayals of the ‘45, many primary sources vividly convey the explicit ferocity of its three principal battles. These documents illustrate the bodily cost to the soldiers of both the British government and Jacobite armies in blood, bone, and sinew, and together they tell a thoroughly visceral tale.

Numerous medically focused articles tell of the surgeon ‘heroes’ in both forces who cared for the wounded on the battlefields and in the hospitals during the days and week after the clashes of the ‘45. [1] These rather antiquarian microbiographies make mention of the general bloodshed caused by gunshots and broadswords, and some pick out a few specific anecdotes from manuscripts and newspapers that narrow in on more detailed descriptions of the wounds sustained in battle and its aftermath. A few examples from the field make an appearance, like the mention of British army Lieutenant Leonard Hewitson receiving ‘two dangerous wounds in his Head, one thro’ both Tables of his Skull’ at Prestonpans, or the report of the bullet that struck Murdoch Macleod at Culloden, which entered at his left shoulder and ‘made its way under the skin by the root of the neck’ to his right shoulder. [2] Few explicit accounts with archival examples have since been written, leaving behind the grit and gristle in favour of other perspectives. But the suffering is indelibly recorded and still waits for extensive treatment.

Many wounds are recorded in the testimonies of Jacobite soldiers who had been captured after being knocked out of service. James Seton, for example, told of sustaining a musket wound in combat at Culloden that went ‘quite through’ his ankle, while Alexander Carnegie claimed that after the battle he accidentally was shot in the thigh by ‘one of his Comerades firelocks’, rendering him so ill that he could not even sign his name to the deposition. [3] William Cargill, allegedly an unwilling servant of Lieutenant Thomas Watson of Lord Ogilvy’s regiment, claimed to be shot while in the trenches at the siege of Stirling. In his deposition he describes how the bullet went through his back at the sides, leaving two clean holes in his clothes. [4] Some reports of injury were not from battle, but from civilians who were unwittingly caught in the crucible of war. Walter Mitchell was a seventeen-year-old student at the University of Aberdeen who claimed that he was forced into the Jacobite army by a party of Lord Pitsligo’s men, who beat him over the head with a pistol and left scars that were still present at the time of his trial. [5]

Other colourful accounts come from the ledgers and medical logs of doctors who were charged with treating wounded rebels. William Christie cared for the prisoners at Stirling Castle shortly after Falkirk, and his list of patients includes both those hurt in battle and others with common fever, jaundice, and rheumatism. Nicholas Rapho, a French Jacobite in the Royal Ecossais, was pained with a broken leg, and his prison mate, John Norris, had his leg ‘cutt off’ and died shortly thereafter. Four patients suffered from wounds in the thigh (two of them gunshots), one had his arm pierced by a bullet, and William Howard, another prisoner in the French service, was ‘shot thro the shoulder’. Dr Christie charged 6s 8p for his treatment of combat wounds, nearly twice as much as his fee for regular illnesses, and likely with good reason. [6]

A comprehensive count of casualties in the hospitals will always be difficult to trace, but snapshots may be discerned with the help of surgery registers and receipts for care and supplies. Four days after Prestonpans, for instance, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Halket distributed over £45 for the ministration of wounded British soldiers in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, the capital’s Charity Workhouse, and Bankton House, the home of Colonel James Gardiner, who was himself gruesomely killed at the battle nearby. [7] Some of these soldiers sustained injuries so horrendous that they were kept near the spots where they fell and were triaged by Jacobite surgeons rather than be carried back into Edinburgh. Runners were appointed to ferry medical supplies to them and local magistrates were tasked with keeping some in hiding, and moving them to nearby towns when they were finally fit for transport. [8] At least 46 wounded soldiers were held in the Charity Workhouse at the Bristo Port under the care of George Lauder, the deacon of the Incorporation of Surgeons who would later accompany the Jacobite army to England. [9] On 29 March 1746, nearly six months after the battle, there were still 279 British army soldiers from 27 different regiments in the Royal Infirmary alone – a building designed to hold 228 beds in total – and by 5 April thirteen more had been admitted, 46 had been discharged, and eight had died. [10]

Most of the patients at the Royal Infirmary were British troops treated by surgeons who were loyal to the government, but very soon after the rising’s conclusion, the managers of Edinburgh’s newest hospital sought to recoup some of the supplies used up by Jacobite casualties from Prestonpans. Around seventy wounded rebel soldiers were foisted upon the beleaguered staff, whom they claimed ‘took possession of the best wards’ while Charles Edward and his army were still in control of the capital. [11] Only fourteen of them remained two weeks after Culloden, and remarkably detailed descriptions of their wounds are preserved in the logs taken by the primary caregiver, George Cunningham. The doctor insisted they were unfit for transportation or imprisonment due to their ‘Great Distress and Lameness they Labour under and their wounds and sores still Running & require frequent inspection’. All fourteen appear to have been injured by musket fire and most still suffered from open wounds and fractured bones almost seven months after their arrival. Cunningham specifically noted the conditions of the entry and exit wounds on these men, and also whether the orifices had knitted or were still running. He likewise described some of the secondary effects of this battlefield trauma, such as carious decay in surrounding bones and the dislocation of joints. Two of the men, John Cameron and John Campbell, each had some or all of one leg missing or amputated.[12]

Perhaps the single most reliable record of wounds sustained in the battles of the ’45, however, is contained within the out-pension registers of the Royal Hospital of Chelsea. [13] Soldiers in the British army who had sustained career-ending injuries while serving the Crown had recourse to apply for pensions without having to reside on hospital premises. Applicants were examined by their regimental physicians and double-checked by the Chelsea staff to ensure that all alleged impairments were legitimate. [14] From 12 February 1746 to 18 December 1747 – a period of 674 days – at least 355 veterans of the last Jacobite campaign across forty different regiments are listed in the registers. 91% were from the infantry and 8% were dragoons; their average age was 33 years and their average length of service just six and a half years at the time of their admissions. The majority of these soldiers (197) were veterans of Prestonpans, followed by sixty-five from Culloden and thirty-five who survived the Battle of Falkirk. [15] A cursory analysis of their confirmed injuries suggests valuable representative wound data, including 11% who received cuts by blade and just under ten per cent who were struck by musket fire. A little over twelve per cent of the total appear to have suffered either dismemberment or loss of a facial organ, and the large majority are simply described as being generally disabled from their injuries.

Of the pensioners who were at Prestonpans, 29 soldiers received sword, dirk, or bayonet cuts to their heads or faces, whereas ten bore gunshots. Seven men from Dejean’s 37th Regiment of Foot were shot at Culloden: three in the legs and one each in the arm, body, ankle and face. In total, the most common battle injuries were inflicted upon extremities, with 88 wounds upon legs and 198 to hands, arms, and shoulders. While most of the Chelsea entries offer only general information about damages sustained on campaign, there are many that feature remarkably grim details. John Johnston of Lascelles’ 58th Foot had his right eye cut out and lost both hands at Prestonpans, while William Cuthbert of Thomas Murray’s 57th Foot lost his nose and some of his vision to a Jacobite blade on the same day. John Ford, also in Murray’s, remarkably suffered 265 wounds there but oddly was not awarded his pension until 17 August 1747. Armagh-born trooper John Kirkland was ‘disabled by several stabs and bruises’ during the charge of Hamilton’s dragoons at Falkirk, and in the same action Dubliner Patrick Fraser lost his right arm and two fingers of his left hand. Joseph Hall and James Smith of Guises’ 6th Foot were both hit in their left feet by a cannonball during the defence of Fort William and rendered lame. Further analysis of the Chelsea registers is forthcoming, but even with this brief survey the data markedly illustrate the savagery of battle and remind us of the human bodily cost of war.

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 Gordon Gordon-Taylor, ‘The Medical and Surgical Aspects of “The ‘Forty-Five”’ in The British Journal of Surgery (Vol. 33: 129, July 1945), pp. 1-16; Martin M. Whittet, ‘Medical Resources of the Forty-Five’ in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness (Vol. 44, 1967), pp. 1-40; John Pringle, Observations on the Diseases of the Army (Philadelphia, 1812), pp. 36-47; W. A. MacNaughton, ‘The Medical Heroes of the Forty-Five’ in Caledonian Medical Journal (Vol. 3, July 1897), pp. 82-213; H.A.L. Howell, ‘The Story of the Army Surgeon and the Care of the Sick and Wounded in the British Army from 1715 to 1748’ in Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps (Vol. 22, March 1914), pp. 320-34, 455-71.

2 Representation of George Lauder, reprinted in Duncan Warrand, ed., More Culloden Papers (5 vols., Inverness, 1929-30), v, pp. 145-7, cited in Gordon-Taylor, ‘Medical and Surgical Aspects’, p. 8; Ranald Macdonald of Belfinlay’s Narrative, reprinted in Robert Forbes and Henry Paton, eds., The Lyon in Mourning (3 vols., Edinburgh, 1895-6), ii, p. 6, cited in Gordon-Taylor, ‘Medical and Surgical Aspects’, p. 12.

3 Deposition of James Seton (30 April 1746), PKA B59 30/72/2; Deposition of Alexander Carnegie (23 May 1746), RA CP/Main Box 15/155.

4 Deposition of William Cargill (11 February 1746), PKA B59 30/72/1.

5 Petition of Walter Mitchell, TNA SP 36/88/1/203-4. Mitchell appears to have been an ensign or an adjutant with the Duke of Perth’s regiment. Many witnesses spoke against him and he was sentenced to death but eventually reprieved, TNA TS 11/760/2363 ff. 46-7; TNA TS 20/85/17.

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6 Sick and Injured in Stirling Castle (3 February to 20 July 1746), NLS MS 288 f. 142.

7 Receipts for the Care of Soldiers (25-28 September 1745), NLS MS 6415 f. 87. Quarters of British Officers (21 September 1745), RA CP/Main Box 5/291. For Gardiner, see Philip Dodderidge, The Life of Col. James Gardiner (1820), pp. 23-4.

8 Petition of Robert Taylor, TNA SP 54/26/185; Memorial for Bailie John Lewars, NLS MS 17530 f. 24.

9 Soldiers Under Care of George Lauder, NLS MS 17527 f. 145.

10 Weekly Return from the Royal Infirmary (30 March to 5 April 1746), RA CP/Main Box 13/167; Account of Patients in the Royal Infirmary (11 April 1746), NLS MS 17526 ff. 176-8.

11 Memorial of the Royal Infirmary Managers (28 April 1746), NLS MS 17526 ff. 189-90.

12 Register of the Royal Infirmary (6 December 1745 to 28 April 1746), NLS MS 288 f. 76h; Wounded Rebels in the Royal Infirmary (29 April 1746), NLS MS 288 f. 79-80.

13 An excellent survey of the Royal Hospital system can be found in Caroline Louise Nielsen, ‘The Chelsea Out- Pensioners: Image and Reality in Eighteenth-Century and Early Nineteenth-Century Social Care’ (PhD Thesis, Newcastle University, 2014). See also Nielsen, ‘Disability, Fraud and Medical Experience at the Royal Hospital of Chelsea in the Long Eighteenth Century’ in Kevin Linch and Matthew McCormack, eds., Britain’s Soldiers: Rethinking War and Society, 1715-1815 (Liverpool, 2014), pp. 183-201.

14 The following analysis is drawn from the Royal Hospital, Chelsea Out-Pension Admission Books, TNA WO 116/3/6, 116/4/1-2. A more detailed scholarly analysis of the wounds suffered by both parties in the battles of the ’45 is forthcoming for publication. I am indebted to Dr Stephen Brumwell for suggesting these registers to be an excellent source for collecting wound data. Jonathan Oates has previously used the Chelsea records to create a partial list of British army casualties from Falkirk, King George’s Hangman: Henry Hawley and the Battle of Falkirk, 1746 (Warwick, 2019), pp. 190-5.

15 A further 60 soldiers appear in the list as veterans of sieges, skirmishes, and winter quartering in Scotland during the rising.

Links to more information:

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

Archival leads:

  • National Library of Scotland, Fletcher of Saltoun Papers MS 17526
  • National Library of Scotland, Blaikie Collection MS 288
  • Perth & Kinross Archives, Jacobite Papers B59 30/72
  • British National Archives (Kew), War Office Papers WO116

Further reading:

  • Gordon Gordon-Taylor, ‘The Medical and Surgical Aspects of “The ‘Forty-Five”’ in The British Journal of Surgery (Vol. 33: 129, July 1945), pp. 1-16
  • W. A. MacNaughton, ‘The Medical Heroes of the Forty-Five’ in Caledonian Medical Journal (Vol. 3, July 1897), pp. 82-213
  • John Pringle, Observations on the Diseases of the Army (Philadelphia, 1812)
  • Martin M. Whittet, ‘Medical Resources of the Forty-Five’ in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness (Vol. 44, 1967), pp. 1-40