In the days after Culloden the roads were full of refugees and the makeshift prisons full of Jacobites. More than three thousand were recorded, not just men, women and children as well. Not all of them had been fighting of course, some had just been a bit too sympathetic with the cause of Charles Edward Stuart, the unlucky young pretender to the Scottish throne.
Not many of these prisoners were executed, some died of hunger, of their wounds or of exposure; the winter of 1746 was a harsh one. Some prisoners though died of bullets shot by Hanoverian troops on sacred ground, right in the middle of Inverness, in the graveyard of the Old High Church.
The church is now essentially a late 18th century building but St Michael’s Mound is an ancient place of worship, parts of today’s church building (the tower goes back to the 14th century) were already there when the army sentenced the rebels to death in the church and executed the prisoners between the gravestones.
They used stones to balance their muskets, some prisoners were hanged (mostly in England) , others (the nobility usually) beheaded. The majority of prisoners were shown “mercy” and deported to the colonies, most of them died either on the way or once they were there.
Rather than taking the captured all the way to England, they tried and sentenced them in Scotland. Some of the rebels against the crown (that was now killing them) died here in the heart of Inverness. The gaols were full; jurisdiction was fast as it was unforgiving and brutal.
Culloden had not been the end of life and hope, Inverness was, at least for some. The number of prisoners executed after Culloden was 120, many of them were Highlanders.
The wounded Hanoverian soldiers were treated in a hospital on the other side of the river, in Balnain House. They watched the executions on St Michael’s Mound from the windows. Was it a spectacle to them or were they sick of it all after the gruesome battle and their own afflictions? Did they feel compassion or triumph?
Some of the female prisoners were of high standing; many had followed their men into the campaign. The youngest boy imprisoned was only 7 years old, a large number of prisoners was older than 70. They were doctors, lawyer, catholic priests, and common men. They were everybody.
On the evening of the battle three hundred and more had been driven into the town before the lowered sabers of the dragoons and the advanced bayonets of the infantry. …. The suffering of the prisoners was bitter and prolonged. (John Prebble)
They weren’t given any food for two days, they were cold, the dead were only slowly disposed of, a gruesome task the beggars were forced to perform.
A large number was buried underneath what is now the footpath through the graveyard.
But not many.
Most of them died here.
In the churchyard of Inverness.
Source and further reading:
John Prebble: Culloden. Penguin Books, Middlesex, 1961
Liked the post? There’s more here…
Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. These stories have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.
The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and everything about Scotland except whisky, sheep and tartan.
Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazo