THIS STORY OF TREACHERY AND SKULLDUGGERY FOLLOWS A SORDID TREASURE HUNT FOR A LOST JACOBITE GOLD HOARD IN THE HIGHLANDS OF SCOTLAND.


No other treasure in Scottish history has inspired such controversy as the legendary Jacobite Gold. Only one leather bag of gold coins has ever been recovered from this this real life treasure hoard and the bulk of the stash is still out there, worth in excess of ten million pounds.

The story begins in 1745 when Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) departed France and arrived in Scotland making a claim the thrones of Scotland, England and Ireland, in the name of his father James Stuart (the Old Pretender). Charles claimed he was being supported by King Louis XV of France, and that his forces were on their way, but in reality France had little intention to intervene on the Stuarts' behalf. However, Charlie did manage to secure financial support from both Spain and the Pope in Rome.

Spain pledged 400,000 livres (or Louis d'Or) per month for the Jacobite cause in Scotland but actually getting this money to the rebel army was proving difficult. The first instalment of gold was dispatched in 1745 by Charles' brother Henry who was resident in France. The French sloop Hazard (renamed the Prince Charles) successfully landed its monies on the north coast of Scotland at Tongue, but it was  intercepted by men of the Clan Mackay, who were loyal to King George II of England.

In April 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army was massacred at the Battle of Culloden near Inverness and he fled to the Western Isles. Before news of his defeat reached France two frigates, the Bellona and Mars, were loaded with hundreds of casks of brandy, medical supplies, guns and ammunition, and hidden below deck were seven large wooden caskets containing the payroll for Charlie’s Jacobite army and funds for his rebellion – 8 big bags of gold coins amounting to 1’200’000 livres. 

On the 10th of May 1746 the Bellona and Mars sailed into Loch nan Umah near Fort William on Scotland’s west coast where they unloaded the stores and treasure. Six caskets of gold were transported about 20 miles overland and buried somewhere near the banks of Loch Arkaig, just north of Fort William.

The secret location of the gold was entrusted to Murray of Broughton, a Jacobite fugitive who was entrusted to distribute the gold to the clan chiefs. But when he was apprehended by government forces the treasure was entrusted first to Lochiel -chief of Clan Cameron, and then to Macpherson of Cluny, head of Clan Macpherson. In September 1746 Prince Charles escaped on the French frigate L'Heureux and Euan Macpherson of Cluny, chief of Clan Macpherson, retained control of the treasure. For the next 8 years Macpherson famously lived in exile in the Scottish highlands at a mysterious location known as Cluny’s Cave, which was featured in Robert Louis Stephenson's Kidnapped.

Dr. Archibald Cameron.

Prince Charles became obsessed with securing his treasure in Scotland and in 1753 he sent his loyal supporter, Dr. Archibald Cameron, Lochiel's brother (who was acting as secretary to the Old Pretender) back to Scotland on a covert mission not only to secure the treasure, but to help orchestrate an assassination plot to murder George II and the royal family.

Dr. Cameron based his treasure recovery project at Brenachyle, by Loch Katerine, but he was betrayed by the notorious 'Pickle', a Hanoverian spy. For his part in the 1745 Jacobite uprising, he was drawn and hanged in 1753 becoming the last Jacobite to be executed.

The Stuarts' papers are currently in the possession of Queen Elizabeth II and they record several accusations, claims and counter-claims among the Highland chiefs and Jacobites in exile as to the fate of the gold. They also include an account from around 1750, drawn up in Rome by Archibald Cameron, which proves Cluny "had not or could not" account for all of the gold. Charles finally accused Cluny of embezzlement and the gold became a source of discord and grievance among the surviving Jacobites. 

Having spent over a decade researching the known historical texts and records pertaining to the whereabouts of this treasure, I have been able to derive four solid clues as to the possible whereabouts of this gold hoard, from the hard evidence and stories associated to this gold hoard.


Search Zones

A. Murlagan, Callich Burn: 56° 58′ 42.28″ N, 5° 16′ 20.82″ W

Clan Cameron archives record that before Dr. Cameron was arrested, he and Alexander MacMillan of Glenpeanmore hid the Prince’s gold at the Callich burn:

"It is also a family tradition that he and Doctor Archibald Cameron of Lochiel hid the Prince's gold at the Callich burn while the Hanoverian troops were hot on their heels coming from Murlaggan private burial-ground where they hid it for a time among loose soil from a newly opened grave "– Bygone Lochaber, Somerled MacMillan (1971).

Considering this, it might be wise to study Parish records to determine who might have been buried in this cemetery at the time of Dr Cameron's arrest. 


B. Glen Mallie / Kinlocharkaig: 56° 58′ 39.25″ N, 5° 16′ 21.42″ W

Chambers History records a gathering of men in Glen Mallie at a burn near Kinlocharkaig, in which some of the treasure was hidden:

“the time fixed for the rendezvous was altered to a week later, during which interval 15,000 of the louis d’ors were secretly buried in the wood on the south side of Loch Arkaig, about a mile and a half from the head of the loch, by Doctor Cameron, in the presence of Sir Stuart Thriepland, Major Kennedy, and Mr. Alexander MacLeod; and when the day at length arrived, only two hundred Camerons, a few MacLeans, a hundred. Divided into three parcels of 500 louis Dors each, two of which were buried in the ground and {the third placed under a rock in a small rivulet).”

There are only three significant rivulets (burns) in Glen Mallie and the entire area around Kinlocharkaig could be explored in a day, with a sufficient number of treasure hunters.


C. Arisaig: 56° 54′ 39.71″ N, 5° 50′ 33.07″ W

In 2003 a fascinating letter was discovered in a secondhand shop in Winchester, Hampshire which was passed to the West Highland Museum in Fort William. It details the deathbed confession of Neill Iain Ruairi who claimed to have passed the loch when the treasure was being buried. Hiding in the trees, he waited and watched, and when the clansmen finally retreated he helped himself to a bag of gold coins. He was later injured in a riding accident and in his last breaths he whispered: “a bag of gold coins is buried near Arisaig, under a black stone, with a tree root springing from it.”

According to Clan Cameron reference records, some French gold coins were found buried in nearby woods in the 1850s. Arisaig is located on the west coast and its beaches, fields and woods have never been methodically explored for the treasure.


D. Cluny’s Cage

For decades, hill walkers in Scotland have been confused by the presence of a 'cave' marked on Ordinance Survey maps of Ben Alder. The cave is called ‘Prince Charlie’s Cave’ but nobody has ever found a cave at that location! Novelist Margaret Elphinstone, a lecturer in English studies at Strathclyde University, recently proposed a solution to this mystery concluding there never was a cave as is marked on maps. Ms Eliphinstone believes early mapmakers confused the word ‘cage’ for ‘cave’. She claims the maps mark the location of ‘Cluny’s Cage’ which would have been a crudely built refuge of the 18th chief of Clan Macpherson. The cage was said to have been located somewhere on the southern slopes of Ben Alder on the north western shore of Loch Ericht. Ms Elphinstone found a clue to this mystery encoded within Robert Louis Stevenson’s book ‘Kidnapped’ which supported her theory. 

Knowing Stevenson borrowed heavily from Cluny’s younger brother’s account of the ‘Cage’, she searched the area and found rocks forming a natural fireplace, matching Stevenson’s description of the back of the cage in Kidnapped. Ms Elphinstone states “There are rocks slightly higher than the cave on the maps which almost exactly fit the near contemporary descriptions of Cluny’s Cage, although the vegetation has gone.” 

Cluny was the last keeper of the the Jacobite gold when Charles fled to France and it is known that Charles stayed with Cluny at his cage for some time. At least some of the treasure would have been stashed nearby for ease of access. First locate Cluny’s Cage, then determine a search zone around it. This is an extremely hazardous location so please search with care.


CONCLUSION

This summer I intend to revisit the Clan Cameron Museum in Achnacarry before following the footsteps of the men who buried the treasure in the 18th century. There are so many records and most of them haven't been read with gold in mind. Who knows what I might find in those books.

It is possible that Jacobite supplies including guns and ammunition were buried along side the gold coins. If so, the mineralization and corrosion around the burial site will be easlier to locate than gold, which will invariably be located deeper underground. I'll be searching for a red/brown discolouration in soil and using metal detectors I will aim to pinpoint large concentrations of iron. I'll also be keeping an eye open for small rusting iron objects, broken glass and bottle caps, pottery fragments, parts of flasks and wire, or anything else which might be a remnant from the hidden supplies or discarded items from the men who burried the treasure.

I will immediatley report any significant finds to Treasure trove Scotland, for two reasons. 80% of the archeological data needed to accurately date and contextualise a discovery is gathered from the environment surrounding a artefact. And equally important, the best way to maximise on your share of the wealth created with such a find is to follow the rules. Otherwise, severe penalties can be applied to royalties.

 

RECENT ARTICLES


DID YOU ENJOY THIS ARTICLE AND WANT MORE?