Bonnie Prince Charlie’s banknotes brought to life once again

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As Bonnie Prince Charlie and his supporters fled across the Highlands following their defeat at Culloden in the April of 1746, belongings were scattered, lost or given away.

One such item, a plate for printing banknotes, turned up close to a ford on the River Spean in about 1835.

Now, the West Highland Museum in Fort William has had printed, from this original 275- year-old copper plate, 22 prints of the Jacobite banknotes commissioned by the young prince to help it celebrate its centenary next year.

The copper plate was intended for printing money to pay Jacobite troops. NO F26 Copper plate for making bank notes
The copper plate was intended for printing money to pay Jacobite troops.

It was two months before the Battle of Culloden, on his retreat from Derby, that Prince Charles Edward Stuart arrived in Inverness very short of funds.

In his view, as a future king, and as a key symbol of the potency of the intended Stuart government, he determined the right to have printed in his own paper money to pay his troops.

He called upon Robert Strange, an Orcadian artist and engraver to produce bank
notes of different denominations.

A close-up of the copper plate commissioned by Bonnie Prince Charlie. NO F26 Copper plate close up
A close-up of the copper plate commissioned by Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Strange had a printing press constructed, engraved the plate, and was probably about to start production when on April 16, 1746, the Battle of Culloden saw the destruction of the Jacobite Army and the end of Prince Charles Edward’s attempt to regain the British throne.

The plate then disappears for 90 years until it was discovered close to the ford on the River Spean.

As Bonnie Prince Charlie  had crossed and recrossed that ford in August 1746 during his flight through the heather, historians can only assume that it was lost from his baggage about that time.

The plate then came into the possession of the family of General Hugh Ross of Glenmoidart and was then gifted it to Cluny Macpherson just before the general’s death in 1864.

It first reached public notice in an academic article in 1864 and, probably in the 1890s, a handful of prints were made from the plate by the Jacobite scholar Walter Biggar Blaikie.

The plate was acquired by the museum at the sale of Cluny’s effects in London in
1928.  The Scottish artist, D Y Cameron, was instrumental in raising funds to
purchase the plate and he printed 52 numbered and signed prints in 1928.

The West Highland Museum in Fort William which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year. NO F26 WHM 01
The West Highland Museum in Fort William which celebrates its 100th anniversary next year.

These prints were sold for 10/6 to raise funds for the West Highland Museum, which had only come into being six years prior in 1922. No other prints were made in
the last century.

The museum houses a nationally important collection that includes a number of unique Jacobite pieces in its collection, including the ‘Secret Portrait’, the Prince’ s tartan trews, Jacobite glass and miniatures, books and other memorabilia.

Now, ahead of the museum’s centenary, Alastair Clark, studio director at Edinburgh Printmakers, has advised the process of producing a further 22 prints.

‘Imagine handling the actual banknotes created for the anticipated Jacobite world of
the mid-18th century,’ said museum curator Vanessa Martin.

‘The first of this numbered series will be sold by public auction at Messrs Lyon and
Turnbull in August this year. No 1 will be unique in that it is being framed in
beechwood sourced from the famous Beech Avenue at Achnacarry, the seat of Clan

The newly printed banknotes, pictured, will be used to raise funds ahead of the museum's centenary next year. NO F26 Strange Plate - 2021 WHM Printing
The newly printed banknotes will be used to raise funds ahead of the museum’s centenary next year.

In 1745 as Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived to raise his standard at Glenfinnan, Cameron of Lochiel was in the midst of planting saplings for an avenue of Beech Trees near Achnacarry Castle alongside the River Arkaig.

He left these bunched closely together and never returned to space them. These trees are now at the end of their natural lifespan and are in decline.

Chris Robinson, chairman of the museum’s Collections and Learning Committee, takes up the story: ‘By permission of Donald Cameron, the present Lochiel and Chief of Clan Cameron, we have sourced some beech wood from the 1745 avenue to frame
the print.

The 1745 Avenue of Beech trees at Achnacarry. NO F26 Beech Avenue-Achnacarry-Castle
The 1745 Avenue of Beech trees at Achnacarry.

‘The wood has been milled and fashioned by master cabinet maker Peter Davis in his
workshop in Fort William and will soon be available for the frame.’

A short film is being made by the Glasgow-based film maker Jen Martin telling the
story of the plate and the print production. It will be premiered at an online
Zoom event on July 15 with the University of St Andrew’s Open Virtual World team and will be available on both the West Highland Museum and the auctioneer’s website.