The Rosses of Shandwick and the Jacobite Era

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The story of the Rosses of Shandwick , and their presence in Gothenburg, Sweden. Written by Chief David Ross of Ross.

The death of David Ross, 13th of Balnagowan occurred in 1711, and the property and Chiefship passed, as we have seen, after a short period of time to the Rosses of Hawkhead (Halkhead). This family it will be recalled, were of Lowland/ Norman origin, and therefore not “of the blood”, and were totally unrelated to the original Balnagowan family, which sprang from the 13th-century Earldom of Ross from which the Rosses of Shandwick are descended.
It may be worth recalling some contemporary history. The Union of the Parliaments between Scotland and the remainder of the United Kingdom was signed just 4 years earlier in 1707. There was considerable political turmoil and resentment amongst the vast majority of Scots from practically every sector of the population. The Union of the Parliaments was undoubtedly “bought with English gold”, as the song says, but it needed the complicity of individual Scots to make it succeed. One of the 31 Commissioners for the Union was Lord Ross of Hawkhead. There is little doubt he perceived that his support for the establishment would assist in the negotiations for the purchase of the Balnagowan estates, with the assumption of the Chiefship and ultimately perhaps the mantle of the Earldom.

Whilst these events were unfolding, there was turmoil over the future of the monarchy. In 1704 The Scottish parliament passed the Act of Security, which the last of the House of Stuart was forced to recognise, giving the Scots the opportunity to choose their own monarch. In retaliation, the English parliament passed the Aliens Act making the Scots aliens or foreigners in England. This not-so-subtle pressure led to an incorporating union instead of a federal union, which most Scots would have preferred. On top of this the last Stewart monarch, Queen Ann, died in 1714 ushering in the German House of Hanover, a line of succession the Scots had to accede to. Is it any wonder that with all this political activity, there should be those who saw the re-establishment of the House of Stuart as a prerequisite for regaining independence, or whatever else they had lost? We know there were substantial numbers of Rosses who were sympathetic to the Stuart cause, and that two of its principal Cadets or branches supported Prince Charles Edward Stewart in 1745/46. They were the Pitcalnie branch (who were widely recognised as hereditary Chiefs of the Name) and the present Chief’s family of Shandwick. There was a Highland characteristic at the time, which was very judicious and perceptive, that in any conflict the best method of holding on to family property was to ensure there were members supporting both sides! This is called “having your cake and eating it”! It is circumstantially very likely that the cause of the fateful duel on “Duel Hill” just east of Tain, between Hugh Ross of Shandwick and Hugh Ross of Achnacloich on 13 June 1721, was at least partly political since Shandwick fled almost immediately to Gothenburg in Sweden, the home of many Jacobite exiles. We also know other members of his family, including his younger brothers Alexander and George, and nephew Andrew McCulloch joined him there. He was the son of Hugh’s sister Isabella and Robert McCulloch a merchant in Tain.

Now to bring the story up-to-date: there has been a presentation to the City of Aberdeen of a Christmas tree each November by the City of Gothenburg with which it is twinned, to celebrate the ancient Swedish Festival of Light. It was during a dinner to celebrate this event in November 1984 that Chief David Ross of Ross mentioned the Swedish connections of his family to a new Swedish acquaintance. The following November he was invited along with the Lord Provost of Aberdeen’s party, to Gothenburg’s famous and historic Town House. At the end of the dinner, Doctor Göran Behre, Professor of History at the University of Gothenburg was asked to give a speech about the enormous Scots influence on Sweden (of which he has made a special study), especially during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In a very dramatic way, he announced that there was present that very evening a person who was directly descended from a man who had contributed so much to both countries; the latter being Hugh Ross of Shandwick.

His nephew had been commissioned to be the leader of an official French attempt to rescue Prince Charles Edward Stuart after the battle of Culloden, which took place on April 16th 1746. A copy of the article Behre wrote for “The Scots Historical Review” of October 1980 was presented to the Chief, along with a photocopy of the account of settlement (which has been translated from the Swedish of the time) of the estate of Andrew McCulloch, who unfortunately died in 1748. It is noted that the names of both Alexander and Hugh Ross are there, the latter being owed the enormous sum of nearly 18,000 Swedish silver dollars. It can be speculated that this had something to do with the “Pollux” rescue expedition mounted with the support of the French government (q.v.); and, if so, it is to be wondered if he was ever paid! Behre writes that the principal merchants in Gothenburg were British, chiefly Scots, nearly all of whom were involved with trade having arrived in what was called “Little London” (a name still in use), as early as its founding in 1621. The city had about 12,000 inhabitants of whom about 4% or 500 were merchants enrolled as burgesses. Another factor was political unrest in Scotland. Jacobite refugees fled there after the risings of 1715, 1719, and 1721.

In 1699 some of the wealthier and more influential British merchants formed the so-called British Factory (meaning a body of merchants), a society for the mutual support of its members, as well as their countrymen in distress. Göteborgs Gymnasium became the first secondary school in Sweden to teach English. The first teacher was the merchant, George Ross, who had arrived in the 1740s and had become a broker, very possibly “our” George Ross. He was employed as a teacher over the period 1774 – 1779 at least. He had a well-known library, and in 1765 he arranged a book lottery that consisted according to a Swedish newspaper, of “a collection of beautiful English, French, German, Latin and Swedish books” (ex T.C. Smout’s “ScottishMerchants in Gothenburg”). Imported English journals were recorded, and several importers were Scots, including Hugh, George and Walter Ross.

The Shandwick family had, through Hugh’s elder brother William, purchased the lands of Kerse and Skeldon in Ayrshire between 1728 and 1737, and it was there that Alexander died, unmarried, in 1775. William, also unmarried, died in 1739 in a drowning accident, thus leaving his estates to the present Chief’s 4 x great grandfather who settled there, presumably forgiven for his “sins” by the government. Unfortunately, the properties passed out of the Shandwick family’s ownership in the late 1700s, but Skeldon House at Dalrymple remains to this day, a very attractive Georgian building, along with a substantial estate.

It is something of a coincidence that an article about Andrew McCulloch appeared in “The Scots Magazine” in May 1986, and this is repeated below.

The Voyage of the "Pollux"

This Appendix is inserted because Andrew MacCulloch was the nephew of Hugh Ross, 2nd of Kerse and Skeldon. Craig Graham Mackay of “The Scots Magazine” recalls a secret, and still little known, journey in search of the Young Pretender.

Everyone knows of the Prince’s flight over the heather after Culloden, and how he passed two months in the Hebrides, before returning to the mainland on the 5th of July 1746. He at last found refuge in Cluny’s Cage on the southern slope of Ben Alder, and it was there that news was brought to him that the French frigate L’Heureux was waiting at Borrodale to carry him to safety. On the 20th of September, he boarded it and 20 days later was set ashore on the coast of Brittany. All this is familiar but who knows of the voyage of the Pollux and of its service in the Jacobite cause? It is just the sort of story that R.L. Stevenson or John Buchan might have made their own.

For a time after Culloden, the French Government was in the dark about what exactly had happened to the Prince. On the 6th of June, King Louis XV conferred with his Foreign Minister, the Marquis D’Argenson and other advisers at Versailles, to take stock of the situation. They knew the Prince had managed to escape, but they were uncertain whether he had gone to the Hebrides or Orkney. There was even a possibility that he might be among a group of Scottish refugees who had arrived at Bergen in Norway. There was no time to be lost. The Prince and other leading Jacobites in peril had to be located and brought to safety.  It was decided to send a number of ships to Scotland on a rescue mission. These were to sail not from France, but from Denmark and Sweden. Since these two countries were neutral in the war between France and Britain, it was felt that their vessels had a better chance of being allowed to proceed unmolested through the naval cordon circling the coast.

Everything had to proceed with great stealth lest news of what was afoot should reach English ears. Word was sent north to the French ambassadors in Copenhagen and Stockholm, instructing them to make arrangements for this operation. As things transpired, Denmark dropped out of the scheme because the ambassador reported that he could not find suitable confidential agents upon whom he could rely. In Sweden, however, it was a different story.

The French had originally planned in great secrecy to raise and equip a force of Swedish officers and men who would fight alongside the Jacobitie's in Scotland. All the necessary preparations had been made: the men had been assembled and suitable vessels had been chartered through the good offices of two directors of the Swedish East India Company – a Swede Niklas Sahlgren and a Scot, Colin Campbell. The only trouble was that by the time everything was ready and the weather favourable, it was too late. Culloden intervened and the plan was scrapped. However, all was not lost. The sloop Pollux, which had been intended for the original expedition, was now requisitioned for the rescue operation, and on 19th July she sailed on her secret mission. Onboard, was a certain Andrew MacCulloch, a Gaelic-speaking Scot employed in one of the merchant houses in Gothenburg. When the Pollux reached Scotland and sailed from place to place in the pretence of being engaged in ordinary trade, it was to be Andrew MacCulloch’s task to go ashore and try to discover the Prince’s whereabouts. Thus began a danger-packed voyage, which took the would-be rescue party first to Shetland, where they drew a blank, and then to Lewis, which they reached on the 23rd October. There MacCulloch made friends with a shepherd who was duly invited on board, liberally plied with spirit, and promised a generous tip if he was able to help them. This proposition found favour, and the shepherd told them that five French men-of-war had rescued the Prince while two British vessels were at Stornoway, too frightened to intervene. It was very interesting, but was it true or just a tall tale? MacCulloch paid the shepherd the money he had been promised, but decided not to take his story on trust. The Pollux then sailed on to Skye which he reached on 27th October.

At that time, one of the most powerful men on the island was Sir Alexander MacDonald of Sleat. After some wavering, he had joined the Government side and placed his men at the Duke of Cumberland’s disposal. However, MacCulloch did not hesitate to pay him a visit, taking care to present himself as “Mr Johnston”. Sir Alexander told him that he, too, had heard that Prince Charles had now left Scotland, but had his doubts about this. Several of Charles’ staunchest followers were still in the country and MacDonald of Sleat did not believe that the Prince would leave without them. These doubts were eventually dispelled. At the beginning of November, MacCulloch was visited in Portree by a Captain MacLeod who told him that he had, with his own eyes seen the Prince go aboard a French man-of-war. In MacCulloch’s opinion, Captain MacLeod was a reliable witness. So the Prince had been saved after all! But there was still the plight of his followers to consider. Throughout the Highlands, reprisals were taking place. Perhaps there were others who would avail themselves of the opportunity to flee to Sweden? The Pollux sailed on, first to Raasay with Captain MacLeod, and then to Mull, arriving on 8th November.
It was at Tobermory that MacCulloch had a nasty surprise. One night, two British men-of-war, the Raven under Captain Parker and the Baltimore under Captain Brett, came into the bay. They were part of a fleet patrolling the West Coast, and keeping an eye out for French or other intruders. Not surprisingly, MacCulloch was keen to get away as quickly as possible. Orders were given to set sail, but before they got underway, a command came from Captain Parker for the Pollux to draw up alongside Raven. Things were beginning to look distinctly dicey. MacCulloch and Lars Petterssen, the Swedish skipper, were called before Captain Parker and cross-examined. At that time, the British Crown had a highly efficient Secret Service at work in Sweden. From their agents there, word had been sent to London about the departure of certain ships bound for Scotland, allegedly engaged in trade, but, in reality, charged with the clandestine mission of helping the Jacobites. Was the Pollux one of those ships?

Not at all, said MacCulloch. The Pollux was bound for Greenock, where they would discharge their cargo of iron. Captain Parker allowed the sloop to proceed, but he was far from convinced and a few hours after the arrival of the Pollux at Greenock, the Ravena and the Baltimore sailed in as well. A war of nerves had begun. In Glasgow, MacCulloch managed to find a buyer for the cargo, but all throughout his stay in Greenock, he was conscious that Parker and his friends were on his tail, just waiting for some excuse to seize his ship and have him arrested for assisting the “rebels”. Indeed the good Captain had already ominously confided to him that he knew very well why MacCulloch had come to Scotland and that he had no intention of letting him out of his sight.
As thing turned out, he was not to be indulged. His superiors at the Admiralty took a different line on the matter. With MacCulloch no doubt giving a deep sigh of relief, the Pollux set sail on its return voyage from Greenock on the 3rd of January 1747. On his way home, MacCulloch called at Raasay where he had promised to pick up some of the MacLeods, but they had decided to stay. The elder MacLeod’s health was poor and a winter voyage might have been too much for him. At least, that was the story.

On 27th April, the Pollux sailed back into Gothenburg. Unlike the escapades of James Bond – but like very many real-life secret operations since – the clandestine mission ended as a wild-goose chase. Yet, for all that, many Scots did find their way to Sweden in those dangerous years, and the city of Gothenburg, in particular, offered a temporary place of refuge for some of that motley band which had rallied in vain to the Auld Cause.
From the Scots Magazine.

First published in 1739. New Series Vol 122, No 2 May 1986 Published Dundee, Scotland