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Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from Edinburgh's archives


Oct 3, 2013

On Thursday 3 October 1745, John Campbell, a Scottish banker, was involved in an adventurous and dangerous escapade in the line of his banking duties.

Campbell had worked for The Royal Bank of Scotland from its foundation in 1727, and in July 1745 he was appointed as ‘First Cashier’. During the Jacobite rebellion that year he was entrusted to protect the Bank’s interests at a time of significant threat.  In September Jacobite forces, led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), occupied the city of Edinburgh while the castle remained in the hands of Hanoverian government forces.

 The diary Campbell kept during this time is preserved in the RBS Archives and gives valuable insights to Edinburgh’s occupation during the ‘45’ Jacobite Rising. http://heritagearchives.rbs.com/people/list/john-campbell.html

Campbell recounts how, on 1 October 1745, Sir John Murray of Broughton, Prince Charles’ secretary, revealed that the Prince had £857 of Royal Bank banknotes and demanded immediate payment for them in gold or the Jacobites would seize property from the Bank and its directors. This was a challenge. The Bank’s valuables, including its reserves of gold, had been moved for safekeeping to Edinburgh Castle, which was now locked down in government hands, while the rest of the city was under Jacobite control. Campbell pleaded for time but his 2 October diary entry shows that this was rejected:

‘a gentleman, who understood the business of banking, was with the Prince when the pass was a granting, who said that there was no difficulty in the thing, for that all the gold and silver must be in baggs of certain  sums, and therefore that it was an easy matter, and required no great time to execute this affair, and so the Prince was positive to grant no longer indulgence.’

Campbell (illustrated right) sought and obtained a special pass from Jacobite authorities to pass through the streets safely to the castle. He also wrote ahead to the castle’s commander requesting safe access. The commander implied that he would be admitted, but refused to put anything in writing. Campbell, accompanied by five directors and colleagues from the Bank, recorded the expedition in his diary entry of 3 October 1745:

‘About 8 o clock, the five gentlemen above named met at my house, and after breakfast we proceeded on our expedition. . . . I then hoisted my white flag and usherd the rest of the gentlemen saluting the centinells as we past, and as we approached the Castle gate waved it often, at last the centinells there called us to come forward, and on our arrival at the bridge, telling who we were, twas let down, the Captain received us in.’

Campbell’s party were taken to the governor’s house to meet with General Guest and then General Preston. Their explanation to the generals appears, understandably, to have omitted the full purpose of their task!

‘ I went in , told him our errand in general was to get in to the R Bank depositories to do some business, and General Preston having come in at that instant he was likewise told the same. After some short conversation we left the two generals and proceeded to the place where all the banks things are lodged and executed the affairs we came about.’

Having successfully gained access, Campbell withdrew the gold to meet the Prince’s demands (which by now had risen to over £3,000), and more to meet any imminent further demands. He also destroyed a large quantity of unissued notes to prevent them entering circulation and becoming a further liability to the bank. 

The dangerous nature of the escapade is emphasised in his diary which reveals that, while he worked, fierce fighting went on between government forces in the Castle and Jacobites volunteers outside who were firing on the castle entrance from a gardener’s house at Livingston’s Yards:

‘During our continuance in the Castle which was from about 9 ‘till near three a clock, there was closs firing from thence . . . and one Watson a soldier was so couragious as to go down over the castle wall upon a rope, fire upon the Gardener’s house, kill some of the volunteers there, carried off a firelock or two from them, sett the house in fire, returned with these firelocks by his rope into the castle, where he was received with loud huzzars for his valour.

On his return the garrison were preparing for a sally, but as the men were a drawing up we got liberty from General Guest to go out again and Captain Robert Mirray escorted us to the gate, where I again raised my white flagg and with my friends returned to town in safety, landed at my house from whence we adjourned to dine at Mrs Clerk’s vintner’.

After dining, Campbell paid the gold to Murray at his office later that evening. The Jacobite army left Edinburgh on 1 November, marching on into England in a bid to claim the British throne. The army’s progress into England was financed in no small part by the funds received from The Royal Bank of Scotland.

Extracts/illustrations reproduced by kind permission of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group © [2013]. http://heritagearchives.rbs.com/



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