Wisharts & The Jacobites

Over the course of time, and perhaps more recently fuelled by the success of television productions such as ‘Outlander’, it is easy to see how the popular idea as to who the Jacobites were has become entrenched in romantic notions of the noble Scottish Highlander. For those who are unaware, the term ‘Jacobite’ became the name for those who supported James VII (James II in England) after his deposition, and is most famously known for the rebellion which took place during 1745-46 when Charles Edward Stuart (aka ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ and the ‘Young Pretender’), led his army to ultimate disaster at the Battle of Culloden. It is true that core support for ‘the cause’ came from the highland clans, however there were a great many other people from all walks of life, and across all borders, who backed a Stuart return to the British throne. Of course Wisharts counted among them, however based on the lack of any surviving evidence, it is likely that most people bearing our surname probably didn’t harbour strong (if any) Jacobite tendencies, but the few who did have been well-documented, and they form the backbone of this article.

The first Wishart we know of who was suspected of having Jacobite allegiances is Sir James Wishart (WIS0004) who was an admiral in the British Navy. These suspicions appear to be primarily based on the fact that James was born in Scotland, and despite no evidence ever being produced, dogged the rest of his career. After the accession of George I he was dismissed from both the Admiralty commission and active service with the fleet, and died in 1723, leaving behind a great deal of wealth to his brother William, who was the principal of Edinburgh University.

The next set of Wisharts who were documented (proven or otherwise) to be involved with Jacobitism appear at the time of the ’45 and are recorded on the muster roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s army.

William Wiseheart, a farmer from Johnshaven, served with Sir Alexander Bannerman’s regiment (Mitchell’s Company) and was taken prisoner at Culloden and held in the Aberdeen Tolbooth before eventually being discharged.

John Wishart, a merchant from Dundee, served as a lieutenant with the 1stForfarshire (Ogilvy’s) Regiment who fought on the right wing of the 2nd line at Culloden, and was probably among those who had previously taken part in the invasion of England. John appears to have escaped capture and was possibly with his unit when they were disbanded at Clova.

Also in Ogilvy’s Regiment were two men named Alexander Wishart. One, from the village of Farnell, was captured and held prisoner in Montrose before eventually being discharged, the other was less fortunate. Born in Montrose on 29 August 1725 and the son of John Wishart and Isobel Lawson, this Alexander had been working as a servant to Thomas Webster before the uprising. He was captured after Culloden and kept in prison in Inverness before being sent to England where he was incarcerated on prison ships at Tilbury and Southwark. Alexander was eventually transported to Jamaica from London on 17 March 1747 and known to have survived the voyage. Another Wishart who was banished to the plantations in 1747 was 40-year-old Robert Wishart who was captured at Carlisle and kept prisoner in Canongate before transportation.

James Wishart, an 18-year-old labourer from Fochabers, was serving in Gordon of Glenbuckets Regiment when he was taken prisoner at Carlisle. His regiment had participated in the advance into England and his company formed part of the garrison left behind so that Charles could “continue to hold at least one town in England” whilst the bulk of the Jacobites returned to Scotland. The Hanoverian army under Cumberland subsequently besieged and took Carlisle resulting in James being captured and sent to prison at York Castle. Along with 17 other boys of a similar age he was sentenced to death at a trial held on 30 September 1746, however in November a petition was brought before the court which read:

Unto the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, the humble petition of several of the young prisoners now under sentence of death in the Castle, York. 
‘Sheweth: ‘That Your Petitioners, being indicted for high treason . . . did severally plead guilty and submitted themselves to your Majesty’s mercy. ‘That . . . it was impossible for them to bring up witnesses from the remote countreys where they were born and had resided, to prove their precise ages, though it evidently appeared upon the tryal that your petitioners are all and each of them young and of tender age. . . . ‘May it please your Majesty to take your petitioners case into consideration and to extend your Royal Clemency to us, in such form and manner as Your Majesty . – . shall think proper.”

Along with many of the boys, James was pardoned on the condition that he enlist in the army, which he duly did and was spared. Those who did not were hung at the gallows. Shortly after The Battle of Culloden in April 1746, a servant named John Wishart was arrested in Aberdeen and examined before the court purely because his employer, a Mr James Johnston, had been suspected of associating with ‘rebels’. Both men were eventually dismissed.

One of the Wisharts most closely associated with the Bonnie Prince himself was a tobacconist from Wemyss named David (WIS0053). Born in 1665 and the son of Patrick and Margaret Wishart, David set up a shop on Coventry Street in London on 31 December 1720 (the birth date of the ‘Bonnie Prince’). Outside stood a six-foot tall Highlander in doublet and trews with a targe on his arm and a claymore by his side. The Highlander’s presence was less an advertisement for the products on sale inside, but more a sign that anyone loyal to ‘the cause’ could discuss the return of King James to the throne in the safety of the backroom smoking parlour. Furthermore, David’s brother Thomas – a Wemyss shipmaster, was rumoured to have spirited away fleeing Jacobites to the West Indies after the defeat at Culloden, and is said to have died under ‘mysterious circumstances’ in the Bahamas.

David’s nephew (Thomas’s son – also called David) followed in his uncle’s footsteps and established a tobacco shop in Edinburgh before taking over the establishment in London after David Snr. died. He too was sympathetic to the cause, and Prince Charles Edward during several trips to London, is supposed to have held several secret meetings at the premises between 1750 and 1760.

The shop was eventually torn down in 1880 to make way for a remodelled street, and the business relocated to 41 Haymarket, by which point David’s son Thomas had taken it over (David Jnr. died in Hertfordshire in 1776.) Thomas, clearly less interested in the family business and its previous association with the Jacobites, handed over the running of the shop to a third party in 1802, and joined the Whigs, who opposed the Stuart claim to the throne and supported the Hanoverians. Thomas died in Bath during 1823 and is commemorated on a plaque in Bath Abbey that also displays the Wishart coat of arms.