Many of the men who were taken prisoner during and after the 1745 Rebellion were held in prison ships. After Culloden ships could be seen in the Moray Firth, with no room in the town to house all the captives the ships were a floating prison.
Even before the battle of Culloden there were merchantmen sailing into Inverness awaiting a Government victory. Knowing that the town would never be able to hold all the prisoners they made sure they were on hand to help the Government contain the captives.
Conditions on board the vessels were unsurprisingly grim. Prisoners were shackled and often left to lie on the stones and earth that acted as ballast for the vast ships. Whilst the men may have been sheltered from the weather the dark tight confines were susceptible to diseases such as typhus and the men would often go hungry with little rations to share between them.
There are reports from the time of men being taken for ‘delousing’. This involved the men being dunked in the water, sometimes with a stone tied to their ankles. This would have no doubt killed any lice that may have existed but could also prove fatal to the men. One Highlander reported at least six cases of this ‘treatment’ occurring in one day.
Men waited on ships for weeks before going to trial and then they could be transported overseas and transferred to another ship to begin the ordeal once again. Many men died aboard the ships. Withing eight months at least two thirds of the men aboard one ship died. These men were usually the lower classes with no financial support or family to help them. Those of more standing were sometimes able to be housed with appointed guardians which offered far more chance of escape.
Only one record is known of someone escaping a prison ship. A man named Stewart Carmichael was held on board the ‘Pamela’ where rations consisted of slaughterhouse offal from pigs and cattle. He was able to find another use for some of the pigs bladders that were intended for food. Inflating four of the bladders he apparently used them as flotation devices and was able to escape and make his way to the Kent shore.
For those who survived the transport overseas they often faced life as indentured slaves. Some managed to eventually gain their freedom and return home to their native lands whilst others stayed in the colonies and made great fortunes. However, the brutal journeys they had taken would surely not be forgotten.
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All the best,
The Culloden Team