How playing golf saved a Jacobite…

John Rattray was born in 1707 and was 33 when he completed his surgical training and took his oath to become a member with the Incorporation of Surgeons of Edinburgh (later this would become the Royal college of Surgeons). In his spare time he was an avid sport enthusiast and was a member of the Royal Company of Archers as well as being a keen golfer.

File:Bronze of John Rattray.jpg
Statue of James Rattray

In 1744 Edinburgh Council approved a request for an annual competition to be held at Leith Links with the winner earning a silver club. The first competition was held on 2nd April and, out of 11 players, John Rattray won, earning the club and the title ‘Captain of the Golf’. As winner Rattrays signature also appears below the 13 rules of golf in the minute book of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers; these are believed to be the first rules of golf ever recorded.

The following year, however, saw the arrival of Prince Charles Edward Stuart and the beginning of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. Upon his arrival to Scotland, Prince Charles wrote to the Rattray family to request their support. At first it is not clear if Rattray was eager to join but, at the battle of Prestonpans he rode out from Edinburgh to help treat the wounded and it seems here he was convinced to join the Princes army.

Rattray travelled with the Jacobites down through England and back north after their retreat at Derby. During this time he rose through the ranks and became the surgeon general, as well as Prince Charles’ personal surgeon. When the Jacobites were defeated Rattray surrendered to the Government army and was imprisoned in Inverness. With such a high rank it was likely that he would be sentenced to death.

However, Rattray wrote a letter to Duncan Forbes of Culloden. This man was the Lord President of the Court of Sessions and the most senior judge in Scotland, but, more importantly, he was one of Rattrays golfing partners. Forbes made a personal plea to the Duke of Cumberland and Rattrays friendship paid off as he was released and set free to return to his home in Edinburgh. Playing golf certainly seems to have been life or death for Rattray!

The story does not end there though, despite being freed Rattray was rearrested just a few days later as Cumberland rescinded his command. Rattray was held in London until January 1747 when he was finally released, for the last time, after having signed an oath that he would be obedient to the King.

Rattray once again made his way back to Edinburgh and returned to surgical practice. He did not give up golf though, after returning to the sport he won the silver club for the second time in 1751!

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please share, comment and like.

All the best,

The Culloden Team

One thought on “How playing golf saved a Jacobite…

  1. Thank you! I love stories about how real people endured and became better as a result of trying times..Rattray is a strange name…was he in a clan? He clearly was a gutsy character. I would like to have met him!


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