In March 1746, less than a month before the Battle of Culloden, a number of those belonging to the two conflicting sides met at Tongue, a coastal village in the Highlands; there, those loyal to the Jacobite cause were captured, and their ship, Le Prince Charles Stuart, was plundered.
The ship in question had been the British HMS Hazard, but had been stolen by some Jacobites a few months earlier in Montrose, before being sailed to Dunkirk and given its new name. Louis XV of France sent it back up to Scotland, filled with around 160 French, Spanish, Irish and Scottish men. Up until this point, the Jacobites had been disappointed in King Louis’ underwhelming acts of assistance. However, along with some supplies, Louis sent £13,000 in gold, which translates to a little over £1.5 million in today’s money.
The sailing over to Scotland was not simple though as it experienced trouble not long after leaving Dunkirk and was forced ashore by a couple of English privateers on the coast of Belgium. It suffered some damage, but not enough to stop Captain Talbot from wanting to continue the voyage to Scotland. The intention had been to disembark at Portsoy, a harbour town located about 50 miles from Aberdeen, but soon it became clear to Talbot that Le Prince Charles Stuart was being chased.
Four Government ships pursued Le Prince. Talbot, desperate and acknowledging his lack of knowledge of the area, took aboard two local fishermen to help him escape the enemy. Eventually on ship, the 24-gunned HMS Sheerness, broke off from the other Government ships and tailed Talbot, getting closer and closer. Talbot sailed into the Kyle of Tongue, where he hoped that the larger Sheerness would not be able to fully enter, but he ended up beaching his ship on a sandbank, trapping it as the Sheerness was still close enough to shoot.
After several hours of continual shots being fired between the two ships, Talbot gave the orders to unload the goods. The plan was now for the crew to carry the gold and supplies to Prince Charles’ base in Inverness. As daylight broke the men began their trek to Inverness but the captain of the Sheerness had by this point realised that Le Prince was what had been known as HMS Hazard, and sent out a group to look for Government supporters to help to capture the Jacobite soldiers.
Before long the Jacobites were surrounded by Government men, and after several deaths and the arrival of further opposition headed by Captain George Mackay, the Jacobites surrendered, but not before reportedly throwing the gold into the water.
The surviving Le Prince men were captured and imprisoned aboard the Sheerness which prevented them from being able to fight at the Battle of Culloden. Le Prince became known as HMS Hazard again, and after some repairs, it was put back into the Government navy. As for the gold, it was largely recovered and shared among the Government leaders and their men as a reward for taking it from the Jacobites.
It makes for an interesting what if? The Bellona and the Mars arrived once the Battle of Culloden had been lost, but if the gold and soldiers of Le Prince had got to Charles in time, it is difficult to say how much of an impact it would have had, how much it could have changed things for the Jacobites. Not only would Charles have had money to properly feed, equip and pay the troops he already had, as well as hire new ones, but it would also have been a morale boost for the Jacobites to feel that they had such support and that the confidence of the leader they had been following was not unfounded.
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All the best, The Culloden Team