A mystery Jacobite woman in 18th century Newcastle.
Here we present an abridged version of a chapter which centres on Newcastle.
It is called Jenny Cameron: The Jacobite Mystery of a Female Imposter...
DURING July 1749, the town of Newcastle was excited by the arrival of a woman - a 'Female Imposter' - who was brought from Durham jail wearing men's clothing and committed to the House of Correction. She gave differing versions of her back story: to some, she claimed to be a 'squire's daughter of considerable fortune' from the area around Alnwick in Northumberland; to others she said she was the daughter of a gentleman who lived near Carlisle.
Her education had taken place in Newcastle, at 'the best Needle and Pastry Schools'. (Pastry Schools were common in Scotland but not so much over the border; they had been tried without success in London during the middle of the 18th century.) In the best families in town, the education of daughters was fitted, not only to embellish and improve their minds; but to accomplish them in the useful and necessary arts of domestic economy. The sewing school, the pastry school, were then essential branches of female education.
Afterwards, this 'female imposter' was sent to a boarding school in York from where she was married to a Captain Drummond of the (Jacobite) Duke of Perth's Regiment. The Duke of Perth, himself a Drummond, had been brought up and educated in France; his grandfather, James Drummond the 4th Earl of Perth, had taken part in the Jacobite Rising of 1715 and had been stripped of his peerage as a result. The title of Duke of Perth was conferred on him by the Old Pretender, James Edward Stuart, but the British government and crown did not officially recognise the title.
In 1745, the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart - otherwise Bonnie Prince Charlie - sailed from France to the Western Isles and made his way to the Scottish mainland (the Old Pretender had decided he was too old for the fight). At Glenfinnan, surrounded by a gathering army from the clans of MacDonalds, Camerons, Macfies and MacDonnells, the prince raised his standard and claimed the Scottish and English thrones in the name of his father and in defiance of King George II.
The Jacobite army marched south into England during the latter months of 1745, reaching Derby before turning back and retreating to Scotland, where the decisive Battle of Culloden was fought on April 16 1746 and the Bonnie Prince's rebel army was defeated. The prince fled to an island in the Outer Hebrides, from where, disguised as an Irish spinning maid named Betty Burke and with the assistance of a plucky local girl, Flora MacDonald, he escaped from under the noses of the Hanoverian army to Skye. While the Young Pretender eventually boarded a French frigate and sailed for the safety of France, Flora was arrested and - for a time - held in the Tower of London.
By the time of Culloden, our heroine claimed that she had borne two children to Captain Drummond while living with him in France. She left the youngsters there when she returned with her husband, donning male attire and fighting alongside him at Culloden: she survived but with injuries to her face; her husband lost his life. Since then she had travelled from town to town, telling her story and garnering sympathy and charity in equal measure, drawing 'tears of compassion from some of [her] sex, to see a person of her rank in a correction house, lying on straw'. She sometimes suggested that her name was Miss Jenny Cameron and said that she was 'resolved to wear Men's Cloaths all her Life'.
Alongside Flora MacDonald, Jenny (or Jeannie) Cameron has entered into Jacobite myth and legend, a composite of two women who shared the name. The first Jenny was a Highlander, a 'genteel, well-looking, handsome woman, with a pair of pretty eyes and hair as black as jet' and in her mid- to late-40s; she came to Glenfinnan to represent her brothers and to watch the raising of the standard, and gifted several Highland cows to the Young Pretender, although she never personally met him.
While Bonnie Prince Charlie was at Stirling Castle in early 1746, a second Miss (or Mrs) Jenny Cameron took her place in the drama, an Edinburgh milliner whom Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (nicknamed The Butcher, he was George II's youngest son) confused with the former Miss Cameron. He wrote from Stirling on 2 February 1746: 'We have taken about twenty of their sick here, and the famous Miss Jenny Cameron, whom I propose to send to Edinburgh for the Lord Justice Clerk to examine.' After enquiries, it was discovered that the poor woman in Newcastle had simply been influenced by the myths and legends which had sprung up and been oft repeated about Jenny Cameron. In fact, she had been 'no more than a basket wench, who used to carry meat from the butchers to gentlemen's families, to carry coals, clean houses, or hawk fruit through the streets [of Newcastle], and associate with the worst of company'. She was remembered as first appearing in the town during 1744 or 1745, dressed in a sailor's jacket and breeches, claiming to have been a sailor for many years and owning herself a Catholic, so it was thought probable that she had been involved in the rebellion. Her name was Sarah Waugh and the scars she bore explained as the result of 'a rowelling when young, to extract some frantick humours from her brain, which began to appear very early' and as t h e result of a fall. She had possibly been held in Bedlam (Bethlem Hospital) in London. After being examined by the Newcastle magistrates, Sarah was issued with a vagrant's pass to 'Kirby-Gate, in the Parish of Alson [Alston] in Cumberland, the place of her settlement'.
| All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century, by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, published by Pen and Sword, is on sale in bookshops and at Amazon for PS15.75.
The real Jenny Cameron (National Library of Scotland)
Charles Edward Stuart (National Library of Scotland)
King George II (Rijksmuseum)
The Battle of Culloden, near Inverness in Scotland, 1746
A view of Newcastle, c1730-1750. (Images from the book All Things Georgian, below)