Rare Jacobite treasures gifted to Highland museum by major Scottish distiller

A small museum in the Highlands has landed a collection of rare Jacobite relics following a gift from one of Scotland’s leading distillers.

The treasures include (left to right) a piece of mast from the boat used by Bonnie Prince Charlie to leave Skye, an 18th Century firing glass, a 'secret' Jacobite snuff box and an extremely rare 18th Century glass that features a 5-colour enamel portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie. PIC: John Paul Photography.

West Highland Museum in Fort William has had its already-significant Jacobite display boosted with the long-term loan from the Drambuie Collection, which is owned by William Grant & Sons.

Several items of Jacobite glassware, which became important expressions of allegiance to the cause, are among the new exhibits.

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They include an extremely rare 18th Century glass that features an five-coloured enamelled portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Once owned by of Thomas Erskine, latterly 9th Earl of Kellie, the glass is one of possibly only three such objects made.

It was used to raise a toast at the Stuart Club of Edinburgh, one of the capital’s oldest drinking clubs, which met on Bonnie Prince Charlie’s birthday between 1757 and 1787.

Also in the collection is a 1730 firing glass - a small shot-style glass with a heavy bottom - which was raised in a toast before being cracked on the table, with the noise thought to sound like musket fire.

It is engraved with an oak tree, the emblem of the Stuart restoration, and the motto Revirescit, or ‘it revives’.

Andy Fairgrieve, of William Grant & Sons, said the distiller acquired the Drambuie Collection after it bought the brand in 2014.

The Drambuie Collection was built up by the McKinnon family, who owned Drambuie for 100 years, with legend having it that Bonnie Prince Charlie - or one of his followers from France - gave a McKinnon clansman the recipe for the liquor during the 1745 rising.

Mr Fairgrieve said: “These are beautiful objects that have fantastic stories behind them.

“When we bought the Drambuie brand we got this fantastic collection that had been built up by Mr McKinnnon Senior over a good few years.

“It has objects ranging from medals and buckles to swords and dirks but the majority of it was glassware.

“Given the connection between the legend of Drambuie and Charles Edward Stuart, it was a logical collection to build up.”

For some time, the collection was stored at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Mr Fairgrieve added: “When I saw it, I was blown away. I knew straight away that we had to get as much of it as possible on display.”

Several items went on show at the National Museum of Scotland’s 2017 Jacobite exhibition but discussions were also struck up with West Highland Museum about displaying some of the items.

Mr Fairgrieve added: “The museum has already got a fantastic Jacobite collection and it is one of the hidden jewels of Scotland’s museums.

“I was really pleased to be able to give them the Jacobite glassware to augment what they already had.”

Glassware was particularly important to Jacobite supporters. While some was overt in its message of support, other pieces were engraved with secret symbols and mottos to indicate their loyalties.

One popular ritual carried out at meetings of Jacobite supporters toasted the “King over the water” by holding a glass of wine over a bowl of water.

Crucially, the glass items could be hurriedly smashed and broken should the authorities come across the treasonous wares.

Colin Fraser, owner of R.L Christie antiques and arts consultancy in Edinburgh, researched and catalogued the items in the Drambuie Collection.

He said: “The glassware that survived gives a real insight into how Jacobites showed their allegiances.

“While some glass overtly celebrated Bonnie Prince Charlie or his father, the true meaning of these objects was often far more hidden in plain sight.

“Dinner parties and the way wine was drunk was very different in the 18th Century to how it is now. There are records of the Stuart Club which show that 30 to 40 toasts would be taken.

“ That is one reason why the glasses are very small. Also, the wine perhaps wasn’t quite as good quality as you would have now

“The glasses give us a really unique insight into what was happening at the time amongst Jacobite supporters.”

Other items received by the West Highland Museum include a piece of mast said to be from the boat used in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s crossing from Skye to Loch Nevis on July 4 1746.

An enamel snuff box bearing an attractive portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie has also gone on show to the museum.

Mr Fraser said it appeared the snuff box was originally a ‘hidden portrait’ example which had a simple decorated domed cover to hide the portrait of Charles Edward Stuart.

He said: “These are well recorded, although not common, and were favourites of Jacobite society post 1745.

“A Jacobite host could give his friends a pinch of snuff and chooses, depending on the company, whether or not to unveil the hidden nature of the portrait.

“Surely in some cases his not choosing to show the true nature of the snuff boxes allegiances were part of the fun and this would be done with some glee knowing his Hanoverian guests were using such a fine Jacobite item.”

Vanessa Martin, curator at West Highland Museum, said: “We do have a fabulous collection of Jacobite items, including Bonnie Prince Charlie’s tooth, and our collection is growing all the time.

“We are really pleased that the Drambuie Collection considered us as a fitting home for these very special objects.”