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Cameron, Archibaldlocked

(1707–1753)
  • Roger Turner

Cameron, Archibald (1707–1753), physician and Jacobite conspirator, was the fourth son of John Cameron (c.1663–1748), laird of Lochiel, and his wife, Isabel, daughter of Alexander Campbell of Lochnell, and the younger brother of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, who took a prominent part in the Jacobite rising of 1745. Archibald Cameron was originally intended for the bar but preferred medicine to the law. After completing his studies at Edinburgh University and in Paris, he settled at Lochaber among his own clan. There he devoted his time to the general welfare of the people, sustaining them both financially and medically. He married Jean (d. in or after 1753), daughter of Archibald Cameron of Dungallon, and they had seven children. In the 'Forty-Five he was present with his clan and he described his involvement as arising not from choice 'but from compulsion of kindred'. During the rising he held the rank of captain and placed his medical skill at the disposal of his people.

After the defeat of the highlanders at Culloden on 16 April 1746, Cameron took an active part in concealing Prince Charles, remaining in constant communication with him. While the prince was in a hiding place known as the 'cage' at Benalder (Forbes, 3.41–2), Cameron sent information to him of the arrival of two vessels to carry him and his friends to France. After escaping with the party of which his brother was a member, Cameron was appointed physician and captain in Albany's regiment, a regiment in which his brother had been appointed colonel. On his brother's death in 1748 he took up a similar position in Ogilvie's regiment.

In 1752 Cameron became involved in one of the many impractical schemes devised in the 1750s for the restoration of the Stuarts. The scheme, which had been concocted by Alexander Murray, brother of Patrick Murray, fifth Lord Elibank, involved the fomenting of a rising in Scotland to coincide with a coup in London initiated by assaults on St James's and the Tower. There were also rumours that Frederick the Great of Prussia had promised 15,000 men to aid the invasion of England by Jacobites (Walpole, Corr., 20.373). This was no more than a rumour, as it was unlikely that Frederick's resentment against England created by debts in Silesia and ill treatment of his merchant navy would be translated into military support for a cause so quixotic as a Stuart restoration. The plot was abandoned in November 1752 when the conspirators became aware of their betrayal to the government by Alaistair Macdonald of Glengarry (Pickle the Spy) who, while posing as a participant in the plot, had been sending dispatches to London giving detailed information about the scheme. When he travelled to Scotland in 1753 Cameron was taken up by a party of Lord George Beauclerk's regiment at Glenbucket after information had been received at the garrison at Inversnaid that he was in the neighbourhood.

After a short period of imprisonment at Edinburgh Castle, Cameron was sent to London. Notwithstanding clear evidence of his involvement in the so-called Elibank plot, Cameron was arraigned before the court of king's bench upon the act of attainder passed in 1746 against him and others for their involvement in the rising of 1745 and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Despite the desperate efforts of his wife to save him by petitioning the king and leading members of the aristocracy, the sentence was carried out on 7 June 1753. Cameron bore himself with great composure and it was said that 'He met the last great enemy with as much intrepidity and as much decency as even the great Balmerino' (Forbes, 3.130). Cameron was attended on the scaffold by a nonjuring clergyman, the Revd James Falconar, who, according to Horace Walpole, was 'not content with seeing the Doctor hanged, [but] let down the top of the landau for the better convenience of seeing him disembowelled!' (Walpole, Corr., 20.384). Cameron's execution led Samuel Johnson, when on a visit to the novelist Samuel Richardson, to vilify George II 'as one who, upon all occasions, is unrelenting and barbarous' (Boswell, Life, 1.147).

A number of theories have been advanced to explain Cameron's execution for his part in the 'Forty-Five so long after that rising had been subdued (see, for example, Walter Scott, Redgauntlet, 1832, introduction). However, the most likely explanation for the government's conduct is probably twofold: first that it was inspired by the anxiety of the Pelhams not to reveal their spy, Alaistair Macdonald, as the source of their information; second, that it sprang from a wish not to upset the financial markets at a time when Henry Pelham, prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer, was trying to simplify government finance by means of consolidated annuities. This scheme involved the difficult operation of converting the national debt to a lower rate of interest, and Pelham's scheme would have been jeopardized had the City of London believed the country to be on the verge of yet another Jacobite rising (Beatty, 46–50). To Cameron himself the government's accusing him of complicity in the plot of 1752 was simply 'to cover the Cruelty of murdering me at [such a] Distance of Time from the passing of [the act of attainder]' (BL, Add. MS 32732, fol. 47v).

Sources

  • The life of Dr Archibald Cameron (1753), 2, 3, 29
  • Walpole, Corr., 20.373, 384
  • J. L. Beatty, ‘Henry Pelham and the execution of Archibald Cameron’, SHR, 41 (1962), 46–50
  • W. Scott, Redgauntlet (1832), introduction
  • BL, Add. MS 35887, fol. 31

Likenesses

  • mezzotint, BM
  • mezzotint, repro. in Life of Dr Archibald Cameron, frontispiece
Scottish Historical Review
W. Cobbett, ed. T. B. Howell & T. J. Howell, 34 vols. (1809–28)
British Library, London
H. Walpole, ed. W. S. Lewis & others, 48 vols. (1937–83)
British Museum, London
J. Boswell , ed. G. B. Hill, rev. L. F. Powell, 6 vols. (1934–50); 2nd edn (1964); repr. (1971)