• The Ruthven Barracks

    The Ruthven Barracks
    Quintus Hortensius Hortalus

    At first – before you start reading this article – let me make a humble suggestion of music which might entertain you while reading:

    When driving the A86 from Fort William towards Aviemore and the Cairngorms National Park at some point you will see some ruins on a hill in the marshlands. But it’s not what you expect in Scotland. Those ruins are clearly not a castle although they look well-fortified with high walls, marshlands all around the hill and only one way up. Those ruins are the Ruthven Barracks.

    Those ruins are the Ruthven Barracks.

    Ruthven Barracks you say, I never heard of these? This might be true and they are certainly not very famous because they were not even in use for half a century. But those old stones have quite an interesting story to tell.

    Where to begin? Certainly, the history of the hill - or more accurate motte - is much older than the one of the barracks. And the barracks were erected for a certain political propose with its roots in and before the creation of the Union of Scotland and England. But I think 1715 is a good year to start.

    So let’s start with the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. Shortly after the assumption of the – then already British - throne of the Hanoverians the Stuarts decided to try to take back the throne they thought to be theirs. Led by the Earl of Mar the Jacobites occupied parts of Scotland but were quickly defeated after the inconclusive Battle of Sheriffmuir. James Francis Edward Stuart (the Old Pretender) landed too late in Scotland to turn the tide or have any influence on the upcoming defeat. Despite the quick suppression of the Rebellion, the government had noticed that they had no grip over the Highlands. Not that previous governments really controlled the Highlands. Yet this time the government was serious about controlling the Highlands because now they were a threat as a potential source for new uprisings by the Jacobite pretenders. Therefore it started to build – among other measures - four fortified barracks at strategic locations. One of those are the Ruthven Barracks.

    From its position, it could guard a key junction General Wade’s roads – the junction of the roads from Perth, Fort Augustus and Inverness although the roads were built after the Barracks. The design of the Ruthven Barracks was very simple – two three-storey blocks which could house up to 120 men, and a rectangular wall connecting these buildings with a tower on each the western and eastern side of the wall. Later in 1734 – behind the backside gate – a stable for 28 horses for dragoons was built.

    On the left is one of the barrack-blocks and on the right the stable.

    But the most interesting part of our story (and in fact the end of the story of the Ruthven Barracks) starts with Bonnie Prince Charlie’s landing in Scotland and the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

    On 19 August 1745 at Glenfinnan Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart, son of James Francis Edward Stuart) raised the Royal banner before previously landing with little French support at Eriskay. At Glenfinnan 700 Highlanders had gathered in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. From there they marched towards Edinburgh. During the march, more and more highlanders gathered to the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

    At the same time, the Hanoverian commander Sir John Cope (‘Johnny Cope’) marched north from Edinburgh to meet the Jacobite army. On 26 August 1745, he reached the Ruthven Barracks. The next they, hearing of a planned trap on his way north, Sir John Cope marched his men north (some might say fled), avoided the trap and reached Inverness on 29 August 1745. In Ruthven, he left behind a small garrison of 13 men led by Sergeant Trevor Molloy.

    The Jacobites decided not to follow Sir John Cope and instead raised more men. Being already near the Ruthven Barrack John Gordon of Glenbucket came up with a plan:

    Quote Originally Posted by ”John Gordon of Glenbucket”
    It was determined the next day, yt the Prince wou'd not follow Cope, but wou'd make the best of his way to Blair, to raise the Athol men. The day the Prince was to decamp, Sullivan parted as usual to reconnoitre the Camp, & prepare the Prince's quarters, with Lochgarry & some other officers and about thirty men; John Murray was sent in all diligence after him with orders to take the road of Revin, where he'd meet with Archy Cameron, & attack those Barracks, where there was only a sergeant & sixteen men. Sullivan cou'd not but obey, but represented the difficulty of it, & yt there were no Barracks, without being surrounded by walls & flanked, but one Gordon who was of yt neighbourhood, & was the man yt gave the project, assured it was an open house only. Sullivan parted & met with Mr. Cameron about three mils from Reven, continued his march as near as he cou'd to the Barracks without being discover'd; he clad himself there inhighland cloaths,& went to reconnoitre, found this open house to be two buildings upon a sugar loaf, joyned together by a very high rampart with a parapet, wch formed a Square & flanked at every corner; there were stables detached from the barracks & surrounded by a wall breast high, & the & windings yt we ramp inaccessible in a manner.
    Colonel John Sullivan – a 45-year-old Irish professional soldier – had his reasons to object the plan by John Gordon of Glenbucket. But I don’t want to describe what happened when we can read what Sergeant Molloy wrote:

    Quote Originally Posted by Sergeant Trevor Molloy
    Ruthven Redoubt, August 30th 1745
    Honourable General, This goes to acquaint you, that Yesterday there apeared in the little Town of Ruthven above 300 Men of the Enemy, and sent Proposals to me to surrender this Redoubt, upon Condition that I should have Liberty to carry off Bag and Baggage. My answer was, that I was too old a Soldier to surrender a Garison of such strength. without bloody Noses. They threatened hanging me and my Men for Refusal. I told them I would take my Chance. This Morning they attacked me about twelve o'Clock, by my Information with about 150 Men: They attacked Fore-Gate and Sally-Port, and attempted to set the Sally?Port on Fire, with some old Barrels and other Combustibles, which took Blaze immediately; but the Attempter lost his life by it. They drew off about half an Hour after Three. About two Hours after they sent to me, that two of their Chiefs wanted to talk with me. I admitted and spoke to them from the Parapet. They offered Conditions: I refused. They desired Liberty to carry off their Dead men; I granted. There are two Men since dead of their Wounds in the Town and three more they took with them wounded as I am informed. They went off Westward, about eight o'clock this Morning. They did the like March Yesterday in the Afternoon, but came back at Night fall. They took all the Provisions the poor Inhabitants had in the Town; and Mrs McPherson, the Barrack?Wife and a Merchant of the Town who spoke to me this Moment, and who Advised me to write to your Honour: And told me there were above 3000 Men all lodged in the Cornfields West of the Town last Night, and their grand Camp is at Dalwhinny: They have Cluny McPherson with them Prisoner, as I have it by the same Information. I lost one Man shot through the Head by foolishly holding his Head too high over the Parapet, contrary to orders. I prevented the Sally-Port taking Fire by pouring Water over the Parapet. I expect another Visit this Night, I am informed, with their Pateraroes [swivel guns] but I shall give them the warmest Reception my weak, Party can afford. I shall hold out as long as possible. I conclude, Honourable General, with great Respect.
    Your most obedient and humble Servant.
    MOLLOY, Sergeant'

    This is how the Highlandmen might have looked up to the Ruthven Barracks before their assault.

    For this conduct, Sergeant Molloy was promoted to Lieutenant on 12 September 1745 (which makes him one of the rare examples of being promoted from the ranks, so a real-life ‘Richard Sharpe’).

    Still, that’s not the end. The Jacobites – again under the command of John Gordon of Glenbucket - came back on the 10 February 1746 and this time they had brought artillery with them. John Gordon of Glenbucket wrote the following note to now Lieutenant Molloy and asked for surrender:

    Quote Originally Posted by John Gordon of Glenbucket
    There are by his R.H. Order. I send you this to desire you will surrender, without Loss of Time, to give up the Barrack, and so render yourselves Prisoners at Discretion; or these are to certify, you are to expect no Mercy. GORDON.
    The answer of Lieutenant Molloy was considerably longer – in which he offered John Gordon of Glenbucket his own terms:

    Quote Originally Posted by Lieutenant Trevor Molloy
    Sir, I don't see but I am in a Condition to make a good Defence in my Garrison. Still I know I cannot stand a long regular Siege, especially against Cannon; yet I am resolved to the last Extremity, in every respect, to sustain the Character of a Gentleman, and to answer the Expectation and Confidence of my Royal Master, with Regard to what he has committed to my Trust. To be brief, I will not surrender until your Prince's Approach to this place, and then upon the following Conditions only; 1st. That my Men and I be humanely treated, as I am inform'd of the Revenge and Threats denounced against us by the Clans who attacked this Garrison last August. 2nd, That we shall not be rifled or pillaged; and that your Prince grant me my Parole of Honour, and set my men at Liberty as he has done other Prisoners hitherto, considering the Difference betwix Prisoners of this Kind, and those taken in the Field of Battle - Gen. Gordon, an experienced humane Officer, can't deny this reasonable Intreaty; and upon Preformance thereof, I will deliver the Keys of the Garrison to your Prince, and upon giving a Guarantee to fulfill the above Conditions. Further I permit Gen. Gordon to send his Horses and Grooms to my Stables this night, without Arms: All I require for my Honour and Security on this Head, is, that Col. Grant may be permitted to stay as a Hostage in my House until the Prince's Arrival.
    Of course, those conditions were not fulfilled. As Lieutenant Molloy himself remarked the Barracks could not withstand a regular siege with artillery. So the garrison had to surrender the next day. But at least part Molloy's conditions seem to have been accepted as he and his men were released on parole and travelled to Perth. So they missed what came next.

    We all know how the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 was defeated at Culloden. After the battle of Culloden up to 1500 men of the Jacobite army (mostly units from the Lowlands but also elements the Royal Ecossois and most of the surviving Jacobite cavalry) rallied at the Ruthven Barracks. For himself, Bonnie Prince Charlie decided against going the Barracks and fled to the north searching for a passage back to France. His final message to the men waiting arrived on 19 April 1746 and was:

    ‘Let every man seek his own safety in the best way he can’.

    This they did but in order to prevent the Ruthven Barracks ever being used by Hanoverian troops the remnants of the Jacobite army burned them down. Now the story of the Ruthven Barracks has ended but as a short footnote, here is what happened to the man who defended the Barracks so well twice:

    Lieutenant Molloy was eventually promoted to Captain-Lieutenant and managed to fight his way out of the disastrous Battle of the Monongahela. After this battle, it seems like he had seen enough as he sold his commission on 5th November 1755 and disappeared from history.


    Stuart Reid, 1745 – A Military History, Spellmount, 1996
    J. Johnstone, Romantic Badenoch: a guide book compiled for the benefit of visitors to the district, 1904
    Chris Tabraham and Doreen Grove, Fortress Scotland and the Jacobites, Historic Scotland, 2001

    The photos are taken by me.