William Rait - Jacobite Surgeon

In the latest History Scotland magazine there was an article about the clansmen and others who fought at Culloden on 16 April 1746. I wondered if any of our ancestors might have been there - and looking through “A List of Persons concerned in the Rebellion transmitted to the Commissioners of Excise by the Several Supervisors in Scotland in obedience to a General Letter of the 7th May 1746” I came across the name of William Reat, surgeon, son to Dr Reat, abode Dundee, Parish of Dundee, County of Forfar. Under the heading Acts of Rebellion and Circumstances, for William it says Acted as Surgeon in the Pretender’s Son’s Life Guards; and under the heading Where they are now, it states not known.

According to “No quarter given: the Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army”, it seems William Reat (also found as Rait) was the surgeon in the Cavalry (Lifeguards) in Elcho’s Troop under Colonel David Wemyss, Lord Elcho. David, Lord Elcho joined the Prince at Slateford on 16 September 1745 and following action at Prestonpans, two Troops of Lifeguards were formed - the first consisting of some 70 men placed under the command of Lord Elcho as Colonel. The Lifeguards were considered the elite of the cavalry and wore uniforms consisting of a blue coat faced with red and brass buttons, gold laced scarlet waistcoat, gold laced hat and shoulder belt mounted with tartan. At the Battle of Culloden, Elcho’s Troop was on the right flank, and when it was evident that the battle had become a rout, Elcho rode off the field and escaped. On the breakup of the army, the Lifeguards, like all the other regiments, disintegrated and every man had to fend for himself.

William Reat was a surgeon in Dundee - as was possibly his father. The Friends of Dundee City Archives, under the heading Some important Dundee Jacobites just lists him as William Rait, Surgeon - Lifeguards. However, a little further research led me to an article by Major H. A. L. Howell in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps dated 1914 entitled “The Story of the Army surgeon and the care of the sick and wounded in the British Army, from 1715-1748". Here we read about the battle of Culloden and the medical issues. The article concludes that "it remains only to record the names of the rebel medical officers....". There seems to have been some 20 or 30 of them (presumably not counting any who were killed in the battle). A couple of surgeons were captured but later set free. One escaped to France and joined the French Army but was hung, drawn and quartered on his return to Scotland in 1753. Other surgeons who took part in the rebellion and escaped included William Rait, surgeon to the rebel Life Guards who escaped to France after Culloden and who died at Dundee in 1760.

In the British Journal of Surgery for 1945 there is an article by Gordon Gordon-Taylor titled “The medical and surgical aspects of ‘the forty-five’” which gives a little more information. It seems that Sir Stuart Threipland was the chief medical adviser of the Prince until Culloden. After the battle, he ultimately made his escape to Rouen in France and found himself among a coterie of notable Jacobite exiles: Sir Robert Strange, the engraver; William Hamilton of Bangour, the poet; Andrew Lumisden, who was private secretary to both James III and Prince Charles; and William Rait, of Dundee, another surgeon. These two doctors ultimately got back their paternal acres - Threipland returned to Scotland after the amnesty in 1847 and it is likely that William Rait returned with him at the same time.

So who was William Reat (Rait, or even Raitt, as he was referred to later)? I believe he is one of the Raits of Anniston. As noted above his father was a Dr and a Dr George Rait lived and practiced as a physician in Dundee from at least 1712 to 1734. George married Catherine Douglas on 27 July 1713 in Dundee and they had four children, all born in Dundee. Their only son William was baptized in Dundee on 4 April 1718 and like his father, became a physician in Dundee. In the "Dundee Closes Study" by Nicoll and Walker (2003) it is mentioned that Dr William Raitt (sic), an eminent physician, lived in Bogmill's Close in Dundee in the 18th century (renamed Gray's Close in 1810) - though this may also be his son William (see Raits of Anniston).

Dr William Raitt married Agnes Lyon on 4 March 1753 and they had three sons George, John and William) and a daughter. If William Reat/Rait, qualified surgeon in Elcho's Lifeguards, was born in 1718, then in 1746 at Culloden, he was only about 27 or 28, and if he returned to Scotland sometime later under the amnesty of 1747, then he is quite likely to have married in 1753. Although Dr George Rait bought the estate of Anniston in 1732, son William did not inherit it when Dr George Rait of Anneston (sic) died on 10 June 1760 in Dundee aged 76, because Dr William Rait, physician, had himself died in Dundee on 24 March 1760 just a couple of months before his father. Since William's son George apparently died young, then William's son John (presumably now the eldest son) inherited the Anniston estate.  

There is one more intriguing snippet: in "The List of Prisoners of the '45", listed as number 2603 there is Neish, Duncan. His Regiment was given as Ogilvy's. Under the heading Prison Career, we see that he surrendered on 2 May 1746 in Perth; and on 10 August 1746 was in Canongate, Carlisle. Under Ultimate Disposal is the word Acquitted. His home or origin is not given, neither is his age. However under Notes and Authorities, it is recorded that he was "Servant to Mrs William Rait. Was tried at Carlisle 19 Sept 1746 and acquitted". Just which Mrs William Rait this is, is not known - clearly not one of the above Williams, unless George's son was married to an unknown spouse prior to going off to battle!