Jacobites in Australia?

If you enjoy this post you might also like my short piece for History Workshop Online.

An interesting, though largely forgotten, story from European Australia’s foundations in the late-eighteenth century relates to the ongoing suspicion of Jacobite rebels, who were both critical of the British Crown and of the British Empire.

It was under James II that the Jacobite movement had its origins – ‘Jacobitism’ here broadly referring to the political movement between 1688 and the 1780s that sought to restore the Stuart kings to the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland. James II was the last Catholic monarch, and was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

When James II died, King Louis XIV of France recognised James III – the ‘Old Pretender’ – as the rightful heir to the thrones of England and Scotland. His son, Charles III, or variously known as The Young Pretender and Bonnie Prince Charlie, took over the claim to the thrones when James III died in 1766. Throughout the eighteenth century, Jacobite rebellions and associated criticism of the British Crown were outlawed and punished under sedition and treason legislation.

Charles is best known as the leader of the uprising of 1745, which saw the Jacobites suffer military defeat at Culloden.  In the aftermath of ’45, the British government remained wary of another Jacobite uprising: the Highlands were effectively disarmed, the clan system was crushed, and traditional Highland culture outlawed.

Concern about Jacobites, and its attendant anti-Catholicism, evidently lasted into the late-eighteenth century, and found its way to the nascent colony of New South Wales. Manning Clark, whose six-volume A History of Australia is replete with these sorts of forgotten anecdotes, relates the scene of Arthur Phillip’s swearing-in as the colony’s first governor:

… on 13 February, in the presence of the Judge Advocate, Phillip swore on the Bible: ‘I, Arthur Phillip, do declare That I do believe that there is not any Transubstantiation in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper or in the Elements of Bread and Wine at or after the Consecration thereof by any Person whatsoever’. After which he acknowledged and declared George III to be the only lawful and undoubted sovereign of this realm, and that he abjured allegiance to the descendants of the person who pretended to be the Prince of Wales during the reign of James II. He could not have known then that that descendent, Charles Edward Stuart, had died of alcoholic poisoning in Rome on 31 January 1788.

I’m not sure the Crown had good cause to fear the emergence of a Jacobite rogue state under the rule of Charles III and backed by France and the Pope, but the history of a diaspora of exiled and refugee Jacobites beyond Europe is nevertheless worth taking seriously.

The history of such a group  could help to draw connections across time from the original Jacobites to their tartan-clad imitators and successors in the Victorian era – think, for example of Theodore Napier, who kept his version of Jacobitism and Scottish nationalism alive and well in Australia until his death in the 1920s.

While Napier, whose many causes included berating those who used ‘English’ in place of ‘British’, was regarded as merely a “public nuisance”, the fact that Phillip was made to swear allegiance to George III and to explicitly renounce the Young Pretender suggests that, at least once upon a time in Australian history — and in the global history of the Scottish diaspora — Jacobitism was taken more seriously.

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