Thurrock historical people

Jacobite prisoners at Tilbury Fort

The Jacobites - their name being derived from the Latin Jacobus, meaning James - were supporters of James II and his heirs' claim to the English throne. Since 1688 when James fled into exile, his supporters kept alive the hope of a Jacobite restoration, and with it the return of Catholicism to Britain.

Two short-lived and unsuccessful rebellions, in 1715 and 1745, attempted to restore the Stuarts to the English throne. The Old Pretender, James Edward Stuart, son of James II, arrived in Scotland in 1715 to rise against the authority of George I, it was a disastrous failure. His son, the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, returned from exile in France during July 1745.

With a handful of officers he soon raised an army of 3,000 to lead another Scottish rising against George II. Within six weeks he was able to take Edinburgh, and on its surrender Charles proclaimed his father King and continued to rout the English force under Sir John Cope at Prestonpans. However, he did not press home his advantage but waited in Edinburgh and did not cross the English border until November.

Battle of Culloden

By this time the English Forces had assembled some 10,000 men under the command of William, Duke of Cumberland, son of George II. Charles retreated his forces to the Scottish Highlands. On 15th April 1746 the two armies met on Culloden Moor, and prepared for battle. A superior English force heavily defeated the tired and hungry Jacobite army. After the Duke of Cumberland ordered that "no quarter" be given, the Jacobites were pursued and cut down without mercy. The battle of Culloden was the last major battle fought on British soil.

After the Battle

Some 3,470 prisoners had been taken, including men, women and children. It had been decided by the Privy Council in London that the prisoners of the rising in Scotland should be tried in England, thus demonstrating a total lack of trust in the Scots at that time and the determination to break the back of the rebellion and Highlanders' cause, despite it breaching the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England.
The prisoners were mainly taken to Inverness and on the 10th June, seven leaky transport ships named Margaret & Mary , Thane of Fife, Jane of Leith, Jane of Alloway, Dolphin, and the Alexander & James, set sail for England under the escort of H.M.S. Winchelsea. The Duke of Newcastle first required the Savoy Barracks in London to be prepared to accept the prisoners, and then on 18th June reported that, "His Majesty having been pleased to direct that three hundred of the rebel prisoners which are now on transports in the River should be carried to Tilbury Fort, in order to be kept there until His Majesty's further pleasure shall be known".

Transported to Tilbury Fort

The first recorded mention of Jacobite prisoners at Tilbury Fort is on 11 August, when at least 268 prisoners were landed, a redundant gun powder magazine building in the southeast bastion of the fort being used as the prison. Other prisoners fared less well, as they stayed on the transport ships or prison hulks moored in the river, however the inhumane conditions brought on cases of typhus and general sickness, and it was agreed the transports could move off station and anchor close to Tilbury Fort so that prisoners could be "daily landed for air and may be attended by the apothecary". By the 11th of September 1746 the number of prisoners in the fort had dwindled to 223, 45 having died.

The Scottish History Society has published, in three well-documented volumes, "Prisoners of the '45", which lists 3,470 people known to be in custody. Some had played prominent parts in the Rising, others were accused of nothing more serious than that they had been heard to "wish the rebels well" or to have drunk the Prince's health. Such charges, however, could mean transportation, even death. Prisoners at Tilbury were selected for trial on the basis of every 20th man, this was decided by 'lotting', utilising a beaver hat containing 19 white slips and 1 black slip of paper.

It is recorded that one hundred and twenty prisoners were executed: four of them, peers of the realm, were executed on Tower Hill including the 80 year old Lord Lovat, who was the last person to be beheaded in public in England, beheading being a privilege of their rank: the others suffered the barbaric ritual of hanging, drawing and quartering. The remainder were dealt with in various ways: 936 were transported to the colonies, there to be sold to the highest bidder: 222 were banished, being allowed to choose their country of exile: 1,287 were released or exchanged: others died, escaped, or were pardoned and there were nearly 700 whose fates could not be traced.

A number of State papers exist, relating to the condition, expenses, administration and disposal of prisoners, as ultimately court proceedings resulted in execution, transportation, deportation, pardons, and deaths while in captivity. During this time the Long Ferry ran sailings from Westminster around the Tilbury prison hulks for sightseers provided with scented handkerchiefs to combat the smell while later on it was possible to gain entry to Tilbury Fort to view the prisoners. The last recorded prisoner of the '45 rebellion was released from Tilbury Fort some time after January 1749/50.

Today Tilbury Fort is under the guardianship of English Heritage and is regarded as one of the finest examples of 17th century fortifications in the country. However, re-modelling in the 19th and 20th centuries, upgrading the gun batteries for continued defence of the capital, has resulted in some of the buildings used for imprisoning the Scottish rebels being destroyed. The original magazine building used as a prison still survives encased within the later redevelopment of the Victorian gun battery in the southeast bastion. Public access is at present not possible due to health and safety concerns in this area, but it is hoped future interpretation and repairs will allow mention of the events at Tilbury Fort following the Jacobite Rising of 1745. On the 16th July 1998, at Tilbury Fort, a memorial stone of granite, recovered from Culloden Moor, with a dedication to the prisoners of the '45 who died in captivity was officially unveiled.


  • Panorama Number 15, winter 1971-72, Pages 44-58 " Tilbury Fort and the Jacobite Rebellion" by Michael Southern
  • Tilbury Fort Guide, English Heritage by Andrew Saunders, 1987
  • The Kings and Queens of England, Plantagenet Somerset Fry, 1993
  • Culloden Guide book, National Trust of Scotland, 1984
  • Tilbury Fort, Prisoner Lists of 1746/50, English Heritage, 1984
  • The Prisoners of the '45, by Seton and Arnot
  • 'SPEED BONNY BOAT...' Tilbury Fort and the '45 Rebellion, by Randal Bingley
  • Essex Journal Vol. 31, No.2, 1996