“Hidden Gems”: Three Derby Museums and an unusual gift

In the latest blog from the Georgian Lords, Dr Stuart Handley considers a rare holding by the Derby Museum and Art Gallery. This coincides with the major Jacobite exhibition currently on display at the National Museums of Scotland.

Eighteenth-century Derby may be celebrated in each of the city’s three museums.  The Silk Mill (an early example of a purpose-built factory) designed by Sir Thomas Lombe to manufacture silk using the Italian techniques, knowledge of which was smuggled out of Italy by his half-brother, John Lombe (and now the city’s Industrial Museum); Pickford’s House, built in 1770 by the local-born architect Joseph Pickford (and now Pickford’s House Museum of Georgian Life and Costume); and the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, the home of an extensive collection of the works of the painter, Joseph Wright. This last institution also commemorates the role played by Derby in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The furthest point south reached by the Jacobite army is commemorated by a plaque and by a re-enactment of the skirmish between the Jacobite forces and some Hanoverian troops at Swarkestone Bridge which takes place each December. It was in Exeter House in Derby that Bonnie Prince Charlie held a council of war, which decided to turn back towards Scotland in December 1745 and led to the crushing defeat at Culloden in the following year.

A more surprising exhibit from the collections housed in Derby Museum was revealed during a temporary exhibition on the formation and development of the museum. Imagine my surprise on 13 Sept. 2015 when I wandered round this exhibition, to find a framed letter from Prince Charles to his father, the titular James III, presented to the museum by Queen Victoria. Presumably the letter was once part of the Royal Archives, Stuart papers, now located at Windsor.

Now, one might expect that the letter concerned Derby and the Rebellion, but strangely the letter is dated 22 October 1745 from Edinburgh, so it was written before the Prince began his march into England, and has no connection to Derby at all.

The frame of the letter reads: Donated to Derby Town and County Museum by Queen Victoria in 1873.

The text of the letter is as follows:

                                                                                    Edinburgg 22 Oc. O.S. 1745


I have charged Sir Gems Stuard to carry this as far as Paris, and to forward it immediately by courier to y[ou]r Majesty, as also to write you a distinct account of ye situation of affairs, he is an understanding capable man, and can be depended on, which has made me chuse him to send to ye Fr[ench] C[ourt] with proper compliments to the Fr[ench] K[ing] and to hasten them for succours.  I hope y[ou]r Majesty will be satisfied with his proceedings. I have nothing particular to add but what he can say makes it needless for me to say anymore at present.  I am thank God in perfect good health, but still in ye usual anctiety for want of letters to which there is no help but patience. I lay myself at y[ou]r Majesty’s feet moste humbly asking blessing, and remaining with the profoundest respect

Your moste

Dutifull son

Charles P

P.S. As I writ to you in my last I shall not fail to get rid of Stricland as soon as possible.  Your Majesty I hope will forgive the scrawl, not having time to write it over being so much hurrid with business.


Endorsed   The Prince Octr 22d 1745


To the King


For Jacobite scholars, the letter raises a number of questions. Who was Sir Gems Stewart? Was he the influential Orkneys laird, Sir James Stewart of Burray, arrested there by a party of marines led by Lieutenant Moodie [TNA, SP 6/104/1, f. 80], and who subsequently died in gaol in Southwark in 1746? And who was Strickland? Was he Francis Strickland, who landed on Barra with the Young Pretender at the beginning of his adventures? Strickland had been one of the prince’s companions for a number of years and was viewed with distrust by Charles’s father, but it seems that the decision about what to do with him was taken out of Charles’s hands. Strickland seems to have fallen ill on the march south and was left at Carlisle. By the time Culloden was fought and lost, he was dead. Ironically, then, neither of the men mentioned in the letter made it to Derby with the Young Pretender.


Further Reading:

Christopher Duffy, The ’45: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the untold story of the Jacobite rising, (2003)

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