BONNIE JEANIE CAMERON., G. E. Todd (Mar., 1895), pp.157-160.

“MR JOSEPH BAIN, in SCOTS LORE for February (p. 112), breaks a gallant lance on behalf of a lady. “There is”, he says, “a pitiful story in the Sketch-Book of the North, p. 18, of a Jeanie Cameron who followed Prince Charles Edward to France, was forgotten or cast off, returned to Scotland to find her family door shut upon her, and became a beggar in Edinburgh in the end of last century – vouched for by someone who had seen her begging in a tobacco shop.” “Mr. Eyre-Todd,” he continues, “must have been imposed upon, for there is a notice of this lady in the History of East Kilbride (Lanarkshire) by the Rev. David Ure, 1793, p. 165.” The passage to which Mr. Bain alludes may be quoted here. The full name of the work to which he refers is the History of Rutherglen and East Kilbride, by David Ure, A.M., Preacher of the Gospel.

In mentioning the places of note in the parish of East Kilbride, Mount Cameron should by no means be omitted. It is a small eminence about three-quarters of a mile south-east from Kilbride; and on which is built a neat and commodious dwelling-house. This place, formerly called Blacklaw, takes its present name from MRS. JEAN CAMERON, a Lady of a distinguished family, character, and beauty. Her zealous attachment to the house of Stuart, and the active part she took to support its interest, in the year 1745, made her well known through Britain. Her enemies, indeed, took unjust freedom with her good name; but what can the unfortunate expect from a fickle and misjudging world. The revengeful and malicious, especially if good fortune is on their side, seldom fail to put the worst construction on the purest and most disinterested motives. Mrs. Cameron, after the public scenes of her life were over, took up her residence in the solitary and bleak retirement of Blacklaw. But this vicissitude, so unfriendly to aspiring minds, did not throw her into despair. Retaining to the last the striking remains of a graceful beauty, she spent a considerable part of her time in the management of domestic affairs. She showed, by her conversation on a great variety of subjects, that she had a discernment greatly superior to the common. But politics was her favourite topic; and her knowledge of that subject was not confined to those of her own country. The particular cast of her mind, especially during the latter part of her life, was rather melancholy. A vivacity, however, that was natural to her constitution often enlivened her features and conversation. Her whole deportment was consistent with that good breeding, unaffected politeness, and friendly generosity which characterise the people of rank in the Highlands of Scotland. She was not remarkable for a more than ordinary attachment to any system of religious opinions or mode of worship, which is not always the case with the unfortunate. She attended divine service in the parish church, in which she joined with becoming devotion. Her brother and his family, of all her friends, paid her the greatest attention. She died in the year 1773, and was buried at Mount Cameron among a clump of trees adjoining to the house. Her grave is distinguished by nothing but a turf of grass, which is now almost equal with the ground. 

Here, it is evident, is quite another pair of sleeves, and obviously enough, as Mr. Bain says, this circumstantial account does not accord with the story of the poor beggar. The critic, however, goes on to say – “As there can hardly have been two Jean Camerons of such note in 1745, it must be concluded that the heroine of the ballad was not the mendicant, but the lady of Mount Cameron.”

This is where the curious part of the question comes in. Presuming that the worthy author of the History of East Kilbride made no mistake in his facts, there can be no manner of doubt whatever that, in the latter half of the last century, there were two Jean Camerons, both claiming the doubtful honour of having been the “bonnie Jeanie Cameron” attached to Prince Charles; and that, while one of them was a lady evidently of some estate, the other was a mendicant in Edinburgh of exactly the peculiar characteristics detailed in the Sketch-Book of the North.

The incident recorded in the Sketch-Book was told to the writer and other members of the Glasgow Ballad Club by Mr. W. V. Jackson, who sings the quaint old song of “Bonnie Jeanie Cameron” with striking effect. It was one of Mr. Jackson’s forebears who was buying snuff in the Edinburgh shop when the beggar came in and silently received a groat*, and to whom the snuff-seller confided the fact that the recipient of his charity was no man, though in man’s clothes, but a woman, and no other than Jeanie Cameron, the Prince’s too ardent follower in the ’45. It is not likely that Mr. Jackson’s tradition has varied greatly while being handed down in connection with the ballad; but fortunately it can be supported by a piece of evidence from another source. In Traditions of Edinburgh by Robert Chambers, 1825, vol. ii. p. 190, appears the following note:-

JEANIE CAMERON, the mistress of Prince Charles Edward (so often alluded to in Tom Jones), was seen by an old acquaintance of ours, standing upon the streets of Edinburgh, about the year eighty-six [1786]. She was dressed in men’s clothes, and had a wooden leg. This celebrated and once attractive beauty, whose charms and Amazonian gallantry had captivated a Prince, afterwards died in a stair-fit, somewhere in the Canongate. 

In the light of such conflicting evidence it would be hard to say whether the lady of Mount Cameron or the beggar of the Canongate was the actual heroine of the Prince’s amour. In any case Mr. Bain must be thanked for his effort, by such an out-of-the-way bit of information, to, shall we say, rehabilitate the lady, and set her upon her proper legs.

The ballad of “Bonnie Jeanie Cameron,” and its quaint, old-world tune, have recently been printed in Ancient Scots Ballads, with their Traditional Airs (Bayley & Ferguson, Glasgow and London), but for the sake of completing the reference it may be quoted here. 

BONNIE JEANIE CAMERON

 

Ye’ll a’ hae heard tell o’ bonnie Jeanie Cameron, 
How she fell sick, and she was like to dee, 
And a’ that they could recommend her 
Was ae blithe blink o’ the Young Pretender. 
Rare, oh rare, bonnie Jeanie Cameron! 
Rare, oh rare, Jeanie Cameron! 
 
To Charlie she wrote a very long letter, 
Stating who were his friends and who were his foes; 
And a’ her words were sweet and tender, 
To win the heart o’ the Young Pretender. 
Rare, oh rare, bonnie Jeanie Cameron! 
Rare, oh rare, Jeanie Cameron! 
 
Scarcely had she sealed the letter wi’ a ring, 
When up flew the door, and in cam’ her king: 
She prayed to the saints, and bade angels defend her, 
And sank i’ the arms o’ the Young Pretender. 
Rare, oh rare, bonnie Jeanie Cameron! 
Rare, oh rare, Jeanie Cameron! 

GEORGE EYRE-TODD.”

 

* An old Scottish coin worth fourpence. 

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