HISTORIANS and academics face having to rewrite some of the history surrounding the Jacobite Risings of 1715 and 1745 thanks to the donation to Aberdeen University of a long-running diary of the time.

The diary of Fraserburgh man Alexander Smith who lived through both Risings has been gifted to the University where academics are gaining new insights into the ’15 and ‘45 and their devastating economic impact.

Dr Kirsteen MacKenzie, a lecturer in history at the University of Aberdeen describes the diary as a “unique source for the period” providing historians with new evidence from the perspective of an ordinary working man who was not involved in either Rising and appears to have had no affiliation to either the Jacobites or Hanoverians.

Nonetheless, his life – like many others living in the Aberdeenshire town – was deeply affected by the events of both 1715 and 1745, something commonly omitted from descriptions of this turbulent period in Scotland’s history.

“The diary in which Alexander Smith looks back on his life was donated to the University’s Special Collections by a descendant of Smith,” said Dr MacKenzie.

“I was a volunteer in the archives at the time and it immediately took my interest and it is a truly fascinating account of the Jacobite Rebellions, told from a perspective I’ve never come across before and about a region for which little information exists when it comes to these events.

“There has been a huge amount of research into the Jacobite cause, the key events and battles and the political and cultural impact of the uprisings but we still know little of how deeply they affected ordinary people with no direct connection to the rebellion. Smith’s diary changes this and we can see just how widespread the impact on ordinary men and women was.”

Smith records the problems of maintaining a workforce with many of his colleagues abandoning their posts to join the Jacobite cause. He also writes of the fear caused by the presence of soldiers.

Dr MacKenzie, pictured, adds: “Smith notes that when Jacobite armies come through the area, work stops completely. It is not hard to see why this would be the case – Smith is employed to build and repair homes and to make furniture – with armies in the region and the threat that villages could be destroyed, no one wants to pay for this type of work. “When it is time for Smith to be paid, he doesn’t get paid and never really recovers financially again.

“It is remarkable to have this level of detail available to us about the indirect effects of the Jacobite Rebellions and it complements the University’s other Jacobite holdings to help us build a more detailed picture of life in Scotland at this time.”

Dr MacKenzie has shared details of Smith’s diary and the University of Aberdeen’s extensive Jacobite collection as part of a podcast for the popular Outlander television series which can be viewed online http://www.outlanderpod.com/.

ANALYSIS: ‘Ordinary’ man who holds a key to Scots history

FIRST point to note: Aberdeen University refer to the ’15 and ’45 as the Jacobite Rebellions. In deference to the feelings of many Scots, we will call them the Jacobite Risings, for they were wars fought to reinstate the Stuarts on the throne which they had been forced to surrender by the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688.

So what should we make of diarist extraordinaire Alexander Smith, who was born in the late 17th century to “lowly stock”, as his parents were termed?

The fact was that Smith was poorly educated at first, but served an apprenticeship as a squarewright, the equivalent of a modern-day joiner.

He was very, very good at his trade, and by 1715 he was earning enough money to live independently.

Though he did not declare himself either a Jacobite or a Hanoverian, it is very likely that he would have been in daily contact with the kind of people who joined the Rising – the upper and middle classes of the north-east of Scotland, many of whom were Episcopalians.

Smith describes how Fraserburgh declined economically during both Risings and how Jacobite and Hanoverian soldiers came to the town more than once. We know that after the ’45, for instance, the Hanoverian army ruthlessly searched the town for weapons left by John Forbes of Culloden and Lord Lovat.

Following the 1715 Rebellion, during which Smith had to return to his parents’ home, the diarist’s fortunes improved throughout the 1720s and 1730s. By the 1740s he was in charge of thriving family business and made furniture for the grand houses of the north east and built manses for the Church of Scotland.

Then came the 1745 Rising, and this time the impact on Smith and his family was devastating.

The price of wood shot up and he was forced to travel the arduous journey to Lochaber on the west coast to source material, Smith was tempted to go to the black market and he was caught – he was hauled before court in Aberdeen after trying to take wood from a shipwreck. He seemed to go back to work, but did not enjoy any fame.

Aberdeen University is right to be excited about the diary of an “ordinary” man. Historians only wish there were more first-hand accounts by such people as they witnessed the great episodes of Scottish history.