Alexander Cameron (priest)

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Alexander Cameron (priest)

  • Scottish Priest
  • Missionary
  • Military Chaplain
Alexander Cameron.jpg
Fr. Alexander Cameron, kneeling in prayer with the Jacobite Army before the Battle of Prestonpans.
BornAlexander Cameron S.J.
Achnagarry, Scotland
DiedOctober 19, 1746(1746-10-19) (aged 44–45)
Gravesend, London
Venerated inCatholic Church
Feast19th October
  • Difficult Conversions
  • Military Chaplains
  • New Evangelisation
  • Scottish Highlands

Alexander Cameron S.J. (1701 - 19 October 1746) was a Scottish Jesuit Priest who was captured and tortured to death for being a Catholic priest and chaplain to the Jacobite Army. Cameron was the brother of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, who led a regiment in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.[1]

Early life

Alexander Cameron was born in September 1701 to John Cameron of Lochiel in Achnagarry, Scotland.[2] He was the brother of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, who would later become the clan chief and lead a regiment in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion.[3] Alexander was raised Episcopalian, and was educated in Achnagarry and also attended a boarding school in St. Ninian's near Stirling.[4] As a young man, he travelled to the West Indies on family business, where he found little satisfaction.[5] He then joined the French army, after which he travelled Europe. Upon landing in Rome, he found work with the Stuart household, where he worked as a servant and encountered the Catholic faith.[3]

Conversion to catholicism

During his time at the Stuart household, where he was "one of the Bedchamber to the Pretender in Rome", Cameron converted to Catholicism.[6] It is noted that he was heavily influenced by two sources, Fr. John Farqhuarson S.J. and also his uncle Alan Cameron, who had played a great part in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715.[7] Alexander decided to write to his brother, Donald Cameron of Lochiel, in which he explains his reasons for converting to the Catholic faith:

″I doubt not that a piece of extraordinary news, like that of my being converted to the Catholic Faith, and quitting of the religion in which I was bred up, and educate, will at first surprise you and my Relations. I should be sorry ever to do anything whereby I would run the risque of incurring the displeasure of a Brother whom I so much love and esteem, but in an affair of so great Consequence as this is, and whereupon alone my Este mall Salvation depends, my first duty is to God."[8]

However, it is obvious that Alexander knew that this conversion would not be well-received by his family in Scotland, and he asks that he will still be able to contact them:

"I have seen most of the splendours and riches of this World, and have had occasion to be in some of its most beautiful Countries but never could find out real happiness or contentment in it: and I thank God for it, I only now can say that I have found really riches in possessing nothing. I have no check of conscience and if I could with all this flatter myself that my Brothers and Relations had the same regard for me as formerly, my happiness would be complete; if they have not God forgive them, I do. If I cannot have the pleasure of seeing you and living in the same Country with you, let me have the satisfaction, at a distance, of being loved by you as one Brother ought to be by another; if we never are to meet let me at least have the pleasure of corresponding with you, and hearing from you. I have no other favourite now to ask of you and my Relations but the continuance of your love and affections to me as formerly; for money, I neither want any at present or ever will put you to any trouble upon that account."[8]

In another letter, Alexander tells his brother how he thinks it only right that the Cameron clan ought to be Catholic, lamenting that the clan had broken ties with the Catholic Church and reminding Donald that the penitent clan chief Young Ewen of Lochiel had built seven Churches in Lochaber centuries before.[8] Alexander also condemned the tendency in the protestant faiths to leave religion to be a subject only clerics, rather than encouraging Catholics to find God and seek the truth in the world around them.[8]

Priestly ministry

Alexander Cameron went to Douai in 1730 , and entered the Society of Jesus at Tournai on 30th September 1734 and took his first vows on 1st October 1736.[2] He was ordained a Priest in 1740, and returned to Scotland in June 1741.[2] It is noted that Fr. Alexander was very successful in his mission to the highland vicariate where he lived.[9] In a report to their General Assembly, the local Presbyterian ministers had noted that there was one Mr Alexander Cameron who “hath lately settled in the part of Strathglass that pertains to Lord Lovet, and is employed as a Popish Missionary in that neighbourhood and Glenstrathfarrar, and trafficks with great success; and he hath great advantage by his connection with the inhabitants of Lochaber.” [7]

Fr. Alexander lived with two other Jesuits, one Fr. John Farqhuarson who had been influential in Fr. Alexander’s conversion, and also a Fr. Charles Farqhuarson, who was Fr. John’s brother. Dom. Odo Blundell of Fort Augustus Abbey identified the dwelling place of the holy priest, noting that it was under the cliff of a big boulder at Brae of Craskie in Glenannich. This dwelling was the very centre of the Catholic mission in Lochaber at the time, where Fr. Alexander ministered to the Catholics secretively. It is known also that living in this dwelling almost put Fr. Alexander ‘at death’s door’ in the winter because of the harsh conditions. He refused to take comfort in the warmness of Beaufort Castle so that he could continue to minister to the locals in Glenannich throughout the winter.[10] Lord Lovat wrote to Fr. Alexander’s brother, Donald, begging him to order Fr. Alexander to come nearer to Beaufort Castle, where Lord Lovat would “furnish him with all the conveniences of Life”, rather than let him perish in the harsh winters of Glenannich. Despite the requests of Lord Lovat, Fr. Alexander chose to remain in the cold and continued to minister to Catholics hidden in the area.

Lord Lovat, being a Catholic himself, made provisions for the priests frequently. Fr. Alexander said Mass in Mass-houses provided by Lord Lovat in Crochail and Strathfarrar. However, by the order of the Presbytery of Inverness, Lord Lovat had to close these houses.[11]

Capture and death

In 1745, Fr. Alexander was enlisted as a chaplain to Cameron of Lochiel’s Regiment, which itself had three chaplains (a Presbyterian, an Episcopalian, and a Catholic).[12] On the evening before Culloden, Fr. Alexander was known to have celebrated a Mass on Culloden battlefield for the soldiers of his regiment, wearing a tartan chasuble – a fragment of which is preserved to this day.[13]

After the loss at Culloden, Fr. Alexander fled to escape the British Army. He was captured at Morar,[14] and held in captivity by the notorious Captain Ferguson, and taken as prisoner upon the HMS Furnace.SHS, Lyon in Mourning ii, 216.</ref> It is noted that Fr. Alexander was “brutalised” by Ferguson, who then put him in iron chains among the ropes and cables of the ship.[15] Fr. Alexander took fatally ill as a result of his maltreatment by Ferguson. Lord Albemarble ordered that Fr. Alexander be taken ashore following a doctor’s report, but Ferguson ignored the command. Some others even tried to organise proper bedding for Fr. Alexander, to which Ferguson replied that he would sink this boat and theirs if anyone dared to aid the dying Priest.

When the ship was eventually anchored in the Thames, Fr. Alexander died from neglect and severe illness, with Fr. John Farquharson by his side - the very priest who had first shown Fr. Alexander the light of the Catholic faith.[16] [17] He was buried in the nearest cemetery to the boat.

Devotion and canonisation

The Knights of St. Columba at the University of Glasgow have launched a campaign for the canonisation of Fr. Alexander Cameron, "with the hope that he will become a great saint for Scotland and that our nation will merit from his intercession."[18] They have erected a small petition book at their altar of St. Joseph in the University Catholic Chapel, Turnbull Hall. It is one of the necessary prerequisites for Canonisation in the Roman Catholic Church that there is a Cult of Devotion to the saint.[18]

The Knights are also distributing prayer cards, with a prayer for the canonisation of Fr. Alexander Cameron written by Jamie McGowan KSC. It reads:

O God, who will that every nation and people be converted unto you, you gave s Father Alexander Cameron as a preacher of the gospel, so that Scotland may once again love the Faith entire and true.

May his example of humble ministry in the midst of greater danger stir up in us a zeal for the Gospel. May his capturing, enduring of torture, suffering and death be an exemplary witness to the one true faith so that by imitating his courage we might surrender to the Divine Will.

Through his intercession, hear our petitions for the conversion of Scotland and for the conversion of our own hearts, so that brought to closer unity with you, we may more faithfully contemplate the truth and show forth the fruits of that contemplation.

Father Alexander, please pray for this particular intention.

Heavenly Father, grant that Father Alexander may be deemed worthy of canonisation, so that we may merit from his intercession, for the glory of your Church, the praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the evangelisation of our nation. Amen.[18]

It is unclear whether Fr. Alexander can be considered a martyr; he was captured and tortured as a result of his administration of the sacraments to the soldiers at Culloden, but his death was only a consequence of the maltreatment rather than a direct and intentional murder. The torture was certainly carried out in odium fidei as this note will later describe, but he died because of the illness that followed the maltreatment.

The image we have of him is from a Tapestry commissioned by the Lord Marquess of Bute entitled “The Prayer for Victory” by William Skeoch Cummings, which depicts the Jacobite army kneeling in prayer before the Battle of Prestonpans. Fr. Alexander Cameron S.J. can be seen genuflecting at the very forefront of the painting.


  1. MacWilliam, A. S, (1973). 'A Highland mission: Strathglass, 1671-1777'. IR xxiv. pp. 95–99.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Oliver, George (1845). Collections Towards Illustrating the Biography of the Scotch, English, and Irish Members, of the Society of Jesus. C. Dolman.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Wynne, Thomas (2010-08-30). "The Conversion of Alexander Cameron". doi:10.3366/inr.1994.45.2.178. Retrieved 2020-03-24.
  4. Cameron, W. (1972). Clan Cameron and their Chiefs: Presbyterians and Jacobite. Inverness: Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness xlvii. p. 415.
  5. Mackenzie. The Cameron. p. 214.
  6. Quoted in MacWilliam, 'Strathglass', 96, and O. Blundell, The Catholic Highlands of Scotland, I (London, 1909) 187.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Blundell, Catholic Highlands, 187.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 'Cameron Memorandum', MS 20310 in vol. xiv of the National Library of Scotland's Catalogue of Manuscripts acquired since 1925.
  9. Blundell, Catholic Highlands, 203.
  10. Blundell, Catholic Highlands, 187-8
  11. PRO, CH/553 vi, 243-6.
  12. A. Livingstone et al. The Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart's Army (Edinburgh, 1984), 33.
  13. Fromm, Joseph (2011-05-21). "Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit: The Jacobite Jesuit: Fr. Alexander Cameron, S.J." Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit. Retrieved 2020-03-24.
  14. Terry, Albemarle Papers, 407-8.
  15. SHS, Lyon in Mourning ii, 216.
  16. According to B. G. Seton and J. G. Arnot, Jacobite Prisoners of the '45 Vol. I (Edinburgh,1928), 224, Alexander Cameron 'died at sea' (aboard the 'Furnace' before reaching the Thames estuary)
  17. Blundell, Catholic Highlands, 188.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 "Knights of St. Columba Council No. 1 - Glasgow University". Retrieved 2020-03-24.

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