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The Extraordinary Evidence of Mathematician Richard Jack at Cope's 'Court Martial'

Wednesday September 24th 1746: The Great Room at The Horse-Guards

Mr Richard Jack was called before the Board of Cope's Examination, the Board having been informed that he had been with the King's Troops before and at the Action in Prestonpans. He introduced himself as a "Professor of Mathematics and had made some improvements in Gunnery"; and that he took Arms as a Volunteer and was employed by the Magistrates in Edinburgh to review the fortifications and was also sent by the Lord Advocate to inform him of the number of the rebels encamped by Arthur's Seat on September 19th. He counted 2740 and reported this to Sir John Cope then in Haddington at 7pm. At this meeting Jack asserted he was asked by Cope to manage the cannon for the King's Troops because he had no one to trust; and was assured that the goodness of the powder, the quantity of cartridges and hands to work the guns were in good order.

Cope could not remember any of the specifics of such a meeting in Haddington and another witness George Drummond contradicted Jack's role in Edinburgh stating that the Professor of Mathematics employed by the city was Colin McLaurin and that Jack had been a member of the Committee and was a private teacher of mathematics. [Thus from the outset the evidence of Jack was characterised by Cope and others as exaggerated and at times simply imagined.]

Jack Claims to have Advised Colonel Whiteford on Dislodging the Rebels from Tranent Churchyard on September 20th and much more

Jack asserted and was contradicted by Cope that he had ensured that two cannons were fired towards the churchyard rather than cohorns, which he insisted were faulty. Mr Griffith, the Conductor of the Train, together with Colonel Whiteford pointed and fired the cannons with the assistance of the sailors. What Jack was acknowledged to have done was to put a new plummet to the quadrant for the elevation of the cohorns since it was broken. Apart from that he had been shown to be so awkward about what was necesary that Colonel Whiteford set him aside and fired all the cannons himself.

Jack Claims he shared in the Action from about 5am on the 21st when the Rebels were discovered

Jack made all manner of confused statements about rising ground and the positioning of the guns to the left, his role in reconnaisance and firings he made with nine sailors that threw down files of rebels. Cope simply denies Jack did such a thing or could have done so. The cannons were not divided to the left and right - although that had been desired when it was seen that the Highlanders outflanked Cope to the left but the absence of horse had prevented it. They were all to the right of the redcoat ranks as they faced the Highlanders. And as for sailors, there were none to be seen.

Finally, Jack asserts that three Officers including Cope rode off at 6am before the dragoons fled

Furthermore Jack asserted that the dragoons fled before a shot was fired by the Highlanders. This was all too much for Cope personally who greatly resented the "aspertion Mr Jack has most unjustly thrown at me" and asked the Board to re-examine the evidence that showed he behaved in quite an opposite manner.

Jack continued that the Foot had continued making firings well after the dragoons had departed initially to a field close by Bankton House before their ultimate flight to Birsley Brae and beyond. The artillery had also fired twice more on the Rebels after they had paased the cannon. The only officer on horseback he saw was a wounded Colonel Gardiner who was present when the right flank of the infantry broke and the Colonel cried out: "O my God, all is gone!"

Memory is a defective thing?

The most charitable thing that can be said of Mr Richard Jack is that he was on a field of battle for the first time and almost totally overwhelmed emotionally by it all. By his own admission he had never fired a cannon. And as with so many witnesses he found it almost impossible to recall what exactly he saw. Sir John Cope was naturally unamused and saw it as "a number of facts both false and malicious supported by no evidence but his own assertion; and, as the contrary of what Mr Jack has been advanced, has been proved by a great number of gentlemen of undoubted character, he hoped that what Mr Jack has said will be on no weight".

And so it transpired.

Published Date: October 17th 2007


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