He was born in Craighall Castle,near Blairgowrie, Perthshire in Scotland, the family seat of Clan Rattray. His father was Clan Chief Thomas Rattray, Laird of Craighall from 1692, Bishop of Dunkeld and Brechin and in time, Primus of Scottish Episcopal Church.
The family was strongly Jacobite with Royal Stuart blood connections to King James IV. His elder brother James inherited the Chieftainship and estates. John Rattray trained as a surgeon in Edinburgh, lived in Foulis Close on the Royal Mile and joined the Surgeons of Edinburgh (later Royal College Of Surgeons) as a Fellow in 1740. No painting of him survives.
'The Goff' by Rev. Thomas Mathison (1720–1760) is thought to be the first poem devoted to the sport of golf published in 1743. Rattray was also a skilled golfer and is celebrated in the mock heroic poem ('fam'd field' is Leith Links; 'great Forbes' is his golf partner Lord Duncan Forbes).
'North from Edina eight furlongs and more
Lies that fam’d field, on Fortha’s sounding shore,
Here Caledonian chiefs for health resort,
Confirm their sinews by the manly sport....
Rattray for skill, and Crosse for strength renowned,
Stuart and Leslie beat the sandy ground....
Yea here great Forbes, patron of the just,
The dread of villains and the good man’s trust
When spent with toils in serving human kind,
His body recreates and unbends his mind..'
The Right Rev Thomas Rattray and father of John Rattray about 1713. (Credit Rattray Family)
'Rattray's prowess as a sportsman was already well known. He was a member of the Royal Company of Archers, who since 1709,competed for the Edinburgh (Silver) Arrow, often on the Links of Leith. It is believed that this annual event involving the best bowmen in the country, was the inspiration for the introduction of the Silver Club. Rattray had already won the Arrow in 1735 and by doing so the same in 1744, he had the distinction of holding both trophies in the same year. He proceeded to win the Silver Club on Leith Links for a second time in 1745.
Later that same year, following the Battle of Prestonpans, he joined (some say he was press-ganged into) the Jacobite uprising. As well as being a very fine sportsman, he was also a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. By the time of the Battle of Culloden on 16th April 1746, he had become the Personal Physician to Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and Surgeon General of his Army. After the battle, Rattray was imprisoned in Inverness. Upon seeing him, Lord Cathcart, aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland, said "Mr Rattray, I am sorry to see you there and I am afraid it will go hard with you." Officers from the Hanoverian forces were reported as saying "We know well what you are sir, the Pretender's Surgeon. If anyone hangs, you shall."
Lord Duncan Forbes, the Lord President of the Court of Session and Scotland's most senior judge, was a firm supporter of the Hanoverian cause and also a regular golfing partner of John Rattray. He made a personal plea of intercession on behalf of the prisoner to the Duke of Cumberland and thereby saved his life. However, his release was short-lived, as John Rattray refused to 'turn evidence'. On the Duke of Cumberland's orders, he was re-arrested and taken to London on 28th May. Once the post-battle trials and general state of nervousness had subsided, Rattray agreed to sign an oath of obedience.
Finally, with the continuing support of Forbes, he was allowed to return to Edinburgh in January 1747. Rattray carried on his work as a surgeon and continued to play golf as before with his good friend Lord Duncan Forbes until the latter passed away on 10 December of that same year. John Rattray won the Silver Club for the third and final time in 1751. He died 20 years later at his home on Leith Walk, Edinburgh, on 5th July 1771. He was the father of four daughters and three sons.
In 1754, twenty-two Noblemen and Gentlemen of Fife subscribed for their own Silver Club to be played at St Andrews. With the exception of one minor change, they adopted the original Articles & Laws signed by John Rattray ten years earlier. The Society of St Andrews Golfers gradually assumed the role of custodian of the traditions of the sport and was granted the title of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1834 by King William IV. Its position as the golf's legislative authority was confirmed in 1897 when, to satisfy demand for a uniform code of rules, the R&A appointed the first Rules of Golf Committee.
John Rattray would probably be amazed at how far the sport has come since 1744. He would be proud of the fact that golf today is a global sport and the rules that can be traced back to the Thirteen Articles which he signed, now apply to every golf-playing nation, administered jointly by The R&A and USGA since 1 January 1952. Together, they ensure that the millions of golfers playing throughout the world do so using the very same self-governing rules.'
After earlier Uprisings in 1710 and 1715 during the reign of his father King George I, the British Government considered 1745 to be the third Jacobite Uprising. King George II's son, the Duke of Cumberland, considered Jacobites as traitors to the British Crown and Government and so treated them harshly. However, there was often more than one reason for the Uprising leaders becoming Jacobite supporters: a rejection of 1707 Union of Parliaments; loyally supporting a Clan Chief; a rejection of imposed worship and, lastly, restoration of a Stuart monarch. Between 1,000 to 1,500 of Jacobite and about 50 Hanoverian soldiers died in the Battle.
Summary trials and executions were held in Carlisle, York and London as well as deportations to overseas colonies. A notable Jacobite of Leith, Lord Balmerino (of Balmerino House near Kirkgate street), had already been pardoned after the 1715 uprising. He was beheaded (a noble's execution for treason) on Tower Hill in London 1746 alongside Lord Kilmarnock. John Wedderburn, one of the Jacobite's forceful Excise Collectors, was hanged, drawn and quartered (a commoner's execution for treason) on London's Kennington Common on 28th November 1746. Awaiting trial in a prison ship, this was John Rattray's likely fate.
By 1747, the British public's support for the trials began to change as a result of: the severity of punishments; the legal pleadings against executions from senior figures like Lord Forbes and, finally, the English Civil War experience when general pardons helped overcome rivalries and bad blood. It was in this climate that John Rattray agreed to sign the Oath of Allegiance in London, was pardoned and returned to Edinburgh in 1747.