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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne

ALTHOUGH this book is essentially the history of one Scottish organization, reference has frequently been made in the narrative to the activities of kindred societies in Victoria. It has been thought appropriate, therefore, to reach an end with a summary of the activities of Scots in Australia as a whole.

The notes that follow are far from being a complete review of their subject. While tracing in outline the impact of Scots on Australia generally, and on the various States besides Victoria, they possibly fail to do justice to several useful movements and probably overlook many significant names. But, at least, they give some indication of the strength of the link that has bound Australia to Scotland during 160 years - from our civilized beginnings to the present time:


Today there are 123 Scottish societies and 70 Highland Pipe Bands distributed throughout the Commonwealth. The oldest continuous body of the kind is the Highland Society of Maryborough, Victoria, which was founded by goldminers and pastoralists in 1857. Aside from their basic object of fostering Scottish culture and fraternity, the societies as a whole have a long record of valuable national and international service.

Scottish hospitals and kindred institutions, several of which obtain in Australia, are mainly based on individual endowments.

Robert Burns is honoured by six statues-in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Ballarat and Canberra-more than those accorded any other person with the possible exception of Queen Victoria. Shakespeare has only one!

Many place-names in Australia are of Scottish origin. They include those of two capital cities, one (Perth) commemorating a centre in Scotland and the other (Brisbane) honouring a Scottish Governor. Victoria narrowly escaped having an even more impressive example, for when Angus McMillan discovered its beautiful eastern province, now known as Gippsland, he attempted to have it termed Caledonia Australis.

An interesting suburban example is Hunter's Hill, Sydney, a name bestowed by the Glasgow "martyr" Thomas Muir, who was transported in 1794 on a trumped-up charge of sedition. Another is Point Piper, which commemorates an Ayrshire man who arrived in Sydney in 1792 and became a distinguished administrator in both Norfolk Island and N.S.W.

The most widely distributed of all Scottish names in Australian territory is that of Lachlan Macquarie ("the greatest and most beneficent Governor Australia has known"), supported by that of his wife, Elizabeth Campbell, and followed by that of the explorer Thomas Mitchell. Among Macquarie's "trophies" are two rivers, two harbours, two towns, two capes, a range, a lake, a strait, a plain, and an island.

Macquarie Island, an area of 55,000 acres, lies 900 miles south of Tasmania. Farther south again is Mac-Robertson Land, a large area of Antarctica, the name of which honours a Victorian Scot (Sir Macpherson Robertson) who gave &20,000 for exploration by Sir Douglas Mawson.

All those manifestations of Scottish activities in Australia are founded on the fact that an influx began with the First Fleet and not necessarily among the convicts! The influx swelled to bulk supply when Macquarie brought with him in 1810 a complete Highland Regiment, when in 1831 the Rev. J. D. Lang brought out 100 Scottish mechanics and their families, and when in following years many migrants from Scotland arrived under their own impulses.

In the matter of outstanding men given to Australia, Scotland's record, relative to population, is quite remarkable. Especially is this so in regard to the contributions from Ayrshire (Burns's native county), the Glasgow-Paisley area, and Fifeshire. Scores of knighthoods have flowed from the services of such citizens.

Three distinguished early Governors (Hunter, Macquarie and Brisbane) were Scots, and so too were Lieut.-Governor George Johnston, the forthright officer who led the troops that deposed Governor Bligh and William Paterson, the administrator who expelled both Bligh and Johnston. Later vice-regal Caledonians have included four Governors-General (notably the first one, Lord Hopetoun) and a liberal sprinkling of Governors.

Other early personalities of Scottish origin included at least seven explorers (notably Cunningham, Stuart and Mitchell), John Macarthur of wool fame (his father fought with Prince Charlie in 1745); Robert Campbell the first merchant (he began business in 1798); William Lithgow the first Auditor-General (1829-43); Alexander Macleay and Edward Deas Thomson the distinguished Colonial Secretaries (between them they filled the position from 1826 to 1856, thus virtually ruling N.S.W. for 30 years); David Lennox the early bridge-builder (his work remains in use to this day); John Rae the pioneer Town Clerk of Sydney (he was also a competent artist and poet), and, to mention only two others, John Dunmore Lang the fiery parson and Ben Boyd the whaling adventurer.

Many of our pioneers in pastoral and mining activities also came from the land of Bruce and Wallace. In point of fact, the only early Australian "industry" in which Scots attained very little eminence was that of bushranging. Even if, as tradition alleges, the Highlanders of old were competent cattle-thieves, their successors in Australia never attempted to rival the representatives of certain other races in the ungentle art of highway robbery!

Incidentally, when reflecting on the early days the thought arises that Sir Thomas Mitchell, explorer in territory that is now three States, would have been much gratified if he could have known that the fame of his surname was to be carried forward by two other Australian personalities with Scottish blood: namely, Helen Mitchell (who became Dame Nellie Melba), and David Scott Mitchell (who in 1906 presented to the nation a priceless collection of books and documents, together with 70,000, and so brought about, in 1906, the founding of the great Mitchell Library).

Scotland's contribution to Australian politics is impressive. It includes three Prime Ministers, at least 25 Premiers, and a host of other Ministers. Victoria and Queensland, in particular, have "specialized" in Caledonian leadership. Aside from the over-all figure for Victoria (and Premier John Allan claimed in 1924 that 12 of his 27 predecessors were Scots), the Premiership from 1883 to 1890 was held by three Scots in succession, and had an Irishman and an Englishman not inconsiderately intervened the line would have stretched out (through another Scottish Premier) to 1900. As for Queensland, in its first 50 years of government that area had 25 Ministries, and no fewer than 12 of those were led by men from Scotland.

Departmental advisers of Ministers have included from time to time, as they do still, a very considerable number of Macs. Sir John McLaren has been secretary to the Prime Minister's Department, official secretary of Australia House, and Deputy High Commissioner in London. Daniel McVea has been secretary of the Department of Supply and Development, Director-General of Civil Aviation, and Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs. For another example, should you chance to have hoarded any Australian currency you will find each note endorsed by Stuart Gordon McFarlane, Secretary to the Treasury.

Scottish journalists, too, have assisted to keep Scottish politicians on or near the right track. One (George Stevenson) was the first newspaper editor in South Australia. Another (James Harrison) served with Fawkner on the Port Phillip Patriot in the 1830's and founded the Geelong Advertiser in, 1840. Scots also were dominating figures in the development of the Melbourne Age (David Syme), the Melbourne Argus (Lachlan Mackinnon), and the Sydney Bulletin (W. H. Traill, William Macleod, James Edmond).

Literature has felt the same type of influence. Mary Gilmore, Hugh McCrae, and Dorothea Mackellar, each a poet of high significance in Australian records, all have Scottish ancestry. (Dame Mary, by the way, was a Cameron). And Andrew Barton ("Banjo") Paterson, author of many popular bush ballads that include "The Man from Snowy River", "Clancy of the Overflow", and "Waltzing Matilda", had that propitious parental combination, a Scottish father and an Australian mother.

In the field of science the impact has been very strong. It began in 1801 with the arrival of Robert Brown ("father of Australian botany"), and has continued along the years to the present day.

Australia's art and music have both been considerably strengthened by men and women of Caledonian heritage. Our first artist from Scotland appears to have been Thomas Watling, a limner of Dumfries, who reached this country (under compulsion) in 1792 and here became a competent painter of birds, beasts, fish, insects, shells, flowers and scenery. In later years the most distinguished of Scottish-Australian artists was undoubtedly Hugh Ramsay, a brilliant youth from Glasgow, who died in 1906 at the age of only 29. Among his paintings are portraits of the great singer Dame Nellie Melba and her Scottish-born father, David Mitchell. Eminent sculptors in the same category have included James White and Sir Bertram Mackennal, both of whom have left indelible marks on Australian culture.

Education has received special support from Scots. The Rev. James Forbes (native of Aberdeen), known to history as Victoria's first public educationist, was the founder of Melbourne's Scotch College. Sir Walter Hughes (from Fifeshire ) founded the University of Adelaide. At least seven Scots have been Chancellors of various Australian universities. Another launched the medical school of the University of Sydney. Others again have been (as some still are) Directors of Education or distinguished schoolmasters.

The story moves on through other cultural pursuits, and through primary production and business (notably shipping), to service in the armed forces.

Admiral Sir William Creswell, founder of the Australian Navy, was a sprig of the Clan Fraser. Major-General Sir William Bridges, organizer and commander of the First A.I.F., was a native of Greenock. Lieut-General Sir Iven Mackay, G.O.C. Second Australian Army in World War II, is the son of a forthright Free Kirk parson. The parents of Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith, fighting and path-finding aviators, were both Scottish-born. And, of course, very many other ScottishAustralians have distinguished themselves in each of the three Services: quite a number have won the Victoria Cross and at least one holds the George Cross.

One other feature of the Scottish impact on Australia demands emphasis. That is the matter of benefactions. Here is a list, containing just a score of names, of Australians of Scottish birth or parentage who have each given from 20,000 to 550,000 to universities, libraries, churches, hospitals or other public institutions in Australia:

Sir James Burns (N.S.W.), John Darling (S.A.), Sir Hugh Dixson (N.S.W.), Sir Thomas Elder (S.A.), Sir Robert Gillespie (N.S.W.), Sir Walter Hughes (S.A.), Sir Alexander MacCormack (N.S.W.), Sir William Macleay (N.S.W.), Sir Frederick McMaster (N.S.W.), Sir William McPherson (Vic.), David Scott Mitchell (N.S.W.), Sir George Murray (S.A.), Francis Ormond (Vic.), Sir Arthur Renwick (N.S.W.), Sir Macpherson Robertson (Vic.), Sir Peter Nicol Russell (N.S.W.), Robert Barr Smith (S.A.), Sir Josiah Symon (S.A.), Peter Waite (S.A.), Thomas Walker (N.S.W.)

In cash alone the national donations of those twenty men total rather more than 2,000,000; and, of course, the figure would be greatly increased-it would rise to at least 3,000,000 - if value were placed on gifts of books, land, etc., and if the benefactions of other Scots (some anonymous) were included. It is a healthy record on the part of representatives of a race that is popularly supposed to be "canny".

In concluding this all-Australian summary, reference should perhaps be made to the fact that Peter Dodds McCormick, who came from Glasgow to Sydney in 1855 (he was at first a carpenter and afterwards worked in the Department of Education), paid tribute to his adopted country by writing a song. That song lives on. It is, if you please, "Advance Australia Fair".

Scots wha hae! Even if we forget for the moment that Dame Nellie Melba had a Caledonian father, there is something rather heady in the reflection that a Scot and the son of a Scot gave to our nation both of its "theme-songs"-"Advance Australia Fair" and "Waltzing Matilda" - to say nothing of those famous figures of bush folklore, "The Man from Snowy River" and "Clancy of the Overflow".


Because of the seniority of N.S.W. in Australian history, the achievements of many pioneering Scots have been mentioned in the continental summary given above. Here it is desirable only to indicate how the examples of the pioneers have been followed by their successors.

In the "middle ages" of N.S.W. two Stuart knights (Sir Alexander and Sir Thomas) were personalities in Sydney, one as Premier and the other as founder of the University medical school. Sir John Hay (from Aberdeen) achieved the extra ordinary distinction of being variously a Minister, Speaker of the Assembly, and President of the Legislative Council. Sir George Reid (also Scottish-born) did even better by being Premier of N.S.W., Prime Minister, High Commissioner for Australia in London, and finally member of the House of Commons. In 1896 Sir Henry McLaurin (Fifeshire-born physician-politician-financier), began his 16-years' reign as Chancellor of Sydney University, a position, by the way, in which he had been preceded by another Scot, Sir Edward Deas Thomson, and was to be followed by two others, Sir Mungo MacCallum and Sir Robert Wallace.

In the "middle years", too, N.S.W. began to feel, as it still feels, the benefit of the generosity of those open-handed Scots, Sir James Burns, Sir William Macleay, Sir Peter Nicol Russell, and others. Scotland itself shared in the benefactions, as for example the gift bestowed in 1890 by Sir John Hay (not the Premier of that name )-he inherited P1100,000 from the estate of David Berry and gave the whole of the money to the University of St. Andrew's in his mother country.

The influence of such men will continue indefinitely. So, indeed, will that of other competent and public-spirited ScottishAustralians of more recent years, among them Sir Alexander MacCormick, Professor T. P. Anderson Stuart, Professor J. T. Wilson, Duncan Carson, Sir Jarvie Hood, Sir Charles Mackellar, Professor W. A. Haswell, Thomas Walker and his generous daughter (Dame Eadith Campbell Walker), Sir Frederick McMaster, Sir Francis Anderson, and that path-finder of today, Donald Mackay, "last of the explorers".

The history of early Scottish societies in N.S.W. is lost. Many developed from time to time, had their day, and ceased to be. Now the oldest body of the kind is the Highland Society of N.S.W., which arose in 1877 from the amalgamation of a Caledonian Society and a St. Andrew's Scottish Benevolent Society. Its membership is approximately 1000. In its time the Highland Society has done much valuable work, including the building and donating of Novar House (named after a Scottish Governor-General) to the Burnside Homes, the equipping of the Burnside Pipe Band, the raising of funds for statues of Robert Burns in both Sydney and Canberra, and the equipping of the first 30th Battalion, Scottish Regiment. A Highland gathering is conducted each New Year's Day and many other functions are held during the year.

N.S.W. has approximately 56 Scottish societies (36 metropolitan, 20 country) of which about 85 per cent are affiliated with the Highland Society. The number of Pipe Bands in the State is 20, the same as that of Victoria. A monthly journal, the Scottish Australian, is published as the official organ of the Highland Society and affiliated bodies.


Perhaps the most distinguished Scottish name in the early history of South Australia is that of John McDouall Stuart, a Fifeshire native, who in 1862 carried out the monumental feat of crossing the continent from south to north. That achievement caused him to be given (like Robert Burns) a statue in Adelaide.

Other notable explorers on the South Australian list are David Lindsay, John McKinlay, and Francis Cadell, and to their names should be added those of other Scots such as Sir John Cockburn, Sir John Lancelot Stirling, Sir John Gordon, Sir Josiah Symon, Sir William Milne, Gregor McGregor, John Darling, and Alex. Hay, all of whom were distinguished legislators. Stirling (athlete, lawyer, pastoralist, and president of the Caledonian Society) was in Parliament for the record term of 51 years. Symon held ministerial office in both the State and Federal Parliaments.

Symon was also a public benefactor, and so too were four other Scottish-born South Australians, namely, Sir Thomas Elder, Robert Barr Smith, Peter Waite (all associated with the pastoral firm of Elder, Smith and Co. ) and Sir Walter Hughes. Between them those five men gave cash and property to the value of about 500,000 to public institutions. Incidentally, Elder (son of a Kirkcaldy merchant) was said at one time to have held a pastoral area greater in extent than the whole of his native country.

In later years the work of the early Scots has been carried forward admirably by such good citizens as Sir David Gordon, Sir George Ritchie, Charles B. Anderson, J. G. Duncan-Hughes, Alex. J. McLachlan, the Macleay brothers, Duncan Menzies, and that resolute patriot Andrew Small. Sir William Mitchell (a native of Banffshire) has been Chancellor of the University of Adelaide since 1942.

South Australia has had, too, various Scots as Governors. Sir James Fergusson (1869-73), brought with him from Edinburgh a fondness for golf and in 1870 he laid down the first course in Adelaide. The Earl of Kintore (1889-95), Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven (1928-34), later Lord Gowrie, and Sir Malcolm Barclay-Hervey (1939-44), were all able and popular administrators.

Scottish societies in South Australia now number ten (two metropolitan, eight country) and in addition there are seven pipe bands. All of the societies are affiliated with the senior body, the Royal Caledonian Society of South Australia, which was formed in 1881 and obtained the Royal Charter in 1946. Like its opposite number in Melbourne, the senior South Australian. has in recent years done much fine work in supporting wartime funds and charitable institutions, in sending food parcels to Britain, and in assisting migrants.


As befits an area having on its list of explorers at least three Scots (Cunningham, Mitchell, Landsborough ), and having a capital city named after a native of Ayrshire (Sir Thomas Brisbane), Queensland has always had a strong leavening of Caledonians among its public men. Names that remain in history include those of Andrew and Tom Petrie (famed as friends of the aborigines), Thomas Archer of Gracemere, Robert Christison of Lammermoor, and Donald Cameron of Barcaldine (all path-finding pastoralists ), Sir James Burns of shipping fame (he was at Townsville from 1862 to 1877), Sir William McGregor (Governor), and Brunton Stephens the poet.

Perhaps it should be noted, too, that Scots have been leading figures in Queensland's mining industry. John Moffat, who reached Brisbane as early as 1862 and first settled on the Darling Downs, became in later years the founder of the tin-mining industry in northern areas; and Dr Robert Logan Jack, geologist and geographer, was for many years the State's chief authority on his two subjects. Both Moffat and Jack were natives of Ayrshire. (Moffat, by the way, was a model employer, generous to a fault, and the story is told that children of the mining town of Irvinebank used to end their prayers with: ". .. and God bless Mr Moffat, too.")

As for legislators, it was Queensland that sent to the Commonwealth Parliament a miner from Ayrshire, Andrew Fisher, who was to become three times Prime Minister of Australia; and from the same State came those well-known soldier-politicians, Sir Donald Cameron and Sir T. W. Glasgow. Cameron (member of a noted pastoral pioneering family) succeeded another Scottish-Australian, W. F. Finlayson, as representative of Brisbane. In domestic politics, too, the record is impressive. Premiers have included such dyed-in-the-heather Scots as Arthur Macalister, Sir Robert McKenzie, Sir Thomas McIlwraith, Sir Hugh Nelson, William Kidston, Sir Robert Philp, and William Forgan Smith. The last-named has been since 1944 Chancellor of the University of Queensland.

Other Queensland Scottish-Australians of eminence include Sir Fergus McMaster, grazier and leading figure in aviation; Lewis Macgregor, who became Australian Minister to Brazil, and John McCracken, Public Service Commissioner and formerly Director of Civil Defence.

There are at present four Scottish societies and four pipe bands in Brisbane, and some nine or ten societies and as many bands in country areas, including the modern mining settlement of Mount Isa. The Brisbane Caledonian Society and Burns Club (established 1892) is particularly strong, having a membership of 450, a valuable city property, and assets over liabilities (at last report) to the extent of 18,000. Its social gatherings are frequent. All societies and bands collaborate on national occasions, such as Burns Day.

Brisbane's Burns Statue is in Centenary Park, where trees and shrubs are somewhat prolific, and it has recently been said that if growth continues the Scots will not be able to find their memorial without the aid of a blacktracker!


This great area gained "a flying start" from the Scottish viewpoint by having Sir James Stirling, a native of Lanarkshire, as its first Governor (1829-31) and by having its capital city (Perth) named after a centre in Scotland. Its most distinguished son, Sir John (later Lord) Forrest, explorer and statesman, was born at Bunbury, but his father came from Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, and so "Big John" took a keen interest in all Scottish activities, including those of the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne. Many other public men in W.A. have boasted either Scottish birth or descent, consequently national activities in various parts of the State have always been strong.

Today there are in Western Australia eleven Scottish societies, the oldest being the Fremantle Caledonian Society (founded 1886) and the Perth Caledonian Society. Pipe bands number seven. All of the societies and the bands as well are affiliated with the Western Australian Scottish Union, and all do much useful public service in both city and country.

Organizing is going forward for the erection of a statue to Robert Burns, which when accomplished will bring the number of such statues in Australia to seven.


A search through the historical records of Van Diemen's Land would probably reveal that Scots were among those present from the time that David Collins began his overlordship of the Island in 1804. At any rate, Collins had much assistance in his first year from the celebrated botanist Robert Brown, who was a native of Montrose.

An interesting development a few years later (about 1811) was the arrival at Launceston of a man giving the name of McHugo, who claimed to be entitled to royal privileges as a descendant of Earl Bothwell and Mary Queen of Scots. The commandant at Launceston, one Major Gordon, was so impressed by the claim that he actually surrendered his command, whereupon other officers intervened and arrested the "Pretender".

During the 1860's Tasmania had two Scots (James Whyte and Sir James Wilson) as Premier, and in the same period Sir William Milne, a son of Glasgow, was President of the Legislative Council for eight years. Anthony Trollope the novelist recorded that he had not met in the whole of Australia a sounder politician than Wilson.

The Island has also had a Scottish leavening amongst its Governors, as for example Sir Robert Hamilton (1887-93) - he was born at Bressay in the Shetlands, the spot that after wards presented Australia with James Yorston, present President of the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne.

As elsewhere, Scottish societies have risen and declined in Tasmania over the years. Today there is one, as well as a pipe band, in each of the cities, Hobart and Launceston. Pipe bands from the mainland often take part in competitions in Tasmania.


A strong and active Highland Society and Burns Club exists in the Federal Capital Territory (with Mr A. Stuart as president and Mr G. McIntosh as secretary) and it has the support of a pipe band-one which has been known to give Scottish tone to a St Patrick's Day gathering! Prized exhibits under the society's care are the Burns Statue and a rowan tree which, complete with a bucket of Scottish soil, was presented to the Rev. John Walker by some Edinburgh friends.

The Burns Statue occupies a strategic situation, and as a result visitors have been known to imagine that there are three statues in the area-the tricky layout of the roads has them running round in circles and finishing up each time at the feet of Robert Burns!

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