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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter V

Financial troubles in early 'Nineties-Some domestic disputes Theodore Napier and Bannockburn - "Boisterous and insulting" conduct - Mayor of Melbourne walks out - New secretaries - Ball shows profit of 1/19/3 - Ladies not admitted - Sir John McIntyre, Sir Malcolm McEacharn, and Lord Brassey - Society's remarkable record to 1898.

In spite of all the outings enjoyed by members of Melbourne's Caledonian Society, and although progress in general was sound, it is not to be supposed that all was plain sailing with the organization in the late eighties and early nineties.

As a matter of fact, brisk disputes developed at more that one meeting of the time. Members of the Council, it is true, were a distinctly dignified collection-look, for example, at a photograph of McBryde's team of 1893 for evidence on the point-and they had their poise strengthened by the presence of the Rev. Alex. Marshall, a Presbyterian parson who gave much sound service to the Society. Nevertheless, various little troubles arose, and these were charged against the Council by at least one trenchant critic.

Financial difficulties were the main source of argument. Sports meetings, some of which had been marred by bad weather, made a heavy drain on the Society's funds, and there were frequent troubles in regard to the Choir, which was a somewhat expensive enterprise. Within three years that body had three conductors: Robert Kennedy, V. S. Dodds, and James Ure. Later (1890) Thomas Hammond was appointed conductor, at a salary of 80 a year, upon which the Choir broke new ground by giving a concert at Geelong.

Other demands upon the Society's funds were made by the accommodation problem-meeting-places in this period varied considerably-and by the determination of members to maintain their charitable work. It is a striking fact that during the first half-dozen years of the reconstructed Society, meetings of the Council were largely taken up with the examining of charitable appeals.

Subsequently (1891) a Charity Committee of the Council was established, as well as a Finance Committee and a Musical and Social Committee.

In addition to financial problems, the Society was troubled now and again by domestic disputes-the "growing pains" that overtake pretty well every organization of the kind.

Theodore Napier (the resolute fellow who objected to the over-free use of the word "England") threw a spanner into the works in 1890 by trying to get the Society to celebrate, on 24th June of each year, the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, that historic clash in which -away back in 1314 - the Scots under Bruce routed the English. His motion was defeated, after considerable argument, but he came again later with a proposal to donate 20 to the Bannockburn Memorial Committee at Stirling, and this time he succeeded.

Friction of a more serious nature developed, in 1890, through the medium of I. C. Park, a newcomer to the Society, who actually went into action before his nomination fee had been lodged. In the course of an attack on the management of the Society (so say the records) "his whole conduct was so boisterous and insulting" that the meeting agreed that his membership would be most undesirable, and therefore his subscription was not accepted.

Was Park subdued? Not at all. After taking legal advice on the matter he threatened the Society with a writ, upon which the Society in turn sought legal advice. Much argument followed, but eventually the Council decided to make peace - it not only agreed to admit its critic to membership but paid his legal costs.

That "victory" gave Mr Park new life, so that he bobbed up soon afterwards, at a quarterly meeting of the Society, with two destructive motions. The first, which aimed at the discontinuance of the Society's annual ball on the score of expense, was rejected by a large majority; and the second, which declared that because the Choir cost about 200 a year it ought to be disbanded, lapsed for lack of a seconder.

But even then argument was not ended.

At that stage (1891-92) the Society's President was Matthew Lang, Mayor of Melbourne and afterwards M.L.C. He was succeeded by the Hon. Duncan McBryde, M.L.C., who later became a Minister of the Crown. It was while Lang was handing over to McBryde that Park provoked another storm-he did so by taking a point of order when it was proposed to elect the retiring President to life-membership of the Council.

Trouble arose at once. Sir James MacBain tried to oil the turbulent waters, but someone else supported the Park protest and "a scene of great disorder" developed. In the midst of it all Mr Lang walked out of the room (which, by the way, was in his own Town Hall), and when Mr Park tried to speak again members refused to listen to him.

Oddly enough, Mr Park succeeded with another restrictive motion when he took the floor again at the next Annual Meeting-be persuaded members to agree to abolish the entrance fee to the Society.

That abolition was rather strange in view of the fact that many new members were still being enrolled. Possibly, however, the healthy state of the membership was due largely to the enterprise of the new Secretary, George B. Gordon, who had succeeded Robert Gow (resigned to become a wine-grower) in May of '92. Within his first few months of office Gordon not only collected lots of subscriptions but turned the deficit on the annual ball into a profit of k l/19/3! A little later he organised a successful sports gathering.

For the next few years Gordon continued to carry on satisfactorily, and then he was replaced (1896) by David W. Ramsay, who for some time had been Treasurer. Ramsay's post in charge of the finances was taken by Hugh Paterson.

The President during that period (1894-96) was the Hon. Thomas Brunton, M.L.C. Matters proceeded smoothly enough then, concerts and smoke nights alternating with more prosaic business. It is recorded that the Society had at the time 246 members and funds totalling P-200, which amount, Mr Brunton remarked, was rather more than some financial concerns of the day could show.

A pleasant function was one at which honour was rendered to the Rev. Alex Marshall, one of the Society's most esteemed councillors. Mr Marshall received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Edinburgh, and the Society presented him with an illuminated address to mark the event.

Another cheery gathering of 1895 took the form of a Ladies' Night. That development seems to have given some members chivalrous ideas, for at the next Annual Meeting one of the motions (submitted from Council) provided for the admittance of ladies to the Society at a rate of 10/6d. each per annum. The sponsors of the proposal were careful, however, to stipulate that the 10/6d. would permit only attendance at concerts, lectures, and general gatherings, and that feminine members would "not be allowed to speak or vote at any meeting of the Society". Even with that safeguard, the motion was rejected by a large majority.

It is to be noted, by the way, that one of the guests at the annual meeting then was the Hon. George Reid, M.P., later Prime Minister. Had he been allowed a vote he would certainly have been on the side of the ladies, for, according to Alfred Deakin, he had a very keen bias in that direction.

As another aside, it may be observed that Thomas Brunton, M.L.C., was lucky to be given a second term of office in 1895, for of 12 Council meetings held during the previous year he attended only one-a sharp contrast to the full 12 scored by Hugh Paterson and the 11 each registered by Alex. Dick and Andrew Thompson.

In the years immediately following, the Society continued to have distinguished citizens as occupants of the Presidential office.

Sir John McIntyre (1896-98) was a Glaswegian who came to Victoria in 1852 as a youth of 20 years, joined in the rush to the Maryborough goldfields, and afterwards did much towards the development of Bendigo. He was M.L.A. for Sandhurst in 1877-80 and also represented the Maldon electorate for 21 years. In 1893 he took office as Minister for Lands, and later, as Leader of the Opposition, he narrowly missed becoming Premier. He was knighted in 1895.

The next President of the Society, Sir Malcolm McEacharn (1898-1901) was also an important figure in public life. A product of Islay (one of Scotland's western isles), he reached Australia as a young man in 1879 and in following years did well as a pastoralist and cane-grower in Queensland. Later he founded the shipping line of McIlwraith, McEacharn Ltd. He was Mayor of Melbourne in 1897-1900 -while occupying the position of President of the Society -and was Lord Mayor in 1903-4. He was knighted in 1900 and in 1901 became member for Melbourne in the first Commonwealth Parliament.

It was during Sir Malcolm McEacharn's period as President that the Duke and Duchess of York (later the King and Queen) arrived to inaugurate the Commonwealth, and he, naturally, took a leading part in the activities organized by Australian Scots as part of the celebrations. These included the presentation of an Address of Welcome to the Royal visitors and the arranging of a most spectacular display of Scottish dancing as a feature of the children's demonstration.

Earlier-from 1896 to 1900-both Sir John McIntyre and Sir Malcolm McEacharn had received cordial support in their Presidential work from the Governor of the period, Lord Brassey, who made a point of attending pretty well every important function of a Scottish nature organized in Victoria.

Consider now the remarkable record of the Caledonian Society in regard to leadership:

In the early days (beginning in 1858) its officers had included a Premier, two other Ministers, nine additional members of Parliament, and numbers of other eminent citizens. Within 15 years of activity of the reconstructed Society (from 1884) the officers included at various times another Premier, the President of the Legislative Council, two Ministers, two Mayors of Melbourne, and a galaxy of other notable men. Furthermore, William Alexander Watt, M.L.A., later to be Premier of Victoria for six years and subsequently Treasurer, Acting Prime Minister, and Speaker of the Commonwealth Parliament, had become a member of the Society's Council in 1898.

In addition to all that, the Society had attracted to its ranks, as Patrons and active supporters, two Governors and a future Prime Minister of Britain.

What better record of its kind could any national body be expected to achieve?

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