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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter VI

George Gibb as President - Sir Hector Macdonald entertained - Society loses Lord Hopetoun - Great Singer welcomed - Sir John Mclntyre's achievement - Formation of Scottish Regiment - Burns Statue unveiled - "Scot at Hame an' Abroad" founded - Fourteen new Scottish societies in four years.

With the coming of the new century membership of the Society rose to a record number-almost 800. In this period members appear to have decided that ordinary "Esquires" might reasonably be given a share of Presidential honours. At any rate, whereas eight of the ten Presidents who functioned between 1884 and 1901 were either knights or members of Parliament, there has not since been a knight in the Chair and there have been only two members of Parliament serving as heads of the Society. (One M.L.A., in fact, was rejected when he stood for the Council in 1902.)

First of the new batch of "commoners" was George Gibb. This big Scot filled the position admirably, so much so that he remained President for what was then a record term: five years (1901-06). Earlier Presidents had reigned for only one or two years in each instance, with a single exception of three years.

Son of an Aberdonian bootmaker, George Gibb began life as a pupil teacher, turned to insurance, and followed the same profession on reaching Australia in 1885. He subsequently became manager of the Melbourne branch of the Norwich Union Insurance Company, and he was occupying that position when (at the age of rather less than 40 years) he took the Caledonians' Chair. He was, it is recorded, a sociable and interesting man, with considerable literary taste.

Within a few weeks of taking office President Gibb carried through a most pleasant obligation-he acted as host to a famous Scottish soldier, General Sir Hector Macdonald, who was paying a brief visit to Australia.

The two immediate Ex-Presidents, Sir Malcolm McEacharn, M.P., and Sir John McIntyre, M.L.A., together with other members of Council, joined Mr Gibb in entertaining "Fighting Mac" at dinner at the Australian Club. Other guests included Sir John Madden (Lieut.-Governor), Sir John Forrest, and officers of the Scottish Regiment. The date of the function was 15th October 1901.

A day or two later members as a whole had their turn -the Society arranged a smoke social for Sir Hector Macdonald in the Town Hall, and practically everyone who had any right to be present rallied to the occasion. Reports indicate that a very stimulating evening was spent. The visiting General received a thoroughly hearty reception and was accorded a special cheer when the President handed him a badge conferring honorary membership of the Melbourne Caledonian Society.

There was deep regret in the Society, as well as throughout the Empire generally, when Sir Hector Macdonald died less than two years later (March 1903) at the early age of 50 years.

During 1902 Australia had the misfortune to lose her highly-esteemed Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, afterwards Marquess of Linlithgow. As Patron of the Caledonian Society, and a distinctly active one, His Excellency had endeared himself to members through his attendance at various gatherings, where he invariably made speeches animated by pride of country, commonsense, and sparkling humour. Accordingly, the Secretary of the Society (at that time Hector MacLennan) wrote to him in the following terms in July of 1902:

Your Excellency - On the eve of your departure from Australia I am directed by the Council of the Caledonian Society of Melbourne to express to you their deep regret that you are leaving our shores. As fellow-Scotsmen we have felt a pride in recognizing your "pith o' sense and pride o' worth", both in your public and private character, and as you are now departing from a sphere of labour which you have pre-eminently ornamented, we desire to express to you the hope that you will be spared to occupy a still higher position in the affairs of our Empire. May every blessing attend you and yours throughout the journey of life.

Lord Hopetoun returned warm thanks for the foregoing letter, which he said had touched him deeply.

A bright idea on the part of President Gibb, soon after taking office, was the donating of a substantial prize, to be competed for by students of Melbourne University Conservatorium, for the best rendering of a Scottish song, the only proviso being that the winner would be called upon to sing the same song at a concert given by the Caledonian Society.

The Society's concerts were notable features of the musical life of Melbourne during that period. One commentator described the Choir as "an important institution and a splendid adjunct to the Caledonian Society".

Supporting artists included Miss Maggie McCann ("Australia's Queen of Scottish Song"), Miss Cecil Callander, Miss Marion Porritt, Miss Nellie McClelland, and Mr. J. Gregor Wood. The last-named singer, of course, remained a leading figure in the musical affairs of the Society for many years. He married Miss Allie Mattinson late in '02, and subsequently he and his wife frequently appeared together, as Scottish vocalists, in various parts of Australia.

Incidentally, it is on record that Horace Gleeson was the accompanist at many of the Society's concerts at the beginning of the century. That talented pianist and composer is still living in Melbourne and is known to many present day members of the Caledonian Society.

It was also in 1902 that the Caledonians had the pleasure of welcoming back to Melbourne an old friend who had become world-famous on the concert platform. There is no documentary information available regarding this link, but old-timers say that it dates back to the period, about 1872, when a sturdy Scot of Richmond, named David Mitchell, used to bring along his small daughter, Helen, to sing the songs he loved best. Later, as a woman of 23 or so (in the early 1880's) Helen Mitchell returned from Queensland to air a charming voice in "Comin' through the Rye" and other light Scottish songs. And now, in 1902, here were Melbourne's Caledonians acclaiming their former childartist, Davie Mitchell's daughter, on the world-wide renown she had achieved-as Madame Nellie Melba.

Carrying on its good work, the Society conducted singing and elocutionary competitions (of a Scottish character) on two nights in June of '03, and then, waxing really ambitious, members "let their heads go" to the extent of staging a fulldress Scottish play, for three nights, in Melbourne's Princess Theatre.

The play-presented in October of '03-was a dramatic version of Scott's novel, Rob Roy. It was a marked success in every way and returned a profit of 185 for the Charity Fund of the Society.

Actually, this was not the first presentation of the kind: Rob Roy had been staged by the Society for two nights, in Her Majesty's Theatre, as early as April 1897. On that occasion Miss Eloise Juno was producer and various parts were taken by J. C. Rennie (Rob Roy), Sir John McIntyre (Bailie Nicol Jarvie), D. W. Ramsay (Francis Osbaldstone ), Mrs Hugh Paterson (Diana Vernon ), and Miss Juno (Helen McGregor ). Newspaper reports indicate that Mrs Paterson in particular scored as a singer and that special interest was taken, particularly by members of the Legislative Assembly, in the performance of Sir John McIntyre.

Miss Juno again served as producer in 1903, Mrs Paterson was again a player and singer, and the whole of the costumes were designed and arranged by Hugh Paterson, a member of the Society's Council, who at the time was the leading exponent of decorative art in Australia. The Patersons were in fact a distinctly gifted pair, and it may be noted here that their talents extended to their two daughters: Esther (now Mrs G. H. Gill) was formerly a competent pianiste and has long been a well-known artist, and Betty (Mrs Newman ) was once a notable violinist, later a leading concert singer, and later again became noted, as she is still, for her charming drawings of children.

Other members of the cast of Rob Roy in 1903 included Hector MacLennan, J. T. Picken, J. Y. Crawford, H. W. Skinner, W. P. Jarvie, T. Mackenzie Kirkwood, James Williamson, W. C. Chessar, and Gregor Wood, together with Misses Maggie McCann and Grace Cumming. According to reports of the day, the whole performance was very good indeed, particularly on the musical side-Gregor Wood was in magnificent form in "Macgregor's Gathering" and the singing of the Society's Choir was admirable.

A feature of the acting was the re-appearance of that veteran politician, Sir John McIntyre: on the third night of the presentations he replaced Jim Picken in the part of Bailie Nicol Jarvie and gave a spirited performance-this at the age of 71 and some 40 years after he had first played the part in the old Lyceum at Bendigo. (He died a few months later.)

Newspapers acclaimed the presentations as a whole. "It will be a long time," one critic wrote, "ere Mr Williamson can rid his theatre of the strong Scotch accent that has pervaded it during three nights. It is even stated that The Mikado will appear tonight in a skene-dhu, or a pibroch, or something equally startling! One thing is certain-no one present last night will ever forget the triumphant success of `Rob Roy'."

In addition to all those concerts, social gatherings, and dramatic enterprises, the turn of the century was marked by several developments of outstanding significance in Scottish affairs. One was the formation of the Scottish Regiment. Another was the birth of the movement that led to the establishing of the Burns Statue in St Kilda Road. A third was the launching of a monthly journal, The Scot at Hame an' Abroad.

Indeed, the interest taken in Scottish affairs in Australia generally, and Victoria and South Australia in particular, was a feature of the period. In Melbourne alone there were at least seven organizations-the Caledonian Society, the Burns Club, and the Thistle Clubs of Victoria, South Melbourne, Port Melbourne, Footscray and Williamstown. As for the country areas, those products of the 1850's, Geelong's Commun Na Fienne and Maryborough's Highland Society, were then more than forty years old and still. doing well; and in addition there were thriving Caledonian Societies at Albury, Casterton, Drouin, Terang, and Mansfield. Soon afterwards a Caledonian Society was formed at Horsham (1902), another at Rushworth (1902), and another at Hamilton (1903).

It was a committee from a number of societies that laid the foundation of the Scottish Regiment.

Actually the Caledonian Society of Melbourne had discussed the formation of a "Scottish Volunteer Company" as early as 1885, and had again talked of the project-this time as a "Highland Corps" in 1888. When, ten years later, the suggestion took definite shape, it was largely through the influence and enthusiasm of Sir John McIntyre (then the Society's President), that initial difficulties were overcome. In recognition of his services Sir John was made Hon. Colonel of the Regiment. Other sturdy pioneers in the enterprise were Sir Malcolm McEacharn, William Jarvie, and Richard Linton, all of whom became officers of the Regiment. Linton, in fact, rose from private when the Regiment was raised in '98 to O.C. with the rank of Colonel some ten years later. Sir Malcolm MacEacharn, it is said, "shouted" the Regiment 999 feather bonnets.

The Burns Statue had its origin with George Gibb. When serving as Vice-President under Sir Malcolm McEacharn he brought the matter up and persuaded the Society to make an initial donation of 100 towards a statue. Then, during a visit to Britain in 1902, he interviewed various sculptors and obtained drawings and prices, which, as well as those of Australian artists, were duly submitted to Council. A design by R. A. Lawson, R.S.A., sculptor of noble statues in many parts of the world, was chosen, and the completed work was unveiled, in the presence of a large crowd, on 23rd January 1904.

Sir John Madden, Lieut.-Governor, performed the unveiling, and he was supported by the President of the Caledonian Society (Mr Gibb), the Lord Mayor of Melbourne (Sir Malcolm MacEacharn) and other leading citizens, including Mr Edward Campbell (Vice-President of the Society), and Mr Hector MacLennan (Secretary), both of whom had worked cordially with Mr Gibb for the erection of the statue. Speeches were made, the statue was formally presented by Mr Gibb to the City of Melbourne, and at the end company singing was led by the band of the Scottish Regiment.

Incidentally, in the pedestal of the statue there was placed a metal cylinder containing a parchment upon which was recorded a history of the movement, a list of the Presidents of the reconstructed Caledonian Society of Melbourne, and the names of the men who were then holding office in the Society. So say the records. But Mr H. J. MacLennan of South Yarra (a son of that admirable Secretary of the period, Hector MacLennan, and one of the few people now living who attended the unveiling ceremony) goes a little further: he says that the articles placed under the statue also included copies of newspapers of the day and a sample of every coin of the time, from a2 piece to a farthing. Among the coins was a groat - a silver fourpenny piece which the enterprising Alex. Laing, then hon. treasurer, obtained through the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The cost of the whole enterprise is stated to have been &1450 14s. 5d., of which the Caledonian Society of Melbourne provided k277 9s 2d. (There is no record of who contributed the 2d.!)

It is an odd coincidence that Scots in both Adelaide and Sydney were also busy bestowing statues at about the same time. A few months after the Melbourne event, the sturdy Caledonian Society of South Australia (which had already presented a statue of Burns to Adelaide) handed over to its City a statue of the explorer John McDouall Stuart, the first man to cross the Continent from south to north. Then, a few months later again (January 1905) Scottish societies in Sydney rescued their City from ignominy by giving it a rival to the Burns statues of Adelaide and Melbourne.

The third significant development of the period, the launching of The Scot at Hame an' Abroad, was born of the patriotism and enterprise of that good Scot and sound printer, James T. Picken, later to be President of the Society. It first appeared in June 1902.

Well written and admirably produced, the new journal met with a cordial reception. Certainly it was very cheap at threepence a copy, which fact was duly noted by Allan McNeilage (that charming rhymer who was for many years a kind of Scottish-Australian poet-laureate) in a salutation published in the second issue of the journal. Here is the first of ten verses contained in Allan's tribute:

The welcome "Scot" has come tae haun';
My fegs! It's hard tae un'erstaun'
Hoo ye produce a treat sae graun'
For fee sae sma';
Oor hairts will be the closer drawn
Since licht it saw.

In later years Allan McNeilage (who had reached Australia from Glasgow in 1870 as a lad of 19, and had become a technician in the Mines Department) achieved a remarkable quantity of verse, some of which was published in book form. But it was chiefly through The Scot at Hame an' Abroad that he became known.

Moving along briskly, The Scot soon became, within its limits, a potent force in the community. It published interesting items from the Old Country, reports and comments on happenings in Victoria and other States, amusing gossip, and illustrated sketches of the careers of eminent Scottish-Australians. Lord Rosebery and the Earl of Hopetoun were early subjects of illustration. Later, the journal presented photographs of "the Federal Five" - Sir George Reid (then Prime Minister) and four other Scottish members of the Commonwealth Parliament. Again, a page was devoted to a series of photographs showing George Gibb (President) and twenty-one other Councillors of the Caledonian Society of Melbourne; and that in turn was followed by illustrations of the officers of kindred bodies.

Other material in The Scot included dialect gossip that became a popular feature-a series of amusing, semi-philosophical Letters signed "Wullie Waggett", who was doubtless the versatile Allan McNeilage.

Perhaps the chief service rendered by the magazine was in the stimulus given to national consciousness, largely through reports of meetings and other gatherings conducted by various societies. It was the rising tide of Scottish sentiment, promoted mainly by Melbourne's Caledonian Society, Geelong's Commun Na Fienne, and a few similar bodies, that brought The Scot into being, and the journal, on its part, fostered that sentiment very strongly.

We have seen that Caledonian Societies sprang up at Horsham, Rushworth, and Hamilton in 1902-3; and it is to be noted that within the next few years kindred societies were established at Bendigo (reconstructed), Kerang, Charlton, Colac, Beaufort, Warrnambool, Kyabram, Prahran, and Richmond, with a Gaelic Society in Melbourne increasing the list.

Thus in the brief period 1902-6 no fewer than fourteen new Scottish societies developed in Victoria alone.

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