By JOHN MACPHERSON, J.P.
This venerable Society,
whose annual gathering is now recognized as the leading event in the
Scottish holiday season, and the only event in Scotland which is annually
patronized by Royalty, was first instituted in January, 1816, as the
Braemar Wrights' Society, under the presidency of William Farquharson,
Esq., of Monaltrie.
In 1826 it was
reconstituted as the Braemar Highland Society. The members then began to
wear the Highland costume at all their meetings: each member wearing his
own clan tartan, as Farquharson, Gordon, Lamont, MacGregor, etc.
Besides the above named Mr.
Farquharson of Monaltrie, the Earl of Fife and Mr. Farquharson of
Invercauld now began to take an interest in the Society, and regularly
patronized its annual sports. In the year 1832 an event happened which
gave a considerable impetus to its activities. The Marquis of Caermarthen
(afterwards Duke of Leeds) took a nineteen years' lease of Mar Forest,
north of the Dee, together with the adjoining forest of the Bachen and
Slugan Glen on the Invercauld estate. He at once began to take a keen
interest in the affairs of the Society. He presented each of his
gamekeepers and retainers with a complete Highland costume of his own
Dunblane tartan (Viscount Dunblane being one of his subsidiary titles) and
carefully drilled them so that they might present a smart appearance. His
example was shortly followed by the Earl of Fife and Mr. Farquharson of
Invercauld, who presented each of the members residing on the remaining
portion of their Braemar estates with a costume of their own clan tartan,
Duff and Farquharson respectively.
General Sir Alexander Duff
of Delgaty, brother of the fourth Earl of Fife, took a great interest in
the Duff Highlanders, and spent many hours in drilling them, so that they
might acquit themselves creditably when on parade.
In this year, 1832, the
first athletic competitions of the Society are recorded. The events were
five in number, the first prize-winners being :
1. Putting the Stone - John MacGregor.
2. Throwing the Hammer - Peter MacHardy.
3. Tossing the Caber - William MacHardy.
4. Running - James Shewan.
5. Length of Service - John Bowman.
In 1832 only £5 was given in prizes for the five events. In 1926 there was
fifty-eight events and over £200 in prizes.
The Braemar Annual
Gathering yearly gained in popularity; but the event which gave it the
greatest impetus was the coming of Queen Victoria and the Royal Family to
Balmoral in 1848.
By the courtesy of Mr. and
Mrs. Farquharson of Invercauld, the Gathering that year was held at
Invercauld House, on the 14th of September. The Royal party arrived at
Balmoral on the 8th September, and the Queen, the Prince Consort and the
principal ladies and gentlemen of the Court honoured the Gathering with
The Duff, the Farquharson,
the Atholl and the Duke of Leeds' Highlanders were present in full force,
together with a number of county gentlemen.
The following year, 1849,
the Gathering was held on the 6th September at Braemar Castle, when Her
Majesty the Queen, Prince Albert and other noble ladies and gentlemen from
Balmoral were present; besides many of the county nobility from
Aberdeenshire, Perthshire and Forfarshire. Amongst others, the Duke of
Atholl and Sir Charles Forbes of Newe, who both brought squadrons of
Highlanders, dressed in their respective clan tartans. These Atholl and
Forbes Highlanders continued to attend the gathering for many years,
camping out on the night previous and the night following the event. The
Queen contributed generously towards the prize fund, and ever after took a
deep interest in the welfare of the Society.
In the year 1859 the
members of the Society were invited by the Queen to a special Highland
gathering held at Balmoral on the 22nd September, at which she gave
valuable prizes. Those who were present looked back with pleasure to that
day for the rest of their lives. Amongst the many beautiful trophies
presented by Her Majesty on that day was a handsome silver-mounted horn
snuff-box, won by the late George Hutchinson, Balnellan, for tossing the
caber, which is still preserved by his relatives.
After this, by kind
invitation of the good Queen, the Gathering was held no fewer than four
times at Balmoral; namely in the years 1887, 1890, 1898 and 1899.
At the annual meeting of
the Society, on the 20th July, 1900, a message was submitted from Her
Majesty, expressing her wish that no gathering be held that year, on
account of the great loss of life in the South African War. Her Majesty's
request was acceded to unanimously. This simple act showed the kind
motherly heart of the good Queen. It was the last message she sent to the
Society; for she was destined to see Braemar no more. Worn out with
anxiety and sorrow for the fearful bloodshed in Africa, which she was
powerless to avert, her long and useful life came to a close. She passed
peacefully away on the 22nd January, 1901. May her fragrant memory ever
In the year 1903 the
Gathering was held in Cluny Park, Invercauld. His Majesty King Edward was
present, accompanied by the present King's two eldest sons, or, as the
homely King jocularly expressed it, "The Duke o' York's twa loons" (now
the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York).
During the nine years of
his reign King Edward the Peacemaker continued to take a lively interest
in the affairs of the Society, and contributed handsomely to its prize
In 1905 the late Duke of
Fife presented about twelve acres of ground in Auchindryne to the Society,
which was laid out as a park, and here the annual gathering has since been
The good King Edward's
reign was all too short, for he passed away in May, 1910. His occupancy of
the throne, though brief, was peaceful and happy.
Their Majesties King George
and Queen Mary, however, since their accession, have taken an equally keen
interest in the Gathering, and have rarely been absent from it. In fact it
is the principal social event in Scotland at which their Majesties are
expected to be present.