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Highland Gatherings
Chapter III - Braemar Royal Highland Society


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 their presence.

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 abide.

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 fund.

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 held.

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.


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