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Highland Gatherings
Chapter IV - Short account of the Northern Meeting


IN 1788 the Northern Meeting was instituted. On the 11th June that year a meeting was held at which were present Colonel Hugh Grant of Moy, Messrs. Cumming of Altyre, Macleod of Gramis, Munro of Culcairn, Fraser of Relick, Fraser of Culduthel, Baillie of Dochfour, Captains Alex. Mackenzie, 71st Regiment, William Wilson, 39th Regiment, Gregor Grant, Lieutenant John Rose, and Dr. John Alves (appointed first secretary). They formed the Society for an annual week of social intercourse, one guinea subscription for each head of a family, and any absentee to be fined two guineas. In the first year 40 came in from such fines, absence on duty being the sole excuse. The first stewards were Messrs. Cumming, the Frasers of Culduthel and Relick, and Macleod. No games were intended, only balls and dinners. The company dined together in full evening-dress, alternately at the hotels of Messrs. Beverley and Ettles, dancing from eight to twelve. Only stewards could invite strangers. The regulations in force at Edinburgh were obtained from Captain Graham, M.C., in that city. The town hall was the place of dancing, with the room above, called the Guildry, for tea. A public breakfast was provided. Anyone producing a subscription paper before a full assembly was fined a guinea. The mornings seemed to require some occupation, so Brodie of Brodie and Macleod were deputed to invite the huntsmen and hounds of the Duke of Gordon and Sir Robert Munro of Foulis. About ninety members joined from the counties of Inverness, Ross, Nairn and Moray, and the date was the second week in October. Formal balls becoming rather too heavy, they were reduced to two, with undress dances and card parties to fill the gaps. The uniform worn, according to an old authority, was a grass green coat with buff edging, white metal buttons, black velvet cape with four silver embroidered or vellum buttonholes; buff or fancy waistcoat, buff or black silk breeches, the buttons having N.M. engraved thereon. Truly a gay cavalcade for the Highland Capital ! In 1810 the third week is selected, and by the desire of the Marquis of Huntly all members had to appear in blue coats from the Inverness Woollen Factory to stimulate local industry. The stewards now receive badges, then wands, then tartan sashes, and last, badges again.

In 1816 a plate of fifty guineas was given out of the funds for any horse carrying ten stone that had never won a plate (Hunter's Plate excepted); a special committee was appointed to provide the course at a cost of 20; but this did not continue for long as part of the programme. The course was at Duneancroy, but the tax on the funds being too much it was stopped. The present races are quite independent.

Games proper began in 1840, at first by private subscription, in the Academy Park, afterwards at the Longman Park. In the early sixties the present park was bought from the late Sir Alexander Matheson of Ardross and walled round. A pavilion, followed by a second, was subsequently added. The annual assemblies required their own room, so in Church Street ground was bought and erections built gradually. In 1801 this building was greatly damaged by fire. It was very near a candle factory, above which was a powder magazine ! It is perhaps unnecessary to observe how lax the regulations on these matters must have been under good King George III !

Heat one day reached the powder, with the natural consequences, seven lives being lost and many persons injured. The factory itself was also damaged. The rooms had to be rebuilt, and in 1845 or thereabouts assumed the form in which they are to-day, but internally they have been greatly improved since that date. Even in 1795 and subsequently the meeting continued, in spite of Napoleonic Wars; in 1796 we read of a "brilliant assembly of beauty and fashion."

Cholera prevents it in 1832, and the South African War in 1900, though in the latter year Highland sports were held on one day. No fines are now inflicted on absentees, and the terms of admission have often been changed. The uniform is a thing of the past, but Highland dress takes its place, the meeting being recognized as a prominent permanent festival and fashionable institution.


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