THE marvellous collection of medals depicted
opposite this page are surely unique in the history of Scottish athletes.
The actual prizes won by Donald numbered over ten thousand, so we are glad
to give a few words about his victorious career. Born on the 8th July,
1837, at Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, he soon exhibited great physical strength.
His father being a mason and contractor, Donald became apprenticed to this
work, until after qualification, he carried on similar business by
himself. His father came from Birse in the same county, and was
eighty-three when he died in 1891. Donald was the eldest of six sons, and
had four sisters. All the sons followed their father's occupation, except
one, called Walter, who after being a bank clerk, became a clerk, and
later a detective at Scotland Yard, rising eventually to the rank of
In 1869 Donald had an hotel
for three years at Kincardine O'Niel, before keeping the Royal Ury Hotel
at Stonehaven. Here he made money with a posting business and funeral
undertaking, and subsequently bought the Kintore Arms Hotel at Auchinblae,
setting up a larger establishment than was justified by the resulting
business. Either the neighbours did not die in sufficient numbers, or
preferred to dispense with hearse and horses when their time came. Anyhow,
he was not successful, and went farther afield. He is reported to have
negotiated for the purchase of a nice hotel in Dundee, and only to have
given up the idea when he found it was impossible to swing a hammer in the
back yard. Donald denied this story himself, saying his reason for not
taking it was its only having a public-house and not a full hotel licence.
In 1870 he was invited by the Caledonian Clubs in America to go over to
the States, and he defeated the best athletes there and in Canada. In 1872
he paid the States another visit, this time with James Fleming of
Ballingling. He remained in Scotland ten years after that, until his next
visit abroad, which included Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Natal,
and Cape Colony. He went into the hotel and posting business in the
Colonies, and also had several prize-winning trotters. His last house was
a restaurant at Auckland. His return to Scotland was the cause of great
personal disappointment. The result of his appearance in many of the
scenes of his former triumph was such as barely covered his expenses. For
twelve months he kept dining-rooms in Crookston Street, and later on in
Old Govan Road, Glasgow, within pistol shot of where, twenty-five years
previously, he had won more money in one day than he then took for a whole
week. Fish and chips next-but let us turn from this (although in pantomime
and elsewhere the reference frequently causes a smile), to the brighter
side of his history.
With a height 6 feet, chest
48 inches, and thigh of 26½ inches, he had a calf of 17¼ inches. In proper
training his weight was 15 stone. His swarthy complexion and piercing eyes
were characteristic of his nature, and all his life he stuck to the kilt.
It was perhaps the irony of
Fortune, if such a thing exists, that Dinnie's universal popularity and
prowess as an athlete should be overshadowed by sceptical jealousy and
allegations of mendacity regarding his records. In his absence abroad, the
later generation could not, or did not, wish to believe that he had done
things so supremely superior to his contemporaries. He could toss a huge
caber, at which they failed completely, unless a piece was sawn off it.
They did not like that, it made them "pygmies under a giant," as it was
described by the Aberdeen Herald in 1878, when reporting the
Luckily, "coming down to
brass tacks," so to speak, we have the Aboyne Records from 1867 to 1890.
Hammers, stones, and ground, all remains unchanged. Eight years he
competed there, so let us see his doings, and we have genuine facts and
figures. With the 24 lb. hammer he won seven firsts and one second,
throwing it 81 feet 6 inches, with the old handles. Since 1890, J. H.
Johnston, with new handles, threw 84 feet 3 inches. With light hammer of
16 lb. he won every time at Aboyne, throwing 107 feet 10 inches. Soon
after, J. H. Johnston threw 113 feet 2 inches. Next with heavy stone of 22
lb. at Aboyne, Donald had six firsts, one second, and one third, his
maximum distance being 37 feet. With light stone of 16 lb. Donald had
seven firsts and one second, with 46 feet 9½ inches maximum.
It was, however, in tossing
the caber that Donald shone chiefly. He won it eight times, while M'Rae
and Davidson only scored four and three times respectively.
At Braemar Dinnie's winning
putt, with the 28 lb. stone, was 31 feet 7 inches in 1867; his other
performances were 92 feet 4 inches with the 16 lb. hammer, 84 feet 9
inches with the 22 lb., high leap 5 feet 4½ inches, and long leap 17 feet
11 inches. It is recorded by Mr. A. G. Cumming that he threw the 16 lb.
hammer 94 feet 4 inches at Braemar in 1865, in which year Wm. Cattenach
beat Dinnie by 2 inches with the 28 lb. stone.
In 1871 he threw the 16 lb.
hammer 138 feet 8 inches at Coupar-Angus.
I cannot refrain from
quoting the late Mr. Charles Donaldson's anecdote of Mar Lodge, on the
occasion when His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (later His Majesty
King Edward) was present. The games were almost over when the Royalties
arrived, but the Committee simply had to prolong them. They besought
Donald to go out and show his prowess with hammer and caber. "Ay," said
Donald, " I'll gang oot, but I want twa pound." "But it's for the Prince
of Wales, Donald," they said. "Ye ken it's an honour tae throw before the
Prince." "I dinna gie a d--- ," said Donald. "I pay me taxes, and I'll tak
no less." Eventually the other competitors took the field without him, and
like the Sergeant-Major, "carried on," until the caber event was reached.
On seeing the failure of all the others, Donald rushed into the arena, and
gave a tremendous toss. He denied he wanted the £2 otherwise than as a
prize open to all the competitors, but the story stands for what it is
Napoli, the Italian
Hercules, once visited the show grounds at West End, Aberdeen, when Dinnie
chanced to appear. With practice, he soon lifted a bar bell of 250 lb.
with both hands, above his head, and also 168 lb. in his right hand. Not
many Scotsmen try this.
Turning to wrestling, we
note that in 1882 at Plainfield, New Jersey, he won the mixed styles
championship of America, and a massive gold medal given by Mr. R. K. Fox
of The Police Gazette.
On another occasion William
Muldoon, the champion Graeco-Roman wrestler of those days, agreed to have
a match with Donald for £50 a side and half " gate." In this match Donald
undertook to throw Muldoon twice for once, the former in the Cumberland
and Westmorland style, and the latter in the Graeco-Roman. Muldoon
regularly applied the strangling hold, and thus won his portion, because
Donald could not avoid it, nor did he know he could break fingers, thumbs,
or wrists, and so lost.
Muldoon thus had five falls
in his favour, and Donald began on his task of gaining ten in his own
It was unfortunate that the
gong for "time" sounded just as Dinnie won the ninth fall, so he was
defeated by one fall.
At San Francisco Dinnie
lost to Farrel in the wrestling and McMillan in the putting, but won the
hammer-throwing, and in fact, all the heavy events. His winnings totalled
£350, as well as half the " gate " in another match with Muldoon the same
In a wrestling match in
Australia he met Professor Millar and made quite sure of his victory this
time, his opponent sustaining a broken leg. This was the consequence of
the referee giving a "draw" in his weight-lifting match with Billy Hudson
in New Zealand.
At the height of his
career, Donald proved a great attraction to thousands of folks in the
country districts. One old woman once tramped from up Deeside to Braemar
just to get a glimpse of him. After much jostling and pushing she
eventually got within sight of him, and inquired which competitor he was.
"That's him with the tanned
skin," said someone (regardless of grammar).
"Ay, ay," said she, "he's a
braw chiel. Aweel, I'll awa' hame again; I'll dee happy noo, noo I've seen
'This occurred years ago,
but Donald kept up his proud and independent character long after he left
the ring, preserving a pugnacity similar to that of an old chief, who, on
being asked on his deathbed to forgive his enemies, replied he had none,
because he had killed them all. Such indeed was Dinnie. Undiplomatic,
unlucky, uncompromising, unbending, yet he was as true as steel, and
honest and straightforward to a fault.
It is pleasant to be able
to find his cheery son still in Scotland, as the writer can testify from
personal experience. One sunny Sunday, Mr. Smith, whose guest I was at the
comfortable White Hart Hotel at Arbroath for several days, most kindly
motored me over to the Commercial Hotel at Brechin in Forfarshire, where
we found Edwin G. Dinnie in the best of health and spirits. Though very
busy, he entertained us in his sanctum, and to his kindness and courtesy
is due the insertion of two of our illustrations, namely, those of some of
his father's medals and the ancient group taken at the Aboyne Gathering on
pages 183 and 173.
As tossing the caber was
the chief event for which Dinnie was celebrated, it may be of interest to
trace the origin of this feat. Some hold that it originated during the
felling of timber, and that when burns or rivers had to be crossed, the
workmen threw them across to the opposite bank. It could hardly be said
that bridge-building gave it its origin. We must remember that a caber
does not always fall in the required direction, so this theory does not
find universal acceptance.
A facetious friend of mine
(a prominent judge at the Northern Gathering) ventures the idea that
frequently these Highlanders had fractious wives to control at home, and
practised throwing trees about to keep their muscles in good form for the
enforcement of love, honour, or obedience that might be required in the
domestic circle. Prayer Book revision was not then under ecclesiastical
consideration, but wives probably never intended obedience then more than
they do nowadays.
In a delightful volume
published some years ago anonymously under the title of "Pages from a
Private Diary," one of the entries relates to the author visiting Highland
Games in the company of a learned professor, who waxed very eloquent over
tossing the caber. He had no doubt that the sport, like the word, was
originally Norman, and had come to Scotland with other essentials of
civilization, such as "napery" and "carafes," in the days when French and
Scotch were brothers in arms. The diarist doubted this. He quotes the
description from the "Voces Populi" of Mr. Anstey, a gentleman whose pen
was as accurate as it was facile. The caber-a rough fir-trunk 21 feet
long-is tossed, that is, lifted by six men, set on end, and placed in the
hands of the athlete, who, after looking at it doubtfully for a time,
poises it, raises it a foot or two, and runs several yards with it, after
which he jerks it forward by a mighty effort so as to pitch on the thicker
end, and fall over in the direction farthest from him. We Southerners, he
adds, very much resented the introduction of hornpipes into the dancing
competitions. But on reflection, he did not see why Highlanders should not
be sailors as well as soldiers.
There are those, too, who
think that the bagpipes were introduced from France, being the original "cornemuse."
When we realize that the
clansmen were mainly addicted in bygone days to cattle-lifting and
sheep-tending, we can understand them having plenty of time to spare for
recreation. They would naturally turn to such sport or exercise for which
the implements lay most conveniently to their hands. Thus they would hurl
great stones and trees about, and so in course of time came into existence
putting the weight and tossing the caber. It seems fairly certain that
throwing the hammer originated from men meeting at a blacksmith's shop to
have their horses shod. As they waited time would hang heavy, but some
energetic youth would seize the blacksmith's hammer and throw it some way,
for his companions to follow suite, and thus start a diversion, which has
never since been discontinued. Long may it remain, as its spectacular
interest is enormous.
Before I leave Donald and
his exploits I must include an ancient anecdote regarding the "putting of
On the eve of Culloden the
combatants indulged in various athletic pastimes, and one particular
Lowlander challenged all the others at this feat of strength. It was not
long before the Highland officers discovered the intention of their men,
and got the wind up properly, especially as the slaying of the Lowlander
would naturally cause his colleagues to desert in a body. Search was
therefore made throughout the camp for the most powerful Celt that could
By good luck it chanced
that M'Grigor of Inverigny had in his company a man called Malcolm Durward
of Mullach. He, however, had a boil on his thigh, and was lying in his
plaid on the heather, as ferocious as a wild bull; with much trouble they
persuaded him to go with them.
The most prominent
gentlemen of the army had by now gathered at the scene of the contest, for
general uneasiness had been caused by the untoward affair. The arrival of
Durward, therefore, with the stone, caused breathless excitement in the
rapidly increasing circle of spectators.
"Keep back," cried Lewis
Gordon, "and let our champion of Mar have free room."
The stone went hurtling
through the air, and cut the turf a yard beyond the mark of the
Lowlander's best throw.
"Mar for ever," shouted
Lewis Gordon, while loud applause rent the air. This feat caused Malcolm
to burst the boil on his thigh, but after treatment he was himself again
by next day.
Next day! ah, what a day of
woe and terror! Since that fateful 16th of April, 1746, no more will the
banner of the Stuarts spread its ample folds to the breeze amongst the
mountains of Caledonia.