In the Roaring 'Fifties - A
Useful Tombstone - Five Caledonian Societies before 1860 - Scottish
Explorers - Getting home before dark - No "English" Queen - Donald Kennedy
as first Chief - Strong Committees.
ALTHOUGH it has long been
supposed that the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne had its genesis in
1884, we know now that the roots of our Society extend back to 1858.
The years between cover
almost the entire span of Victoria's life as a Colony and State. In 1858
it was only twenty-three years since John Batman had discovered what he
regarded as "the place for a village". It was barely seven years since the
Colony had been inaugurated. It was less than four years after the
historic affair at Eureka. And, for another picturesque reflection, it was
a couple of years before Burke and Wills started out on their tragic
Knowledge regarding the
original formation of a Caledonian Society in Melbourne was gained through
an inscription on a weather-worn tombstone in a country cemetery.
Actually, the inscription had nothing to do with Scottish affairs - it
simply commemorated an old-time murder. The point is, while a search was
being made for the story of that tragedy, in the files of the Melbourne
Herald, attention was arrested by a lengthy report of the founding a
Scottish society. The date of the meeting in question, held in the
Mechanics' Institution, Melbourne, was 6th April 1858.
Here is the text of the
main resolution adopted by the meeting, which was attended by about one
It is expedient that a
national association, to be called the Caledonian Society of Victoria, and
consisting of members of Scottish birth or parentage, be now formed, and
that the rules now read be the fundamental rules of the Society.
With the adoption of that
motion Melbourne's Caledonian Society was established. It took its place
with Geelong's Commun Na Fienne (now unfortunately extinct) which was
formed in 1856, and with Maryborough's Highland Society (still
flourishing) which was founded in 1857. Also, it joined those bodies in
setting an example to Ballarat, where a Caledonian Society was formed
later in 1858, and Bendigo, which acquired a Caledonian Society in 1859.
There you have the names of
the five chief Scottish societies in the early days of Victoria. But, as a
notable fact, they were not the first of their kind, for records indicate
that two or three Scottish organizations were formed in Melbourne from as
early as 1846. One, a St Andrew's Society, had died in infancy, the chief
complication being a dispute about whether Englishmen and Irishmen should
be admitted to the dinners.
Why, it may be asked, did
Victoria chance to be the scene of such an upsurge of Scottish societies
thus early in its history?
The explanation appears to
be that, aside from the fact that Scots have always been apt to "get
together" on the slightest provocation, Victoria had the luck to receive
in its youth bulk supplies of folk from the land of Burns, and that not
only during the gold era but in earlier days. For example, the first
immigrant ship to arrive in Port Phillip, on 27th October 1839, was the
David Clark from Greenock, and among its passengers were men named
McArthur, McFarlane, Menzies, Stewart, Macdonald, Mathieson, McLachlan,
McCool, and Mackenzie. [On 28th-29th October 1939 approximately 300
descendants of the David Clark migrants celebrated in Melbourne the
centenary of their ancestors' arrival. It was a novel and memorable
All this, indeed, was
appropriate enough, for Scots of the exploratory period had been leading
figures in charting the region that was to be given the name of Queen
It was a Grant and a Murray
who, in the good ship Lady Nelson, worked along the Victorian coast in
1801-02, and it was Grant who first gazed upon the "most noble sheet of
water" that was to become known as Port Phillip. It was Thomas Mitchell, a
native of Stirlingshire, who figured as the chief pioneering explorer of
the area which he termed "Australia Felix". And, for another example, it
was Angus McMillan, from the Isle of Skye, who discovered the beautiful
province now known as Gippsland, but which he termed "Caledonia Australis".
appreciation of the Port Phillip district was a factor in causing many of
his countrymen to set their faces towards Melbourne. At all events, there
were considerable numbers of Scots among the pastoralists and business men
in Victoria during the formative days, and quite a few of these had seats
in the colony's pioneering Parliament.
The mover of the basic
motion at the Melbourne Caledonians' meeting, the Hon. T. McCombie, was a
member of the Legislative Council. So, too, was the Chairman of the
gathering, the Hon. Donald Kennedy. Others present included additional
M's.L.C. and a number of members of the youthful Legislative Assembly.
Mr McCombie, in his address
to the meeting, suggested that Scots in Australia should do all in their
power to advance the interests of their adopted country, but at the same
time they should never forget their native land. He himself had been away
from Scotland for sixteen years, and in that time he had never had cause
to be ashamed of any of his countrymen. They were, indeed, among the most
industrious, most independent, and most successful members of the
mercantile and agricultural communities. In addition, they were never
behindhand in the cause of benevolence, which cause was to be one of the
objects of the new Society.
After referring to the high
place held by Scots in literature and education, Mr McCombie curtailed his
remarks because (and this was probably a sound reason in the Melbourne of
the day) he wanted to get home before dark!
Mr John Nimmo seconded the
motion. An Ayrshire man who had reached Australia in 1853 (and who was
later to be Minister for Public Works), Mr Nimmo pleaded for
good-fellowship towards other units of the Empire. All the same, he
objected to the over-frequent use of the word "English", particularly in
reference to the Queen, the Navy, and the Army: there was no "English"
Queen or Navy or Army since the Union. He urged that action be taken to
promote Scotland's music, literature, and national games in Victoria, and
he expressed pleasure at the fact that no fewer than 200 gentlemen had
already tendered their annual subscriptions to the new Society.
Mr James Service (another
Ayrshire man, who later became Premier of Victoria) led a discussion on
the rules of the Society and then moved for the appointment of the Hon.
Donald Kennedy as first Chief and Mr John Macgregor as second Chief. This
motion was carried with applause. So, too, was a motion requesting the
Governor of the Colony (Sir Henry Barkly) to accept the position of Patron
of the Society.
The following members were
appointed to the Board of Extraordinary Directors of the Society: J. F.
Strachan, James Cowie, Thomas McCombie, George Urquhart, M. Hervey, J. H.
Patterson, James Stewart, and Dr Hope (all M's.L.C. ); Dr Thomson, James
Service, and Henry Langlands (all M's.L.A.); W. M. Bell, J.P., R.
McDougall, J.P., Dal Campbell, Norman Campbell (Registrar-General), Dr
McArthur, J.P., Dr Wilkie, and Charles Williamson.
The following members were
appointed to the Board of Ordinary Directors: John Dinwoodie, J.P., John
Bramwell, John Campbell, John Macgregor, junr., John Grant, John Nimmo,
John Sloan, John McMillan, Gordon Cameron, Thomas Mount, Alex. McGregor,
Henry Budge, Thomas Alston, H. B. Stevenson, J. F. Dow, Aeneas Gunn,
William Glen, James Menzies, Thomas Rae, and Dr W. M. Turnbull.
There, to be sure, was a
strong body of Councillors. The Chief was a leading member of the
legislative Upper House, and with him were eleven other members of
Parliament, together with a sturdy group of men who were all among the
leaders of their various professions in Melbourne.
With such a Council, and
with an initial membership of 200, the Caledonian Society of Victoria, in
that autumn of 1858, seemed to be assured of a lengthy, prosperous, and
highly useful period of activity.