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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter X


General Sir Ian Hamilton as guest - His views of Japanese in 1914 - "I belong to the Caledonian Society" - Harry Lauder covets the Peacock laugh - Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson as Patron - World War I breaks out - Prime Minister Andrew Fisher attends St. Andrew's Dinner - Work for patriotic purposes - Society favours conscription.

WHAT better beginning to a year's activities could any group of Scots have desired than that which Melbourne Caledonians enjoyed in March of 1914? They had then as their guest, in the Town Hall, General Sir Ian Hamilton, who had been brought out by the Comonwealth Government to advise on Australia's defence.

General Hamilton was accompanied to the function by the Prime Minister (Hon. Joseph Cook), the Leader of the Federal Opposition (Hon. Andrew Fisher), the Premier (Hon. W. A. Watt), the Minister of Defence (Senator Millen ), and the Chief of the General Staff (Brigadier-General Gordon ). All were welcomed by the Society's President, Mr Boyd, M.P.

Sir Ian Hamilton spoke with some caution on military matters when acknowledging the cordial welcome extended to him. He agreed with the Prime Minister that Australians were likely to give a good account of themselves if an emergency arose; he issued a veiled warning regarding the militaristic tendencies of Germany; and he advised that care to be taken to understand the psychology of the Japanese. The Japs, Sir Ian said, longed for war about as much as the Americans longed for another San Francisco earthquake, but if their pride was ruffled half a dozen earthquakes would not stop them.

As for Scots in Australia, their first duty, Sir Ian Hamilton suggested, was to this country. Each man should say to himself, "I am an Australian-and I belong to the Caledonian Society."

Hard upon the heels of Sir Ian Hamilton came another Scot whose trade was very different: he was that international merry-maker, Harry Lauder. James Boyd and his Caledonians entertained Harry at dinner at the Oriental Hotel, where the visitor made a pawky little speech of acknowledgement. The chief happening during the function seems to have been an offer by Lauder to give away a small fortune-he offered this to Sir Alexander Peacock in return for the copyright of his uproarious laugh! (Had Harry Lauder heard Harry Chaffey, a member of the Caledonians' Council in later years, he would probably have decided that Peacock's laugh was not, in fact, the heartiest in Australia.)

Later in 1914 a third eminent Scot arrived, namely, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, new Governor-General. His Excellency and Lady Helen were greeted first by the Scottish Union (at the Burns Statue) and later by the Caledonian Society, which at once offered him the position of Patron. Sir Ronald accepted gladly: he said it would be an honour to occupy the same office as had the late Lord Hopetoun, and as did Lord Rosebery and Lord Caimichael.

In the following month (August) World War broke out, and after that all the proceedings of the Caledonian Society during four years, and the activities of other Scottish societies as well, were governed by the national emergency.

Soon after the War began Andrew Fisher had become Prime Minister again. He was, of course, exceedingly busy, and yet he found time to attend the Society's St. Andrew's Dinner in 1914, at which members gave him a rousing welcome and applauded his declaration that Australia would support Britain "to the last man and the last shilling".

George Buchanan was now President of the Society (James Boyd had retired after only a year of office), and Robert Kerr, of Essendon, had become President of the Union. The chief obligation of both men was to raise money for patriotic funds and to give farewells to members who were going abroad on active service.

Entertainers of various types rallied well to the patriotic cause. Singers now included Ida Fowler, Nelly Rouxel, Annie Ferrier, Betty Paterson, Hilda Brewer, Winnie Fraser, Percy Blundell, and The Cayleys (George Walker and Jessie Bunting), with Neil McInnes and Tom Angus reinforcing the comedians. In addition, Danny McPherson and Louis McLennan were strengthening the pipers and many good dancers were being turned out by George Hay, J. M. Cousins, and James Williamson. Eric Fox was a favorite pianist.

With the aid of some of these artists the Society turned its St. Andrew's celebration of 1915 into a grand patriotic concert in the Town Hall, at which the Governor-General was present and made a speech.

William P. Jarvie replaced George Buchanan as President of the Society in August of 1915 and in the following year Andrew Thomson, an earlier President, was given another term. Soon after leaving office (November 1916) Jarvie died. He had been a dominating figure in Victorian Scottish circles-a founder and for many years an officer of the Scottish Regiment, first Secretary of the Scottish Union, Secretary and President of the Melbourne Caledonian Society, and an entertainer of considerable merit. His son was fighting in France at the time of the father's death.

Another loss at the time was that of Hugh Paterson, former councillor, Treasurer, and chief decorative artist of the Society, and also Chairman of the Federal Art Advisory Board. He died in 1917 at the age of 61. Although relatively young, he was one of the Society's oldest members, having joined at an early age.

Incidentally, Hugh Paterson had been a leading member of the Melbourne Savage Club, where he was closely associated with another talented Scot in the person of William Tainsh, plus David Dow, son of J. L. Dow, an Ayrshire man who had been a foundation member of the Melbourne Caledonian Society in 1884 and afterwards became a Minister of State.

Scottish Union Presidents were still changing from year to year: J. Hume Cook, M.P., took office in 1915 and David Andrew ( Bendigo ) in 1916. Burt Stewart, still fighting for proper recognition of the word "British", had become Imperial Terms Correspondent and was busy in an argument on the subject with the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges.

Among the Society's functions of 1916 were a farewell to the Treasurer, J. H. McConnell, who had enlisted, and a reception to Colonel (later Brigadier-General) J. Campbell Stewart, Colonel Wanliss and Major W. C. Chessar, each of whom had risen from private to officer in the Scottish Regiment and who in the meantime had given sound service to the Caledonian Society. (Today, the Society's Honour Roll bears testimony to those and other stalwarts).

So it was during the rest of the War period -practically all the work of the Society concentrated on the raising of money for patriotic purposes and the entertaining of members of the fighting forces. Indeed, at its St. Andrew's Dinner of 1917 the Society pledged itself, through its officers, to conscription; and it did so in the presence of the Lieut.-Governor (Sir John Madden), the State Treasurer (Hon. W. M. McPherson ), and the Director-General of Recruiting (Hon. Donald McKinnon).

Most of the directive work in those national enterprises fell on J. G. Currie (who was Acting President for portion of 1916-17) and Robert Buchanan, who served as President from 1917 to 1919. It was partly through Buchanan's efforts that the Society raised 281 on Empire Day of 1918 and considerable sums on other occasions.

Only at intervals did the Society turn its attention from the war effort. One occasion was when a theatre party was held in honour of Allan Wilkie and his wife. Another was when, early in 1918, a billiards Memorial Shield, given by Society members, was unveiled in honour of James Denham, a one-time member of the Council who had risen from a lowly beginning to a high position in the Tramway Service. A third "break", of a more general nature, was a series of "literary and song nights", arranged and contributed by members during 1918. Most of the lectures were really very good.

An incidental development of the time was that the Society had the pleasure of congratulating one of its members on the attainment of a high and unusual honour: he was Sir John Forrest, and he was raised to the Peerage.

The Scottish Union, too, did much patriotic work. Under its auspices George Dickson produced in Melbourne Town Hall, late in 1917, a spectacular play termed Bonnie Scotland, mostly an effort by youth. Also, the Union raised nearly k2,000 for a Highland Relief Fund; it took measures to arrange for repatriation of fighting men, and, by way of variety, it sponsored the publication of a book of verse by that "Australian Robert Burns", Allan McNeilage.

A feature of the Union's gatherings during the year beginning September 1917 was the patriotic speeches of Burt Stewart, who had again become President. He was succeeded in 1918 by a representative from Brunswick, C. H. Skinner.

It need scarcely be added that neither the Union nor the Society gained in numerical strength in this period. No longer, now, was there an upsurge of new Scottish societies or of new members in existing societies. The fact was, indeed, that the response to the demands of war made by young Scottish-Australians was so cordial that many societies found it difficult to continue.


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