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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter II

A Relic of 1858 - Caledonian Festival in 1860 - First English Cricket Eleven Routed - "A Little Pig in a Narrow Gate" - From Archery to Shinty - Old Programme Survives - Distinguished office-bearers.

IF the Caledonians of Melbourne celebrated St Andrew's Day in 1858 (and it is reasonable to suppose that they did), the fact seems to have escaped the notice of newspapers of the period. Nor have we any domestic records, such as minute-books, to shed light on the initial activities of the Society.

Only one tangible relic of Scottish enterprise in the Melbourne of '58 is in hand today. Strangely enough, although this object was produced in Melbourne it came to us, and that only recently, from Scotland. The medium was John Keith of Ballarat, who received it from the Burns Federation of Glasgow.

The relic in question, a programme printed on silk, relates to "Mr Black's Entertainment of Scottish Song" (subtitled "A Nicht Wi' Burns"), which was held in the Mechanics' Institute, Melbourne, on 13th October 1858. The function, although under the patronage of His Excellency Sir Henry Barkly, does not appear to have been promoted by the Caledonian Society, but, at least, the well-preserved old programme is an interesting link with Melbourne's childhood.

A couple of years later (1st December 1860 ) the Melbourne Herald found itself moved to congratulate the Celedonian Society on "the great success of their second annual festival". That means, obviously, that the first festival was held in '59, and yet no reports of the function can be found.

Anyway, there can be no doubt about the impressive nature of the "Grand Caledonian Gathering" of 1860, which extended over Friday 30th November and Saturday 1st December. It was held-more or less appropriately, cynics may say-at the Zoological Gardens, and its programme during the two days ranged through music, dancing, games, archery, and rifle-shooting, with a draughts tournament adding to the variety.

"The Caledonian fete", says the Herald on 1st December, "was in almost everybody's mouth". It adds that so heavy was pressure on the Melbourne and Suburban Railways that "there was no room for crinoline, and the ladies had to compress their fabrics into as small a compass as possible".

Railway employees had rarely known such heavy patronage. "One indefatigable ticket porter," the Herald reveals, "was so concentrative as to manage to stuff a school of young ladies, numbering in all some five-and-twenty, into a carriage already full of adults."

The attendance during the two days numbered about 20,000, a fact which caused the Governor (Sir Henry Barkly ) to congratulate the Secretary (John Campbell) and other officials of the Caledonian Society.

Meanwhile, a slightly peevish note was struck by the Argus. In a leading article dealing with St Andrew's Day the journal set out to curb over-enthusiastic Caledonians. It did so by remarking that the bagpipes affected Scots in the same way as "the beating of a tom-tom charms the ear of an Arab", and, to emphasize its aloofness, it added that the fact that other people were not so affected was "not a reason for inconsolable sorrow".

The Caledonians, of course, treated that uncivilized leader-writer with lofty disdain!

Encouraged by the success of 1860, the Society went one better in the following year by conducting a festival extending over three days (26th to 28th December), and this time the site was the Melbourne Cricket Ground. What did it matter that the first "All England" team, led by H. H. Stephenson, was in town at the time, and was due to play its first match on the M.C.G. on 1st January! A small development of that kind could not be allowed to affect the welfare of a Scottish demonstration. Let the "foreigners", with their bats and balls, go to St Kilda or Richmond for practice! Bannockburn for ever!

Anyway, the big catering firm of Spiers and Pond, which had sponsored the visit of Stephenson's team, was also caterer for the Caledonian gathering, and so had a foot in each camp. It, therefore, cared for the 20,000 or so visitors to the Scottish festival from 26th to 28th December, and then catered at Australia's first international cricket match-the English Eleven v. a Victorian Eighteen-on the same ground two days later, 1st January 1862.

All newspapers of the time, although much occupied with the tragedy of the Burke and Wills Expedition, gave lengthy reports of the Caledonian festival, incidentally congratulating the Society on the large attendance each day and on the fact-which seems to have occasioned some surprise that the ground was left undamaged.

As in 1860, the only spectre at the feast was the leader-writer of the Argus, who seems to have had a personal grouch against bagpipes.

After proclaiming that Scottish national games were surely amongst the most singular of all festival celebrations", the critic went on to say: "Southrons, to whom the sound of a bagpipe is like the squealing of a little pig in a narrow gate, may be permitted on these occasions to indulge in wonder at such fearsome mysteries." Other comments in kind followed. Then, apparently waxing benevolent, the writer expressed a high opinion of the "gravity, sobriety, and discretion of our Scotch neighbours in all matters of, or pertaining to, the business of the world" - which remark, when you come to examine it, seems even more "loaded" than the one about the little pig in a narrow gate!

As in 1860, too, the programme of '61 included music, dancing, rifle-shooting, sword play, archery, caber-tossing, putting the stone, jumping, and foot-racing, with additions in the form of wrestling ("after the Cumberland and Westmorland fashion"), a football match, a "grand quoiting match", and a "grand shinty match". Also, the enterprising promoters offered a silver cup for the best essay on Australian Exploration and three silver medals for "the best poetical compositions in English, broad Scots, and Gaelic".

What more varied diet could any pleasure-seeker of the 1860's have desired?

Unfortunately, the football match (presumably Australian Rules, which appears to have originated in Melbourne in 1858), fell through because the ground was found to be too small; the archery contests failed through lack of sufficient competitors (five ladies and ten gentlemen had been stipulated), and, for some unspecified reason, the "grand shinty match" also fell by the wayside. Other events, however, went through satisfactorily, and the wrestling in particular "excited the warmest approbation".

Incidentally, favourable comment was aroused by "the elegance and richness of the ladies' toilets", but there was some criticism of the fact that only about twenty men appeared in Highland costume, whereas in former years the number so dressed had been approximately one hundred.

On the whole, the three-days' gathering was considered by all newspapers to have been very successful, so much so that the Argus was moved to say, "No small thanks are due to the Caledonian Society of Melbourne for what they have just accomplished."

(It should be noted, by the way, that the newspaper's reference to the "Caledonian Society of Melbourne" indicates that even at that early stage the modern title was sometimes used. Actually, of course, the correct title then was "Caledonian Society of Victoria").

Allowing itself a final flourish, the Argus concluded its description of the festival on this dramatic note: "The two bands thundered out `God Save the Queen', and the Caledonian gathering of 1861 belonged to the past." As a fact, though, the celebrations did not end then; they extended a few days later into a "Grand Caledonian Ball", and by that time, no doubt, Melbourne was more or less mesmerized by the sight of kilts and the sound of pipes.

Certainly it was a bold enterprise, on the part of a young Society, to take charge of the town in such a hearty fashion; and that fact may explain why the officers, desiring to commemorate their achievement, had one of the calico-printed programmes framed and hung. That programme remains with the Royal Caledonian Society today. It is the sole "official" relic we possess of the period before the re-birth of the Society in 1884.

Included on the programme are the names of the officers of the day. His Excellency Sir Henry Barkly was still Patron, but other officials had changed considerably in the three years or so since the Society was formed. Now Angus McMillan was the President, Peter Langwill Vice-President, George Simpson Treasurer, and J. J. Shillinglaw Hon. Secretary. Similarly, there were many "new" names on the list of Directors.

All of the men holding office were citizens of standing and in some instances their names belong to history.

"Mr President" was, of course, the Scot who, coming to this country in 1838 (at the age of 27) became in 1839-40 the discoverer of Gippsland, and later was the first representative of portion of that area in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. It is recorded in Serle's Dictionary of Australian Biography that he "took particular pride in his election as president of the Caledonian Society of Victoria".

As for the Secretary, John Joseph Shillinglaw, he was a man of 31 who had then (1861) been only nine years in Australia, and had already occupied several important positions, including that of shipping-master of the Port of Melbourne. Later he was to become Editor of the Colonial Monthly Magazine and to distinguish himself by carrying out important historical research.

A third Caledonian officer of the time whose name lives on was John Van Agnew Bruce, one of the Directors. A native of Edinburgh, Bruce was, in the words of the Melbourne Herald, "one of the many 'puir laddies' who through the excellent school system of Scotland had been able to fashion out a remarkable career". Having little money on reaching Melbourne, about 1854, within a few years he was able to obtain the contract for the building of the railway from Melbourne to Sandhurst (Bendigo), the price being 3,356,937 2s. 2d.

Need we wonder that, with men of such enterprise at the head of affairs, the Caledonian Society monopolized the Melbourne Cricket Ground for three days in 1861, and, while so doing, caused visiting English cricketers to go to Richmond for their practice?

All the same-while paying due tribute to the spirit of those men of old-we may fairly doubt if they would have similar success were they alive today. These being degenerate days, it is somewhat difficult to imagine Scots being allowed now to arrange for cavalry exercises, tossing the caber, and putting the stone (to say nothing of a "grand shinty match"), on the Melbourne Cricket Ground on the eve of the appearance of an English Eleven!

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