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The Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Chapter IV


Society's President knighted-Lord Rosebery presents gold Cup - `Uncrowned King of Scotland" - 567 members in two years - Hon. James Munro becomes President - Testimonial to Secretary - Dr Cameron Lees visits "this noble City" - Lord Hopetoun as Patron - "The Herd Laddie" and Donald Dinnie - First Smoke Night and picnic.

MIDWAY in 1886 members of the Caledonian Society rejoiced exceedingly over an honour achieved by their President: he was knighted by Queen Victoria. Sir James MacBain, it was generally agreed, richly merited this recognition, for he had served the community admirably in many ways, and particularly as President of the Legislative Council and President of the Melbourne Caledonian Society.

Again, in the same month, members of the Society found further cause for rejoicing over an announcement made by their President. Sir James stated that the Earl of Rosebery, who had visited the colonies a few years previously, had written asking whether the Caledonian Society would accept a Thistle Cup from him, and on being assured that the Society would be honoured to receive such a gift, had forwarded a very handsome gold cup, representing a branch of the Royal Thistle of Scotland in full bloom.

The cup bore the inscription: Offered in memory of all the happy associations connected with its name to the Caledonian Society of Victoria by Rosebery: 1886.

At the time he honoured the Society in that manner Lord Rosebery was Britain's Minister for Foreign Affairs. Later (1894) he succeeded Gladstone as Prime Minister, and incidentally became the only Prime Minister to win the Derby while in office. Lord Rosebery was a great man. In his time the chief spokesman of the Empire, he could sway even the most dour audience with the brilliance of his speech. J. M. Barrie refers to him as "The Uncrowned King of Scotland", and says that he was the only man, apart from Gladstone, who could make Scots take politics as if they were taking a Highland Fling. Once, when Rosebery was firing an Edinburgh audience almost to the point of delirium, an old man in the hall shouted, "I dinna hear a word he says, but it's grand, it's grand!"

It can be appreciated that, as newspapers of the period report, members of Melbourne's Caledonian Society were highly delighted to receive Lord Rosebery's gift, which they resolved should be used only on special occasions. To this day members feel the same way about it-the Rosebery Cup remains one of their most treasured possessions and is still used only on special occasions.

So ended two years' activities of the reconstructed Society: from June of '84 to June of '86.

In that period it had acquired 567 members and funds totalling 1200. It had conducted a large conversazione in Melbourne Town Hall, two sports meetings, two St. Andrew's dinners, two concerts, a ball, and literary competitions. It had launched a Scottish Choral Society. It had done much charitable work in the community. In addition, its President had been knighted and its status had been further emphasized by the gift of a handsome cup from the Earl of Rosebery, who, incidentally, had joined Sir Henry Loch in becoming a Patron of the Society.

In view of such a record of achievement, it was natural that, at the Annual Meeting of '86, members should raise the question of the Society obtaining a club-room of its own. Sir James MacBain agreed with the representations made on this subject. He promised that the Council would obtain such accommodation just as soon as funds permitted.

Sir James MacBain retired from the Presidency at that stage-he declined to accept re-nomination after two years in the Chair. His place was taken by the Hon. James Munro, M.L.A., who within a period of four years was to be Victoria's Premier.

The last act of Sir James MacBain, when vacating the Chair, was to hand the Rosebery Cup to his successor.

Messrs D. R. McGregor and Thomas Baillie were elected Vice-Presidents; Mr John Macdonald was re-elected Hon. Secretary, and Mr James Fergusson was chosen as Hon. Treasurer. The new Council included Sir Arthur Nicolson, Messrs. C. S. Paterson, John Walker, C. M. Longmuir, and Wm. Macgregor.

Other personal items negotiated by the meeting were the awarding of 100 to Mr Macdonald for his work as Hon. Secretary, the voting of 50 guineas to Mr Robert Kennedy for his services as conductor of the Society's Choir, and the recording of cordial appreciation of Sir James MacBain's enthusiasm in re-organizing the Society.

It may be noted, by the way, that a report of the proceedings of that Annual Meeting occupied almost a full column, in small type, in the Argus of 28th September 1886. Such recognition, in fact, was typical of the treatment accorded all gatherings of the Caledonian Society by newspapers of the period.

The most significant development in the early part of 1887 was the securing of rooms by the Society (although only on a rental basis) one of them serving the purposes of members generally and the other being used by the Choir. They were situated in the City of Melbourne Bank.

An interesting amendment to the Rules was made in this period. It provided that six members of Council should be entitled to retain their seats without re-election, those six to be members who had attended the greatest number of Council and general meetings during the year.

At this time, too, Mr Napier (now a Vice-President) returned to his attack against the injudicious use of the words "England" and "English"-he succeeded with a motion protesting against the word "England", instead of Britain, being used in the illuminations of Parliament House in honour of the Queen's birthday. (The desired change was made by the Government).

In August of '87 Melbourne newspapers "spread themselves" very considerably over a banquet given by the Caledonian Society in honour of the Rev. Dr. J. Cameron Lees, a distinguished visiting Scot. Dr. Lees, in his speech, remarked jocularly that Scotland had conquered England and it was a great joy to him to find that it had also, in a large measure, conquered Victoria. At any rate, he rejoiced to find Scots taking a leading part in the affairs of "this great, noble, and progressive city", and he would look back with very much pleasure on the period he had spent among them.

Mr Munro remained in the Presidency only one year. He gave way to D. R. McGregor, who in turn was succeeded by Sir Arthur Nicolson (1888-89) and James Richmond (1889-91). Sir Arthur Nicholson, by the way, was an Adelaide-born baronet; he later inherited estates in the Shetland Isles and, taking up occupancy, died there in 1917.

Meanwhile (1887) John Macdonald found himself unable to continue as Hon. Secretary and it was agreed to advertise the position at 100 a year. Forty-eight applications were received, and an exhaustive ballot resulted in the selection of Robert F. Gow, a well-known artist.

Meanwhile, too, the Society lost Sir Henry Loch from the office of Patron (he having finished his term as Governor), and the position was taken in 1890 by the new Governor, the Earl of Hopetoun, that popular viceregal representative who became later-in 1900-the first Governor-General of the Commonwealth.

Patronage, of course, was not all one-way traffic. While seeking the approval of the King's representatives, the Society in its turn was often asked to bestow patronage.

Such a request reached the Council in 1886 from "the Herd Laddie" (Andrew Wylie ) a Scot who had risen from cow-tending to such remarkable eminence as a draughts-player that it was said he could defeat skilled opponents with his eyes blindfolded. Another request of the kind, made in '91, was from Donald Dinnie, the sturdy Scot (son of an Aberdeen poet and brother of a detective-inspector at Scotland Yard) who was probably the best all-round athlete in the world of his time.

The Council "played canny" in both cases: it agreed to give patronage to "the Herd Laddie" but without accepting any financial responsibility, and it asked Donald Dinnie for more information. Actually, Wylie seems to have done well enough without the Caledonians' financial aid, for when he died, in 1901, he was found to have left property valued at 447 in Victoria alone. Evidently draughts paid in those days.

No less canny was the Council's attitude when the promoter of a benefit concert for a man named Ireland sought patronage. It was agreed to grant the request "conditionally upon Mr Ireland being proved to be a Scotsman". Ireland, no doubt, would have been on safer ground if, like a certain member of the Caledonian Society, his surname had been Scotland!

Social functions were continued by the Society during the late eighties and early nineties. The first Smoke Night (of the reconstructed body) took place on 21st May 1888, and was so successful that others soon followed. A picnic at Altona Bay in December of '88 (on a steamer generously provided by one of the members, John Blyth ) was much enjoyed, and so was another company outing, attended by 500 and held at Beaumaris, in December of '89.

Yet another social enterprise of importance was a visit to Ballarat by approximately 100 members and friends of the Society-a special train was chartered-for the purpose of attending the unveiling of Percival Ball's fine statue of William Wallace. That was on the Queen's Birthday (24th May) 1889.


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