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David M. Smail in Cape Town

Mr David M. Smail in Cape Town.

THE following extract from the “Jedburgh Gazette” will interest a wide circle of readers, who, like ourselves, have had experience of the genial character of the subject: —

Mr David M. Smail, a native of Jedburgh, and brother of Bailie Smail, has had a high honour conferred on him in Cape Town. He has been unanimously elected President of the Caledonian Society, an office that puts him at the head of the Scottish community there. By his compatriots, who are amongst the leading men of the Cape in intellectual endowment and business capacity, this appointment is a coveted distinction, and the men who are honoured in this way have gained their confidence and esteem by qualities of no ordinary kind.

The election took place at the annual meeting of the Society held in Cape Town on the 8th of September. Sir John Buchanan, who was president last year, occupied the chair during the first part of the meeting. When the annual report had been adopted,

Sir John Buchanan said that although he himself had been somewhat remiss in his duties as president, he could assure them they had had a very active vice-president in Mr David Smail, and he had great pleasure in moving that that gentleman be appointed his successor in the presidential chair. In Mr Smail they would have an energetic president. He had taken a great interest in the Society, and had allied himself enthusiastically with the work. Personally, he had formed a very high opinion of Mr Smail’s abilities, and they might rest assured that their new president would do everything in his power to forward the interests of the Society.

Mr Maitland Park, in seconding Sir John's motion, said that he had every opportunity of admiring Mr Smail’s solicitude for the welfare of the Society. Mr Small was a genuine Scotchman, and was ever ready to bestow a helping hand to “brither Scots.”

Mr Smail was unanimously elected, and the rest of the evening’s proceedings were conducted under his chairmanship. In thanking the meeting for the honour done him, Mr Smail said the kind things said about him by Sir John Buchanan and Mr Park were far too laudatory. Naturally, he was proud to be elected president of a society of his fellow-Scotsmen—six thousand miles from home— and he hoped for the co-operation of all the members, so that his year of office might be most successful.

When the business of the meeting had been discharged, a smoking concert was held, and at the close the members vowed anew their loyalty and kinship in singing with fervour “God Save the King” and “Auld Lang Syne.”

As a further tribute to Mr Smail, we have great pleasure in quoting the following from that finely-illustrated monthly, “The South African Scot”:—

The Cape Town Caledonian Society is to be congratulated on the election of Mr D. M. Smail as its president for the forthcoming year. When it became known, a week or two ago, that the Council of the Society had unanimously decided to nominate Mr Smail as the successor of Sir E. John Buchanan, it was generally agreed by all classes of the Scottish community that a better choice could not have been made.

There are few Scots in the Peninsula so popular as Mr Smail is, and it is confidently expected that with him in the chair, the Caledonian Society will be materially strengthened and its best traditions maintained. It has long been felt by his fellow-members that the honour which has just fallen to him was his just due, both on account of his outstanding abilities, and the yeoman service he has rendered the Society in the past. His honest, straightforward dealings in business, his shrewdness, his sound judgment, and his thorough grasp of affairs, earn for him the respect of all with whom he comes into contact. But with those who know him intimately, this feeling deepens into something warmer, under the influence of his kindly nature and his dry, pawky wit. In the social circle he is a great favourite. He, like Yorick, is “a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy,” and his “flashes of merriment” are “wont to set the table in a roar.”

As his name suggests, he comes of a sturdy Border stock. He was born forty-four years ago in the Royal Burgh of Jedburgh, which, as all Scots know, was long ago famous for its “Jethart Justice,” which consisted in hanging a man first and trying him afterwards. His father was Thomas Smail, bookseller and stationer, and one of the most respected men in the old burgh. After being educated at the well-known Nest Academy there, young David served his apprenticeship in his father’s business. He then moved to Edinburgh, and entered the service of Geo. Stewart Co., one of the largest manufacturing stationers in that city. With this firm he remained for many years, and for some time was engaged in travelling over all Scotland for them./ Latterly he acted as their London representative, where the firm had a large wholesale and export trade.

In 1897 he came to South Africa as manager for the firm of W. A. Richards & Sons. With this firm he remained until the business was purchased by the Cape Times, Ltd., when his services were taken over by them, and he now acts as their assistant general manager.

Shortly after his arrival in South Africa he joined the Caledonian Society, and, as has been stated, he has since rendered it invaluable service. For some years he has been one of its vice-presidents.

Before coming to this country Mr Smail was an ardent volunteer, and served in the Border Rifles, the Queen’s Edinburgh, and the London Scottish. While in the latter corps he was popular with his comrades, and during the late war in this country he was indefatigable in his exertions for the comfort and well-being of the members of his old corps. That his kindness and attentions were appreciated was made evident when the members of the regiment presented him after the war with a silver-mounted dirk. The presentation was made by the then president of the Cape Town Caledonian Society —the Hon. T. L. Graham—at one of the meetings of the Society.

Mr Smail is a keen bowler, and his voice and figure are well known on the Gardens Green. He is also an enthusiastic Freemason, and is tin office-bearer in the Southern Cross Lodge.

He is a man of literary and cultured tastes. Probably these tastes run “in the bluid,” for his uncle was the well-known writer, “Matthew Gotterson,” the author of “Little Jock Elliot.” He lectures and, what is remarkable in these days, his lectures are appreciated, the favourites being those on the “Scottish Borders” and “Burns’s Land.”

An enthusiastic Scot, proud of all connected with his native country, but especially proud of the beautiful Border Land and his “ain romantic toon.”

Scottish immigrants to South Africa have, over the centuries, added invaluable elements to the culture of this country. With their common sense and their intricate, hugely entertaining, cultural identity, South African Scots are some of the most interesting members of the Rainbow Nation.

Some South African place names that have Scottish origins include Aberdeen in the Eastern Cape, Balgowan and Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal, Balmoral and Blairgowrie in Gauteng, Balfour (formerly ‘McHattiesburg’) in Mpumalanga, Orkney in the North West Province, Campbell and Sutherland in the Northern Cape, and Elgin, Gordon's Bay, McGregor and Napier in the Western Cape.

There’s a little corner of Scotland at the southern tip of the Drakensberg tail, between the Eastern Cape villages of Lady Grey and Barkly East.

On an autumn morning, with the chill of winter not quite gone from these mountains, you stand in the stream waters in your waders and cast out for wild trout or yellowfish. Around you are farms and lakes and towns and resorts named Tiffendell, Loch Ness, Carlisle’s Corner, Rosstrevor and Balloch. The grasses and heathers and craggy mien of the mountains and the single malt whisky in the trout lodge at the day’s end all favour a Scottish setting.

And it just gets better. Around you are ancient caves full of ancient San art. The livestock trails leading into and out of nearby Lesotho pass here. A Verreaux’s eagle calls from the rocky outcrops. It might feel like Scotland, but it’s really Africa. What a combination.

Scottish people in South Africa have been an integral part of the national DNA for centuries. They came with their road-building expertise, their evangelism, their disciplines, their farming experience, their incredible architectural skills and all the craft and inventiveness that infuse the Scottish identity.

Caledonian societies, Highland dancing, Freemason groups, pipe bands, military tattoos, Burns Night, chasing the haggis around the room and eating it and glorious whisky-tasting evenings are all part of the Scottish experience in South Africa. The Scots culture is so colourful and interesting that many non-Scots often join them in celebrations.

Many Scottish visitors to South Africa pay a short but emotional visit to the Magersfontein battle site near Kimberley, where more than 300 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch were killed, wounded or listed as missing during the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War). The site is said to be haunted to this day by a young Scottish piper, playing his lonely, soul-tugging pipes atop a koppie (small South African hill).

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