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Highland Gatherings
Chapter VII - 1858 to Present Time

IN 1857 the 16 lb. hammer was thrown 103 feet 3 inches by Wm. MacHardy, Aberdeen, a good throw.

It is of interest to record that more than once has the hammer been thrown out of line, as on this occasion.

Other times were when the cap feathers of a distinguished Highland Chieftain were "dashed" while he was officiating as a judge.

Another hammer fell at Aberdeen, at the feet of a landed proprietor recumbent on the grass. Yet a third time, in close proximity to the Countess of Seafield near the roof-tree of a marquee at Strathspey. On this occasion the tent ropes just prevented the handle from inflicting injury. Somewhat naturally it was suggested that the preliminary swing should be abolished, as was done at Blair Atholl and elsewhere. It certainly does seem fortunate more accidents have not occurred in this event. Perhaps they have, but have not been noticed by historians.

1859. The Invergordon poisoning case caused a diminution in the number of spectators.

Members were admitted by ballot.

Entry fee 65, subscription 2, or 425 for life membership.

Honorary members 2, permanent 2.

Supper tickets 8s. (ladies 2s.).

In this year the Highland Society of London gave a Championship Gold Medal (value 5) for pipers.

Donald Cameron (Seaforth High) won it with "Mackintosh's Lament."

1860. More dancers than ever. The room was so crowded that parties had to dance in the lobby and landing-places on the staircase.

The great Donald Dinnie won the two hammer events, tossing the caber, putting the stone, 150 yards race and the hurdle race. The caber was 20 feet long.

A small person of peculiar figure, in tartan dress, was piper to Donald Stewart of Achindaul. He made his entry too late, but piped so well that he was given a special money prize, and engaged to pipe at the ball.

In 1862 we note that the costume of the two winners in the dress competitions were made from the wool of black-faced sheep bred in the Cairngorm Mountains. Lord Lovat was elected a permanent steward.

The Duke of Richmond is a patron next year, and the venue was Bell's Park, beyond Academy Park. The caterers were Mr. Peacock, with the Royal and Caledonian Hotels. The enclosure was small and mean compared to the Academy one; it was boarded in and would have presented the appearance of a travelling theatre or circus had not three policemen been there. The company, however, was brilliant.

In 1864 was achieved the New Park near Ness House on the river's bank, to the extent of four acres.

The numbers at the balls in 1865 were five hundred and fifty and six hundred and thirty, and there was a great run on the "Moselle Cup."

The piper to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales won the second prize in the pibrochs in 1866.

In 1867 a special prize for pibroch was awarded to Keith Cameron of Maryburgh, aged eleven.

A grand fancy bazaar in 1868 caused an increase of spectators, and prizes were won by pipers to the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh. Mr. White retiring from the post of convener amidst general expression of gratitude, Mr. Fountaine Walker of Foyers was elected in his place.

In 1869 Donald Dinnie's son Cuthbert, aged nine, was commended for his dancing. In this event one competitor wore a shield and sword.

Old Dinnie was away in America in 1870. Pipe-Major Macdougall won the bagpipes he had himself supplied ! We have this year mention of W. McCombie Smith of Aberdeen University. He won the long jump, and in later years was the well-known author of the book on Scottish Athletes. At the ball held later, the Rajah of Kolapore was present, and was the partner in the Lancers of Mrs. Merry of Belladrum.

Bad weather prevailed in 1871. Prizes were won by pipers to Lord Breadalbane and The Mackintosh (James Robertson and Donald Macdonald). Mr. T. G. Henderson (interim secretary) was appointed secretary. An interesting event was a race twice round the enclosure between four gentlemen.

Winner, Mr. Douglas Moffat.
Second, Captain Bolland, 3 yards start.
Third, Mr. Wingfield Strafford, 15 yards start.

The other gave up the first time round, and passes to posterity nameless.

The band of the 91st Highlanders was present in 1872.

David Airtley of Lochletter, winner of the dress competition, had attended for fifty years. The purveyors were Hunter and Glover of Edinburgh.

In 1873 single stick exercise was introduced by the 78th Highlanders, and the secretary's salary increased by 20 a year.

The band of the 99th Regiment played in 1874, and one of the Society's rooms let free of charge to the Inverness School of Art.

The 1st Royal Scots sent their band in 1875. Lance-Corporal MacGregor caused some amusement in the pole jump. He pretended to be a poor leaper, but when the height of 9 feet 1 inch was reached, he told the stewards to put the bar up another foot, and then cleared it gracefully. Lord Lovat died this year, also Mr. White, for many years the convener.

In 1876 a 600 yards handicap was added. Property occupied by Mr. Chisholm, ironmonger, was purchased this year for 2,000, so that the buildings by enlargement would enable the ball and supper rooms to be on the same floor.

Tugs-of-war come on in 1877, and music by the band of the 79th Cameron Highlanders. A dispute arose because a man of the Inverness team passed his hands over the blue ribbon marking the space between the two teams. Their opponents from Nairn appealed, and a new heave resulted in another win by Inverness. Nairn won the next heave, so the judges ordered another pull. But Inverness objected, and left the ground, Nairn receiving the prizes.

The floor of the ball-room in Church Street was refloored with pitch-pine. This was much appreciated the next year. The tug-of-war was won by the Inverness Rifle Volunteers (no complaints!).

Lord Lovat in 1879 gave notice of a new proposal, i.e., that the names of the new honorary members be submitted to a quorum of not less than ten; if the black balls in the ballot box exceeded one-third the candidate was not elected.

A great feature in 1880 was the addition of a mile handicap foot race. Lord Lovat's proposal was carried.

In 1881 we are told that the death of a venerable gentleman of striking appearance caused his absence to be felt.

An obstacle race took place, the first portion being a run of twenty yards backwards.

Ventilation of the rooms was advocated, and carried out to general satisfaction.

1834 saw a larger attendance, and the suggestion of a new set of rules, which were adopted the following year.

The famous athletes Bremner, Fraser and Cameron attended in 1886. The Duchess of Sutherland was present. Supper was served at horse-shoe tables, and it was resolved to give a handsome prize at the International Exhibition at Edinburgh.

In 1887 Lord Lovat died, and a motion of condolence with his widow was passed.

1888 was a notable year from the attendance of several wrestlers in the Cumberland and Westmorland style. Their prowess was watched with considerable enthusiasm, the final order being :

1st. Hexham Clarke (14 St. champion).
2nd. Tom Kennedy (13 St. champion).
3rd. J. Robinson (12 St. champion).
4th. J. Kerr.
5th. H. Nelson.

On the resignation of Mr. Fountaine Walker as convener, Colonel Mackenzie was elected in his place. A slope was added to the lawn.

Several novelties were introduced in 1889, among them being tent-pegging, tilting at the ring, and an exhibition of wrestling by picked men from Cumberland. There was also made a "crush-room" (not mushroom) 35 feet square by 15 feet high, the walls being lined with Japanese paper; a dado of gold and red lincrusta-walton with a rail of polished mahogany completed the decoration. The supper was served to members seated instead of standing.

The loss by death is recorded of Mr. Davidson of Cantray, convener of the county.

In 1890 nearly ten thousand attended, and the assembly was the most brilliant ever held in Scotland. The Highlanders Artillery Volunteers' band was present; Hussars from Scotland gave an exhibition, and special acknowledgment was made of the services of Mr. T. G. Henderson, the secretary.

1891 saw a display by a detachment of the 6th Dragoon Guards.

1892 was remarkable from the fact that Donald McDonald of Arnamurchan was victor in the tossing of the caber, the trunk having six inches more wood on the thick end than any other competitor could tackle.

Succeeding Colonel Mackenzie of Flowerburn (1892), Sir Hector Munro, Bart., of Foulis Castle became convener in 1893. His portrait is facing page 169. It was a very wet year, but a girls' skipping race of 160 yards was included. Those who, like the writer, have the pleasure of Sir Hector's acquaintance, as well as that of his connections, the Stirlings and Ainsworths of Cumberland, will readily endorse this appreciation of his popularity and fitness for the honour he thus received and held until 1908.

Lord Roberts, V.C., presented the medals in 1894 to the winning Volunteer team in the bayonet competition. He also addressed the men on the comparative utilities of the lance and the bayonet in hand-to-hand warfare. The band of the Black Watch attended, and amongst other distinguished Indians present were the Gaekwar of Baroda and his wife.

Nothing special occurred the next two years, but in 1897 the Duke and Duchess of York attended for a long time, making themselves extremely sociable and popular.

In 1898 a captivating military display was given by sixteen troopers of the Royal Scots Greys, under Lieutenant Parker; they went through the plaiting of the Maypole, the musical ride, and the Balaclava Melee; other items were cleaving the Turk's head, over jumps, tent-pegging, and lemon-cutting. The question of increasing the gathering's premises was discussed next year, and an exhibition of gymnastics was given by the and Seaforths.

1900 being overclouded by the South African War, no dances took place, but one day's sports were held. Local Volunteers gave an exhibition of bayonet exercise, and surplus funds were applied to war purposes.

Next year was very cold, and made it hard for the pipers to execute the wonderful grace-notes, usually so much admired. There was a two-mile bicycle handicap; in the final four out of the six racing having been brought down by a collision, the other two received the prizes. The Mackintosh presided at the meeting later on, at which it was decided to redecorate the room.

In 1902 the Yeomanry gave a musical ride, competing also in "heads and posts," lemon-cutting and tent-pegging. Her Highness Princess Sophie Dhuleep Singh of Farr graced the ball with her presence.

1903 was normal, but the next year the competition for the gold clasp to the previous winners of the medal for pibroch playing was thrown open, and the Inverness Town Band provided the music.

In 1905 three Japanese wrestlers from London appeared named Myake, Eida, and Kanaya, and threw the local wrestlers easily. Only one young soldier scored a point by bringing one jiu-jitsu man down.

The Duchess of Wellington attended the ball in 1906, and the sports included a 300 yards race for soldiers in marching order with rifles. Seven out of seventeen entrants competed.

Six thousand came in 1907, and witnessed, among other things, a display of horsemanship given by a detachment of the 18th Hussars from York, under Lieutenant Lawrence, V.C.

In 1908 a "shinty" match between Lochaber and Newton Moor showed the clever handling of Caman. The Jap wrestlers turned up again. Sir John Macpherson Grant was elected convener in succession to Sir Hector Munro, to whom a presentation was made of a solid silver salver with the Munro arms upon it, also a silver bowl (being a copy of the Monteith bowl) with his crest upon it, on an ebony stand of Chippendale design. The inscription on each piece of plate was "To Sir Hector Munro, Bart., of Foulis, from the members of the Northern Meeting, in recognition of his Convenership 1892 to 1908."

In 1909 a musical race was given by the 2nd Seaforths and a score of naval ratings from the Home Fleet. Mr. Henderson and his brother had completed forty years' service at this year's meeting.

Sailors were present in 1910 from H.M.S. King Edward VII and H.M.S. Bellerophon. A physical drill by boys and a musical maze were added.

Fashionable ladies will learn this year of larger muffs, electric seal as the favourite fur, half-length jackets being worn, the skirts having a broad pleat at the back and a narrow one in front. The "chiel amang them takkin' notes" said this gave them greater grace than heretofore with a "tied-in" appearance. Hats were trimmed with wide wings, flowers and ostrich plumes. The vogue of the previous few months was altered, and women now walked as nature intended.

1911 saw the strathspey and reel won by a Canadian. W. Knox of Canada also won the pole leap with 11 feet 6 inches, and there was a barrel race for dock labourers. Very few ladies wore the hobble skirt. Mrs. David Logan received a handsome cheque for her services as musical director of the balls.

Knox won the pole leap again in 1912 a with 11 feet 8 inches and received a gold medal and 3. The band of the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders attended.

1913 saw five hundred Boy Scouts present, and a four-mile bicycle handicap was won by Hans Holmer, the American, from scratch.

After the great international upheaval, 1919 was of note from the joint election of Brigadier-General Ross of Cromarty and Colonel Baillie of Dochfour as conveners. Mr. Henderson, after fifty-one years' service, was granted a substantial pension, and Major David Ross (portrait facing page 163) was elected secretary in his place.

Amongst the ten thousand spectators present in 1920 were Their Royal Highnesses the Earl of Inverness and Prince Albert. 10 was added as prize money to the gold medal for pibroch playing. The kilted boys from Queen Victoria School at Dunblane were competitors in dancing and piping. A football match of five-a-side was played, and the country dance called "Strip the Willow" was an innovation.

Colonel Rose was convener in 1923, and the next year saw the debut of James Maitland, the hefty young farmer from Banffshire, in the heavy competitions. He was thirty years of age, 6 feet 4 inches in height, and 15 stone in weight. His distance for throwing the hammer was 94 feet 6 inches.

The Yahoo Jazz Sextet attended the dance, which terminated at five a.m. with the stirring gallop of "John Peel."

1926. A glance at the programme gives a very comprehensive idea of the festival as it took place this year. Everything went like clock-work, thanks to the indispensable energies of the secretary, Major David Ross, and his assistant, Mr. Wotherspoon, besides many others.

A word should, perhaps, be said about the display given by the youthful pipe army from Dunblane, in command of Pipe-Major W. M. Taylor. Their dancing and piping were exemplary exhibitions of the exercise of lungs and limbs.

The social side of the meeting is one that has rightly an enormous attraction for the Highland aristocracy, and it may safely be said that hardly any family of ancient lineage was without its representative, on one or both of the days, and it would be an invidious task to compare the stalwart clansmen in full costume with their smartly dressed relatives and friends of the gentler sex.

The true Highland spirit of healthy sociability was no less in evidence at Ardross Street Park in the daytime than it was at the Church Street ball-room in the evenings, where the creations of world-famous couturieres in London and Paris vied with each other in tasteful contrast to the bemedalled uniforms of the Silent and its sister services. Amongst the ships to send officers were H.M.S. Revenge, Royal Sovereign, Hood, Iron Duke, Emperor of India, Curacoa, Walker, Furious, Walpole, Cyclops, and Campbell, and gay in the extreme was the spectacle presented in the eightsome reels both nights.

The cold weather had a rather depressing effect on the spectators, but the interest in the events was so well sustained that no diminution was noticed in the attendance on the stands, though it was acknowledged that it was warmer in the sunshine, not under cover. The pipers felt the cold in their fingers when attempting the grace notes, and it also affected their drones. The well-known passage in "Macbeth" regarding the Inverness climate, was for once misleading, but it made the warmth of the subsequent social amenities much more appreciated in consequence.

Here follows the list of prize-winners:-


Pibrochs on Great Highland Bagpipes and Highland Society of London's gold medal and 8 - 1, John Macdonald, Glasgow Police; 2, 5, Ronald M. Meldrum, Clarkston, Glasgow; 3, 3, Hugh Kennedy, Mount Florida, Glasgow; 4, 1 10s., David Ross, Rosehall, Sutherland.

Marches - 1, 4, John Macdonald, Glasgow Police; 2, 3, Hugh Kennedy, Mount Florida, Glasgow; 3, 2, John Wilson, Edinburgh; 4, Robert Bell Nicol, Balmoral.

Marches - Boys under 17 - 1, 2, Francis J. Bigger Hope, Belfast; 2 and 3, Pipe-Major R. Shelton, Dunblane School, and Sergt. W. Mackinlay, Dunblane School; 4, Angus M. Chisholm, Inverness.

220 yards Foot Race (handicap) - 1, 2, T. Yeudall, 4th Cameron Highlanders; 2, Sergt. Colin Cameron, Elgin; 3, James Edwards, Falkirk.

Throwing the Light Hammer - 1, 3, Jas. Maitland, Cullen, 113 feet 5 inches; 2, Sergt.-Major Starkey, Redford Bks., 112 feet; 3, Geo. Clark, Huntly.

High Jump - 1, 3, Wm. Fraser jun., Conon Bridge, 5 feet 8 inches; 2, Jas. Edwards, Falkirk; 3, Geo. Grant, Nairn.

Half-mile Foot Race - 1, A. E. Noble, Inverness; 2, Pte. Sharpe, Cameron Depot; 3, Lance-Corpl. Dane, 2nd Black Watch.

Dancing Highland Fling - 1, Sergt. J. Learmouth, Dunblane School; 2, Corpl. B. Anderson, Dunblane School; 3, Serge. W. Mackinlay, Dunblane School.

One Mile Cycle Race (handicap) - 1, Alex. Fraser, Drumnadrochit; 2, Finlay Anderson, Inverness; 3, Ian Macleod, Inverness.

440 yards Race (handicap) - 1, T. Yeudall; 2, Evan Mackenzie, Inverness, and Ben. Smith, Wishaw.

Tossing the Caber - 1, Sergt.-Major Starkey and William Fraser, Inverness, equal; 3, Jas. Maitland, Cullen.

One Mile Foot Race (handicap) - 1, Ben Smith, Wishaw; 2, John F. Cameron, Inverness; 3, Richardson, H.M.S. Wessex.

Hurdle Race - 1, Jas. Edwards, Falkirk; 2, Sergt. Colin Cameron, Elgin; 3, Evan Mackenzie.

Putting Light Stone - 1, Sergt.-Major Starkey, 40 feet 3 inches; 2, Edward Anderson, Dundee; 3, Jas. Maitland, Cullen.

Two Mile Cycle Race - 1, Jas. M. Urquhart, Brodie; 2, Fraser, Inverness; 3, Finlay Anderson, Inverness.

Vaulting with the Pole - 1, D. Tulloch, C. Durno, Kintail, and Arthur J. Sinclair, Lhanbryde, 10 feet 9 inches; 2, J. W. Beaton, Croy, and A. Lawson, Aberdeen.

Quarter-mile Foot Race - 1, Mackenzie, Inverness; 2, Warden Macintyre, Inverness; 3, Hobson, Fort-George, and Able Seaman Church, H.M.S. Valhalla.

Dancing Highland Fling - 1, Jack Gordon Beattie, Aberdeen; 2, Pipe-Major Taylor, Dunblane; 3, Sidney Black, Edinburgh.

220 yards (handicap) - 1, B. N. Topper, Inverness; 2, D. Taylor, H.M.S. Walker; Warden Macintyre.

Six-a-side shinty match, Final - Lovat 3 goals, Stratherrick, 1.


Piobaireachds, 10 and gold medal - 1, Pipe-Major Robert Reid, 7th H.L.I.; 2, 8, Pipe-Major Ross, Edinburgh; 3, 6, Piper John Macpherson, Newtonmore; 4, 3, Pipe-Major R. Meldrum, Inverness.

Strathspeys and Reels - 1, 4, John Macdonald, Glasgow Police; 2, 3, Hugh Kennedy, Mount Florida, Glasgow; 3, 2, Reid.

March, Strathspey, and Reel - 1, Silver star and 6, Geo. S. Maclennan, Aberdeen; 2, 4, David Ross, Rosehall, Sutherland; 3, 2, Pipe-Major R. Reid, 7th H.L.I.

880 yards Foot Race (handicap) - 1, 3, Ben Smith, Wishaw; 2, 2, Jas. Edwards, Falkirk; 3, Evan Mackenzie, Inverness.

Putting Heavy Stone - 1, 4, Sergt.-Major Starkey, Redford Bks.; 2, 3, Jas. Maitland, Cullen; 3, 1, Edward Anderson, Dundee.

Gillie Callum - 1, 4, J. Beatie, Aberdeen; 2, 3, Sidney Black, Edinburgh; 3, 2, A. R. Massie, Clydebank; 4, A. Cameron, Inverness.

One Mile Cycle Race - 1, 2, Jas. Urquhart, Brodie; 2, 1 10s., W. S. Bruce, Inverness; 3, r, John Cameron, Inverness.

Throwing Heavy Hammer - 1, 4, Sergt.-Major R. K. Starkey, Redford Bks.; 2, 2, Jas. Maitland, Cullen; 3, 1, Geo. Clarke, Huntly.

Relay Team Race, confined to H.M.S. Forces - 1, Depot Cameron Highlanders; 2, and Black Watch; 3, H.M.S. Royal Sovereign.

High Jump - 1, 3, William Fraser jun., Conon Bridge; 2, Jas. Edwards, Falkirk, and Sergt. Colin Cameron, Elgin, equal.

220 yards Race (handicap) - 1, 2, Colin Cameron, Elgin; 2, T. Yeudall, 4th Cameron Highlanders, and Jas. Edwards, Falkirk, equal.

220 yards Foot Race, amateurs only (handicap ) - 1, P.O. Writer Taylor, H.M.S. Revenge; 2, Warden Macintyre, Inverness; 3, Harry N. Schorah, H.M.S. Comus.

Tug-of-War - H.M.S. Revenge beat Inverness Burgh Police.

440 yards Foot Race (handicap) - 1, 1, Ben Smith, Wishaw; 2, 2, Evan Mackenzie, Inverness; 3, 1, T. Yeudall.

Dancing Strathspey and Reel - 1, 4, Sidney Black, Edinburgh; 2, 3, A. R. Massie, Clydebank; 3, 2, J. Beatie, Aberdeen.

Three Mile Cycle Race (handicap) - 1, 3, William M. Mackenzie, Elgin; 1, 2, Finlayson; 3, 1, Jas. Ross Macdonald, Evanton.

Tossing the Caber - 1, 4, Sergt.-Major R. K. Starkey, Redford Bks.; 2, 3, Edward Anderson, Dundee; 3, 2, Jas. Maitland, Cullen.

Quarter-mile Foot Race, amateurs only - 1, Corpl. Rice, Depot Seaforth Highlanders; 2, Able Seaman Church, H.M.S. Valhalla; 3, Noble and Smith tied.

Vaulting with Pole - 1, 3, Chas. Durno, Kintail; 2, J. W. Beaton, Croy, and Arthur J. Sinclair, Lhanbryde (equal).

Two Mile Cycle Race - 1, Urquhart, 2, Macleod, 3. Cameron.


Heavy Weight - 1, Maitland, 29 feet 11 inches; 2, Starkey, 29 feet 1 inch.

Pipers, Dunblane School-Miller. Drummers, Dunblane School-Kennedy.

Five Lap Race - 1, Smith; 2, Cameron; 3, Mackenzie. Five-a-side Football Competition, 1st round-Caley beat

Citadel. Clach beat Thistle. Final-Caley and Clach draw after extra time.

The annual meeting of members was held under the convenership of Colonel Hugh Rose of Kilravock, C.M.G., and largely attended. The retiring stewards were General Lord Horne of Stirkoke, and Sir Kenneth Mackenzie of Gairloch, and their places were filled by Archibald C. Macpherson of Cluny, and Sir Ronald Baillie of Jedburgh, O. B. E.

Four new members were elected, viz., Captain Warre of Gledfield, Mr. Eion Merry, Jun., of Belladrum, Sir Theodore Brinckman of Nairnside, and Major the Hon. Alistair Fraser of Moniack.

The numbers at the two balls are given as about seven hundred and seventy and seven hundred respectively, Mrs. D. Logan's band providing the music. It was six o'clock on the Saturday morning before dancing terminated.

It seems fitting to conclude this short notice of the Gathering with a reference to the amusement caused by the diverting stunt given by the Seaforth and Cameron Highlanders towards the end of the proceedings each day. Entering the arena with poles and well protected about the head and body, they engaged in serious combat of a lively nature, but finally discarding the weapons, took to fisticuffs and pantomimic boxing features that convulsed the crowd and brought laughter to the voices and smiles to the faces of the happy onlookers, as they wended homewards to discuss the contests of the various athletes in those other places of gathering and sodality.

"They tell o' lands with brighter skies
Where freedom's voice ne'er rings;
Gi'e me the hills where Ossian dwelt,
And Coila's minstrel sang!
For I've nae skill o' lands, my lads,
That ken na to be Tree;
Then Scotland's right, and Scotland's might,
And Scotland's hills for me!
We'll drink a cup to Scotland yet
Wi' a' the honours three!"

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