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History of the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne
Our many thanks to the Society for giving us permission to publish this book


At last night's meeting of the Council of the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne, I was directed to advise you of the Council's approval of your placing "Scots Wha Hae" on your website. Please proceed accordingly.

David S. Thomson
Honorary Secretary
November 08, 2006

THIS book (by a well-known writer) the first detailed history of a Scottish society in Australia, is not merely a narrative of the career of the distinguished organization which it represents, but, as the Prime Minister points out in his Preface, is also an informative and entertaining story.

Its basic purpose is to set on record the national service rendered, since 1858, by the body now known as the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne. It does that; and, in addition, it tells many amusing tales while outlining the important influence which Scots have had on Victoria as a whole.

More than that, there is a Postscript in which is discussed in some little detail the part that Caledonians have played in the building of Australia generally. It is a striking statement, and, taken in conjunction with the body of the book, it establishes the author's point that Australian Scots are justified in doing a trifle of "blowing"-if only on the bagpipesl

By The Right Honourable R. G. Menzies, K.C., M.P. Prime Minister of Australia and President of The Melbourne Scots

MY friend Alec Chisholm has written a careful but entertaining history of the Royal Caledonian Society of Melbourne. He now appeals to my pride by asking me to write a foreword.

My qualifications for performing the task are sketchy. I am a Scot on my father's side. The Melbourne Scots have done me the honour of making me their President. But (and here's a serious subtraction), I have no Scots burr on my tongue, I have not yet (oh, shame!) worn a kilt, and cricket commands my love much more than tossing the caber. Why, then, this honour? The answer is simple. We Scots have memory but no regrets; pride but no envy. In our modest way we admit that J. M. Barrie was right when he said, in his Rectorial address at St Andrews (where my paternal grandmother was born) that "We come of a race of men the very wind of whose name has swept the ultimate seas."

Many of the early pastoralists of Victoria were Scots lowland farmers; Scots figured importantly in the foundation of Melbourne's business. They have (as Mr Chisholm shows) played a prominent part in politics, possibly out of proportion to their actual numbers in the population. Why is this? As witnesses, both Mr Chisholm and I may be found disqualified by bias. But, if allowed to testify, I think we might say that there are two Scots characteristics which endure, which the world values, and which mankind needs.

One is a sense of continuity. No great good is done by those who say, "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." But the man who feels pride in the past and a sense of responsibility for the future, though he may be called "dour", or "canny", or even-in Barrie's celebrated phrase-"a Scotsman on the make", does much for development and growth and the stability of society.

The second characteristic is allied to the first. It is the spirit of independence. That spirit is today in the twilight. We have learned to lean, to criticize, to expect, to see our neighbour's duty much more clearly than our own. It is impossible to believe that this is a permanent state of mind. But if and when we come out of it, the sturdy independence of the sons and grandsons of Caledonia will have played some part in the revival.

April 26th, 1950.

Electric Scotland Note: We received an email from John Williamson to say...

Dear Alistair,

I recently published a book about early Australian Rules football, titled "Football's Forgotten Tour" (ISBN 0958101809). It was fully researched with all sources tabulated. In ElectricScotland the Victorian Royal Caledonian festivities held on the MCG in December 1861 are mentioned, together with a copy of the Programme. On this Programme is mentioned a "FOOTBALL MATCH, which as the article mentions was an Australian Rules game. (then referred to as 'Victorian' Rules). According to the article the game didn't take place, but the newspapers of the time have an account of the game which was played between Melbourne and University and it featured men who drew up the first rules for Australian football including  two masters of Scotch College.

What makes this game so special is that the Caledonian Society donated a "HANDSOME SILVER CUP" for the winner of the contest but as the match ended in a draw it was played for as The Caledonian Challenge Cup for the next few years making it not only the first Cup for Australian Rules football but the oldest Championship trophy for any form of senior football anywhere in the world.

It was contested by Melbourne, University, Carlton, Royal Park, South Yarra and Geelong until August 1864 when Geelong won it outright.

The earliest senior competition for Rugby Football commenced in 1863 and the English Football Association Cup was inaugurated in 1871.

After 1864 the Caledonian Challenge Cup vanished from history, like so much of the faded and forgotten memories of the early pioneering Scots in Australia.

Yours sincerely
John Williamson

Author's Note

THE statement was made in 1908, by a man who knew his subject, that the Caledonian Society of Melbourne had "a history of which it might well be proud". It is believed that the present book will strengthen that claim.

Begun in 1948 at the request of the Council of the Royal Caledonian Society, the work has been carried through with the aid of newspaper records, minute-books, the files of the late Scot at Hame an' Abroad, and recollections of older members. From those sources it has been possible to obtain a substantial body of information, although, regrettably, a partial gap remains between the formation of the original Society in 1858 and the reconstruction of 1884.

Necessarily, this History is largely "domestic". In its broader aspects, however, it gives notes on many public personalities of other days; and because of that, and because it sketches the history of the Scottish Union and has references to numerous kindred bodies, it may fairly be regarded as a worth-while addition to the story of Victoria.

We do well to revive data regarding men who built up our Society and whose names have become, in many instances, either wholly or partly forgotten. Aside from the claims of history (and history, of course, is the head-waters of civilization) there is the consideration that we should give our predecessors the justice which we ourselves would wish to receive. As an old Scot once said, when his crony declined to attend a burial, "How can you expect folk to go to your funeral if you won't go to theirs?"

But, of course, the history of Melbourne's Caledonians is only one facet of the story of Scots in Australia. That story as a whole is extremely impressive. It has never been told in detail, possibly because Scots are (sometimes) unduly modest! Accordingly, a summary of the subject is given as an addendum to this book.

It is revealed in the addendum that Australia today possesses nearly two hundred Scottish societies and pipe bands (to say nothing of half a dozen statues of Robert Burns), and several Scottish hospitals and kindred institutions as well. It is revealed also that a mere score of Scottish-Australians have, between them, given to this country cash and property to the value of about 3,000,000.

In addition, it is shown that, beginning with John Hunter (who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788 as Deputy Governor to Phillip ), Scots have figured very importantly in exploration, vice-regal administration, politics, science, education, medicine, law, literature, journalism, art and other activities in Australia.

Not least important, it is further shown that Australia is indebted to Scotland for her Queen of Song (Dame Nellie Melba); and, by way of emphasis, for the man who wrote "Advance Australia Fair" and the man who wrote "Waltzing Matilda".

Such a record, it will surely be agreed, justifies Scottish-Australians in doing a trifle of "blowing" - if only on the bagpipes!

A. H. C.
December 1949.


Patrons, Benefactors, Presidents, Secretaries and Outstanding Events

Chapter I
In the Roaring 'Fifties - A Useful Tombstone - Five Caledonian Societies before 1860 - Scottish Explorers - Getting home before dark - No "English" Queen - Donald Kennedy as first Chief - Strong Committees.

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.

Chapter III
Reconstruction in 1884 - Hon. James Munro's Explanation - "Caledonian Society of Melbourne" - Hon. James MacBain as first President - "Brilliant success" of first social - Governor attends St Andrew's Dinner - Twelve toasts in one night - 394 members in first year - First sports meeting, rent free - Protest against "anglicising".

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.

Chapter V
Financial troubles in early 'Nineties-Some domestic disputes - Theodore Napier and Bannockburn - "Boisterous and insulting" conduct - Mayor of Melbourne walks out - New secretaries - Ball shows profit of 1/19/3 - Ladies not admitted - Sir John Mclntyre, Sir Malcolm McEacharn, and Lord Brassey - Society's remarkable record to 1898.

Chapter VI
George Gibb as President - Sir Hector Macdonald entertained - Society loses Lord Hopetoun - Great singer welcomed - Sir John McIntyre's achievement - Formation of Scottish Regiment - Burns Statue unveiled - "Scot at Hame an' Abroad" founded - Fourteen new Scottish societies in four years.

Chapter VII
Many Scottish singers appear - "Excellent bioscope pictures" - Foundation of Victorian Scottish Union - George Gibb as first President - J. S. Yorston's long service begins - That word "English" again - Death of George Gibb - New Officers - Andrew Thomson supports immigration.

Chapter VIII
Distinguished guests - "It was a thing tae dream aboot" - Progress of kindred societies - 31 new Scottish bodies in eight years - King O'Malley discovers Scottish blood - A haggis "drowned" in Carapooee Creek - Jim Center arrives - George Dickson's Empire Dance - Scottish cricketers rival South Africans - A "road hog" strikes trouble.

Chapter IX
Sir T. Gibson Carmichael farewelled - Reception to young Marquess of Linlithgow - Prime Minister Fisher again with fellow-Scots - W. D. Leckie becomes Secretary - New rooms at Queen's Walk - Dr Taylor Downie's "house warming" - Progress by "leaps and bounds" - "Clearing sale" for hackneyed songs - More new societies - Fatal accident to Alex. Dick.

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.

Chapter XI
Society's character changes - Formation of The Melbourne Scots - Deaths of A. G. Steven, poet, and J. Center, champion piper - Medal for Scotch College - Society receives Royal Charter - Oath of Allegiance introduced, 1921 - Society acquires premises in Russell Street - Prime Minister Bruce performs opening ceremony.

Chapter XII
Distinguished guests - Lemonade in Rosebery Cup - Premier Allan's striking figures - Burns Club within the Society - Japanese officer sings for Caledonians - J. T. Picken's fine record - Death of Lord Rosebery - Thomas Ritchie becomes President - Wm D. Leckie retires after 17 years as Secretary - L. W. Corben's gift - Pipe Band wins in W.A.

Chapter XIII
Big delegation visits Scotland, 1928 - Reception by present King and Queen - Scottish delegation visits Australia, 1934 - Society receives presidential chair - Second delegation to Scotland, 1936 - "The Scot" closes down - Andrew Thomson's achievement - Death of Gregor Wood - George Dickson's "Pageant of Empire.

Chapter XIV
Days of Depression - Russell Street premises sold - Move to Manchester Unity Building - Fiftieth birthday celebrated - Victoria's Centenary honoured - John Stewart retires from secretaryship - E. W. James appointed, 1939 - Scottish Union affairs - Numerous gifts and trophies.

Chapter XV
National work in wartime - 727 food parcels for Britain - More distinguished guests - Thomas Ritchie as first Chief - Pipe Band wins Dewar Cup - Lord Montgomery autographs drum - Society gives college scholarships - Warm welcomes for New Settlers - R. G. Menzies again Prime Minister.

Summary of Scottish activities throughout Australia

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