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 - W. D. Leckie retires after 17 years as Secretary - L. W.
Corben's gift - Pipe Band wins in W.A.
IMMEDIATELY after entering
its new premises - the "hoose o' its ain" - Melbourne's Royal Caledonian
Society found itself caught up in a spate of entertainments.
Guests of the period (1923
onward) were a varied assortment. They included Sir Harry Lauder, Miss
Ethel Campbell ("the Angel of Durban" to Australian troops), and a British
Delegation consisting of Sir W. Wyndham, General Wauchope, and Captain
Somerville. Later the number of guests was increased by that distinguished
Scottish singer, William Heughan, and by another vocalist of the Lauder
type, namely, Will Fyfe.
Later again the Society did
itself the honour to entertain William Lindsay McKenzie, a gallant Scot
who had started his Australian career as a jackeroo on a cattle-station,
had risen to the position of Commissioner in the Salvation Army, and had
been known to Diggers as "Fighting Mac". According to custom, the Rosebery
Cup went round during Mac's visit, but, by way of gentle variation, it was
filled with lemonade.
Picnics down the Bay and
elsewhere continued to be the order of the period; concerts and kindred
functions (including ladies' afternoons) were held at frequent intervals,
and in addition members found plenty of amusement in billiards and bowls
tournaments and through the formation of a Social Cricket Club. Another
development on the sporting side was the forming within the Society of a
Soccer Football Club, with that enterprising Glaswegian, Alex Maxwell, as
Celebrations of St Andrew's
Day in the new rooms were as cordial as ever. At one dinner the Premier of
the day, the Hon. John Allan, produced a striking scrap of information-he
said that of 27 Premiers of Victoria 12 had been Scots, and he added that
nearly half the members of his own Cabinet were "pure Scots", meaning, no
doubt, men born in Scotland.
The Premier added, with a
sly grin, that he wasn't bragging in acclaiming the land of his fathers,
but merely making a statement of fact; and every "pure" Scot in the
audience cheered lustily.
Burns's Day, too, continued
to be observed with heartiness, either by way of picnics or dinners. In
fact, a Burns Club sprang up within the Society, the chief sponsors being
Roy Stevens and James Picken. At one of its functions, gifts of a Burnsian
nature were presented to Eddie McPhee and Len Farndon, who (after being
"twins" in the A.I.F.) had given the Club much service.
Later, Roy Stevens
presented the Club with a handsome Wishing Cup and John Horn (a
Vice-President) followed with the donation of a commodious cabinet. The
Burns Club expired with the passing of its two champions (Stevens and
Picken) but the gifts it acquired in 1929 are still treasured by the Royal
Caledonian Society, So, too, is a bust of Burns which Brisbane Scots
presented to Roy Stevens in 1931, and which he handed over to the Society.
While on the subject of
social gatherings, it may be recorded here that an extraordinary
item-extraordinary for a Scottish function-developed at a musical evening
held in the Russell Street rooms. Japanese naval vessels were in port at
the time and one of the officers, Lieut. E. Adsumi, somehow found his way
into the Caledonian gathering and there sang (in his own tongue) "The Navy
Battle Song". The audience applauded politely. It seems probable, however,
that they felt more at home when Neil McInnes followed immediately with
"McLeod, McLean, McTavish, and McCann", the rollicking story of a
quartette of cronies finding their way home from a braw Scotch nicht.
The host during the first
year of activity in the new premises was James Picken, and after that the
Presidency was taken by another sound Scot, David Buchanan.
Reaching Victoria as a
youth, Buchanan had worked himself up to become head of a large
engineering firm, and now, with time on his hands in advancing years, he
was a genial and generous figure in Scottish affairs. Incidentally, he was
the third man of his surname to become President of the Society, his
predecessors being George (1914-15) and his brother Robert (1917-19).
Occupying the Chair for
five years, Davie Buchanan equalled the record established in 1901-06 by
George Gibb. Then, because of failing health and advanced years, he gave
up the position. A year or so later - April 1931 - the popular old man
Here we should pause to
note that, shortly before the death of David Buchanan, the Society had
lost another old and very generous supporter in the person of Theodore
Napier, foundation member and former Vice-President. Although born in
Melbourne, and although a non-Catholic, Napier was probably the most
dyed-in-the-wool Jacobite that Australia had ever known. He customarily
wore the garb of a Scottish gentleman of the Stuart days; he insisted on
observing Bannockburn and similar anniversaries, and he could never be
persuaded to toast the reigning King of Britain. Once, when he got into
trouble with fellow-guests at an Edinburgh banquet through failing to
honour the loyal toast, he offered to fight a duel with any one of his
critics, and he suggested that the weapons should be either claymore,
dirk, or battle-axe! Anyway, "the Laird of Magdala" (Magdala was the
family estate at Essendon ) takes rank in the records of Melbourne and
Scotland as an open hearted, plucky, and picturesque personality, and one
who was thoroughly loyal to his ideals.
Yet another loss to the
Society in the Russell Street era was that of J. T. Picken, who died in
1926. As founder and conductor for many years of The Scot at Hame an'
Abroad, as President of the Society, as lecturer and actor, and as a
generous supporter of all sound Scottish movements, Jim Picken had
rendered most excellent service. His passing left a distinct gap in the
At this stage, too it
should be recorded that Lord Rosebery died in 1929, at the age of 82
years. Almost half a century having passed since the British statesman had
visited Australia, he was not known personally to Society members, but
because he had donated the Rosebery Cup, and because he had sent fraternal
greetings to Melbourne Caledonians year after year, members felt that they
had lost a very good friend.
Lord Rosebery, it is clear,
had always retained the sense of Imperial relations which he developed
when, in 1883-84, he and his wife made a tour of Australia and New
David Buchanan's successor
as President was Thomas Ritchie. Then a more or less sprightly "youngster"
of 63, Tom Ritchie was a Stirling man who, coming to Australia as a youth,
had worked in the engineering trade at Newcastle and afterwards assisted
to build up a partnership in Melbourne. He first joined the Council of the
Society in 1925 thus linking himself with Jim Yorston, Eddie McPhee, and
Jack Woodard-and, after serving for a year as lieutenant to Davie
Buchanan, he took the Chair in 1929. Vice-Presidents at the time were
Gregor Wood and Roy Stevens, the latter being replaced soon afterwards by
Up to the time David
Buchanan took the chair the Society had experienced 24 Presidents in 40
years, 14 of them in 25 years. Now, by way of remarkable contrast, in the
next 25 years the number of Presidents was to be only two.
Soon after Buchanan's
retirement, illness also overtook the Secretary, W. D. Leckie, and he
retired in 1930 after serving in the office for the record period of 17
years. His place was taken by John Stewart, who had long been an active
official at Prahran and who had become Secretary of the Scottish Union
when, in 1928, Archie Whyte gave up that position after filling it for
nearly seven years.
Treasurers during the
Russell Street period included Andrew Small, J. T. Stewart, G. Gray, E. S.
McPhee, and Peter Clark. Andrew Small, an enthusiastic Scot who had given
the Collingwood Pipe Band much service, occupied the position for nearly
three years; later he removed to Adelaide where he became an outstanding
figure in what is now the Royal Caledonian Society of South Australia. As
for E. S. McPhee, he acted as Treasurer for only a few months in 1930, but
later he took the position again at various times, and eventually he
"stayed put" in the office for seven years.
Soon after joining the
Council of the Society, Jim Yorston had a somewhat startling
experience-his old friends at South Melbourne gave him a banquet at which,
according to one report, he was "literally drowned by applause"! Ernie
Yorston, too, was keeping the family flag flying bravely at this stage,
and incidentally doing credit to the tutoring of Louis McLennan and George
Dickson, by winning medal after medal for piping.
In August of 1928 the Royal
Caledonian Society launched out on a bold enterprise. Following the
example of its predecessors in 1897 and 1903, it again staged a
presentation of Rob Roy, this time for a season of seven nights in
Possibly the stimulus came
from the Scottish Society of Camberwell, which had produced the play for a
night or two early in 1927. Anyway, the Playhouse venture was quite
successful, with Ella Riddell outstanding as Helen McGregor and some of
the other parts being capably filled by Fred Gardner (Rob Roy), Tom Millar
(Bailie Nicol Jarvie), and Miss J. McGregor (Diana Vernon). The Society's
Pipe Band, under George Dickson, gave spirited assistance. In short, the
whole performance was an admirable successor to those of other years.
Miss Riddell left on a
visit to Britain soon afterwards. So highly were her services esteemed
that she was given presentations, not only by the Scottish Union and the
Royal Caledonian Society, but by nine or ten other societies as well. To
this day Miss Riddell (now Mrs Jim Gray) continues to be a welcome figure
on programmes at Scottish functions in Victoria.
Following hard upon its
success with Rob Roy, the Society recorded another achievement through the
public spirit of one of its members, Mr. L. W. Corben. Desiring to
commemorate his brother, who had then recently died, he presented the
Society with a beautiful stained glass window carrying national Scottish
emblems. This handsome gift, which graces today the chief door of the
Society's premises, was unveiled in October (1928 ) by President Buchanan,
who returned warm thanks to Mr Corben and also to Sir Edward
Mackenzie-Mackenzie, Bart., a member of the Society, who had designed the
window and ensured its armorial correctness.
Pipe music had been
prospering during the 1920's, partly, no doubt, owing to the stimulus
provided by competitions at South Street (Ballarat) and in various other
centres. In 1928 George Dickson and Hugh Fraser took the Society's band on
a successful visit to Ballarat, and in the following year a much more
daring enterprise was undertaken-the band went then to the Centenary
Gathering organized by the Western Australian Scottish Union.
Courage and generosity were
needed to make that venture possible. But how thoroughly justified it was!
The bandsmen won, in all, £ 160 in prize money, 25 gold medals, and two
handsome cups-in fact, they virtually "scooped the pool" - and George
Dickson rounded off the achievement by winning the dancing championship of
By and large, therefore, it
will be seen that the Royal Caledonian Society, up to the end of the
1920's, had done pretty well since the Prime Minister bestowed his
benediction on the new headquarters in 1923.