What happened to Angus MacKay’s family?

Angus MacKay.
Angus MacKay.

More information has come to light on the life of Angus MacKay and of his family. Angus was the musical genius who became the first piper to hold the post of Sovereign’s Piper. He took a mostly oral tradition and put in on the stave and his music collections became the basis for standardised settings of pipe music. His importance to piping cannot be underestimated.

After our recent posting of Captain John A. MacLellan’s series from the 1980s, the piping historian, Jeannie Campbell sent us the following information that includes what happened to Angus’ family after his death.

By Jeannie Campbell MBE

The recent articles by Captain John MacLellan and the reference to Angus MacKay’s four children reminded me of the research I had done some years ago, especially as the youngest son had lived and died in the same part of Edinburgh where the author of the articles, Captain John MacLellan, lived. An article was published in the Piping Times in January 2010 but since then I have been able to discover much more about the family.

Angus MacKay was piper to Campbell of Islay from 1835 onwards but in 1840 he composed a piobaireachd, Farewell to the Laird of Islay so he probably left Islay at about this time. His place of residence from 1840 until his appointment in 1843 as Piper to Queen Victoria is not known but various events in his life indicate his whereabouts during these years. He must have met his future wife, Mary Russell by this time as they were married after the proclamation of banns at the Canongate Parish Church in Edinburgh on May 26, 1841.

Mary was born on October 15, 1819 and christened on the 22nd at Crawford in Lanarkshire, when according to the entry in the register she was the daughter of Meason Russel (this is how the name is spelt in the register) and Janet Johnston. She had a brother, Walter Johnston Russel born on December 21, 1829 and a sister Margaret Russel, born on May 3, 1832. Only a short time before the wedding she was at home with her family at Midlock in the parish of Crawford, when the census was taken on the night of March 31, 1841. Her father appears as Masson Russell, an Agricultural Labourer aged 50, her mother Janet is aged 40, Mary is 20, Walter 10 and Margaret five. Where she met Angus and why the wedding was in Edinburgh is not yet known and Angus has not been located in the 1841 census. In 1851 Mason Russell was the Toll Keeper at Newton Toll Bar in Lanarkshire. With him were his wife Janet and grandson William Russell aged eight.

Angus was one of the 14 competitors at the first Northern Meeting piping competition on October 29, 1841 when he won the Prize Pipe playing The Finger Lock. According to the reports, he was in the employment of Lord Ward who had recently bought the Glengarry estate.

Angus may have been living on Lord Ward’s estates or he may have been in Edinburgh with his wife. Their first child, a daughter called Janet (later known as Jessie) was born in Edinburgh, probably early in 1842 but the birth entry has not been found in the Parish registers there.

On October 6, 1842 Angus again played at The Northern Meeting and again he was described as Piper to Lord Ward. His tune was The Bells of Perth and again he was placed first. Under the rules at this time he was only eligible for a higher prize than previously won, so as he had won the Prize Pipe in 1841 he was awarded a Gold Medal and the Prize Pipe went to Alexander Campbell.

On April 7, 1843 Angus was appointed as Piper to Queen Victoria so the family moved to London. This wasn’t entirely a move into the unknown as Angus’s eldest brother, Donald, had been there since 1834 when he was appointed Piper to Augustus Frederick, the Duke of Sussex and Earl of Inverness. Augustus was a younger son of George III and uncle of Queen Victoria.

Angus and Mary were living at Windsor where a second daughter, Margaret Elizabeth was born in the December quarter of 1845 followed by a son, John born at Windsor in the March quarter of 1848. It is interesting to note that Angus named his children after his family members but his successor, William Ross named his own children Victoria, Albert Edward and Alfred.

Mary MacKay, née Russell.

At the time of the 1851 census the MacKay family lived at 31 Burton Street in Hanover Square, London. Angus MacKay was listed as aged 40, born in Scotland and his occupation was Piper to the Queen. His wife, Mary was 31 and their children were Janet aged nine, Margaret Elizabeth aged five and John three. Mary’s sister, Margaret Russell aged 18 lived with them and was described as a servant. She would have been company for Mary when Angus was away from home carrying out his Royal duties and she probably helped to look after the children. There were two visitors in the house when the census was taken that evening, Ann Cameron and Margaret Robertson, both born in Scotland. A fourth child and second son, Angus Mason, was born in the parish of St George, Hanover Square in the December quarter of 1852.

Angus’s brother, Donald died in 1850 leaving Angus as trustee for his children. Donald’s son, Donald, born at Kensington Palace in 1845, had begun piping with his father and after his death he was placed in the Caledonian Asylum where he continued with his piping before enlisting aged 14 as a boy in the 78th. He won the Gold Medal in 1872 and was later to become piper to the Prince of Wales. We know from newspaper reports that Angus MacKay had been responsible for training the young pipers at the Caledonian Asylum from at least 1947 if not before, so he would have been able to continue his nephew’s tuition.

The presumably happy and settled family life of Angus, Mary and their four children was soon to be disrupted. On February 9, 1854 the Stirling Observer reported:

The Queen’s Piper. Poor McKay, her Majesty’s piper, has gone out of his mind, and the symptoms are such as to leave little or no hope of his recovery. The lamentable fact first indicated itself on Friday last, when he wrote a rambling incoherent letter to Colonel the Hon. C. B. Phipps (Privy Purse), in which he stated that he was in possession of important documents which clearly proved him to be the right and lawful heir to the throne; but as he had no wish to dethrone Queen Victoria, he demanded an interview with the gallant colonel. This was judiciously granted, and on the man’s making his appearance at the Castle at the time appointed, he was immediately put under restraint. Of course, he will be sent away and provided for, but it is not yet known whether the Queen will appoint his successor. McKay was allowed to be the first piper in Scotland. His duty was to play before the Queen and royal suite when at dinner, and at the dancing of the Scotch reels.”

Stirling Observer, February 9, 1854.

Angus was first admitted to the psychiatric hospital at Bethlem in south London on February 4, 1854 and was discharged eight months later on October 27, 1854. During the following brief interlude of freedom, Angus made his will. The will mentions his wife and four children and that he is the trustee for the property in Windsor on behalf of the children of his late brother, Donald. At this time his home address was 4 Sussex Street, Pimlico (central London). Two days after making his will he was readmitted to Bethlem but was discharged uncured on February 15, 1856. On March 1, 1856 he was admitted to Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries. He died on March 21, 1859.

An old postcard of the Crichton Hospital. The Crichton was sold for £50,000 in 2019 to the owners of the Fonab Castle Hotel in Pitlochry to turn into a five-star hotel.

Dumfries is a long way from London and it is not known whether Mary was able to visit Angus during his last three years. It is unlikely that the children would have seen their father at all after his admission to hospital.

Queen Victoria paid for the funeral but no pension was awarded to his widow and children, who seem to have been left to fend for themselves. We know that Angus’ widow sold all his music to Michael MacCarfrae in 1859 and given the circumstances in which she was left, it would be likely that she was in need of the money in order to support herself and her children.

Angus MacKay’s wife, Mary and their son, John.

In the 1861 census Mary (38) was living in the same part of London but at a different address. She was now a lodger with several others at 13 Carrington Street and was in employment as a Housekeeper. Her sister, Margaret Russell (27) was also a lodger in the same house and she was employed as a Lady’s Maid. None of Mary’s four children were with her and only one has been traced with any certainty. The youngest, Angus Mason MacKay (8), was a boarder and pupil with dozens of others in the British Orphan Asylum in Clapham. The Caledonian Asylum would have been the obvious choice but perhaps Mary did not want her son to go there. The census shows several Janet and Jessie MacKays of about the right age were in various households around the country. Jessie MacKay (19), a servant teacher in Pimlico, with the Marsh family, who had four young children, is the most likely candidate except that her birthplace is given as London. This may be an error on the part of her employers who would not be interested in the birthplace of a servant. Margaret and John may appear in the census but I have been unable to trace them as there are several possible candidates around the country but none with exactly the right ages or birthplaces.

However, despite the traumas of these years, Angus’s children must somehow have received a good education that equipped them all for successful careers.

By 1871 the situation for the family had improved and Mary had been re-united with three of her children who were now all in employment and bringing in money to support the household. The family was now at 29 St Laurence Road in Kensington where Mary lived with her daughter Margaret (25) a schoolmistress, son John (23) Traveller Wine Merchant, son Angus (18) Clerk to Lawyer, nephew John A Armistead (2) and Mary Webb a 14-year-old servant girl. The older daughter, Jessie (28) was by this time employed as a governess in Banbury, Oxfordshire in the household of solicitor Daniel Parker Pellatt, his wife Hannah and their four young children. This was a prosperous household with three other female servants employed.

John and Julia MacKay with son, Norman Russell. c1889.

The older son John went abroad and worked in China for some time before going to Australia in about 1883. After two years in Queensland he went to Sydney where he married Julia Cecily Roche on October 24, 1885. On the marriage certificate his occupation was given as Clerk and Storeman and his parents as Angus MacKay Piper to her Majesty and Mary Russell. At his death on May 30, 1913 his occupation was given as manufacturer and his parents as Angus MacKay, Musician and Mary Russell. John and Julia had two sons, Angus born and died 1886, and Norman Russell MacKay 1888-1960. Norman was an accountant and owned the Sivarite Glass Company, employing 100 people. He married Rosina Sager and had a son John Sager MacKay and three daughters, Thelma, Valda and Rosalie. There are now many descendants in Australia. Several members of the family are said to be musically talented but none are pipers. John Sager MacKay visited the College of Piping in 1977 and gave us a number of documents that were put on display in the Museum of Piping. These were Angus’s birth, marriage and death certificates, the document appointing him as piper to the Queen and his will, with attached probate certificate. In return, the College gave him copies of the available pictures of Angus. These certificates are now on display in the Museum of Piping at The National Piping Centre.

In 2009 John’s great grandson, Russell Piper wrote to the College asking about the Angus MacKay paintings. Following this we exchanged several emails. He was able to supply photographs and information on John’s descendants but he knew nothing of the lives of the other three children although the siblings had kept in touch throughout their lives. (see card sent to Norman from Aunt Maggie in 1903).

The death of Mary Graeme MacKay (59) was registered at Lambeth in the June quarter of 1879. Judging by the entry on her son Angus’s death certificate this is the correct entry. Her birth and marriage registrations gave her name as simply Mary Russell.

The elder daughter, Margaret MacKay was still living in London in 1881, at 78 Kennington Road and was described as a schoolmistress and Principal of College. Her younger brother Angus M lived with her and his occupation was given as Tutor BA 1st London. Also in the household were an assistant teacher, a visitor and two servants. Her sister Jessie’s situation had changed too by 1881. She was still in Banbury, at 37 South Bar Street with the Pellatt family but another son, Frank, had been born in the March quarter of 1873, then Hannah had died aged 45 in the December quarter of 1878 and Jessie had married her employer Daniel Pellatt in the September quarter of 1880. At the time of the census Jessie was aged 38 and Daniel was 58. His older children Ann and Daniel and youngest Frank still lived at home with Daniel and Jessie. In the March quarter of 1886 Daniel Pellatt died but Jessie continued to live at 37 Bar Street with one servant and can be found there in the 1891 census.

Margaret aged 44 was a school principal in 1891 and lived at Sussex House, Bishopwood Road in Highbury. There were teachers of German, French and English living in the household, all born in the countries whose languages they taught, plus eight scholars who were boarders, all girls aged between 12 and 18 with birthplaces from all around England and Scotland and one from the USA. In addition, there was one visitor and two servants. There were probably other local pupils who attended the school daily and possibly other teachers who did not live in.

In 1901 Jessie and Margaret were living together at 6 Bardwell Road in Oxford. They appeared in the census as Jessie Pellatt, widow aged 59, born in Edinburgh, Boarding House Keeper and Margaret E MacKay, aged 55, sister, born in Windsor, living on own means. There were three female boarders, one a teacher, another a nurse and the third living on own means and one male boarder, 24 year old Count Ercole Quirini born in Italy and living on own means. Further, there were two female servants.

The death of Jessie Pellatt aged 59 was registered in the June quarter of 1901 in the district of Headington.

Angus Mason MacKay published two books of poetry at a young age:  The Village Chimes: a pastoral, Etc. by Angus M MacKay London 1870 and An Artist’s Idylls: a series of love lyrics, Etc. by Angus M MacKay London 1872.

A biography of Henry Havelock Ellis (1859-1939), an English physician, eugenicist, writer, progressive intellectual and social reformer who studied human sexuality mentioned MacKay. The biography entitled The Sage of Sex is by Arthur Calder-Marshall. It quotes a diary entry written by Ellis in June 1873: “… read small books of poems by Mr. MacKay which are made doubly interesting to me by the author being for the time English master at Mr. Grover’s school …”. The author goes to explain: “This Angus MacKay soon became Henry’s first congenial friend and the most important feature of his school life, although some six or eight years older.  His mother was English, his father a Scotch Highlander, who was at one time ‘Royal Piper’. He published his two books of moderately good verse before he was twenty”. Further on he adds: “When Ellis went to Australia in 1875 MacKay was the only person outside of his family with whom he corresponded.”

The details of Angus’ career in the church in England are: MacKay, Angus Mason graduated from London University, 1881. Ordained deacon, 1882, priest 1883, curate Olney Buckinghamshire 1882-85, St John’s, Fitzroy Square, London 1885-86.

Angus Mason MacKay married Edith Harriet Langley at Alney in Buckinghamshire on September 7, 1886 before becoming the incumbent, St James’, Aberdeen from 1886 onwards. A daughter, Daisy was born on October 4, 1889 at 6 Albert Terrace, Aberdeen. Angus was described on the certificate as Clerk in Holy Orders. In the 1891 census Angus was described as an Episcopal Clergyman and lived at 23 Albert Terrace in Aberdeen with his wife Edith, their daughter Daisy aged one, and two maids. A son, Arnold Langley MacKay was born later that year, on May 7, 1891 at 23 Albert Terrace. On the certificate Angus’s occupation was given as Rector St James’s Episcopal Church.

More books appeared in the following years: The Brontes fact and fiction by Angus M MacKay, BA. in 1897, The Churchman’s Introduction To The Old Testament in 1901,   A Reasonable Faith in 1905 and Sermons On The Future Life 1908.

Holy Trinity Church, Dean Bridge, Edinburgh.

The family moved to Edinburgh in 1899 and appear in the 1901 census returns. Angus Mason MacKay was now 48 and lived at 24 Ann Street in Edinburgh where he was the Episcopalian Rector at the Holy Trinity church, Dean Bridge, Edinburgh. His wife Edith was now 40 and their children were Daisy (11) and Arnold L (9), both born in Aberdeen and they one Irish born maidservant, Mary Kelly.

During these years I wonder if the congregation at his church was aware that their minister was the son of the Queen’s first piper, or if the piping community in Edinburgh was aware that Angus MacKay’s son was living among them.

Angus died at his home on January 1, 1907 aged 54.The cause of death was cerebral tumour and carcinoma of the small intestine. The informant on his death certificate was his sister, Margaret MacKay of Hathewalden Grange, High Halden, Kent. His father’s name appears on the certificate as Angus MacKay Fundholder deceased. At this time mental illness was considered a stigma and was something that was not talked about in families, so perhaps Angus preferred to keep his father’s story private. His mother’s name is given as Mary Graeme MacKay maiden name Russell deceased. Following his death the Aberdeen Press and Journal on September 14, 1907 reported that a brass mural tablet in affectionate remembrance of the Rev. Angus Mason MacKay rector from 1886 to 1899 who died in Edinburgh on January 1, 1907 had been placed in the chancel of St James’s Episcopal Church, Aberdeen and would be dedicated by Bishop Ellis on the following day.

 Margaret did not survive her brother for long. The death of Margaret E MacKay was registered at High Halden, Kent in the December quarter of 1912. The longest-lived of the four children was John who died in Australia in 1913.

The MacKay family were listed at 41 Comely Bank Road in the 1911 census. This was a large property, having seven rooms with windows. Edith H aged 50 was the head of the household and her children Daisy 21 and Arnold 19 were both students. They had one female servant.

Angus Mason’s widow, Mrs A. M. MacKay continued to be listed in the Post Office directory from 1907 to 1919 at 41 Comely Bank Road but by 1921 she had moved to England. The death of Edith H MacKay age 79 was registered in the June quarter of 1940 at Bishop’s Stortford.

Arnold Langley MacKay was educated at Fettes College and Edinburgh University. In September 1914 he enlisted as a private soldier in the Royal Scots Fusiliers. On May 14, May 1915 the London Gazette published a list of new commissions: “The under mentioned to be Second Lieutenants (on probation) Dated 16th May 1915”. The list included Arnold Langley MacKay, 3rd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers.

Arnold Langley MacKay’s medal record.

Arnold’s name appears in the Fettes College Roll of honour as: ‘Mackay, Arnold Langley K 1902 Pte. 2nd Lieut. (at death) Public Schools Corps, 3rd and 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers Wounded seriously; died Oct. 31, 1916 – – – – Two years France (Somme)’ and also in the University of Edinburgh Roll of honour where the entry reads,’MacKay, Arnold Langley, b. 1891). Fettes College; First XV. Student of Arts, 1910-1 3; M.A. 1913. Schoolmaster. Royal Fusiliers (Public Schools Battn.), Private Sept. 1914. Royal Scots Fusiliers, 2nd Lieut. May 1915. Foreign service May 1916. Died of wounds on 31st October 1916.

His army medal record (pictured) stated that he had served in France from July 24, 1916. The address of his mother Mrs A M MacKay in Sydenham was given and also the information that his sister, D. MacKay of Washington House, Nairn had applied for his medals in 1921. Washington House, Nairn is a large Victorian house built in 1879 and is now a guest house. Why Daisy was living there is not known at present but perhaps further information will come to light when the 1921 census is released.

Washington House, Nairn.

* Jeannie Campbell MBE was for many years the curator of the Museum of Piping at the College of Piping. She is the author of many publications on piping, most recently Highland Bagpipe Makers. She is currently working on a history of pipe bands.