My father the bagpiper, part 8


Concluding the story of James MacHardy, piper to Queen Victoria from 1878 until 1881, by his daughter, Mrs Edith Paterson.

James McHardy.

The 1938 Lonach was handicapped as so many have been since by cold, damp weather. Father took his place in the March of the Clansmen from Colquhonnie to the games field at Bellabeg and carried through his judging of the piping, but he was not in his best fettle and perhaps caught a chill there. He had been less than well all summer though still going around as usual, working in the garden, taking Roy for walks. There was even an offer of another radio broadcast. But the light was fading for him. At the end of October, he went into Aberdeen Royal Infirmar, for X-ray in the first instance, but his time was short.

Even there he seems to have been recognised for an occupant of a near-by bed, seeing that my father’s water-glass was empty, called for a “drink for the Piper.” I said to him one day, “You’re not letting your fingers stiffen, are you!” and he braced his out-stretched fingers of both hands against each other as he used to do after the heavy work at Drumlassie.

A few days later, he had gone.

His funeral to Corgarff Churchyard was attended by the Lonach Highlanders welcoming this wanderer with his own tune, Hame to the Glen. The pall-bearers were his brothers, Alick and Charlie, my sister and husband and I, Joseph Mitchell, George Laing, Jamie Stewart from Aberdeen and John Davidson, Whitehouse merchant. Roy was led by George Davie.

From the ‘Radio Times’ of May 11, 1935. The text highlighted in green reads: “19.10 – A Recital of Pipe Music by JAMES MacHARDY Piper to Her late Majesty Queen Victoria, 1877-1882 (From Aberdeen) James MacHardy became Queen Victoria’s second piper at the age of fourteen. He was offered the post of Pipe-Major at the age of eighteen and might have become the youngest Pipe-Major in the British Army.”

The following tribute was paid to his memory by a ‘Bon-Accord’ [the motto of Aberdeen, Scotland – Editor] reporter who surely was a student of human nature. I take the liberty of quoting without permission. No one could have penned a truer assessment of My Father, the Bagpiper.

“James MacHardy is dead; they buried him last week from the Lodge, Whitehouse, Alford, on a day of mist and rain when all the sunshine left in the world seemed to be gathered about the graveyard of his native glen of Corgarff. connected old age with James MacHardy. At 75, he still possessed the lean grace of a sprinter, a clear and bubbling humour, the vigour of a man of 50.

That vigour was always leading him on to recklessness — composing, fiddling, broadcasting — he found time for all of them; rushing out into the windy dark to guide us in the last time I saw him at Whitehouse; piping by the hour to entertain his guests. He never tuned his pipes, but I saw, not less clearly than I saw his material audience, the phantoms of the old Queen and her daughters, John Brown, Gladstone, Disraeli, the Prince who was to be Edward VII and all the rest — the personages and statesmen and warriors who can never be more than great misty names to us but had been sharp and sometimes terrifying realities to him. I shall be forever grateful for that last memory of him. Nor shall I forget how as he marched back and forth across the kitchen floor, he seemed to grow in stature until he over-topped us all. The Abercairney Highlanders he played for us, and The Back o’ Benachie! Then a nameless march of his own devising. Next the Reel o’ Tulloch, and, finally, his King George V.”

Prospect Hill Cottage, Whitehouse, in 1925. This was the home of the McHardy family at the time when James was farm manager on the Whitehouse Estate. [Ken McHardy]
Prospect Hill Cottage, Whitehouse, in 1925. This was the home of the McHardy family at the time when James was farm manager on the Whitehouse Estate. [Photo: Ken McHardy]

My imagination roved back to the Balmoral of 1877. The Back o’ Benachie was the tune he played when Queen Victoria took him for a piper. How many famous pipers had arisen and lived their little day, and been forgotten, since James MacHardy went up as a shy candidate for a place in the Royal Service! How many clans had gathered and been scattered like rooks before the wind! In that fabulous year the Queen’s first Jubilee was still ten years away in the unpredictable future, King George was a 12-year-old cadet beginning his naval career on the Britannia training ship at Dartmouth. And James MacHardy played on in a world that had changed beyond imagining.

That he had begun so memorably and had elected to return to a field for which there was a restricted scope for his amazing gifts was not an accident. He was a master of music, but he had also mastered the art of living. His essays in farming and estate work, his annual outings as competitor or judge at the northern Games all gave him pleasure.

As a piper he had his faults, and these faults were not the less obvious in his latter years. He could not, or would not, vaunt the great, roaring, bustling music of bagpipe as did the simple, rough and ready pipers of his day. One missed the raw elemental notes of hatred and bravado. It was a strange suggestive music that expressed admirably the subtleties of MacHardy’s conception of the piece. The wonder was in the meaning that he made it yield to him, and the wonder was always there. One felt that if that was not precisely what the composer had intended, then so much the worse for the composer. That in his own compositions he should be matchless was natural perhaps, but now and then his gay fancy would seize on some hackneyed piece and transform it to a thing of new beauty and significance.

In that he was an innovator; and in private life he was not less magnetic than on his public occasions. He was, as I have said, a very prince of pipers.”

Original pipe tunes:
The Donside Wedding
The Hills of Corgarit
Dr. Charles Murray’s Welcome Hamewith
The Laird o’ Hillockhead
Henry Spence
Mr. and Mrs. Farquharson of Whitehouse
Hame tae the Glen

Barrie’s Welcome
John Morrison of Colorado
Mrs. Pelton’s Welcome to Castle Forbes
Donald MacHardy’s Welcome

Gordon Reid
The Christening
Miss Dorothy Forbes’ Arrival
Sir Charles and Lady Forbes Welcome to Castle Newe
The Duchess of Gloucester’s Welcome to Aberdeen
One un-named since given to St. Andrews Boys’ Brigade

Mrs. Spence, Brig o’ Alford
Mac’s Kilt
Ower the Lecht
Auchernach Laddie (Peter McGregor)

The Flash o’ the Tartan
Bessie Brown of Banchory

Slow Airs:
On the death of Lord Sempill
Farewell to George V.

Original fiddle tunes
Burnie’s Golden Wedding
John Gibson

Moultrie Kelsall’s Fancy
Mairi of Morven
Corgarif W.R.I.

Hugh T. Fraser of Ravelrig

The Legacy
Penny Plain
Joseph Mitchell
The Favourite
Cairn Ian
The Doctor (Simpson, of Alford)
Willie Meston
Mrs. Farquharson of Whitehouse
Messrs. Anderson of Aberdeen

Geordie Davie
The Sprightly Seventies
The Legacy
Edie’s Reel
The Burn o’ Coryhoul
Mrs. Simpson

Mrs. Farquharson of Whitehouse
Messrs. Anderson
Dancin’ Jennies

• Part 1
• Part 2
• Part 3
• Part 4
• Part 5
• Part 6
• Part 7