Angus MacKay family portrait / PT caption contest


An Australian descendant of the 19th century piping genius, Angus MacKay is to donate a family portrait to the Museum of Piping at the National Piping Centre.

The portrait, pictured below, appears to be an early photograph of Angus’ wife Mary (née Russell) and their son, John. It has been overpainted and is small at 16cm x 12.5cm. On the back is a stamp of the London Panopticum which was in operation for just two years between 1854 and 1856. This would date the photograph to this time frame.

The portrait was featured in the January 2010 edition of the Piping Times. However, since then, more information on Angus’ family came to light and the historian Jeannie Campbell wrote about this on Bagpipe.News last summer.

In 1977, descendant John Sager MacKay gifted documents to the Museum of Piping at the College of Piping, including Angus’ birth, marriage and death certificates, his will and appointment to Queen Victoria as the first Sovereign’s Piper. These are now housed in the Museum of Piping at the National Piping Centre’s headquarters in McPhater Street, Glasgow. The photograph, unframed, was passed to the current owner, John’s nephew, after John died in 1984.

As readers will be well aware, Angus MacKay remains a huge figure in piping. At the time of the portrait of his wife and son, Angus had developed a severe mental illness and, clearly, this is why he is not in the portrait. Angus was employed as Sovereign’s Piper until 1854 when he was moved to the Crichton Royal Institution mental hospital in Dumfries as his illness worsened. On March 21, 1859 he escaped from his nurses but drowned in the nearby River Nith. A cairn, paid for by readers of the Piping Times, was erected there in 2010.

• What happened to Angus MacKay’s family?

Readers are invited to supply suitable captions – keep em’ clean! – for this photograph. This was the caption competition that featured in the very last edition of the Piping Times, the April 2020 edition.

The photograph was taken at what turned out to be the last major piping event before the world went into lockdown: the ‘Uist & Barra‘. The competition was held at the National Piping Centre Otago Street, the former College of Piping, on March 7. Angus MacColl was the overall winner. The three individuals in the photograph were the judges for the light music competitions: Patricia Henderson, Colin MacLellan and Chris Armstrong.

We would like to include this along with some of your suggested captions in the Piping Times Annual that will be out in time for this Christmas.

Send your entry to us in the usual way. The editor will have a rummage in his pipe box to see if he can offer a prize. Maybe an old, well chewed leather clack or one of his blackened chanter reeds or something …