By Jeannie Campbell MBE
The Caledonian Society of London was instituted in 1839 and had its first formal session in 1839-1840 although some activities had started as early as 1837. The impetus seems to have been a desire by professional Scots, particularly those from the Lowlands, to create an alternative gathering to the earlier Highland Society, in which they might feel more comfortable and maintain the twin aims of fellowship and charity. Despite this apparent divide, some members belonged to both societies. In 1859 the two societies took a leading part in the raising of the London Scottish regiment, the so-called Cockney Jocks.
In June 1844 many newspapers carried this report: “The members of the Club of True Highlanders mustered very strong, in full Highland costume, on Monday, and proceeded to Blackheath, headed by their piper, and spent a delightful day in playing the national game of ‘shinty’, nearly similar to the game of golf in England. James Logan, author of the History of the Gael, was elected chief for the occasion, and the scene when they arrived at the ground, marching to the excellently performed music of Donald MacKay formerly piper the late Duke of Sussex, was of the most interesting nature to hundreds of the natives of Caledonia who were present, and was a scene of wonder to a great number of persons from the surrounding parts of the country who had assembled to witness the athletic exercises of the day. The company dined in a large tent erected on the heath, and the evening was spent in dancing Highland reels with their fair partners. The members of the club returned to town by the last Greenwich railway train, and left the London terminus, headed their piper, and accompanied by a large assembly of holiday folks who had joined them on the heath.”
James Logan was an author best known for his 1831 book, The Scottish Gael, and for the text to R. R. MacIan’s The Clans of The Scottish Highlands, and for writing the introduction to Angus MacKay’s Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd. Logan was born in 1797 in Aberdeen. With the support of Lord Aberdeen he studied at the Royal Academy in London, became a journalist, and then a clerk in an architect’s office. He was employed for a time by the Highland Society of London but never settled to a career. With Scottish patrons, he sustained a good standard of living, and died in London in April 1872.
Donald MacKay was born in 1794 and was the eldest son of John MacKay, Raasay and the older brother of Angus MacKay who became Queen Victoria’s piper. In 1834 he became piper to the Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) the sixth son of King George III and uncle of Queen Victoria. Donald had previously been piper to James MacLeod of Raasay and then to R. C. MacDonald of Clanranald. He won the Prize Pipe in 1822. After the Duke died he remained in London where he died in 1850.
A “Scottish fête” was held in Vauxhall Gardens in July 1846. The advance publicity announced that the chieftains of different clans had expressed their intention of visiting the gardens in their Highland costume and the Piper of the late Duke of Sussex would be in attendance. Other attractions included a concert and fireworks.
The fête was held under the patronage of “The Chisholm” and the Highland Societies of London. Reports stated that, “The band performed the national airs of Scotland, and Scottish ears were gratified by the national ‘bagpipes,’ which discoursed ‘most eloquent music,’ at least to those who came from the land o’ cakes.” Upwards of 6,000 persons were present at this fête.
In August 1847, at the Grand Caledonian Fête in Vauxhall Gardens, the boys of the Caledonian Asylum, with their military band, and their drummers, fifers and pipers were present, as was the piper to the late Duke of Sussex.
On June 21, 1849 the Inverness Courier reported on the Caledonian Ball in London: “The staircase, as usual, was lined with stalwart Highlanders, each bearing claymores and battle axes of most colossal dimensions. The pipers of the late Duke of Sussex, the Duke of Sutherland, the Duke of Argyll, and Captain Forbes, were also in attendance.”