Eliza Ross Manuscript republished in a new edition



The Eliza Ross Collection, compiled in 1812 was discovered in Raasay House in the early 1950s.  The collection consisted of 150 songs, instrumental dance tunes, reels, jigs and slow airs along with six piobaireachd, and is now republished as a new edition.

In this new edition, 59 of the tunes have been set to bagpipe notation.

In the 1950s, Raasay House, the historic residence of the MacLeods of Raasay was in a state of disrepair and with the roof leaking, some material was removed for safe keeping.  Among the material was this collection of 40 pages of music written for piano. These fragile, stitched together sheets of music turned up in a bookshop in Edinburgh in 1954 and were taken to the School of Scottish Studies by Francis Collinson, the eminent folklorist.

Over many years staff members at the School of Scottish Studies worked diligently sourcing the texts appropriate to the melodies.

A limited academic edition of 100 copies was published by the charity Musica Scotica in 2016. Unable to obtain a copy, I was told by the publishers that I would have to order at least 100 copies.

On examining the material it was evident that this important manuscript should be more widely available to anyone interested in Highland music.  It was also evident that a third of the tunes were pipe tunes, or tunes that could be played on the pipes.

I then contacted the original editors Morag MacLeod, Peter Cooke and Colm O’Baoil with the intention of republishing the manuscript as a new revised edition to include 59 tunes written out in pipe music.  They were enthusiastic and Peter Cooke was very keen to help.

The author of the manuscript, Elizabeth Jane Ross, known as Eliza to her family and later known as Lady D’Oyly was born in 1789 to Thomas Ross and Isabella MacLeod, the eighth child of John MacLeod of Raasay.

Isabella had moved to Edinburgh where she mixed with cultured society. Her sister Flora had married Lord Loudon, and their daughter, also Flora, became the wife of the Marques of Hastings, a governor General of India.

On his first visit to Edinburgh Robert Burns became “acquainted with Miss Isabella MacLeod of Rasa, to whom I composed Raving winds around her blowing. I composed these verses on Miss Isabella MacLeod of Rasa alluding to her feelings on the death of her sister and the still more melancholy death of her sister’s husband, the late Earl of Loudon, who shot himself out of sheer heart-break at some mortifications he suffered owing to the deranged state of his finances.”

It must seem curious that Burns did not comment on how Lord Louden was more upset about the state of his finances than the death of his wife.

Eliza’s father, Thomas Ross, joined the Artillery and rose through the ranks, distinguishing himself with brave conduct and was posted with Isabella to India. He was severely wounded in conflict and shortly after his death his second daughter was born. What happened to their mother Isabella is uncertain. There is no record of her dying in India but when the ship carrying the family arrived in Britain only the two children disembarked. It is thought she may have taken ill on the voyage home and was buried at sea.

Taken into the care of their uncle James, now the Laird of Raasay, Eliza was sent to Mary Erskine School in Edinburgh where she received a solid education in music. She was around 23 years old when she compiled the manuscript which was left in Raasay.

Both sisters sailed to India in 1813 to join their cousin Flora, now the Marchioness of Hastings.

At that time it was fashionable to find a suitable husband among army officers or a member of the East India Civil Service. Eliza married the English Baronet Charles D’Oyly. He was described as a ‘gentleman artist’. Eighteen years her senior, they had no family.

Eliza was well respected by John MacKay, piper to the MacLeods of Raasay house. He composed the piobaireachd Lady D’Oyly’s Salute for her among other very fine tunes still played today. She brought back from India a set of pipes for him.

There are six pieces of piobaireachd or ceol mor in the manuscript which, apart from excerpts notated by Joseph MacDonald, represent the earliest attempt at writing out complete piobaireachd in staff notation.

It is very possible that Eliza taught John MacKay the rudiments of music writing and that he in turn taught his son Angus MacKay who became piper to the Queen. John MacKay left Raasay in 1824 moving to Perthshire on the death of James the 12th chief, uncle of Eliza.

Angus published a collection of piobaireachd in 1838 which became the bible for piobaireachd playing and the base of much of our knowledge of the music to this day.

Angus MacKay maintained that he learned his music from his father who we know was taught by Malcolm MacLeod of Eyre and also Iain Dubh and Donald Ruadh MacCrimmon and the MacKays of Gairloch.

In addition many famous pipers such as John Ban MacKenzie visited Raasay taking tuition from John MacKay.

Thus what Eliza Ross wrote is important to our understanding of how piobaireachd was played in that era. If we examine Angus MacKay’s light music manuscript, the settings of tunes are very different to what Eliza recorded on paper. This suggests that Angus collected his light music in Perthshire and other places rather than Raasay, an island he left at the age of 11 years.

•Dr Angus performing at the Eliza Ross book launch during Piping Live! 2022

We may conclude from this that Eliza recorded a more authentic and traditional style of piobaireachd than the one Angus MacKay published in 1838.  He said that she wrote down the tunes from the playing of the family piper John MacKay. Her notation of the songs and light music is meticulous and it is hardly likely that she misheard what she recorded of the six Piobaireachd.

Of the light music tunes 59, now written out in pipe music notation as a new section in the book, are exceptional. Some are early versions of tunes played today and some are unknown elsewhere.

The book is beautifully laid out and available in perfect binding or ring bound for convenient presentation on a music stand.

This publication is worth having, if only for the outstanding versions of Feasgar Luain by Uilleam Ross or the version of Oran do dh’Iain Breac MacLeod among other gems.

The Eliza Ross Collection is available to order from thebagpipeshop.co.uk