Kenneth John MacKenzie Baillie, also known as Kenny or Major Baillie, was born at Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1859 a month after the accidental death of his father. His father was John Baillie, born 1816, whose parents were immigrants from the Parish of Clyne, Scotland and mother, Catherine Walker (b.1825), a native of Pictou.

Baillie was raised in the Gaelic-speaking home of his uncle at Balmoral, NS and he received his first military experience as a boy bugler with the Nova Scotia militia while training for the Fenian Raids. He learned to play the violin as a youth, and while still in his teens he and his brother left Nova Scotia for Boston ostensibly to work in a relative’s tailoring business. His violin teacher may have been the well-known local fiddler, Robbie MacIntosh. Robbie was born in the Parish of Rogart, Scotland in the early 19th century and settled with his parents in Earltown, Nova Scotia, in 1822. In 1860, Robbie was invited to perform for the visiting Prince of Wales in Halifax, and received a hat from the Prince’s personal wardrobe for his music. Robbie was also an exceptional dancer, and would often finish his musical performances by step-dancing and playing the violin at the same time, a skill revived by a few Cape Breton fiddlers in the late 20th century.

MacKenzie Baillie was unhappy with his work in Boston and eventually shipped aboard a cattle boat for England. In 1878, at the age of nineteen, he enlisted in the Royal Marine Artillery, a corps that “lived with the navy but fought on land” (The Evening News, n.d.). In addition to being an excellent violin player, Baillie also played the uilleann pipes and Scottish Lowland pipes, musical skills developed while he served abroad and in Britain. Baillie made several violins during his retirement in Nova Scotia and he made all his own reeds for the instruments, a skill he learned from his father-in-law, Pipe Major Sandy MacLennan.

•MacKenzie Baillie, Pipe Major of the 78th Pictou Highlanders

The MacLennan family of Inverness was renowned for its pipers. Baillie’s father-in-law, Alexander or “Sandy”, was descended from the 16th-century MacLennan town pipers of Inverness. Sandy’s grandfather, Duncan, was a piper at Waterloo in 1815, and Sandy’s great grandfather, Murdoch, was a piper at Culloden in 1746. Sandy MacLennan’s father Donald “Mór” MacLennan received some instruction in piping from the celebrated MacKays of Gairloch, before the MacKay family immigrated to Pictou in 1805, and he was highly sought after as a piping tutor.  Donald Mór taught some very prominent pipers in the early 19th century, such as John “Ban” MacKenzie and Donald Cameron, in addition to two of his sons, Sandy and John. Sandy won the Prize Pipe (a bagpipe awarded for the best performance in competition) at Inverness in 1857 and the Gold Medal in 1860. Baillie married Sandy’s only daughter Catherine and they had one daughter who died in infancy and was buried in Scotland and a son Alexander, who died in Nova Scotia. Catherine was a fine piper and one of her students thought she was a much better player than her husband. Catherine played piano and also played the bellows-blown bagpipe. Alexander “Sandy” played pipes and violin and was reputed to have quite an ear for music, being able to play a tune after only hearing it a few times.

A musician was a valuable asset on a ship during the age of sail and according to one source, many ships in the Royal Navy had a fiddler on board, and later a piper was also included.

“In the days of sail, when steam was quite a luxury in a man-o-war, the musician of the ship was a recognized fiddler, whose primary duties consisted in encouraging the sailors who were ‘manhandling’ the capstan bars or manning the falls while hoisting boats, by playing airs on his fiddle to which the men would keep regular rhythm with the tramp, tramp of their feet; but with the disappearance of sails and the personality of the fiddler, came the advent of the piper with his strathspeys and reels”…In the Navy it is not uncommon to hear the skirl of the pipes reverberating from the surrounding hills of some landlocked harbour after the ships have dropped anchor and the ship’s companies have settled down to the evening routine.” (Malcolm, p. 243)

Baillie had an outstanding military career, which included being part of the marine compliment of the HMS Temeraire in Egypt and the Sudan, in 1880-1884, and took part in the bombardment of Alexandria and the relief of Khartoum. During an expedition to the Sudan, Baillie’s Royal Marine Artillery was paired with the Black Watch and dispatched to relieve the British garrison at Sin Kat. By the time Baillie and the others arrived they found nothing remained of the garrison but “a pile of their bones bleaching in the sun.” The Sudanese soon attacked Baillie’s column which had hastily formed a British Square to repel the enemy at Tamai. On the right-hand corner of the Square was the artillery, while in the centre were camels, supplies and the sick and wounded. Despite the superior firepower of the British, the Sudanese Beja warriors armed mostly with spears, attacked and managed to break through the square, a feat which later inspired the poem Fuzzy Wuzzy by Rudyard Kipling. Reduced to hand-to-hand fighting during the exchange, Baillie received a spear wound through the leg but the Sudanese were later driven back and the square reformed. This was reputedly the first time a British Square had ever been broken.

The late 19th century was the age of “gun-boat diplomacy” and Baillie served on board several ships during this period. He was on board HMS Inflexible, which wasthe first ship in the British navy outfitted with electric lights, and HMS Eurylas on the African west coast. During the Niger River expedition the British captured King Jaja, a slave who had bought his freedom and, due to his control over the lucrative palm oil trade, became one of the most powerful men in the eastern Niger Delta at the time, and a thorn in the side of mercantile interests in Britain. At this time palm oil was used in candle making and to lubricate machinery during the Industrial Revolution.

Baillie also served aboard the HMS Calliope, was one of the last two corvettes powered by steam and sail in the British navy. In 1889 it was dispatched to Samoa as part of the Royal Navy Australian Squadron to protect British interests in the Pacific. During a Samoan hurricane in 1889, all ships of a Royal flotilla were lost except Baillie’s HMS Calliope, known later as “The Hurricane Jumper”. The hurricane wrecked twelve of the thirteen ships anchored in the harbour including three warships from both Germany and the United States. The storm was so intense that its aftermath and destruction was described by well-known author Robert Louis Stevenson as: [There was] “no sail afloat and the beach piled high with the wrecks of ships and the debris of mountain forests.” When the ship returned to port Baillie piped Queen Victoria aboard and according to family lore, her Majesty immediately appointed him Pipe Major. Naval historians will dispute this story, but it should be noted that, at the time, the title of Pipe Major was an appointment, and not a specific rank, and so the story does have merit.

During the Boer War, Baillie was involved in recruiting work in Glasgow and in 1903, after retirement, he and his family returned to Nova Scotia, settling at Loganville, Pictou County. He was appointed Pipe Major of the 78th Pictou Highlanders and also toured North America as a musician with a Vaudeville troupe. After Baillie’s return to Nova Scotia, piping became his life’s work and he and his wife Catherine, taught piping to several individuals in northeastern Nova Scotia.

•Baillie wearing his pipe medals for his promotional tour of 1913.

In 1913 Pipe Major Baillie accompanied the pipe band of the 78th Pictou Highlanders to Charlottetown for the Orangemen’s Annual Celebration on July 12. The following excerpt from the Charlottetown Guardian gives some background to Baillie’s early career as a piper: “PM Baillie, Loganville of the band of the 78th Highland Regiment, who with other pipers, played here at the Orangeman Annual Celebration on July 12th, and who on Monday evening excellently sustained an entire concert program at a performance in the Caledonian Club’s Hall, where he showed himself to be a master of the Scottish people’s national musical instrument, acquiring his wonderful skill with the bagpipes in a purely inconsequential way, taking it up first as a past- time. This was when he was serving with the Royal Marine Light Artillery, in which he enlisted. But soon the yearning to make himself proficient in the playing of the pipes grew upon him, and he got himself appointed recruiting sergeant for that corps in Glasgow, solely for the purpose of improving his playing ability, by studying under the best bagpipe players of that city. Afterwards he went to Inverness to perfect himself in the music of the pibroch. Subsequently, to such a high standard of skill had he attained, he took part in a bagpipe competition in London, against some of the leading pipers of the Metropolis, and secured the first prize. Since then, he has had many triumphs in bagpipe playing and has won medals in the foremost competitions throughout the United Kingdom.” 

Baillie was the first native-born Nova Scotian to win awards at several competitions in Scotland for both light music, pibroch, and violin contests, as some of his medals indicate. These medals are still in the Baillie family and I am grateful to his descendants for allowing me to reproduce these images on my web site.

After his return to Canada he toured extensively throughout North America as a musician in “Vaudeville”. He died in 1924 from cancer and Catherine died in 1927. He and his wife were a major influence on piping in 20th century Nova Scotia. © 2023 Barry W. Shears