By JEANNIE CAMPBELL MBE • PART 1 • JAN to MARCH 1824

Looking back 200 years to 1824 we find that although the bagpipe and the piper are easily recognisable, the world around them was very different.

The Jacobites were no longer considered a threat to the establishment and the Act of Proscription had been repealed in 1782. The radical risings of 1820 had been ruthlessly suppressed and the leaders executed or transported. It was nine years since the battle of Waterloo and the end of the long European wars. The Scottish regiments and their pipers had distinguished themselves during the war years and pipers such as George Clarke at Vimiera in 1808 and Kenneth MacKay at Quatre Bras in 1815 had become famous. George IV was on his throne in London and had visited Edinburgh in 1822. Louis XVIII, brother of the executed Louis XVI reigned in France but he died on 16th September 1824 and was succeeded by his next brother Charles X. Napoleon had been exiled to the remote island of St Helena where he died in 1821. Piping had become respectable and even fashionable with many of the nobility and gentry employing pipers on their estates. Pipe bands were unknown but solo piping competitions were probably more numerous than those reported. Newspapers tended to focus on the gentry attending these events rather than on the pipers as the first group were more likely to buy newspapers. There were some reports of piping in Ireland and Northumberland and reports of army pipers in Canada.

Club of True Highlanders

The first piping news of 1824 was a report in London paper The Sun on 1st January of a ball the previous Friday, organised by the Club of True Highlanders. The gentlemen wore universally their native costume, each abiding strictly to their own respective clan. Strathspeys and Highland reels, accompanied by the bagpipe, commenced the evening’s enjoyments, while a military band of music was in attendance for country dances. The refreshments were of the first order and the company did not separate till sunrise the following morning.

An Irish cabin

On 8th January the Exeter Flying Post reported on an evening spent in an Irish cabin: “We entered the cabin and the attention of the company was divided between the strange gentleman and Jerry the blind piper who arrived at the same moment; the squeaking sound of whose music as he filled the bellows of his bagpipes immediately set the party in motion.” The visitor was given a seat, and after checking that he wasn’t an officer, he was offered a glass of the mountain dew and invited to join the dancing. 

The Culloden Hero: Peter Grant

London paper The Sun on 26th February reported the death at Glenmuick on 11th February of Peter Grant at the advanced age of 110 years. He was known as the Culloden Hero, having fought in the battle. “His funeral was attended by upwards of 200 people and in true Highland style three pipers were stationed at the head of the coffin, playing the favourite tune of the period of Culloden, Wha wad’ na fight for Charlie’s right, while the company present were not unmindful of their wonted portion of mountain dew, finishing upwards of an anker of whiskey before proceeding to the place of interment.”

Marriage of Rose Price to the Countess of Desart

On 8th February there was a report in the Leinster Journal of the marriage of Rose Price, son of Sir Rose Price, to the Countess of Desart. The couple left Desart for their honeymoon at Mount Pleasant. On their way through the town they were met by soldiers and the band of the 78th regiment, of which the bridegroom had been an officer. The soldiers of his company removed the horses from the carriage and took the ropes, the pipers mounted aloft on the carriage, with bagpipes and floating streamers while the band placed themselves in front. The procession moved through the streets with the band playing appropriate airs. 

Shinty match in Kingussie

Early in February a shinty match took place in a field near Kingussie, Badenoch: “The combatants were summoned to the field by the bagpipes striking up the MacPhersons’ Gathering, when a number of athletic Highlanders, equipped in the true martial garb of their country, assembled in the village of Kingussie and having proceeded to the appointed place, they were met by the young Highlanders of Glentruim, where the contest commenced, and was continued with such decided skill, strength and dexterity on both sides, that no advantage was gained by either, the sable cloud of night compelling them reluctantly to desist. Before they parted, their ancient and mutual bonds of friendship and esteem were cemented anew by the circling cuach; and many of both parties afterwards retired, preceded by pipers playing Tullochgorm, to the inn at Pitmain, where the shell was again circulated.”

Town Piper rallies the workforce

On 13th February London paper The Star reported that a vessel had arrived at Tobermory on the 13th January having on board two immense cast iron plates with appropriate inscriptions, designed to ornament the monument erected at Glen Shiel in commemoration of Prince Charles having first unfurled his standard there. “The plates were of such weight and magnitude that the shipmaster was in no small difficulty how to get them landed safely, but from this dilemma he was fortunately relieved by the enthusiasm of the town piper, who being present proposed to array himself in the national costume and with his pipe rouse the population to assist in the work. He did so effectually, for having commenced playing the pibroch of the Prince’s welcome, the warm hearted Gaels assembled in a body and having marched through the town, proceeded to the quay, where, animated by their national music, they, amidst loud cheering, landed in safety the valued articles”.

Masquerade at the Argyll Rooms

The Morning Chronicle, London of 17th February reported a masquerade held at the Argyll Rooms the previous evening. Among the many performances, the report included: “In the midst of other discordant sounds, a Scotch bagpipe twanged through the room, and a party of beardless Celts (in that costume which seems to have been the earliest mode of employing cloth), marched in rank and file; a strange mixture of prim clerks and well drilled soldiers, in the dress of the most untameable of all races of men”.

Revenue cruiser passes through the Caledonian Canal

On 15th March papers reported: “Caledonian Canal. His Majesty’s Revenue cruiser Success, commanded by Lieutenant William A Thomson RN has arrived in Leith Roads, from her station in the West Highlands. To shorten the passage, Capt Thomson resolved on pushing through the Caledonian Canal. The novel sight of one of his Majesty’s ships, under a crowd of canvas, decorated on both sides, from the topmasthead to the deck, with all her variegated colours and flags, enlivened by the martial pibrochs and Highland airs which were played by the piper, did not fail to bring in crowds of astonished natives, who viewed with wonder an armed ship, moving with majestic pride, some hundred feet below them, through the bosom of the mountains from the Western to the German Ocean. On clearing the canal, the Success fired a salute, in consequence of being the first of his Majesty’s ships which has come through this wonderful passage. The Success draws 13 feet of water.”

Death notice of esteemed piper, Peter MacGregor

The Caledonian Mercury on 18th March had this announcement in the deaths column: “At Tighchunairt, Fortingall, on the 26th ultimo, after twenty-four hours illness, Peter MacGregor, piper to Francis Garden Campbell, Esq of Troup and Glenlyon, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. He was nearly unequalled as a performer on the great Highland bagpipe, and was the first who gained a prize pipe in Scotland. He afterwards became piper to the Highland Society of London, and had repeatedly the honour of performing before their late Majesties.”