Global Bannockburn: Historical Ties with the Scottish Diaspora

BannockburnNYAs the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn is celebrated, let’s go on a tour of how the Scottish diaspora got involved, in 1914, for the 600th  anniversary. Let’s start with the British Empire’s remotest outpost, New Zealand. The most notable celebration in New Zealand took place in Dunedin – as you may know, this is the Gaelic for Edinburgh – so called because it was set up as a Free Church settlement. In that city the sexcentenary of the Battle was celebrated by the Burns Club, an interesting development given that the Club was neither the oldest Scottish club in the city, nor the largest.  As was reported in the local press:

When the patriotism of Scottish people is concerned, one can always be certain of a big outburst of enthusiasm. The patriotic fervour of the citizens of Dunedin was certainly very much in evidence last evening, for, notwithstanding that conditions out of doors might very well be summed up in the good old Scottish term, “A snell nicht,” the Garrison Hall was more than three parts filled, on the occasion of the celebration of the 600 the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. The stage had been tastefully decorated with fan palms, the background being occupied by members of the Burns Club choir, numbering about 40 in all. The chair was occupied by the president of the club, Mr John Loudon, and seats on the stage were also filled by Messrs William Brown (vice-president), William Reid, and T. Elliot (representing the Caledonian Society), Roderick Mackenzie and Kenneth Cameron (Gaelic Society), A. Bathgate; and A. Gilkison (Scottish Borderers’ Association), D. Gray (Highland Club), J. Wood (Early Settlers Association), and W. B. M’Ewan. The Chairman, in his opening remarks, said it was unnecessary for him to remind his hearers that they were assembled to commemorate one of the most, if not the most, important event in Scottish history’.

An address was then delivered by the Rev. P.C. Rennie. on ‘Patriotism and Empire.’ He thanked the club for the honour placed upon him in asking him to address a meeting on such a unique occasion. His peculiar right to deliver the address lay in the fact that he came from Stirling.  Speaking of the significance of the battle, Mr Rennie referred to it as a fight for freedom: ‘Wallace, before Bruce, had inspired the laity and people to maintain the tight with this object in view. It was patriotism—love of country—which was instinctive, finding itself in the hearts of the brave.’  Referring to the cost of patriotism, the speaker went on that it meant a sacrifice of life: ‘Men might fall, however, but they did not fail. Wallace fell through treachery and disloyalty. Bruce arose and took his place, he argued, and in Bannockburn they found the crowning glory of his achievement. For this speaker it was clear that Bannockburn gave the Scottish people independence. Their hearts had hungered for it for, he went on, for many, many years, and this battle won for them the heritage of the free. Importantly, it was also clear for those assembled that patriotism did net require to be instilled into their breasts; it was an instinct they said.’ Scottish patriotism had sons in  the most distant climes! Next to all this speechifying, however, the social component was not lost, as a very attractive musical programme was also provided.

But celebrations were by no means restricted to the larger centres. At the small settlement of Mataura, located in the south of New Zealand’s south island, the Mataura Highland Society provided its most elaborate entertainment to date, also including members of the Gore Scottish Society. As in Dunedin, an address was a central feature. It was delivered by Rev. W.W. Brown, who regarded 24 June as a red-letter day in Scottish history. But why? ‘It is not that a Scottish army proved victorious over an English Scots -won against fearful odds’, the Reverend said, no, ‘it is that on that day was decided whether Scotland should be a subject State to her larger and wealthier neighbor or should be the free home of a free and independent people.’

Moving west, several events took place throughout Australia in June 1914 to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. In Hobart, Tasmania, the paper reported that ‘Yesterday was a day calculated to send thrill through the blood of every Scotchman (and where in the wide world, from Tasmania lo Alaska, and from Terra del Fuego to Kamschatka, will you not find Scotchmen?), for it was the six hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.’ These are sentiments that Adelaide’s Register would have agreed with. As was noted:

Scotsmen the world over celebrated … Such a glorious achievement could not but live in the memory of all true Sons of the land o’ cakes … For months preparations have been in progress in Scotland suitably to celebrate the event, and at Stirling the festivities will continue for four days. Scotsmen in South Australia are not a whit less enthusiastic than their brethren over the seas. Accordingly, on Saturday the Chief of the Caledonian Society (Mr. R. Wemyss) cabled to the Provost of Stirling the following message: — Dinna forget. South Australian Caledonian Society sends greetings and wishes you a successful gathering.’ On Wednesday this reply came to hand from the Provost: — ‘Greetings; the heather is on fire.’ The latter obviously has reference to the bright-hued tartans which presumably are apparent on every side. On Wednesday evening, in the Institute Hall, North terrace, under the auspices of the society, a lantern lecture on Scotland was given by Mr. John Drummond, and Mr. G. McEwan discussed the historic battle.

In Queensland, the Warwick Caledonian Society gathered in the Presbyterian School Hall for addresses and a procession of the Warwick Pipe Band. As the local newspaper noted:

The Battle of Bannockburn stands out saliently in the chequered history of Scotland in its long protracted struggle for independence. Although the field of Bannockburn by no means ended the conflict, the battle has impressed itself upon the mind of every patriotic Scotsman since. The struggle is peculiarly significant because Bannockburn was really the making of modern Scotland, for Gael and Sassenach fought side by side for a common cause, and with a common leader.

Members of the Beaufort Thistle Club in Victoria held a Highland Ball to celebrate the Battle; over 70 coupled were in attendance. The words ‘Bannockburn 1314′ occupied a central position. The attention devoted to the embellishment of the stage and ballroom evoked much favorable comment. Tartans, national emblems, claymores, battleaxes, and targes were given sufficient prominence to lend a martial appearance to the scheme without detracting from its artistic side.

These folk, it seems, would have quite happily agreed with Jessie Farquharson from Broken Hill, New South Wales, who expressed her thanks to the local paper for coverage of different celebrations.  In so doing, she argues, the paper

had helped keep green the memory of such men who helped to throw off the powerful dominance of the hateful English yoke, on the 600th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn. How many of the rising generation, and Australians especially, ever have it brought under their notice, the great debt that they owe to these men, for Scottish freedom, and I would suggest that on the anniversary of such noble men as these, a lesson should be given in all English speaking schools in the Commonwealth to perpetuate their memory.

Moving even further west to Asia, events became much more small-scale, but they certainly took place there too in centres such as Shanghai and Singapore. On the Malay peninsula, the Rev. W. Cross of Penang, held a ‘Scottish National Service on “the Spiritual meanings of Bannockburn”’.

And in North America? In New York the New York Times reported that the Scots of the city may not be going back to Scotland ‘to take part in the commemoration of the greatest event in their history, but they will certainly celebrate with enthusiasm here in their adopted home’. And they did indeed (see black and white image above): Clans gathered in Carnegie Hall, and the event was framed, as the planning committee observed, ‘to be a celebration of the spirit of Scottish nationality and that principle of liberty dear to a people noted the world over for their patriotism and pride of country.’ In fact, so many Scots tried to get in on the day of the event, that ‘some hundreds had to content themselves with listening to the highlanders’ pipes from pit to ceiling, and it grew with each song, speech, and fling.’ Speeches by Andrew McLean, editor of the Brooklyn Citizen, the Rev Robert Bruce Clark, ‘descendant of the hero of the famous battleground’. New York Scottish Highlanders’ Pipe and Drum Band played, and Pipe Major James Cooper ‘had his bandsmen out of breath’.

Further west, over 4000 Scottish residents of Utah participated in the annual celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn at the Lagoon Resort, with 1500 of them hailing from Ogden.  The celebration consisted of games and field contests for the young; while the afternoon and evening programme was more for adults, in the afternoon sports and activities those of a Highland Gathering. Lunch and dinner served ‘in picnic fashion’.

What a great global celebration this was in 1914! And all this without the world wide web and Twitter too!

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2 thoughts on “Global Bannockburn: Historical Ties with the Scottish Diaspora

  1. scotsdiaspora Post author

    That’s brilliant – would have loved to take part (at least I’ll be heading to Bannockburn Live this weekend). I had read a newspaper report about your event yesterday already. Also a celebrations in Bannockburn, New Zealand. The global ties are still thriving! Which reminds me: if you or anyone else from your group/community would like to share their Scottish diaspora stories, please do take part in my new project here – only just started, so looking for many more Scottish voices to join in mystory.thescottishdiaspora.co.uk

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