History: Duncan Campbell – His Life and Death

We are very grateful to piping historian Keith Sanger (left) for these corrections and additions to our piece on Duncan Campbell’s pipes and manuscript of earlier this week. Keith writes……

Duncan Campbell’s date and place of birth are correct but your article then goes of the rails a bit. One day when I was in the National Archives of Scotland some years ago I was asked by the archivist if I could help with some visitors from somewhere in the ‘new world’ (Down Under if I remember) who had turned up wanting to ‘research’ their piping ancestor, one Duncan Campbell. 

In fact I had no problem as I had already done some background work on him after finding his ‘contract’ among the Breadalbane papers. As you can see from the following transcription he had been engaged to follow on after Duncan Ban Mackenzie retired.

GD 112/16/14/8/1: Terms of Engagement of Duncan Campbell presently residing at 49 Rose Street Edinburgh as Piper and general servant in the Establishment of the Marquis of Breadalbane.



Duncan Campbell engages himself as Piper, and as general servant for indoor and outdoor work, except as aftermentioned, at Taymouth, or wherever else his Lordship may be resident, or shall from time to time direct.

In particular he shall perform all the duties of a Piper, according to the best of his abilities, and shall be punctual in attendance at the prescribed times. If required he shall learn the Bugle Field Calls , and practice them, and attend and assist at Drills and Parades of the Rifle Volunteers. He shall also attend to such other duties in his Lordships service as may be required of him, either in the house or Stables, or in assisting the Gamekeepers or Wood Foresters, or otherwise, but he shall not be required to do labourers work.

Another picture of Duncan Campbell of Foss

He is to take good care of the Bag Pipes, and other Instruments under his charge, and that they be kept in order, and he shall be at all times careful in his dress, and ready to fulfil the directions he may receive.

He shall receive wages at the rate of Forty pounds per Annum, with house and keep of a cow, Summer and Winter, together with a sufficient supply of the Fuel of the country, for the use of his family. He shall also receive his outer clothing, dress and undress, but not under clothing or shoes. His Engagement to be by the half year, commencing at Fifteenth May next. Edinburgh  February 18, 1860; signed: Duncan Campbell

Regarding his death I am not sure where the scaffold story came from but he died aged 44 years in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh on the 25 February 1860. Which is just eight days after he signed the new contract so never actually took up his post. His cause of death was basically gangrene for which his leg had been amputated.  His occupation at the time was given as Night Watchman at the Royal Bank and his address was 49 Rose Street.

He was survived by his wife Ann Graham from Dunkeld and they had married in the Parish of Blair on the 23 December 1845, where he was living in Blair Castle. By the 1851 census he was in the parish of Logie Coldstone where he was employed as ‘Gamekeeper & Piper’ and listed his children, Duncan aged six, Margaret aged three, (both born in Dunkeld ) and Charles aged four months, born Aberdeen- Coldstone.

A photograph of him exists among his descendants (above) and the dirk he won as third prize is also still around.

The inscription on the dirk reads: ‘Third prize given by the Highland Society of London to Duncan Campbell as being the third best performer on the great Highland bagpipe at the competition held at Edinburgh 21st July, 1838’

• Read the original story on Duncan Campbell of Foss here.