Donald Morrison Archive: A Letter from Seton Gordon and Donald’s Part in ‘Whisky Galore’

We continue our excerpts from the archive of the renowned Gold Medallist and composer………

Wednesday evening, August 30, 1972, Upper Duntuilm, Isle of Skye….Dear Donald Morrison, I have just been listening to the wireless recording of the ‘Silver Chanter’ and it has confirmed my feeling that your ‘Iain Garve’ [John Garve MacLeod of Raasay’s Lament] was the best tune of the evening.

I think John MacDonald [Inverness] would have agreed with me. It seems strange that no one seems capable of playing the ‘runs’ down from E to low A these days.

They pause on high E [?] too long and rush the other notes. John MacDonald, who as I well remember, was a master of these ‘runs’ He taught them to me carefully and said. ‘A short pause on E, and then a short pause on the B.’

They, as you know, occur in Hector MacLean’s Warning and in the Rowing Piobaireachd [MacLeod’s Salute]. They sound most attractive when correctly timed and it is the pause on B which is of special importance.

I hope we may meet at the Northen Meeting. Thank you for such a well-played tune and with best wishes, Yours Sincerely, Seton Gordon.

The Editor comments: Those who play John Garve will be aware that it does not have the ‘Donald Mor’ rundown in the ground as heard in the Rowing Tune and elsewhere. Seton Gordon may have been referring to the movement from the double echo on D such as occurs in bar four of the tune in Book 5 of the Piobaireachd Society’s collection or the cadence in Var.1.


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In the early 1970s Donald was on a six-week teaching and recital tour in South Africa. The local paper in Durban reported….

In 1941, when the Politician bound for the West Indies with a cargo from Liverpool, was wrecked in the Outer Hebrides, there was little to stir the imagination. The Politician merely beached on the island of South Uist after a navigational error.

But when the nature of the cargo carried by the ship, which was left unguarded, was discovered, the small populace of South Uist was whipped into a piratical frenzy.

The island had one policeman and one customs officer and they could do little to stop the plundering.

Aboard the ship was perhaps the most welcome booty of all time – and no two men could hope to stand between Scotsmen and unlimited supplies of whisky.

Two fo the holds of the Politician contained nothing else. There were 30,000 cases…..

Donald Morrison was a youngster living with his parents on the island at the time of the wreck. ‘The Politician had a deep draught and was stuck way out in the water,’ he recalled today.

‘It was deserted when a fishing boat from the island stopped alongside and one enterprising chap climbed on board to see what was there.

‘You can imagine how he must have reacted when opened a hatch and saw the contents. Fishing came to a complete stop after that.’

A crew was sent to salvage the ship ‘but they were just a s bad as the islanders’.


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A year later Donald’s father was ploughing a field when he came across something buried in the ground. It was a case of whisky.

‘My father called a neighbour over and by the time I got back from school he was very happy indeed. My mother was not so happy,’ said Mr Morrison

……….Mr Morrison is in South Africa as a guest of the South Coast Highland Gathering. He will judge at the Gathering at Umbogintwini on Saturday.


1 thought on “Donald Morrison Archive: A Letter from Seton Gordon and Donald’s Part in ‘Whisky Galore’

  1. No mention of the tweeds, or was that another vessel? A great friend and islander, Angus, whose three robust brothers I was fortunate to meet at Eden Court in 2004 often spoke of wearing the finest tweed for many years after the event.

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