Allan Chatto OAM – A History (First Published in Pipe Band Magazine)

Many readers will either know or remember Allan Chatto, who was an RSPBA International Drumming Adjudicator between 1986 and 2006.  Allan, now aged 84, is from Sydney, Australia.  He adjudicated at numerous Major Championships and minor competitions in Scotland, including the World Pipe Band Championships on three occasions.

Allan started his pipe band drumming career in 1948 with the local St George Pipe Band in Sydney before moving to New Zealand, where he became Leading Drummer of the Invercargill Pipe Band (then the New Zealand Champions).  In 1956 he moved to Scotland and joined the Grade 1 Glasgow Transport Pipe Band and thereafter the Rutherglen Pipe Band, where he remained until he married in 1959 before returning to Sydney.  On his return to Australia, Allan became Leading Drummer of the Sydney Thistle Highland Pipe Band and then the New South Wales Police Pipe Band.

Allan is also a highly respected drumming instructor and he served in many positions within the New South Wales Pipe Band Association, including Vice-Principal Drumming.  He is the author of a number of tutor books in pipe band drumming, has lectured in many countries, and in 1999 was the co-author, along with Drum Major Wilson Young, of the book “One Hundred Years of Pipe Band Drumming”.  He was also Principal of Drumming for the Australian Federation of Pipe Band Associations for over 25 years.  He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his extensive contribution to the pipe band community.  He was also awarded Honorary Life Membership of the RSPBA in 2008.

Allan’s wife Helen, who hailed from Glasgow, sadly passed away in 2015 following a period of ill health.  Throughout their married life Helen jokingly suggested that Allan had no direct historical links with Scotland and that the family name was of Italian origin.  Not to be outdone Allan set out to prove her wrong and during the past year research conducted by himself and his family unearthed a very interesting story.  Despite his advancing years, Allan decided to endure the lengthy journey to Scotland this summer for a four-week stay during July/August, which allowed him to undertake a nostalgic trip to the Scottish Borders to see at first hand some of his family’s historical territory, accompanied by friend Iain Duncan (formerly administrator of the RSPBA Music Board) and myself.

The research revealed that the name Chatto (originally Chattoe or Chettoe) was in fact an ancient Scottish locational surname.  It originated from an estate known as the Lands of Chatto in the parish of Hounam in the former county of Roxburghshire in the Scottish Borders.  One of the first Scottish surnames to be recorded, William de Chetue, was a charter witness in the year 1198.  Alexander de Chatto was the constable of Roxburgh in the year 1255.  There still exists the small village of Chatto, which lies around 10 miles from Jedburgh and about the same distance from the Scottish Border at Carter Bar.  The village, no more than a few houses, is located on a minor road close to an old Roman Fort.  The picture of Chatto below was taken during a reconnaissance visit which my wife and I undertook earlier this year to assist Allan’s research.

Allan also managed to identify that among his direct ancestors was John Chatto, who was a merchant in Kelso and became a burgess of Edinburgh in 1673.  His son, Thomas Chatto, born in 1674, also became a merchant who divided his time between Edinburgh and Kelso.  Thomas held the position of principal Baillie (magistrate) of Kelso and he was the first of the family to be styled as “Chatto of Mainhouse”.  At some point in the early 1700s the family acquired the lands and property of Mainhouse, not far from the village of Chatto.  The current owner of the house and farm at Mainhouse, Mr Joe Scott-Plummer, a former investment banker, kindly agreed to meet Allan during our Borders visit.  Allan was able to see at first hand the house once owned by his ancestors as well as have a general chat about his family history with Mr and Mrs Scott-Plummer.  

Interestingly the research also revealed that another of Allan’s ancestors, Andrew Chatto, who was born in Mainhouse in 1714, subsequently became Minister of the Church of Scotland Kirk in the nearby village of Morebattle.  Allan was able to contact by email the current Minister of the still existing Morebattle Kirk, the Rev Robin McHaffie, who kindly granted permission to visit the Kirk and take photographs and video.  Consequently during our visit, as a tribute to Allan’s wife Helen, Iain Duncan played a few tunes on the pipes inside the Church and I was able to video the proceedings with Allan standing alongside Iain.  The photograph below is an extract from the video, which Allan now has as a lasting record of the occasion.

Unfortunately we were unable to reach the village of Chatto on the day of our visit as the access road was closed due to repairs to a bridge.  Allan, however, was content that we were able to succeed with the main objectives of the trip, the visits to Mainhouse and Morebattle.

The Sydney connection to the Chatto family probably started with Henry Chatto, who was born in London in 1817.  He travelled from London to Sydney on the “Royal Saxon” in 1839.  Henry Chatto was an accountant who worked in partnership with David B Hughes, Auctioneers, George Street, Sydney.  His son Robert was a bank manager in Wentworth, New South Wales.  He had a son Andrew who was a clerk in the Department of Taxation in Sydney.  Andrew’s son, Alfred, who was a Petty Officer in the Royal Australian Navy, was Allan Chatto’s father.

During his four weeks in Scotland Allan also attended the pipe band competition at Paisley, the Scottish Championships at Dumbarton, various Piping Live events, the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band concert and the World Pipe Band Championships on both days.  He also visited the history display at RSPBA Headquarters as he had previously assisted the Historical Research Group by contributing a variety of historical papers.  He returned home to Sydney a very tired but happy man in the knowledge that he had managed to prove Helen wrong about his Scottish roots, and particularly that he had been able to pay a fitting tribute to her memory within the confines of Morebattle Kirk.

Alistair Aitken OBE, Former RSPBA Adjudicator