Piping Competition and Other Events from late 18th Century Edinburgh

The Scots Magazine from almost 230 years ago has the following interesting report under the heading ‘Affairs of Scotland’. It gives us a glimpse of life in the capital and its environs in July 1786:

Tuesday, July 25. The following Dutch men of war arrived in Leith roads viz, Dordrecht, 64 guns, Capt. P Melville; – Zeepaand, 24, Van Weemel; – Dolphyn, 24, J. Ostrhyenroode; – Maasnymph, 14, J Rynbende; – Leeum, 18, Liet.J Hoesd; – Postillon, 4, R Hapken. They sailed from the roads on the 4th of August.

Wednesday, July 26. John Johnston, condemned by the High Court of Justiciary for theft, was executed at the west end of the tollbooth, Edinburgh, pursuant to his sentence.

Saturday July 29, James Ellison, a chairman, was committed to the tollbooth, Edinburgh, by warrant of the magistrates till liberated by due course of law. It appeared upon examination, that he had been drunk, and after taking a lady into his chair from the Concert last night, between nine and ten o’clock, in order to carry her home, the chair was set down upon the Bridge, he being unable to carry any further. The lady upon this got out of the chair, when Ellison thought proper to tear off her hat, and otherwise abuse and maltreat her.

Monday, July 31, was held in Dunn’s assembly-rooms, the annual competition for premiums given by the Highland Society of London, to the three best performers on the Highland bagpipe, in presence of a committee of judges and directors named by the Highland Society of Edinburgh, and of a very numerous and brilliant assembly. The following is a list of the competitors, taken from the plan delivered at the door of the assembly-room, and which was well arranged, with much order and regularity.

1 Donald Fisher, second piper to the Earl of Breadalbane.
2 William MacDonald, piper to Sir James Grant of Grant .
3 Donald Gun, piper to Sir John Clerk of Pennycuick.
4 Alexander Lamont, piper to the Laird of Lamont.
5 Roderick Mackay, piper to Sir Hugh Dalrymple of North Berwick.
6 Archibald Macgregor, piper to the Laird of Glenlyon.
7 Colin Macnab, piper to Col. Campbell, Glendaruel.
8 John Macgregor, son to the Earl of Breadalbane’s piper, a boy of 13 years of age.
9 John Macgregor, from the estate of Sir Robert Menzies
10 Archibald MacDonald, from Invera, piper to the late 78th regiment.
11 Alexander Macgregor, from Glenlyon.
12 Ranald MacDonald, from Culloden.
13 Duncan Sinclair, from Monteath.
14 John Dewar, from Sir Robert Menzies’s estate.
15 Dougald Macdougall, piper to Dougald Macdougall, Esq., of Gallanich.
16 Donald Macintyre, from Sir Robert Menzies’s estate.
17 James Munro, pipemaker, and piper to the borough of Canongate.
18 Robert Macdougall, from Fortingall.
19 Allan Macintyre, from Rannach
20 John Cameron, from Rannach.
21 Archibald Macdermod, from Breadalbane.
22 Donald Maclean, of Edinburgh.
23 Malcolm Macpherson from Breadalbane.
24 John Macpherson from Glenlyon.
25 John Macfarlane, from Glenorchy.
26 Angus Cameron, from Rannach

Angus MacKay tells us that the winner on this occasion was piper number five, Roderick Mackay, piper to Sir Hugh Dalrymple of North Berwick. Second went to ‘Dugald MacDugall; the third, to Archibald MacDonald from Invera, late piper to the 78th regiment.‘ The fact that there were relatively few competing pipers from the far north and west would be down to geography. Getting from Skye or any of the islands or say Sutherland to Edinburgh would have been a huge undertaking in those days. For more on the early competitions click here.

Reading on we hear of a rejected suitor…
‘Marriages……The Earl of Shaftesbury, to Miss Webb, daughter of Sir John Webb. On the new married couple’s return from the performance of the wedding ceremony, his Lordship was accosted by a gentleman, who slipped a challenge into his hand; and at the same time told his Lordship, that he was prepared, and must have immediate satisfaction. He was taken before a magistrate, and bound over to keep the peace. It is said the gentleman was an unsuccessful rival to his Lordship….’


Piping historian Keith Sangar: Here, on the original poster, are the tunes played to go with the 1786 Highland Society of London competition details.

Regarding the lack of competitors from the north-west I would suspect it was more to do with there being few left up there. John MacCrimmon was still around of course and he took a further tack on Boreraig in 1791 for another nine years, while his brother Donald would have been back from America, but he was more interested in trying to obtain a promotion to captain that was stopped when the war ended.

Donald MacArthur, who had been the last of the MacArthur pipers on Skye, had died and of course Prof, John was in Edinburgh and Angus down in London. Robert MacIntyre, the nephew of the Allan MacIntyre from Rannoch (number 19 in the programme), was piper to Clanranald but he was in South Uist with the Clanranalds and their Italian cook (Hebridean pasta I assume). That just left one Rankin and one MacLean between Mull and Coll.


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