Many Highland Scots, on moving to the urban centres of the Lowlands, established clubs and societies there. What is a little-known fact, however, is that Lowland Scots too utilised associationalism in this way, for instance when having moved from rural areas to cities. In Glasgow, for instance, the Dumfriesshire Society was very active. The Society was founded in 1869 as an amalgam of the Glasgow Nithsdale Society, which had been established in the mid-1860s, and the Dumfriesshire Benevolent Society formed earlier in 1869. It was thought that, given the similar objectives of the organisations, combining efforts would be a sensible move. As the Glasgow Herald reported, ‘[t]his event was happily accomplished’, and the Glasgow Dumfriesshire Society was formed on 10 December 1869. The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry and George Young, the then Lord Advocate for Scotland, were amongst the first patrons of the Society. Young, a judge and Scottish Liberal MP born in Dumfries, gave a spirited speech at the inaugural meeting, and one that provides some fascinating insights into how he viewed the role of the society and local origins:
Every great town attracts youths from the provinces; and Glasgow, in an especial manner, as being in this country the greatest of them, draws to itself men from every district, who are either impelled by their necessities or induced by their inclination … I need not tell you who know so well—many of you, I am persuaded, from personal experience—how cold, how desolate and friendless town life it at the first entry upon it by a young man without money and without connections, and with no sustained influence except a resolution to persevere. Nor need I tell you of the many instances in which that resolution fails for the want of human sympathy, manifested in words of kindness and encouragement, and those little hospitalities which make a young man feel that he is not altogether alone in a friendless crowd. (Applause.) All of us can recall … men who have distinguished themselves by active, incessant, and unwearied acts of kindness to those who had no greater claims upon them than such ties as locality.
By 1877 the Society had a membership of 423, and funds amounting to £1,108 2s, which were used to maintain a charitable fund and also to provide two university bursaries per annum, each to the value of £15. As the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry explained in 1877, the Society was there ‘partly for pleasure’, but also to provide charity and encourage education. Hence the purpose of the bursaries was to support talented youth from Dumfriesshire who attended university, so that they could maintain themselves and did not have to rely on their parents. As the 1890 report reveals, there was clear interest in supporting only those ‘of good moral character’ for a bursary, and recommendations from teachers were essential. In 1879, when the economy saw a downturn, ‘a number of unemployed Dumfriessians had been assisted to procure situations.’ Generally, however, as the Society’s treasurer’s account for 1880 shows, relief was usually dispensed in cash. Prior to receiving support, those seeking help had answer ten questions about their circumstances, and also had to have their application certified by two members of the Dumfriesshire Society. One of the members who provided certification had to have visited the applicant’s home to ensure that ‘the Applicant [is] a proper object of the Society’s charity.’ The questions asked related to the occupation and place of birth of applicants; their age and marital status; their family; whether they are a member of a church; and whether they receive other aid, for instance from the parish or another organisation.