At the end of April 1905,  self-proclaimed Traveller wrote a letter to the editor of the Manawatu Standard, commenting on the Caledonian Games that had been held in Palmerston North, New Zealand, on Easter Monday. ‘Having a spare day here on my tour through the Colony’, Traveller wrote, ‘I sauntered down to your athletic meeting on the Sports’ grounds. … With the continual skirl of the pipes in my ears I went among the crowd to look at the young men preparing for the athletic contests. Visions of the past came into my brain’. Such sentiments of reconnecting to the past were not unusual at Caledonian Games, kilted pipers and caber-tossing providing suitable reminders to awaken the memory of the old home among the spectators of Scottish descent. For the most part Caledonian Games in New Zealand were held on New Year’s Day or throughout the Christmas holidays, but provincial holidays and other festival such as Easter were sometimes used too.

The Games in Palmerston North on Easter Monday 1905 were the first sports held there in a while, with the local Caledonian Sociaty making, in fact, ‘a determined effort to place athletic games on a healthy footing in Palmerston’. Keen to widen the appeal of the event, the Society’s committee ‘decided to grant free admission to all traps and horses to attract people from a distance’, and a Caledonian concert was organized for the evening.  The local paper praised the Society for having arranged an attractive programme and a ‘liberal bill of fare for patrons’, with prize moneys described as equally ‘liberal’ to ensure that the Caledonian Games would be ‘a record in the annals of this town’. And indeed, an estimated 3000 spectators made their way to the sports ground on Easter Monday and all competitions were keenly contested. Contestant A. Lister put that stone at 36ft 11in, while J. McFudgen managed 36ft 5in. The two were, it seems, quite literally in full swing, also competing against each other in hammer throwing – where results were reversed, Lister coming second with 87ft 9in. The Caledonian concert held in the evening was well-attended too, and an excellent programme, and one described as ‘national’, was provided, including too a performance of a Highland fling ‘in costume’.  A happy Easter thus come to a close for the Scots in the region and their guests. And in that same spirit: a happy Easter to you too.

For the history of Caledonian Games in New Zealand, see chapter 5 in Scottish Ethnicity and the Making of New Zealand Society, 1850-1930. Some details about the importance of Caledonian Games are also available in my article ‘No Colonists are more Imbued with their National Sympathies than Scotchmen’  (free online access) published in the New Zealand Journal of History.

Happy Easter – Scottish Style
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