A perfect associationalist

Screen-Shot-2015-03-13-at-11.30.53When Archie Crosbie Haig died in Mount Gambier, South Australia, in the spring of 1945, the local paper was full of praise for his involvement in the community, focusing in particular on Haig’s contributions to the city’s many clubs and societies. He was, in fact, what we might call a perfect associationalist:

The late Mr. Haig was a member of the Presbyterian Church, and belonged to the Oddfellows Lodge. He took a keen interest in military affairs, and was a member of the Scottish Company … He was one of the originators of the first Mt. Gambier Football Association … For a number of years he was Arbiter for the South-Eastern Football Association. He did great work for the Mt. Gambier Caledonian Society, of which he was Secretary, and many of the most successful New Year gatherings were held when he occupied that position. He had the credit of originating the first musical competitions conducted by the Caledonian Society, and held the positions of Chieftain and then Chief. Upon his retirement as Chief he was made a life member of the Society. The late Mr. Haig was a member of the first Cycle Club in Mt. Gambier, and served a long term as Secretary of the Mt. Gambier Gun Club … He was also an active member in the Mt. Gambier Rifle Club. He occupied the position of Clerk of the Scales for the Mt. Gambier Racing Club for over 40 years, and acted in a similar capacity for the Hunt Club for a number of years. A very keen member of the Mt. Gambier Bowling
Club, he held the honour of life membership at the time of his death.

Archie’s story is all the more compelling, however, when read within the wider context of his family’s history, which is an example par excellence of family migration, kinship ties and continuous ethnic association in the Scottish diaspora.

Four generations of the Haig family, 1918 (Archie 1866 to 1945; Bill 1891 to 196?; Ross born 1913; and Thomas 1837 to 1929); Mount Gambier Library.

Thomas Haig, Archie’s father, was born at Pavillion Estate near Melrose in Roxburghshire on 31 July 1837. After his education in Melrose, he became an apprentice at Herbertson & Son in Galashiels, moving on to London in 1861 to work for George Trollope & Sons, builders and cabinet-makers. Yet Thomas did not last long in the metropole of Empire: having decided, as is noted in his obituary, to join his brother and sister in Otago, New Zealand, Thomas arrived in Dunedin in early July 1863. He initially engaged in gold-digging, and, given the timing of his arrival, it is possible that the discovery of gold in Otago, next to kinship ties, provided a key pull-factor for Thomas to come to New Zealand in the first place. He had little luck digging for the precious metal, however, and soon made his way to New Zealand’s North Island, settling in New Plymouth—a decision that thrust him right into the turmoil of the Second Taranaki War. Still, Thomas remained in New Plymouth for a while, marrying Hannah Hamblyn in that city in the summer of 1865. Archie was born in New Plymouth the following May. After a stint at the Thames goldfields, Thomas decided that New Zealand did not offer him the right opportunities, and he thus made his way across the Tasman Sea with his wife and young son. He arrived in Melbourne in May 1870, and first settled in Kyneton, Victoria, entering into a business partnership with James Shaw, a native of Lurgan, County Armagh. As a result of work opportunities Thomas eventually moved west to Mount Gambier, which was to become the home of several other family members, including his brother, Alexander Campbell Haig, and his nephew, Archibald John Haig.

What all Haigs had in common, and across generations, was their profound sense of Scottishness: Thomas, Alexander and Archie all had a long-standing association with the Mount Gambier Caledonian Society, serving as the Society’s Chief at different points. A report of one of the Society’s earliest social gatherings, held to celebrate the first year of its existence, documents the involvement of several Haig family members right from the Society’s first days. In the early twentieth century, when Mount Gambier’s Scottish Company was set up, Haig family members again showed their commitment. Alexander served as lieutenant from 1901 to 1907, when ‘he was placed on the retired list, after 20 years or more of service in military companies in Scotland and Australia’, and Archie was involved too. A decade later, in 1919, Thomas and Archie were among those Caledonian Society members who eagerly awaited Sir Harry Lauder’s visit to Mount Gambier.

Mount Gambier residents at the Springs to welcome Sir Harry Lauder 1919; Mount Gambier Library

And when Archie had died, and his son, W.T. Haig, presented the Blue Lake Highland Pipe Band with the badge the band had given to his father when he was Chief of the Mount Gambier Caledonian Society, the band’s president concluded: ‘as long as there is a Blue Lake Pipe Band in Australia, we will always remember the name of Haig.’ That, it seems, could be more broadly applied given the commitment to Scottish ethnic associationalism shown by many Haig family members.

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