Scottish associational culture in Africa in the early 20th century

Screen-Shot-2015-08-14-at-11.12.33In Africa, like elsehwere around the globe, Scottish clubs and societies were a common development soon after the first foot fall of Scots on the continent. Contrary to popular assumption, and while there was a strong concentration, such associations were not restricted to southern Africa. By the early twentieth century we find societies in Salisbury (now Harare) and Bulawayo, the latter Society’s activities firmly recognized on St Andrew’s Day in 1902, when it received telegrams from sister societies in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Salisbury, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Umtali, Gwelo, Mafeking, Kroonstad, Simonstown, Queenstown, Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle, Lourenço Marques (present-day Maputo) and East London; there was also a telegram from the Diamond Fields Scottish Association.

In 1898 the Chieftain of the Salisbury Caledonian Society was Dr Leander Starr Jameson. Born in Edinburgh in 1853, Jameson was the second Chief Magistrate of the British South Africa Company Territory (which became Rhodesia) from 1891 to 1893, the second Administrator of Rhodesia from 1894 to 1896 and also the tenth Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1904 to 1908, though he was perhaps most famous for what became known as the Jameson Raid into the Transvaal. While Jameson eventually made his way back to the United Kingdom and died in London in late November 1917, his body was returned to Rhodesia after the First World War, in May 1920, ‘for interment at the Matopos’ near Cecil Rhodes. When passing through Kimberley, Jameson’s remains were greeted by ‘a large crowd gathered on the platform to pay a last mark of respect’, and the Diamond Fields Scottish Association placed a wreath on the casket. The Salisbury Caledonian Society had already honoured his death in 1917, sending ‘[a] cable … direct to London conveying the society’s condolences’. The world, even in these early days, was much more connected than we might assume.

Beyond broadening its geographic scope, diversification of activities and specification of associational remit are two further characteristics of Africa’s Scottish clubs and societies in the 1890s and early twentieth century. Organizations with regional roots, including several Highland societies, developed. In 1903, the Port Elizabeth Highland Society gained a certain prominence when opening a subscription fund for a memorial to General Sir Hector Macdonald. We also find associations such as the Aberdeen, Banff and Kincardine Society of Cape Town, and the Comunn Gaidhealach in Natal. Celebrations in the name of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns also found increasing favour. A Burns Society was established in Johannesburg in 1904 by members of the Caledonian Society, and the Mafeking Scottish Association celebrated Burns with a ‘Smoker’ in the same year. Further north, a Burns concert took place in Nairobi, and the Bulawayo Caledonian Society held annual Burns nights. In Bulawayo we also find that cycling was popular at the Society’s Caledonian sports, while, in Johannesburg, Halloween entertainments were specifically designed for children. In 1905, for example, ‘A Nicht wi’ the Bairns’ commenced wit ‘a grand march by about 400 children’ and offered entertainment to suit the wee ones.

Screen-Shot-2015-08-14-at-11.32.52Within this general climate of diversification and proliferation of activities even small Caledonian societies attracted significant crowds by the early twentieth century—400 guests were present, for example, at the St Andrew’s Night concert organized by the Gwelo and District Caledonian Society in 1913. Interestingly, the early decades of the twentieth century also witnessed a proliferation of interconnected activity between Scottish ethnic associations and volunteer corps. The Transvaal Scottish (Scottish Volunteers Corps) were established in December 1902, gaining prominence, for example, by serving in the German South West Africa campaign, 1914–5. Thomas Law, the chief of the Johannesburg Caledonian Society (pictured on the right) helped the Marquis of Tullibardine in his drive to recruit for the Scottish Horse during the Boer War 1899 – 1902, and then continued supporting the Transvaal Scottish. Finally, in Salisbury, Rhodesia, the local Caledonian Society extended its activities to include educational endeavours and started awarding prizes for the examination in Scottish History and Poetry. In 1918 this brought together G.R. Milne, the Caledonian Society President; the Society’s chaplain, the Revd J. Craig; Mr Foggin, Director of Education; Miss Forsyth, Principal of the Girls’ High School; Mr Somerville, Principal of the Boys High School; parents and pupils for the announcement of the award. As President Milne noted:

It was well known how great a factor endowments for educational purposes were in the making of Scotland, and it gave him very great pleasure to intimate that the Caledonian Society of Salisbury had decided to offer a bursary of £16 a year, tenable for one year, to the Scottish candidate being a pupil in one of the Salisbury schools.

The bursary was established to encourage children to learn more about Scotland and ‘its glorious history’. This is an interesting point of difference to the provision of bursaries elsewhere, for instance by Scottish groups in London who also did so: there the focus was on education for the self-advancement of bursary recipients. In Salisbury, on the other hand, the motivation was a patriotic one. As the Salisbury Society’s chaplain stressed, Wallace and Bruce, or John Knox, all give great examples that ‘should be the inspiration of every boy and girl in Scotland and the colonies’. The timing of the initiative, in the immediate post-WW1 period, is likely to have played a role here.

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