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East London Caledonian Society
18 November 1876 – 1976 November 18
Mrs. Gray wrote to me in October last year to tell me that she was engaged in writing a history of the East London Caledonian Society. Modestly she hastened to make it clear that she was not presuming to write a book but that her text would assume the proportions of a booklet. And she went on to ask if I would write a Forword. My interest was aroused at once, for, a fourth generation East Londoner, my roots go back almost to the foundation of the city, as a Roman would have put it. This would have been reason enough for me to welcome the opportunity to be associated with a piece of local history, but there was greater cause for me to readily accept the proffered honour and distinction, as the sequel will show.
The Caledonian Association which was formed in East London in November 1876 was not the first such society in British Kaffraria. There had for several years been one in King William’s Town1, and there can be little doubt that this set an example which East London followed. Both bodies were originally called Associations and the chief office-bearer of each was called a President or Chairman. The first Chairman of the East London Association, James Coutts, had had business interests in King William’s Town ever since the early ‘sixties, had lived there for a time, and had sent his eldest child, a daughter, my maternal; grandmother, to be a foundation pupil of the Girl’s Collegiate School, now Kaffrarian High School for Girls2. At the first prize-giving in November 1875 she received the Complete Works of Robert Burns as an award presented by the Kaffrarian Caledonian Association and inscribed as ‘to be competed for by the Daughters of Scotchmen.’ As a great-grandson of the first ‘Chief’ of the East London Association I have, therefore, a special reason for pride and gratification that I should have been singled out for the honour of writing a Forword.
It is interesting that the founding fathers of organised Caledonialism in both King William’s Town and East London called themselves Scotchmen. We have it on the authority of the Oxford English Dictionary that, before the end of the eighteenth century, the English forms ‘Scotch’ and ‘Scotchmen’ had been adopted in Scotland and that it was only towards the end of the nineteenth century that these forms began to be discarded. Thus Burns used the terms ‘Scotch’ and ‘Scotchman’ regularly and so did Boswell, Scott, Lockhart and Carlyle. Barrie, however, who began his literary career in the late ‘eighties, writes of Scotsman. The minutes of the Society may provide evidence of the terminological change in South Africa.
The Society may count itself as fortunate that Mrs Gray ha undertaken the task of historian. She is well qualified, first by reason of her long, close and distinguished association with and record of Caledonialism in the Province.3 She knows what she is about and she loves what she knows. Secondly, she has a sound, shrewd eclectic skill. Selection I a necessary stage in the writing of history. Perhaps it is true that all art consists in selection. Her main source has been the Minutes of which she has made the dry bones come to life and has clothed and articulated them in an interesting and significant way. She has a lively sense of the dialogue between the Past and the Present which is the essence of historical thinking and writing. Her selection and her treatment have the desired evocative effect, calling up from the shades of near-oblivion names which were household words, simple outdoor pleasures like picnics up the river4 and at Cambridge5, and the visits of celebrities as Major Miller, the Haigs, Harry Lauder and Joseph Hislop. There will be many among her readers who will recall memorable sermons preached at the annual service in St George’s Church. For my part I shall always remember a sermon of the Revd Dr R. B. Douglas in the text: ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Thirdly she has, with good taste and restraint, let the story unfold itself in terms of the Minutes, hiding the hand of the historian. She permits herself only an occasional aside, which, when it comes, being rare, serves a happy artistic purpose.
Mrs Gray has made a distinct contribution to local historiography. Her historical record, which is more than a mere compilation or chronicle, deserves to reach a larger reading public than the members of the Caledonian Society, and I am confident that it will. It is true that she had a limited object and has confined herself to it. The story of the part played by Scotsmen and Scotswomen in our history and development, both local and national, remains to be told. The late Dr A. W. Burton once reminded us that the first Scotsmen came out with van Riebeeck – five from Dundee and one Glaswegian. How often has it not been the case that God, when He wants a job done, has sent for His Scotsmen? Those who are Scots by birth or who can claim a Scottish descent have much to be proud of and plenty to be immodest about. No excuse offered or defence raised for accesses, even excess, or nationalist ardour or ethnic enthusiasm, even when they are hardly this side of chauvinism. The Society has, however, in its long history not ever been guilty of patriotic particularism, nor has it, in a clannish and exclusive manner pursued a social and convivial object only. There is abundant evidence on the record of its philanthropy and of its promotion of education and the arts in the community.
For a relatively small patriotic society it has an impressive record of beneficence and community service. It has been true to the best and highest traditions of the race and one is confident that this will continue to be the ethos of the Society ad multos annos6. As Barrie said to the students of St Andrew’s in his Rectorial Address:
‘You come of a race … the very wind of whose name has swept the ultimate seas. Remember –
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do, Not light them for ourselves …
H. J. Chapman
7 June 1976
1 Although now much smaller than East London, King William’s Town was chosen as the capital of the colony of British Kaffraria. Apparently this was because, being 60 km from the coast, it was out of range of the ships’ canons of that era. Adjacent to King William’s Town is Bisho, capital of the former Ciskei. Bisho is now capital of the Eastern Cape Province and, with King William’s Town and East London, incorporated as Buffalo City Municipality.
2 In light of post 1994 sensibilities, the name has been changed to Kingsridge High School.
3 This was the Cape Province, now divided into the Northern Cape Province, Western Cape Province and Eastern Cape Province.
4 Buffalo River
5 Cambridge Municipality was incorporated into greater East London in 1941. Suburbs falling into the areas broadly known as Nahoon and Vincent were part of Cambridge. The area broadly known as Amalinda used to run by a Village Management Board. The Beacon Bay, Gonubie and Duncan Village Municipalities were incorporated during the 1990s.
6 For many years [to come].
When I agreed to write a short history of the Caledonian Society of East London, I had no idea of how much time I was to spend reading and re-reading the Records, writing, reading and destroying my first notes. To condense the chronicle of 100 years into a short readable account has proved a difficult but rewarding and often amusing task.
THE BEGINNING – A CALEDONIAN ASSOCIATION
“On the 16 November, 1876, a number of Scotchmen (sic) met in the local Court House1 with the view of establishing a Caledonian Association.” The first committee was Chairman – James Coutts; Vice-Chairman – T.C. Henderson; Secretary – J.C. Shield; Treasurer – Geo. Leask, with Messrs. Mitchell, Dempster, Stewart and Ledingham. This Committee immediately made plans to have a Social Gathering on St Andrew’s Night. The Catering was in the hands of a Mr Shooter whose quotation was – “Supper for 30 persons ₤10, each additional guest 5/-“and the function was held in the Oddfellows Hall2. It appears to have been a great success with a credit balance of ₤6.12.0. Tickets – “Tea Total 10/6. Including liquor 15/- 3
RULES OF CALEDONIAN ASSOCIATION
It was decided that the Association should adopt the Rules of the Kaffrarian Caledonian Association (King William’s Town)
The next event of any importance appears to have been a Social arranged to welcome the Scottish Emigrants who arrived in March 1877 on the Tantallon Castle. The St Andrews’s Day Function that year is described as a Tea Meeting and had a debit balance of ₤6.5.6. From 1877 to 1881 meetings of the Association appear to have been held only in May and November with one reference to a short celebration of Burn’s Birthday but there is quite a blank in the Records for those years and the next full Minute is of a meeting held on 7th January 1882. The Association was then called the “Society” and the name appears to have been used since November 1881 and subsequent Annual Reports are dated from then. At a Committee Meeting in January 1882 – Mr Coutts was still Chairman and Mr Leask was Secretary – the revised Rules were submitted and approved, advice on their formation having been sought from Cape Town and King William’s Town.
1. That this Association shall be called the Caledonian Society of East London
2. The Caledonian Society is established to form a bond of union amongst all Scotchmen living in South Africa.
3. To collect all statistical information from the various parts of the Colony as to nature, capabilities and value of land, the kind of labour required, the price of the various kinds of labour, the cost of living and all other information of value to persons desirous of settling in South Africa; and also to foster and perpetuate a patriotic love of the traditions, literature, games and customs of Scotland; the judicious aid of deserving Scotchmen by pecuniary assistance, or by such other means as shall be most conducible to the object in view.
4. That there shall be an annual gathering on St Andrew’s Day or on such other day as the committee for the time being may decide upon.
5. That the Secretary keep a Record book of the names and addresses of all members and also a general registry containing all available information relating to land, labour, cost of living, lodgings, Boarding Houses etc. Members should notify the Secretary, with the least possible delay, any change of address.
6. That the affairs of the Society shall be conducted by a Committee consisting of seven members to be elected annually. From this Committee shall be elected a President, Vice-President and a Secretary; three to form a quorum.
7. An annual subscription of net less than ten shillings payable in advance to constitute membership.
8. That a Statement and Balance Sheet shall be submitted to a general meeting to be convened for that purpose.
9. That special meetings of the Society may be called at any time upon a requisition signed by not fewer than six members.
From the same meeting a letter was sent to the Government anent their laxity in informing authorities here of the arrival of immigrants to the Colony.
FIRST SUGGESTION RE HIGHLAND GATHERING
In June 1882 the King William’s Town Society asked for “co-operation with regard to getting up an Annual Scotch Gathering for the Eastern Province of the Colony.” It was resolved that East London could not see their way to join in this matter. Later (in 1883) a New Year’s Day Games was proposed and again turned down.
Unfortunately no correspondence was quoted directly but apparently the Society had an acrimonious dispute with the Government about injustice to “emigrants” to Gonubie. In conversation with relatives of some of the early Gonubie / Kwelegha settlers it appears that those people were more or less “dumped” on parcels of land and were subjected to attacks by marauding African tribesmen. Col. Brabant intervened successfully in this matter.
A successful “Concert” with dance to follow was held in January 1884. It should be noted that at that time and for many years afterwards membership was confined to men, ladies were present at such functions as the Burn’s Concert as guests only. The charges for the abovementioned evening were – Concert 2/-, Dance Gentlemen – 5/-, Ladies Free and all refreshment – Gratis! The Committee decided to spend 20/- on cakes and to order 6 dozen each of Ginger Ale, Soda Water, Lemonade and Aerated Lime Juice. In spite of this prodigality there was a credit balance of ₤3.11.0
In 1887 there was such a large balance in the bank that a proposal was put forward and approved that a “sum of ₤5 be applied to the education of Scotch children.”
ST ANDREW’S CELEBRATIONS
Through all the years the St Andrew’s Day Dinner has been the main event of the Caledonian year. According to the records there were generally up to 15 toasts which along with the replies must have made these functions quite a lengthy business, especially as songs were contributed and Mr Forbes quite often “played a few Scottish airs on the pipes.”
CHANGE IN CELEBRATION OF BURN’S ANNIVERSARY.
In 1888 a change was made in the celebration of Burn’s birthday and a picnic was arranged on the river with suitable refreshments and a band! “The Steam Launch, the Dolphin, kindly placed at the disposal of the Committee, started for Second Creek on the Buffalo River from the passenger jetty shortly after 2 p.m. The Kaffrarian Rifle Band was in attendance and played some excellent music. Also Mr George Forbes was present with his pipes and played a number of national airs.”
These picnics became quite a feature of the Society’s calendar; special trains carried the passengers from town to wharf.
DEATH OF FIRST CHIEF
The first Chief, Mr Coutts, died in 1888 and at a meeting on the 9th November several of the Committee questioned the propriety of holding a convivial gathering on the 30th of the month. After much discussion it was agreed that such an event would not detract in any way from the respect for ‘him who had gone before’ by having a gathering of his countrymen! Mr Coutts apparently left a legacy to the Society which is subsequently referred to as the “Coutts Educational Bequest”. Some of the Society’s surplus funds was used to pay the coal bill and part of the rent of an indigent woman.
It should be mentioned that the Committee Meetings during the early years in various places such as the Mutual Hall (West Bank), Magistrate’s Court1, the Cape of Good Hope Bank and even the waiting room at the Railway Station etc. The Phoenix Hotel (on the site of the new Trust Bank4) was the favoured place for dinners and usually charged 12/6 per head – not much less than the R1,50 which I’ve heard members jib at during more recent discussions, especially when one remembers the relative value of money in 1888 and 1970!
In 1890 no fewer than 10 children’s fees were being paid at the Public Schools at Gonubie and West Bank. Unfortunately two members of one family were expelled for misdemeanours; the “misdemeanours” are not explained!
In the same year the Cape of Good Hope Bank, in which the Society’s Funds had been deposited, suspended payment and after the Treasurer had proved the debt a new account was opened with the Standard Bank.
A local Athletic Sports Meeting was held in November 1890 (not under the Society’s auspices) and a sum of 6 guineas was voted towards prizes for “Scottish events such as the hammer-throwing and Highland Dancing.” In addition the Society agreed to pay half the cost of installing a dancing board (platform) for the dancing events.
In 1891 there was a new development in the Social Life of he Society; namely a Caledonian Ball. This was held on two successive nights, the first night for children and the second for adults. A total subscription of one guinea for the two nights was agreed on – I do not know how this worked but it brought a favourable balance of ₤4.
Meantime the Committee in charge of the Education Fund was facing a difficulty – children who had not been approved for schooling had turned up and accounts for their fees rendered to the Society. A small committee was appointed to go into the matter. Thirteen children’s fees were being paid by the Society and the School Board granted one free scholarship.
Activities of the Society at this time also included helping farmers in the district in their approach to the Government re reducing the amount charged for Survey Fees. This appears to have been partially successful.
ST ANDREW’S NICHT
The list of guests at the annual St Andrew’s Nicht Dinner in 1892 may be of interest:
Sir Gordon Sprigg, Col. Brabant, H.M. Fleischer (R.M. and C.C.), D. Rees (Mayor), Col. Griffiths, President of Cambrian Society, J. Middlemart – President of “Hotspur” Society, A. Lehmann – Chairman Chamber of Commerce, Mr Hebbes, Editor “Dispatch”, J.G. Gilbert, Editor “Standard”.
EXTRACT FROM MINUTES OF SPECIAL MEETING ON 28/11/1892
“The Meeting as called for the purpose of considering Mr Woods’ application for the Society to stand security for the payment of ₤6.6.0 to be used in paying his passage to Natal where he expected to find employment. It was resolved that the Society take no action and that no money be advanced to him on any account he not being considered a fit and proper person for the Society’s aid.” No comment.
Apparently our earliest Committees were very strait-laced as another meeting the same year requested the resignation of a member who had behaved obstreperously at a public function. They proved themselves kindly to those in need however, and spent a lot of time in arranging for the repatriation from the Colony of a widow and her children, first of all getting free legal assistance for her in claiming funds in the P.O. Savings Bank deposited by her late husband and not willed to her, and then opening a Subscription List for the passages of herself and her children to Scotland.
1 As best as I can establish, the court house was in Station Street and in the building used by SARS VAT Dept. The modern court building is in Buffalo Street.
2 I have not been able to establish where this hall stood. Given the size of East London in 1876, I am assuming that it was somewhere in the modern CBD. Or perhaps on the West Bank
3 British currency was converted to the decimal system in 1971. Prior to that the currency was in the following terms:
£ pounds: (This is from the Latin librae a Roman unit of weight, about 12 modern ounces)
s shillings: (This is from the Latin solidi. A solidus, the Latin word for solid, was originally a gold coin issued by the Romans.)
d pence (i.e., pennies): (This is from the Latin denarii. A denarius was the most common coin produced for circulation.
Prices were written as a combination of all three, separated by a slash, thus £5/2/6d = five pounds, two shillings and sixpence (i.e., six pennies). That would have been spoken as five-pound-two-and-six. 4/2d (i.e., four shillings and tuppence (i.e., two pennies) would have been spoken as four and tuppence. 1/41/2d = one shilling, four fourpence (i.e., pennies) and a ha’penny (pronounced hayp-ny half-penny) (i.e., half penny) would have been spoken as one and fourpence hapenny. 11/2d would have been spoken as three ha’pence as well as a penny ha’penny.
Prices in posh shops, for luxury goods, horse trading, and racing were often written in guineas, 21 shillings (i.e., £1/1s) and spelled in full, instead of pounds.Farthings, quarter pennies, were scrapped in the 1950’s. An example of its spoken form would have been thruppence three-farthing.
There was also the groat (i.e., four pence) which was in use from 1279 to 1888.
British Coin Denominations from Celtic Times to Date provides all the denominations over the centuries
Another view of the currency may be represented like this
• The farthing coin – 4 farthings = one penny
• The half-penny (ha’penny) coin – 2 half pennies = one penny (in Scotland this was also called a bawbee)
• The penny coin – 12 pennies = 1 shilling
• The three penny coin (thruppence) was a hexagonal shaped coin unlike the rest.
• The six penny (sixpence) coin was a small silver coin also known as a tanner or half a bob
• The shilling coin = 12 pennies. (known as a bob)
• The two shilling coin = 24 pennies (known as two bob)
• The 2 shilling and six penny coin (known as two and six or half a crown)
• The crown coin – 5 shillings = a crown (or five bob) – usually minted to celebrate a great occasion such as a coronation or jubilee.
• The 10 shilling note = half a pound (ten bob)
• The pound note = 20 shillings (a quid)
• The guinea (an expression, not a note or coin in modern times) = one pound and one shilling
4 Now Buffalo City Municipal Offices, c/o Oxford and North Streets.