Samuel Richmond Craig of Scotland and Palmerston NZ
Anyone with a passion for collecting will know of the highs and lows that can be experienced.
The highs can come in a number of ways but nothing beats the euphoria when a rare item is discovered. Close behind is when a more common book is located and the donor is able to provide details of previous ownership. These stories often add to the rich history of piping and drumming in Scotland, New Zealand and other countries and it is important they are recorded for future generations to read.
The writer has been fortunate to have acquired a number of rare books along with unusual editions of books already in the collection. The donors are encouraged to append as much history to these books as they know.
The lows, and there are many, often come when one learns of items that have been lost or destroyed. A number of people have admitted to owning books and other music and having no further use for them have burnt or dumped them.
Then there have been the accidents. The late Syd Scott of Auckland admitted just such a thing happened to him. Many years ago he used to store old newspapers in boxes in the garage and regularly had a burn-off in the garden incinerator. On one such occasion he noticed a charred page of music blow out of the fire and to his consternation realised one of the boxes had contained all his pipe music.
About 18 years ago the writer met a lady who had a set of bagpipes that ‘were played at the Relief of Lucknow’ during the Indian Mutiny of 1857/8. A number of sets of bagpipes that have supposedly been played in various 18th or 19th century military campaigns have proven upon closer inspection to be from a later era.
However, one look at the Lucknow set and any scepticism quickly vanished. It was immediately obvious these pipes were of great antiquity and it is believed they indeed predated Lucknow by at least 50 years. The sections of the drones and stocks were all longer than modern pipes and that along with their general pattern and bore sizes indicated great age. It is believed they were made by either the MacDougall family or Donald MacDonald in the late 18th or early 19thcentury.
These pipes had been damaged and when restored were found to be very difficult to reed and with the modern high pitched chanter did not have a very pleasant sound. They have been returned to the family who owned them.
Almost as an afterthought the owner mentioned the family had two suitcases full of bagpipe music. She believed the bagpipes had not been played since before World War 1 and the writer fantasised that this cache of music could represent a number of 19th century publications and would be an extremely important find.
It took some months to locate the last known ‘caretaker’ of this music and he admitted that about 10 years earlier he had moved to a new smaller house with little room for storage and consequently had sent it all to the Waipukurau tip.
A story related by the late Donald Bain shows how non piping members of one’s family can become confused about the importance of piping artefacts. In his younger days Donald often dreamt of living in Scotland and learning more about the bagpipes. He and his family moved there in the late 1960s and during his absence left a set of pipes that had belonged to his father with a family member in New Zealand for safe keeping.
When he returned home two years later he was aghast to find the bagpipes had recently been burnt. There was no malice towards the instrument but merely a little confusion as to what was to happen to them.
Then there are the losses that start out with good intentions. Many years ago the writer met an old piper who had a few old books and desired they stay in the family. Some years after he died contact was made with the family to see what they intended to do with these books but they had dumped them soon after his death. They had no interest in the books and it was detected that there was more than a little loathing of his hobby.
Family interest in a piper’s hobby is not unusual and often they are an excellent repository for bagpipes and music upon the retiral or death of the piper. However, when they are not aware of or interested in the original owner’s intents and wishes, particularly if they are not spelt out, the preservation of the "treasures" can be the last thing on the family’s mind.
For nearly 50 years the writer has been involved in piping and many are the stories heard of bagpipes that belonged to someone’s father or grandfather. The playing ability of these pipers had been expanded upon by family tradition to the point where they had become world famous in a small village in a remote part of New Zealand. These bagpipes were jealously protected and stored under a bed or in a cupboard and no one is allowed to see, let alone play them.
Often the family believes these were the best bagpipes around and that Dad or Grandad was a champion player having won many competitions. Research often struggles to find any competition at which he played and if he did, frequently it was a small competition at a remote games where year in and year out only he and two or three others attended. There were many such competitions in New Zealand in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The best bagpipes are those on someones shoulder being played and the many sets ‘under the bed’ can only be appraised if they see the light of day.
The same can be said for music whether it be a published book or a hand written manuscript. Fortunately, most people, if they have no further use for it themselves, like to see their music in the hands of someone who appreciates it. Some have chosen to ensure it is preserved by donating it to piping friends, piping organisations, young pipers or even dedicated collectors like the writer.
However, there are those who choose to restrict access to music over which they have temporary custody. In 1970 the late Sam Craig donated to the Highland Pipe Bands Association of New Zealand (now the Royal New Zealand Pipe Band Association) a manuscript collection of 2127 tunes for the bagpipe.
For many years it was cared for by someone who refused to allow anyone access. When such a treasure is donated the recipient is duty bound to protect it but they must also keep the intentions of the donor in mind. It is difficult to believe that the author of such a collection would have made the donation if he thought pipers would never have the pleasure of it.
In the case of these manuscripts we are indeed indebted to the Rev. Dr Ross Wards, former Pipe Major of the City of Christchurch Highland Pipe Band, now of Paraparaumu Beach. He heard of their existence and mentioned them to the late Frank MacKinnon. As a ‘senior statesman’ in the piping world Frank managed to gain access to the manuscripts in 1983 and to photocopy them. The writer has been fortunate to obtain copies.
These photocopies are not the best with some of the music partially indecipherable and indistinct. Sam Craig had taken pains to record the titles and composers but in some cases these have been cut out by the copying process. The writer has been researching Sam for some time and efforts to locate the originals of these books has been fruitless. They appear to have gone to ground (or worse) and no one seems to know what has become of them.
Another example of the over protective custodianship occurred about 18 years ago and continues today. Many years before an old lady who was the widow of an ex-pipe major of the City of Dunedin Pipe Band gave a hand written manuscript book to a piper in Auckland. The writer had a brief opportunity to peruse this book and was astounded with what he saw.
The author of the manuscript was born in Scotland and migrated to New Zealand in the 1850s. It was dated 1831 and if that was when it was compiled it predates nearly all the notable manuscripts of bagpipe music that started to emerge in the 19th century. However, there were other aspects that make it even more unique. The person who wrote it was not only able to write music on the staff but he was also literate in English and Gaelic.
It appears that literacy rates amongst pipers in 19th century Scotland was not high. One of the more famous pipers, Malcom MacPherson (Calum Piobaire) who died in 1898 was reputed to have been illiterate. All his music and teachings were conveyed in the oral fashion.
The current owner of the book moved back to Scotland some years ago and two visits by the writer to gain further access to the book have failed. It has the potential to be a valuable historical find and the biggest fear is that it may be lost forever if his family have less interest in it than he has.
By way of an aside it may be of interest to readers to learn a bit about how the writer intends to ensure the preservation and accessibility of his collection. For some years it was thought that members of piping organisations in New Zealand would be the best placed to store it and allow anyone access. However, the collection has grown at an alarming rate and takes up a considerable amount of room. Not many piping organisations have the facilities to accommodate such a vast amount of material and it was decided to investigate the possibility of leaving it to an organisation that is dedicated to preserving old books such as a library or museum.
However, one does not merely make out one’s will and leave it to such an organisation as they may not want it. There are many public and archival libraries in New Zealand who dedicate themselves to protecting material but some of them have a very narrow portfolio. For example, university libraries would normally only be interested in providing resources for their curricula.
A lot of thought has been given to this problem and with the help of two librarian friends a possible solution may have been found. Recently the Otago University set up a Chair in Scottish Studies and have appointed two new professors. The Library famously associated with the University is the Hocken Collections and discussions have been commenced to see if they are interested in receiving the collection upon my demise.
If they agree the collection will be available to anyone to read and photocopy as allowed by the Copyright Act. The only thing the reader will not be able to do is take books out of the library. If anyone reading this has any material they wish to be preserved then the writer is only too willing to ensure it is archived and catalogued along with his collection.
After this lengthy preamble, we now move on to discuss our composer. Although he was not born in New Zealand he lived here for such a long time and had such a huge influence in the Otago region that he is worthy of consideration as a New Zealand composer.
Samual Richmond Craig (1880-1976)
Samuel (Sam) Craig is a well known piper who lived for many years in Canterbury and Otago. There are still many people alive who knew him well and who were taught by him.
Sam was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1880 and at the age of five started learning the pipes from William Sutherland of Clarkston, Glasgow. Prior to World War I he was pipe major of the Slamannan Pipe Band and also competed in many Highland Games in Scotland.
In 1913 he and his family migrated to New Zealand and initially settled in Christchurch. Another brother migrated to USA at some time. The writer had communication with a member of this US family some years ago and they were aware that Sam lived in New Zealand and had been a collector of music. A photocopy of Sam’s collection was sent to them for the pipers in the family to peruse.
Sam was in Christchurch only a few months when he was made pipe major of the Canterbury Caledonian Society’s Pipe Band and appears to have held that position for a few years. He applied for and was accepted as a stock inspector with the Department of Agriculture and moved to Middlemarch in Central Otago where he very quickly became involved with local piping. When the Strath Taieri Pipe Band was formed in 1940 he was the natural choice to become its musical director. Sam also had considerable input into the Maniatoto Pipe Band.
Later, he moved to Palmerston, still with the Department of Agriculture and was able to maintain his association with the bands. He also taught many pipers throughout Otago, some travelling up to 50 miles to get what appears to be the best tuition in the area at the time. In 1953 at Christchurch, whilst still musical director, the Strath Taieri band won the C Grade at the National Championships. It is said that Sam never drank but on this occasion he had a very small whisky in celebration.
Sam is well remembered by those who knew him as a man with a rather stern demeanour and many around him seem to have been more than a little afraid of him. Alastair Munro, now of Christchurch, was raised in the Dunedin area and recalls Sam as a close friend of his father and mother. Alastair frequently visited him in later life up until Sam died in 1976 in Napier and adds that Sam had strong Christian beliefs.
He had a ‘Piper’s Shed’ at the back of his house where he stored all his piping material and made reeds for his own use. Alasdair recalls Sam judged a number of competitions including the first one he played in – a slow air competition in which he was placed 2nd playing Loch Etive Side.
Sam was also a prolific collector of pipe music and this is evidenced by the huge collection referred to earlier. This collection contains 2127 tunes of all time signatures and if we believe he played them all and there is little doubt that he did, then his taste in music is similar to that of most modern pipers.
The origins of the tunes have the appearance of having been copied from existing published books and tunes composed in the 1950s and 60s are recorded. Occasionally, he discloses his sources but these are the exception.
Sam was meticulous when ascribing composers’ names to tunes. However, it is his own compositions that makes this set of books most valuable. A detailed inspection reveals there are a total of 45 tunes composed by Sam and a further six that were either arranged or have extra parts by him. There may well be other tunes of his in the books but some have had the details lost in the photocopying process. One composition that is known to be missing is a 2/4 march called Neil Munro. It may well be in the manuscript books with the title missing. Only the original books will reveal all if they are ever located.
Sam was generous with his time and music. He did not charge for lessons and often wrote out tunes for pupils to use. Sam gave a single volume of music, including many of his own compositions, to the late Alister Harcus. His widow, Joan Wilson has this book and is donating it to the writer’s collection. It will be a significant asset to the collection and pipers who may wish to peruse it.
Ian Harcus, a brother of Alister, was one of Sam’s pupils in the 1950s and recalls that Sam told him he would often wake up in the middle of the night with a few bars or a phrase of music in his head and would turn the light on and note it down. In the morning if he found it was of merit he would add extra bars and measures and make a tune of it.
The names given to the tunes are a veritable Who’s Who of the Strath Taieri Pipe Band. There are a number named after places either here in New Zealand or in Scotland. The following is a comprehensive list of these tunes:
The research and revelations in composing this article have been beyond most of the similar outcomes in previous articles. The writer considers he has been most fortunate to bring daylight to this particular slice of New Zealand piping history and it is to be hoped that many readers will find much satisfaction in what has been discovered.
The writer would like to thank the following people for their assistance in preparing this article.
In 1970 Sam donated the three volumes referred to above to the New Zealand Pipe Bands Association. The Patron at the time, Charles S. Thomas, published a short biography of Sam that included a thank you for the donation. This is dated 1 June 1970 and may have been intended for a magazine or newspaper.
The New Zealand Pipe Band magazine was not in circulation in 1970 and can obviously be ruled out. The writer has this biography in single sheet form and much of the information has been used in the compilation of this article.
On the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the Strath Taieri Pipe Band in 1990 Eliot H Matheson produced A History of the Strath Taieri Highland Pipe Band. This book has been most helpful in compiling this article. Eliot was not a piper or drummer but he did have an interest in local historical matters and produced this excellent history of the band. He was the father of Pipe Major Hugh Matheson.
The writer has also heard of a book or pamphlet entitled Piping the Pigroot or some name like that and it apparently contains information about Sam Craig. The author and origins of this publication are not known. State Highway 85 from Palmerston to Alexandra is known to the locals as the Pig Root.
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