Pictured from the left: Duncan, Alex, Donald, John and William
Note from the Editor: The article on the Cameron family starts below under the heading of Introduction but since the article was published Geoff received further information and wrote this piece.
In the last issue of this magazine the Camerons of Mataura were discussed and as they are all deceased reliance was on documentary evidence as well as the memories of the rapidly declining number of people who knew or knew of them.
One can expect conflicting information when people try to recall events 50 or 60 years later. Likewise, when we come to analyse the documentary evidence there is often confusion when one piece of information is contradicted by another. One vital thing we must remember is that documents are written by human beings and may contain the same inaccuracies that occur in the oral tradition. The oral tradition is certainly interesting but is always open to contradiction.
In the case of the Camerons of Mataura there was much conflicting evidence, both written and oral, and this was identified in the written article. It would have been ideal to have had more time and resources to have carried out an in-depth study into this family but alas this was not the case. It is possible that some of the areas of doubt would have been clarified.
However, since the publication of the article further evidence from the Cameron family has added even more to this doubt. The editor received a letter from Penny Kidd (11) who is the great, great, granddaughter of Alexander Cameron snr and the writer has been given the opportunity to respond to the comments made. It is disappointing that Ms Kidd has not provided the sources of her information. In her letter she states:
‘I have gathered over many years a significant amount of research on the Camerons of Mataura, and I wish to point out the following genealogical inaccuracies in the article:
1. Alexander Cameron, Snr, it is thought, but not proven, came via Australia as a drover and after a time joined the Otago Gold rush. He was not a piper and did not teach his sons!
(GH) - Many early settlers came from Australia to try their luck in the Central Otago Gold Rush in the 1860s and it would not surprise any researcher to find Alexander did just that. As to whether he was a piper or not may never be fully proven. At least one person interviewed was equally positive that he was!
2. Alexander Snr was born in Ardchattan, Argyllshire, Scotland, in 1829 not ‘Banvie’. He died at 'Banvie' his farm in Southland.
(GH) - Some doubt was raised about Alexander’s place of birth and two sources were cited. There is now a third but without the source of the information it adds to the confusion rather than clarifying it.
3. Elizabeth Taylor died in 1917 at the age of 77. She arrived in New Zealand three years after Alexander. They started off married life at Four Mile Creek, Balclutha, and it was some years before they bought the farm in Southland which they named 'Banvie' after the place Elizabeth was born in the highlands of Scotland.
(GH) - The date and place of Elizabeth’s birth are given in the website familysearch.org as 13 January 1830 in Dublin Ireland and it also states she died in Dunedin in 1930. It may be the information provided by Ms Kidd is correct but without her source there will always be doubt.
4. Their last daughter born was in 1876. Sadly, all three daughters died very young, Jane lived longer than the others dying aged 18. Therefore, the daughter mentioned in the article was certainly not a daughter of Alexander and Elizabeth as no daughters were alive in the 1950's.
(GH) - Determining the number of children in the family was difficult as the newspaper records of the time are by no means complete. Jim Gilmour of Christchurch (3) was the informant about a daughter surviving into the 1950s and it is apparent that some people at the time believed she was a member of the piping family. Once again without some source of information it is going to be difficult to confirm this.
5. Elizabeth was 43 years old when her last child was born.
(GH) - This can certainly be confirmed if it is possible to get the source of her date of birth given in item 4 above.
6. There were seven boys in total in the Cameron family - Duncan, Alexander, Donald, John Angus, Francis Angus (killed on the Somme in 1916), William, and Thomas who died as a child.
(GH) - In the article the point was made that there may have been other members of the family and the above list seems to confirm this. It would be nice to know where this information came from.
7. Duncan Cameron was admitted into Seacliff Mental Hospital in his forties. He is buried in the Anderson Bay Cemetery Dunedin.
(GH) - This information confirms what was written in the article.
(GH) - Without the necessary sources it is difficult to determine if there are any genealogical inaccuracies. The information certainly adds to the folk lore surrounding the Cameron family and maybe one day will be proven to be true. For this reason, whenever information is included in these articles the source is always revealed.
This is a composite of two articles – one, called A.A. CAMERON the Strathspey: Some further information, was written in December 1996 and published in the Piping Times Vol 49, No 11, August 1997, page 46 and the other written in May 2010 for a series on New Zealand Composers of Bagpipe Music for the New Zealand Pipe Band magazine. Much of the information overlaps and it has become expedient to compress it into one article.
The earliest records of piping in the Highlands of Scotland show that family involvement was common. Some of them had very short tenures with brothers or fathers and sons standing out as great players but there are families whose piping genius spanned a number of generations. Some of the more famous of these are the MacKay’s of Gairloch, the MacArthur’s, Rankins and MacLean’s of Coll, the Campbells of Argyleshire and the MacIntyres.
Another famous family are the MacDougall’s of Aberfeldy and they excelled not only as pipers but also bagpipe makers. One family, the Crimmon’s of Skye, stands out and many believe they were the greatest of all with a direct line spanning 300 years and 8 generations although the evidence proving the first few members of this dynasty is spurious.
When the heyday of the piper to the chief came to an end in the mid-18th century a number of titled people attempted to carry on the tradition but this too, with a few exceptions, died out in the 19th century. It has been the humble piping competition that has filled the gap since the late 18th century and the records show a proliferation of families of pipers who have reached the top of the piping tree.
Three families stand out; from the late 18th through to the mid-19th century the MacKay’s of Raasay were supreme players, teachers, bagpipe makers and recorders of bagpipe music. By the late 19th and early 20th centuries the MacPhersons and Camerons became preeminent names in piping in Scotland.
During the 20th century there have been a number of fathers and sons, and brothers who have made names for themselves. These seem to fade out and it is now rare that the talent extends beyond two generations.
New Zealand too has had its share of piping families and in the last half of the 20th century the solo piping field has produced a number of these:
The pipe band world is another hotbed of family involvement and although those mentioned above have all actively participated, there are many bands nationwide that have mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren in their ranks. In many cases they are the unsung heroes of our pipe band movement.
One family of pipers who have achieved almost folk-lore status in New Zealand are the Camerons of Mataura. In the mid-19th century Alexander Cameron migrated from Scotland and settled in Southland, but it is not known when he arrived or if other members of his family came with him. One family source states (although it has not been proven) that he was a drover who arrived in New Zealand via Australia before the Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s, and later joined the Gold Rush.
One online source (1) suggests he was born in Lanark in Scotland 10 February 1833 and died in 1891 but his death certificate states he was born in Banvie near Fort William in Scotland and died in 1921 at the age of 91. There is no doubt there is an error somewhere but if the information on his death certificate is accurate then his year of birth is either 1830 or 1831. Sources from within the Cameron family suggest Alexander was born in Ardchattan in 1829.
According to one source Elizabeth Taylor was born in Dublin, Ireland, 31 January 1830 (1) and died in 1930 at 100 years of age. This information is contradicted by family sources who suggest Elizabeth was born in Banvie in Scotland and died in 1917 aged 77. More research will need to be carried out to clarify these points. She married Alexander Cameron in Dunedin on 10 July 1862 (1) and they were soon living on their farm called Banvie just out of Mataura in Southland. There seems to be no doubt the farm was named after Banvie in Scotland.
Alexander and Elizabeth had at least eight known children but there could be more. The oldest was Jane and she died aged 18 on 24 October 1883 (2). One younger daughter, apparently the last born in the early 1880s, was still alive in the 1950s (3). Known as Miss Cameron she worked behind the counter of the Chief Post Office in Invercargill for many years. The family deny this was a daughter of Alexander and Elizabeth and add that there were three daughters who all died young.
There were six boys who survived into adulthood, Duncan, Alexander, Donald, John, Angus and William and all were pipers except Angus. One son, Thomas, died as a child. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest their contemporaries considered them better than average players and they were also sought after as teachers and composed vast numbers of tunes.
The Otago Witness has two accounts of how some in the audience at competitions believed the Camerons were harshly treated. On 21 January 1903, the following letter appeared:
Judging of Pipe Music in Southland.
TO THE EDITOR
Sir, - Being like a great number of your numerous readers, a true patriot of the national music of Scotland, I was naturally lured on the 1st inst. To your recent Caledonian gathering at Invercargill to hear good pipe playing and trusting that satisfactory judgement would be given to the competitors. I must say that some of the piping was grand, but the judgement was a miserable failure, and I am strongly of opinion that young John Cameron of Mataura, has now got sufficient reason to turn his back on the Caledonian Society of Invercargill for ever (sic), if he has inherited a spark of the pride of the race he belongs to. It is a deplorable thing that such a thriving society as that of Southland cannot find a judge or judges who are capable of giving general satisfaction to the pipers and public, – I am etc Lamh Dearg.
And on 6 March 1907 this letter appeared:
Pipe Music at the Exhibition.
TO THE EDITOR
Sir, - Kindly allow me space for a few remarks concerning the judging of pibroch music at the sports ground, Christchurch, on January 24. According to the opinion of three competent pipers present - and their names were not Cameron – the brothers Alexander and John Cameron should most certainly have been awarded the leading places in the competition. The treatment accorded to them on the first day was the sole and only reason for their withdrawal from the competitions held on the second day and will in all probability be the cause of their withdrawing from competitions in the future, unless judges qualified to judge pipe music are appointed. – I am etc Truth
There is much that can be written about these two letters but comment here will be limited to the fact that the Cameron pipers evidently had the respect of some who heard them play.
Part of the opinion expressed in these letters is supported by a number of living and recently deceased people who agree that the Cameron family of pipers were a talented lot.
When he was young the late Airdrie Stewart of Dunedin heard John Cameron play and was of the opinion that he had the finest crunluath he ever heard. Others, including his elder brother Alexander Taylor Cameron (5), have also commented that John was the best piper.
It has not been ascertained who taught them but one source (7) states that Alexander Snr was a piper and taught all the boys. Many people believe Alexander Snr was not a piper and did not have any role in tutoring them. We will probably never know for sure, but it is possible that the younger brothers could have been taught by their older siblings. Alexander Snr was chief of the Mataura Pipe Band in its early days (10).
Although the Camerons were considered by contemporaries to be top class pipers in their day, there were matters of technique and style that the modern piper would find unusual. There were shades of this in the playing styles of other Southland pipers and the late Bruce McCann is one who springs readily to mind. This does not mean they were ‘wrong’ in what they played. We know that piping in Scotland (particularly ceol beag) went through some radical changes in the early 20th century and what was being played in Otago and Southland up until the 1950s may have been similar to that heard in Scotland before these changes.
In the 1950s the late Seumas MacNeill of the College of Piping, Glasgow, was invited to teach in Nova Scotia and heard the locals playing and was aghast that they should play that way. When he tried to change them, they ignored him and carried on as they had been taught. The younger generations did, however, follow his teachings and these days that is what can be heard throughout Canada.
Fortunately, recordings exist of some of the older pipers playing in their local style and there are those who believe it has a lot of musical merit. There are some who accept that this playing style represented a survival of what had been going on in Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is just possible that we in New Zealand had something similar but was swept away in the 1950s when the Scottish model was adopted. Sadly, recordings of early New Zealand pipers do not exist.
In the writer’s collection are many dozens of tunes by the Camerons and there is evidence they began composing at a young age. A handwritten MS book (which the writer calls The Cameron Family Manuscript Book) contains tunes by Donald, Alexander jnr. William, John and Duncan Cameron as well as David McClure Walker.
In its original form this book appears to have consisted of thirty numbered pages (with tunes on one side only). All pages had one, two or three tunes and they have had individual tunes cut out or the whole page removed. This process has been carried out in such a way that the stub of the page remains in the book.
There are 32 tunes remaining and by careful analysis it can be determined that there were originally between 62 and 87. Only one, a strathspey called Alexander Anthony Cameron appears to have been published (see below). All tunes have the appearance of having been written by the same person although six different composers’ names are given. There is no date anywhere in the book.
The paper is very heavy and has ledger lines on both sides although as stated earlier, the music is on one side only. The watermark is a blackboard on an easel with the word ‘Academy’ running from the top LH corner to the lower RH corner. In the bottom LH corner are the initials ‘SBLY’ .
The cover is of heavier almost cardboard-like material and the outside is a dark blue marbled pattern on which the words ‘Music Book’ are embossed. The inside of the front cover is white and has the following handwritten information:
To David Glen Edinburgh with all rights of Publication and Copyright signed by
(1) Alick Cameron
(Gap where the reverse of the embossing occurs)
(2) Donald Cameron I hold myself
responsible for giving
(3) William Cameron David Glen all rights of publication and
(4) John Cameron copyright of the tunes
of the other composers
(5) Duncan Cameron who are not here to sign their name
(6) David McClure Walker
(Sgnd) Alick Cameron
Despite the declaration in the right-hand column the signatures on the left appear to be those of different people. All the remaining pages have the words ‘To David Glen Edinburgh with all rights of Publication and Copyright’ and these endorsements along with all the writing inside the front cover have been scored through with red ink pen.
It is believed the book was sent to Glen, he considered a number of tunes were suitable for publication, removed them and then returned the book to its owners. This premise is supported by the fact that Glen published a number of tunes by Duncan Cameron and David McClure Walker.
David Glen published two major collections of music in the 19th and 20th centuries and the first of these was David Glen’s Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music in 17 parts which appeared for sale at regular intervals between 1876 and 1900. The 11 parts of The Edinburgh Collection followed between 1903 and 1908.
Duncan Cameron has five tunes in Part 13 and another five in Part 17 of David Glen’s Collection and later one tune in Part 1 and two in Part 5 of The Edinburgh Collection.
David McClure Walker has three tunes in Part 8 and two in Part 11 of The Edinburgh Collection.
If we are correct in the assumption that these tunes did come from the manuscript book, then dating it becomes relatively simple. In Part 13 there is a Duncan Cameron tune The Hon J G Ward’s Return to Parliament. Sir Joseph Ward was forced to resign from the New Zealand Parliament on 8 July 1897 but on 5 August 1897 was able to stand in the ensuing by-election and won back his seat with an increased majority (8). Sir Joseph was the member for Awarua in Southland and there seems little doubt he received Duncan Camerons vote on that occasion. He became Prime Minister of New Zealand in later years.
Based on this information the compilation date of the manuscript book can be calculated to within about nine months. The earliest possible date was at, or soon after, the by-election of 5 August 1897. The date of the British Library acquisition of Part 13, 1 November 1898, is the latest date but there would have been a 5 or 6 months period to get the book from New Zealand to UK and then to have the publisher, engraver and printer get the book ready for distribution. Realistically, this leaves a 9-month period between 5 August 1897 and May 1898 during which the manuscript book would have been compiled.
The Cameron brothers were not happy with the way they were treated by David Glen and withdrew permission to publish the tunes (6). This possibly explains an anomaly in relation to the manuscript book. We can tell from the way the pages are numbered, and by the way the tunes are set out in the remaining pages, that between 30 and 55 tunes were removed.
David Glen published a total of 18 Cameron/Walker tunes, and this falls well short of the number removed. Perhaps the altercation between the two parties prevented Glen from publishing any more of the Cameron tunes. The fact that Walker had tunes in two of the later books of The Edinburgh Collection suggests he was not party to the dispute.
If the above is correct, then somewhere there are a number of tunes composed by the Cameron family. If anyone has any tunes that appear to have been cut from a book it would not be difficult to compare them with the manuscript book to confirm their origin. Naturally, the writer would be delighted to assist.
Earlier mention was made of a strathspey called Alexander Anthony Cameron by John Cameron and as can be seen it is the same tune that these days is called A.A.Cameron. It has been published in John MacFadyen’s Book One (1967), The Cabar Feidh Collection (1983) and The Duntroon Collection Volume 3 (2010) but no composer’s name is given.
The writer was told in 1996 that Alexander Anthony Cameron was the father but family input states this is not so. However, to find out who A A Cameron may have been is not too difficult to determine for above the tune in The Cabar Feidh Collection is the note ‘The tune is believed to be named after the well-known heavyweight athlete from Blarnafodach in Lochaber.’ Also, the writer has a photocopy of a manuscript book with 1073 tunes compiled in the 1950’s by John Lumsden of Glasgow and this too has the tune. Above it appears ‘Farmer from Lochaber, he was a famous heavyweight athlete in the early years of the century. He toured the games with success and broke many records with the light and heavy hammers: The tune is by Duncan Cameron, Dunedin, New Zealand’.
At around the turn of the 20th century the famous Scottish heavyweight athlete, A A Cameron, visited New Zealand and competed in many Highland games in the Southland area. He would have met the Cameron family and it is not too difficult to believe it was he after whom the tune was named.
The David McClure Walker who had tunes in the manuscript book is a relatively unknown piper who died in the 1940’s. In the writer’s collection are a number of early pipe music books as well as tunes written or composed by him. The Cameron Family Manuscript Book was acquired from the estate of the late Bob Skinner who died in Wellington in 1993. He was taught by one of the Cameron family.
The following lists the six brothers and the information available at this time.
Duncan Cameron (Born c1866 – Died 14 Oct 1948 age 83)
The eldest son and by all accounts a very good player and teacher. At an early age Duncan was admitted into Seacliff Mental Hospital where he remained until he died (4). A number of informants over the last 50 years have told how pipers gained employment in, or near the hospital so they could visit him to get lessons. This may suggest that Duncan’s problems were only minor and if they occurred these days could well have been treated with medication. Whatever the situation it is evident he was regarded highly as a teacher. He married in the late 1880s and had five daughters – one born 13 April 1894 at Mataura.
The following list details those tunes known to have been composed by Duncan:
David Glen’s Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music
The Edinburgh Collection
The Cameron Family Manuscript Book
There are no Duncan Cameron tunes in the manuscript book, and this may be explained away by the fact that they were all removed and published in the David Glen books. The following are all in handwritten manuscript:
Alexander Taylor Cameron (Born c1868 - Died 2 September 1957 aged 89)
Commonly called Sandy but he often signed his tunes Alick or Alex. He lived for many years in Balclutha, married late in life and had no children. By far the most prolific composer and in 1934 published 188 tunes in A New Zealand Collection of Bagpipe Music.
He followed it two years later in 1934 with 15 more tunes in The Second New Zealand Collection of Bagpipe Music. Both of these books were privately published.
A further 25 tunes in the writer’s collection show how huge his output was. Some consider he was the best composer and indeed, there are a few of his tunes that are very nice. However, it is the writer’s opinion that John has more tunes that fall into the category of being very good.
In later life Sandy Cameron started to show the effects of excessive alcohol consumption. Two ex-pupils who were teenagers when they visited him for lessons tell of occasions when he was not available because of illness. They later found out he had been taken away to ‘dry out’.
He also had a strong religious bent and the writer has some documents in his collection that attest to this. He would write out music and other material for anyone who wanted them, and many have found their way into the writer’s collection. Those that were written in his last few years show a very shaky hand.
None of Alexander’s compositions are in The Cameron Family Manuscript Book. It is not proposed to list all the tunes in his published books as space does not allow, but the following are all the handwritten manuscripts in the writer’s collection:
Many of the tunes listed above are named for people who are still alive or recently deceased and some are still active in the piping world (10).
Donald Duncan Taylor Cameron (Born c1872 - Died December 1924 age 51)
Donald’s bagpipes went to his son Angus who then gave them to Murray Henderson who played them in 1975 when he won the Highland Society of London Gold Medal for ceol mor at Inverness (6).
Donald has five tunes in The Cameron Family Manuscript Book:
Little is known about Angus at this time, but we do know he was not a piper. A son was born to Alexander and Elizabeth on 15 August 18742 and it may have been Angus.
John Angus Cameron (Born c1878 - Died 24 September 1945)
According to those who heard him play John was the best piper in the family. In the opinion of the writer, he composed more quality tunes than his brothers and after Donald Sargent and Stuart Finlayson is probably New Zealand’s next best composer of bagpipe music.
He never married and, in his will, left his trophies, bagpipes, Highland dress and all ‘strictly personal belongings’ to his nephew, also called John Angus Cameron. His brother, Alexander Taylor Cameron, received £300 and Mary MacDonald of the Ross Home in Dunedin £50. The remainder went to 10 nephews and nieces, four sons and one daughter of William McKay Cameron and five daughters of Duncan Cameron.
The late Lewis Turrell of Auckland owned a set of bagpipes that once belonged to John Cameron. On the base drone stock is a silver shield engraved ‘Made by G C MacDougall, Aberfeldy, 1910’. On the chanter stock is another shield with ‘John Cameron, Banvie, Mataura, NZ, 1910’.
The Cameron family imported a number of sets of bagpipes from Gavin MacDougall, sometimes six sets at a time, and then gave them away to piping friends (6).
On 4 July 1892 John was home from school with a cold and wrote a letter to a lady called Dot who compiled a column in the Otago Witness (2) newspaper called Letters from Little Folks. He was in the Fourth Standard at school and helped out on the farm and states he and his brother Willie milked four cows. He had a pet puppy and asked Dot to help name it and she suggested he take the first two letters away from Mataura and call him Taura. In the 1950s in the South Canterbury area where the writer spent his childhood, this name was being used by farmers for their dogs.
Tunes by John Cameron in The Cameron Family Manuscript Book:
The following tunes in manuscript are in the writer’s collection:
William McKay Cameron (Born c1880 – Died 1958 age 78)
Nothing much is known about Willie Cameron. His name appears in the results of competitions which suggests he may have had reasonable playing ability. He had at least four sons (one named John Angus Cameron) and one daughter. Having seen his older brother John’s letter in the Letters from Little Folks column he too wanted to see his name in print and on 15 July 1892 wrote in asking if Dot she could suggest a name for a pet pony. True to form, she took the last two letters from Mataura and calling the pony Mata.
Only one tune has been located that can be attributed to him and that is in The Cameron Family Manuscript Book:
The Camerons were a very complex family and had their demons throughout their lives. At least two of them had problems with alcohol and this was made clear in 1921 when Alexander Snr died, and his will was read. A codicil demanded that Alexander and John refrain from alcohol for six months from his death or they would forfeit their inheritance. It is not known how they fared but is does show how the father viewed consumption of liquor.
It also, perhaps, reveals how he exercised some degree of control over his children in adulthood. Much detailed information about the Cameron family has been lost with the deaths of many people who knew them or were taught by them. There are a few of Alexander Jnr’s pupils still alive but they were all youngsters when they went for lessons and did not know him other than they would a schoolteacher. In fact, one 11-year-old who went to him for a few months admits to being more than a little afraid of him (5).
For many years, the writer had heard stories of the family and they have a certain consistency that suggests a common source. The surviving pupils of Alexander agree that much of what they know comes from the stories of their elders. There are also the issues of the mental problems some of the boys experienced. Some prefer the details not be made public, but they are out there. Almost everyone the writer has spoken to has been profoundly aware of the difficulties they experienced. Perhaps in finishing it is appropriate to reflect that despite these demons, the Cameron family were a highly intelligent group of men who punched well above their weight as pipers, teachers, and composers.
The Cameron family with parents seated at the front
Copyright © 2022 New Zealand Piping Centre - All Rights Reserved.