OT: 7 July 1909 – Unsigned “Honouring General Thomason” [Article]

General Thomason
from The Oban Times of July 7th, 1909

 The committee which organised the recognition of Major-General Thomason’s services to pipe music have every reason to feel gratified with the splendid response to their proposal, as the album, containing an illuminated address, with almost 800 signatures of admirers from all over the country, amply testified to the esteem in which the recipient is held.

The presentation was made at a public dinner held in the Union Hotel, Edinburgh, last Thursday, in honour of the occasion.

Captain Campbell of Kilberry presided over a company of about fifty gentlemen, which included the following–Major Stewart, Mr. James MacKillop, jun., Rev. Neil MacLeod Ross, Mr. D. E. MacDougall, Colonel Mackenzie Holden, Mr. James Bartholomew, advocate; Mr. Donald Shaw, S.S.C.; Mr. Menzies, Mr. John Macdermid, Dr. Alexander Carmichael, Dr. Skeoch Cumming, Dr. Bannatyne, Mr. Theodore Napier, Mr. David Crawford, Mr. David MacRitchie, Mr. James Grant, Mr. Wm. Mackay Tait, Mr. Somerled MacDonald, Mr. John Meckven, Mr. F. Bolteo, Mr. Kenneth MacLennan, Mr. Murdoch Macleod, Mr. John Macpherson, Mr. John Duncan, Mr. Bruce Allan, Mr. K. Whitton, Mr. James Sutherland, Mr. Wm Macleod, Mr. A.R. Macleod, Mr. Wm. Simpson, Mr. James Robertson, Mr. John Grant (author of “The Royal Pibroch”); Mr. John Dickson, Mr. Hugh Calder, Mr. John Gillies, Pipe-Major Duff, Pipe-Major Mathieson, Pipe-Major Barvie, and Lieut. Maclennan, Edinburgh, Hon. Secretary.

Apologies were received from Professor Mackinnon, Rev. J.W. Mackain of Ardnamurchan, Rev. Malcolm Maclennan, Edinburgh; Colonel Stewart of Ardvorlich, Captain Maclean of Pennycross, Captain and Mrs. Stewart of Fasnacloich, Mr. Alasdair Rob Forbes, Register House; Pipe-Majors Robert Meldrum, William Ross, G. S. Maclennan, Farquahar Macrae, Dun. Kerr, H.A. Flett, and the following champion pipers–Angus MacDonald, Morar; Colin Cameron, piper to the Duke of Fife; Ronald Mackenzie, piper to the Duke of Richmond and Gordon; and Alisdair Cameron, Achnacurry.

The Address

Be addressed to the general was as follows:–

Address to Major-General C. S. Thomason, R. E.


Sir,–We whose signatures are appended hereto desire to express to you our deep appreciation of, and to tender our sincere thanks for, the great work which you have accomplished in the interests of pipers and the music of the Great Highland Bagpipe.

Not only have you rescued from oblivion much of our national music, and placed on record a vast store of historical and traditional information which was rapidly being forgotten, but your enthusiasm, zeal, and example have been the means of reviving, encouraging, and preserving the interest taken in bagpipe music all over the world.

The extraordinary patience, time, and labour which you have devoted to your monumental work, “Ceol Mor,” have placed piobaireachd music on a footing which it has never held since the days of the MacCrimmons, and we can assure you that the fruits of your labours, and the results achieved by you, will ever be highly prized and valued by us, and also we feel sure, by many future generations.

June, 1909

The address was subscribed by pipers and others interested in piping all over the world, among whom the following names were conspicuous:–the Duchess of Sutherland, Lord Castletown, the Earl of Cassillis, MacLeod of MacLeod, Macintosh of Macintosh, MacPherson of Cluny, Captain Campbell of Kilberry, Maclean of Ardgour, Major Mathieson of Lewis, Capt. Macneil of Ugadale, Mr. H. L. MacDonald of Dunach, Mr. Arch. Menzies, Dr. Alex. Carmichael, Mr. Donald Shaw, Pres., Highland Pipers Society; Mr. James Mackillop, jun., and Mr. John Bartholomew, Scottish Pipers Society; Rev. Neil MaclLeod Ross, Dr. K. N. MacDonald, Mr. Theodore Napier, Mr. Somerled MacDonald, Mr. J. Douglas Ramsey, yr., of Banff; Mr. J. P. Grant, yr., of Rothiemurchus; Brigadier-General F. Campbell, D.S.O.; Mr. P. Cameron (Corrychollie); Captain and Mrs. Stewart of Fasnacloich; Miss Graham of Skipness, Ms. Elspeth Campbell, Glasgow; Mr. Archibald Campbell, Kilberry, Major K. M. Cameron, Mr. Walter Mackinnon, Mr. F.C.G. Campbell, Mr. H.C.B. Mackinnon, Lieut. Maclennan, Edinburgh; Lieut. Colonel Hugh Scott, Capt. Malcolm MacNeil, D.S.O.; Captain C. A. H. Maclean of Pennycross; Rev. J. F. Mackain, Mr. D.N. Nicol of Ardmarnoch; Mr. Alister C. Maclaren, Mr. J. D. Boswell, Mr. Angus S. Macnaughton, Mr. A. E. Parker, Mr. A.A. Chrystal, Mr. G. H. Hale, Mr. D. Bruce Allan, Mr. R. G. Monro, Capt. S. G. Crawford, D.S.O.; Mr. Lewis Gordon, Mr. J.M. Clavering, Mr. H.S. Dove, Mr. J.A. Christison, Mr. Skeoch Cumming, Mr. Duncan Cameron, Mr. George Brown, Mr. Charles Milne, Mr. Hew Fleet, Major A.D. Greenhill, Mr. James Grant, Mr. James R. Reid, Dr. Charles Bannatyne, Dr. D. J. Macauley, Mr. John Macdiarmid, Mr. David Crawford, Mr. J. MacNeill, Mr. A. E. MacColl, Mr. Roderick Campbell, Mr. Donald Carrie, Mr. John MacColl, Pipe-Majors Mackay, MacDougall, Gillies, MacDonald, Ross, Meldrum, Mathieson, Maclennan, MacLeod, Dunbar, S. Allan, Don. Sutherland, Mackie, Macrae, Thomson, Black, Baillie, New Zealand; Lemon, Vancouver; Dr. D. M. Campbell, Mr. T.K. Carmichael, Mr. J. Stephan, Canada; Lieut.-Colonel Menzies, and Mr.N.D. Campbell, Inverneill.

The loyal and patriotic toasts having been honoured, the toast of the evening was proposed from the Chair.

The Chairman’s Tribute

The Chairman said they all knew they were assembled that evening to present an address to general Thomason. There are many reasons why an address should be presented to General Thomason. He was in every way worthy of receiving as much honour as his fellow-countrymen could do him. He was, as they knew, a Highlander born and bred. His father was the greatest Revenue Administrator that Northern India ever knew. When young he took to the profession which he (the Chairman) might be pardoned for saying was the best a young man could choose. He was at the very first blow struck against the rebels in the Indian Mutiny, and he served throughout the Mutiny. When the Mutiny concluded he engaged in the usual combination of civil and military duties which fell to the lot of an engineer officer in India. But to them who were Highlanders he had rendered other services which in their eyes seemed more important–he meant the service to the cause of “Ceol Mor.” The General, as he had told them in the preface of “Ceol Mor,” had always been a

Collector of Piobaireachd

music since his boyhood. He had already in his possession a large amount of manuscript music when the Mutiny broke out, but at the siege of Delhi it was all destroyed. That would have discouraged any ordinary person, but he set about the task of replacing the lost documents, and by degrees, by labour and pains, most of it was done. Throughout his whole career, he continued slowly and steadily the work of recording and setting the piobaireachd, and that in an Indian climate. He devoted the whole of the leisure hours of an engineer officer employed in the construction of canals and other works–and he would have very few leisure hours–but he employed these in the accurate study, writing down, and correcting of piobaireachd. He could picture General Thomason, while personally supervising the work of construction, sitting on the bank of a canal in the intense heat of an Indian sun, sounding his chanter and trying to record the correct notes, while the perspiration fell from him, and it was difficult for him to hold his pencil steadily. That was not an inaccurate picture of what must have been done. As far as he had heard, no assistance was given to General Thomason in the publication of “Ceol Mor”–he did not mean pecuniary assistance, but actual encouragement and assistance in working the thing. When “Ceol Mor” was published, one would have thought that when the publication came before the world of so valuable a work on pipe music, some interest in it would have been raised. It was not the case; the piping world was almost, so far as he remembered, entirely indifferent to what had now been proved to be the greatest impulse which had been given to “Ceol Mor” in their generation. Still, although no great step was taken, and no great encouragement given, a start was made, and some professional and other masters became interested, and whether from mere curiosity or not, some took to the study of the book, and the very slightest study convinced them that the so-called difficulties in understanding the “Ceol Mor” notation were exaggerated. It began to be talked about and written about, and as time went on the “Ceol Mor” in the abstract and in the concrete, as expressed in General Thomason’s book, had increased, and was still increasing. The neglect with which General Thomason’s work was treated when it was published did not exist now. It was

A Standard Work,

and would be a standard work as long as the Highlands remained. Others might improve it, but General Thomason had laid the foundation, and the mere fact of “Ceol Mor” having been published was the most important factor in the history of Highland music since the Act abolishing the Highland dress.

The Chairman made the presentation amid enthusiastic cheers, and the toast of General Thomason’s health was pledged with Highland honours, while the bagpipes played “Stand fast, Craigellachie.”

The Story of “Ceol Mor.”

General Thomason was received with cheers when he rose to reply. He said they could not make him a K.C.M.G., but they had made him, in the capitals of the words, a K.C.M. of “Ceol Mor.” He could not tell them how much he appreciated the honour they had done him, and they could not have done it in a nicer way, or in a way in which he and his descendants after him would value it more. They could not think what pleasure it had given him and his family to know what they were doing that night. Seeing that he had the opportunity of addressing them, he would like to say something about “Ceol Mor.” Many people thought it was a great piece of presumption on his part to undertake such a task as constructing the “Ceol Mor.” He had a sincere love for the subject all through life, and he had no more idea of writing such a book then he had of flying. He came of a piping stock. His grandfather was a good piper, and he rubbed it well into him. He started the collection of piobaireachd, and he tried very hard in those days–in 1850–to get hold of copies of music, and when a copy of Mackay’s came into his hands he set to work and copied the whole book, and he tried to abbreviate the work, and that was the beginning of the “Ceol Mor” notation. He got a look at the family volume they all prizeed very much–MacDonald.s second unpublished volume. He was a pupil of old Sandy Cameron, and Sandy was very much taken with the book, but he did not think he could make very much of it. He (General Thomason) took his collection of piobaireachd out to India with him, but that collection, as Kilberry had told them, he lost on the day of the mutiny at Delhi. He felt that it had to be replaced somehow. Fortunately, he had a copy of Mackay’s book given to him and although he had nobody to play the pipes to him he set to work at this, and when he first came back on furlough after the mutiny he got a good deal of encouragement from different friends–from old Sandy Cameron amongst them. He could not play much, but he had the love of the thing, which was what they wanted. It was only when he came home in 1870-71 that he got his

First Real Chance.

He was in his old Highland home in Strathspey, and Donald Mackay, then piper to Ballindalloch, used to come over to him, and they held at the pibrochs from morning till night, and he did what he would never regret all his life–he took down the notes from Donald Mackay. It was owing to these notes especially that they had “Ceol Mor” to-day, because he got from Donald Mackay all the corrected music of old Donald Cameron, the greatest piper in his time, that was known. He set to work at this. He took his notes to India with him, and he never heard a tune on the pipes for years, but he had his chanter with him and all his notes. He never got anyone to listen to him–perhaps it was as well that he did not. Part of his work in India rather lent itself to the object he had in view. He was for two years at labour works, and had to go all round the coast studying not only the harbours, but the internal communications of the country, and they could not think the number of old Highlanders he used to meet on his travels and rejoice by his playing. He had some very serious stories of what happened in that way. He went on, always wanting to be at “Ceol Mor,” and to reduce all the notes he had into shipshape, but he did not get the opportunity until his work was over. The day after he retired from active service he began at “Ceol Mor.” He had no intention of writing such a book as he had done–he wanted simply to reduce to order the notes he had. He had found that almost all the pipers he had met had a curious idea that “Ceol Mor” was the music of prose and not of poetry. They could not think what it was to knock that out of people’s heads. If that had been the case, nobody could have corrected “Ceol Mor.” He found in Mackay;s book the lines marked, and he wondered it never occurred to Mackay to hit upon the next thing–the sections and phrases. That did not seem to have occurred to anybody, and it was

The Most Important Thing

of all. When he got that he found the music was capable of correction. They found part of a section or a second line destroying the rhythm, and if they corrected that they reduced chaos to order. The thing was as plain as they now saw it. Very often he found the corrections corroborated by what he found in the variations, and that was the first great step taken in the correction of “Ceol Mor.” General Thomason proceeded to narrate how he got the work accomplished. Fortunately, he was helped a good deal by the 2nd Highland Light Infantry. He made the acquaintance of Pipe-Major Patterson and Kenneth Cameron, the son of old Donald Cameron, and there never were such enthusiastic fellows–they never tired, and they got through everything. He came home, and became the purchaser of Mackay’s unpublished pibrochs. They belonged to Mr. Dove, who was a barrister. He tackled them in the same way. It was a pretty good collection. Having got so far, he thought to himself that this was all very well, but he was getting out of his depth. He had got a big book, and when he looked at it he found that to make it complete you must adopt some abbreviated system of notation, so that the music should be given, not only in lines, but in sections and phrases. He could not have done that without the “Ceol Mor” notation. They had no conception of the amount of writing and re-writing that that entailed. The abbreviations oftentimes required correction for many pages back. At last he came to the conclusion that if this work was to come to anything he must give what he had got, and leave it to other people to correct. He wished them to understand that when he issued that volume it was not done in any spirit of presumption, but to make as public as he could the collection he had, and he trusted to the pipers to help in correcting them and getting out a second edition, which would be most valuable of all. The help he received, especially from Colin Cameron and MacDougall Gillies, in correcting his notes, led a good deal to the simplification of his system. That was the story of “Ceol Mor.” There was another thing that helped him very much. In making these corrections he had always the idea that there dear old “Ceol Mor” was the music of Nature. He had often imagined the composer of one of their beautiful Urlar’s finding himself playing at the Linn, on which the bedroom window of his old Highland home looked out. Say the burn, now “burn Roy,” and probably Alt Ruadh to their forefathers, was in spate, bearing the full of the water into the Linn suggested to him what a beautiful accompaniment it was, and led to the composition of the “Toarluath.” Going along the burn side, above the fall where he spent many happy days as a boy, with gun on shoulder, he himself would find the nature of this accompaniment changing. For the booming of the fall, he would now have the varying notes of the burn, still in spate, rippling over boulders and shingle, the upper notes and trills of his chanter, so suggestive of the cries of the whaup, the pewit, and the seagulls flying overhead, and hence came the “Fosgailte.” Tracing the burn up to its source, he would pass a scanty fir wood near the top of the hill, where the strong winds know how to blow, and thus the “A Mach.” Arrived at the Corseallach spring, he would find himself at the spot where they always took their lunch when out on the hills, and where he had heard many a “Sgeulachd” from the Highland keepers and hill watchers. Were they astonished that he loved “Ceol Mor”? They were doing him honour for a very feeble work. The book wanted a second edition; but the basis was there. And what he should like would be that somebody else would

Join Him in His Old Work,

who could do the writing for him, and he could give everything else. Then they would have “Ceol Mor” reduced to as simple a form as he could imagine. He thanked them very much for the honour they had done him, and said he did not think they could have given him anything that would have been more appreciated than such an address is that.

Tir Nam Beann.

Mr. Archibald Menzies been proposed to toast, “Tir nam Beann,’s na Gleann, ‘s nan Gaisgaich.” Having expressed his great pleasure at having the opportunity, along with the other gentlemen, of doing honour to General Thomason, he said there never was a truer description of the grand old Highlands of Scotland than that comprised in the words of the toast, which meant “Land of the hills, and the glens, and the heroes.” After alluding to the Gaelic revival in Inverness, he dwelt upon the grandeur of Highland scenery, and upon the bravery of their Highland soldiers and sailors. He could go back to the days of Sir Colin Campbell, and down to the days of Sir Hector MacDonald, and between them there was a whole army of heroes who had fought for their country in the army. Referring to a personal aspect of the question, he said his grandfather, Major Archibald Menzies, as captain of the Grenadier Company of the 42nd Highlanders, was reputed to have, in the Battle of Waterloo, killed six Frenchmen before he fell wounded himself. There was no finer music than the music of the Highlands of Scotland–vocal music and pipe music. It was also grand upon the fiddle. They had no “Ceol Mor,” but they had “Ceol Mir.”

The toast was cordially honoured.

The other toasts were “Highland Music,” “Lieut. Maclennan” and “The Chairman.”

General Thomason’s Honour

The dinner to General Thomason in the Union Hotel last Thursday was in every way worthy of the occasion. The large and representative gathering from all parts of the country testified to the high esteem in which the gallant General was held, not only among adepts at pipe music, but among the whole community who have the preservation and advancement of the art of heart. The toast of the evening was proposed from the Chair in a most eulogistic speech by Captain Campbell of Kilberry, and was drunk with Highland honours. The other speeches were in every way complementary to the guest and his capable efforts on behalf of bagpipe music.