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The bagpipes of Pipe Major Buchanan

The Black Watch at National Museum of Scotland

Rosie Waine is the William Grant Foundation Research Fellow at the National Museum of Scotland. Here she writes how the Black Watch Museum & Castle collection contributed to the exhibition she has curated called Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland. 

Dramatic landscapes, Highland dress, bagpipe music and a profound martial culture are among some of the most pervasive images of Scotland. The National Museum of Scotland exhibition Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland explores the origins of these images. To do so, we borrowed five key objects from The Black Watch Castle & Museum.

In the first years of the 19th century the Highland Society of London – an influential gentleman’s club formed of elite Scots in the capital – sought to celebrate and promote the actions of Highland regiments in the British Army. The capture of the standard of the French Légere demi-brigade by The Black Watch at the Battle of Alexandria in March 1801 provided a perfect opportunity. The society commissioned an elaborate silver trophy and gold, silver and copper medals to be presented to the Regiment. That trophy now forms one of the centrepieces of our display and is accompanied by sketches for the design of the medal drawn by Scottish miniaturist Andrew Robertson, and the president of the Royal Academy, Benjamin West.

The Highland Society of London was involved in a number of other attempts to preserve the cultural heritage of the Highlands. One of their most notable acts was, in 1782, to secure the repeal of the Dress Act, which had banned the wearing of Highland dress for some men and boys in the years following the last Jacobite Rising. The Black Watch Castle & Museum have loaned us a proclamation written in Gaelic, which was circulated across the Highlands to let the people know that they could freely wear the kilt and plaid once more without fear of punishment.

The Society also established bagpiping competitions to ensure that the martial music of the Highlands was preserved for future generations. To illustrate this, we borrowed the set of bagpipes which the Society presented to Pipe Major John Buchanan of The Black Watch in 1802. Pipe Major Buchanan carried the bagpipes throughout the battles of the Peninsular War.

Alexandria Cup at NMS
The Highland Society of London Vase on display at National Museums Scotland

Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland runs at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh until 10 November 2019.

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