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History Of The
Edinburgh Caithness Association

Benevolent Activities

Let us now glance back to the 16th of August 1862, the date on which the Edinburgh Caithness Mutual Improvement and Provident Association - already referred to - was founded. The objects of that Association were “To cultivate and maintain a friendly intercourse between natives of Caithness resident in Edinburgh and its neighbourhood - and also to raise a fund for the purpose of affording relief to any member of the Association, or any from the country, who from sickness or any case of emergency may stand in need of charitable assistance”.

Their regular meeting place was Buchanan’s Temperance Hotel, 114 High Street, in their business capacity; for their social gatherings they met in The Carlton Convening Rooms, The Drummond Street Hall, or The Oddfellows’ Hall, Forrest Road.

On the 7th of February 1863 the name of the Association was altered to the “Edinburgh Caithness Benevolent Association”.

As already mentioned yet another Caithness Association was formed in Edinburgh in 1863. On the 3rd January of that year thirteen gentlemen belonging to Caithness met to discuss the propriety of their forming a new Caithness Society in Edinburgh. An attempt was made to come to an agreement with the Edinburgh Caithness Association and, as this was frustrated the institution of the Edinburgh John O’Groat Association took place on 17th January 1863, with a membership of twenty- seven gentlemen.

The object of the John O’Groat Association were similar to that of the Mutual Improvement and Provident Association, and why these two societies should separately perform similar good service to distressed natives in the city, and separately enjoy themselves on occasion , when they might at the outset have joined forces is a mystery that has remained unsolved. It may have been due to a Thurso versus Wick attitude, the “Benevolents” being the representatives of the Thurso folks, while the members of the “Groats” were from the East; or it may have been merely the result of some antipathy on the part of some of the members; or, more likely, the manifestation of political prejudice, the “Benivolents” representing the Radicals, and the “Groats” being Conservative minded.

The John O’Groat men held their business meetings in Darling’s Temperance Hotel, Waterloo Place and their nights of mirth and their jollity in the Oddfellows Hall, or the Literary Institute.

It is a singular fact which must be attributed to the inborn modesty of the Office-bearers of the sixties and seventies of last century that no reference is made in the minutes to the great and highly important contribution which all three societies made to the personnel of the Queen’s Volunteer Army and to the City of Edinburgh, by the number of members who in December 1867 in response to an appeal to each society formed the nucleus of a company of the famous Volunteer Regiment “The Queens’s Edinburgh”, which was known as the 7th Highland (Caithness) Company, and whose title remained until 1908, when, in common with other companies, alphabetical letters replaced more descriptive historic names. While the Minute Book writers have passed over this chapter of Caithness history, here is how the historian of the regiment tells it.

“Towards the close of 1867, No 1 (advocates) Company being practically extinct, arrangements had to be made for the embodiment of a new company so as to maintain the full authorised strength of the brigade. Acting on a suggestion thrown out by Captain Duncan Menzies of the 2nd Highland Company, a call was made on the Caithness men residing in Edinburgh to add strength of the city’s Volunteers. The request for recruits was at once cheerfully responded to, and in a brief space of time a number of young men from the north came forward and formed what proved to be a popular, hardy and expert company”.

The company which was fairly well endowed by the Edinburgh Caithness and John O’Groats Associations, and by the Sheriff and the ladies and gentlemen of Caithness with prizes of silver ware for markmanship, had an annual shooting match with their volunteer friends of Wick, Thurso, Halkirk and Dunbeath, the match taking place simultaneously at each of these places in Edinburgh.

It would be interesting to learn where are now the splendid “Silver Challenge Cup”, subscribed for by the Caithness ladies and gentlemen, the “Sheriff’s Star”, presented by Sheriff Thom, the two “Challenge Medals”, presented by the Edinburgh Caithness” and the “John O’Groats” respectively.

As these trophies were merely held by the winners for a season it is hoped that they reverted to the representatives of the donors on the extinction of the Caithness Company of the Queen’s Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh Caithness Benevolent Association and the Edinburgh John O’Groats Association each continued their good work separately from 1863 to 1877. On the 3rd of December in the latter year both societies, recognising the futility of dividing their forces, decided to unite. Their terms of union were not exacting. The Edinburgh Caithness Benevolent Association were content to drop their title with the exception of the word “Benevolent”, in favour of the “Groats” who gladly added that small but distinctive part of the older society’s name. Thence forward the two sailed along under the pennon of the “Edinburgh John O’Groats Benevolent Association”, the ‘Benevolents’ quitting their favourite havens in Buchanan’s Temperance Hotel and the Calton Convening Rooms in favour of the rendezvous of their new found brethren in Darling’s Temperance Hotel, until increasing membership compelled the committee to find larger accommodation.

That amalgamation was, as might have been anticipated from two such like-minded societies, a complete success.  Both had shown themselves possessed of those qualities which they frequently ascribe to worthy members of their decease. “True Caithness men, warm-hearted, loyal and sincere.”

The union made no difference to the class of work which each had previously independently don; their primary purpose, the fostering of the social amenities of the average Caithness man and woman in the City was always foremost in the activities of their Association while their secondary consideration, the relief of Edinburgh Caithnessians fallen on evil times, was also maintained.

Page after page of the Minutes from the start of the Edinburgh Benevolent and John O’ Groat Associations contain an almost uniform type of sufferer and uniformly careful consideration by the committees of the different applications for bounty.  Only the loafer, the drunkard and the ne’er-do-well were sent away. What were the types of the decent unfortunates whose appeals and award punctuate so many of the Minute Books? The might be classified thus:- the widow with a young family unable to pay her rent; the young domestic servant or seamstress who had fallen into ill health and had no money to pay for her passage home; the father of a family who was sick and out of work and with no income; the tradesman, it was reported, had been in poor health and out of employment for sometime.  He desired to go back to Caithness. The committee decided to book his passage, steerage, plus an allowance for refreshment. This course was frequently adopted.

Though their immediate care was for Caithnessians in Edinburgh who chanced to be in distress, the societies could always be relied upon to lend assistance to those at home whenever necessity called.  In February 1868 the fishermen of Wick were destitute. Learning of that the surplus of the proceeds of a John O’ Groats soiree, £8 9s 6d was sent to the public fund for their behoof.  Again when in 1887 a Lybster fishing boat foundered with all hands the members made a collection individually and sent off the total for the benefit of the widows and orphans of the crew.  A similar step was taken in 1889 on the receipt of the news of a boat disaster in Thurso Bay.  These are but a few instances of their efforts to relieve the distressed in Caithness.

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