Discovering interesting characters in my family history is one of the reasons I’m addicted to genealogy. James Cubison Campbell, a very distant first cousin four times removed, is one such character.
James’s life started humbly enough. He was the sixth of ten children born to William Campbell, a shepherd, later a sheep dealer, and Elizabeth (Betty)
Born in 1853, James lived most of his early life in Kintail, a remote mountainous area in the rugged Scottish Highlands
and Cromarty. county of Ross
|The Coomassie campaign medal, which James was awarded|
In the 1871 census, the
were living in the Corrynagullan Shepherd House, in Kintail but, soon after
this, James left the family home to join the army. He must have learnt to play
the bagpipes as a child because he served with the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment,
the Black Watch, as a piper. During 1873-74 James served in the Ashanti Campaign, in West Africa, where the 42nd
played a leading role in the successful advance to Coomassie through dense
jungle. He was also stationed in Malta
for a time, was with the army of occupation in Cyprus
in 1878, and spent some time in Gibraltar.
|Dress of a 42nd Royal Highlanders piper|
in 1856. From Peter Cochrane, Scottish
Military Dress, Blandford Press,
After leaving the army in 1879, James spent the following two years, until May 1881, employed as valet and piper for Duncan Davidson, Chief of Clan Davidson, Lord-Lieutenant of
Ross, and laird of . James’s military service had obviously stood him in good stead for career advancement and he must have been highly skilled at playing the bagpipes. Tulloch Castle
When the census was taken on 3 April 1881, James was back with his parents, now living at
Lower Bridgend, in Kilmorack,
Inverness-shire but, just a few weeks later, in May 1881, he started working
for Duncan Darroch, 5th of Gourock and of Torridon, the Chief of Clan Donald.
However, this appointment was only to last a few short weeks, as James was then headhunted by none other than Queen Victoria!
According to the Royal website,
‘first heard bagpipe music in 1842, when she and Prince Albert visited the Highlands for the first time’
and was impressed by the Marquess of Breadalbane’s personal piper during her
stay at . Victoria wrote to her mother: ‘We have heard
nothing but bagpipes since we have been in the beautiful Highlands and I have
become so fond of it that I mean to have a Piper, who can if you like it, pipe
every night at Frogmore.’ Taymouth Castle
Angus Mackay became the first personal Piper to the Sovereign in 1843 and he was followed by Pipe Major William Ross in 1854. The piper’s duties included playing under the Queen’s bedroom window for 15 minutes every morning, whether she is in residence at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Balmoral Castle or at Osbourne, on the Isle of Wight, and whenever else Her Majesty fancied a tune, as well as at a variety of State Occasions.
On 15 June 1881, James Campbell was appointed 2nd piper to Queen
Victoria, at a salary of
£55 p.a., he was allowed the same clothing as was granted to 1st piper Ross, and was
granted £5 p.a. for 'Keeping his pipes, ribbons, etc in repair'. As well as playing the pipes, his duties also required him to take charge of the Gun Room at all the Queen's
palaces and to keep the guns, fishing rods, etc., in good order. He took his
orders from the now infamous Mr Brown (remember Billy Connolly’s portrayal of
Mr Brown in the film Mrs Brown?).
|'Queen Victoria [with John Brown] at Osborne House' by Edwin Henry Lanseer. Licensed under Public Domain by Wikimedia Commons: File:Queen_Victoria_at_Osborne_House.jpg|
In 1883, when William Ross retired, James took over his duties as Gentleman Porter, his salary was raised to £80 p.a., and his rank in the Royal Household was equal to the Sergeant Footman. In 1891, when Ross died, James was officially appointed 1st Piper to the Queen, though he had already been carrying out those duties since 1883.
Some time in the 1920s, James was interviewed for the People's Journal. At that stage, he was enjoying his retirement ‘in a neat little bungalow in sylvan surroundings at pretty
’. These are some of the
memories of his time as the sovereign’s piper that James shared with his
interviewer: Fort Augustus
Then he went to Mr Duncan Darroch of Torridon, in whose service he had been only a few weeks when he was invited to join the staff at
Balmoral Castle in the role of Queen Victoria's piper. "Naturally I jumped
at the chance," Mr Campbell told me, "but Mr Darroch was reluctant to
part with me, and if I had been going to anyone but the Queen he would not have
consented to my leaving him. 'A command from the Queen is a command which must
be obeyed,' he said to me, 'but if I had known what I know now I would have
made your engagement much firmer.'
“I parted good friends with Mr Darroch, and the next morning (16th June 1881), I played my pipes at Queen
Victoria's breakfast table. Some time after
the meal I was sought out by John Brown, the major-domo at Balmoral, who
encouraged me by telling me 'The Queen likes your appearance, and I think
you'll be all right.' So far, so good, I thought.
|James Campbell in 1886. Photographer: W Watson,
Royal Collection Trust. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
“In the Queen's time it was custom during the shooting season for a number of stags which had been shot to be laid out at the front door of the castle. A bonfire was lit, and at it the ghillies and the gamekeepers would light torches. The stags were then displayed by torchlight to the ladies and gentlemen of the Court, and afterwards the 'Reel o' Tulloch' was danced round the bonfire.
“I, of course, played my pipes on those occasions, and the experience of receiving pieces of burning torches on my clothing taught me the wisdom of donning absolutely the worst tunic I had for such occasions. This practice was continued during King Edward's time. There were perhaps two such events in the autumn season and one in the springtime.
“Pipe-Major William Ross, who had joined the Queen's service in 1854, was still at Balmoral when I was taken on the strength. Shortly after Ross's death I told the Queen that I required a new set of pipes. ‘Well, then,' she instructed, 'get a new set, and get them mounted with silver.'
"The pipes were ordered, and in due course arrived at
. I played them
next morning at the Queen's breakfast table. I mentioned to the Queen's page
than I was playing the new pipes, and requested him to ask Her Majesty if she
would like to inspect them. The Queen said she would like to look at the pipes
and accordingly I had the honour of placing them in her hands. After she had
expressed her approval of them, she handed them back to me, saying ' Balmoral
Castle Campbell, these are your
own pipes - from me.'
"Such a present from Her Majesty was indeed a delightful surprise, and I expressed my sincere thanks to the best of my ability.
"In addition to the post of piper, I held the position of jager or huntsman with Queen
Victoria, and in that capacity had to look
after the shooting and fishing equipment required for Her Majesty's guests.
"I recollect an incident, with the German Kaiser for its central figure, which occurred during one of Wilhelm's visits to
The first part of the day was spent at covert shooting, and after lunch the
party enjoyed rabbit warren shooting. When crossing a rill the Kaiser trod on a
piece of loose ground which gave way beneath him, and he was in the act of
falling backwards, when, having jumped the rill, I caught hold of him by the
seat of his breeches and the scruff of the neck, and prevented him from
receiving a nasty fall.
"It was not a very elegant way to seize hold of an Emperor, but it was fully justified in the circumstances. King Edward (then Prince of Wales), the Duke of Connaught, King George (then Duke of York), and Prince Christian were of the party, and they all laughed uproariously at the Kaiser's little adventure. "'Bravo,
Campbell!' exclaimed the Kaiser, who was
quite pleased that I had prevented him from falling in the rill, 'Where did you
learn your German?' I had been conversing in that language with his own jagers.
'I don't know that I have learned it, your Majesty,' I replied, "I speak
it indifferently.' 'Not at all,' declared the now exiled Emperor. 'You speak
I should perhaps explain here how James came to speak such ‘excellent Deutsch’. In 1888, at
Hanover Square in London, James Campbell married German-born Annie
Marie Wilhelmina Muhs. Annie was born in Hamburg
in 1863 and may have met James while working in the Royal Household. The couple
had four daughters, all born in Windsor:
Victoria Mary E. M. Campbell born in 1889, Louise Alice Una born in 1891, Isabel
Anna H. Nora born in 1896, and Rachel Jennie Graina born in 1900.
|The Campbell family in the 1891 census|
The interview with James Campbell continued:
"The Queen of Spain was born at
. The birth took place in the
afternoon, and in the evening a bonfire was lit in celebration of the event.
This was in the month of November, and I recollect it was a bitterly cold night
when I played my pipes at the back of the castle by the light of the torches to
light the bonfire and to drink to the health of the baby Princess. Balmoral Castle
"The Duke of Edinburgh's children, including Prince Alfred, Princess Melita (who became the Grand Duchess of Hesse), and Princess Marie (now Queen-Mother of Roumania), were visitors to Osborne House when I was there. If the weather was good Queen
Victoria sat in a tent in the grounds, and
there the Princesses came to greet her. On one occasion I remember, Her Majesty
said to the nurse in charge of them, 'If you will just look around there you
will see someone you know!' The nurse took the Princesses round the tent, and
when they saw me they recognised me at once, and greeted me prettily. I had, of
course, met them previously at Malta.
The Queen, I remember, used to address Princess Marie as 'Missie!'"
Mr Campbell had the honour of playing his pipes at Queen
Victoria's funeral, which was
both a Highland
and a military one. He was assisted by his nephew William Campbell, on that
occasion. They played 'The Flowers o' the Forest' from Osborne House until they
reached the gates that led to the public highway, when the music was taken up
by the band of the Royal Marines, who played until the cortege reached Trinity
Pier at East Cowes.
Mr Campbell was also present at the state funeral from London to Windsor, and when the body was taken from St George's Chapel to Frogmore he and his nephew had the honour of supplying appropriate pipe music, of which Her Majesty had been so fond during her lifetime.
On the night of the funeral Mr Campbell was commanded to appear before King Edward, who then and there, made him a member of the Victorian Order. "This," said His Majesty, as he handed the decoration to the Royal Piper, "is for long and faithful service to the Queen and for the beautiful music you played today at her funeral." The bereft sovereign then shook hands with Mr Campbell, who said, "May I offer your Majesty my humble but sincere sympathy in your Majesty's sad bereavement?" "Thank you,
said the King as he gave the Royal Piper another handshake.
Asked for his impressions of Queen
Victoria, Mr Campbell
said, "She was the most noble woman in the world. I have known none to
whom I could compare her. Her character was truly noble and her heart was full
of kindness, and her son, King Edward, whom I also served until his death,
right worthily followed the example she had set. The joys and sorrows of the
people who surrounded her were always shared by ' Victoria the Good'. A bereavement in any of
the families within her ken touched her deeply, and she was always striving to
help those who needed assistance."
death in 1901 and Edward VII’s ascent to the throne, James Campbell continued as
Piper to the Sovereign until his retirement in 1910. He was honoured for his
service to Victoria with the MVO (Member of
the Royal Victorian Order) and, though retired,
held the honorary position at Court of Groom of the Great Chamber to His
Majesty King George V until his death on 8 April 1930, in the Northern Infirmary
in Inverness. After a long and very
distinguished life, James was buried with his parents in the cemetery at Beauly
Priory in Scotland.