Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham

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Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham
Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham00.jpg
Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, c1890.
1st President of the Scottish National Party
In office
1934–1936
Preceded by Position created
Succeeded by Roland Muirhead
1st President of the Scottish Labour Party
In office
1888–1895
Preceded by Position created
Succeeded by Party Disestablished
MP for North West Lanarkshire
In office
1886 – 1892
Preceded by John Baird
Succeeded by Graeme Alexander Lockhart Whitelaw
Majority 332
Personal details
Born 24 May 1852
Died 20 March 1936 (aged 83)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Resting place Inchmahome Priory
Political party Scottish National Party
Other political
affiliations
National Party of Scotland
Scottish Labour Party
Liberal
Alma mater Harrow School

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham[1] (24 May 1852 – 20 March 1936) was a Scottish politician, writer, journalist and adventurer. He was a Liberal Party Member of Parliament (MP); the first-ever socialist member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom; a founder, and the first president, of the Scottish Labour Party; a founder of the National Party of Scotland in 1928; and the first president of the Scottish National Party in 1934.

Youth[edit]

Cunninghame Graham was the eldest son of Major William Bontine[2] of the Renfrew Militia and formerly a Cornet in the Scots Greys with whom he served in Ireland. His mother was Hon Anne Elizabeth Elphinstone-Fleeming, daughter of Admiral Charles Elphinstone-Fleeming of Cumbernauld[3] and a Spanish noblewoman Doña Catalina Paulina Alessandro de Jiménez, (who, reputedly, along with her 2nd husband Admiral James Katon), heavily influenced Cunninghame Graham's upbringing. Thus the first language Cunninghame Graham learnt was his mother's maternal tongue, Spanish. He spent most of his childhood on the family estate of Finlaystone in Renfrewshire and Ardoch in Dunbartonshire, Scotland, with his younger brothers Charles and Malise.[4]

After being educated at Harrow public school in England, Robert finished his education in Brussels, Belgium before moving to Argentina to make his fortune cattle ranching. He became known as a great adventurer and gaucho there, and was affectionately known as Don Roberto. He also travelled in Morocco disguised as a Turkish sheikh, prospected for gold in Spain, befriended Buffalo Bill in Texas, and taught fencing in Mexico City, having travelled there by wagon train from San Antonio de Bexar with his young bride sic "Gabrielle Chideock de la Balmondiere" a supposed half French half Chilean poet.[5]

Convert to socialism[edit]

After the death of his father in 1883 he reverted to the Cunninghame Graham surname. He returned to the UK and became interested in politics. He attended socialist meetings where he heard and met William Morris, George Bernard Shaw, H. M. Hyndman, Keir Hardie and John Burns. Despite his wealthy origins, Graham was converted to socialism and he began to speak at public meetings. He was an impressive orator and was especially good at dealing with hecklers.

Liberal Party MP[edit]

Cunninghame Graham caricatured by Spy in Vanity Fair, 1888

Although a socialist, in the 1886 general election he stood as a Liberal Party candididate at North West Lanarkshire. His election programme was extremely radical and called for:

Supported by liberals and socialists, Graham defeated the Unionist Party candidate by 322 votes. He had stood against the same candidate at the 1885 general election, in which he was defeated by over 1100 votes.

Robert Cunninghame Graham refused to accept the conventions of the British House of Commons. On 12 September 1887 he was suspended from parliament for making what was called a "disrespectful reference" to the House of Lords. He was the first MP ever to be suspended from the House of Commons for swearing; the word was damn.

Graham's main concerns in the House of Commons were the plight of the unemployed and the preservation of civil liberties. He complained about attempts in 1886 and 1887 by the police to prevent public meetings and free speech. He attended the protest demonstration in Trafalgar Square on 13 November 1887 that was broken up by the police and became known as Bloody Sunday. Graham was badly beaten during his arrest and taken to Bow Street Police Station, where his uncle, Col William Hope VC, attempted to post bail. Both Cunninghame Graham, who was defended by H. H. Asquith, and John Burns were found guilty for their involvement in the demonstration and sentenced to six weeks imprisonment.

When Graham was released from Pentonville prison he continued his campaign to improve the rights of working people and to curb their economic exploitation. He was suspended from the House of Commons in December 1888 for protesting about the working conditions of chain makers. His response to the Speaker of the House, "I never withdraw" was later used by George Bernard Shaw in "Arms and the Man".[6]

Scottish independence and the Scottish Labour Party[edit]

Graham was a strong supporter of Scottish independence and in 1886 had helped establish the Scottish Home Rule Association, and while in the House of Commons made several attempts to persuade fellow MPs of the desirability of a Scottish parliament. On one occasion Graham joked that he wanted a "national parliament with the pleasure of knowing that the taxes were wasted in Edinburgh instead of London."

While in the House of Commons Graham became increasingly more radical and went on to found the Scottish Labour Party with Keir Hardie. Graham left the Liberal Party in 1892 to contest the general election in a new constituency as a Labour candidate.

He supported workers in their industrial disputes and was actively involved with Annie Besant and the Matchgirls Strike and the 1889 Dockers' Strike. In July 1889 he attended the Marxist Congress of the Second International in Paris with James Keir Hardie, William Morris, Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling. The following year he made a speech in Calais that was considered by the authorities to be so revolutionary that he was arrested and expelled from France.

Graham was a supporter of the eight-hour day and made several attempts to introduce a Bill on the subject. He made some progress with this in the summer of 1892 but he was unable to persuade the Conservative and Unionist government, headed by Lord Salisbury, to allocate time for the Bill to be fully debated.

In the 1892 general election Graham stood as the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party candidate for Glasgow Camlachie. He was defeated and this brought his parliamentary career to an end. He remained active in political circles though, and helped his colleague Keir Hardie establish the Independent Labour Party and to enter parliament as the MP for West Ham.

Graham retained a strong belief in Scottish home rule. He played an active part in the establishment of the National Party of Scotland (NPS) in 1928 and was elected the first ever president of the Scottish National Party in 1934. He was several times the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association candidate for the Lord Rectorship of the University of Glasgow, which he lost by only sixty-six votes in 1928 to Stanley Baldwin the then Prime Minister.

Author[edit]

During his life Graham had a large number of books and articles published. Subject matter included history, biography, poetry, essays, politics, travel and seventeen collections of short stories or literary sketches. Titles include Father Archangel of Scotland (1896 in conjunction with his wife Gabriella),Thirteen Stories (1900), Success (1902), Scottish Stories (1914) "Brought Forward" (1916) and Hope (1917) and Mirages (1936). Biographies included: Hernando de Soto (1903), Doughty Deeds (1925), a biography of his great-great-grandfather, Robert Graham of Gartmore and Portrait of a Dictator (1933). His great-niece and biographer, Jean, Lady Polwarth,[7] published a collection of his short stories (or sketches) entitled Beattock for Moffatt and the Best of Cunninghame Graham (1979) and Alexander Maitland added his selection under the title Tales of Horsemen (1981). Professor John Walker published collections of Cunninghame Graham's South American Sketches (1978), Scottish Sketches (1982) and North American Sketches (1986) and Kennedy & Boyd are republishing the stories and sketches in five volumes. In 1988 The Century Travellers reprinted his Mogreb-el-Acksa (1898) and A Vanished Arcadia (1901), the latter being, in part, the inspiration for the award-winning film The Mission. More recently The Long Riders Guild Press have reprinted his equestrian travel works in their Cunninghame Graham Collection and Kessinger Publishing have reprinted some 16 titles to date.

He helped Joseph Conrad, whom he had introduced to his publisher Edward Garnett at Duckworth with research for Nostromo. Other literary friends included, Ford Madox Ford, John Galsworthy, W. H. Hudson, George Bernard Shaw (who openly admits his debt to Graham for "Captain Brassbound's Conversion" as well as a key line in "Arms and the Man") and G. K. Chesterton, who proclaimed him "The Prince of Preface Writers" and famously declared in his autobiography that while Cunninghame Graham would never be allowed to be Prime Minister, he instead "achieved the adventure of being Cunninghame Graham", which Shaw described as "an achievement so fantastic that it would never be believed in a romance."

There is a seat dedicated to Cunninghame Graham in the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh with the inscription: "R B 'Don Roberto' Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore and Ardoch, 1852–1936, A great storyteller".

Cunninghame Graham in Art[edit]

Cunninghame Graham was a staunch supporter of the artists of his day and a popular subject. He sat for artists such as Sir William Rothenstein, who painted Don Roberto as The Fencer;[8] Sir John Lavery whose famous Don Roberto: Commander for the King of Aragon in the Two Sicilies for many years graced the cover of the Penguin Books edition of Conrad's Nostromo[9] and whose equestrian portrait of Don Roberto on his favourite horse Pampa;[10] G. P. Jacomb-Hood who painted his official portrait on entering parliament,[11] who along with Whistler were personal friends. George Washington Lambert painted him in oil with his horse Pinto and James McBey portrayed him in old age. There are also busts by Weiss and Jacob Epstein. The Dumbarton born artist, William Strang, used Cunninghame Graham as the model for his series of etchings of Don Quixote. It is unsurprising that he was at the mercy of cartoonists such as Tom Merry who portrayed him in prison garb and caricaturists such as Max and Spy.

Final years[edit]

Robert Cunninghame Graham remained sprightly and rode daily even in his 80s. He continued to write, and held the office of President of the Scottish Branch of the P.E.N. Club,[12] and involve himself in politics. He died from pneumonia on 20 March 1936 in the Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina following a visit to the birthplace of his friend William Hudson. He lay in state in the Casa del Teatro[13] and received a countrywide tribute led by the President of the Republic[14] before his body was shipped home to be buried beside his wife on 18 April 1936, in the ruined Augustinian Priory on the island of Inchmahome, Lake of Menteith, Stirling.[15] The following year, June 1937, a monument, the Cunninghame Graham Memorial, was unveiled at Castlehill, Dumbarton, near the family home at Ardoch. Despite the monument being removed to Gartmore in 1981, closer to the principal Graham estate, which he had been forced to sell in 1901 to the shipping magnate and founder of the Clan Line, Sir Charles Cayzer, Bt, the Cunninghame Graham Memorial Park (which is managed by the National Trust for Scotland) is still affectionately locally known as "the Mony".[16] His estates at Ardoch and feudal barony of Gartmore passed to his nephew, Captain (later Admiral Sir) Angus Cunninghame Graham, the only son of his brother Cdr. Charles Elphinstone-Fleeming Cunninghame Graham, MVO.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Notes on the district of Menteith: for tourists and others (1895)
  • Father Archangel of Scotland and other essays (1896)
  • Mogreb-el-Acksa: A Journey in Morocco (1898)
  • Aurora La Cujiñi: A Realistic Sketch in Seville (1898)
  • The Ipané (1899)
  • Thirteen Stories (1900)
  • A Vanished Arcadia: Being Some Account of the Jesuits in Paraguay, 1607 to 1767 (1901)
  • Success (1902)
  • Hernando de Soto; together with an account of one of his captains, Gonçalo Silvestre (1903)
  • Progress (1905)
  • His People (1906)
  • Santa Teresa: being some account of her life and times (1907)
  • Rhymes from a world unknown (Preface) (1908)
  • Faith (1909)
  • Hope (1910)
  • Charity (1912)
  • A Hatchment (1913)
  • Scottish Stories (1914)
  • Bernal Diaz del Castillo : being some account of him (1915)
  • Brought Forward (1917)
  • A Brazilian mystic: being the life and miracles of Antonio Conselheiro (1920)
  • The Conquest of New Granada: Being the Life of Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada (1922)
  • Cartagena and the banks of the Sinú (1922)
  • Doughty deeds: an account of the life of Robert Graham of Gartmore (1925)
  • Pedro de Valdivia, conqueror of Chile (1926)
  • Redeemed: And Other Sketches (1927)
  • Jose Antonio Paez (1929)
  • Thirty Tales & Sketches (1929)
  • Writ in sand (1932)
  • Portrait of a dictator: Francisco Solano Lopez (1933)
  • Mirages (1936)
  • Rodeo: A Collection of the Tales and Sketches (1936)

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ There is no hyphen between the two surnames (as is the Scottish fashion) which were first joined together by Don Roberto's great-great-grandfather, Robert Graham of Gartmore, in 1796 when he inherited the Cunninghame estate of Finlaystone in Renfrewshire from his cousin John, 15th and last Earl of Glencairn.
  2. ^ The entail of Nicol Bontine of Ardoch disponing the estate to his cousin Robert Graham of Gartmore stated that the holder of Gartmore could not also hold Ardoch at the same time and required the holder of Ardoch to assume the name Bontine. This led to the eldest son assuming the name Bontine during his father's lifetime and reverting to Cunninghame Graham with the Bontine as an additional forename upon succeeding to Gartmore. Major Bontine, due to his illness, never reverted to Cunninghame Graham. The practice has become almost impossible in modern times though the current head of the Cunninghame Graham family, William Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore assumed the Bontine into the middle of his name upon the death of his father in 1996.
  3. ^ She was thus a niece of both John, 12th Lord Elphinstone and Hon Mountstuart Elphinstone, Governor of Bombay and author of an early History of India. Her brother John Elphinstone-Fleeming, became the 14th Lord Elphinstone in 1860.
  4. ^ http://www.FinlaystoneHouse.com/history.htm
  5. ^ In 1986, some 80 years after her death, it was discovered that she was really Caroline Horsfall (the daughter of a Ripon Doctor), who had repeatedly run away to the stage. She and Don Roberto had, with the obvious connivance of his mother, the redoubtable Hon. Anne Elizabeth Bontine (a society hostess of some note), concocted a whole new identity for her to make her more acceptable to the family's social set.
  6. ^ Notes to Captain Brassbound's Conversion: Sources of the Play, G B Shaw, August 1900
  7. ^ Under her maiden name Jean Cunninghame Graham she published in 2004 a biography entitled Gaucho Laird based on his letters and writings
  8. ^ In the Dunedin Art Gallery, New Zealand
  9. ^ In Glasgow City Art Gallery
  10. ^ In the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires
  11. ^ Now in the possession of W R B Cunninghame Graham of Gartmore
  12. ^ His friends John Galsworthy and H.G. Wells were the English and International presidents respectively
  13. ^ Formerly the Cervantes Theatre
  14. ^ There is a street in Buenos Aires named in his honour (R. Cunningham Graham) as is the hamlet of Don Roberto in the Province of Entre Rios.
  15. ^ Scottish Screen Archive
  16. ^ Geograph.org.uk

Bibliographies[edit]

  • A bibliography of the first editions of the works of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, compiled with a foreword by Leslie Chaundy, London: Dulau, & Co. 1924
  • Cunninghame Graham and Scotland: an annotated bibliography, John Walker, Dollar: Douglas S. Mack, 1980

References[edit]

  • The Adventures of Don Roberto A Caledonia TV production for BBC Scotland, broadcast on BBC2 2008-12-15.
  • The people's Laird: A Life of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham by Anne Taylor, The Tobias Press, 2005
  • Gaucho Laird: The Life of R. B. Don Roberto Cunninghame Graham, by Jean Cunninghame Graham, Long Riders' Guild, 2004
  • R. B. Cunninghame Graham: Fighter for Justice, by Ian M. Fraser (privately published 2002)
  • Cunninghame Graham: a centenary study, Hugh MacDiarmid, with a foreword by R.E. Muirhead, Glasgow: Caledonian Press, 1952
  • Cunninghame Graham: a critical biography, Cedric Watts and Laurence Davies, Cambridge [Eng.], New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979
  • Don Roberto: being the account of the life and works of R. B. Cunninghame Graham, 1852–1936, A. F. Tschiffely, London, Toronto: William Heinemann, 1937
  • A Modern Conquistador: Cunninghame Graham His Life and Works, by Herbert Fualkner West, Cranley Day, 1932
  • Don Roberto: vida y obra de R. B. Cunninghame Graham, 1852–1936, A. F. Tschiffely; versión castellana de Julio E. Payró, Buenos Aires: Guillermo Kraft, 1946
  • El escocés errante: R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Alicia Jurado, Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, c1978
  • "Robert and Gabriela Cunninghame Graham", Alexander Maitland, Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons Ltd, 1983
  • The friendship between W.H. Hudson and Cunninghame Graham; translation of an article ... in the Buenos Aires illustrated weekly Acquí Está, José Luis Lanuza, Argentina: Florencio Varela, n.d.
  • Lecture on R.B. Cunninghame Graham for the Anglo-Argentine Society, 24 January 1979,Jean Polwarth, London: n.p., 1979
  • Jorge Luis Borges Lecture on R. B. Cunninghame Graham for the Anglo Argentinian Society, 30 September 1986, Alicia Jurado, Royal Society of Arts, London: n.p., 1986
  • Personalidad de Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham: extracto de la tesis doctoral ... en la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad de Madrid sobre: Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham : personalidad del autor y estudio crítico de sus ensayos, Julio Llorens Ebrat., Madrid: Florencio Varela, 1963
  • Testimonio a Roberto B. Cunninghame Graham, Buenos Aires: P.E.N. Club Argentino, 1941
  • The North American Sketches of R. B. Cunninghame Graham, John Walker (ed.), Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1987
  • The Scottish Sketches of R.B. Cunninghame Graham, John Walker (ed.), Edinburgh, Scottish Academic Press, 1982
  • The South American Sketches of R. B. Cunninghame Graham, John Walker (ed.), Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1985
  • Joseph Conrad's Letters to R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Cedric Watts (ed.), London, Cambridge University Press, 1969

External links[edit]

Archival Collections[edit]

Guide to the Anne Elizabeth Bontine Diaries and Other Materials. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California.

Other[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Baird
Member of Parliament for North West Lanarkshire
18861892
Succeeded by
Graeme Alexander Lockhart Whitelaw
Party political offices
Preceded by
New position
President of the Scottish Labour Party
1888–95
Succeeded by
Party Disestablished
Party political offices
Preceded by
New position
President of the Scottish National Party
1934–36
Succeeded by
Roland Muirhead