Archaeological’s AGM

The Society held its AGM in Hawick Town Hall on Tuesday, 6 January, chaired by President Iain H Scott. His address celebrated the myriad activities the town was involved in during the Quincentenary Year and focused on those the Society played a leading part in, such as providing the plaque on the new Hornshole Monument and financially supporting the restoration of the Hawick Common Riding painting in the Wilton Lodge Museum. He gave tribute to and led applause for three departing Council members – Secretary and ex-President Gerry Graham, Ian Cook and Ian Scott. Two members were successfully nominated to the Council – Liz Tait and Alistair Redpath.

Treasurer Norma Graham provided a financial update showing the Society funds were still in very good order, despite no major selling publications and low interest gained on its healthy bank balance. Shona Sinclair presented the Museum Report, which was very positive with attendances at Wilton Lodge Museum and the Textiles Towerhouse over 14,000 each. This reflected a host of popular and relevant exhibitions such as the Mill Cornets and the Common Riding displays, as well as the sadder but equally popular Great War commemorations. The new stained glass window was highlighted as a beautiful addition to the Museum. Plans to further improve the Museum’s links with Wilton Lodge Park during the latter’s renovation are moving forward.

President Scott then invited David McClay, Senior Archivist at the John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland to give the Society an illustrated lecture. David thanked the Society for the invitation and Scott Fobister for his hospitality and then explained that the John Murray publishing house was based in London and ended up being run by seven John Murrays in succession before finally being sold off to Hatchett in 2002. Roughly 20,000 books were published by the firm in this period, leading to an archive of one million documents including invoices, manuscripts, illustrations and many, many letters. These were often from renowned authors complaining about the late appearance of their weighty tome. David Livingstone, the famous traveller and remarkably unsuccessful missionary (one temporary convert) was particularly sensitive about the illustrations which were used in his books. However, as David showed, the illustrations he provided himself would certainly never made his name as an artist.

David tried hard to find links with Hawick, but sadly, apart from invoices relating to stationery supplies to businesses here, he was not very successful! However, the Handbooks for Travellers in Scotland (later Blue Guides) that John Murray published did contain references to the town. The main findings were not very positive inasmuch as that Hawick seemed to be infamous for its spitting at election candidates and for heavy drinking, perhaps partly due to a Hawick gill being twice the volume of other towns’ measures. As the guide books became more up to date, these harsh references became more moderate, and apparently it was only the unpopular candidates that were spat at!

Although it must at times have risked bankrupting the firm, one hugely important aspect of the publishing house was its expertise with and willingness to provide lavish illustrations. This attracted the most renowned travellers, scientists and geographers of the day, who knew they would find their writing beautifully accompanied by colour plates in luxurious bindings. The famous, or perhaps notorious, German archaeologist Schliemann seemed especially taken with the rendition of his investigation into whether the classical tales attributed to Homer (The Iliad and the Odyssey) were historically accurate. Sadly, even though the pictures reproduced by John Murray were beautifully presented, it seems that the actual artefacts photographed may have been faked for the archaeologist.

As well as Samuel Smiles who preached that a type of survival of the fittest or “self-help” was most appropriate for the human race, John Murray also published Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species which popularised the then controversial but now widely accepted theory that humans share a common ancestor with other primates. Smiles certainly won the original battle of the sales, having written an enormous best seller, but Darwin has both kept his reputation and caught up in sales since. However, his true achievement, according to one farmer who met him, was for his detailed investigations into the habits of earthworms!

David finished his lecture with a discussion of Scotland’s most fearless female explorer, Isabella Bird, who travelled widely in the nineteenth century at a time when middle class women were much more likely to be concerned with domestic activities. She had countless adventures and was a prolific writer, not only of books but also of missives – one “short note” ended up being over 100 pages long.

Vice-President Duncan Taylor proposed a vote of thanks, explaining that being able to see slides showing the actual letters and documents from a careful section of renowned authors had made the lecture a memorable and informative one. He thanked the ladies of the committee for providing a light supper and invited the audience through to the Lesser Town Hall to enjoy it