Societies of Modern Archers
Part 5 of 6
Three other remarkable inscriptions run thus,--
Robert Biggar, merchant, Edinburgh, did Irvin this arrow for the third time, August, 1745; and on the opposite side,
Robert Biggar, whilst victor of this arrow, did win both the prizes belonging to the Royal Company of Archers, in the year 1747; and which prizes were never in the hands of any archer before, at one time.
John Henderson, Esq., architect, won this arrow by three successive shots, at Musselburgh, A. D. 1783.
As the Musselburgh arrow, like that of Peebles and Edinburgh, with many other prizes belonging to the Royal Company, does not become the actual property of the winner, it must be considered as merely an honorary distinction. In order to afford each member an opportunity of gaining these prizes, the successful archer, after one year's possession, returns them to the company, with a medal attached, bearing his arms, motto, and an inscription setting forth the day and year of the contest, as in the previous and following instances:--
Prize II. THE EDINBURGH SILVER ARROW.
The first seven pieces are of silver, all the rest are gold.
Medal 1. Drummond, Esq., advocate, 1709.
Medal 8. The Right Honourable John Earl of Wigtown gained this arrow at Leith, 11th July, 1726, in the presence of 144 members of the Royal Company of Archers. Reverse, arms, and motto,--Let the deed straw.
Medal 29. Robert Biggar, merchant, Edinburgh, did win this arrow by three successive shots, April 13th, 1747. Again,
N.B. Robert Biggar did win this year both prizes belonging to the Royal Company of Archers; being likewise victor of the Musselborough arrow, which was never done by one archer before.
Medal 37. John Sinclair, writer, Edinburgh, gained this arrow, the 14th July, 1755; and the same year, the other public prizes, the Royal Company's bowl, and Musselborough arrow. Reverse, arms, motto, --Vincula temno.
Medal 52. J. C. Ramsay, advocate, son of W. Ramsay of Temple Hall, victor, 9th July, 1770, by three successive shots. Accidit in puncto, quod non speratur in anno. Reverse, arms; motto, Nil time.
Medal 54. John Macpherson, teacher of music, gained the Edinburgh arrow, 12th July, 1792. Reverse, motto, Touch not the cat, but with a glove.
Medal 55. Charles Macdonald, Esq., of Largee, 12th Jul., 1773. Reverse, a man standing in the habit of all archer, with a bent bow in his left hand, in the graceful attitude of shooting an arrow, which is seen sticking in the distant clout; motto, It must fall somewhere.
Prize III. THE ARCHER'S BOWL.
This magnificent piece of plate, composed of genuine Scottish silver, and sufficiently capacious to hold two bottles of rum converted into punch, is valued at about three hundred guineas. Like the silver arrows, it is encircled with rows of gold medals, bearing the arms and inscriptions of the victorious archers. These, in the year 1793, amounted to seventy-three. The bowl therefore, like the rest, must be considered as merely a nominal prize, although I believe the original intention was, that the individual who gained it for three consecutive years, should retain permanent possession. An instance of such good fortune did actually occur; but the victor, considering it would better grace the sideboard of " Archers' Hall," than that of a private residence, and unwilling also to deprive his brother bowmen of the pleasures of a contest, generously restored the bowl, on the express condition that the above-mentioned privilege should be for ever abolished. It is, consequently, now the common property of the company, and graces their table at all convivial meetings held in Archers' Hall, above mentioned.
Medal 1. James, Earl of Weemyss, 1720.
Medal 8. Robert Lows, M. D. gained this prize a second time the 26th of August, 1727.
Medal 28. Robert Biggar, merchant, in Edinburgh, did win this bowl for the third time on the 19th of September, 1747.
Medal 75. Dr. Thomas Speirs, July 1. 1793. Reverse, crest, with motto, Si Deus, quis contra.
Medal 30. August 1727, finishes the first tire, which are all oval medals of gold; most of the others being round.
The first medal of the second tire, is that of George Lockhart of Carnwaith, President of Council, and Major General of the Scotch Archers, June 11th, 1750. Reverse, a Scotch thistle, with a royal crown, encircled with this motto, Grata superveniet quæ non sperabitur hora.
Medal 36. J. Sinclair, writer, Edinburgh, 26th July, 1755. The same year he also gained the Musselburgh and Edinburgh arrows.
Prize IV. His Majesty's Purse of Twenty Guineas. The contest of the Royal gift excites an unusual degree of emulation among the Body Guard, and the utmost impartiality attends its award, an observation applicable, indeed, to the distribution of all their prizes. " To gain the purse," is regarded as a very distinguished honour. The winner purchases a piece of plate, of whatever fashion he pleases, of the same value as the purse. The insignia of archery must form its chief ornaments, and on producing it to the treasurer, the twenty guineas are paid.
Prize V. A second Bowl, formed of East India pagodas, the gift of a gentleman of high rank in the Company's service.
Prize VI. A Silver Bugle, presented by Sir William Jardine.
Prize VII. Another Bugle, the gift of the Body Guard.
Prize VIII. St. Andrew's Cross, given by Sir George Makensie, Bart., of Coul.
These prizes are shot for at Rovers, the marks being placed 180, and sometimes 185, yards apart. Few things in Edinburgh furnish more amusement to a stranger than these archery parades.
Besides the picturesque dress of the Body Guard, they number in their ranks some of the tallest and finest men of Scotland, who use bows of proportionate size and strength. A writer, signing himself, in Dr. Brewster's Encyclopaedia, modestly asserts, that among the Archer Guard there is a considerable number of gentlemen whose dexterity probably equals, if it does not surpass, whatever has been exhibited in Scotland during the most warlike times. He might have gone further, and stated, with great propriety, that the stout Archer Body Guard of England, whom the homely muse of Taylor celebrated nearly three centuries ago, would have rejoiced to enlist them within their ranks.
A singular match was decided on 6th of June, 1827, between a portion of the married and unmarried members, at 180 yards; the Benedicts of the company, who reckoned thirteen points more than their adversaries, carrying away the prize, of course.
It is curious, that what is called "goose-shooting," now and anciently a favourite amusement among Flemish archers, should have been early practiced in Scotland. It probably might have been once a favourite pastime among their southern neighbours likewise; for the Hon. Daines Barrington, in his paper on archery, describes it thus: "A living goose was enclosed in a turf butt, having its head alone exposed to view; and the archer who first hit the goose's head, was entitled to the goose as his reward. But this custom, on account of its barbarity, has long been laid aside; a mark, about an inch in diameter, being fixed upon each butt; and the archer who first hits this mark is captain of the butt-shooters for a year."
The Flemings still practice the game with all its original cruelty, and the devoted bird is suspended by its wings from a cord stretched across the shooting ground. Anciently the Edinburgh archers covered the animal's body with hay, allowing the head only to appear. But though the game of goose-shooting annually takes place, the bird is, with a commendable humanity, first submitted to the cook's hands, who returns the head as a mark for the archers, and dresses the goose itself as part of their dinner. They stand 100 yards off; and as it is a rule that the company do not dine until an arrow has pierced the mark, the shooting sometimes continues by torch light. About October, 1798 or 1799, Dr. Speirs, one of the Body Guard, being unwell, grew exceedingly fatigued during a protracted contest of this sort. He therefore called for a chair, and, sitting down, drew his bow, and immediately drove his arrow through the head.
There is in many respects a great similarity between archery as practiced in Scotland, and the same amusement as it is pursued by the inhabitants of Flanders. In both countries the butts are formed of straw placed endways, closely pressed, and afterwards cut smooth. The popinjay game is also not unknown to Scotch archers, who differ only slightly from the Flemings in their mode of fixing up the mark. Like the Greeks, who exhibited their dexterity at those funereal games celebrated on the death of Hector, the latter aim at a bird perched upon the summit of a tall mast. The Scotch, on the contrary, who, I believe, do or did annually practice this game at Kilwinning, affix their popinjay to a piece of wood or iron, projecting from the church steeple, the archer placing his left foot against the base of the tower, and, of course, discharges his arrow perpendicularly The mark is not solid, like that used by the Flemings, but consists of three distinct portions, the body and the two wings, united by iron spikes; and, unless his arrow strikes close to one of these, the archer cannot displace them.
The Royal Company of Scottish Archers have attracted a very large portion of the public notice from the period of their first institution. As early as the year 1725 there appeared a volume of complimentary poems, in English and Latin, addressed to them; and among its contributors we have the name of the well-known Allen Ramsay. In a previous paragraph, I have quoted a few verses addressed to the Duke of Hamilton, and other skilful archers of that period; the following lines commemorate the achievements of Mr. D. Drummond, who gained the Edinburgh arrow at Leith, 24th June, 1719:--
Hail, veteran in victory grey!
Whose arrow oft has borne away
The conquest of a glorious day.
Old Caledon does know thy fame,
Each archer field reveres thy name,
Who came, saw, conquer'd when you came.
No higher can your glory rise.
Through many a tough contested prize
You've won Olympus by degrees.
Now, at the post of Jove's great son,
Lay your strong bow and arrows down,
Mellow with age and with renown.
To Mr. DAVID DRUMMOND,
President of the Royal Company of Archers,
By Sir WILLIAM BLANK.
Could Fergus raise his lofty head,
He'd smile on this propitious day;
Pleas'd with the ancient arms and weed,
Would bless his sons in this array,
Whom oft he led in days of yore
To triumph o'er the vanquish'd foe;
Then, bearded shafts drank hostile gore,
Or fixed the panting stag and doe:
Now, harmless arrows pierce the sky;
Unfrighted dames do view the show;
Till Phoebus hears some virgin's cry,
And glory crowns her lover's brow.
Thus keep your brawny nerves in ply,
That should your country's cause invite,
You, ready, could your aid supply,
And do that injur'd country right.
In the summer of 1832, the Body Guard received his Majesty gift of a pair of splendid colours, through the Duke of Buccleugh. Their ancient standards were two: the first having on one side,figures of Mars and Cupid, encircled with a thistle wreath, and the motto, IN PEACE, IN WAR; on the other, a yew tree, and two archers in full costume, surrounded with the same garland, and the words, DAT GLORIA VIRES. The second standard displays on one side a lion rampant yules, on a field encircled with a wreath, surmounted by a thistle and arrow; motto, NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT. The other side has St. Andrew's cross on a field argent; a crown, and the legend, DULCE PRO PATRIA PERICULUM. SO much for archery in reference to its practice in the Caledonian metropolis. There are other societies in Scotland; particularly one of modern date, at Glasgow; and, in former ages, the men of Perth had the reputation of being extremely-dexterous in the use of the bow. "Archery," says a note inserted in the 'Muses' Thernodie, "of which the gentlemen of Perth are great masters, was made an indispensable branch of education from the days of James I. That prince passed an act forbidding the favourite diversion of football, substituting in its place the shooting with bows and arrows; so that every boy, when he reached the age of thirteen, was obliged to use archery at certain bow marks. There is a piece of ground without the north port, on the left hand of the road leading to Huntingtower, called the Bow-butt, where this exercise was occasionally practiced. But the strong archers had their's on the South Inch. Near the south end of this inch, there lately stood a stone, which tradition assigned as the southern mark. The northern was near the north-west side of the ditch surrounding the moat, and stood on a rising ground, called the Scholars' Knowl. The distance between these marks is above five hundred fathoms; so they must have been very strong and expert archers who could shoot an arrow betwixt them."