In 1881, the year the organization of the Carnegie Brothers Limited steel company made Andrew Carnegie the undisputed leader of the American steel trade, the ebullient Carnegie hit upon a way to celebrate his success, visit his birthplace in Dunfermline, and give his aging mother a possible last visit to her native Scotland. He had already sailed around the world, was finding himself successful as a travel journalist, and at age 56 was ready to stage a celebratory coach tour of England and Scotland.
For seven weeks he and his American friends, whom he dubbed the "gay charioteers," traveled in high Victorian style the 800 miles from Brighton on the English coast south of London to Inverness in northern Scotland. Four noble bay horses, pulling a glossy new black coach with a coachman on the box and a footman behind, and 10 travelers including his mother and himself, journeyed northward through cities, cathedral towns and hamlets, seeing the land from the elevation of the coach above the English hedgerows, and stopping frequently to walk, climb a hill, or wait while the talkative Carnegie exchanged opinions about life and its problems with random characters along the road. They sang songs, picked flowers, and laughed often. His mother, Margaret, had her 71st birthday en route, at Windsor, and was presented a silver cup inscribed with birds and flowers by her friends in the coaching party.
In July the coach passed with cheers over the border into Scotland, and at Edinburgh it delayed a day while the city fathers of nearby Dunfermline prepared a celebration. The next day was declared a holiday in Dunfermline and the factories and businesses closed at 1:00 p.m. The streets were hung with flags and the houses adorned with bunting, and a triumphal arch erected. Some 20,000 people turned out to give the coaching party a royal welcome, which included five marching bands representing the trades and occupations, a presentation by the town provost (mayor) and town council and magistrates, and a simple eloquent speech by a workman from the weaver's guild-Carnegie's own father's occupation. At Moody Street and Priory Lane the coach stopped, and the American friends saw the humble birthplace of their now-wealthy host. Then as the mile-long parade resumed, the old abbey bell tolled, and the sentimental Carnegie was moved to tears at its soft tolling-the last sound he had remembered as a child when he was forced to leave with his family for America in 1848.
At the site of the new library on High Street, Margaret Carnegie laid the cornerstone for her son's first "free" library to be supported by tax revenues, and festivities and speeches continued. This was clearly one of the great moments in the modern history of ancient Dunfermline, and the occasion for public "demonstrations"-i.e. expressions of emotion. As Derrick Barclay explains in his discussion of the commemorative painting, the artistic record of the event has its own interesting story.
-R. Jay Gangewere
Andrew Carnegie commissioned a painting to commemorate his triumphant return to his hometown in Scotland in 1881
One of the largest and most commented upon objects in the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Dunfermline, Scotland, is an oil painting entitled The Dunfermline Demonstrations. Painted by the artists Andrew Blair of Dunfermline and William Geddes of Blairgowrie between 1881 and 1882, this six- by-four-foot composition hangs in the reception area of the Birthplace Museum and is probably the first and last object visitors see.
The painting is one of the few works of art directly commissioned by Andrew Carnegie rather than presented or gifted to him for his many benefactions worldwide. He commissioned the painting to remind him of the demonstrations given in his honour when the memorial stone of the first Carnegie Free Library was laid on July 27, 1881.
The painting depicts the celebration on High Street in Dunfermline, looking eastward from the Townhouse as the procession of bands and workingmen accompanying Carnegie's carriage from the outskirts of the town enter the main thoroughfare. The streets are lined with people and the buildings are decorated with flags and banners to welcome their hero and his mother, Margaret, on this auspicious day.
Carnegie can be seen at the front of the first carriage raising his hat to the assembled crowds, and Margaret Carnegie has stepped out of the carriage and is talking to a man and woman prior to receiving a bouquet of flowers. In his book An American Four-in-Hand in Britain describing the coaching trip, Carnegie tells us his mother was overcome with emotion that day and decided to travel inside the carriage, and this explains why Andrew and his mother are not seated next to each other in the painting. Passengers in the second carriage are family relatives including Carnegie's uncle George Lauder. His Uncle Lauder's shop on High Street can be identified by the American flag flying from the first-floor window.
Another unusual circumstance behind this painting is that two artists painted it. The commission was given to Andrew Blair, who was a fine landscape and watercolour painter, but he felt unable to paint adequately so many portraits, and so he enlisted the help of William Geddes. This collaboration resulted in Blair painting the background details of sky, buildings and streets, while the procession and people were painted by Geddes.
Quite recently, from a relative of William Geddes, we learned the identities of many of the people in the foreground, since Geddes used his own wife and some of his children as models. The two artists themselves can be seen standing arm in arm next to the police sergeant, with Blair on the left. Geddes' wife appears in the painting three times: on the left, holding a baby in her arms; on the right, standing behind a group of three children; and in the center, dressed in a black coat and dark blue dress. Many of the children in the foreground are William Geddes' sons and daughters and we now know the names of five of them: the group of three children in the right center are Janet, Robert and Ewan. The barefoot boy is David and the girl in the red shawl is Mary.
Within the painting can also be seen a second demonstration, but this one is not joyous. Two well- dressed gentlemen in the foreground on the right have deliberately turned their backs on the proceedings to show their displeasure. These gentlemen are believed to be baillies or town councilmen who objected to Andrew Carnegie's gift of a free library, since the town council would have to increase local taxes to pay for its upkeep.
Derrick Barclay is curator of the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Dunfermline, Scotland.