A SUPERB new booklet on Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham called A Braw Gallant has been published by Dr Rennie McOwan, one of Scotland’s best-known journalists and historians, in collaboration with the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum run by Dr Elspeth King.

It’s short and to the point, but in 20 minutes you’ll find out more about the “uncrowned king of Scotland” than you probably ever knew.

It is almost a polemical, but then once you find out about Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, you will understand why McOwan has penned this fine work in the way that he did.


Robert Bontine Cunnighame Graham was one of the most important figures in the late Victorian and early 20th century era, not only in Scotland but in London and South America, too, especially in Argentina where he is revered to this day as Don Roberto.

Born in London in 1852, educated at Harrow, but always, always, a Scot to his marrow, Cunninghame Graham was a descendant of the Earls of Menteith and the son of a laird whose lands eventually extended from Gartmore in Stirlingshire to Ardoch in Dunbartonshire and Finlaystone in Renfrewshire. It was there that Robert was largely brought up, coming heavily under the influence of his Spanish grandmother.

After Harrow he went to the Continent and learned among other things, the art of swordsmanship at which he became an expert.


NO doubt because he was fluent in Spanish and had a great desire to see the world, Robert took himself to Argentina, where his extended family had a ranch, by way of Uruguay and Paraguay. He became an expert horseman, riding with gauchos, and his admiration for these men was such that he often wore gaucho clothes when back in Britain. He had many adventures that he chronicled most entertainingly, and it is significant that when his active life in Britain was over, he retired to Argentine where he died in 1936, his funeral being attended by the President of Argentina with his hearse followed by two of his faithful horses led by gauchos.

As McOwan writes in A Braw Gallant: “Don Roberto’s evocative writings include a moving vignette for people like myself who were brought up at the foot of the Ochils and who frequently climb the rocky peak of Dumyat. One day on a knoll in the pampas he met a man who greeted him in halting Spanish. Cunninghame Graham suggested he speak in English and referred to the view. The man, said, perhaps hearing a Scots accent for the first time in 20 years, “Aye, but man, it’s naething tae the view off Dumyat.”


DEFINITELY, and married to an equally colourful and talented woman that he met in Paris, Gabrielle de la Balmondiere, who had been described as a Chilean princess. In fact, she was an actress called Caroline Horsfall, who went on to be a published poet. Among her many admirers was WB Yeats.


HIS contact with poor people everywhere made him a socialist before that term was even coined. On returning from South America, he rapidly took up political campaigning and in 1886, there being no Labour Party, he stood on a radical ticket for the Liberals in North West Lanarkshire, winning comfortably.

He truly was a courageous man – in 1887, he was beaten up badly by police at the original Bloody Sunday in Trafalgar Square and was jailed for six weeks.

His leftward move and meetings with James Keir Hardie led him to found the Scottish Labour Party.

Its manifesto included nationalisation of land and minerals, an eight-hour day, State insurance, the abolition of the House of Lords and all hereditary offices, home rule for Scotland, the abolition of the liquor tariff and the disestablishment of State Churches.

Yet Labour disappointed him and after World War One – he volunteered a the age of 62 and became a horse-buyer for the Army – his growing nationalism saw him become president of the National Party of Scotland, the forerunner of the SNP. On 23 June, 1928, in the King’s Park, Stirling, he presided at its inaugural rally.


YOU mean apart from writing 30 books and becoming recognised as arguably the best short story writer of his time, with one of his stories becoming the basis for the film The Mission?

He was friends with everyone from Buffalo Bill Cody to George Bernard Shaw, had his portrait painted by Sir John Lavery, knew the Glasgow Boys cirlce of artists personally, was close friends with the writers Joseph Conrad and G.K Chesterton, and generally personified the word kenspeckle.


BECAUSE of his Gartmore connections, Stirling considers Cunninghame Graham to be “theirs” though Dumbarton also lays a claim as his latter domicile, Ardoch, is just to the west of the ancient capital of Strathclyde on the road to Cardross.

In any case the Stirling Smith did a very good job in sourcing some rare material about Don Roberto which helps make up its archive about the man. In Entre Rios, in the north east of Argentina is the Instituto Magnasco, in Gualeguaychu (pronounced Wally-wy-chew) film maker Les Wilson found a Cunninghame Graham library and museum.

His books are available there to read on the premises, and the Smith’s library is based on that facility.

The booklet will be available from the Stirling Smith after the launch of the publication at 11am on Thursday, 17 November. Tickets for that event are free and can be obtained online at the Stirling Smith website.


THERE can be no better tribute to Cunninghame Graham than McOwan’s own words.

He wrote: “He was a pioneer of socialism and Scottish nationalism, fought unemployment and poverty, backed the rights of native peoples against colonialism and short-sighted development, supported free speech, was an active conservationist, got caught up in the Irish question, attacked brutal wars when it was not fashionable to do so and was prepared to die or be imprisoned for his beliefs.

“The words knightly and chivalrous come to mind.”