Robert Cunninghame Graham
|1st President of the Scottish National Party|
7 April 1934 – 20 March 1936
|Preceded by||Position created|
|Succeeded by||Roland Muirhead|
|President of the Scottish Labour Party|
25 August 1888 – 1895
|Preceded by||Position created|
|Succeeded by||Party Disestablished|
|MP for North West Lanarkshire|
|Preceded by||John Baird|
|Succeeded by||Graeme Alexander Lockhart Whitelaw|
|Born||24 May 1852|
|Died||20 March 1936 (aged 83)|
Plaza Hotel, Buenos Aires, Argentina
|Resting place||Inchmahome Priory|
|Political party||Scottish National Party|
|National Party of Scotland|
Scottish Labour Party
|Alma mater||Harrow School|
|Laid to rest at Lake of Menteith. On the island of Inchmahome|
Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (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.
Cunninghame Graham was the eldest son of Major William Bontine of the Renfrew Militia and formerly a Cornet in the Scots Greys with whom he served in Ireland. His mother was the Hon. Anne Elizabeth Elphinstone-Fleeming, daughter of Admiral Charles Elphinstone-Fleeming of Cumbernauld and a Spanish noblewoman, Doña Catalina Paulina Alessandro de Jiménez, who reputedly, along with her second husband, Admiral James Katon, heavily influenced Cunninghame Graham's upbringing. Thus the first language Cunninghame Graham learned 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.
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 to find the "forbidden" city of Taroudant but was captured by a Caid (Si Taieb ben Si Ahmed El Hassan El Kintafi), 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.
Although a socialist, in the 1886 general election he stood as a Liberal Party candidate at North West Lanarkshire. His election programme was extremely radical and called for:
Supported by liberals and socialists, Graham defeated the Unionist 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.
Graham was a strong supporter of Scottish independence. In 1886, he helped establish the Scottish Home Rule Association (SHRA), and while in the House of Commons, he 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."
In 1888, Graham attended the SHRA Conference at the Anderton's Hotel in Fleet Street and passed a motion "That in the opinion of this Conference the interests of Scotland demand the establishment of a Scotch national Parliament and an Executive Government having control over exclusively Scotch affairs, with a due regard to the integrity of the Empire". The motion was supported by Mr Cuninghame Graham (as name spelt in article), who said he "wanted a Scotch Parliament to do justice to their crofters and keep them at home, to pass an Eight Hours' Bill for their miners, to settle the liquor laws, and to nationalise the land." Peter Esslemont MP attended. Dr G.B Clark Chaired conference MP for Caithness-shire.
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 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 government, headed by Lord Salisbury, to allocate time for the Bill to be fully debated.
At the 1892 general election Graham stood as the Independent Labour Party candidate for Glasgow Camlachie. He was defeated, bringing his parliamentary career to an end. He remained active in political circles, though, helping his colleague Keir Hardie establish the Independent Labour Party and enter parliament as the MP for West Ham. However, he became disillusioned by the pettiness and dissent of those he called "piss-pot socialists" and increasingly turned to a nascent Scottish nationalism as a means of achieving social justice and cultural revival.
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 Honorary President of the new 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 Conservative Prime Minister at the time. This event was pivotal in the founding of the National Party, and the eventual creation of the Scottish National Party in the 1930s.
Because of his Scottish nationalism, and criticism of what he saw as the Labour Party's timidity and lack of socialist zeal, Graham has been effectively written out of Labour Party history, and the belief has been circulated that after his electoral defeat in 1892, he retired from politics until the late 1920s. This is entirely incorrect; in fact, between 1905 and 1914, Graham, while retaining the position of elder statesman, social commentator, and renowned world-traveller, became more militant, involving himself in many left-wing causes and protests. There is evidence to suggest that he joined the hard-left British Socialist Party, and he was an associate of anarchists and a political assassin. Graham was also a vociferous anti-imperialist at the height of British jingoism as well as a high-profile supporter of the women's suffrage movement and Home Rule for Ireland and India.
Between 1888 and 1892, Graham was a prolific contributor to small-circulation socialist journals, but his literary career took off when he was recruited by Frank Harris to write for the Saturday Review in 1895, and he continued writing for the Saturday until 1926, as well as other journals. His main form was the 'sketch', or sketch-tale', mostly descriptive, atmospheric works on South America and Scotland, which gave his work a unique aesthetic, which carried a subtext of anti-colonialism, nostalgia, and loss. T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) described his Scottish sketches as "the rain-in-the-air-and-on-the-roof mournfulness of Scotch music in his time-past style [. . .] snap-shots - the best verbal snapshots ever taken I believe." His many works were collected into anthologies. 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), Hope (1910) 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, 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 former was the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw's play Captain Brassbound's Conversion. The latter helped inspire the award-winning film The Mission. More recently The Long Riders Guild Press have reprinted his equestrian travel works in their Cunninghame Graham Collection.
He helped his close friend 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 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; Sir John Lavery, whose famous Don Roberto: Commander for the King of Aragon in the Two Sicilies was on the cover of the Penguin Books edition of Conrad's Nostromo for many years and who painted the equestrian portrait of Don Roberto on his favourite horse, Pampa; and G. P. Jacomb-Hood, who painted his official portrait on entering parliament, with whom, along with Whistler, he was 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.
Robert Cunninghame Graham remained sprightly and rode daily even in his eighties. He continued to write, and held the office of President of the Scottish Branch of the P.E.N. Club, and involve himself in politics. He died from pneumonia on 20 March 1936 at 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 and received a countrywide tribute led by the President of the Republic 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. 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". 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.