I first became aware of Donald Dinnie, champion Highland games competitor, wrestler and strongman, through searching the family histories of my own relatives who hailed from Aboyne in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Inadvertently at first, his name cropped up, usually in the context of Highland Games events in the North East of Scotland in the middle part of the 19th century. I quickly realised that Donald Dinnie was probably the best-known son of mid-Deeside. Fascinated by what I was picking up about the exploits of this seeming superman, I started reading more widely.
But then came a degree of disappointment. Rather than the plethora of studies on this 19th century sporting hero that I was expecting, I found only one book which came close to being a comprehensive biography of Donald Dinnie. This was the publication, “Donald Dinnie. The First Sporting Superstar”, a collaborative effort between David Webster, a former Highland games heavy athlete and Gordon Dinnie, a distant relative of the great man, a collector of Dinnie memorabilia and a compiler of Dinnie genealogy. The book goes into great detail about Donald Dinnie’s sporting exploits but contains only a limited analysis of the family and historical context in which his life was placed. It relies heavily upon Donald Dinnie’s own account, published in 1912 in Health and Strength magazine, in dealing with his early life. Usually, autobiographies are at best selective! More recently another book has been published by James Grahame “Donald Dinnie in Australia”. It too is limited, in time to Donald’s period in Australia, which was relatively brief and in coverage to reports in contemporary newspaper articles about conflicts and controversies involving the great man. Gordon Dinnie, to his great credit, has separately published on-line his genealogical findings on the various branches of the Dinnie tribe. However, useful though Gordon Dinnie’s website is – and I acknowledge that I have shamelessly plundered it - the information it contains is in a form which is difficult for the general reader to comprehend.
David Webster and Gordon Dinnie themselves hinted at other, perhaps less savoury aspects, of Donald Dinnie’s life and James Grahame’s book shows clearly that while he was in Australia, Donald Dinnie was frequently in dispute with other competitors, neighbours and the law. I too found clues that suggested there was more to the Donald Dinnie story than had hitherto been publicly revealed. My initial researches had thrown up indications that, while he lived in Scotland, Donald Dinnie had been involved in confrontations of various kinds. I was therefore encouraged to continue the search for a fuller version of Donald Dinnie’s life, in the way I have investigated other individuals, for example Aberdeen-born clipper captain, James Nicol Forbes. What follows is the story of Donald Dinnie, as I see it.
The Origin of the Dinnies
Donald Dinnie was born at Balnacraig near Birse a small farming community close to the villages of Aboyne and Kincardine O’Neil, on 8 June 1837 and thus his entry into life corresponded almost exactly with the start of the reign of Queen Victoria, another sometime denizen of Deeside. But Donald Dinnie was not the result of an unexpected combination of genes conferring great strength and athleticism. Rather, he came from a family of strongmen and that is where this telling of the Donald Dinnie story begins.
“Dinnie” was and is a rare British surname. In the 1881 Census it was the 15,716th most frequent name, with 148 individuals out of a total British population of 29.7 million. As with most rare surnames, it also had a very restricted and localised distribution, indicating its likely geographical area of origin. Of the 148 Dinnie individuals, 107 lived in just 5 districts, 38 in Deeside, 28 in the City of Aberdeen, 16 in Brechin, 13 in Edinburgh and 12 in Laurencekirk. The concentration of the Dinnie surname in districts gives the best indicator of origin, the higher the frequency, the nearer to the point of origin. Deeside had the highest concentration with 262/100,000, Laurencekirk 161/100,000 and Brechin 107/100,000. All three districts were contiguous. By 1881 there had been increased mobility of the population, compared with the pre-industrial period, but these data give a strong indication that Deeside district was where the Dinnie name originated. Occasionally in parish records “Dinnie” was spelled “Dinny” but in the 1881 Census there was only one individual bearing this variant and that person was located in the South West of England. Another close variant was “Dinney” and there were 29 individuals with this spelling, but they were mostly from the North East of England. It can be safely concluded that the families bearing these two variants of the Dinnie name were unlikely to have had a close connection with the North-East Scotland tribe.
The above conclusions from surname geography are consistent with the recollections of Donald Dinnie’s father, Robert, about his family origins. “I cannot go further back on the parental side of my ancestors with any reliable authority than my great grandfather, John Dinnie who was a farmer in Birkinhill in the lands of Midstrath in the parish of Birse before, and after the year 1700 where it appears the Dinnies were tenants for the space of eighty years at least. I know nothing of my great grandmother but it seems that the (John Dinnie) from one of which descended the Dinnies, tenants in the Croft of Marywell. The other son William was my grandfather, as was married first to Rebaka Burnett . They had two sons William & James from which the Dinnies now in Kincardineshire are descended….” It is a distinct possibility that the Dinnie surname actually arose in Birse.
It should be born in mind that while the Dinnie surname is central to this story, in genetic terms it only tracked the inheritance of the Y chromosome (in the absence of non-paternity events!) between the generations. Further, the Y carries very few genes. In each line of direct ancestors, in each generation, there was an approximately 50% genetic contribution from a female with a different surname. Sometimes the ladies marrying into the Dinnie tribe were local to Birse, but sometime their origins were more distant. Robert Dinnie suggested that his mother’s side of the family, the Findlays, had arrived on Deeside from Huntly some 400 years previously.
Robert Dinnie (1808 – 1891), father of Donald Dinnie
Robert Dinnie, the father of Donald Dinnie, was a stonemason to trade, as too his father had been. Robert was born at Torquinlochy, Birse in 1808. He was educated at the local school in Birse and it became clear that he was academically gifted, but a clash of personality between him and the dominie, James Smith, led to Robert leaving school at the age of 14 to become apprenticed to a stonemason. He bore his resentment of his treatment by Mr Smith for a long time and subsequently forced an apology from his oppressor. Later in life, his academic skills came to the fore when he became an antiquarian, historian and poet. His home, Wood Cottage, which he built himself about 1847, was virtually a museum, with such objects as swords, buttons, coins, furniture, flint arrow heads and stone and bronze axe heads all on display. Because of his status as a historian, he received visits from many local bigwigs, including William Cunliffe Brooks and the 11th Marquis of Huntley, with the Marchioness. At the Kincardine O’Neil Horticultural and Poultry Show in August 1869, samples of coins, old china and geological specimens were exhibited by Robert Dinnie at the end of the hall, which excited much interest. He wrote at least five books between 1865 and 1885, including “An Account of the Parish of Birse”, “A Guide to Deeside”, “A History of Kincardine O’Neil” and a volume of poems and songs. At the1861 and 1871 Censuses, Robert was the enumerator for the Parish of Birse. On his death, the Aberdeen Press and Journal said of him, “There is scarcely a castle in the North but he visited and was familiar with”.
Robert Dinnie was a big man, 6ft in height, weighing 15 stone and immensely strong and athletic. According to his son, Donald, he was an excellent wrestler and was acknowledged as the Deeside champion. Donald Dinnie also reported that many stories of his father’s physical prowess circulated on Deeside, the most famous being his exploits with the so-called “Dinnie stones” which were kept and still reside near the Potarch Bridge, just east of Aboyne. The Dinnie stones are two granite boulders of 435lbs and 340lbs respectively, each with an iron ring set in it. They were originally used to anchor scaffolding when repair work was being carried out on the bridge. Robert Dinnie could lift both stones, one in each hand, at the same time and is reputed on one occasion to have carried the stones across the length of the Potarch Bridge, a distance of about 100yds. He also excelled in throwing the hammer, which in those days was a standard mason’s or blacksmith’s hammer. Another trial of strength at which he was an expert was “Pulling the Swee Tree”, where two competitors would sit facing each other, the soles of their feet in contact and their hands grasping a stick. The objective was to pull an opponent off the ground.
Early in his career, the independent Robert Dinnie branched out in business on his own as a contractor, though at some stage he had a business partner, a Mr Penny. In 1851 Robert Dinnie was employing five men and, in 1861, seven men. Robert’s reputation soon spread and Fox Maule-Ramsay, 11th Earl Dalhousie, whose family seat was Brechin Castle, awarded several contracts to him. Robert also built many stone bridges, both in the valley of the North Esk and on Deeside. A prominent monument for which he was responsible was the 60ft high granite cairn, commemorating the life of the 10th Marquis of Huntley, on top of Mortlich, a hill just north of Aboyne Castle. It was subscribed by the tenants and citizens of Aboyne. Robert must have been a very determined individual, given the location of his contracts relative to the village of Birse and reputedly he would often walk 6 miles to a job, starting early in the morning and returning late in the evening. His diet largely consisted of water brose, oatcakes, milk, ale and cheese.
In death Robert Dinnie was as famous as in life. He suffered from chronic dropsy (oedema or fluid retention in the tissues, frequently the legs) and was attended by Dr McHardy of Banchory who, in the first five years of the condition, tapped more than three tons of fluid from him. Robert Dinnie’s illness and his demise were reported in The Lancet
Robert Dinnie and a local girl, Ann Ross, produced an illegitimate child, who was baptised Jane Dinnie, in 1832. Unusually, the pair did not marry and the child appears to have been brought up by Robert Dinnie senior, his father and his wife Jean (Jane), since the youngster was living with Robert senior at Allancreich, Birse in 1841. A year after the birth of the child Jane, Robert Dinnie junior married Celia Hay and the pair went on to have a family of ten, six boys and four girls. Celia Hay was described by her son, Donald, as follows, “At 5ft 7in in height she was a beautifully formed physically strong woman endowed also with quite superior intelligence.” She is known to have been an avid reader. The boys, like Robert Dinnie, all turned out to be tall, well-built and of an athletic disposition. According to Donald the six sons of his father Robert averaged over 6ft in height and 15stone in weight and he commented in 1912 “This to the Eugenic Society would I am sure be most interesting…” The Eugenics Society was formed in 1907 following the rediscovery, in 1901, of the work of Gregor Mendel, who demonstrated the fundamental basis of inheritance and at a time when human improvement through selective breeding was a popular concept with many intellectuals. Clearly Donald Dinnie kept in touch with such matters on his return from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in 1898.
The Family of Robert Dinnie and Celia Hay
The given names of the children of Robert Dinnie and Celia Hay, in order of birth were as follows. Sarah (1834), Barbara (1835), Donald (1837), Edmund (1840), Montague (1842), Lubin (1844), Clarinda (1846), Digby (1848), Walter (1850) and Nory (1855). It is immediately striking that these given names (except Sarah and Barbara) were not typical of those generally current in the farming and craftsman class of mid-Deeside in the mid-19th century. Donald was a Highland name and essentially absent from Aberdeenshire, Edmund was predominantly an English name, Montague was a name of the extreme South of England, Lubin was then unique in Great Britain and Clarinda was mainly a Cornish name. Other Clarindas at the time were mostly in England, Digby was an unusual English name, Walter was essentially English, but not particularly rare in Scotland and Nory was very rare, there being only six examples in the 1881 Census, mostly in Kincardineshire. Donald Dinnie was the only child for whom a reason is known for his naming. Robert Dinnie met a Skye man by the name of Donald who had fetched up on Deeside and who had impressed Robert with his strength and skill. This admiration was marked by the naming of his eldest son, Donald. It is possible that the other unusual given names were derived from characters that Robert and his wife Celia came across in their literary and historical pursuits.
Of the four Dinnie girls, Sarah was a dressmaker and apparently never married, Barbara married a joiner, George Watt, who became Head Carpenter at the Crystal Palace and Clarinda married John Annand, a stone mason. Nory Celia, the youngest girl married a remarkable character, William McCombie Smith, who was a successful Highland sports athlete, authority on Highland sports records, teacher and antiquary.
Five of the six sons of Robert Dinnie trained as stone masons, though three, Edmund, Montague and Digby, also became significant contractors for public works such as the construction of railway bridges. Walter was the odd man out. After attending Aberdeen Grammar School, he worked for a short spell in the National Bank of Scotland before joining the police service in Bradford. Subsequently he moved on to the Metropolitan Police, where he rose to become a Detective Chief Inspector, handling several notorious cases. On retirement, Walter was appointed Commissioner of Police for New Zealand.
Athletic prowess was general amongst the six Dinnie brothers, though none of the others reached the heights achieved by Donald. Edmund won several prizes at the Fordoun Games of 1861, Montague was a wrestler, Lubin wrestled as well as throwing the hammer and putting the stone, Digby was a jumper and dancer and Walter was also a jumper and pole vaulter and kept up his athletic pursuits throughout his police career. Athletic and dancing prowess would resurface amongst the children of Donald Dinnie, as will later be seen. Donald Dinnie and his brothers Edmund and Lubin were all members of the Deeside Volunteers, were crack rifle shots and were frequently involved in shooting competitions. Lubin, who remained on Deeside, was often an outspoken contributor to public political meetings (he was a Liberal). Montague had frequent brushes with the law and Edmund later became the landlord of licensed premises, first in Dundee and then in Arbroath.
These themes, which were either general or sporadic amongst the Dinnie brothers, were all to be found in Donald Dinnie. Height, muscularity, sporting prowess, intelligence and literacy, a disputatious personality, a contempt for the law and an affinity for business would all resurface frequently in Donald’s life.
Scotland 1837 – 1860. Donald Dinnie’s early life
At the age of four, Donald Dinnie was sent away to school in Aberdeen by his father Robert, where Donald lodged with his uncle, William Hay. By April 1841 he was back on Deeside and subsequently attended school in the nearby settlement of Kincardine O’Neil. As well as receiving a firm foundation in literacy and numeracy from the dominie, James Hogg, Donald also learned Latin for two years. He quickly began to shine at games such as football and bowls. About the age of 10, his athletic prowess would show in an ability to keep up with the Deeside coach for the two miles between Kincardine O’Neill and the Potarch bridge. Only one contemporary could match this performance.
Balnacraig, where Donald’s parents lived, lay on the south side of the river Dee but the school in Kincardine O’Neill lay on the north side. The Dee can vary between a raging torrent and a shallow but rocky river, depending on season and recent precipitation. In winter, it was sometimes covered with ice. There was a ferry with a boatie (boatman) by which to cross but in the summer months when the river was low, the older boys would often wade to the other side. Donald, in his determination to be grown up, tried to follow a bigger boy in wading the river, but was knocked off his feet and almost drowned before his companion could rescue him. Thus, his illustrious athletic career was almost ended before it had begun.
Most boys from the non-landed majority on Deeside learned to poach rabbits and salmon and Donald was no exception. The landowners employed gamekeepers and river watchers to interdict poachers, but this was an inadequate deterrent. Donald admitted to spearing salmon near the Potarch bridge as a youth. Significantly, he also admitted that the river watchers saw what was happening but did not intervene because of the risk of them being thrown in the water by a now muscular and determined teenager, an early indication that Donald was prepared to use physicality, or at least its threat, to impose his will.
Scottish Cultural Identity
The modern cultural identity of the whole of Scotland is inextricably linked to tartan, bagpipes and the kilt. But these symbols of nationhood are all derived from the Highlands, as indeed are the Highland games with their own unique events, such as tossing the caber (“Cabar” is Gaelic for a tree trunk) and throwing a 56lb weight over a high bar. Highland dancing too, the Highland Fling and the Ghillie Callum and playing the bagpipes are part of the cultural mix and with the same restricted origin. But in the late Medieval period the Highlands of Scotland were regarded by the rest of Scotland as backward, speaking a minority language, with dreary mountains and populated by thieves and vagabonds. Matters were made worse by the association of the Highlands with the attempt to reinstate the Stewart monarchy and its association with Catholicism. After the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 this cultural identity of the Highlands was ruthlessly suppressed, except for the Highland regiments, which wore kilts and played bagpipes. Subsequently, a remarkable transformation took place which led to the association of a Highland cultural identity, not just with the Highlands, but with the whole of Scotland. By the late 18th century kilts and tartan plaid became fashionable with the upper echelons of society and the full reinstatement of Highland culture was crowned during a visit to Edinburgh in 1822 by George IV where he took part in a series of pageants with a strong Highland flavour, including assembled clansmen wearing what was supposed to be their traditional dress. This show had been stage-managed by Sir Walter Scott and contained many elements which purported to be traditional but were in fact fake, made up for the occasion. As a boy, Robert Dinnie, Donald’s father, remembered a Deesider called Peter Grant who had fought on the side of Charles Edward Stewart at Culloden and had been introduced to George IV in 1822 as his “last enemy in Scotland”. At the time Grant was 108.
The revival of Highland culture, included the promotion of Highland gatherings with their athletic events, dancing and bagpipe playing, can also be traced back to the late 18th century. A Highland Society gathering took place at Falkirk in 1781 and other such events soon followed. After George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822, Highland games became established throughout much of the country. On Deeside, the most famous Highland Gathering was, and is, that held at Braemar, which effectively started in 1826, with athletics introduced from 1832. In 1848 its fame and future were secured by the attendance of Queen Victoria, who subsequently became its patron. Other Deeside towns followed with Ballater in 1864 and Aboyne in 1867. Nearby, the Lonach Gathering on Donside began in 1823. Some of the other Deeside settlements, such as Banchory, Finzean and Kincardine O’Neil also held games in mid-century, though they have subsequently died out. Thus, as Donald Dinnie was approaching adulthood (he was born in 1837), he had plenty of local opportunities to exercise his talents as an athlete, wrestler and dancer.
Highland games generally followed a similar format with a parade of the clans, best dressed Highlander, bagpipe playing, Highland dancing and athletic sports, including running, jumping and throwing. Most athletic events fell into a well-recognised group, including short race, long race, hurdle race, standing high leap, running high leap, running long leap, vaulting with a pole, throwing the light hammer, throwing the heavy hammer, putting the light stone (or ball), putting the heavy stone (or ball), throwing a 56lb weight over a bar, or a distance and tossing the caber. However, different venues had their own peculiarities and other events which occurred sporadically were hill race, egg and spoon race, running with a pail of water, stone collecting race, 3-legged race, wheelbarrow race (sometimes blindfold) and even blindfold pig catching! Some such events obviously had a large theatrical intent and did not attract serious athletes.
Donald Dinnie’s Introduction to Highland Events
When Donald left school aged 15 (1852) he became apprenticed to his father as a granite stone mason, his apprenticeship lasting for four years. He gave two versions of where he received his first training in Highland events. On the one hand, he said that Alexander George from Cromarty, brother of a noted Highland athlete taught him to putt the stone in 1852, but he also claimed that he received his first lessons in hammer throwing, stone putting, leaping, running and wrestling from his father’s employees at a site at Invermark, where Robert Dinnie was carrying out a contract. Both may be correct. In any case, Donald was quickly hooked on Highland athletics and practised every day. Although Robert Dinnie secured a number of commissions from Lord Panmure for construction work at Invermark, the most likely one, during which Donald received athletics lessons, would have been the construction of a magnificent shooting lodge completed in 1853. In June of that year the lodge was being worked on by 30 masons, who were involved in the quarrying and building operations. At that time Donald Dinnie was close to 16 years old. Donald told this story to a reporter on the Dundee Evening Telegraph in 1905. It is recorded that Donald soon outstripped his teachers. Donald noted in his own account of his early life that he attended the Fordoun Games held on Auld Yule in 1853 (6 January - the traditional day for celebrating Christmas in rural parts of Scotland). He won throwing the hammer, putting the stone, tossing the caber, the short race, high leaping and wrestling. Taylor, the man who had won the wrestling competition the previous year at Fordoun, challenged Donald to a rematch outside the competition, which Donald again won. In the same year Donald Dinnie won his first prizes in open competitions for a variety of events but did not say where the competitions took place, though he did say that he attended many of the best sports in the North in the summer months. He also contested his first wrestling match for money at the end of 1853. An Aboyne lad, David Forbes, was recognised as the best local athlete. At the feein’ market at Kincardine O’Neil, where servants were engaged for the following year, Forbes challenged anyone to wrestle him for £1 a side. Donald took up the challenge and the match took place on a level patch of the Deeside turnpike. They wrestled five falls in back-hold style, Donald Dinnie winning all five within 20 minutes. Donald would much later (1886) say that he had wrestled four straight falls out of seven in the Scotch style with David Forbes. It is unlikely that the Scotch style existed in 1853, being a later invention of Dinnie’s (see below).
At the end of August 1854 Donald Dinnie attended the games at Banchory but was unable to compete due to a work injury. The usual range of events took place but the winning performances, while competent, were not outstanding and Donald must have realised that he would have been in contention in his specialities, had he been fit. No data seem to be available for Donald Dinnie’s athletic activities in the following year, 1855 and he was silent in his autobiographical sketch. The earliest photograph of Donald in Highland dress, carrying a hammer was taken in 1855. He was sporting a sash over one shoulder bearing at least 13 medals, presumably his haul to that year, so he had clearly achieved a significant measure of success by the age of 18. “About 1856” Donald Dinnie joined the Perth Highland Society, which allowed him to compete in their annual games. He came first in putting the stone but had to cede the meeting championship to another athlete, Willie Stewart.
It was in 1856 that Donald first claimed to be the Scottish Champion for Highland heavy events. This title was self-appointed, there not actually being a championship competition as such. No attempt will be made to detail the individual athletic achievements of Donald Dinnie and his principal rivals. They have been substantially covered by David Webster and Gordon Dinnie in their book and by such earlier authors as William McCombie Smith. However, there is no doubt that Donald Dinnie, especially in his early and middle years was a superb athlete over several disciplines and for many years he had no equal. William McCombie Smith, Donald’s brother-in-law and a stern critic of the overblown claims that Donald made in his later years freely acknowledged Donald’s prowess. In 1891 he wrote, “Donald Dinnie was not only champion athlete of Scotland for a much longer period than anyone else but the best all-round athlete of whom we have reliable record. He began his career as an athlete about 16 (1853). His athletic powers were not unusually developed at that age. Dinnie was very late in coming to maturity. His best performances with the stone were done after he was 30 (1867), with the hammer over 35 (1872). With the exception of the high leap he may be said to have improved every year from 16 to over 30. From 1853 to 1858 he was merely a big boy competing against mature men.…… When at his best Dinnie had no rival.”
From about 1857 reports in the press of Highland games started to make particular mention of Donald Dinnie. In an Aberdeen Herald and General Advertiser report of the 1857 Banchory games, Donald’s presence was noted, “Donald Dinnie, a strong compact little Highlander, whose neat style of doing everything he tried was much admired….” Aberdeen Press and Journal, Fordoun games, 1858, “Among the successful competitors, a local athlete, Donald Dinnie, Aboyne, held a good place.” Also in a report on the 1858 Banchory games, the Aberdeen Herald and General Advertiser again noted Donald Dinnie’s performance but also his growing status as a local hero. “The popular feeling in admiration of feats of strength ran deservedly in favour of Donald Dinnie, a young darkish lad not yet 20 from Potarch, whose diminutive appearance and weight as compared with his principal opponents the M’Hardys from Donside were as he stood forward and stripped to contend the subject of general remark. He soon showed however that what was of him was good – his first easy-like throw of the hammer and stone never being reached even by the Donside men, hitherto singularly famous for their prowess in this respect…..Of course, the Deeside folks were proud and pleased to see their “boy” take the shine out of Donside’s best and most noted men, and greeted Dinnie, as did everybody, indeed with hearty applause.” One further report from the Aberdeen Herald and General Advertiser of 1859 will be quoted. “We notice that little Donald Dinnie, Aboyne, who is gaining a name for athletic sports, has been competing at the Dundee Highland Association’s games. There, however, he only comes off second best, William Tait, Lanark, having beaten him both at putting the stone and tossing the caber.” These reports clearly support the later contention of McCombie Smith that Donald Dinnie was a late developer in both bodily bulk and strength and in peak athletic performance.
Donald Dinnie, Highland Games and Money
Highland sports appear always to have been competitions for medals and cups of some value, or for money. For example, at the Northern meeting in Inverness in 1859, Donald Dinnie won a first prize of 2gns for the caber and two second prizes of 2gns in the heavy and light hammer events. This haul of 6gns (£6 6s) was a substantial amount, the equivalent in 2017 money of £684 (using an RPI methodology). The honour of winning was important but, for many athletes, including Donald Dinnie, of secondary importance. However, being recognised as a top performer, or even “champion”, was to become increasingly significant from a financial point of view, as will be demonstrated.
Donald Dinnie’s growing status and ability to dominate other competitors brought its own problems. At the 1860 Fordoun games Donald was excluded from some events, such as putting the 22lb stone, because he had won the event in the previous two years. He was however, allowed one exhibition put and cleared 5ft more than the competition “winner”. Donald Dinnie’s first appearance at the Braemar Highland games was also in 1860, when he became a member of the Braemar Society. “Nobody could touch him at putting the stone and throwing the hammer – though from the rules of the association he could not carry off a prize at the latter feat.” At the Northern meeting in Inverness in 1861 he again cleaned up, winning heavy and light hammer, putting the stone, foot and hurdle races and tossing the caber, though he was not awarded the prize for this last event due to his success in the past two years. Other local games committees tried to engineer “fairness” into their meetings by introducing handicapping, or restricted entry to local citizens.
But the financial tension pulled two opposite ways. Games committees wanted to give local athletes an incentive to compete and not to have incomers cleaning up all the prize money, but they also depended on gate money for a significant part of their income and the presence of athletes such as William Tait, the McHardys and Donald Dinnie was important in drawing in the crowds. In 1860 Donald Dinnie was being described as “invincible” and everyone wanted to see this force of nature. Athletes also took matters into their own hands by issuing challenges to each other for stakes, typically £10 to £25 a side, the winner usually taking all. Most often, such challenges involved wrestling but they could also involve athletic events, such as hammer throwing and weight lifting. The deciding factor for identifying a winner was not always the quickest, the furthest or the most. Often a challenge would involve giving a desired opponent an advantage as an inducement to take up the offer. Donald Dinnie proved to be very skilled at proposing a seductive advantage, but still winning the competition and the stake money. Another characteristic of such challenge events was that they were frequently associated with unruly behaviour and betting, because the result was then less predictable.
Highland games committees often dealt with the problem of visiting professional athletes deterring locals by handicapping the leading contenders. Donald was comfortable with this tactic, provided the handicap was not too severe and did not result in him having little chance of winning. Indeed, he was known to have upbraided officials for awarding him a penalty which he considered too onerous and even, on occasion, he dropped out of events in protest.
The Banffshire Journal, reporting on the 1860 Northern meeting in Inverness, beautifully captured Donald’s then current status. “Mr Dinnie, Wood Cottage, Aboyne, made a good day of it. This young man so recently entered among the list of competitors for athletic sports, is a “brawny son of toil”, rather prepossessing in appearance. He is about 5ft 10in or 11in in height, rather spare in flesh and certainly of only medium girth, but of huge muscle and great action, and moreover a scholar of the famous Mr Tait, once so prominent in athletic sports, Dinnie is quite master of the hammers and putting the stone. At tossing the caber he is quite au fait…. The proceedings of his day’s work were 16gns.” (£1950 in 2017 money). Donald’s growing financial status was also noted by the Aberdeen Herald and General Advertiser. “Dinnie must be making quite a fortune by his strength of arm and fleetness of foot.”
Scotland, Ireland and England, 1860 - 1870
Donald Dinnie – Full-time Professional Athlete
During his apprenticeship, Donald Dinnie studied Architecture so that by the time his training was completed in 1856 he was expert at quantifying and costing contracts and he soon branched out on his own account in Aberdeenshire. Donald was still pursuing his trade as a stonemason fulltime until 1858 but from that year and for about the next decade he laid down his tools for three or four months in the summer, when most games were held, to become a professional athlete. After 1860 Donald Dinnie travelled more widely to compete in athletic events, visiting Edinburgh (1862), Dublin (1863), Newcastle (1869) and Birmingham (1870). By this time, he was calling himself “Champion of Great Britain and Ireland”. In 1869 Donald Dinnie claimed to have won 61 medals and over £1000 (over £104,000 in 2017 money) from his athletic pursuits. About that year he gave up construction work entirely. The last building contracts he is known to have worked on were the repair and rebuilding of several bridges on the turnpike from Bridge of Gairn to Invercauld and the construction of some bridges and dwelling houses at Balmoral Castle. He then decided to invest some of his winnings in a new career, that of landlord of the Victoria Hotel in Kincardine O’Neil. Presumably he felt that a hotel would provide employment and income for his family when he was away and also fill in for the quiet times of the year from a Highland games perspective. Donald Dinnie applied for the transfer of a certificate for the sale of excisable liquors in mid-April 1869.
Donald Dinnie’s athletic career lasted more than 40 years, though his appearances as an active competitor tailed off markedly after he returned to the UK in 1898. Throughout that time newspaper reports appeared in a similar format describing his up-to-date achievements in summary, no matter where he was located. It seems likely that Donald himself was the originator of this information and that a routine part of his marketing strategy was to communicate an updated version of his sporting curriculum vitae to appropriate print outlets. He was described as having won 2,700 first prizes in 1875, 3,000 money prizes in 1879, 6,000 money prizes in 1883 and 10,985 prizes in 1895. The precision of this last number suggests a carefully tabulated list was being kept. A rough calculation (40 years, 20 athletic games per year) gives an estimate of about 13.25 prizes per event per meeting. This figure is barely plausible but might become so if every conceivable competition, including those which were staged throughout the year, were to be included. Donald was likely to have been keen to maximise his own achievements, in order to attract future engagements and audiences.
These prize numbers are remarkable, both for the effort they must have required during the year but also the persistent dedication to the cause over so many years. However, there were criticisms of the Dinnie strategy of bumping up prize numbers by appearing at meetings where the opposition might be made up mostly of local labourers and of him insisting that a condition of his attendance was the inclusion of events suited to his own specialities, such as tossing the caber or Scotch-style wrestling, both of which were unfamiliar in places, especially the further south one travelled. In 1881 the Galloway Advertiser reported on the Oddfellows’ Sports held at Newton Stewart. Tossing the caber was included, although it was “new to many in the district” and Donald Dinnie duly gained first prize. The second prize went to William McCulloch of Glenluce who said, “Not bad for one who had thrown aside the scythe this morning”. The disadvantage of locals in comparison with professionals was also emphasised by “Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News” in 1882. “Donald Dinnie and Fleming and wiry professionals with running drawers and spiked shoes competing with poor Sandy who takes off his coat and waistcoat and shoes to run his best.”
Letter-writing and the Newspapers
Donald Dinnie was easily irked by anyone whom he felt had misrepresented his status or achievements and he developed a habit of writing to the newspapers to put the record, as he saw it, straight. The earliest letter from Donald to the press uncovered in this study was in 1861 following the Braemar games. “Sir, In the Herald on Saturday I observed a report of the Braemar Gathering, but, through some mistake of the judges, or reporter, my throw of the stone was 3 ft short of the distance I threw it there – my distance being 29ft 6in. It also says that McHardy won the extra prize from me. Now McHardy and all present must be aware that I was not allowed to compete for that prize, as I got it last year. They also neglected to state my distance with the hammer amongst the rest, it being 16ft 10in beyond McHardy, who took first prize. They might also have stated that my throwing of stone and hammer was the greatest distance ever done at Braemar, which I can prove to be correct; also, every one of the above statements. The Herald puts me down as Champion of Deeside, but I can show that my Championship is not confined to a waterside nor a county either.” Later in his career such letters were almost a weekly occurrence and often editors would terminate a string of tit-for-tat letters, or suggest to Dinnie he insert them in the advertising section (when presumably he would have to pay for the privilege). By that time, they were not just instruments for setting the record straight but a means both of advertising events and of whipping up public sentiment, typically in relation to a challenge given to, or received from, another athlete.
By 1869 Donald Dinnie was recognised by members of the public wherever he appeared. On his journey by train from Aberdeen to Inverness in September 1869 he alighted at Keith station on both his outward and return journeys. One local newspaper noted that, “his appearance at the Keith station attracted a good deal of notice from the numerous people who thronged the platform.” This public recognition also led to his name being given to prize animals such as shorthorn bulls, rams, horses (especially Clydesdales) and hounds. The Dinnie name was often used in general conversation when someone wanted to create a simile attributing great strength or athletic ability to some event or person, eg “Like Donald Dinnie”, or “As strong as Donald Dinnie”. Later, he was also the subject of songs and poetry. Donald’s fame was also starting to spread beyond the shores of Great Britain and Ireland, especially amongst the expatriate communities of Scots in the USA and Canada. Scots emigrants took both their newly-acquired Highland culture and a familiarity with Donald Dinnie’s exploits with them to their new homes. In 1870, he made his first visit overseas, to the USA and Canada, to feed off the enthusiasm of the expatriates for Highland games.
Throughout the 19th century there was continual emigration of Scots, especially to the USA and Canada, New Zealand and Australia and to the Cape Colony of South Africa. Not all emigrants were impoverished but most made the journey because of poor economic conditions at home. Emigration was particularly marked from the Hebrides and the coastal counties of the mainland, the area generally called the “Western Highlands”. In 1852 the Highland and Islands Emigration Society was created to alleviate the unemployment problem. Some overseas territories received a particularly large number of Scots, such as Nova Scotia, Ontario and New Zealand, where 25% of the population was of Scots origin. The South Island had a particularly high concentration of Caledonians. Late in the 19th century the USA was a popular destination for Scottish emigrants. It is surely no accident that the total of Donald Dinnie’s overseas tours over the next 30 years were exactly to the countries which had received the most emigrants from his native land.
First Visit to America – 1870
The impetus for Donald Dinnie’s first trip to North America came from an invitation by the Caledonian Club of New York, which paid his expenses in both directions. Their Chief, George Mitchell left New York on the Anchor Line steamer, Anglia, on Saturday 18 June 1870 and arrived at the Broomielaw, Glasgow on 30 June. Dinnie and Mitchell then returned to New York together on the Anglia, leaving on 27 June and arriving in New York on 21 July. The voyage was rather rough and protracted and Donald Dinnie discovered that ocean travel made him ill, a problem that was to bedevil him throughout his life. He lost weight during the voyage and he then found the summer heat of America oppressive. Even so, his performances on this American trip, though well below his best, were much better than the competitors against whom he was matched.
When he arrived in New York, Donald was entertained by the Brooklyn Caledonians for a few days before starting on his tour. He was offered $1000 (equivalent to £200 - £22,000 in 2017 money) to stay in the city and not travel. This offer was declined, perhaps because he stood to earn more by travelling to other locations. The full itinerary of his North American tour is unclear but at some stage he visited Nova Scotia and Boston, where his appearance money alone was $125 - £3,400 in 2017 money. On 27th July, Donald appeared in Detroit. He won every competition in which he took part and, in the hammer, he was 30ft ahead of the next man. While in Detroit he put out a challenge through the Detroit Caledonian Club to any man in the Canadas or any other part of the world for the sum of $500 or $1000 in gold a side to contest the following nine feats. 1. Putting the heavy stone, 2. Putting the light stone, 3. Throwing the heavy hammer, 4. Throwing the light hammer, 5. Tossing the caber, 6. Throwing the 56lb weight, 7. Wrestling, 8. Running, 9. Leaping. He would also take a match, singly, at any one of the first six feats.
Donald then travelled to Chicago where he appeared at the Chicago Caledonian Club monthly meeting on 2 August, “Scotchmen and their friends cordially invited to attend” and at the Club’s 5th annual picnic at Haas’ Park two days later. At the Chicago picnic he won the hammer, stone, hurdle race, caber, standing high leap, 56lb weight, hop step and leap, long race and running high leap. Donald Dinnie then crossed to Canada and appeared at Toronto Caledonian Society’s gathering on 8th and 9th August. It is not clear if he undertook other engagements before returning to New York for the Brooklyn Caledonian Club's games on 18th August and then the New York Caledonian Club’s Scottish games on 1st September, which received enthusiastic reviews in the papers. It was estimated that between 7,000 and 15,000 visitors paid 50 cents a head to enjoy the spectacle at the latter event. Many delegates from other clubs attended, all dressed in national costume. Donald won the stone, short race, running high leap and light hammer. He was also second in the hop step and leap and was presented with the Championship Medal for his performances.
Donald Dinnie’s reputation as an athletic superman had preceded him and some disappointment was felt in Chicago that he was not an “overgrown giant” or a “bull-necked gladiator” but a “perfect model of symmetry and manly beauty”, who was both muscular and agile. By the end of his visit Donald Dinnie had made a great impression on the American public and those of Caledonian origin particularly. The New York Times referred to him as “a Titan who at once so outdid them in all performances and so towered above them in stature and strength that most of them were dwarfed by comparison.” Donald cannot have failed to understand the economic opportunities that America offered, bearing in mind the impression he had made. Both the USA and Canada had large expatriate Scottish communities, major cities with Caledonian societies, an enduring attachment to the culture of the Old Country and a dynamic business environment, where entrepreneurs were prepared to speculate on his ability to draw crowds. A large attendance at an event in Britain might attract 3000 people paying 1s each and would bring in gate money of £150, whereas 10,000 people in the USA, paying half a dollar, would bring in gate money equivalent to £1000.
However, Donald Dinnie’s standards of personal behaviour did not impress the judges at the New York Caledonian Society games. The report in the Spirit of the Times laid out the basis of the dissatisfaction. “Donald Dinnie, with such a figure and possessed of such enormous strength, it is unfortunate that he should not possess a soul above buttons. He behaved himself with regard to one or two matters more like a spoiled child than a grown man and an athlete. When the heavy hammer competition was progressing and it came to Dinnie’s turn to throw he wished to use his own hammer which is about a foot longer in the handle than that with which other competitors were contending. Every inch in the length of the handle gives corresponding advantage to the competitor and no one knows this fact better than Mr Dinnie. Why therefore should he have sought to take an unfair advantage over his comrades in competition? He could beat them very easily with their own hammer and therefore never ought to have attempted or desired to throw any other unless as a mere exhibition of his strength. Because however he was told he must throw with the same hammer as the others this petted child of nature must forsooth put on his coat again and decline to compete and it was only after a deal of coaxing and soothing of his wounded spirit, added to the conviction that the committee of the games would not allow him to ride roughshod over them as he had done over the other Caledonian clubs and that therefore there would be a positive loss to him of so many dollars and cents that he condescended to compete.” The charge of unsporting behaviour would be repeated later.
Return to Scotland
Donald Dinnie returned to Glasgow on the Columbia, sister ship of the Anglia, leaving New York on 24th September 1870 and arriving back in Glasgow on Wednesday, 12th October. Five days later he was back in Aberdeen where he was warmly greeted at the station by several friends, keen to see the medals gained across the Atlantic. After his return to Scotland, Donald had almost immediate confirmation of the economic potential of the USA. Newspaper reports of his achievements had stirred up capable athletes in other parts of the country and Thomas Morrissey of Cincinatti published an athletic challenge in the New York Clipper. Dinnie’s response was to offer a counter-challenge but for not less than $2000 (about £400) a side, far higher than the stakes associated with challenges on this side of the Atlantic, which were typically £20 to £50 at that time.
At this point in the story, two characters will be introduced who had very strong relationships with Donald Dinnie over many years, James Fleming and William McCombie Smith. However, Donald’s interactions with Fleming were largely positive while those with Smith, after a good start, were marked by pique and bitterness.
James Fleming (1840 – 1887)
James Fleming was the son of a farmer and was born at Cragganfearn Farm, Tullymet, Perthshire in 1840. He worked on the farm until after the age of 20, when he became a servant to the Duke of Athol. He was employed as a brewer and baker. James was an athletic adult of 6ft height and 15 stone weight, who had a natural ability at Highland sports and he and Donald Dinnie got to know each other about 1868 through the Highland games circuit. Dinnie reported that he made an off-hand match with Fleming that in three puts with the 22lb stone he would both beat 39ft on each occasion and outdistance his opponent by 1ft 6in too. Dinnie almost succeeded, beating 39ft three times and outdistancing Fleming by greater than 1ft 6in with two out of three putts. Though the two were pitched in rivalry, they developed a close friendship, Dinnie describing his opponent as likeable, straightforward and handsome. Incidentally, James Fleming, while in the service of the Duke of Athol, tried on suits of armour at Athol Castle, but could not find a set large enough to fit his frame. Donald Dinnie had a similar experience when travelling around the castles of Scotland.
In March 1871 Donald Dinnie and James Fleming fought out a hammer-throwing match at Barrack Park, Dundee before a crowd paying 6d each for the privilege. The stakes were Dinnie £40 and Fleming £50, but he was to receive a 13ft start. The match was accompanied by rowdiness and betting by the crowd and Dinnie won with a throw of 128ft 11in. A return hammer match was then arranged for late March 1871 in the West End Pleasure Gardens, Aberdeen, formerly the site of a prison, with stakes of £50 per side. There were 3000 paying spectators. Dinnie threw the hammer the furthest distance but Fleming, with a 13ft start, won the competition. The same evening, Dinnie and Fleming appeared in an exhibition of feats of strength at the Alhambra Music Hall, including a wrestling match, which Dinnie won to wild cheering from the audience for their local hero.
The success of these ventures led to yet another athletic challenge between Dinnie and Fleming, this time staged at Peterhead, in front of 1500 spectators, who paid 6d each. On this occasion, the former won the hammer competition but not before a serious accident occurred. A wooden handle broke during a throw by Dinnie. The head flew into the crowd and felled a man and a boy. The man was rendered unconscious, shortly to recover but the boy suffered a broken arm. Dinnie and Fleming then arranged a return match, again in Aberdeen, which resulted in another victory for Donald Dinnie.
These matches between Dinnie and Fleming were important, not just for the athletic performances achieved, but because they marked a significant evolution in Donald Dinnie’s thinking about the exploitation of his physical abilities. Instead of relying solely on others to organise athletic competitions, which were largely confined to the summer months and where an athlete’s income was mostly derived from prize money, they had taken matters into their own hands. They could not be excluded from competition because of where they were from, or because they had won an event in previous years and they had enough crowd appeal to confine events to their own interactions. Further, they could stimulate public interest with challenges made in the press and they could take their competitions to venues where they thought they could attract the largest audiences and they controlled the whole of the gate money. Also, by taking feats of strength such as weight-lifting and wrestling into the music hall, they could expect to derive an income from athletics throughout the year. But athletics rivals collaborating as business partners opened themselves to the danger of being charged with collusion and the financial risk associated with such events was entirely theirs, unless they also involved a backer.
In the spring of 1871 it was announced in the press that Donald Dinnie would again be travelling to North America. He had been offered a salary of 50/- per month (£275 in 2017 money) and he planned to take James Fleming with him. Although the pair probably planned to sail together, something intervened to prevent Dinnie leaving with Fleming, who travelled by steamer from Glasgow on 17 June. At the time Donald Dinnie intended to follow on about 1 August but, in the event, he did not leave. Dinnie casually glosses over this period in his autobiographical writings and does not reveal why he did not travel. “In June 1871, I was again the leader of athletics all over the United Kingdom. J Fleming took a trip to America and I had no particularly close opponents at putting the ball…” Business cooperation between Donald Dinnie and James Fleming continued after the latter’s return from America, but that will be dealt with later.
William McCombie Smith (1847 – 1905)
William McCombie Smith was born in Kintocher, Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire in 1847. Four years later, in 1851, his father was Morris Smith, a champion ploughman . William’s second given name, McCombie, was in honour of his father’s employer, Mr William McCombie of Tillyfour. Maurice Smith died in 1854 and William junior was then raised by Mr McCombie. William McCombie never married and it appears that William McCombie Smith was to some extent a substitute son for him.
William McCombie of Tillyfour, near Alford, was a remarkable character. He was a major cattle farmer, trader, breeder and improver of the Aberdeen-Angus polled beef cattle. He won many prizes with his animals and was visited by Queen Victoria, herself a keen fancier of the black polled cattle, to see his herd. When his prize bull, "Black Prince" was slaughtered in 1866, William McCombie presented the monarch with a 200lb baron of beef from the animal. When the Queen visited Tillyfour in 1867 found that "Black Prince"'s head had been stuffed and mounted on the wall of McCombie's dining room. William McCombie was also the first tenant-farmer MP from Scotland in the House of Commons (elected 1868) and a major campaigner for the rights of farm workers and tenant farmers.
William McCombie Smith attended school until the age of 14 when he became a ploughman. By 1867, he was a coachman for Mr McCombie. Farmers in the North East of Scotland, including Mr McCombie, each year sent many quality beef cattle to London, especially for the Christmas market held at Smithfield. In 1871 William McCombie Smith was dispatched to London in charge of McCombie's stock and there met a reporter who inserted an athletic challenge in a London newspaper on his behalf. William was a bright young man and in late 1872 he studied at Aberdeen University for a short while. In 1873, he attended Edinburgh Church of Scotland Training College for Teachers and after qualification he served briefly in England before being appointed teacher at the Blackwater School, Persie, near Blairgowrie, where he remained for the rest of his career. William wrote books and articles on a variety of subjects but was particularly known for his expertise on Highland sports, performances and records. Something of his literary status can be gauged from his election as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1891.
William McCombie of Tillyfour, near Alford, was a remarkable character. He was a major cattle farmer, trader, breeder and improver of the Aberdeen-Angus polled beef cattle. He won many prizes with his animals and was visited by Queen Victoria, herself a keen fancier of the black polled cattle, to see his herd. When his prize bull, "Black Prince" was slaughtered in 1866, William McCombie presented the monarch with a 200lb baron of beef from the animal. When the Queen visited Tillyfour in 1867 found that "Black Prince"'s head had been stuffed and mounted on the wall of McCombie's dining room. William McCombie was also the first tenant-farmer MP from Scotland in the House of Commons (elected 1868) and a major campaigner for the rights of farm workers and tenant farmers.
William McCombie Smith attended school until the age of 14 when he became a ploughman. By 1867, he was a coachman for Mr McCombie. Farmers in the North East of Scotland, including Mr McCombie, each year sent many quality beef cattle to London, especially for the Christmas market held at Smithfield. In 1871 William McCombie Smith was dispatched to London in charge of McCombie's stock and there met a reporter who inserted an athletic challenge in a London newspaper on his behalf. William was a bright young man and in late 1872 he studied at Aberdeen University for a short while. In 1873, he attended Edinburgh Church of Scotland Training College for Teachers and after qualification he served briefly in England before being appointed teacher at the Blackwater School, Persie, near Blairgowrie, where he remained for the rest of his career. William wrote books and articles on a variety of subjects but was particularly known for his expertise on Highland sports, performances and records. Something of his literary status can be gauged from his election as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1891.
By 1868 William McCombie Smith was having sufficient success at the Highland games to give up work in the summer months and concentrate on athletics, repeating this pattern until 1871. William McCombie Smith and Donald Dinnie must have become acquainted through the Highland games circuit and in 1871, perhaps because of the absence of James Fleming in America, the two heavy athletes started to cooperate in a business sense. Dinnie and Smith, together with Mr Robert McLeod, a teacher of instrumental music by profession but, in this instance, acting as a commercial event promoter, combined to organise several athletic competitions in the North East of Scotland. One such Highland games event was held at Duff House, Banff, a grand Georgian mansion designed by William Adam, on Saturday, 24 June 1871. However, the circulars by which the event was publicised and subscriptions solicited did not make clear that this was a commercial enterprise and not a matter of public good, as most such events were. Lord Fyfe, the occupier of Duff House made a park available and donated 2gns. Other prominent figures made further donations to the total extent of about 9gns as the nucleus of a prize fund. In addition, gate money amounting to a minimum of £100 was also added to the income. In terms of prize money, different events were treated unequally, Prizes were much larger for events where Donald Dinnie was anticipated to win. For the hammer, stone, caber and 56lb weight competitions, the prize money distribution was 1st - £5, 2nd – 10/-, 3rd – 5/-. In the high leap and the three different races prize money offered was 1st - £1, 2nd – 10/-, 3rd – 5/-. In the case of the tripod (three-legged race) and sack races, 1st gained 7/6 and second 5/-. Dancing first prizes were brooches costing 8/6 and the second prize was 5/-. For the exhibition performances on the horizontal bar and trapeze a payment of £5 was made. In total prize money of £37 was on offer and of this total, Donald Dinnie carried away £23 (£2,370 in 2017 money) and William McCombie Smith close to £5. However, the value of the prizes was not publicised before the event.
The unequal distribution of prize money became clear the same evening, when the competitors attended the Royal Oak Hotel to collect their winnings. Several of the athletes were understandably irked. Not only was most of the prize money beyond their reach but they had been required to pay 6d admission to the ground and 2/6 entry money to each competition. They complained to the local newspaper, the Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser, which took up their case and uncovered the facts about the organisation of the event. Mr McLeod admitted that the games had been a commercial speculation on his part and justified the unequal distribution of prize money as necessary to induce Donald Dinnie to attend. McLeod added that he was not accountable to anyone and declined to provide a breakdown of the distribution of income, but he did admit that there was a further fee payable to Dinnie, Smith and Saunders (Sergeant Saunders of Aberdeen, a skilled gymnast, had been brought along to provide an exhibition on the horizontal bar and trapeze). The Banffshire Journal was unhappy with the information revealed. It then publicised the material in articles which warned the public to be aware of similar events organised by Robert McLeod, which included Donald Dinnie and William McCombie Smith as competitors.
In spite of the unhappiness of some competitors, the paying audience of about 3000 seemed satisfied. On the whole, the event ran smoothly and the competitions were hard-fought, even if Dinnie won many of them. With the possible exception of the way in which sponsorships were solicited for this commercial event, the structure was clearly not fraudulent. However, it did point out the difference in motivation between Highland games organised by Highland societies and those organised by commercial speculators. Dinnie could not be blamed for exploiting his status by demanding appearance money. That was just the reality of commerce. If an organiser wanted the best competitors to attend to increase the crowd, he had to pay for them, though in this case it might have been smarter to load the premium onto the appearance money and not have an unequal prize structure between events. And Dinnie might have argued that he was excluded from the prizes at many other venues because of his previous success. From his point of view that was hardly fair either. On this occasion Dinnie remained silent in public but Smith wrote to the Banffshire Journal justifying the financial arrangements as commercial reality and objecting to the implication that they had been swindling the public. However, he could not restrain himself from making an insulting remark concerning one disgruntled competitor, Simpson, who had been a contender in the short race but had been knocked over. “Allow me to tell you that Mr Simpson had as much chance of winning the short race, or the long one, as a fishmonger’s cuddy has of winning the Derby. At the first turn, he ran against Mr Dinnie but was not knocked over, at the next turn he tried to knock me over and if his muscular development had been at all commensurate with his bad design he would have succeeded so that in place of being the aggrieved party he was the aggressor and if he is not satisfied with his beating of Saturday last I will give him 3 yards start in a straight 100 yards race for £5 a side.”
Throughout July, August and September of 1871, Donald Dinnie and William McCombie Smith continued the round of Highland games in both Scotland and England. These included events at Arbroath, Laurencekirk, Brechin, Rothsay and at the Crystal Palace in London. There was another meeting at Aberdeen which was open to all-comers – except Donald Dinnie! A hammer-throwing contest between Dinnie and Smith was arranged for Arbroath, with side stakes of £10 and return matches mooted for Laurencekirk and Brechin. England had always been the country of choice for emigrating Scots (a fact which is often overlooked) and an event organised for the Crystal Palace attracted a crowd of over 15,000. Donald Dinnie was again a star attraction but was sensibly excluded from receiving first prizes for competitions that he won. However, he received more in appearance money than if he had won all the events put together.
There was some contact and collaboration between Donald Dinnie and William McCombie Smith throughout the rest of the 1870s and, through their association, it is presumed that William became acquainted with Donald’s youngest sister, Nory Celia, who had been born in 1855. On 20 April 1878, William and Nory Celia were married at Calton, Glasgow, far away from Deeside. The reason was clear. Not only was Nory Celia pregnant, she was so gravid by the marriage date that her condition would have been obvious to even a casual glance. The Smiths’ first child, Isabella, was born on 7 May at Maryhill, Lanarkshire, out of sight of curious and perhaps censorious Aberdeenshire neighbours.
The relationship between Donald Dinnie and his brother in law, William McCombie Smith appears to have soured from about 1884, when William accused Donald of inventing the rules of the so-called Scotch wrestling style to suit his own abilities. A series of increasingly acrimonious exchanges continued over the succeeding years relating to Donald Dinnie’s athletic performances, until ended by Smith’s death in 1905. These exchanges are an important part of this story and will be dealt with below.
Donald Dinnie’s marriage to Elizabeth Birss (1834 – 1882)
Donald Dinnie married for the first time on 21 July 1858. His bride was Elizabeth Birss, a local girl who was three years older than him. It was a shotgun wedding and it may be significant that the witnesses to the wedding were Elizabeth’s father, William and another Birse farmer, William Murdoch. Does this imply that Donald’s parents were not present and, if so, does it further imply parental disapproval of the marriage or of its circumstances? The couple’s first child, Emily was born on 16th November 1858 at North Brae Cottage, Birse, Donald’s address at the time of his marriage. Further children appeared with Victorian regularity, Cuthbert in 1860, also born at North Brae Cottage, Royalan in 1862 and Mary in 1863. Both Royalan and Mary were born at Wood Cottage, Balnacraig, the home of Donald’s parents, which, if there had been a breach with Donald’s father and mother, might indicate that a reconciliation had been effected by 1862. But then something strange happened, or rather didn’t happen. There were no further children in this marriage, when other children would have been expected to appear, at least by 1866. The reason for this is not known but is very unlikely to have been a matter of parental choice, given the date. Only two significant options seem to offer themselves as an explanation. Either Elizabeth suffered some medical condition which rendered her infertile, or the relationship cooled to the point where conception was no longer possible. It may be significant that the cessation of reproduction with Elizabeth roughly coincided with Donald becoming a full-time athlete and showman.
Donald Dinnie and Mary Ann Gellatly (1856 – 1925)
Donald Dinnie is known to have had one extra-marital relationship. His affair with Mary Ann Gellatly, a girl who was 20 years his junior, was initiated in 1876 or earlier. She was born in 1857 in Stonehaven, the daughter of John and Mary Gellatly. Her father was a brewer’s labourer. In 1877, she gave birth to an illegitimate son, who was named at registration “Edwin Dinnie Gellatly”. This use of the father’s surname as a given name was a device often employed by mothers of illegitimate children in Victorian times to identify the father of their baby. Donald Dinnie later openly admitted and accepted Edwin as his son, so there is little doubt that he was Edwin’s father. However, the relationship with Mary Ann was not a fleeting affair because in 1879 she had a further illegitimate child, named “Amy Dinnie Gellatly”. It is not known if Donald Dinnie had other affairs and other illegitimate children. However, a search over the relevant period in Scottish birth records reveals three other illegitimate children with a given name of Dinnie. These were Edward Dinnie Stuart born in September 1870 in Edinburgh, Ann Dinnie Stephen born in Aberdeen in December 1874 and Isabel Dinnie Stephen, also born in Aberdeen to the same mother as Ann, in September 1877. These last two children were the illegitimate offspring of Donald’s relative, Alexander Dinnie (see below). The question remains open as to whether Donald Dinnie was the father of Edward Dinnie Stuart, or indeed of other children conceived out of wedlock.
Donald Dinnie and the Music Hall
Donald Dinnie first visited North America in 1870 and planned to return there in the company of James Fleming in 1871 and, though Fleming travelled alone in the end, newspaper reports suggested that Donald Dinnie had initially only delayed his travel arrangements. These overseas trips had been financially so successful that Donald Dinnie and James Fleming “finding America the best place for athletes and money made arrangement to visit America again” in the summer of 1872.
After the return of James Fleming from America in late 1871, Dinnie and Fleming teamed up again and joined a music hall company which toured Scotland. The show appeared at McFarland’s Grand Music Hall, Foot of Market Street, Aberdeen in February 1872. Donald Dinnie, James Fleming and company subsequently appeared at the Dundee Music Hall and Southminster Theatre of Varieties, under the management of Mr W McFarland, lessee of the Aberdeen and Dundee Music Halls, “previous to commencing a tour of Great Britain and America”.
It may now seem bizarre that athletics should be mixed with singing and dancing in these music hall events. At the February 1882 show in Aberdeen, in addition to Dinnie and Fleming “the great champion athletes”, the other delights on offer were Herr Weiffenbach “the wonderful sixteen drums drummer”, Messrs Gulliver and Harrold, “the Witty Ethiopians, Comedians and Dancers”, Mr Linden Travers, “the renowned baritone”, Mr Willison and Alice Clifton “the famous comic duettists and dancers”. On another occasion, in 1881, Dinnie appeared with Jean Luie “the Tichborne Witness”. He was a Danish sailor who gave sensational but unreliable evidence in favour of the so-called Tichborne Claimant at the trial of 1873-1874, a case which stirred the public interest in Great Britain daily for months on end. A further interesting example of a provocative act on the same bill as Dinnie occurred in 1882 at the Folly Theatre in Manchester when “Professor and Madame Girard’s star troupe of living statuary present many beautiful tableaux whilst, as they announce, the exhibition is entirely free from the slightest approach to indecency”. Theatre managers left no stone unturned in their quest for an audience and mild pornography was used to spice up the bill.
Second Visit to America, 1872
Dinnie and Fleming, under the management of Mr McFarland gave exhibitions in Sefton Park Liverpool before departing for New York on 20 May 1872. The three of them travelled on the Scotia of the Cunard Line, the last paddle steamer in service on the Atlantic run at that time. They arrived in New York on 4 June. The full itinerary of the tour of the USA and Canada is unclear but early on Dinnie damaged his left hand and arm while competing in the pole vault (not one of his usual events) at the Buffalo Caledonian Club games in early August and his subsequent performances were compromised by the injury, though he continued to compete. He won the light hammer event at Toronto, throwing the implement one-handed, but James Fleming, in the circumstances, was highly successful. The Scots also competed at Montebello on 1 July, Milwaukee on 7 August, Montreal on 13 August, Brooklyn 27 August, New York on 6 September and Syracuse on 10 September. The New York meeting on 6 September attracted an audience of 25 – 30,000. Donald Dinnie was dressed in a brown shirt, plain plaid kilt and green woollen stockings but his arm was still in a sling. On 18 September 1872, the three Scots departed New York on the Anchor Line screw steamer Olympia, arriving back in Glasgow on 30 September. In spite of Donald Dinnie’s injury, the trip had been financially very successful. Donald later claimed that he had won over 60 first prizes for running and leaping and over 100 for feats of strength and skill. He remarked, “We left America with more gold in our pockets than we could have found in Britain in three seasons”. After their return, the music hall tour throughout Britain continued.
Donald Dinnie and Dogs
It is not often mentioned that Donald Dinnie was a keen dog fancier and breeder. In 1873 and 1874 he exhibited his bull terrier “Blucher” at the Aberdeen Dog Show, the animal being recommended each time. It was offered for sale at £45 (£4,500 in 2017 money). He also entered bull terriers, including a young bitch, “Clara” in the 1875 show, where she won a second prize. In addition to bull terriers Donald also owned greyhounds and took part in hare coursing events, for example at Laurencekirk in 1876, with his dog “Pope”. Interestingly, a dog belonging to another owner at that event was called “Donald Dinnie”. In 1874 his dog “The Marquis of Lorne” beat “Jack Alive” in the Aberdeenshire Stakes. When he lived in Melbourne, Donald continued to own and breed greyhounds. However, Donald Dinnie’s dogs were often accessories to events where he came into contact with the law.
In March 1873 Donald was charged with trespassing in search of game in Haugh Farm plantation, Kincardine O’Neil. He was accompanied by “a hound and a bulldog” (probably a greyhound and a bull terrier) which were chasing a hare, and a rabbit. His rather weak defence was that he was in the plantation because it was used by young men to practise athletics. This did not wash with the JPs and he was fined for the incursion. There followed a similar case in 1876 when Donald Dinnie was charged at the Stonehaven JP Court with trespass and coursing with dogs at Dunottar. He failed to appear in court, was found guilty and fined in his absence. He then appealed his conviction, again failed to appear in court and his appeal was dismissed, with the addition of extra costs. After his move to Australia (see below), Donald Dinnie became licensee of the Croxton Park Hotel near Melbourne. There he frequently got across the police and also, it seems, a dog inspector, Charles Bradley. In 1886 Inspector Bradley charged Dinnie with keeping two unregistered dogs. Donald’s defence was that he did not own either dog. James Fleming, who was staying with Dinnie at the time, claimed that he had bought one of the dogs and had registered it after the summons was taken out. But this statement was shown to be untrue. Regarding the second dog, Dinnie claimed that it belonged to Captain Ness, the former licensee of the hotel and that he had tried to get rid of the dog, but it kept returning. Dinnie was fined in relation to the first dog but the case dealing with the second dog was dismissed. In 1887 Inspector Bradley again visited the Croxton Park Hotel and caught a young greyhound, which he caused to be destroyed, possibly because it was unregistered. This must have infuriated Donald Dinnie and he pursued Bradley in the courts for damages of £10 for the greyhound which had been killed. However, he lost his case because Bradley was adjudged to have been carrying out his legitimate duties. On a separate claim for trespass against Bradley, Dinnie was awarded nominal damages of 1/-. It is difficult to avoid the suggestion that Donald Dinnie had a contempt for officialdom and the law and that he readily resorted to implausible explanations for his actions, or induced others to relate fictions on his behalf. This was to be a recurring set of themes in Dinnie’s life when, on many occasions, he came into conflict with the law. Ready resort to violence was to be another.
Victoria Hotel, Kincardine O’Neil 1869 - 1874
Donald Dinnie became licensee of the Victoria Hotel, Kincardine O’Neil in 1869. Throughout his life he was landlord of a series of similar establishments. In 1873 he tried to do a deal for the Caledonian Hotel situated close to the docks in Dundee. The then current landlord, Mrs Aird, gave evidence that she and Dinnie had reached terms for him to acquire her business but that he had subsequently reneged on the deal, a claim disputed by Dinnie. Donald Dinnie made application for the transfer of the licence but this was refused on the grounds that his application was incompetent. Evidence was given that the Caledonian Hotel had been conducted very badly in the recent past, serving alcohol on a Sunday to “travellers” who were probably bogus. Donald subsequently reapplied for a licence and submitted character references on his own behalf. However, the bench was split and the application was lost, one JP suggesting to Dinnie that he should look for a better class of hotel given his standing. Donald Dinnie then seemed to lose interest in the Caledonian Hotel.
Royal Urie Hotel, Stonehaven 1874 - 1879
By January 1874 Donald Dinnie had obtained a lease to a new hotel, the Royal Ury Hotel in Stonehaven, which had a posting and carriage hire business associated with it. His friend and fellow athlete, James Fleming was a partner in the posting and carriage business and may also have been involved with the hotel.
It was at that time that a very alarming incident occurred affecting Donald’s wife, Elizabeth Dinnie and their daughter, thought to have been Mary, then aged 10 years. A cow and a bull were being driven along the street outside the hotel when they attempted to escape through the open door of the hotel bar. The little girl was the only person in the bar at the time and she screamed at the entrance of the two bovines and hid under a table. Elizabeth Dinnie tried to intervene by shooing the animals out, but she was knocked down and trampled. The situation was resolved by some passing carters, who pulled the girl to safety through a window. Donald Dinnie then intervened to rescue his wife. The animals were eventually removed from the hotel bar but not before they had caused considerable damage.
The same year, Donald Dinnie was involved in a serious accident involving a phaeton (a light four-wheeled open carriage) that he was driving over the Slug road between Stonehaven and Crathes on Deeside. It is likely that the vehicle was under hire from Dinnie’s hotel. The horse shied at some farm carts carrying peats, causing the reins to break and the horse to bolt, the carriage then hitting some pieces of wood. Donald Dinnie and one of his passengers, Mr Stewart a brewer from Stonehaven, were thrown out. Donald was not seriously hurt but Stewart was badly injured on the head and one thigh.
In 1877 Donald Dinnie applied to have the certificate for the sale of liquor at the Royal Ury Hotel continued. The Chief Constable of Kincardine, Mr Weir, however objected that Dinnie had been guilty of a contempt of court in failing to appear to defend a case against himself, failing to comply with the judgment and hiding from the officers of justice while attempting to put the penalty imposed in his absence into force. It was a close-run decision. The Bench, while decrying Dinnie’s behaviour did not think it was sufficient grounds to refuse the licence. Mr Weir was probably unimpressed and may have “marked Dinnie’s card”, as will be seen.
The following year, Donald Dinnie got across Chief Constable Weir again. Donald refused to admit to his hotel, or provide accommodation for, two soldiers of the 93rd Regiment of Foot and, as a result, was charged under the Summary Procedure Act 1864 with a contravention of the Mutiny Act (40 Vic, chap 7), since hotel keepers were obliged to find accommodation for serving soldiers. The complainer was Chief Constable Weir, who had a formal role as Billet Master under the legislation. Donald pleaded ignorance of the law and tried, perhaps unwisely, to deflect blame to the Chief Constable for not sending “some respectable party” to explain the situation to him. Donald’s excuse of ignorance did not wash with the Bench and he was fined £3 with costs.
Kintore Arms Hotel, Auchinblae 1879 - 1882
In 1879 Donald Dinnie failed to secure a new lease to the Royal Ury Hotel, being heavily outbid by Mr McCormack of the National Hotel, Aberdeen. Donald then leased the Kintore Arms Hotel, Auchenblae and James Fleming moved with him, taking full ownership and control of the posting and carriage business. Auchinblae was a settlement which was little more than a village in a rural setting, 10 miles south west of Stonehaven and a much less attractive business prospect than the Royal Ury Hotel in the county town. Business was substantially reduced at Auchinblae, compared with Stonehaven and Fleming had to leave for Dundee.
Auchenblae may have been small but it was still on the patch of Chief Constable Weir. In April 1879 Donald Dinnie applied for a new liquor licence for the Kintore Arms. At the same court, Chief Constable Weir presented a report naming hotel and innkeepers who had infringed their licences. They had to attend court to get a wigging from the Bench. Donald, who was not one of the miscreants, had his application granted and he took up residence at the Kintore Arms at Whitsun, May 1879. However, one wonders if he noticed Weir’s beady eye upon him.
Donald Dinnie set about advertising his new charge and the services on offer. “Auchinblae – Kintore Arms Hotel. This hotel is now under new management. Commercial gentlemen and others visiting this locality will find excellent accommodation combined with moderate charges. Post horses and carriages (these included a brake seating 20) of every description for hire. Superior hearse with plumes and black horses. Hotel bus meets all principal trains at Fordoun Station (Fordoun station lies nearby on the main line from Edinburgh and Dundee to Aberdeen). All orders punctually attended to. Donald Dinnie, Proprietor.” He also took a licence to one of the market booths in nearby Laurencekirk. Later, in March 1882, Dinnie bought the hotel with the aid of a £280 loan from his wealthy, Aberdeen-based relative, the photographer Alexander Dinnie. But Donald was frequently absent from Auchenblae and the hotel was, in effect, run by his wife Elizabeth and, later, his children.
Alexander Dinnie, Photographer (1831 – 1895)
Alexander Dinnie, a distant relative of Donald Dinnie (they shared a great grandfather, William Dinnie) was an interesting character. He was born in 1831 at Marywell, Birse, where his father was a tenant farmer on the property, which was part of the Ballogie Estate. After leaving school, Alexander was initially apprenticed as a joiner but by 1851 he had become a farm servant living at the Aboyne Manse, in the service of the Rev James Jenkins. Another servant in the house was 26-year-old Jane Ross. In June 1852 Jane bore an illegitimate daughter, Anne, who was baptised the same day by the Rev Jenkins. Alexander Dinnie was registered as the child’s father but the couple did not marry. What happened to daughter Ann Ross is unclear but in 1861 she was a nine-year-old servant (pewterer) at Carnton Farm, Banchory Ternan.
In 1851 gold was discovered at Clunes in Victoria, Australia, quickly followed by other sites, including Bendigo and the Australian Gold Rush began with people, especially from Britain, emigrating to try their luck at the diggings. At some time between 1852 and 1857, Alexander travelled to Victoria, hoping to make his fortune. He fetched up in Bendigo and lived in or near the town until at least 1862. While there he met and married Margaret Cotters, a lady of Irish origin. Alexander and Maggie had three children while in Australia, Sarah Ellen (1857), William Davidson (1860) and Margaret Annie (1862), all born in Bendigo. Alexander returned to Great Britain relatively wealthy but a breakdown in his marriage seemed to occur. No more children were born and Maggie Dinnie lived in Leeds with her three children, while Alexander Dinnie lived in Aberdeen. Alexander Dinnie invested his wealth partly in company shares and partly in premises for his new career as a photographer. In 1875, he was recorded as being a member of the Aberdeen Town and County Banking Association. Alexander Dinnie started his photography business in Aberdeen in 1865. His premises were initially in Langstane Place but he later moved to buildings on both sides of Bridge Street, close to both the Railway Station and the Aberdeen Music Hall.
At the 1871 Census, Alexander Dinnie was recorded as a 39-year-old photographer living alone in Aberdeen, except for a 17-year-old medical student lodger. Sometime between 1871 and 1874, Alexander began a liaison with Ann Stephen, who was 18 years his junior. They set up house together at 35 Back Wynd, Aberdeen but could not marry because Alexander’s wife, Maggie was still alive. The couple had two illegitimate children, Anne born 1874 and Isabel born 1877. Their parentage was acknowledged by them both receiving a second given name of “Dinnie”.
In 1879, Alexander’s older legitimate daughter, Sarah Helen, married in Leeds. The same year his wife Maggie died and Alexander quickly married Ann Stephen in Aberdeen. After the death of their mother, the two unmarried children of Alexander and Maggie Dinnie moved to Aberdeen to work for their father as photographic assistants, subsequently returning to Leeds, where William Davidson Dinnie set up as an independent photographer. Sadly, he died at the early age of 31.
Scotland, England and Ireland, 1872 - 1882
After his return from America at the end of September 1872 Donald Dinnie appears to have taken a rest from stage and field performances until May of the following year. From that time until his departure for America in June 1882 he followed a regular, but evolving, pattern of annual activities. An attempt has been made to quantify his appearances using contemporary newspaper reports, on the assumption that by this period he was so famous that all events which he attended would be reported in the printed media. Most athletic events organised by Caledonian and Highland games societies took place in the months of June to September. Of 186 such Highland games events known to have been attended by Donald Dinnie in this period in Great Britain and Ireland, only 5 (2.7%) occurred outside this window. Occasionally, athletic games were held at Auld Yule (5th January) eg at Auchinblae, or in early October, or in late May.
Initially these meetings were the staple of Donald Dinnie’s working year and, up to and including 1879, constituted 66% to 87% of all the events he attended in any year. However, either Donald, or those advising him, actively sought to extend his working year by organising events at which he could display his prowess at times outside the summer Highland games season. This was done by privately arranging challenges, usually at athletics, at which the public paid to attend and guest appearances at events organised by others, when he performed feats of strength, or undertook wrestling bouts. Especially over the winter these appearances were often as part of a music hall programme. From 1880 until Donald Dinnie left for America in 1882 there was a marked increase in the number of events he attended each year. This was made up partly by an increase in his attendance at Highland games in the summer but mainly by a very marked increase in the number of music hall shows in which he appeared during the rest of the year. Up to 1880 he did not attend more than 3 separate music hall events in any year but, in that year, he was involved in 14 and in the following year (1882) in 17. The increased commitment required of Donald was even greater than these raw numbers suggest. An “event” has been counted as one, whether it lasted for one day or for six days. In 1880 and 1881 many of his music hall appearances were for six days whereas, prior to those years, no music hall event was recorded as lasting more than two days.
The life that Donald Dinnie lived in the period 1872 to 1882 must have been intense and extremely demanding requiring a considerable degree or organisation to put together an annual programme and to organise associated travel, including transport of his personal equipment, such as heavy dumb-bells and accommodation. Up to the end of 1873 Donald lived at Kincardine O’Neil. Although the Deeside railway line allowed a relatively quick journey to Aberdeen, the line had bypassed Donald’s home village, due to the opposition of a local landowner. This deficit would have required him to drive a phaeton, or similar horse-drawn vehicle, into Aboyne before catching the train for Aberdeen and onward travel to Inverness to the north and Dundee to the south. His residence in Stonehaven from 1874 and Auchenblae from 1879 would have improved his access to both north and south considerably, since Stonehaven and Fordoun (close by Auchenblae) had stations on the Aberdeen to Dundee line. It is possible that the choice of Stonehaven and Auchinblae as hotel locations and his interest in a hotel in Dundee in 1873 were influenced by travel considerations. Some Highland games locations could only be reached by horse-drawn transport or by a combination of train and horse. Both the Stonehaven and Auchinblae hotels had posting activities and hire carriages and Donald is known to have been an experienced carriage driver, which would have been an advantage.
Donald Dinnie must have spent a substantial and increasing amount of time away from home, especially from the Kintore Arms at Auchinblae, as the years passed. Although some venues would be near enough for him to travel on the morning of the event, perform in the afternoon and travel home again in the evening, his attendance would often have required one or more nights in hotel accommodation. There must also have been occasions where it was more appropriate to stay away and then travel on to another event the following day, either in terms of time or money saved, or in terms of Donald arriving at an event in good condition to perform.
In September, 1873 he appeared at Newcastle on the 13th, Sheffield on the 16th and Barnsley on the 19th, which would have required an absence of at least 9 days. Such groupings occurred with increased frequency, Alloa, Alva, Tillycoultry and Blackford, at least a 6-day trip in 1875, Thurso, Wick, Inverness, Kirkwall and Golspie, a minimum 12 day absence, also in 1875. Kirkaldy (twice) and Falkirk (twice) would have required 9 days in 1879. Birmingham (2-day event), London (4-day event plus 2-day event), Sheffield (2-day event), Manchester, Leicester, Jarrow (two separate events) and Edinburgh between 14th May and 17th June, 1880 must have kept Donald away from Auchinblae for at least 36 days. Between 1st December and 11th December of the same year the “Champion Scotch Concert Company” performed at 10 separate venues in the North East of Scotland. Donald also appeared in Edinburgh between Christmas and New Year. Extended theatre runs (mostly) followed in several major English conurbations between 10th January and 6th June, 1881. Manchester, Sunderland, Preston, Liverpool (twice), Blackburn, Halifax, West Hartlepool, Grimsby, Hull, London, Sheffield, Burnley, St Helens, Leeds and Bradford may have required time away of five months. From the end of November 1881 to the middle of February 1882 there must have been other long absences due to music hall commitments in Dublin, Glasgow, Dundee, Manchester and Nottingham, though he was in Auchinblae for the Auld Yule games on 5th January 1882. The possible significance of this pattern of events will be considered in the context of other events happening in Donald’s life.
Friendships with other athletes
Throughout his career, Donald Dinnie formed a series of friendships with brother performers. Not only did they travel together during the summer months to the many Highland games venues but they also appeared together in exhibitions and music hall tours at other times of the year. Donald had journeyed alone to America in the summer of 1870 and planned to return the following summer, but with James Fleming his then close associate. In the end Dinnie did not travel but Fleming did. For the period that Fleming was out of the country Donald Dinnie seemed to keep close company with William McCombie Smith but after the return of Fleming in autumn 1871, Dinnie and Fleming resumed their partnership for events throughout 1872, including on Dinnie’s second visit to North America in the summer of that year. This arrangement continued until 1877, when James Fleming’s appearances with Donald Dinnie declined in frequency and another heavy athlete, George Davidson, the son of a farmer from Drumoak and often described as a pupil of Donald’s, began to play a more prominent role as Donald Dinnie’s companion, co-exhibitionist and supporter. He continued in this role until Donald Dinnie left for America for the third time in early summer 1882. George Davidson remained a supporter of Donald Dinnie even when they were separated by half a world and an unpaid debt. In America, Australia and New Zealand, other friendships evolved, as will be seen.
Death of Cuthbert Dinnie (1860-1879)
In September 1879, the Dinnie family endured a tragedy, when Cuthbert Dinnie, the elder son of Donald and his wife Elizabeth died of phthisis pulmonalis (pulmonary tuberculosis), from which he had suffered for six months. He was 19 and had been a promising Highland games performer, winning medals at summer games from the age of nine. He was an especially talented Highland dancer but he also won the boys’ race, with an entry of 20, at the Aboyne games in 1873. But this was the last year in which there was a report of him winning a prize. Perhaps his athletic performance had been affected by his disease condition for some years before his eventual demise. Cuthbert was the owner of a telescope and wrote a letter of endorsement to the manufacturer, which was used in their advertising, in 1879 while the family were still resident in Stonehaven. Could the possession of this instrument too have been connected to the illness? A sick youth who could no longer run and dance could at least gain amusement from such a possession.
Why did Donald Dinnie go to America in 1882?
It was announced in the newspapers in September 1880 that Donald Dinnie and George Davidson would shortly visit Australia and this was followed in April the next year by an alternative statement that they were planning to visit America in the summer of 1881. However, only three months later it was further announced that they had abandoned that intention. Donald Dinnie finally left for America in June 1882. George Davidson did not travel with him, in spite of previously being included in Dinnie’s travel plans. In the event Dinnie not only travelled to America, but then on to New Zealand, Australia, New Zealand again and South Africa before arriving back in the UK in 1898, 16 years after he left on what initially looked like a money-making trip of limited duration. It is difficult to believe that Donald Dinnie left these shores with that simple intention and just happened to extend his travels because he found conditions abroad congenial. So, were there other possible reasons for Donald to absent himself for 16 years? Was he avoiding returning to a situation that he found uncomfortable? Circumstantial evidence suggests that this may have been the case.
At the 1881 Census, Donald Dinnie was the landlord of the Kintore Arms hotel in Auchinblae, where his wife, Elizabeth and children, Emily (22), Royalan (19) and Mary (17) lived, though Donald was not in Auchinblae on census night, 3rd April, since he was on an extended tour of English cities. This was a time when Donald was increasingly absent from home throughout the year. It is difficult to believe that Donald would casually desert his children, even though they were close to adulthood and simply not see them for the next decade and a half unless circumstances at his home were uncomfortable. His relationship with his wife Elizabeth may have been strained, since it seems possible that she knew of his illegitimate children, Edwin (4) and Amy (2), then living with their mother Mary Ann Gellatly in Aberdeen. Only four and a half months after Donald Dinnie arrived in America he received news that his wife Elizabeth had died. The cause of death was cancer of the uterus and it is entirely possible that Donald knew that Elizabeth was ill, even seriously ill, at the time of his departure. There appears to have been no mention of this family bereavement in the American press. Donald made no move to return to the UK, though he could have afforded to do so, but carried on with his tour and gave no indication that Elizabeth’s death had much impact on him. Later, his extended absence would mean that he never saw his parents again either, both dying in 1891. However, difficult home circumstances at the time of his departure do not seem to offer an adequate explanation for his lengthy absence, since Elizabeth’s demise should have eased any tension. Did Mary Ann Gellatly hope that Donald would marry her once he was widowed? If so she was to be disappointed and in 1884 she married someone else, John Farquhar.
Another possible reason for Donald Dinnie undertaking his extended tour overseas in 1882 may lie in the first hints of a decline of his athletic performances and the rise of other athletes to challenge his self-anointed title of Champion of the World. In addition to his friend James Fleming and his pupil George Davidson, other Scottish athletes appeared on the scene to challenge Donald’s supremacy, such as Kenneth McRae and Owen Duffy. Donald Dinnie’s most successful events were the so-called “heavy” competitions, putting the light and heavy stone (or iron ball), throwing the light and heavy hammers, throwing the 56lb weight, tossing the caber and wrestling in the “Scotch” style. In the period 1860 to 1880 he could expect to beat all other Scottish athletes at these events on almost all occasions. In addition, he occasionally competed in the short race, hurdles, high leap, vaulting, Highland dancing and Cumberland wrestling. As he aged these secondary events were progressively dropped and it appears that he entered them rather selectively at minor meetings, where he was still likely to pick up prize money.
During the 1870s Donald’s main opponents were James Fleming and William McCombie Smith, followed later by George Davidson, Kenneth McRae and Owen Duffy. All these athletes, like Dinnie tended to specialise in the “heavy” events but their prowess sometimes extended beyond this group. James Fleming was an excellent dancer, high leaper and runner. William McCombie Smith was a good runner, leaper (high and long) and vaulter. George Davidson was an excellent vaulter and high leaper. The degree of friendship between these athletes is seen in the attendance at out of season events where Dinnie was the main attraction. In 1973 Dinnie was accompanied by James Fleming and William McCombie Smith but in the period 1874 to 1877, James Fleming was his exclusive co-performer. In 1877 George Davidson started to appear amongst the prize winners at the summer Highland games and the following year Donald Dinnie started to use him, along with William McCombie Smith and Kenneth McRae, as co-performers in privately arranged events. Then James Fleming faded from the scene, though he made at least one guest appearance in 1879 while George Davidson was away competing in Canada. On his return to the UK, Davidson resumed his role as co-performer of choice and, apparently, co-organiser of private events with Donald Dinnie.
During the 1880 summer season Donald Dinnie’s pre-eminent position in heavy events in open competition started to weaken. At the Dundee Highland games in July George Davidson came equal first with Donald Dinnie in the caber and at the Blairgowrie games the same month Davidson beat Dinnie at the hammer. The following month at the Bute games Owen Duffy vanquished Donald Dinnie at the heavy ball. Also in August, George Davidson again split the honours with Donald Dinnie in the caber competition at Luss and beat him in the heavy stone. Donald Dinnie was again beaten by George Davidson in the heavy stone, light stone and heavy hammer at Grantown, though Donald was suffering from an abscess on his thumb. The pattern continued through 1881, with Donald Dinnie winning most heavy events that he entered but occasionally being beaten by George Davidson, Owen Duffy or Kenneth McRae. showing that Donald was coming to the end of his period as undisputed champion of the heavy events at Highland games. As the Aberdeen Evening Express said in 1881, “Dinnie, considering his age is still remarkably vigorous but some of the younger men, particularly G Davidson, Drumoak, are gradually outstripping him”. In going to America and then onwards to the Antipodes, Donald Dinnie may have been seeking to remove himself from the intensifying competition at home, to perform in places where he could again almost guarantee success (and income) while continuing with his claims to be a champion.
Donald Dinnie in Debt
One further issue, probably the most crucial one, seems to have contributed to Donald Dinnie removing himself from Britain’s shores for so long and that was the state of his personal finances and his business at Auchinblae. On 6th September 1883, more than a year after Dinnie’s departure for America a poinding was executed on certain effects in the hiring business at the Kintore Arms, claimed to be the belongings of Donald Dinnie. Among the goods there were a large brake described as seating for 16, poinded at £15 and a dog cart and cushions, poinded at £5. “Poinding” is the seizure of personal effects with a view to sale, in order to recover a debt. The poinding decree was at the instance of “George Davidson junior, East Mains of Drum”, Donald Dinnie’s athletics pupil and erstwhile collaborator! So, Donald Dinnie had departed for America leaving behind at least one significant debt and that to a friend.
James Fleming then intervened in the process, through the courts, by lodging a caveat against the warrant to roup (offer for public sale) being granted on the poinded effects. Apparently, when Donald Dinnie became landlord of the Royal Ury hotel in Stonehaven in 1874 James Fleming became a 50% partner with Dinnie in the horse and carriage hiring business at the hotel. When Dinnie relinquished the hotel lease at Stonehaven and leased the Kintore Arms in Auchinblae in 1879, James Fleming bought out Dinnie’s half of the hiring business and that was proved in court. Thus, the effects poinded did not belong to Dinnie but to Fleming. Incidentally, Fleming’s increasing responsibilities for the hiring business may account in part for his progressive withdrawal from involvement in Donald Dinnie’s arranged athletic events after 1877.
It was to transpire that Donald Dinnie had other debts but that only one creditor was pursuing him by way of poinding his possessions and that was Margaret Grant of Stanley Cottage, Aboyne. The defence was again that the poinded objects did not belong to Donald Dinnie. The facts seem to have been as follows. At the time that Donald Dinnie left for America in June 1882 he admitted to Margaret Grant’s agent that he had a considerable amount of debt. By March 1883 it was openly admitted that he was bankrupt but was not formally declared to be bankrupt (notour bankruptcy). Put simply, he could not repay the money that he owed. However, at the time of the death of Elizabeth Dinnie in November 1882, William McCombie Smith, allegedly without knowing of the debt owed to Margaret Grant and without reference to the state of Donald Dinnie’s financial affairs, approached Alexander Dinnie, the Aberdeen-based photographer and probably the wealthiest Dinnie relative in the district, and suggested to him that he should buy the Kintore Arms in Auchinblae, including the furniture in order to give Donald Dinnie’s practically orphaned family a new start. Alexander Dinnie agreed to the proposal and this was then submitted to Donald Dinnie in America. He consented to the proposal on condition that the hotel would be let to his daughter, Emily, at a fair rent and the sale went ahead, the documentation being signed and sealed in America (Donald appears to have been in Rhode Island at the time, February 1883). The consideration for the conveyance was stated as £730, made up of the £280 loan and a bond of £450 over the property. Emily Dinnie then rented the property and furniture from Alexander Dinnie in December 1883 for £40 pa for the house and £5pa for the furniture, precisely 10% of the value of the bond. The spirit licence was eventually transferred to Emily. Margaret Grant, the poinding creditor, claimed that there never was a genuine sale of the furniture, rather that it was a device to frustrate Dinnie’s creditors. However, she lost her case, though Sheriff Brown had misgivings. “I think there can be no doubt that this is both a difficult and delicate case and as such I have felt it to require a great deal of consideration. In the end on grounds which seem reasonably certain to my own mind I have come to be of opinion that the compearer (Alexander Dinnie) is entitled to prevail but I am bound to say I have not arrived at that result without having had to consider some elements even of suspicion in this case.” Margaret Grant subsequently appealed the verdict but the decision again went against her. Sheriff Guthrie Smith, who heard the appeal, gave his view that the house and the furniture were clearly the property of Alexander Dinnie before Margaret Grant’s attempt to poind effects at the hotel. However, it does seem to stretch credulity to believe that William McCombie Smith, a person who had been close to Donald for years, was unaware of Donald Dinnie’s indebtedness and did not discuss Donald’s financial affairs when he made his proposal to Alexander Dinnie. Also, Alexander Dinnie had only recently lent Donald £280 for the purchase of the Kintore Arms. Such a sum seems modest in relation to Donald’s earning capacity. Whatever reason Donald gave to his wealthy relation, Alexander Dinnie must have been aware that Donald did not have the readies at that time to make the purchase from his own resources.
The increased intensity of Donald Dinnie’s athletic and music hall activities from 1880 onwards now seem explicable in terms of Dinnie’s worsening financial position. He appears to have been trying to earn his way out of financial trouble. But why did he have severe money problems in the first place? After all, he seemed to be gaining a substantial income from appearance money and prize winnings. In the biography of Webster and Dinnie, they give an estimate of £25,000 for Donald Dinnie’s career money prizes alone. This figure could reasonably be doubled to include appearance money and fees too. The period 1860 to 1900 was not marked by great inflation, so taking this estimate of total earnings of £50,000 as applying to the year 1880, an estimate of Donald’s career earnings from his appearances amounted to about £5.7M in 2017 money. Did he have loan repayments to Alexander Dinnie, which were not being met by the income from the hotel? Were his travel and accommodation costs, while he was on the road, eating significantly into his income? Did he have other outgoings, such as maintenance payments to his illegitimate children and their mothers? The reason or reasons can only be guessed at in the present state of knowledge but it does seem that there is presently no plausible explanation as to where Donald Dinnie’s money was draining away.
Donald Dinnie and the Law, 1871 - 1882
Donald Dinnie had several brushes with the law in the period up to 1882 when he left for America. He appeared in court both as a plaintiff and as a defendant. Two poaching cases and his refusal to accommodate serving soldiers have already been mentioned. The following incidents illuminate some aspects of his personality very well.
In November 1875 Donald appeared at the Stonehaven Small Claims Court as a plaintiff suing one Robert White for £5, this being the estimated value of a Bantam cock belonging to Dinnie. White owned a Bantam hen and he had borrowed Donald’s cock bird to breed the pair. In return for the hire, Donald was to get a cock and a hen from the offspring. Unfortunately, Donald’s bird died while in the custody of White. It had been fighting with another bird and had expired, though White denied that this was the cause of death. White apparently declined to compensate Donald Dinnie for his loss. The Sheriff, utterly frustrated that such a trivial matter was being dealt with in his Court, found that Donald had not proved his case that the bird had died of neglect. He suggested that the matter be settled out of Court and that White might compensate Dinnie. This was not the last time that Donald would seek the intervention of the courts in a relatively trivial matter, irrespective of legal costs in relation to the value of the claim.
As a defendant, Donald Dinnie was frequently in Court to answer to charges of using violence. In 1871 while he was still the landlord of the Victoria Hotel in Kincardine O’Neil, Donald got into a fight on the market stance at Bartlemuir, Kincardine O’Neil involving three other men. It was alleged that Donald “did strike them several blows on the face with his fists and knock or fell them to the ground to the effusion of blood.” He pleaded guilty and was fined 20s, with the alternative of five days’ imprisonment and was bound over in a further sum of 20s, on condition that he maintain good behaviour for six months.
By 1875 Donald Dinnie had moved on to the Royal Ury Hotel, Stonehaven which had an active posting and carriage hire operation. A 76-year-old local meal miller, William Davidson, was being driven by Dinnie from Stonehaven along the Slug road in November 1875. They had reached Lochton Devons, Durris, when a dispute broke out between them and Miller then refused to pay the hire fare, which it was accepted was provocative. Dinnie then resorted to hitting Miller with the shaft of his horse whip, causing cuts and bleeding on his face. Dinnie was fined £3 or 10 days in gaol.
A third incidence of violence resulting from a dispute occurred on September 3rd 1879, the day of the Aboyne Highland Games. By this time Donald Dinnie was the landlord of the Kintore Arms at Auchinblae, which lies about 40 miles by road from Aboyne. Dinnie travelled to Aboyne in his own carriage, with his mother and sister as passengers and lodged his horse at the stables of the Huntly Arms, close to the Green where the games were being held. Because he needed to journey back to Auchinblae after the termination of the games, Dinnie instructed the ostler, James Barclay, to ensure his horse was fed some corn and hay. However, on returning to the Huntley Arms he found that his horse had not been fed and this, and the attitude of Barclay, infuriated him. Dinnie struck a blow, possibly with his fist which caused some bleeding. Dinnie was fined 40s.
These three incidents have a common theme. In each case, a dispute led to Dinnie quickly and disproportionately resorting to violence to enforce his point of view or deliver retribution. The blows were not trivial, as on the three occasions the injury led to bleeding.
Third Visit to America 1882 – 1883.
In early June 1882, the Dundee Courier announced that Donald Dinnie would shortly be sailing for New York. Before departure Donald took in one final Scottish meeting, at Greenock on 10th June, at which both George Davidson and Owen Duffy were present. In the heavy events honours were shared between the three, emphasising that Donald was no longer the undisputed champion on home soil. In addition to the United States, it was announced that Donald planned to visit Canada, California and Australia, so he must have intended to be away for a substantial period. It is possible that his choice of Australia was influenced by the experiences of his relative, Alexander Dinnie. The American correspondent of Sporting Life had seen posters in Boston in June advertising the attendance of Dinnie, Davidson and Cummings at the Boston Caledonian Club’s games in that summer. Thus, the decision for Dinnie to travel alone must have been a late one. He left from Glasgow on 16th June aboard the “State of Georgia” belonging to the “State” line of steamships. After leaving the Clyde, the vessel called at Larne to pick up Irish passengers (mostly emigrants) and reached New York on the 29th of the month. The passage was again miserable for Donald Dinnie, due to sea sickness.
Donald Dinnie and Duncan Ross
His first engagement was at the Yonkers Caledonian Club games on 3rd July 1882 and, not at his best, he was beaten in the heavy stone and heavy hammer by Duncan C Ross, an American of Scottish parentage (originally from Glasgow), who had become a professional athlete after a spell as a policeman. The following day, at the annual games of the Caledonian Club of Hudson County, New Jersey, the pair met again. Ross won the heavy stone, light stone and heavy hammer but Donald bested his opponent in the light hammer and caber. Dinnie and Ross, after becoming acquainted as rival competitors went on to become collaborators, in the fashion of previous friendships struck up by Donald. Before long they were drumming up interest in a wrestling contest through the newspapers. They offered to wrestle any two men in the world in a mixed match for $500 or $1000 a side. A match was quickly arranged with two Irish-American athletes, Thomas Lynch and Captain James Daily. Dinnie and Ross also toured on the North American Highland games circuit together throughout the summer of 1882.
Duncan Ross had been born in Scutari, Turkey in 1855, the son of Scottish parents. This was at the time of the Crimean war and Britain and Turkey were fighting on the same side against Russia. Scutari was the location of a Turkish Army barracks which was assigned to the British. The army hospital where Florence Nightingale worked was also nearby. It is like that the parents of Duncan Ross were involved with the military. After emigration to America, Duncan showed a talent for heavy events at Highland games. He married a 16 year old girl in controversial circumstances. In July 1879, Duncan Ross eloped with Jenny Gerke, the 16-year-old daughter of Charles Gerke a well-known furrier, much to the consternation of her parents.
After about a two-week stay in and around New York, Dinnie and Ross travelled through Rhode Island, where they appeared at Providence, on to Montreal in Canada and then through Toronto and Hamilton. They visited Galt and Erie before moving on to Lawrence and Boston in Massachsetts, finally returning via Lucknow, St Thomas and Hamilton in Ontario by late September 1882. This was the end of the Highland games season and they then journeyed to New York. Donald Dinnie remained in the environs of that city for several months, until April 1883.
By the time Dinnie and Ross had reached Montreal at the beginning of August 1882, Donald had recovered sufficiently to start beating Duncan Ross regularly, though at the Philadelphia games in late August honours were fairly evenly shared between the two athletes. Occasionally another athlete, such as AW Johnson, intervened to disrupt the Dinnie – Ross duopoly, for example, at Albany on 23 August, Johnson came first ahead of Donald Dinnie in the caber.
More Bad Behaviour
However, accusations of bad behaviour started to emerge but on this trip they were much worse than the accusations of petulance and seeking an unfair advantage that had been made against Dinnie in 1870. In September 1882 a letter from “HC” was published in The Spirit of the Times. Parts of it are reproduced here because the letter summarises succinctly the misgivings that many people had with the behaviour of both Donald Dinnie and Duncan Ross at Hamilton, Ontario. At that meeting, some of the finest athletes in North America were present for what should have been a first class athletic event, including EW Johnson, Archie Scott, M McDonald and HM Johnson, in addition to Dinnie and Ross. “The Caledonian Society at Hamilton, Ontario had a very large turnout of spectators to witness what was supposed to be a series of honest games open to all-comers for a purse of $200 for the heavy events and $100 for the light weight contests….. It may just as well be said plainly that the whole thing was a ridiculous farce, devoid of all interest and rendered absurd by its open humbug……It would be superfluous to describe the games except to say that they were evidently fixed beforehand and were most certainly not on their merits. Dinnie was beaten in the heavy-weight contest by Ross. The pretended anger of the contestants when defeated, the foul profane language made use of and the conduct of Ross and Dinnie towards the judges disgusted everybody and it is to be hoped that no such gigantic hippodrome will again be seen in our midst.” (“Humbug” is defined as “deceptive or false talk or behaviour”. “Hippodrome”, in this context, means theatre, play-acting, or deceit.) This performance led to the Hamilton Caledonian Society banning both Dinnie and Ross for life from the Society’s games for “ungentlemanly and unsportsmanlike behaviour”.
Donald Dinnie and Duncan Ross subsequently had their own disagreement at Philadelphia on 5 September. This occurred at the athletics challenge (previously alluded to) between Dinnie and Ross on the one hand and Daly and Lynch on the other. The agreement stipulated 15 events but on the day this was reduced to 14, with the winner to be decided by the toss of a coin in the event of equal point scores between the two sides. The programme got underway, implying that the four athletes accepted the reduction in the programme but, after seven events, when the Dinnie/Ross team were ahead by 1337 points to 1211 for Daly/Lynch, Daly objected to the change and threatened to withdraw unless the original programme was reinstated. While Duncan Ross conceded this point to the opponents, Donald Dinnie adamantly refused and the match collapsed.
Because of their recent behaviour, Donald Dinnie and Duncan Ross were starting to lose credibility as athletes with both the media and the paying public. In an attempt to counter this negative perception, the pair organised a record-setting exhibition under controlled conditions at the Manhattan Athletic Club on 4 November 1882. Independent experts verified that stones and hammers were of defined characteristics and that the ground was flat and distances accurately measured and recorded. However, on the appointed day Donald Dinnie did not show up, so Duncan Ross continued alone. He was allowed six trials at each sport, namely 21lb shot, 16lb shot, 14lb shot, 12lb hammer,16lb hammer and 56lb weight. The hammer handles were light and springy weighing 8oz and hammer and handle measured 4ft overall. Subsequently more substantial but shorter handles of 3ft 6in length were also used.
Dinnie and Ross then resorted to a mixture of vilification and bombast via the pages of the New York Clipper. Dinnie gave a weak excuse for his non-attendance on 4 November but still claimed he could beat Ross. Ross in turn challenged Dinnie to an athletics match with side stakes of from $100 to $500 and the challenge was extended to George Davidson who had also been active in the newspapers in defence of Donald Dinnie. However, Donald then declined to meet Duncan Ross saying he feared that Ross would end the affair in a wrangle if he was in danger of losing. George Davidson made a similar charge, saying that Duncan Ross would “storm around” and that in any case Dinnie had beaten Ross “5-to-1” over the last season. Dinnie appeared to be avoiding a competition with Ross. The, perhaps dubious, cooperation between the pair was nearly over.
At the end of the 1882 Highland games season Dinnie and Ross again took to the music hall and the theatre. They appeared, along with other Scottish performers, at the Opera House, Paterson, New Jersey in November and in December Dinnie appeared at Bunnell’s Broadway Museum. It was while he was performing at Bunnell’s that Donald Dinnie’s jacket, to which were sown all his championship medals, was stolen from a trunk between performances. It was valued at $400 to $500. The perpetrator was not identified and it has never been recovered. Dinnie also appeared at Charlie Shay’s theatre towards the end of March 1883. The location of this venue is unclear but may have been in Wheeling, West Virginia. His final appearance before the next stage of his journey appears to have been in New York on 15 April 1883. Before leaving New York a newspaper advertisement was placed offering the services of Donald Dinnie “champion athlete of the world and winner of 6000 competitions”, William MacLennan “champion Highland piper and dancer of Scotland” and William Cummings “champion runner of the world” for engagements by Scottish Societies at Scottish games, gala days etc. It had not taken Donald long to form new alliances with fellow athletes after parting ways with Duncan Ross.
The Journey across America and up the West Coast
To this time, Donald Dinnie’s travels in North America had essentially been confined to the East Coast and Eastern Canada but he received an offer from the Scottish Thistle Club of Sacramento, a city about 50 miles north east of San Francisco, to appear at their next annual picnic at Badger Park, Oakland. He accepted the offer as he needed to travel to the West Coast in order to take a passage to New Zealand, his next intended country destination. It was a long journey across the United States and he arranged several breaks along the way at which he could perform in his various guises.
According to Webster and Dinnie, one staging post for Donald Dinnie was in St Louis, Missouri, where he was engaged for two weeks “at a fair salary” but which led to a confrontation with a theatre owner over his request for an advance in salary. Donald was threatened with a gun, which he knocked from his antagonist’s hand and immediately left the premises. Another stop on his way to California saw Donald Dinnie meet Clarence Whistler, a noted American wrestler, in a match for $200 a side in Kansas City on 25 April 1883. The match was declared a draw after Whistler suffered a dislocated shoulder and then a dislocated knee.
Donald Dinnie finally arrived in Sacramento on 6 May 1883, where he was met by the local Caledonians. It was stated that he planned to remain in the city until 21 June when he would take part in their games. In fact he appeared at an earlier event held on 2 June when he performed an exhibition of athletic exercises. Donald was busy, too, on the wrestling scene. Matches were quickly arranged with William Muldoon and, separately, William Farrell. This latter match took place at Badger Park but was not completed.
Billy Muldoon was an ex-New York cop who had been brought to San Francisco by Madame Modjeska to take the part of Charles the Wrestler in Shakespeare’s play “As you like it”. The wrestling match with Donald Dinnie took place on 27 May at the Grand Opera House in San Francisco, again before a large crowd. The conditions of the match were half an hour of wrestling, Scotch and Graeco-Roman style, Dinnie to throw Muldoon twice the number of times in the former style as Muldoon threw him in the latter. Initially falls went as expected with Dinnie winning at Scotch style while Muldoon succeeded at Graeco-Roman. But Muldoon was getting the better of Dinnie. In one round he lifted Donald off his feet and threw him on his head in the middle of the ring, which left Donald rather groggy. Muldoon subsequently took two falls off Dinnie at his own style, while Donald was incapable of contesting Muldoon at Graeco-Roman and was forced to play for time. The match finally ended shortly after midnight when Dinnie conceded. Then Muldoon had scored 15 falls to Dinnie’s 11. Dinnie thus lost the match to the huge delight of the local crowd. A return match occurred later between Dinnie and Muldoon which Muldoon also won, but in a much closer contest.
Yet More Bad Behaviour
In August Donald Dinnie had a wrestling match with a Californian, DA McMillan, with whom he had formed a friendship, in Portland, Oregon,. There was a huge and noisy crowd including many ladies and much betting on the result. McMillan was victorious after a close match with one fall deciding the outcome. At the conclusion it was announced that Dinnie had been seasick on the steamer journey to Portland but this was not well received by the crowd, many of whom had laid money on Dinnie. The Daily Astorian accused Dinnie and McMillan of match-fixing, “Donald Dinnie and his friend McMillen worked their little game very successfully in Portland. It is an old dodge but when it pays at all it pays handsomely. There was an effort to produce the same result in Astoria but the inducements were not sufficient.” The charge was repeated by the Seattle Daily Post-Intelligencer, after another match at Gambrinus Park, Portland on August 19th which McMillan won by 8 falls to 4, “The contest is generally considered a hippodrome.” The pair met again in Seattle on 26 August where Dinnie won in Scotch style and McMillan won at collar and elbow.
Donald Dinnie took part in other athletic festivals in northern California, Colorado, Oregon, Montana and British Columbia during May to September 1883, sometimes only giving exhibition throws and sometimes competing for special, Dinnie prizes, for example at the Caledonia Club of San Francisco games of 26 May where he won special prizes of $20 each for the heavy ball, light ball, heavy hammer, light hammer and caber. He also entered dancing competitions, something he had stopped doing in Scotland and won the Highland fling at Denver on 23 June. A report in the Omaha Daily Bee gave an estimate of the weekly incomes of various athletes and sports men at the time. Donald’s average income was given at $500, high but not the highest, which was attributed to Charles Fish, a jockey. Another report, which appeared in the South London Express gave the following account of his earnings since leaving the East Coast, “According to a letter written by himself he is making plenty of “siller” having cleared over £800 since leaving New York last spring.” The New York Herald estimated his “profits for the season in California” at $4000 (£111,000 in 2017 money).
Bad behaviour by Donald Dinnie did not take long to resurface. A wrestling match was arranged between Donald and William Muldoon to take place at the New Market Theatre in Portland, Oregon on 11 October 1883 for $350 a side. Dinnie was losing press support and was described in one newspaper before the match as “the Scotch athlete, blowhard and bilk”. Some misunderstanding arose between Dinnie and the theatre manager over the arrangements and, after the crowd had assembled for the match and Dinnie had received his share (said to be 20%) of the estimated takings of $1000, he refused to go on and wrestle. Finally he was persuaded to compete but only in one bout of Graeco-Roman style wrestling, which lasted but seven and a half minutes, with Muldoon winning. The manager then refused to refund the entrance money to the naturally angry audience and riotous scenes ensued. Threats of violence were made and the police called to restore order, the attendees refusing to leave the theatre for over an hour. Muldoon went on stage to assure the crowd that he was willing to go on with the match, thus fingering Dinnie as the villain of the peace. The indignant crowd finally dispersed, loudly condemning Dinnie and the theatre manager Mr Strechhan as swindlers and bilks (people who obtain money by fraudulent means).
That was not the end of the matter. Early the following morning Mr Strechhan had Dinnie arrested and charged with obtaining money under false pretences. Dinnie was jailed in default of bonds. However, Judge Moreland concluded that Dinnie’s actions did not come within the terms of the relevant statute and, since there was no law to punish people for simply lying, Dinnie was discharged.
Muldoon shed more light on the circumstances under which the wrestling match was agreed, which shows that there was considerable animosity between Donald Dinnie and himself. Dinnie had apparently advertised for him and Muldoon to appear at various wrestling matches in Oregon at times which were impossible for Muldoon. Indeed, Muldoon said that he was looking forward to “breaking Donald’s neck”. William Muldoon also received a telegram from Mr Schwartz, Dinnie’s manager offering him a purse of $1000 to come up to Portland to wrestle Dinnie two rounds back hold and three rounds Graeco-Roman, a ratio which would have favoured Dinnie. He therefore replied that if the ratio were reversed, giving him the advantage, then he would agree. Muldoon was puzzled when Schwartz immediately acceded to the request, until he found that Schwartz was being sued by Dinnie and McMillan for the recovery of $520 in salary. This suggested that Dinnie was being set up by his disgruntled manager to meet Muldoon on unfavourable terms and therefore make him more likely to lose. These circumstances seem to be the reason why Donald Dinnie ducked out of the match in Portland as soon as he could.
It was an opportune time for Donald Dinnie to take his leave of the Californian scene with his winnings, as he was regularly being vilified in the press. His last engagement on the West Coast was a wrestling match against Tom Nolan on 22 November in San Francisco, which he won by three falls to two. Dinnie later claimed he had travelled 150,000 miles in America. He left from San Francisco by the steamer City of Sydney for New Zealand on 26 November and arrived in Auckland on 18 December 1883 and new opportunities to gain some siller, free from the taint of sharp practice.
Alexander Dinnie (1831 - 1895) and the Kintore Arms Hotel, Auchinblae
Back in Auchinblae, Scotland, Donald Dinnie’s relative, Alexander Dinnie the photographer had become the owner of the Kintore Arms in 1883 and Donald’s elder daughter, Emily had become the hotel keeper. She applied for a certificate for the sale of excisable liquors in April 1884 and this was granted since she had conducted the business “very satisfactorily” in the absence of her father, implying that his absence was not permanent. Emily continued to run the hotel until 1890 when Alexander Dinnie, the hotel’s owner, became the licencee. Auchinblae was a quiet place but it was not long (June 1891 before Alexander Dinnie was caught ignoring the law relating to the provision of alcohol on a Sunday. Dinnie pleaded guilty and blamed the transgression on one of his sons, who had been gulled by a bogus traveller. Alexander was fined 25/- with 31/- costs. However, a potentially more serious case was heard a little over a year later, in November 1891. On this second occasion the charge was one of supplying drink after 10pm. Three village lads, it was alleged, had clubbed together to buy a bottle of whisky and had gone to the back door of the hotel. The allegation continued that the whisky was obtained, though no one was seen drinking it. On the day of the court hearing Alexander Dinnie was seen entertaining the lads to beer and in court he was accused of witness tampering, since at least one of them changed his evidence. However, the lads, while agreeing that they had been bought a pint of beer each denied that the case was discussed with Dinnie. All three gave consistent evidence in court that no whisky had been supplied and the charge was withdrawn, though the Procurator Fiscal must have suspected that Alexander Dinnie had been up to no good. This was certainly echoed by the Chief Constable when Alexander Dinnie applied for a renewal of his licence in 1892. There was no doubt in the mind of the Chief Constable that there had been witness tampering the previous year and he relayed other police observations that clients were admitted to the hotel after closing time for the sale of alcohol. Mr Gardner, appearing for Dinnie, rightly demanded that the Chief Constable either lay specific charges or withdraw his statement. No charges were laid. Dinnie was then granted his licence but the bench warned him to be careful about his future conduct. Alexander Dinnie died in 1895 at the Kintore Arms and his wife Ann, took over its management. She also bought the hotel from the trustees of her late husband’s estate.
Ann Dinnie succeeded in getting the licence to the Kintore Arms hotel transferred to herself, though she had to overcome some opposition from the Chief Constable who was unhappy with the way the hotel had previously been run. She continued her late husband’s programme of running tourist trips from Fordoun station to the Clatterin’ Brig, a picturesque spot on the road over the Cairn o’ Mount road to Deeside and managed the hotel successfully. In 1896, she remarried to Charles Jones.
Royalan Gordon Dinnie (1862 - )
Donald Dinnie’s son, Royalan Gordon Dinnie, was born in 1862 and was 20 years old when Donald left for America for the third time. He was still living at the Kintore Arms hotel at the time. Royalan was an accomplished athlete and at the Auchinblae games held at Auld Yule, 1881 and 1882, he appeared alongside his illustrious father. In the local events in 1881, Royalan was first in the hammer, stone, high leap, vaulting and Highland fling. He was second in the short race and the Ghillie Callum. In the open competitions Donald Dinnie won the hammer, stone and high leap with his son coming second in the hammer and high leap. In 1882, Dinnie senior won the caber, hammer and stone but Royalan came second in the Highland fling, Ghillie Callum, vaulting and hammer, first in the three-legged race and third in the stone and the high leap. He had further success at the Arbroath games, Marykirk games and Brechin games in 1883. Royalan also played cricket for St Laurence (Laurencekirk). The similarity to his father did not end with athletic ability. In July 1883 Royalan was charged with breach of the peace by threatening to fight other young men on a road in Auchinblae. A further charge of assault fell through when a witness modified his evidence. Royalan was fined £1. He then disappeared from the scene in North East Scotland and it was only an oblique reference in 1906 that indicated that Royaln had emigrated to America about 1886, possibly earlier and that he had been engaged in business. A “Roy Dinnie” was a passenger on the ss Manitoban travelling from Glasgow to Boston, arriving in America on 28 July 1884. He was aged 22 and a mechanic. This person seems likely to have been Donald Dinnie’s son. If so, he emigrated in the immediate aftermath of his father’s departure from Auchinblae.
First Visit to New Zealand, 1883 - 1884
Examination of the American and New Zealand newspapers for late 1883 shows that there was probably some fluidity in Donald Dinnie’s plans. He left the West Coast of America a week later than originally announced, though he had clearly planned to appear at various events in the South Island of New Zealand on dates before his actual arrival. It was also announced that his intention was to travel on to Australia on the City of Sydney but that he had changed his mind. Further confusion arose over the arrangements for his appearances in New Zealand. Initially he was due to join Woodyear’s Circus but later this was changed to him making his own travel arrangements.
On 20th December 1883, two days after his arrival in Auckland, Donald Dinnie embarked on the ss Takapuna for Lyttleton, the port serving Christchurch in the South Island, arriving on 22 December. He then travelled further south by rail the same day. That journey took him to the town of Ashburton where he made his first public appearance, giving an exhibition at the Caledonian Sports on 26 December. There was an unusually large attendance and many people claimed him as an old friend, greeting him with a hearty hand-shake. He showed the locals how to toss the caber, though a big piece had to be sawn off the end before they could handle it and he also gave an exhibition of wrestling holds with W Matheson, the local winner of the wrestling competition. Donald was clearly in his element among adoring expatriate Scots who probably knew little of and cared less for his recent bruising experiences on the West Coast of America. He had been due to attend other events, at Balclutha, Waikouaiti, Winton and Kakanui, also being held on Boxing Day, but he was still in a honeymoon period with the New Zealanders and he was probably forgiven for such chaotic scheduling. It is difficult at this distance in time to appreciate how isolated and how Scottish the south of the South Island was. Donald Dinnie, a Scot with international status as an athlete, visiting this country remote from the national homeland was an event of major significance for the population. No wonder “Several Scottish shepherds are stated to have thrown up their billets rather than miss seeing the great champion”.
Donald Dinnie was heading for Dunedin, the capital city of Otago Region and even before his arrival he was involved in negotiations both for his appearance and for the make-up and content of the Dunedin games of the Caledonian Society of Otago, to be held over the New Year holiday. His methods of negotiation were revealed by a later release of a letter he wrote to the South Canterbury Caledonian society. “I shall be glad to make terms with you for a date next month. I would prefer the first or second week in February or any date that may suit you. I enclose a programme of my special things. My usual terms are £25 and chance of prizes or if you prefer it I would accept sharing terms, say half the gross receipts, of course I shall expect that all contests shall be under Caledonian rules. I am willing to be handicapped as in the programme.” So, Donald was dictating terms to games organisers which all but guaranteed him a healthy income from his attendance.
It was reported that if he wrestled at Dunedin, it would be in Scotch style, not the Borders style favoured around that city. Donald’s exalted status allowed him to require such changes. Extra Dinnie specialities were added on the second and third days of the games, 16lb hammer (Dinnie’s handicap 10ft) prizes £5/£2/£1, 56lb weight (Dinnie’s handicap 3ft) prizes £4/£2/£1and putting the 16lb stone (Dinnie’s handicap 4ft) prizes £4/£2/£1. Donald would have been confident that he could win all three contests. In parallel with the Highland games, Donald Dinnie also negotiated a wrestling match with Robertson, a Maori, who had been prominent in the wrestling contest at the Dunedin Hibernian games, this new contest to take place at the Caledonian sports. In the event, the weather was very bad, though the attendance at 22,000 on the first two days was high. The third day was postponed to the following Saturday. Donald Dinnie was present on the first two days but his performance was unexceptional. He came first in the 16lb stone and the caber but was only second in the 16lb hammer, when the handicap was taken into account. He was placed only 3rd in the Highland fling, a decision which was rumoured to be due to Donald withdrawing from the wrestling. He took this setback with bad grace and withdrew from the foot races. Donald Dinnie also attended the third day of the games and won the 56lb weight over a bar and putting the 56lb weight. Dinnie’s earnings from the games amounted to £28. He was not top of the prize money, Murray the dancer also taking £28 and Burk the runner taking £48. However, Donald also received £50 appearance money. (This account of the Dunedin games, taken from contemporary New Zealand newspapers, is difficult to square with the glowing narrative in the book by Webster and Dinnie where they said he “won 18 firsts in all over two days” at the Dunedin games.)
Donald Dinnie showed his continuing dissatisfaction with the dancing result at Dunedin by issuing a challenge to any man in New Zealand to dance the Highland fling for £100 a side. This challenge was quickly taken up by the accomplished local dancer, James Murray junior. In reply Donald Dinnie, while accepting the challenge, added what looked like a “get-out” condition, that the judges should be knowledgeable about the Highland fling but, at the same time, doubting that such could be found in Dunedin. This condition was later made more exacting by Dinnie insisting that the judges should be brought over from Edinburgh, 12,000 miles away. The final tightening was that Dinnie claimed that only one man in the world was competent to judge the dance and he lived in Edinburgh! The Otago Daily Times said, “This does not look like a serious proposition.” The North Otago Times also commented, with withering irony. “It would evidently suit Mr Dinnie best to keep his own judge, to pay him a salary and to get him to travel around with him. Then doubtless Mr Dinnie’s dancing would be judged to his entire satisfaction.” The Auckland Star described his conduct as “puerile”. A dancing match for money with Murray never did take place, though Donald Dinnie was beaten twice in public competition. A letter to the Otago Daily Times from “Highland Fling” was scornful in its condemnation of Dinnie’s stance. “Sir, Truly, a triton has fallen among the minnows in the shape of this greatest of athletes and this renowned individual is afraid to enter into a contest with James Murray jun. who has taken the conceit out of him twice at the Caledonian grounds. It strikes a good many that Dinnie only challenges, or takes up the challenge, with those whom he can beat. Fancy coming all the way to the colonies to be beaten by only a colonial!” (Dinnie used the term “colonial” as a pejorative term to imply ignorance, lack of ability, or even stupidity.)
The great man was due to be present at the Timaru Caledonian sports on 2 January 1884 but he did not appear, which caused anger in the crowd which had attended “solely by curiosity to see the celebrated champion…and it was not good to hear the language in which they expressed their disappointment. If they had read the papers they would have seen that Donald Dinnie could not be present at the Timaru games. But there were probably thousands who read the advertisement implying that Donald Dinnie would be there”. The games committee may have been complicit in this apparent deception but Donald reaped the consequences.
The prickly side of Donald Dinnie’s nature now resurfaced with an arrogant and boastful letter to the Morning Herald, “Sir, In this morning’s issue of your paper I observe a very insulting letter comparing Matheson with me as a “hammer thrower”. I reply I may state for information to ignoramuses who write such “bosh” that Matheson could not come within 10ft of a sixth-class “hammer-thrower” in Scotland….” A further Dinnie letter in the Otago Times repeated the “sixth rate” slur and paraded Donald’s achievements at heavy events to justify his claim to current superiority. “My records in the leading sporting papers are authenticated therefore only fools will dispute them…” This tirade elicited several responses from needled locals. “Dugald” wrote, “I understand Dinnie gets £50 from the Caledonian Society for his presence at the games and his chance of the prizes. What has he done? He walks about and dictates to the judges, only competing when he is sure of winning. He declined to meet Matheson for the championship but Matheson was more of a man and met him at his own style and took his defeat with good grace”. Dinnie’s practice of dictating terms to games organisers was clearly not going down well with New Zealanders. Another letter from “XYZ”, in the Otago Times, questioned Dinnie’s claim to be a world champion at throwing the 56lb weight. “In your issue of today, Donald Dinnie gives his record of 26ft 7in for throwing the 56lb ball as the best for the past year. I find the following in a leading New York sports journal :- “At the games of the New York Athletic Club held on the grounds at Mott Haven New York October 27 1883, Mr CAJ Queckberner beat the previous amateur and professional records at throwing the 56lb weight by the ring at the side. In three trials he threw 27ft, 26ft 4 ½ in, 26ft 9in.”
Donald Dinnie, after his failure to show up at a record-setting session with Duncan Ross in America, arranged his own record-setting session in San Francisco on 16 November 1883. He claimed to have set authenticated records for 56lb weight, 21lb hammer, 21lb stone, 16lb stone and 14lb stone. However, the National Police Gazette, a sports magazine of high standing, dismissed Dinnie’s claims as follows. “According to the scores returned, Dinnie did beat the records made by Duncan C Ross but as Dinnie’s alleged feats were accomplished with light hammers and not the regular weights, as a record the figures amount to nothing. The performance we have learned was unsatisfactory and simple addition with an India rubber tape line assisted in increasing the numerals.” This would become another regular feature of Dinnie’s behaviour, not only to claim to be a world champion at some event but also to be an authority on athletics statistics, both claims being of dubious standing.
Donald Dinnie had thus already done serious damage to his image only a few weeks after his arrival in New Zealand. Press reports became increasingly critical of the Scottish hero. For example, the Tuapeka Times wrote “It is just possible that Dinnie may be a strong man but the individual who would go into raptures over him on that account cannot be possessed of too much common sense. Why such a fuss should be made over a man who exhibits his strength to make money is hard to conceive. More noise could not be made if either of such celebrities as Gladstone, or the President of the United States, were to visit us than what has been made over Dinnie.” The Otago Times pithily remarked “Donald Dinnie, strong as he is, cannot handle this colony as easily as he can his dumb-bells.” And this had all happened before January 1884 was half complete!
Donald Dinnie also negotiated appearances at the Queen’s Theatre, Dunedin, starting on Monday 31st December, where he would perform feats of strength and Highland dancing, boosting attendance at the theatre considerably. Donald also played the violin, while the piper danced a reel. He appeared on stage “so attired as to enable his great muscular development to be seen to advantage”. Donald also appeared at the Pantascope on Saturday 5 January 1884, where he performed his usual routine to the great satisfaction of the audience. For an encore Donald played the violin while Mr Gray the piper danced the Highland fling. On Friday 11 January the Queen’s Theatre was reserved for a complimentary benefit for Donald Dinnie “under most distinguished patronage”.
By the start of 1884 Donald Dinnie had settled into his usual routine of dictating terms to Caledonian societies to appear at their events, throwing down challenges to other athletes for wrestling or athletic competitions and appearing in theatre shows at which he performed feats of strength, wrestled and danced. His attempts to dictate terms were not always successful. He was initially turned down by the Gore Sports Committee on the grounds that there had been recent athletics events and there was a scarcity of the “needful”.
Donald Dinnie must have found New Zealand congenial because on 9 January 1884 the Oamaru Herald reported that Donald was thinking of settling permanently in Dunedin, confirming that he had no immediate plans to return to Scotland. It was also announced about this time that he was thinking of touring the principal towns of Australia, under the management of Joseph Pickersgill, whom he had met through his theatre appearances, though at this stage it seems to have been Donald’s intention not to stay in Australia but to return to the “Land of the Long Cloud”, the Maori name for New Zealand.
During his tour through New Zealand, Donald Dinnie took part in a number of wrestling matches. He met William Hudson, a local wrestler on 15 January in Dunedin for side stakes. With the score standing at four falls each, Hudson had to withdraw due to injury. Donald Dinnie then claimed the stakes but was prevailed upon to let the match stand over until a re-match. Dinnie agreed to this provided the stakes were raised and the match took place within six weeks. When the bout finally took place, Dinnie won three falls to two. At the Southland Caledonian sports Donald wrestled local man, Harper, but insisted on Scotch-style, with which his opponent was unfamiliar. He threw Harper easily and a re-match gave the same result. A further match took place between Dinnie and O’Grady the champion of North Otago. This proved to be a one-sided affair, so much so that the Oamaru Mail suggested that the one fall that O’Grady achieved was fixed, “it was too palpable that O’Grady did not entirely cause the fall”. Perhaps on this occasion it was not so much a fixed match as Donald trying to make the match look less uneven by giving away a fall. At the Caledonian games at Christchurch the wrestling competition was conducted in two styles, Scotch and Border. While Dinnie won the Scotch-style competition, both Hudson and G Robertson beat Dinnie at Border-style, emphasising the reason why Dinnie always tried to insist on Scotch-style for wrestling bouts. Back in the old country the Dundee Peoples Journal reported that Dinnie “is carrying all before him in the antipodes at hammer throwing and in no fewer than 5 styles of wrestling”, which was hardly the unvarnished truth, but perhaps stay-at-home Scots still wanted to believe that Donald’s performances had not declined in recent years.
On 17 January 1884 Donald Dinnie arrived by train in Invercargill, which lies to the west of Dunedin on the south coast of the South Island. He was surrounded by small boys as he walked to his hotel, such was his fame. Between this date and the end of the month he appeared at a number of athletic events at towns between Dunedin and Invercargill. These included Riverton, Gore, Wyndham, Balclutha, Mataura and Riversdale. At all these towns, he won most of the events for which he entered. In spite of the large expatriate population of Scots in the area (Wyndham had formed a Caledonian Society and organised games specially to bring Donald to the town) not everyone was overawed by his presence. “J”, a resident of Gore, wrote to the Otago Daily Times suggesting that Donald Dinnie (47 at the time) was over the hill as an athlete and that there were many international personalities who could best him at his various events. “J” could not understand why Dinnie was so popular and came to the conclusion that it was due to Donald puffing himself up for a gullible audience. Another newspaper correspondent offered an alternative opinion, “…the cause of Dinnie’s boasted notoriety consists in his being a Scotchman”.
During February 1884 Donald Dinnie toured towns between Dunedin and Christchurch before travelling on to Wellington at the south end of the North Island, where he arrived on the first of March 1884. Towns on his itinerary included Palmerston, Oamaru and Christchurch. During this period two letters appeared in the local press, one from “Ex-athlete”, the other from “A True Scotsman” (both possibly by Dinnie himself) taking issue with the many negative opinions which had been expressed in the press on Donald’s character and achievements. The editor of the Otago Daily Times remarked. “This must end the free advertisements of Mr Dinnie”.
In the first half of March Donald toured towns to the north east of Wellington, Danvirke, Waipawa and Wellington itself. His press reception was hardly different from that he had received in the South Island. The New Zealand Times wrote as follows. “He proved himself avaricious in grabbing every farthing he could get hold of and quarrelsome in his competitions. At Waipawa the people were more disgusted than ever with him and there they term him a “sell” and they paid him the moderate sum of £30 for his presence added to which he quietly walked off with every prize for which he competed.” Donald Dinnie then boarded the steamer Te Anau on her regular run between New Zealand and Australia to begin the tour of Australian towns and cities which had been flagged earlier and estimated to be about two or three weeks in length. In May 1884 he told a reporter that his Australian stay would be about four months, after which he would return to New Zealand though, in the event, he stayed for many years before returning. He arrived in Melbourne on 21 March 1884. Perhaps he was wise to leave New Zealand when he did.
Australia, 1884 - 1893
Whatever his intentions when he first arrived in Australia, Donald Dinnie lived there for nine years, from 1884 to 1893. During this time he visited most of the Australian colonies, the exceptions being Western Australia and Northern Australia. Donald initially made Melbourne his base but after a month he entered an intensive phase of activity, which lasted from late May 1884 to 1 January 1885 during which he ranged out over many geographical areas. Separate tours were made to Gippsland and the towns lying in the direction of Sydney, then towns north and west of Melbourne and finally, a major and very demanding tour from Sydney through New South Wales, Queensland , back to Sydney and the area south of that capital city and finally returning to Melbourne at the beginning of 1885. This last tour, which continued for a little over four months, involved at least 55 separate performances of various kinds and several thousands of miles of travel.
Shortly after he arrived in Melbourne, Donald Dinnie set about recruiting members for his touring party and it appears that that is how he met his future wife, Eleanor Bagley. She was, at the time, a 23-year-old actress and dancer and her stage name was Ida McDonald. Donald Dinnie and Eleanor Bagley must have quickly become enamoured, despite the difference in their ages. In 1884 Donald Dinnie was 47. Eleanor Bagley appears to have had a younger sister, who was also a dancer and joined her sister on stage on some occasions, under the name of “Little Pauline”, or “Pauline McDonald”.
Most of the following four years, 1885, 1886, 1887 and 1888, were spent in and around Melbourne. This relative immobility was at least partly occasioned by Donald Dinnie’s relationship with Eleanor Bagley, whom he married in December 1885. Their first child together, Eva Lena Ida Dinnie, “Evie”, was born on 24 June 1887. However, another reason, as will be shown, is likely to have been Donald Dinnie’s mental and physical state, which deteriorated.
Australia in Summary
Immediately after Donald’s return from his long tour of 1884 he travelled to Adelaide to perform in a New Year “Grand Caledonian Fate”. He also attended events in Adelaide over Christmas 1885 and New Year 1886. At New Year 1887 Donald performed in Mount Gambier, which lies roughly half way between Melbourne and Adelaide. During 1887 and 1888, Donald Dinnie made occasional single trips to towns around Melbourne, Including Mount Gambier and Gin Gin. It was not until January 1890 that he again started to make more extensive tours, when he travelled through towns east and north east of Melbourne, followed by a further tour of towns lying east of Victoria’s capital city. In September and October of the same year Donald toured Tasmania. During the first half of 1891, Donald Dinnie again spent most of his time in Melbourne but in the second half of that year he made another demanding tour from mid-New South Wales up through Queensland, back to Sydney and finally returning to Melbourne. His Australian touring activities then subsided again and he spent the period between June 1891 and June 1893 based in Melbourne, with occasional trips out to surrounding towns such as Sale and Mansfield. At the beginning of June 1893, the Dinnie family removed to New Zealand. This bald summary of Donald Dinnie’s sojourn in Australia is presented so that the many incidents which marked his life in that country can be placed in context.
Donald Dinnie’s first engagement in Melbourne, after his arrival in March 1884, was under the management of Joseph Pickersgill, whom he had met in New Zealand. It took place at the Victoria Hall in Melbourne where Donald gave exhibitions of weight lifting. However, it appeared that Pickersgill had contracted to guarantee Donald a certain income. The figure proved to be too high in relation to the audiences attending many events and this would later cause the two men to part company.
Soon after his arrival, Donald was asked if he would wrestle the self-styled “Professor” William Miller, “Champion of the World”, a title which Dinnie liked to apply to himself in his “Scotch” style. Dinnie’s response was positive, but he would not wrestle in the Graeco-Roman style. Miller had been born in England but had emigrated to Australia in 1851. He was generally recognised as the greatest exponent of weightlifting and wrestling in the Australian colonies. Miller proposed to Dinnie that they should engage in a contest of strength and Donald agreed. Each athlete was to choose five lifting feats with dumb-bells. The match took place on Saturday, 5 April 1884 in the Old Exhibition Building in Melbourne, with 8000 present in the audience. Each man had put up a stake of £50. However, the contest did not run smoothly, due to disagreements about which lifting styles were permissible. The referee, Monsieur Victor, a prominent French wrestler and weight-lifter, called two contests for Miller, judging Dinnie’s lifting techniques to be impermissible. The match, which otherwise would have been a draw, was awarded to Miller. This did not please either the crowd or Donald Dinnie.
Not surprisingly, Dinnie and Miller quickly agreed to a wrestling match with stakes of £50 each. The match, which took place on 19 April 1884, was in two styles, Scotch and Graeco-Roman, with three falls in each style. It was hard-fought and after four rounds the score stood at two falls each. In the fifth round Dinnie attempted to throw Miller who landed heavily on one leg, broke the lower end of his fibula and probably also dislocated his ankle. He declared he could not continue, which caused the crowd to hiss and then he gamely tried to carry on by putting his weight on the damaged leg, causing the broken bone to protrude through the skin. The match thus ended and was called for Dinnie, though some newspapers reported a draw, presumably because both wrestlers agreed to a rematch. Donald Dinnie subsequently wrote to the editor of the “Sportsman” expressing regret for the injury to Miller, suggesting that the athletes of Melbourne should organise a benefit in Miller’s favour and offering his services for such a benefit. It was about a year before Miller was fit for a return match.
A touring company was then assembled including, in addition to Donald Dinnie, Monsieur Victor and Miss Flora McDonald, a dancer who was described in the press as a niece of Donald’s. Did Eleanor Bagley have another dancing relative? This company performed at both Ballarat and Geelong. Donald performed Highland dances, as well as wrestling Victor. At Geelong Donald Dinnie also held sporting competitions for local athletes but including himself, which depressed the entries in most events. The paying attendance was very small, some people managing to break in without paying and others watching from horseback or from the roofs of surrounding buildings. The Geelong Advertiser described the show as “a flop”. There followed an unseemly occurrence the same evening when prize money was distributed to the successful competitors. Dinnie and his associates claimed that it was the custom not to pay out second prize money if the number of entrants in a competition was less than five. Two local athletes were apparently unaware of this practice and protested when they were denied second prizes, calling Donald and Mr Wills, an associate of Joseph Pickersgill, “robbers” but “prefixed with a word which need not be explained”. Donald demanded that the insult be withdrawn, which the aggrieved parties declined to do. Dinnie’s reply was that if they did not withdraw in one minute he would make them eat their words. One man tried to escape but Donald prevented his exit and an apology was finally extracted, the Scot remarking, “I dinna like the speerit of these colonial laddies”, another example of Donald’s disdain for “colonials”. At Ballarat, the reception was more enthusiastic, with many expatriate Scots attending, the occasion being an opportunity for the national beverage to be consumed freely, but not by Dinnie himself. The “Ballarat Star” reported that it found Dinnie “not overfree in conversation”.
Breakdown of the Relationship with Pickersgill and Wills
In late May 1884, the tour of Gippsland by the Dinnie concert company took place, but the simmering dispute with Joseph Pickersgill boiled over when they reached the town of Sale. Donald later remarked that trouble had been brewing for a long time. The first night’s performance went ahead but the following day’s event was cancelled, when Donald Dinnie refused to partake, unless back money he claimed was due was forthcoming. Pickersgill made the accusation that Donald was in breach of the agreement between them and threated to seek recourse at law. Donald and M. Victor retaliated by organising their own afternoon Caledonian sports event and evening music hall performance. The split was permanent and Donald and company continued the tour under their own management. Joseph Pickersgill’s response was to advertise a lecture by himself entitled “Athletes I have met, notably Donald Dinnie” and also promised, “the allusions to Scotland’s champion athlete are absolutely unreportable”! In his lecture Pickersgill, who enjoyed a good attendance and who was repeatedly cheered, claimed that Donald Dinnie had an uncouth manner in dealing with his patrons. Popular feeling against Dinnie surfaced again when a local athlete in Sale. Dr McDonald wrestled Dinnie and managed to throw him. “The success of the doctor was such that all the Caledonians assembled in a neighbouring hostelry and drank his health in bumpers”. On the same tour Donald Dinnie attracted further negative press comment when he was fined £3 with £1 6/6 costs for insulting a police sergeant who refused him entry to his own event at Mooroopna. Donald did not attend court and, according to the local paper “evinced some contempt for the whole proceedings”. The Gippsland Times also commented on Donald’s parsimony when it remarked, “Donald Dinnie is not making himself very popular. It appears he runs the proverbial carefulness of his nation to a very fine point and in a township on the Goulburn spent half a day going from one hotel to another to see if a few bawbees could not be saved by beating down the regular rates”.
It is unsurprising that Donald continued to clock up successes in the athletics competitions that he organised. He was touring small, unsophisticated back-country towns in May and June 1884 and as the “Sportsman” noted following his visit to Mooroopna, “Donald Dinnie won all his usual events against mediocre opposition”. The shine imparted by Dinnie’s athletic performances of two decades ago was starting to tarnish and even in small bush towns the fare offered by Donald and his troupe was proving, on occasion, to be unappealing. The Castlemaine correspondent of the “Bendigo Advertiser” wrote after a performance at the Camp Reserve on 25 June 1884, “The attendance was very poor and the exhibition no better. Dinnie showed his strength in tossing the caber, throwing the hammer and putting the stone, these three comprising the programme. No one came forward to accept the champion’s prizes for different athletics. The only amusement provided for the spectators was when Dinnie chased some lads off the ground for scaling the fence and when his managers abused some persons for forcing their way past the gates. In fact the principal members of the company, exclusive of M. Victor, were most uncivil, even to those who had paid for admittance. As the combination left the ground they were hooted by several men and boys. In the evening they appeared at the Mechanics’ Institute to a small audience.” Another newspaper reported that Donald had a female friend with him helping to police the fence against non-paying visitors. Was this person Eleanor Bagley?
James Fleming Emigrates to Australia
Perhaps accepting that organisation was not his forte, it was about this time that Donald Dinnie turned to his friend and fellow athlete James Fleming, who had remained in Scotland when Donald left for America in 1882. It had been reported in June 1884 that Fleming was leaving to live in America and then, in September of the same year, that he was going to live permanently in Australia. He had arrived by the middle of October and was working for Donald Dinnie as his advance agent, travelling ahead of the concert company to make arrangements concerning venues and the like. He also competed as an athlete on several occasions. Sadly, his new life quickly suffered a setback. In 1874 he had suffered a bad attack of rheumatism and in November 1884 he was reported to be again suffering from the condition. He lived with Donald Dinnie when he took over the Croxton Park Hotel in Melbourne in 1886 and again became Dinnie’s business partner, as he had been in Scotland. James Fleming died of a heart attack on 11 March 1887 at Donald Dinnie’s then residence at Fairfield Park, Northcote, Melbourne. Fleming was unmarried and had no relatives in Australia. He was buried in Melbourne and Donald Dinnie opened a subscription to raise a memorial to his friend, with only moderate success. No memorial was ever raised on his grave. Cardiovascular disease is one of the most serious complications of rheumatoid arthritis.
Financial Stress – the Break-up with Louis Victor
The new Dinnie-managed company of performers did not hang together for long. Signs of financial stress were evident in July 1884 when Donald Dinnie was made a defendant in the Police Court in Bendigo, which lies about 120 miles north of Melbourne. He had been appearing at Matthews’ Circus in the suburb of Eaglehawk on 7 July and asked Victor to call a cab to transport his weights, etc, from the circus tent to his hotel. Charles Griffiths, a cabman performed the task but, after unloading the items, Dinnie went for breakfast without paying Griffiths. Charles Griffiths later tried to get the 2/6 due from Dinnie but was unsuccessful and resorted to the law. Dinnie was ordered to pay the outstanding sum plus 15/- costs. Another cabman subsequently also pursued Dinnie for an unpaid fare.
At about the same time M. Victor and other members of the company were having difficulty extracting money that Donald Dinnie owed to them in salary. M. Victor even resorted to issuing a summons against Donald for the £12 owed and he also refused to perform in Dinnie’s show on the night of 7 July 1884. (Victor lost his case because his contract did not state when on a Monday he would be paid. The bench sympathised with him and suggested he sue for his money.) Donald Dinnie tried to carry on under his own steam. On the afternoon of 7 July, he mounted an event of open athletic competitions on a piece of vacant ground in Bendigo. It was of the usual format with locals being invited to compete with Dinnie, who took on a handicap, in a variety of events for a £10 prize. Dinnie still won all the competitions in which he appeared. Leaping and jumping were also included in the advertised programme but these events did not take place, even though there were attendees who wanted to enter. “Considerable dissatisfaction was expressed as a result.” The original company finally disintegrated, though Ida McDonald continued to tour with Donald Dinnie, along with new-comer, John Thomas. Performances quickly followed at Inglewood and Echucha. At the latter athletic events, a £50 prize was offered in the following events, heavy stone, light stone, heavy hammer and light hammer. Dinnie again won all events, even accounting for his self-imposed handicap. The local competitors were nowhere near Dinnie’s standard and such competitions were starting to take on the predictability of shooting at fish in a barrel. Dinnie should have been embarrassed to mount such competitions but no such sentiment was apparent.
Donald Dinnie did not take the breakup of his company well and wrote to the editor of the Bendigo Advertiser, attempting to shift the blame for all his recent tribulations onto M. Victor. Donald threw out an exaggerated challenge to Victor, claiming he could throw him 30 times in 30 minutes in his own style, or he would back a man under 10 stone to throw him 19 times in succession. A note of self-pity then crept into the missive. “I must state that if any man in this country can find one unfair action committed by me I will forfeit £100 and will allow himself to be judge after hearing both sides of the “story”.” A further letter from Dinnie appeared in the Riverine Herald in which Dinnie denigrated Victor, as both a weight-lifter and as a wrestler. “I engaged him for my tour of Victoria, more for filling in time during my heavy weight performances than for any “draw” his name could be to me; as all interested in such matters know well that he is not so good as a sixth-class performer at either weights or wrestling….” and “I have engaged the services of Mr John Thomas a far superior wrestler to Victor in any style….” (John Thomas was a miner from Eaglehawk who had been narrowly beaten by Dinnie at wrestling by three falls to two) Victor retaliated by writing to the Bendigo Advertiser and claiming that while Donald was both larger and stronger than himself, he did not have the artistic style of Victor. Indeed, Victor had taught Dinnie artistic statue posing, an item which Dinnie subsequently used regularly in his shows, at Avoca on 21 July, for example. The performance of that evening was poorly attended, possibly due to a lack of publicity, though there were some ladies in the front seats. The local paper commented that “As a whole, the exhibition was somewhat tame, though interesting, especially the attitudinizing to the athlete and gymnast as well as the lover of graceful posturing”, perhaps including the ladies in the best seats!
More letters on the same topic followed from both Dinnie and Victor and a further excessively optimistic challenge was issued by Dinnie, ie to throw Victor 60 times in one hour of wrestling time. Victor expressed himself willing to take on Dinnie’s challenge but doubted the seriousness of his intent. Eventually the editor of the Sportsman tired of the exchange taking place in his journal. “There has been enough of the controversy between Messrs Dinnie and Victor with respect to their merits as athletes. The former has written us a characteristically insolent letter in which he asks among other things “Who in Australia can “learn” me to “Throw the hammer”, “Put the Stone”, “Toss the Caber” or “Wrestle”? Yes, or “Put up Heavy Dumb-bells?”. This part of his communication we publish but it would serve no good purpose to repeat his unseemly assertions as to what he might have done with Miller and Victor his antagonists in late matches. …. This must be the last of the letter writing.” The wrestling match between Dinnie and Victor never did take place, due to Donald’s prevarication, perhaps following a realisation that his last offer had been foolish and that he was unlikely to prevail.
The tour through Victoria continued to bumble on, punctuated by incidents of various kinds. At Rushworth, Dinnie’s paraphernalia were seized by bailiffs, due to Donald failing to pay a court settlement imposed at Sandhurst. Eventually the amount due was coughed up, the dumb-bells, etc, released and the evening show proceeded. However, Donald again upset the locals with his colourful language, “When at the Murchison station the Scot used language the reverse of polite to the intense disgust of onlookers”. Donald, apparently still irritated by this event, wrote to a local newspaper denying that his luggage had been seized and gratuitously insulting Australians. He claimed that he has been abused in Australia because he can beat all “colonials”. Donald’s propensity to insult Australians in general and his paying customers in particular, continued almost without a break. At one venue in rural Victoria he is reported to have addressed a very small audience thus. “You’re just an ignorant lot of pairsons; you’re the most unceevelised lot I ever came across in my life. I wadna geev my skilful performance before sic a lot of beasts.” At Ballarat two local councillors went to the venue of Dinnie’s sports and peered over the fence. Dinnie spotted them and, thinking they were parsimonious visitors trying to avoid putting their hands in their pockets, said “Dinna ye think it’s aboot time yer paid yer shallun?” These incidents all generated column inches and must have been very damaging to Donald’s status. The attitude of editors can be readily discerned from their parodic reporting in Donald’s native tongue and by frequent references to his meanness. The Toowoomba Chronicle wrote, “The champion is no doubt an extraordinary athlete but he is also very careful with the “bawbies” in fact his shrewdness exceeds his generosity”
Following the exchange with Louis Victor in the southern hemisphere winter of 1884, Donald Dinnie continued to throw out challenges and, in return, received offers to wrestle, through the medium of the press, mostly from aspiring Australians. Challenges were also issued by the American wrestlers, Tom Cannon and Clarence Whistler. Professor Miller was returning to health and Donald Dinnie gratuitously diminished his achievements before issuing him with a challenge. Miller retaliated in the press, as Dinnie had probably hoped he would. Some of Dinnie’s challenges were also issued on behalf of John Thomas, his new assistant. Donald had also engaged the services of another local wrestler by the name of Graham. At North Shore, Sydney in October 1884 Graham fought a bout with local man John Keating, which was easily won by Keating, who then threw down a challenge to Dinnie. Donald declined the challenge by not replying to it, but then dissembled by issuing a challenge of his own. This was a tactic that he would use increasingly. He would allow his assistants to fight unknown wrestlers before assessing if he himself was prepared to tackle them.
Donald Dinnie’s tactics were easily seen through and John McGuinnes, a friend of John Keating wrote to the Australian Town and Country Journal pointing out the contradictions between Dinnie’s challenges and his behaviour and urging Dinnie to “now for once act the man” and meet him to fix terms for wrestling Keating. The letter-writing by Dinnie continued to the frustration of his would-be opponents. Professor Miller wrote, “Now I have money up with my challenges in the Sportsman and request Dinnie to cover same which would be far more sportsmanlike than his “ink-slinging” process.”
Bad Organisation and Dubious Competitions - Donald Dinnie at war with the Press
Donald Dinnie did eventually wrestle one of his challengers, Jonathan Stables at Brisbane in November 1884, when Stables was set the target of making two falls in seven, but the contest was highly unsatisfactory. Both contestants acted with extreme caution, repeated failing to catch hold. After one and a half hours with the score at Dinnie four falls to Stables one fall, the match was abandoned and the result called as a draw by Dinnie’s assistant Graham, who acted as referee. The announcement was met with hooting and a near riot, many voicing the opinion that the contest had been a “sell”. This opinion was repeated in the local press, the Era describing the contest as a “gate money exhibition”. To placate the hostile crowd Dinnie and Graham then put on a wrestling exhibition. The Era gave the opinion that, “If this had not been done it is certain there would have been some chairs smashed.” Jonathan Stables died in April the following year, apparently due to internal injuries sustained when he wrestled John Thomas.
Despite James Fleming now being on hand to help with management of Dinnie’s events, chaotic organisation continued to be the order of the day. The Brisbane Courier was unimpressed and gave a negative write-up to one of Dinnie’s sports events, held at the Exhibition Grounds in late November 1884. “The sports held by Donald Dinnie at the Exhibition grounds on Saturday were not a success. The attendance was meagre hardly numbering 200 persons. The arrangements were bad and conducted in a most unbusinesslike manner. The number of sharping harpies (swindling, unpleasant women) on the ground was very noticeable and it must also be said that they succeeded in fleecing a few gulls (persons who have been deceived).” Criticism continued concerning the prize structure. First prizes in the open competitions were either too small to attract local entrants, or large (£50) but accompanied by the condition that to win the contestants had to beat the best performance on record. Dinnie, of course, won all events that he entered and carried off the prizes.
Donald Dinnie, as usual, was stung to reply to the criticism. He claimed that the management of the Courier was being vindictive because he had complained that their report on his wrestle with Stables was unfair and that they were pleased that the Saturday sports were not a success. Donald also claimed that he was an experienced manager of such events, having done so in Great Britain for over 30 years and was the most fit person in the country for that job. Then came the belittling of his hosts, “I do not imagine I have learned much in my business since visiting Australia.” Concerning the Courier’s criticism of prizes and conditions, Donald pointed out that they had forgotten to mention the handicaps. “Any third-class runner could win either of these prizes…”. “I wish only the simple truth stated and even though I am not a colonial, let me have fair play is all I ask.” The editor delivered a withering put-down. “There is nothing in our description of the sports that is not in accordance with the facts. If Mr Dinnie is right then we must be in the habit of having sports much better managed than is customary in Great Britain.” The Telegraph, another Brisbane paper, continued the attack on Donald Dinnie. “Donald Dinnie seems to be running foul of those diabolical set of fellows known as “Press men”. Nasty independent spirits aint they Donald. Won’t say what they don’t think, or write about things that have never happened for all the “silver” in bonnie Queensland. They wouldn’t even crack the sports up or the great benefit at the Albert Hall would they Dinnie? It was mean of them certainly. As a mighty man and a credit to human prowess I have a great respect for Donald…. But then Donald you have been before the public long enough to know that last Saturday’s sports were not up to your usual form.” As in America and New Zealand, it had not taken Donald Dinnie long to lose the sympathy of the press.
Donald Dinnie’s tour through Queensland continued until the end of December 1884, accompanied by further incidents. He travelled by coach overland, leaving Maryborough for Bundeberg, which lies about 230 miles north of the state capital, on 14th December. The baggage allowance of 14lbs, was far less that the weight of Dinnie’s paraphernalia. On arrival at Bunbaberg, Willie Redmond, landlord of the Queen’s Hotel and the local coaching agent demanded a payment of £3 from Donald Dinnie for excess luggage before the goods could be unloaded. Dinnie drew a knife, cut the lashings on his goods and unloaded them to a dray, whereupon Redmond ran to the horse’s head to prevent the dray leaving. Dinnie then used “very insulting language and threatened to smack Redmond’s face” and followed this aggression by threatening Redmond with a crow bar. Redmond bolted to avoid injury and instigated an action for assault against Dinnie. The case was heard by three magistrates, Hamilton, Shand and Isambard, the first two being Scots. To the amazement of local observers, the Bench decided there was no case to answer, Isambard dissenting. With heavy irony, the Queensland Figaro commented “Blood (in Scotchmen) may not be thicker than water and the fact that the majority of the bench was Scotch and that a Scottish champion was acquitted of blame may have only formed a striking but undesigned coincidence.”
At Cremorne Pleasure Gardens, Brisbane on 24 December 1884 a typical Dinnie sports competition was held with spectacular, but unreachable, prizes offered. “Those who expected to see contests were greatly disappointed”, was the comment of the Brisbane Courier. A local athlete, DM Brown performed well in the high jump. He was credited with 5ft 4in, though he claimed he had cleared 5ft 5in and on this basis tried to claim the £50 prize, since he had jumped to within 6in of Dinnie’s personal record of 5ft 11in. But then Dinnie appeared to move the proverbial goal posts. According to the Courier, Dinnie intimated that he had intended to have mentioned that the winning height was to be within 6in of 6ft 2in and thus that Brown had fallen 3in short of the required level. Brown was naturally dissatisfied and challenged Dinnie to a high jumping competition but Dinnie declined since he claimed to have given up high jumping after an accident to his leg. At the Cremorne Sports a year later, Dinnie would forget that he had retired from this discipline, when he jumped from scratch in the handicapped high jump!
Chaos continued to reign at a Dinnie sports meeting held at the Adelaide Oval at New Year 1885. The Adelaide Evening Journal described the affair as follows. ““A more muddled affair than the so-called “Grand Caledonian Fete” held on Saturday on the Adelaide Oval and representing the last appearance of Donald Dinnie and Professor Miller could hardly have been contrived. As an indignant spectator in language more emphatic than grammatical remarked “nobody knowed nothing about anything coming on”, and as a matter of fact there was just as much ignorance as to what was going off for the programme was partially carried out in a haphazard fashion and the main events never came off at all. The affair began with a bungle and ended in a row.” The programme was late in starting and during the early part of the games there were not more than 20 in the audience “including deadheads” and never more than 400 at any time in the afternoon. The wrestling and boxing events never took place at all. Serious trouble came in the heavy stone event for a £50 prize where Donald Dinnie received a close challenge from local athlete Paddy Roechock, who appeared to put the 20lb stone a few inches further than Dinnie. However, when Dinnie made the measurement he declared himself to be the winner, a result which was vigorously disputed by Paddy Roechock and his supporters. Dinnie declined to concede the £50 prize and chaotic scenes followed. Eventually calm was restored, referees appointed and a further test using the light stone agreed, with Dinnie being penalised with a two-foot handicap. Dinnie’s best throw was 49ft 11in to Roechock’s 48ft 1 ½ in. Thus, Dinnie had the longest throw but Roechock won the competition, after taking the handicap into account. Later, at 5.30pm, Donald Dinnie was spotted walking out of the grounds and the hostile crowd yelled at him, “Come back Dinnie and do your duty”. This was not Donald Dinnie’s finest hour.
Verbal and Physical Violence
Donald Dinnie and company continued touring through Queensland and the north of New South Wales during January, February and March 1885 by horse-drawn wagonette. The pattern of events remained the same, with afternoon sports for money prizes, most of which were won by Donald himself and evening stage entertainments, including dancing, wrestling and weight-lifting. On many occasions, they played to good and appreciative audiences but occasionally only few turned up to pay. At Tinonee in New South Wales the audience for an evening performance in the Temperance Hall was so small that the show did not go ahead and money was returned to those who had paid. This put Dinnie in a foul mood and he abused the locals who were present, gaining himself some notoriety “Mr Dinnie, not pleased with want of appreciation of the Tinonee people, expressed his opinion of them in a manner that was anything but agreeable to their feelings, besides challenging a dozen of them out to fight.” The locals then took revenge on Dinnie by cutting the harness of his wagonette to pieces during the night and turning his horse loose. At Inverell in northern New South Wales, Donald Dinnie had another disagreement, this time with the local games committee. He abused them verbally too, saying that if he had them in a 24ft ring for 20 minutes Inverell’s biggest funeral for a long time would be the result. Donald Dinnie’s abusive behaviour seemed to be worsening, as judged by the frequency of reported incidents, where verbal abuse, or the threat of, or actual use of physical violence was his first resort. In early February 1885 Donald Dinnie was crossing a river by the Upper Coldstream ferry when his wagonette was damaged. The lessee of the ferry blamed Donald Dinnie but he threatened the ferry operator with a trip to the bottom of the river. The Clarence and Richmond Examiner decried Donald’s behaviour, “It is a pity that because a man should possess a large amount of brute force that he should think he is privileged to threaten with violence those who are physically weaker than himself”.
A Disgraceful Stunt
It was in March 1885 that Donald Dinnie mounted what may have been his most outrageous publicity-generating stunt. A local wrestler with a substantial reputation, Larry Foley, had caught Donald’s attention by putting out a challenge to wrestle both him and Graham in one afternoon for £50 or £100 a side. Donald made a counter-challenge and they agreed to fight for stakes of £500. The terms of the agreement suggested that this was not an ordinary wrestling match in a recognised style with accepted rules, but a free-for-all fight where “each man may use any or all parts of his body hit or kick while on feet or on ground choking or breaking an opponent’s leg is all fair with either but no wood metal or stone of any kind may be used. The two opponents to be closed in a large room or other place for 30 min and if Foley be then able to come to time he shall have won the fight”. What made this agreement look bogus was the written acceptance that it was illegal and must take place at least 100 miles from Sydney. Also, there being no audience, there would be no gate money. Donald and his ilk did not fight for glory. A loss would mean no income if there were no paying customers. At a meeting of the representatives of the two men, Foley’s side put down a deposit of the whole stake but Dinnie’s representative would not do so without consulting Donald himself, which made Foley suspicious of Donald’s intentions. Donald placated Larry Foley the following day with a bottle of Roederer champagne.
The Sportsman’s Sydney correspondent was outraged when he learned of the terms for the proposed fight. “I never heard of such a thing before, and it is a disgrace to any athlete to offer such a challenge.” John Peerybingle of the Weekly Times expressed a similar position. “….The men for the time being to become brute beasts to beat and worry and cheat each other until one has felt pain or is so frightened as to clamour for assistance. In a savage age when teeth claws and limbs were under no moral restraint one could understand such a battle being relished with brutal ogreish delight but in these intellectual times I can only shout, Where are the police? The Newcastle Observer was similarly affronted. “For daring to make such a brutal proposal as indicated in the challenge referred to, Donald Dinnie and his representative deserve to be whipped out of Australia and from every civilised haunt of men. I wonder that Larry Foley ever permitted himself to accept such a challenge but I suppose that the little ‘un would not let his pluck be dared by any cowardly giant even though he was as big as a house. And it seems that it was Dinnie after all who funked on his own barbarous proposal. Great God! Am I dreaming this thing or is it a fact that here in the 19th century I hear of a proposal seriously made to wager £500 a side upon the result of a struggle in which two men “made in God’s image” are to deliberately maim and mutilate and perhaps murder each other? The proposal is an outrage upon Australia and an indelible disgrace to all concerned.” The match never took place, Dinnie calling off sick. It was generally accepted in the press that this was indeed a publicity stunt.
It was reported at the end of April 1885 that Dinnie had lost weight and had been ill for some time, though the nature of the illness was not revealed. This was confirmed by James Fleming to a contact in Dundee. “…the last time I saw Donald Dinnie he was looking thin and careworn”. In early June 1885 Dinnie wearily noted that he had been travelling in the bush for six weeks, which cannot have helped either his underlying illness or his frame of mind.
Disputes with Advance Agents
James Fleming had become ill in November 1884 and appeared to have stopped being Donald Dinnie’s advance agent. A new employee, James Hook, was taken on to fulfil this role. Money problems also seemed to be afflicting Donald Dinnie at this time and Donald seems to have been unable to pay Hook for his services. This caused Hook to sue Dinnie for 17/6 for bill posting. Dinnie’s excuse was that the money was demanded while he was greasing a cart and he told Hook to come back in an hour but Hook declined because he doubted that he would be paid. The Bench ordered Dinnie to pay the outstanding money.
This case was quickly followed by another one, also involving a disgruntled Dinnie ex-employee. Martin Harlow had been engaged as a violinist at £3 per week in March 1885. He was owed one week’s wages and also claimed £3 in lieu of notice. He decided to take formal action and went to Dinnie to present the summons, when Mrs Dinnie told Donald to strike Harlow, which he did. In court, Donald justified the non-payment with a typical Dinnie “explanation”. Harlow had been engaged as a violinist but also to groom horses (Harlow denied this was so) and he had had to employ another man to do this work. Also, he had had to hire a violin for Harlow and these costs were offset against Harlow’s wages due. Dinnie was ordered to pay £5 in back wages and 26/- costs but the charge of assault was dismissed. (Incidentally, “Mrs Dinnie” did not marry Donald until December 1885, but she had used this title for many months previous to the formal marriage).
Donald Dinnie’s Good Behaviour
Not all Donald Dinnie’s appearances in the print media were negative. In July 1887, he heroically stopped a runaway horse in Armidale, New South Wales. The horse, dragging a cart, was galloping down Swanson Street. Donald had the presence of mind to grasp the shafts and run alongside the animal until he could reach the bridle, thus bringing the careering equine to a halt. Also in 1887 Donald appeared at a concert in support of the victims of the Bulli mine disaster, in which 81 men and boys had died in a gas explosion, though he could not compete due to a sprained wrist. In 1888, Donald Dinnie intervened on behalf of the police in a severe melee at Royal Park, close to central Melbourne, in which Constable Wilcock was getting badly roughed up.
A Brush with Physiognomy
Donald Dinnie and Professor Miller had originally wrestled in April 1884, when Miller had sustained a broken leg. At the end of the same year Miller had recovered sufficiently to be able to challenge Dinnie again. The meeting was due to take place at the Adelaide Oval but, due to chaotic organisation, this intention was not fulfilled. The rematch finally took place in August 1885 and Miller won after an epic struggle in which the last round extended to 43min 39 sec. A further match was then won by Dinnie. In the run-up to the rematch, a strange letter appeared in the Sportsman from J Fraser, a Physiognomist. “Physiognomy” would nowadays be called a pseudoscience. By the application of the principles of physiognomy, it was claimed that a person’s character could be judged from their facial appearance (hence “physog”, a slang word for face). It was accepted by the Ancient Greeks and enjoyed a revival of interest in the 19th century. Fraser’s letter contained a quantitative physiognomical analysis of the characteristics he judged were required to win a wrestling match, for both Dinnie and Miller. While he judged the two men to be similarly qualified, he called the result for Miller, which proved to be correct for the next encounter, but not for the subsequent one! Perhaps Fraser was just using the celebrity of Dinnie and Miller as a means of raising his own profile with potential customers.
Spinning Donald Dinnie’s Image in the Press
In 1884 and 1885, Donald Dinnie had been on the receiving end of increasingly negative press reports but, in typical Dinnie fashion, he set out to burnish his image through the same medium. Information was published in the Bega Gazette which could only have come from Dinnie himself. “Mr Dinnie’s abilities descend to his daughter who manages his large hotel during long absences. She is one of the few instances in Scotland where a young woman, 20 years of age, has a licence in her own name. Mr Dinnie bears an irreproachable character and left Scotland covered with laurels and with the best wishes of the people for a successful tour abroad.” Clearly, the claim that the Kintore Arms was still “his hotel” was false and his “irreproachable character” was at least highly questionable.
When the above information was published, a letter from “Highlandman” appeared in the Sportsman. It was a counter to the opinions expressed by J Fraser the physiognomist about Donald’s mental characteristics. “J Fraser accuses him of being a master of only a few feats while the fact is he is the greatest all-round athlete the world has ever seen.” “Highlandman” claimed to have been a contemporary of Dinnie’s at school 34 years ago, ie in 1851, when Donald Dinnie was 14 and had known him continuously ever since. No one has been found who matches these characteristics. The letter gives several examples of Dinnie the hero, Dinnie the intellectual, Dinnie the brave, Dinnie the skilled craftsman and Dinnie the champion athlete. It seems almost certain, given the personal detail on Dinnie’s life that “Highlandman” is a nom de plume of Donald Dinnie himself. The letter goes on to reveal two known Dinnie sensitivities, press criticism – “since visiting Australia Mr Dinnie has been treated by the Press and colonials generally in a cowardly mean manner” and dishonesty – “He has a spirit above doing a mean action such as leaving debts unpaid for which he is unfairly blamed”. Finally, there is a telling allusion to how J Fraser should be dealt with, “I think it but simple justice that Mr Fraser should be made to feel his error, if not with the whip, by the law”. About a month later another letter appeared in the pages of the Sportsman, this time from “An Old Athlete” allegedly living in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. This too was in response to J Fraser’s letter and attacked his analysis of Dinnie’s capabilities. Again, the personal detail contained in the missive suggests that Dinnie was the true author.
Lucrative Wrestling Bouts with Whistler and Millar
Clarence Whistler, the American wrestler, finally arrived in Melbourne and two matches were arranged with Donald Dinnie, both to take place on Saturday 29 August 1885, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. By this date Donald Dinnie was based for most of the time in the capital of Victoria. Whistler won the afternoon bout by two falls to one and the evening match stood at two falls each, when Dinnie was forced to withdraw and concede the match, due to an arm injury sustained during the earlier bout. Whistler agreed not to claim the stake money if he got 2/3 of the gate money and it was agreed they would wrestle again, for stakes of £500 a side, in about eight weeks once Dinnie had recovered. On the night that he defeated Dinnie, Clarence Whistler celebrated by consuming £50 worth of champagne, biting the bottle tops off with his teeth. Towards the end of September Whistler also beat Miller in a wrestling match. The West Australian commented, “The bouts between Miller, Dinnie and Whistler must have been very lucrative for the participants.” Sadly, the following month Clarence Whistler contracted pleurisy and became so ill that his wife was telegraphed in America. Clarence died in early November 1885, while his wife was still on the high seas. He was buried in Melbourne and a memorial fund instigated to raise a stone on his grave, which was in place by March the following year. Many athletes were photographed at the unveiling ceremony, but Donald Dinnie was not amongst them.
Marriage to Eleanor Bagley and the Croxton Park Hotel
After an intense period of travel around Australia, which lasted from May 1884 to January 1885. Donald must have been relieved to be free of the demands of being on the road and this probably applied to “Mrs Dinnie” too, as Melbourne was her home town. The formal marriage took place on 9 December 1885. The Dinnies, who had been residing at Fitzroy, Melbourne, needed somewhere of a semi-permanent nature to live. Donald again turned to the hotel trade. In mid-November Donald Dinnie applied for the transfer of the licence for the Normanby Hotel, Bourke, which lies in central Melbourne, from Henry Briers to himself. Two weeks later the application was withdrawn, perhaps because Donald had found an alternative property. In December 1885 Donald Dinnie had bought and moved into the Croxton Park Hotel, Northcote, some 5 miles north of the city centre, along with Mrs Dinnie and James Fleming. It was then operating under a 28-day temporary licence granted to James Fleming. In January 1886, application was made by Captain Michael Ness, the previous owner and landlord of the Croxton Park Hotel for the transfer of the permanent licence from himself to James Fleming, who was described as the travelling agent and manager for Donald Dinnie, implying that Fleming would often be away. He admitted under questioning in court that he would be sharing the profits with Donald Dinnie, in effect, the naming Fleming on the application was a front. The granting of the transfer was strongly opposed by the local police. Since the award of the temporary permit, the house had been “the resort of very questionable characters” and it was anticipated that an extra lock-up would be needed. The application for transfer was refused.
Donald Dinnie’s Relationship with the Local Police Deteriorates
In late March 1886 at the Quarterly Licensing Court and with a new Licensing Act in force, Donald Dinnie and James Fleming were charged with selling alcohol without a licence and Michael Ness was charged with absenting himself from his licensed premises for more than 28 days. However, both charges fell when Ness’ solicitor pointed out that the granting of the original temporary licence was incompetent. Donald Dinnie then applied for a licence in his own name. The police again opposed the application. They claimed that since Dinnie and Fleming had been in residence the hotel, which had formerly been well-conducted, had been the “resort on Sundays of young men in their shirt sleeves who practised dumb-bells and other athletic exercises”. This was hardly a matter of concern but the police, who were clearly hostile to Dinnie, tried to introduce evidence of an increase in crime. However, this was ruled inadmissible as there was no proof. They also brought a police sergeant down from Maroopna, 140 miles north of Melbourne, to testify that Dinnie had been convicted of insulting behaviour to the police but, after a lengthy discussion, the Bench granted the licence and the hotel continued in operation. Dinnie’s carelessness in his relations with the local police in Northcote was remarkably similar to the situation back in Auchinblae, when he was the licensee of the Kintore Arms Hotel. This deficiency was to prove disastrous for Donald.
Dinnie and Fleming indicated the kind of establishment they were trying to create at the Croxton Park Hotel by advertising its services, “Athletics taught, Quoiting ground free, Horses etc on hire, Terms moderate”. The Sportsman reported in April 1886 that there had recently been many racing and athletic events at the hotel. It was also announced that a track was being laid down near the hotel “suitable for running events of both 150yds and a quarter of a mile”. Later it was reported by Jack Barnett a runner from South Africa, that Dinnie and Fleming had been involved in what to them seemed an amusing game at the hotel. They stood on opposite faces of a fence and tossed a servant bodily over from side to side, catching him and then returning him. This amusement went on for about five minutes until Fleming tired of the antic and quietly left the scene with the servant, plying him with whisky in the hotel. Donald Dinnie was left in limbo, wondering when the body would next be sent flying through the air. (About 125 years later a tasteless “dwarf-throwing” event would sully the reputations of some international Rugby Union players in the Antipodes. What goes around, comes around!)
The Northcote police were clearly keeping a close watch on Donald Dinnie and the Croxton Park Hotel, having failed in their attempt to deny him a licence. On Sunday, 5 September 1886 two plain clothes policemen, under proper authority, had sought entry to detect possible illegal Sunday trading. Dinnie was not present but Eleanor Dinnie and his business partner, James Fleming were. They would not let the police in for 10 minutes, during which time Mrs Dinnie and Fleming held a discussion. The police then left, believing that they had been refused entry The following month, Donald, his wife Eleanor and James Fleming were charged with five offences relating to the attempt by the police to gain entry to the hotel, including using “insulting words”. These charges were thrown out because when the police left after 10 minutes this was deemed not to be a refusal of entry. The police, not to be denied, returned to court later with a new set of charges alleging that entry had been “delayed”. Donald Dinnie was acquitted of delaying entry, on the grounds that he was not responsible for the actions of his servants, but Eleanor and James Fleming were convicted and fined 20/- with 2/6 costs. Donald Dinnie was also acquitted of using the allegedly insulting words, “Colonial Bobbies”, the phrase being judged not to fall within the meaning of the relevant Act. After this set of legal spats, Donald Dinnie threatened to go home to Scotland but it was an empty threat, probably to the disappointment of the local police.
The Northcote Constabulary finally nailed Donald Dinnie in December 1886, when he applied for a new licence for the Croxton Park Hotel. The application was opposed by the police because the hotel was conducted in a disreputable manner and the police numbers operating in the district had had to be increased in consequence. Although Dinnie himself had not been convicted, Mrs Dinnie and his servant, James Fleming had been before the courts on charges of Sunday trading, assault and abusive language and had been convicted. The hotel was the resort of “larrikins” (boisterous, often badly behaved young men), especially on a Sunday. Dinnie’s defence claimed that the charge had been got up by the local police who had failed to secure a conviction in the past. The licence was refused on the grounds that the hotel was improperly conducted. This was a disaster for Dinnie because he could no longer conduct the business of the hotel and he was forced to put in a tenant, a Mr Wade. By January 1887, Donald Dinnie had sold the hotel, which he had owned for barely more than a year. At the annual licensing court the following December, it was reported that the Croxton Park Hotel had gained a much-improved character since Donald Dinnie had vacated the premises. Dinnie made one further attempt to re-join the licensed trade. In the summer of 1888 he applied for the transfer of the licence to the Rose and Crown Hotel, close to the centre of Melbourne. However, the police again opposed the application, citing his history of assault, abusive language and Sunday trading and Donald Dinnie was refused a licence. His days as a licensed victualler in Australia were over.
Donald Dinnie falls out with the Croxton Park Hotel’s New Tenants
It was agreed with Mr Wade, the new tenant at the Croxton Park Hotel and his wife that Dinnie could continue to use the stables at the hotel for a period of one month. Dinnie quickly developed a feud with his new tenants, which ended in the courts in March 1887. There were claims and counter-claims of the use of insulting language between Donald Dinnie and Mrs Wade. In the case of Annie Wade (Plaintiff) v Donald Dinnie, Mrs Wade’s husband gave the following evidence. “I remember the night of 11th February. The weather was very hot. I was on the footpath. Dinnie was passing. He said “Is that you? You are a d- low b- colonial.” I gave him no provocation. I asked him if he was addressing me. He replied that he was. George Shade remonstrated with him and he turned upon him saying “You are d- low b- colonial cowards. If I had my will I would scalp your - -””. Two other witnesses then gave evidence of the language used by Dinnie to Mrs Wade, which was so bad that it was deemed necessary to write it down, rather than speak the words in open court. Donald Dinnie’s evidence suggested he had been provoked. “Mrs Wade came down on that occasion on purpose to have a row with me. She had followed me about for some days with that view. She had previously threatened to split my head open with an axe, had shut off the water from my horses and annoyed me daily.” Dinnie was found guilty and fined 20/- with 42/- costs.
Dinnie, as plaintiff, also took action against Mrs Wade, accusing her of using insulting words to him in a public place, firstly in the yard at the back of the hotel and secondly on the public highway. The first charge fell because the yard of the hotel was not a public place. In the second example, Mrs Wade was accused of calling Dinnie “a low brute”, “a thief” and of accusing him of stealing a water pipe. Donald Dinnie said he felt that he had been persistently persecuted by the local police. His witnesses were inconsistent in their evidence and the final, lethal blow to Dinnie’s case came from the police. Senior Constable Marks said he would not believe Dinnie upon his oath and Constable Jones affirmed that Dinnie was utterly unreliable. The Bench, with a touch of irony, offered to bind over Mrs Wade to keep the peace, if Dinnie felt threatened by her. Donald Dinnie indignantly refused! The case was dismissed without costs, suggesting that the Bench felt there were faults on both sides.
These incidents with the Northcote Police and with Mr and Mrs Wade suggest that Donald Dinnie may have been suffering from paranoia, which is defined as “a mental condition characterized by delusions of persecution, unwarranted jealousy, or exaggerated self-importance, typically worked into an organized system.”
Donald Dinnie’s Behaviour becomes more Violent and Bizarre
Two incidents involving Donald Dinnie, dog inspector Charles Bradley and unregistered dogs at the Croxton Park Hotel in 1886 have already been related and it was concluded that they illustrated Dinnie’s contempt for authority, his propensity to concoct implausible stories and his willingness to induce others to give unreliable evidence on his behalf. Dinnie clearly harboured a seething resentment against Bradley due to these cases and, immediately after the second case, Donald Dinnie assaulted Bradley by striking him with a whip. Donald was convicted and fined 20/- with 10/- costs.
Another set of incidents at the end of 1886 show clearly that Donald Dinnie’s mental state was not then normal and that he was behaving irrationally. The Croxton Park Hotel was in a semi-rural location and had some land attached to it. Donald let out a paddock for grazing of a horse but when the owner saw the state of the grass he tried to remove his beast. Dinnie refused to give up the animal without payment for the grazing, causing the horse’s owner to seek the authority of the courts to recover his animal. The verdict went against Dinnie who then sought a new trial but in the interim he still refused to give up the horse to its owner, frightening off a man who was sent to collect the animal. An attempt was then made to seize goods belonging to Donald Dinnie to the extent of £13, the estimated value of the horse but Dinnie threatened the bailiffs with violence and may even have assaulted them. This led to a summons for assault being taken out against the recalcitrant Scot and a further attempt to seize his possessions. Donald again met the bailiffs with violence and a further summons for assault was made against him. Finally, Donald Dinnie’s trotting horse and buggy were extracted from Croxton Park. In court Donald was told that he would be gaoled if he did not pay the £40 costs which had by then been accumulated. He sent out of court for the money and was then released from custody, still with the £13 equine which started the dispute in his possession! Some newspapers made fun of Donald Dinnie’s irrational behaviour, but seen from the present, it should surely only generate pity. These were the actions of a sick man.
A further episode of violence by Donald Dinnie, containing several, now typical, elements which had been present in previous cases, occurred in May 1887. Donald was charged at Northcote Court with an unprovoked assault on James McAllister. In evidence, McAllister said he had been out walking with three dogs, which chased some sheep belonging to Dinnie, which were grazing on an unoccupied allotment. McAllister called the dogs off but then heard the voice of a woman (presumably Eleanor Dinnie) from a nearby house using extremely foul language. In a short time, Donald Dinnie appeared driving a trap and immediately lashed McAllister with his whip, delivering one or more severe blows to his head and drawing blood. He also claimed that Dinnie struck him in the chest, knocking him down and then kicking him and briefly rendering him unconscious. Dinnie cross-charged McAlister with assault, claiming that McAlister had caught him by his kilt and, when Donald Dinnie (a champion wrestler!) tried to release himself, he was thrown to the ground and injured. This explanation by Dinnie seemed to fall into the same category as “the dog ate my homework” but, there being no independent witnesses, both cases were dismissed. Dinnie then charged McAllister with allowing a dog to worry his sheep, but that case too was dismissed when it was proved that the dog did not belong to the defendant. During this incident, Dinnie again seemed to have lacked any vestige of self-control and had resorted to violence on the least provocation. Subsequently, McAllister successfully sued Dinnie, who absented himself from court, for damages. McAllister sought £49 but was awarded 40/-.
After the sale of the Croxton Park Hotel Donald and Eleanor Dinnie moved to a property in Mitchell Street, Northcote. He continued with some agricultural activity but in June 1888 he put his entire stock of dairy cattle and horses, including his trotting horse “Dexie” and two sulkies, up for sale by auction. This looked like a fire sale triggered by the need for immediate funds. He would now need to find some alternative form of employment.
During the years 1885 to 1888 Donald Dinnie spent much of his time in and around Melbourne, though he travelled out to perform in events of various kinds, especially wrestling matches. In December 1885, Donald contested a wrestling match with W Williams, a Cornishman, at Sandhurst (probably the then name of the district containing Bendigo). There were five falls, three Cornish-style and two Scotch-style. Dinnie won three falls to two. Subsequently, Dinnie started to title himself “All-round Champion Wrestler. Donald Dinnie and William Miller also travelled to Adelaide at the end of that year, giving various exhibitions. They wrestled at Port Augusta, the match being a draw, one fall each. Another match at the Adelaide Oval, as part of the “Grand Caledonian Fete”, also ended in a draw, two falls each, inciting suggestions that it was a fixed match for gate money. The athletes were dressed in “skin tights and singlets thus showing their symmetrical stalwart forms to the best advantage”.
Another dispute with Paddy Roechock
The same event also saw another controversial confrontation between Donald Dinnie and Paddy Roechock, the South Australian footballer and athlete of Irish extraction. A year previously they had met at a similar event in Adelaide (see above). The programme stated that all the gate money would be devoted to first and second prizes in the various events and that Miller and Dinnie would not compete for prizes in the generality of competitions but would contest four “special events”, for a £50 first prize. There is some lack of clarity in the contemporary newspaper reports but the events seem to have been light and heavy stone and light and heavy hammer. Disputes arose over two issues. Firstly, the rules applying to the run-up allowed in the light stone event, Dinnie claiming it was limited to 7 ½ ft under Scotch rules and Roechock countering that such a limitation was not included in the programme. The second and more serious dispute arose over Dinnie measuring distances himself and then pulling out the marker pegs. Dinnie claimed to have won the light hammer but the Sydney Globe said that Roechock had won by at least a foot. There was a similar dispute in the heavy hammer, where Roechock claimed he had won even without counting Dinnie’s two-foot handicap. Noise and confusion followed with the support for each athlete dividing between nationalities. Dinnie was awarded the prize in the light hammer but the promoters refused to award the £50 prize in another event. “Dinnie left the ground before four events had concluded and the crowd dispersed amid general uproar and confusion.”
Press dissatisfaction with Donald Dinnie’s behaviour continued, the Sydney Globe giving the following opinion. “Donald Dinnie is never easy unless he has some disagreeable row on. …. It is an unfortunate thing for athletics that the Caledonian champion ever visited the Australian colonies.” A correspondent, JW Walshe, wrote to the South Australian Register concerning chivalry in sport. “I can honestly say that Miller has always come out creditably and that disputes have been the order of the day with Dinnie.” “….and to the dishonour and discredit of Donald Dinnie let it be said that PB Roachock won his match with the 22lb weight without an effort at bombast, bad temper, ill-manners or dishonesty. What right had Donald Dinnie, according to the laws of honest sport, to attempt to take the tape measure in his own hands and give his decision as the final judgement of the relative merits of himself and his opponent?” Donald Dinnie also wrote to the press on the reporting of the “Grand Caledonian Fete”, claiming that he and Miller were not responsible for the poor organisation, chastising the Adelaide Caledonians for not showing up and suggesting that the South Australian Register’s correspondent must have been of Irish extraction to have written such a one-sided report! These claims by Dinnie brought forth further indignation in the Adelaide papers. HH Doorne, “an Australian of English descent” reproved Dinnie for characterising people by their national origins and the Adelaide Caledonian Society pointed out that the event had nothing to do with them, having declined their patronage. As usual, Donald saw himself as an innocent victim of circumstances generated by others and he maintained that stance, even after his return to Melbourne.
Paddy Roechock had challenged Dinnie to another athletic competition at the time of the Adelaide fiasco, but Dinnie had declined. A subsequent flurry of letters saw Dinnie damn Roechock with faint praise, describing him as a “good second rate all-round athlete” and issuing a challenge, which Roechock readily accepted. The match was due to take place on 4 May 1886 but it never materialised, Dinnie claiming he had been injured by a horse kick and that he had also injured his back, due to a slip while putting the stone in practice. He asked for a postponement but Paddy Roechock declined, citing the bad treatment he had received from Dinnie in Adelaide as the reason. As a result, Dinnie had to forfeit his £50 deposit. Was Dinnie deliberately avoiding a match with Roechock? Some local newspapers certainly thought so and the Sydney Globe remarked that “sportsmen would not care much if the accident to Donald Dinnie had involved his neck instead of his leg”.
A Tour of Tasmania
In early 1887 Donald Dinnie, in company with other wrestlers, made a tour of Tasmania, a new Australian territory for him. He wrestled a match with Tom Cannon over five falls in Launceton with a large audience present. Before the bout Dinnie objected to Cannon’s belt being of webbing rather than leather, so Cannon changed it for two leather belts. This was at the time that Dinnie was suffering tribulations over the operation of the Croxton Park Hotel, which featured regularly in the newspapers. The Hamilton Spectator commented that his misfortunes had made Donald more popular than he once was but that “a general impression prevailed that the redoubtable old champion had had his day and shot his bolt”. otel Cannon, much the younger man, won by three falls to two. A return bout was fought in Melbourne in March 1887 over seven styles of wrestling. The match ended equal, three falls each with the last bout declared a draw, though Cannon disputed one decision of the referee, saying that Dinnie’s hand had touched the floor first when a fall was awarded to the Scot. Drawn wrestling matches were almost bound to attract the charge of match fixing.
The Decline of Donald Dinnie
Perhaps recognising that his days as an athlete were coming to an end, Donald Dinnie increasingly appeared at wrestling matches as a referee but, as in his active athletics career, controversy was not far behind. In September 1887, he refereed a match between Tom Cannon and local man Harry Dunn (Dunn had already beaten Dinnie in a wrestling bout). A controversial fall was awarded to Cannon but then Dunn was surprisingly declared the winner of the match, due to Cannon disregarding Dinnie’s instructions. Donald Dinnie also refereed the wrestling matches Christol v Benjamin and Burrows v Adolph in 1890. Occasionally, Donald also refereed boxing matches, such as a bout at the Assembly Rooms, Cornwall, Tasmania in 1890 involving two footballers who shared a grievance. Donald Dinnie terminated the contest after five rounds because one man kept deliberately falling to the canvass.
However, Donald Dinnie did not finally give up wrestling for many years, especially when he judged that he could win. In some cases, when he was challenged he nominated his pupils as adversaries instead of himself. He wrestled Professor Miller in exhibition events in 1889 but the same year appeared to be avoiding wrestling Eugene Kneebone, an Australian with a sound reputation as an all-round heavy athlete. Dinnie later met Kneebone in athletic competitions, where honours were shared and acknowledged him as one of the hardest heavy event competitors he met in Australia. In 1890 Duncan Ross, Donald Dinnie’s former friend and opponent from American days, arrived in Australia. Donald won the wrestling competition at the Goulburn Highland Society and Burns Club meeting in January 1891 and, though Duncan Ross was present and won several athletic competitions, he did not enter the wrestling. Dinnie and Ross did meet in a wrestling match at the Melbourne Athletic Club in the same month, Ross beating Dinnie by two falls to one. At least one further meeting with Ross took place in June 1891 in Sydney, when Ross won again. For this last bout Donald Dinnie weighed in at only 13 stone 2lb, more than two stones down on his fighting weight as a young man. Time was taking its toll and Donald was now truly only a shadow of his former self. Exhibition wrestling matches still took place later in 1891, with men such as Stables and Graham, whom Dinnie could still vanquish but after that year he seemed to give up wrestling in Australia.
In the period 1890 to 1891 Donald Dinnie again started to tour Australian regions and, though he still won a share of the competitions that he entered, he was now meeting much stiffer opposition. In 1890 the Goulburn Evening Penny Post described Donald as “once so famous”. At the Caledonian Society Sports at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in January 1890, Duncan Ross won the heavy and light hammers, while Donald was still master at the caber. Then another skilled athlete from Aberdeenshire appeared on the scene, Charles McHardy, one of the McHardy family of Upper Donside, had emigrated to Australia and become a Goulburn policeman. At the Gouloburn sports Dinnie was beaten into second place by McHardy in the heavy hammer, though Donald still won the caber. Donald Dinnie then wrote to the Goulburn Evening Penny Post acknowledging Charles McHardy as the all-round athletic champion of the world and offering to back him against other heavy athletes. Donald Dinnie appeared to be taking authority to himself to pass on the banner of “Champion of the World” to a fellow Aberdeenshire man, whom he believed was worthy of the accolade.
In May 1890, during Donald Dinnie’s continuing tour, he met Eugene Kneebone in the first of several athletic contests, the first taking place in Wangaratta, about 200 miles north east of Melbourne. Duncan Ross acted as referee. After six events, the score was three wins each and the match depended on the final event, tossing the caber. Kneebone had provided a caber which he could just turn but this was too short and too light for Donald Dinnie, who could turn it with ease. He called for a longer, heavier caber and turned it though, in six attempts, Kneebone was unable to emulate Donald’s performance. The match was called as a draw by Duncan Ross (tossing the first caber had constituted the caber competition by the rules). According to one newspaper, “the mighty Donald waxed wroth and profaned”. A spat between Kneebone and Dinnie then followed in the newspapers. The following month, June 1890, a sweepstake athletic contest took place at Beechworth, which lies about 15 miles east of Wangaratta, between Dinnie, Kneebone and Ross. Out of seven competitions, Ross won three, Dinnie and Kneebone two each, though Dinnie was affected by a leg injury. On this occasion, it was Kneebone’s turn to feel aggrieved. In the 18lb hammer competition, Ross threw his own version made of lead, which appeared to have been pared down to precisely the advertised weight. He allowed Dinnie to use this hammer but refused the same privilege to Kneebone, forcing him to use an iron hammer which had 2oz excess weight. Winning was clearly more important than being a good sportsman.
In other ways, too, the tour through the region east of Melbourne was not progressing well. Poor publicity and a weakening of the pulling power for this kind of entertainment and of Dinnie himself, led to low crowds at some venues. Attempts were made to spice up the performances with new feats of strength, such as Ross cutting through a sheep with a single sword blow and Dinnie offering to pay members of the public 1/- per minute to wrestle with him. The poor returns were also causing tensions amongst the company. John Graham, the wrestler, had been engaged to act as forward agent as well as to wrestle and swing clubs. He claimed he had not been paid all the wages and expenses due to him from the Gippsland tour and sought the help of the courts to recover the money. Duncan Ross and Donald Dinnie, partners in the tour, were the defendants and both denied that any money was due to Graham. Unfortunately for Graham, the Bench rejected his case because he did not keep accounts, whereas Ross and Dinnie did. Duncan Ross was then arrested on a charge of assault, unrelated to the Graham case. He had been attempting to visit the house of a young lady and, by mistake, went to the residence of a builder called John Coyle, who told him in direct terms to leave. Ross then struck Coyle. Duncan Ross was bailed on two sureties of £10, one from himself and one from Donald Dinnie.
In September 1890, Donald Dinnie travelled with another company of athletes and entertainers to Tasmania. The first performance took place in Hobart, the capital, in front of a large audience but Dinnie disappointed the crowd when he failed to lift the 224lb dumb-bell, a feat which was usually within his capabilities. An afternoon athletic competition took place at Risdon, a few miles north of Hobart but was dogged by poor organisation. Duncan Ross won the heavy stone and heavy and light hammer events, while Dinnie won the light stone and caber. The Mercury said, “there was little interest in such tame proceedings”. In the evening, there was a further event but it only managed to attract 60 to 70 people, many of whom had left before the show was over. Further venues were visited on the north-west coast of Tasmania before the company finally arrived in Launceton for an “Athletic Carnival” on 4 October. The report in the local newspaper was highly uncomplimentary, describing proceedings as “a great fraud” and a “fiasco”. There was a moderate crowd but they became discontented with programme delays and a lack of crowd control, added to which Dinnie retired prematurely and Major O’Rourke had to abandon his sword show when his horse fell and injured O'Rourke's leg. The following year O’Rourke was seriously injured when he was thrown out of the Mount Morgan coach and smashed the bones in his knee.
New South Wales and Queensland
Donald Dinnie and Duncan Ross, their friendship apparently reignited after their disagreements in America, then toured from Newcastle, New South Wales, starting in June 1891. The pair travelled up through the northern regions of that state and on into Queensland, giving wrestling, feats of strength and athletic exhibitions, though the level of interest generated was only lukewarm. The Singleton Argus summed up matters thus. “The athletic performance given on Monday night by Duncan C Ross and Donald Dinnie was only moderately attended and the entertainment was not nearly either so interesting or sensational as generally anticipated. There was very little new or extraordinary in the wrestling exhibitions.”
The pair had more success when they reached Brisbane, where they formed part of an evening programme at the Centennial Hall designed to appeal to Scottish immigrants, a substantial number of whom turned up. The entertainment contained much material in Scottish dialect and was described as “A crack wi’ the Cronies. Halfanour wi’ Tam o’Shanter and Souter Johnny”. Also on the programme were popular songs and stories. Elsewhere in Queensland, it was back to the mixture as usual, with a lesser level of enthusiasm. At athletic events Dinnie and Ross continued to share the honours but they had a shock when they reached Breakfast Creek on the outskirts of the state capital. Local men Comerford and McCook won throwing the 56lb weight over the bar and putting the heavy shot, respectively. Donald Dinnie and Duncan Ross toured as far north as Rockhampton before returning to Melbourne by September 1891.
Either before or during this Queensland tour, Donald Dinnie and Duncan Ross hatched plans to leave Australia to seek their fortunes elsewhere in the world. It is not clear what involvement Eleanor Dinnie had had in these plans but they did not seem to include her travelling with the two heavy athletes. The appearance at Breakfast Creek in Queensland was billed as the last by Ross and Dinnie before they left for Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) and Calcutta and that seemed to be the purpose of them travelling so far north in Queensland, so they could catch a steamer for this proposed venture. Ross, in a letter to friends, said that the pair planned to travel as far north as Thursday Island, which lies off the extreme northern tip of Queensland, before departing for Batavia, Singapore, Rangoon, Calcutta, Madras, Bombay, England, France and, possibly, Scotland and Ireland. But this grand scheme was not realised. While Ross appears to have departed from Cook Town by steamer, Dinnie travelled back through Brisbane and Sydney before finally reaching Melbourne.
1892 and 1893 – a Quiet Time in Melbourne
During 1892 and early 1893, Donald Dinnie was relatively inactive as far as athletic and entertainment events were concerned. An international tug of war tournament was staged in Melbourne in 1892, in which 14 countries entered, including Scotland. Donald Dinnie was miffed not to be included in the Scottish team, surely a sign of his waning status. He commented bitterly that he could have provided a team of only nine Scots that would have pulled over the official Scottish team of ten members. Donald also appeared at the Gippsland Caledonian Society’s Annual Gathering in both 1892 and 1893, winning a range of heavy events. Also in 1892, Donald was part of the McDonald Company which gave “a grand minstrel and variety entertainment” in Melbourne. The company contained Bertie Mansergh, “the child wonder” and Ida (ie Dinnie’s wife Eleanor) and Pauline McDonald, “the famous step dancers”, as well as other lesser artistes. A similar company also performed at Footscray and Williamstown, both in Victoria, in March 1893. A Caledonian sports meeting, advertised as Donald Dinnie’s last appearance (it proved to be his last competitive appearance, but not his last athletics event) was advertised for the East Melbourne Cricket Ground on 26th January 1893. Donald appeared in a few competitions, including the heavy hammer in which he was beaten to first place by George Horn from Ballarat. He protested, in vain, that Horn’s throwing style was inadmissible then walked off in a huff, refusing to take part in further events. Probably his last athletic event in Australia was at Mansfield Caledonian Society’s inaugural meeting in April 1893, where he gave an exhibition. Donald Dinnie was now 56. His behaviour had lost him the sympathy of much of the Australian public and press. He was being regularly beaten both at athletics and wrestling by younger men and he was decidedly past his best.
Eighteen ninety-two also saw Donald suffer two accidents involving carts. In May of that year, while he was driving through Melbourne, an incident involving a pony cart, a hand truck and a tram led to Donald being thrown into the road, cutting his legs. The following December, also in Melbourne, Donald’s buggy was in collision with a cyclist, causing a typical Dinnie reaction, as the Argus explained. “Dinnie was indignant and wrathful and though the bicycle had sustained all the injury of the collision Dinnie was not satisfied. He personally completed the damage started by the accident and consequently was fined 1/- and ordered to pay £2 19/3 damages and £1 10/- costs…. Dinnie performed feats of strength and a step-dance on the bicycle.”
The Search for new sources of Income
The disposal of the Croxton Park Hotel at the end of 1886 meant that he had to rely on agricultural activities, when not engaged in his usual range of athletic events, until June,1888. Early in that month, he was fined for allowing animals to stray, but then he put all his stock and agricultural equipment up for sale. In 1888, he also posed as a model for the sculptor Percival Bell. He had been commissioned to produce a likeness of William Wallace, the leader of the victorious Scottish forces against the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, who was later executed by Edward I. The statue was unveiled in the Botanical Gardens at Ballarat on 24 May 1889. Later Donald Dinnie made the fantastical claim that he was a descendant of Sir William Wallace. In 1889 Donald Dinnie also had a brief foray onto the stage, perhaps under the influence of his wife, who was an actress. A production of Anthony and Cleopatra was being staged at the Melbourne Opera House and Donald Dinnie and William Miller provided the wrestling at the end of Act 4 to the accompaniment of Egyptian dancing and singing.
Donald Dinnie was an experienced horseman and in August 1888 he was engaged as manager of the Rainbow Livery Stables, located just north of Melbourne city centre. Donald had not lost his interest in athletics and advertised himself as being available for engagements in athletic sports but also to conduct athletic meetings, at the same time as running the Rainbow Stables. He described himself as “the greatest all-round athlete the world has ever seen for over a quarter of a century”. It is not clear when Donald ended his involvement with the Rainbow Livery Stables but it may have been at the end of 1889 because he started touring again from January 1890.
Although Donald Dinnie had apparently given up agriculture in June 1888 he must have subsequently rented new agricultural accommodation, because in May 1889 he was fined for allowing offensive animal waste to accumulate on his premises at 72 Wilson Street, Princes Hill, Melbourne. At the time, he was a registered cow keeper. The health inspector found the yard covered in cow muck, with ducks and fowls scattering the material and the drains blocked with slush and filth. There appeared to be no one in charge of the place. The owner of the premises, Mr Byatt said that he had frequently cautioned Eleanor Dinnie about the state of the yard but he had been unable to see Donald Dinnie. He then gave the Dinnies notice to quit. They continued to dabble in agriculture because in August 1889 Eleanor was a prize winner at an agricultural show in the Gander and Goose category and in June 1890 Donald Dinnie still had at least one cow. This animal was being grazed on land that James Bateman occupied. Dinnie and others came to remove the cow but Bateman tried to prevent this, perhaps because the rent unpaid? Dinnie then struck him behind the ear, knocking him down and stunning him. Dinnie was fined £5 with 20/- costs.
Lilian Bagley, sister of Eleanor Bagley
Another interesting lady, Lilian Bagley, the sister of Eleanor Bagley, Donald Dinnie’s wife, then entered the story. Lilly Bagley was in debt to a man called Crane, who obtained a judgement against her, resulting in a constable seized three buggies from a livery stable in Flinders Lane East, Melbourne, which was managed by Miss Bagley. However, it was disputed that those buggies were Lilly Bagley’s property and the matter ended in the District Court at the beginning of August 1890. One of the buggies was claimed by Duncan Ross and, on the evidence of Eleanor Dinnie, who said she had bought the buggy and sold it to Ross, he was able to reclaim his vehicle. Donald Dinnie was present in court but “with very much of the former gloss rubbed off him”.
Also in August 1890, Lilly Bagley gained prominent public notoriety when she was charged with shooting with intent to murder. Lilly was described as a person of “superior appearance” and she had been seeing Enrico Botta, an Italian glass cutter, but the relationship declined and the couple quarrelled. She told Botta she was going to leave the colony but asked for a meeting to exchange personal items. They met in the street and then retired to a nearby hotel. Lilly told him she was pregnant, immediately produced a pistol and demanded that Enrico should marry her, otherwise she would shoot him. Botta, a man of clear double standards, prevaricated saying he had heard rumours about her unfaithfulness with other men but said he would marry her if she could clear her reputation. He then left the room, ran to a shop rented by his uncles and failed to return to the hotel. This must have convinced Lilly that he was going to leave her in the lurch. She guessed where he was and went to the shop to confront Botta. Lilly burst in and fired four shots at Botta from the six-chambered pistol. Her aim was rather poor, as only two bullets hit him, one grazing his wrist and the other entering his left hip. Lilly then calmly left the scene, throwing the pistol on the pavement and made her way home, leaving the injured Botta to contact the police. When the police went to Lilly’s accommodation they found she had gone to bed. She was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Economic Depression in Australia
The decade of the 1880s saw an investment boom in Australia, with British capital getting high rates of return from the Australian colonies. As a result, Australians generally enjoyed good incomes in this period. However, by the end of the decade, British investors had started to withdraw funding, causing a banking crisis and a severe depression in 1891 and 1892 in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales. Speculation had caused a boom in land prices which then collapsed.
It is clear that at least from the end of 1886, when he left the Croxton Park Hotel Donald Dinnie was suffering from strained financial circumstances. Donald wrote a letter to the press in May 1889, concerning his friend, the wrestler John Thomas who had fallen on hard times. “He, like many others, has been unfortunate in business in this country”, surely a reference to his own tribulations? At the end of 1889, Donald Dinnie was examined in insolvency. He was still operating as a livery stable keeper at the time and was in debt, a creditor having obtained a judgement against him and seizing goods from him. Donald complained of the cost of horsefeed and the falling-off of business and he had also had money embezzled from him. His liabilities were stated at £520 and his assets at £159 9/-. Curiously, a later statement of his financial affairs showed his assets exceeding his liabilities. It appears that lack of money was one of the reasons that Donald Dinnie resumed touring in 1890, though the journey to Tasmania did not bring the rewards for which he and Duncan Ross hoped, the Sportsman commenting that they were not making their pile. By 1892 Donald Dinnie’s situation was even worse. It was noted above that he had suffered a serious leg injury in a cart accident and this prevented him performing for several months.
In September 1892, the Dundee Courier received a letter from Donald Dinnie, on “Athletics and Australia”. He wrote, “I presume you are aware of the very bad times this country has been under for some years past and I may say that it is, if possible, getting worse. Men can neither find work nor money. Some 10,000 are starving in this town (Melbourne) alone. It certainly is at present the worst place in the world for the working man. A wrestling competition which in 1885 would draw over £600 for one hour’s contest would not now draw expenses – in fact no athletic exhibition will pay here at present. I may remark that this is perhaps the greatest country in the world in which a regular mode of swindling is carried on in nearly all kinds of business. Whether you buy by weight or measure you will generally find your purchase short by at least 15% and there is very little trust given, except on the “time payment” system”. Donald went on to say that he was contemplating coming home and expected to have arrived “before next summer”, ie mid-1893. It appears that Australia’s recession had caused this train of thought. According to Webster and Dinnie, “A year earlier (ie in 1892) Donald Dinnie had 12 blocks of land to sell and was offered £1400 for them. After the crash he received only £30, from which he had to pay £6 for the transfer of deeds”.
Was Donald Dinnie an Exhibitionist?
Throughout his life, Donald Dinnie wore the kilt, both on everyday occasions and during competitions. This certainly made him recognisable, drawing attention to him and eliciting comments from passers-by, for example when he was living in Croydon after his return to the UK. It was also expected that this representative of Highland culture would wear the kilt accompanied by a brown jacket and a Glengarry bunnet on public occasions. However, it seems that he was not an exclusive kilt-wearer. In 1888 the Melborne Punch wrote “Donald Dinnie has at last eschewed his Highland kilt and now dons the garb of civilised manhood.”
According to Webster and Dinnie, Donald wore the Hay tartan, the clan of his mother, but he is also known to have worn Stuart, Farquharson and Gordon tartans, the last two representing prominent Deeside families. On other occasions, he wore a kilt of a “plain plaid”. The kilt sometimes proved awkward during competitions in events such as the high leap. After knocking off the bar with his traditional dress he sometimes removed the kilt and performed in his trunks. However, in the supposed tradition of true Scotsmen, he did not always wear anything under his Highland garb. When Donald Dinnie arrived in Melbourne in 1884 it was quickly suggested that before he danced any more reels he should “provide himself with an indispensable article of dress so as not to shock modesty”. On two occasions, Donald suffered accidents during throwing events, once when a hammer handle broke and secondly, when tossing the caber on wet grass (both in Australia). He was unexpectedly upended on each occasion and the age-old question of what a Scotsman wears under his kilt was answered in an explicit way. Surely Donald could have anticipated such an eventuality, but perhaps he didn’t care if he exposed himself?
Donald was clearly proud of his bodily development and on one occasion is known to have posed naked for an artist. He learned artistic statue posing from Louis Victor, the French wrestler and weight-lifter and subsequently incorporated such displays in his theatre appearances. Donald is also known to have performed at athletic events in rather brief and revealing attire, for example at the Chicago Caledonian Club in 1870. His sports attire – “a primitive kind of costume which is a very slight improvement on what Mother Eve might have fashioned” - was rather revealing and excited the attention of a fawning matron. When Donald offered to cover himself with his clacs (trousers), perhaps thinking she would be embarrassed, she replied “Hoot toot man, I’m nae afeart o’ a naked man”. Incidentally, this report also contradicts the suggestion which has been made that Donald never possessed a pair of trousers. Other comments were made in the newspapers about the brevity and revealing nature of Donald Dinnie’s attire. In February 1884, the Mataura Ensign commented, “We may just hint as delicately as possible that Donald Dinnie’s clothing might have been more profuse. Especially was this defect noticeable when he was wrestling in Scottish style.” Also in April of that year, the “Geelong Advertiser” remarked as follows. “Some people who have witnessed the Highland dancing of Donald Dinnie have somehow fancied that he is clad in a fustian (garment made of a thick material spun from cotton with wool or linen) so scanty that it ought not to be tolerated in a European country, but it appears that they are altogether mistaken and that the members of Dinnie’s committee are willing to vouch for it that he has not been guilty of the indelicacy which has been so hastily imputed to him.” At Mount Gambier, Southern Australia, in January 1887, Donald was giving a typical evening entertainment. When performing his heavyweight feats, he came on stage dressed in athletic tights. “Several ladies were overcome by his feats and so overcome that they had to leave the room fearful that he would hurt himself.” Had his close-fitting attire anything to do with the female exodus?
On one occasion while resident in Australia, Donald Dinnie and a male friend gratuitously walked around on a public beach in a state of nudity, with women and children nearby. This happened at Elwood Sands on Port Phillip Bay near Melbourne in 1892. After exercising on the beach, the two men went for a swim and then walked around naked, about 100 yards from a group of ladies with their offspring. This episode ended in a court appearance for Donald at St Kilda (the newspaper report did not mention his companion). Evidence from the rather shocked females alleged that when the men came out of the water they were measuring each other with a tape, one dried himself in the sun and the other with a pocket handkerchief. Donald Dinnie’s legal representative felt it unwise to call the unguarded Donald to give evidence and he was fined 40/-, or 7 days’ imprisonment. This set of events relating to self-exposure, taken together, could constitute evidence of the great man being an exhibitionist.
The Dispute between Donald Dinnie and William McCombie Smith
As has already been seen, Donald Dinnie was once close to his brother in law and fellow heavy athlete, William McCombie Smith but in 1884 the two fell out badly concerning the status of what Donald Dinnie called the “Scotch” style of wrestling, which he claimed was traditional. McCombie Smith alleged that the rules of “Scotch” style wrestling were a Dinnie invention. “South of the Forth Scotch rules are the same as with Cumberland wrestling. North of the Forth local rules applied. There is no style recognised as being Scotch. The major athletes such as Dinnie had no experience of wrestling and tried to substitute brute strength for skill, hence the Dinnie rule. Dinnie had to wrestle because the athletes he came up against in his travels knew nothing of the events that Dinnie was trained in, so wrestling constituted common ground.”
In 1892, as part of a very long correspondence in the newspapers on these incendiary issues, McCombie Smith explained the essence of the “Scotch” style. “The distinctive features of the style D Dinnie introduced were that before a wrestler lost a fall he must be put on his back and kept there for 30 seconds. ….in D Dinnie’s Scotch style the wrestlers took hold as in Cumberland style to begin with and in Graeco-Roman they took hold anywhere from head to waist; but once down the two styles were identical except that in Graeco-Roman there was no 30sec limit to hold down but as soon as both shoulders touched the floor at the same time the fall was lost.”
William McCombie Smith was also specific about the timing of the introduction of Donald Dinnie’s “Scotch” style. “In 1871 and 1873 I was twice on tour with D Dinnie in the South and North of Scotland. Wrestling was on the programme each time and the rules were laid down by Mr Dinnie. In no instance was there struggling on the ground; the one who was undoubtedly undermost as the contestants fell lost the fall. I never saw nor heard of what D Dinnie came to call Scotch wrestling until 1875 or later.” This timing was supported by a correspondent, “Borderer” who wrote to the Fife Free Press and Kirkaldy Guardian in 1879, complaining about Donald Dinnie’s behaviour at the recent Kirkaldy games held at Dunnikier Park. The wrestling competition was advertised as “Wrestling without shoes” and it attracted several aspiring entrants. They were referred to Donald Dinnie, himself a competitor, for information on wrestling style. Dinnie “coolly informed them that they were not to wrestle in the usual style such as is common in Edinburgh, the Bridge of Allan, or any other place where wrestling without shoes is popular and where if a man is thrown on his back whether by hip, cross-buttock, inside hook, or back heel, he is considered conquered. You must, said Donald, not only throw me but after I am down you must mount me and hold me to mother earth for 30 seconds. This was a style of wrestling new to the “pupils” and as nothing of the kind had been specified in the bills they could not but feel they had been dodged. In this they were confirmed when on their refusal to wrestle on these terms Donald who seemed to be both judge and competitor told the only two besides himself who entered to go into grips and he would be odd man. In truth, Mr Editor, the whole thing was a sham, got up for the purpose of putting £3 into the pocket of Donald Dinnie who was too cowardly to break a lance with men four stone lighter than himself in the usual style of wrestling.”
The novelty of Dinnie’s “Scotch” style was confirmed by other observations, for example, in 1884 at the Southland (New Zealand) Caledonian Society sports, Donald Dinnie “wrestled local man Harper but only in Scotch style with which Harper was unfamiliar”. This situation led to the concept of mixed wrestling matches, employed when Dinnie contested with wrestlers from other nations. The combatants would choose their own style or styles of wrestling, Dinnie’s principal choice, of course, being “Scotch”. Interestingly, when Donald Dinnie met the American wrestler, William Muldoon, who like Dinnie believed in struggling on the ground after an opponent had been floored, in California in 1883, Donald declared the rules of “Scotch” wrestling did not include this component! So much for the “Scotch” style being traditional. Although Donald Dinnie and his brother Montague hotly disputed William McCombie Smith’s thesis, they never produced anything but assertions concerning the status of “Scotch” wrestling.
After his retirement from active competition, William McCombie Smith became an authority on athletic records and performances, publishing a book, “Athletes and Athletic Sports in Scotland”, on the subject in 1891. He was a stern critic of Donald Dinnie’s practices in athletic competitions and his claims to records and championships. However, McCombie Smith was also a powerful advocate of the view that Donald Dinnie was “not only champion athlete of Scotland for a much longer period than anyone else but the best all-round athlete of whom we have reliable record.” McCombie Smith pointed out two other remarkable aspects of Dinnie’s athletic achievements. Firstly, he was a relatively late developer as an athlete, his best performance with the stone being achieved after the age of 30 and with the hammer over 35. Indeed, he did not become a full-time athlete until he was 32. Secondly, his performances before the age of 35 were achieved despite a serious illness and several major injuries. Influenza disrupted his season in 1867, he broke his left arm as a youth and never fully regained its use, about 1868 he injured his knee while riding, in 1871 he broke his ankle and in 1872 he suffered a severe sprain of his left arm.
Donald Dinnie must have received a copy of McCombie Smith’s book in Australia and he found its contents deeply annoying. His response was to write a long letter to the press in the North East of Scotland, rejecting the opinions of his brother in law and claiming that McCombie Smith was not qualified to make judgements on the status of athletes, especially older athletes, because he lacked a personal knowledge of them. Of course, this was a stricture which did not apply to Donald Dinnie himself! The letter was so long it was published in four parts. In turn, McCombie Smith published detailed responses to Dinnie in five parts. This dispute went on for months and generated a lot of heat, but also some light.
William McCombie Smith had a significant intellect and he made some important general points about athletic records, as well as detailed statistics relating to the many specific claims made by Donald Dinnie. Until about 1850, athletics meetings were largely local affairs but with the coming of the railways cheap travel means that the best athletes in Scotland could appear regularly at the same meetings together. In these circumstances, it did not matter if conditions for an event were not standardised because on each occasion they were the same for all competitors and thus the champion was easily identified. However, in order to compare athletic achievements over substantial distances of space or time, it would be necessary to standardise the conditions under which events were conducted and also to have an impartial validation mechanism. (McCombie Smith advocated the creation of a Society of Scottish Athletes, Musicians and Dancers for this purpose.) Writing in 1892, he pointed out that with the one exception of a meeting held at Edinburgh Gymnasium in 1883, no athletic performance in Scotland had been achieved under such conditions and thus virtually all so-called records were open to dispute. For example, Donald Dinnie denied that John Tait, a noted heavy athlete from before his time, had achieved some of the distances he claimed, while at the same time asserting that his own (Donald Dinnie’s) performances were real (but lacked rigorous proof).
The notion that an author could only give a valid opinion if he was himself experienced was completely de-bunked by McCombie Smith. “The moment stone or hammer leaves the athlete’s hands the value of the throw as a record depends on the testimony of others. An athletic feat such as putting the stone to be of any value as a record must be authenticated at the time it is done by competent and impartial judges writing down the particulars as to weight and distance after having satisfied themselves by accurate weighing and measuring as to the exact weight and distance.”
Later, in 1898 when he wrote a column, called “Athletic Notes”, for the Aberdeen People’s Journal, William McCombie Smith took Donald Dinnie to task over the titles he bestowed upon himself, such as “Champion all-round of the world”. “As I have repeatedly pointed out if an athlete is allowed to choose his own feats there are from half a dozen to scores of athletes who can each and all claim to be champion athletes. In fact, this sort of thing has become so transparent as a piece of empty brag that a first-class athlete lowers himself by indulging in it. There never was, there is not, and there never will be an all-round champion athlete which Donald Dinnie still claims. … The best athlete that ever lived , or will live, can be champion at only a few feats.”
Donald Dinnie did not take this put-down quietly and wrote yet again to the Aberdeen People’s Journal. McCombie Smith, frustrated by Donald’s doggedness and lack of logic, responded in brutal terms. “My assertion that there cannot be an all-round champion is so transparently uncontrovertible that no man of average ability would ever attempt to deny it. Mr Dinnie’s pet idea that a championship contest between two athletes is best settled by each choosing an equal number of feats, which may be of a different nature to suit himself, is so transparently absurd that no athlete of first class merit would bring it forward.” “Can he name a single feat of strength at which he can beat all-comers? Unless he can do so his talk of being an all-round champion is simply empty brag.” “He has no genuine records authenticated by any recognised authority and I defy him to name a single athlete who holds a genuine world’s record for any athletic feat whatever whom he beat.”
The dispute between Donald Dinnie and William McCombie Smith came to an end in 1905, when the latter died. Even afterwards, Donald still apparently harboured negative feelings towards his late brother-in-law. When asked about him in 1906, Donald claimed to have trained him, but found him “a slow learner”.
Second Visit to New Zealand, 1893 - 1898
By April 1893 Donald Dinnie had decided not to return directly to Britain from Australia, probably because he could not afford the journey, but to try to build funds in New Zealand by touring again with a company of athletes, swordsmen, singers and dancers. He left Melbourne by steamer on 23 May 1893, calling at Hobart, Tasmania, before arriving at The Bluff, the port serving Invercargill, on the south coast of the South Island, on 29 May.
Donald Dinnie’s intentions may have been to stay for a relatively short period in New Zealand to recoup his losses but the outcome was a stay of almost five years. He found the economic situation in New Zealand to be poor as it had recently been in Australia, with frequent strikes and high unemployment. Also, New Zealand was a sparsely-populated country with a count of only 700,000 individuals. Donald no longer had the public image that he once had and his tour party struggled to pull in the crowds.
The tour started from Invercargill, one of the two significant towns on the south coast of the South Island and the first landing point for the steamer from Australia. It was intensive with events once or twice daily for days on end and reached up to Queenstown and Arrowtown north of the starting point and east to Gore and Balclutha. By September 1893 the party had reached Dunedin and then progressed up the east of the South Island, reaching Christchurch by October. The final part of the tour on the South Island was concentrated on the Province of Marlborough in the north east. At the beginning of 1894 the party took the ferry from Picton to Wellington, the capital, in the North Island. The itinerary on the North Island followed several phases, between January and March 1894. Venues were dotted along the eastern half of the North Island as far as Napier and Gisborne. Between March and September locations visited were from Wellington up the west coast to Whanganui and New Plymouth. A period was spent in November on the north coast, north and west of Rotorua as far as Tauranga and Ohinemuri. Finally, the party travelled from Hamilton to Auckland and the area north of Auckland to Whangarei. From about January 1896 to March 1898, Donald Dinnie and his family were based mostly in Auckland, though Donald made occasional forays to towns around the city.
Donald Dinnie assembled a company of performers for the New Zealand tour consisting of Ida McDonald (dancer), Alf Phillips (descriptive songs), Sam Walton (comique and clog dancer), Miss Maggie Smith (Ballad singer) and Eva (Evie) Dinnie (Highland fling and sword dance). Eva Lena Ida Dinnie was the daughter of Donald Dinnie and his second wife, Eleanor Bagley. Evie was born in June 1887 and at the start of the New Zealand tour she would have been barely six years old, which suggests she was a rather precocious child and that her parents had an urgent need for her services on stage. After arriving in New Zealand, the company performed in and around Invercargill until the end of June.
More Bad Head-lines
It was not long before Donald Dinnie started creating the wrong kind of newspaper headline. The company was appearing at the Oddfellows Hall, Riverton, about 25 miles west of Invercargill on Friday, 22 June 1893. Some lads were hanging about outside the hall and it is possible they were making a noise and disturbing the show inside. Donald Dinnie emerged from the hall carrying a stick and, without warning, laid into one of the boys, Sydney Boivin, who was about ten years old. He was injured on the legs and back. Dinnie was charged with assault and the case was heard at Riverton Court on Monday 25 June. Donald Dinnie failed to appear and was not legally represented. In evidence, a boy called Everleigh said he had been peeping through a hole in the side door when a girl (Evie Dinnie?) inside the hall spat in his face and he spat back. This might have been the incident which made Donald see red. The Bench declared the charge proved and fined Donald Dinnie one gn, with two gns costs. A few days later two letters were placed in the local press, from “Ex-athlete” and “Non-athlete”, claiming to know Dinnie personally and recounting tales illustrating his popularity, athletic achievements and noble temperament. The latter letter contained the following. “After a long life of unparalleled triumphs as an athlete over a large space of the world’s surface the veteran is just as your correspondent truly says as quiet and unpresuming as if he had never done anything worth speaking about and he maintains, I learn, his old strict truthfulness and simple honesty in all his transactions unimpaired by the vicissitudes incidental to a public career like his.” This was breath-taking guff but the editor of the Southland Times, in an act of back-covering, stated that his staff were satisfied that neither Dinnie nor any of his company had any foreknowledge of the letters. A person with a reasonable knowledge of Dinnie’s past might have thought otherwise and viewed the letters as a cynical attempt by him to burnish his tarnished image.
The party worked hard and the travelling over New Zealand roads must have been demanding and stressful. Part of the tour covered the Otago goldfields around Queenstown and Arrowtown, but mining for the precious metal was long past its operational peak. Audiences were often elusive and attendances were described as “moderate” or “poor”, though on occasion they were “fair” or “good”. On the positive side, audiences often reacted enthusiastically to the show on offer. However, the stress was clearly telling on Donald, who was always on a short fuse anyway, as the incident in Riverton showed. In Bannockburn, the audience was so small that the gate only amounted to £5. The local newspaper commented “Somehow the people had not much respect for the troupe and Dinnie himself has not done much to exalt it, he having committed a brutal assault on one of the members on Friday morning in the Hall.” The Otago Witness made a withering comment following the performance by Donald Dinnie’s company at Balclutha in July 1893. “The strained financial condition of such a large proportion of the straggling population of the Australian colonies has had the effect of flooding our shores with the class who live upon the public by a system that might not inaptly be termed polite begging…..So anxious, in fact, are these people to serve a needy public that they come trooping along faster than our solitary public hall can accommodate them, so that when Donald Dinnie came the other night he had to stow himself away in a bye corner of the town and pipe to an audience of a couple of dozen at a shilling a head.”
Donald Dinnie did not hold back in showing his disapproval of the, as he saw it, lack of support. At a performance in Dunedin, which had a high population of Caledonians, Donald expressed his disappointment directly to those present during the evening. This approach did even more damage to his public image. At St Bathans in August 1893 there was a deliberate and successful attempt to sabotage Donald’s show, when a malicious person circulated a report maligning the company. A Dinnie missive to the North Otago Times followed objecting to their review of his show and accusing their reporter of being “a bit off”. Donald admitted that “the entertainment is by no means high class but in some cases, it is not to be despised.” An honest opinion, perhaps, but not helpful in promoting the show. Donald then tried to attract more paying customers by reducing entry prices.
More Disputes with Advance Agents
Some of the blame for the poor reception appeared to land on Donald’s forward agent, Patrick Muldoon. Dinnie fired the unfortunate Muldoon for “neglect of duty”. This led to Muldoon look for redress in the courts, seeking one week’s wages. However, he could not establish his case and the action was dismissed. The work of the advanced agent was not easy. Muldoon’s successor, John Martin, suffered a serious accident when crossing a difficult ford on the Wairau river. He was travelling on a sulky but was dissuaded from attempting the crossing in this light vehicle. Instead a local man offered to carry the sulky across on his heavy wagon. However, this was swept away, the sulky smashed up and two cart horses drowned. It is perhaps not surprising that John Martin should have taken to alcohol. At Marlborough Police Court in October 1893, he was charged with being drunk and using obscene language in a public place. He admitted being drunk but had no memory of the language he used. Donald Dinnie paid his fine and costs. In the following December, Martin suffered another accident when his horse and cart slipped down an embankment and landed on top of him, though without causing injury.
The performance in Kurow in September 1893 was rewarded with a full house and takings of £25, which pleased Donald so much that he thanked the audience for their attendance. He also told them that they had given him the best reception that he had received so far on his New Zealand tour. However, this highlight was followed by a depressing, wet evening in Timaru, with a small audience, in spite of reduced prices. Donald’s letter-writing swung into action again. “True Caledonian” (surely Donald himself?) wrote complaining about disrespectful colonists and expressing a sense of entitlement. “I was very much disgusted to-night to see the meagre reception accorded to our respected countryman, Donald Dinnie at the hands of the Christchurch Caledonians. After distinguishing himself in the Highlands where he won the reputation of champion athlete of the Old Country he journeyed afield and proved himself the champion of the world at athletic feats. Now that his days for athletic contests are over and he is travelling with a variety company for a livelihood I think the least his countrymen could do would be to give the man who has upheld the honour of the Highlands and Scotland generally some slight recognition of his merit. Instead of this I regret to say the Caledonians of Christchurch were conspicuous to-night by their absence.” The Canterbury Caledonian Society, perhaps feeling some guilt, made amends by awarding Donald a complimentary testimonial and social evening to show their appreciation of his achievements.
The tour through the North Island hardly fared better than its predecessor. It was not until he reached Porohangu in March 1894 that he had his first “big house”. On at least one occasion the attendance was so low that the show was cancelled. This caused Donald to write to the press again justifying the cancellation but while thanking those who did turn up he did not really apologise. But he did return to his old theme of lack of business when he should be being supported by Caledonians. His latest thesis to account for poor support was that false rumours were being spread about his personal life, so he took the opportunity to counteract them. He denied that the lady travelling with him was not his wife and that his first wife was still alive in Scotland. Both rumours were, of course, false. But Donald and Eleanor Bagley had travelled as man and wife and she had adopted the name “Mrs Dinnie” before they were formally married in December 1885. He also dealt with accusations of being a “drunkard and a hotel loafer”, which must have been particularly hurtful, given his well-documented claim to modest alcohol consumption. His statement that, “…though no total abstainer I was never once drunk in my life nor did I ever use tobacco and any sensible man ought to know that it is temperate habits only which leaves me still able to beat any colonial athlete though verging on 60 years of age”, may have been accurate concerning alcohol and tobacco, but it was inaccurate concerning colonial athletes.
Donald Dinnie and alcohol
One story, from his time in South Australia, suggests that Donald did enjoy a tipple on occasions and that his tastes were towards the expensive end of the range. The story, from the Mount Barker Courier, is quoted in full. “When the famed athlete Donald Dinnie first struck he was accorded a wondrous welcome by the Scottish community every member of which left his pants at home in honour of the occasion and swelled the air with “Hech gathers” and “We are nae fou” for hours together. But the hero received the homage of the crowd without as much as a nod of acknowledgment. At last when the reception committee approached him he condescended to admit that it was a braw day and on the chairman proposing a visit to the nearest pub, Donald acquiesced without a murmur. “We weel dreenk to the health o’ the greatest o’ Scoattish wrostlers” announced the chairman to everybody’s surprise for he was locally noted for being a very “adjacent” Caledonian indeed. “What’ll ye be taken Mister Deenie?” “Wull” mused Donald stroking his square jaw, “A’m theenkin a’ll be takkin’ a sma’ bottle o’ champagne.” The chairman nearly fell down but he paid up like a little man, though his belief in the athletes of his native land was shattered for evermore.”
Yet another dispute with an Advance Agent
Donald was still enjoying difficult relationships with his advance agents. In May 1894, agent Francis Bowden had to seek the help of the courts in recovering money he claimed was owed by Dinnie. He was engaged at £3 per week and the use of a horse and trap to post the towns on the west coast of the North Island. His first week’s wages were paid but then he got nothing more for two weeks. He continued working until he ran out of money and his horse and trap were seized by a hotelkeeper for non-payment of a bill. He then had to sleep rough and applied for more money, but none was forthcoming. Dinnie’s defence was that Bowden had not carried out his instructions, that some towns had not been effectively billed and that wrong directions had been provided. Dinnie was obliged to pay the agent £4 5/6 with £1 12/- costs, provided 2000 unused bills were returned. Another advance agent, J Revel, also felt it necessary to cross the threshold of the court room at Masterton in September 1894. He claimed Dinnie owed him £3 10/-, though the case was complicated because there was no written contract as the plaintiff was being given a trial to see if he was suitable for bill-posting. Dinnie was told he must pay 4/- per day for six days’ work, minus 7/- already paid. Perhaps significantly, evidence was presented that Dinnie had sent other men away without payment. Also, there was a moment of pure comedy in the proceedings. When Revel left Dinnie’s service he had to leave his boots and trousers behind, causing the judge to ask if there was only one pair of trousers in the troupe.
In Court Again
No strangers to the courts, Donald and Eleanor Dinnie found themselves involved in two further cases in May 1894 in which they, unusually, were innocent bystanders. In January of that year, before his tour of the North Island got underway, Donald Dinnie agreed with Mr Follas, landlord of the Rainbow Hotel, Kaiwarra, that he could rent a shed at the hotel for the storage of goods. Before Donald could return for his possessions, the hotel changed hands and the new landlord, Mr McIntosh was made aware of the agreement with Donald Dinnie. When the Dinnies went to collect their goods, they found them to be damaged. Follas sought damages from McIntosh but the case was dismissed as there was no evidence of when the damage had occurred but in a second case in which Mrs Dinnie was the plaintiff, the court found against Follas for the full cost of the damage inflicted.
In attempting to counteract the ongoing poor attendances at his shows, Donald continued with reduced prices and also changed the programme, by reintroducing wrestling against local opponents. These bouts, involving P White and J Sutherland were all won by Dinnie but in the process, he formed a working relationship with New Zealander Jack Sutherland, who was of Maori extraction. Dinnie also acted as referee in contests involving his new friend. However, sniping by the press continued, including from Australia. The Ballarat Star jeered, “Donald Dinnie is pebbly-beached in Maoriland. Donald lately has been appearing with a poor variety company and before he does his weightlifting he makes a very bad speech. He also plays a jig on the fiddle and wrestles. Why cannot someone take him in hand?” And the Australasian, “The stage seems the future refuge for reduced athletes. The latest recruit to the ranks of the profession is Donald Dinnie, who is running a variety show through New Zealand.”
Donald Dinnie’s appearances in court continued with a case at Waihi on the north coast of the North Island in November 1894, where he was charged with assault and damaging a fence. A fracas arose over the hire of the Waihi Hall for one of Donald Dinnie’s performances. His forward agent claimed that Mr Tanner of the Waihi Hotel had agreed a price of £1 including the use of the piano. Tanner denied this and demanded his usual price of £2 per night, which Dinnie refused to pay. Tanner then retaliated by nailing up the fence in the yard to prevent Dinnie removing his horse and cart but Donald kicked down this construction. The two men then grappled and Dinnie restrained Tanner while a colleague removed the horse and cart. Witnesses were put up on both sides, but the bench found for Tanner while accepting there had been faults by both parties. Local feeling was strongly for Dinnie and his colleague and public subscription raised the 10/- fines on each man. Dinnie was also awarded a complimentary benefit by the locals. No costs were awarded in the case, so it proved to be an expensive action for Tanner who incurred fees of about £11.
After Donald Dinnie settled down in Auckland in December 1894 he seems to have had other ideas for making money. He started to appear at outdoor holiday gatherings in Highland dress to dance Highland reels. Later, in 1897, he became a horse-dealer. The Dinnies also ran a 6d restaurant in Auckland, though that was unlikely ever to make them rich. Another venture led him, almost inevitably, back to the court room charged with assaulting and beating Joseph McCoon. In late December 1894, Donald Dinnie and a friend had gone with a dray to Titirangi, which lies about 10 miles south west of Auckland, to collect ferns, New Zealand being famous for this type of plant. They asked McCoon, who was at his place, where they could get ferns and his reply was that they could not get any unless they paid for them. According to the plaintiff Dinnie replied that they would take what they wanted and drove on. Naturally, McCoon went to investigate and he claimed he found Donald Dinnie and his colleague loading their dray with pteridophytes. As he went to remonstrate with Dinnie he was grabbed by the neck and shaken “like a dog”, thrown on the ground and hit in the back by Dinnie using his knee. Dinnie’s story was from the, now typical, mould for Dinnie court explanations. The plaintiff had threatened to tip up the cart if they did not pay £4 for the ferns. Dinnie claimed he was prepared to pay but asked for proof that the ferns belonged to McCoon. Joseph McCoon then allegedly tried to tip the dray and, as a result, collided with the shaft and that is how his injuries were caused. Because of a lack of independent witnesses, there was insufficient evidence to tell where the truth lay and the case was dismissed.
One further legal action involving Donald Dinnie from this period in the North Island has been found. In February 1896 in an undefended case, Thomas Faulder was awarded 16/- with 8/- costs against Dinnie, though the basis of the claim is not known.
Evie Dinnie and the Police
Evie Dinnie had consistently received good press reviews of her dancing ability. She first appeared on stage in 1893 during Donald’s second tour of New Zealand. At the time, she was barely six years old but was already competent at the Highland Fling and the Ghillie Callum, not entirely surprising given her parentage. Early in 1894 when the touring party reached the North Island, Donald met with an old friend, Mr R Smith, whose sons were also competent dancers. An on-stage competition between Evie and the Smith boys was mounted at Woodville. Evie continued to appear regularly on stage throughout 1894 and into 1895. In April 1895 in Whangarei, the police also started to take an interest in the child prodigy. Constable Sheehan had visited the Theatre Royal in Whangarei on 27th of that month and spoke to Donald Dinnie, asking if he had a permit for Evie to appear, such official sanction being required if the child was under ten years and admission to the event was being charged. Donald turned to his wife Eleanor and asked if she had it. Her reply was that he was in possession. Constable Sheehan then delivered a warning that if Evie appeared on stage without a permit, a prosecution would be the outcome. Sheehan returned and between 8pm and 9pm Evie performed on stage, afterwards remaining in the ticket office until 10.30pm. Donald Dinnie was found guilty of allowing a child under ten to appear on stage without a permit. He was fined £5 and costs were awarded against him.
This case makes several things clear about Donald Dinnie and his wife. Firstly, their propensity to lie blatantly. They did not have a permit for Evie to perform but they both immediately pretended they had the document, but it could not be found. Secondly, having been warned by the police that they would prosecute if Evie appeared, they showed complete disregard for legal authority and went ahead anyway. Thirdly, it does not take much intuition to conclude that the police would follow up their threat, so going ahead with Evie in the show was a very risky venture. Fourthly, they showed little regard for Evie’s welfare. Did their own financial gain matter more? Evie was just eight at the time, not six and a half as advertised – again, a complete disregard was shown for the truth. However, this child protection law was not generally known about and not rigorously enforced by the police, so pleading ignorance of the law and then complying with it would have been a much smarter strategy.
This conviction concerning Evie appearing on the stage without a permit may have caused the Dinnies to seek official permission, because she was performing as part of the Elite Musical Comedy Company in Auckland City Hall early in 1896, again in a circus performance in June of that year and at an evening athletic tournament at the Agricultural Hall in August. Evie also proved to be a girl of some athletic and musical ability. She won the 18-yard swimming race for girls under ten at the Auckland School Swimming Sports in March 1897 and she played the violin for the Olympic Company in early 1898.
Auckland and Whangarei, 1894 - 1898
The Donald Dinnie concert company, which had been together since he arrived in New Zealand in June 1893 broke up at the time he settled in Auckland at the end of 1894. What was billed as their farewell performance took place at the Foresters’ Hall, Auckland under the patronage of the Auckland Caledonian Society in late January 1895. Donald appeared to receive a warm welcome from this society. At the end of December 1894, he attended one of their social evenings and occupied the seat of honour adjacent to the chairman. Donald Dinnie also attended the Society’s New Year’s Day gathering, though he did not compete. After settling in Auckland in December 1894 the Dinnies remained in that city until they left for Australia about the beginning of March 1898, except for a period of about five months in the summer of 1895 when they resided in Whangarei 100 miles north of Auckland. There Donald gave occasional weight-lifting exhibitions while Eleanor taught dancing. Interactions with the forces of law enforcement were still in evidence, Eleanor Dinnie being accused of striking a constable in the execution of his duty. The case was dropped due to insufficient evidence to justify a conviction.
Donald had not entirely given up field athletics when he arrived in Auckland, but for the rest of his time in New Zealand, his physical endeavours were concentrated on wrestling. He did appear at the Auckland Caledonian Society annual sports on New Year’s Day 1896, when he won the shot, 16lb hammer and caber. Evie Dinnie won two dancing competitions, the Highland fling and the Sheantreaus, on the same occasion. Donald Dinnie did not appear the following year, due to a spat over fees and went to the Armidale event instead. There he was beaten by M Dillon in both the hop, step and jump and the high leap.
Part of the reason for the declining number of Donald’s athletic appearances was that societies, specifically the Auckland Society, were increasingly reluctant to meet his terms. The Auckland Star paraphrased the contents of a grumbling letter from the ageing Scot, received in December 1896. “Donald Dinnie writes stating that though he has offered his services to break colonial records at the Caledonian sports for even one tenth his usual salary, the leading members (through inexperience) could not see to add to the popularity of their sports by accepting his moderate terms. During the past 40 years he has been engaged by all the leading societies of the kind throughout the civilised part of the world, at a salary ranging from £25 to £100 for use of name for one day, in addition to the amount he could win in prizes which valued from £1 to £25 for each event….” As usual, Donald presented himself as a sage and those who disagreed with him as dumb or naive.
Following the disagreement over fees to attend the Auckland Caledonian Society games, members of that Society, formerly his friends, became his adversaries. The standard of athletics in Auckland was not high at the time. The Sportsman commented that the athletic scene in the city was “quiet” and that Dinnie and Sutherland were the only two athletes of note. At the New Year’s Day sports in 1897 the heavy events had been won by local athlete Samuel Thornley and the Society hoped to arrange a match between Thornley and Dinnie. When Donald heard of this challenge, he immediately wrote to the press throwing down his own terms for a match and ending with a typical belittling brag. “Further to prove to these Caledonians that the performances at their sports were poor, I will stake £20 that without taking my coat off I will beat the record made at weight throwing from three to six yards. I take no notice of reply without a similar deposit.” Thornley replied in kind but did not match Dinnie’s deposit. The match never took place. In his final few months in New Zealand Donald Dinnie threw out other challenges to both wrestle and compete at heavy events to a variety of other athletes, including to his old adversary, Eugene Kneebone. Increasingly, other athletes and the press were treating Dinnie’s challenges as empty bluster and Kneebone called him a has-been, which spurred Donald to further challenges. Kneebone’s final letter on the subject summed up the general feeling. “No doubt your many readers, as well as myself, are heartily sick of that subject, “Donald Dinnie” his performances, his dislike of colonials and his comparisons of his wonderful self with them – of course to their utter discredit.”
Donald Dinnie’s wrestling activities revived considerably during 1896. He wrestled Jack Sutherland for £25 a side at Coromandel near Auckland. Dinnie had bet that he could throw Sutherland six times within an hour. After making the first fall, Donald secured a stranglehold on Sutherland and choked him to the point where he had to retire. The crowd booed Dinnie for the method by which he achieved victory. A return match, from which strangleholds and hammerlocks were barred, was quickly arranged and Sutherland won. In a third bout Dinnie was triumphant. Remarkably, given the brutality of their recent encounters, Donald Dinnie and Jack Sutherland collaborated in a proposal to open a school to teach the science of wrestling. Wrestling encounters between the two continued throughout the summer of 1896. In August 1896, Professor Miller came over from Australia and wrestled Jack Sutherland in Auckland. Sutherland won and Donald Dinnie was the referee. He also refereed the match between Matthews and Da Rosa in October 1897 and between Sutherland and Skinner the following month. However, wrestling in the Antipodes, for Donald Dinnie, was now over.
Edwin Dinnie makes a name for himself
Back in the North-East of Scotland, Donald’s illegitimate son was beginning to make a name for himself as an athlete, wrestler and strongman. He had been born in 1877 and given the names “Edwin Dinnie” to add to his mother’s surname, “Gellatly”. In the meantime, he reversed “Dinnie” and Gellatly” and was now known as “Edwin Gellatly Dinnie”. He appeared to idolise his father and was clearly keen to bear his father’s surname. In any case it would clearly help Edwin to promote an athletic career.
At the 1891 Census Edwin was recorded as a servant working at the Bridge Hotel on Princes Street in Edinburgh. In May,1894 the Edinburgh Evening News carried a piece on young Dinnie, now 17. Edwin had been practising athletic skills since the age of twelve. He had moved to be footman to Professor Alexander Russell Simpson, Professor of Midwifery at Edinburgh University. He was a member of an august Edinburgh medical family and his friends were treated to a private display of Edwin’s strength. One friend, Professor Drummond, was so impressed he declared Edwin to be the strongest youth in Scotland and presented him with an electroplated dumb-bell. By August 1894, Edwin had joined Arthur and Hillcoat’s travelling music hall show, performing feats of strength alongside the singers and comedians and was touring the towns of North-East Scotland. One of his signature feats was to support a 5cwt piano on a board on his chest, with a pianist and four other men on top, the pianist playing Auld Lang Syne! Edwin was also an all-round athlete and wrestler. He performed in the “Scotch” wrestling style invented by his father and formed a partnership with Gunner Nichol, another wrestler. By the age of 19 Edwin stood 5ft 8in in height and weighed 11st 4lb.
In New Zealand, Donald Dinnie had clearly heard about Edwin and his performances and he apparently struck up an extensive correspondence with him. This came to light when malicious accusations were circulated in Aberdeen questioning if Edwin Dinnie was indeed the biological son of the great Donald. The Aberdeen Press and Journal put the record straight. “We are informed by a correspondent that he has just had a glance over a lengthened correspondence from the famous North of Scotland athlete, who is at present time in Auckland New Zealand, to young Edwin. These letters are of the most interesting description and are undoubtedly those of a father to his son.” The correspondence also revealed that Donald was thinking of returning to the Auld Country while he was in Auckland in 1896, or of inviting Edwin to travel out to join him. In a letter of November 1896 seen by the Dundee Courier, confirmed his desire to return home but, should he be delayed he would find £200 to £300 backing for Edwin to wrestle Jack Sutherland. Edwin had just got married to Jenny Milne a champion Highland dancer and the couple were touring together in a musical and athletic show in the far north of Scotland. In April 1897, it was still planned that Edwin would travel out to New Zealand.
Planning to return to Great Britain
Rumours first started to emerge in the New Zealand press in June 1896 that Donald Dinnie would soon be travelling back home to Scotland to undertake a twelve-month professional tour. These plans were still fluid, as by February 1897 Donald was saying he expected to leave New Zealand “about April”. By November the plans seemed to have made some advance. Donald had been offered a six-month contract at £25pw and expenses met, an offer which in his straightened circumstances he could not refuse. It appeared that the source of this contract was Mr GJ Melvin, Secretary of the Bon-Accord Highland Gathering back in Aberdeen. Donald later also had contact with the United Athletics Associations of the United States and it was a possibility that he might later travel again to America.
Donald Dinnie sold his Auckland restaurant in May 1897, which might have indicated that his departure was close. By November it was being announced that Edwin’s arrival was imminent. By February 1898 Donald announced that, “My boy expected here this month” but he did not arrive. About the beginning of March 1898, the Dinnie family took the steamer Westralia, with Jack Sutherland accompanying them. They arrived in Sydney on 12 March and it was reported that they planned to stay for a few weeks. When he was questioned about Edwin’s non-appearance in the Antipodes, Donald had a ready reason. “I am sorry to say he has not left Scotland yet, nor is he likely to now. I arranged for his passage out with the New Zealand Shipping Company, but they bungled the matter somehow.” Yet again, an administrative failing was someone else’s fault.
South Africa 1898
Donald Dinnie’s entourage, minus Donald, left Sydney bound for London on the White Star steamer, Aberdeen, on 2 April 1898. Donald travelled by train to Melbourne where he joined the ship. It sailed on 7 April for Albany in Western Australia and then onwards on 13 April for the Cape Colony and London. Donald was a figure much diminished in reputation from the wealthy, athletic colossus who arrived in Melbourne in March 1884. He revealed in a letter to The Referee that he had arrived in the Antipodes with £3,000 but had lost it all. He was disgusted with the colonies because they had “neither men nor money in them”. The Sydney Highland Society and Burns Club considered giving him a send-off but concluded, “that they were not in a position to in any way accord a send-off or publicly express their appreciation of Donald Dinnie…” Perhaps even they were tired of Donald’s rantings against them and their new country? The sporting paper, The Referee summarised the situation succinctly. “Donald Dinnie landed on our shores in 1881(actually 1884) with pocketsful of bright Yankee dollars but I am sorry to say he does not leave here in a similar condition; hence it is hardly to be wondered at that he should consider Australia the poorest hunting ground in the world for a professional athlete. Scotia’s famous scion states that he would have left us long ere this but for the lack of the needful and opportunities to raise it.”
Donald had booked a passage through to London but he broke his journey in Cape Colony which was reached at the beginning of May 1898. He wrote to his friend and fellow heavy athlete, George Davidson, then the landlord of the Station Hotel, Bucksburn on the outskirts of Aberdeen, probably on arrival in Cape Town, telling him of this change of plan. In another letter to The Referee, he revealed that the journey had been rough, he had lost weight and he was in poor athletic condition on arrival in Cape Town. Donald had also sent for Edwin to join the Dinnie party early in May and he arrived as expected before the end of May. Edwin paid £12 for his passage out, on the understanding that Donald would reimburse him for this outlay. It was anticipated that the group would be in the country for two or three months. One positive feature of the Cape Colony was that there were lots of Scotchmen there but, on the down-side, rents were double what they had been in Sydney.
Donald’s first public appearance in Africa may have been at the Green Point track on the waterfront in Cape Town on 30 May 1898, where he wrestled an exhibition match with Jack Sutherland and demonstrated the art of caber tossing. About this time also there was a wrestling match between Sutherland and 17 stone local wrestler, Rasso. The local man contracted to throw the New Zealander five times in an hour but, despite his weight advantage, he failed to do so. Donald also managed to get into a dispute with the Highland Society in Cape Town over the amount they had guaranteed him to appear. Jack Barnett, a retired runner reported, “An old failing of Donald’s, eh?” “Yes, he alleged the society guaranteed him a certain amount, which he sued for but did not get. You can imagine how Donald performed. He was so savage when the verdict was given against him that he called them everything and threatened to dance Ghillie Callum and Seantrews on their chests.”
After the appearances in Cape Town the Dinnie party, which now included Edwin Dinnie, travelled by train to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. There the Scottish Association gave the visitors a very warm welcome. The following evening the Olympic Concert Company (the name of Donald’s new grouping) performed at the Feather Market before a full audience of 2,000. The following afternoon, 11 June, an athletics exhibition was held, for which Donald had been guaranteed £50 by the Scottish Association. It was clear that Donald’s arrival in the Cape was met with great enthusiasm by the local Caledonians. He was in a new honeymoon period, despite the dispute in Cape Town. Donald appeared to have left behind all the negative press comments which had proved so damaging in Australia and New Zealand.
From Port Elizabeth, the concert part travelled on to Durban, where the Scottish Association turned out in large numbers to greet the Scottish hero and his party and drive him “in state” to the Algoa House Hotel, where a reception was held. In replying to a toast Donald told the assembled admirers that he had suffered badly on the sea journey from Australia, losing two stone in weight. He had also recently ricked his back while practising hammer throwing. Another Caledonian gathering was held on 18 June 1898. Exhibitions were given by Donald and Edwin Dinnie, Jack Sutherland, Evie Dinnie and her mother, Eleanor, performing under her stage name of Ida Macdonald. From Durban, the group travelled the 40 miles to Pietermaritzburg for another performance about 2 July. Further performances were given at Ladysmith, Newcastle, Dundee, Volfsrust, Johannesburg, Krugersdorp, Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Kimberley and a host of other places
At Johannesburg, the show was put on successfully at the Gaiety Theatre from 18 to 23 July 1898 and there were also some outdoor athletics shows, which struggled to attract audiences. While in Johannesburg, Donald, Edwin and Jack Sutherland went out on the veld to practise hammer throwing and Donald was hit by a loose missile despatched by his son. He was badly bruised down his left side but fortunately no bones were broken. Donald also took exception to his description in the Johannesburg newspaper, Standard and Digger News, as “the once invincible”, and “the bygone Scottish Champion.” This elicited an apology from the editor who said he had not meant to hurt Donald, but, “even he would have to accept that a good young man was better than a good old one”. This was remarkably polite treatment from the press, compared with the rough and tumble of Australia and New Zealand. Even at that distance the Australian press was still capable of causing mischief. The Sydney newspaper, The Truth, took one last shot at the departed athletes. “Those two braw Scots Donald Dinnie and JW Sutherland have fallen oot ower the bawbees or the breeks or a wee cantle whusky or something like that in the Transvaal and they were slang-whanging one another in the papers at latest.” Jack Sutherland seems to have parted company with Donald Dinnie in southern Africa and did not travel on to London with him.
England and Scotland, 1898 - 1916
One of the last appearances in Africa by Donald Dinnie was at an athletics event in Pretoria on 31 August, which was described as a big and attractive affair. Donald threw the hammer one-handed with his damaged left arm in a sling. The Dinnie party, now flush with cash after their exploits in southern Africa, left for London on the ss Aberdeen in September 1898. It is not known if they boarded the vessel in Natal or Cape Town but the former would have involved less overland travel. The Aberdeen left Cape Town for London on 23 September, calling at Tenerife, before arriving in the British capital on 17th October. Once back in Britain Donald and Edwin Dinnie parted company, with Edwin returning to the North East of Scotland and his new wife. At the end of November, Edwin was appearing in shows in the usual fashion, for example at Rosehearty Town Hall, together with an athlete called Milo.
In mid-November 1898, Donald Dinnie announced a series of farewell athletic performances at various venues in England and Scotland, so he must have been thinking of retiring imminently. However, like all Dinnie plans, this one too was subject to change without notice. Donald also advertised his services through the pages of Sporting Life, where it was announced that he would be opening at St James’ Hall, Regent Street in the capital. The Sporting Life article quoted Donald as follows, “I am not a one-horse man like some so-called athletes. I run the whole gamut and include Tossing the Caber, Throwing the Hammer, Putting the Stone, Weightlifting, Running, Jumping, Wrestling, etc. Am no sae guid at the wrestling in the Cumberland and Westmorland style as I ought to be as niblins (what are “niblins?) Steadman and Louden can fell me but under Lancashire rules I fear no man.”
The London Show
Donald remained in London until the end of December 1898. He was living at 64 Mark-street, West Ham and he set about organising and advertising his return to performing in Britain. Donald Dinnie was seeking “a serio-comic and lady song and dance artists also good variety pianist and middle weight strongman to show with another”. In November 1898 Donald Dinnie contracted with his son, Edwin to be paid £3/week at first, with advances according to the amount of business done. The contract was for 12 months, with a starting date of 31 December 1898.
Donald Dinnie’s London show, by his Olympic Concert Company, opened on 19th December, supported by the patronage of the Charles Gordon, 11th Marquis of Huntly and resident in Aboyne Castle, Lord Hopetoun, Lord Kinnoul, the Highland Society of London, Colonel Mildmay Wilson, Commander of the 1st Battalion, Scots Guards and other prominent citizens. Donald’s return to home shores was clearly viewed with some anticipation and thus he could call upon this upper-class support. Donald did not hesitate to blow his own trumpet in advertising the event. “At several of the prominent Highland Gatherings he has appeared with distinction before Her Majesty Queen Victoria and members of the Royal Family. He has performed before many of the crowned heads of Europe and has been applauded by men of the highest rank and station throughout the world.” Donald entered “his son Alfred” “aged 24, 10 1/2 stones” on the bill. The status of Alfred will be dealt with later.
The show, which was heavy with Highland sentiment, was not a success. St James’ Hall was far too large for the 200 people who turned up for the opening. Some of those present were rowdy and disruptive, as the Inverness Courier reported. “While Donald was explaining the unique character of the feats accomplished by his elder son there was a disposition on the part of a clique in the gallery to dispute his statements. After submitting to the annoyance for some time, Donald said “didna want ony mair words aboot it” and referred his critics to the terms of his challenge and called upon them to make a match. There were no further interruptions.” The reason for the lack of support for the show, which Donald clearly anticipated would be a major success, given that his presumed adoring public had been deprived of his presence for the last 15 years, was not hard to discern. He was passé and “it would seem that his deeds of derring do were of a bygone era and that the present generation of onlookers will have little of him now.”
Back to the North East of Scotland
After the disappointment of the failed London show, Donald returned to Aberdeen. Contact was made with George Davidson, his old friend and fellow heavy athlete, who was then occupied as the landlord of the Railway Hotel, Bucksburn. George appeared to act as an agent for his old partner for securing placements at Highland games for the coming summer. He also came out of retirement to wrestle an exhibition bout at Partick Police Sports later that year.
Donald embarked with his new concert party on an intensive tour of North East Scotland, the region north of Inverness, central Perthshire and eastern Scotland, ending in Dundee. In that time, they put on at least 16 shows in 14 different venues, an average intensity of about 8/month. This tour was probably intended to fill in the time until the summer Highland games season started. The tour must have been very hard work for the party, involving much travel, initially at a difficult time of the year, with appearances in many small towns. From the start the tour was not successful. On one evening in Aberdeen, some cheap seat visitors to the show got into the expensive seats, leaving those who had paid to be at the front without accommodation. Donald had to intervene to sort out the chaos. Even in this city close to Donald’s place of birth, the troupe played to small audiences and, as usual, Donald could not hide his disappointment. At the close of the show he thanked the audience for attending but compared the size unfavourably with audiences in America, Africa and Australia. This was another case of Donald employing his selective memory.
During the rest of the tour audiences were generally enthusiastic and the house sometimes full, but they were often small. Some audiences were disruptive, such as the “sons of the soil” who invaded Coupar Angus one Saturday evening. Other audiences were disappointed, for example at Blairgowrie, by the brevity of Donald’s appearance on stage. Towards the end of the tour the troupe appeared in Auchinblae, the location of the Kintore Arms Hotel, Donald’s former charge. The reception in this location, which was only a large village, was weak, the hall being only “thinly sprinkled with paying guests”. The Dundee Evening Telegraph employed heavy irony to sum up Donald’s response. “So impressed was Donald Dinnie with the cold reception given his company that he declined to exhibit his old-time feats. Donald Dinnie may console himself with the old proverb about a prophet having no honour and many a one before his day has gone to his own and his own received him not. At the same time, it was hardly fair to punish the few for the coldness of the many.” Finally, in Dundee, Donald again resorted to moaning at the audience, rewarding their approbation with the remark that applause did not pay. The Dundee Advertiser remarked. “Now his name, though possessing the same charm to Scotsmen, has lost its commercial influence and where once he could count upon audiences numbering two to three thousand, the people who patronise his performance can now be set down at about a hundred.”
Donald and Edwin Dinnie fall out
Even before the tour of the North East had got underway, there had been a major rift between Donald and his son Edwin. Donald had sent his equipment, including four dumb-bells, to Aberdeen and they were in the possession of William Johnston, Secretary of Aberdeen Trades Council. Donald was due to appear at Banchory on Deeside on 1 January 1899. His son Edwin, probably in frustration at not having been paid by his father for his passage out to Cape Town, took action to arrest the four dumb-bells. Donald had to leave Aberdeen on the 3pm train and, due to not having his dumb-bells with him, could not fulfil his evening engagement. The following day his representative appeared in Aberdeen Sheriff Court to seek the recall of the arrest. This was granted because the dumb-bells were judged to be the tools of Donald’s trade and thus not arrestable. The Sheriff asked Donald Dinnie’s advocate if he could find £5 caution. Mr Wilson’s reply was in the negative. Donald did not have £5 “as his entertainments had not been a success”.
Donald terminated the contract of Edwin on 27 January 1899 and Alf Stone or Dinnie then played the role of second strongman in the party. In March, Edwin again took action in the Aberdeen Sheriff Court, seeking the sum of £60 from his father. This was made up of £9 for work done from 31 December 1898 to 27 January 1899, £12 for the passage to Cape Town and £39, being salary due for 3 months in lieu of notice. Proof of the case was due to be led in June but on the day Edwin’s advocate had to admit to the court that he had no instructions, as Edwin had not attended a pre-arranged meeting. The sheriff assoilzied (absolved from guilt) Donald and awarded him expenses. There was further unwelcome news for Edwin less than two months later when his two-month-old son, Norman Edwin, died suddenly. It is not known if Norman Edwin’s recent birth had had any influence on his father’s non-attendance at the meeting with his advocate, but it could have been a factor.
Glasgow 1899 - 1902
Following the punishing tour of the north and east of Scotland, Donald, now aged 62, must have decided that a life on the road was no longer sustainable. In any case, Eleanor was pregnant with her second child. Hector Dinnie was born in March 1900 in the Kinning Park area of Glasgow and must have been conceived in June 1899 soon after the end of the last tour. Donald and his wife had decided to settle in Glasgow and derive a base income by running a “chipper”, a fish and chip restaurant, in Old Govan Road. But this was a cheap eating house in a rough, working-class area of the city and was never going to make the Dinnies wealthy. In June 1901, an Italian seaman, presumably drunk, came to the restaurant and assaulted Donald Dinnie. The police were called and the marinaio turned on them too. He was arrested but had to be carried all the way to the police station. The Italian was fined 3gns or alternatively “police hospitality for 4 weeks”. At the 1901 Census, the Dinnies were living at 5 Eaglesham Street, Govan, located not far from the Dinnies’ “Australian” restaurant at 120 and 122 Old Govan Road. Donald’s calling was listed as “contract builder and architect”, while Eleanor was recorded as a “restaurant keeper”. Donald’s self-description was fanciful. He had not been a contract builder for over 30 years and was unlikely to resume such a career.
This was the time that Donald Dinnie effectively retired from athletics though, as has been seen, no Dinnie decision was ever exempt from the prospect of reversal. To mark this watershed moment, Donald’s Scottish supporters presented him with a belt and purse (containing sovereigns, as was typical practice in those days) at a celebratory event at the Royal Hotel in Aberdeen in June 1900. It cost about £55 and was inscribed “Presented by his admirers in Scotland in recognition of his prowess as the most wonderful athlete of whom we have any record. His unequalled feats of strength and agility, number of successes and length of career stand unrivalled in the history of athletics.” Except for one word, “unequalled”, that was a fair description of the great man’s standing as an athlete.
Between August 1899 and May 1912, the Dinnies lived successively in Glasgow (1899 – 1902), Manchester (1902 – 1903), Newcastle (1903 – at least April 1905) and Glasgow again (at least July 1905 – 1911), before moving south to Croydon at New Year1912. The evidence that Donald also lived briefly in Manchester about 1902, which has not been previously reported, is that in December of that year (Manchester Courier), “Ellen Lawrence was granted the transfer of the licence of the White House, Great Ancoats Street, (Manchester) from Donald Dinnie and the chairman warned her to be very careful how she conducted the place.”
At the start of this new phase in his life, Donald, “the greatest athlete on record”, advertised his availability for engagements as a judge or to exhibit. He included daughter Evie in this newspaper insertions. Increasingly, Donald’s role at Highland games was to act as a referee, judge, umpire or handicapper. On occasion, he would give exhibitions of wrestling or throwing the hammer and he would lay down a challenge to any competitor up to 10 years his junior, in a kind of seniors’ competition. Often, he was not challenged in such events. Sometimes Donald appeared to have been engaged at venues solely to walk amongst the crowds in his kilt, Glengarry bunnet and jacket with its profusion of medals. His public appearances were now much less frequent, typically less than one per month.
Promoting Barr’s Iron Brew
In 1903, Donald Dinnie and Alex Munro, the Glasgow wrestler, were engaged to promote Barr’s Iron Brew, the product of a Glasgow manufacturer. Nowadays the beverage is advertised under its modern name of “Irn Bru”. The Falkirk Herald of May 1905 contained a typical insertion. “Barr’s Iron Brew. Invigorating, Strengthening, Sustaining. Opinion of the world’s athletic champions. “I can recommend Barr’s Iron Brew to all who wish to aspire to athletic fame.” (signed) Donald Dinnie, All-round champion athlete of the world. “Barr’s Iron Brew is a strengthening and invigorating beverage. I have used it for years to my utmost satisfaction. A splendid tonic for training and a grand pick-me-up after a hard tussle.” (signed) Alex. Munro, Undisputed champion wrestler of Great Britain. Champion caber tosser of the world. And hundreds of unsolicited testimonials from all leading athletes, footballers, cricketers, oarsmen, pedestrians, cyclists and golfers. Sold by all shopkeepers. Beware of imitations.” It has not been discovered how much Dinnie and Munro were paid for their endorsements.
Newcastle – a disreputable attempt to make money
About March 1903 Donald Dinnie and his family moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, probably from Manchester, Donald to be landlord of the Scotia Tavern in Clayton Street but his wife and daughter to manage a refreshment room and lodging house in Newgate Street, both in the centre of the city. The premises must have been close together, since these two streets intersect. However, the provision of meals appeared to have been a front for less savoury, but possibly more remunerative, activities. The Newgate Street premises, which were rented by Eleanor Dinnie for £50 per year, consisted of a shop, dining room, 16 bedrooms, each with a single bed and two attics. The police clearly had suspicions about the activities conducted on Mrs Dinnie’s premises and kept the place under observation. Men and women were observed making repeated visits to the Newgate Street location. Entry was through the shop, where Mrs Dinnie was always in attendance. It was known that five of the women seen entering were prostitutes. The police approached Mrs Dinnie and read to her the terms of a warrant which had been issued. The reply was “Me keep a brothel! I have never done such a thing.” Evie gave a similar response, “I know nothing about a brothel”. In September 1904, Eleanor was charged with keeping a brothel and her daughter Evie, now 17, with assisting her. In court, Eleanor’s defence was that she did not know what was going on but she accepted that she should have taken more care in the management of the premises. The Bench was unimpressed and fined her £20 or two months’ imprisonment. And what of Donald Dinnie, the landlord husband located around the corner from the brothel, who appeared in court wearing his kilt? As usual he dissembled. He claimed he only went to see his wife from time to time after the pub had closed and he had nothing to do with Eleanor’s business. The police stated in court that Eleanor Dinnie “was of drunken habits” (though Donald denied this), so she presumably made the journey in the opposite direction rather more frequently than her husband. It seems likely that the Dinnies undertook their Newcastle venture in a desperate attempt to break out from the penury they had been suffering in Glasgow.
The charge against Evie was adjourned for a month because of her age and the defence undertook that she would not return to “where she had been”. The magistrates also felt that Evie was under a bad influence from her parents, which should be removed, though that did not seem to happen. The tragedy of the situation was that Evie was a talented girl. In addition to her dancing abilities, she was also a skilled violinist, appearing on stage to play the instrument from about the age of 11. She showed in New Zealand, South Africa and on Donald Dinnie’s tour of Scotland after his return to Great Britain. The Dundee Advertiser said of her, “Evie Dinnie played the violin very sweetly and for so youthful a performer in a finished manner”. In 1900, at the age of 13, Evie gained honours in an examination of the College of Violinists of London and she passed further examinations of the same institution in 1904. In 1913, after the Dinnies had removed to London, Evie played a violin solo in a play at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. In other circumstances, she might have made her way in life as a professional violinist.
In April 1905 the Dinnies were still living in Newcastle and Donald made another appearance in Newcastle Police Court, but this time the matter was trivial. When Donald’s name was called to answer a charge of keeping a dog without a licence, the magistrate, Alderman Holmes asked, “Are you the great original?” A stray dog that Dinnie had been looking after had been handed in to the police and Donald went to collect it, paying 7/6 for its upkeep while it had been in police care. The police, assuming the dog belonged to him, asked if he had a licence. Donald admitted he did not possess one. He claimed the dog belonged to a performer by the name of Jenkins, who had lodged with him, but had gone away and he was looking after the animal for Jenkins, though he did not know the whereabouts of the itinerant actor. Alderman Holmes intervened again to ask, “There is a real Jenkins; he is not a myth then?”, clearly harbouring some doubt about the veracity of the Scot. He would have had more reason for doubt if he had known that the same story had been deployed by Donald in the past, when resident at the Croxton Park Hotel in Melbourne! Although Donald Dinnie was technically in default of the law, he was let off, perhaps under the influence of his celebrity. By July 1905 and probably before that month, Donald Dinnie had moved back to Glasgow, where he planned to operate as a tobacconist and stationer.
Donald Dinnie’s philandering
The dispute between Donald and his illegitimate son, Edwin was probably still unresolved in September 1906, when an innocuous-seeming article appeared in the Aberdeen People’s Journal by JJ Millar, singing the praises of Edwin Dinnie. The article probably irritated Donald because it contained a statement that was strictly-speaking inaccurate but relatively harmless. The irritating statement was, “But I am fully persuaded that any man who strives to shine in the realm athletic will find the open sesame to a world-wide circle of hearts if he bear the seal and impress of the all-time Scottish hero’s name upon his birth certificate.” Donald knew perfectly well that Edwin’s surname, as written on his birth certificate was “Gellatly”, not “Dinnie” but rather than allow this to pass he drew attention to his own philandering by getting a friend, “An old athlete”, almost certainly George Davidson, to write a letter to the Aberdeen People’s Journal on his behalf and then formally endorsed the letter as follows, “I have perused above and am prepared to vouch for the truth of every statement therein. D Dinnie Veteran Athlete.” The letter from “An old athlete” is reproduced here in full.
“Sir, In your issue of September 8th Mr Millar gives a list of the athletic feats of the so-called Edwin Dinnie. Now I often meet with the veteran D Dinnie who tells me he has only one son living by his first marriage and he has been in America in business during the last 20 years. (This was a reference to Royalan Dinnie, a son of his first marriage to Elizabeth Birss). The veteran’s second family leaves only one son living who is now only 6 years old. I have known the veteran also his father and family for forty years having been reared in the same locality. I would advise Mr Millar to send to the Granite City for a copy of Edwin’s birth certificate and thereby satisfy himself that there is no “Dinnie” connected with it. (Had Millar done so he would have found that there was a Dinnie connection in the form of Edwin’s second given name). I believe Bessie Arthur was the first to advertise the youngster by this name which he now uses. The (indecipherable) seeing flattering account of him in the home papers gave him a few months’ engagement in Africa. The veteran also gave him a few days’ engagement in London where he appeared at St James Hall with Alf Stone the middle weight champion dumb-bell lifter as the “brothers Dinnie”. I will not trouble you further correcting Mr Millar’s statements but wish to explain that neither Edwin nor George Dinnie has a legal right to the name, their registered names being respectively Gellatly and Anderson.”
The above letter is carefully worded. The one thing it does NOT say is that Donald Dinnie is NOT the biological father of Edwin Dinnie, or indeed of George Dinnie, or of Alf Stone (Dinnie) all of whom had used “Dinnie” as a surname. What was the extent of Donald Dinnie’s womanising in the decade before he left to travel the world? How many illegitimate children did he leave behind?
Edwin Dinnie retaliated after the publication of the letter from “An old athlete” by writing to the editor of the Aberdeen People’s Journal, confirming that Millar’s article was accurate, ie, that he was the son of Donald Dinnie. However, the matter had become too personal and the editor closed any further consideration of Edwin’s parentage in the pages of his newspaper. Interestingly, “An old athlete” also suggested that Edwin was induced to use Dinnie as his surname by Bessie Arthur, the music hall singer and principal of the troupe that Edwin had joined in 1894. If this was true, it was easy to see why Bessie Arthur had made that suggestion, as the Dinnie name would help draw attention and paying visitors to her shows. It was to be about 1909 before the rift between father and son was healed.
George Dinnie also stated, in a letter to the Aberdeen People’s Journal in 1906 that he had not adopted the “Dinnie” surname but that he was the original George Dinnie of the “Brothers Dinnie”.
Edwin Dinnie and the Grand Hotel, Aberdeen
In 1898, Edwin had taken a job as “Boots” at the Grand Hotel, Aberdeen. He remained an employee of the hotel for the next 18 years. Although “Boots” is generally a menial role in a hotel, cleaning boots and shoes and carrying luggage, as time went on, Edwin played a more prominent role in the management of the hotel and, at the time that he left, when he was presented with a silver salver by the hotel staff, he was called “Head Boots”. This position was valuable in that it provided a base income for Edwin and his growing family. The hotel owners also appear to have been indulgent towards their muscular employee who had a growing public reputation, because he continued to perform, particularly on the music hall stage, though with a declining frequency. On one occasion, the hotel used Edwin’s strength to immobilise a living turtle while it was decapitated, prior to the preparation of turtle soup. Edwin must have been making significant amounts of extra income from his athletic activities, because he was the owner of a car, registration RS377. In 1908, he was convicted of speeding, at 26mph!
Edwin Dinnie and the Commercial Hotel, Brechin
Edwin Dinnie left the employment of the Grand Hotel in 1916 to become landlord of the Commercial Hotel, Brechin. The previous landlord was a German national, who had been interned. Edwin was a good businessman and by 1923 he was sufficiently wealthy to buy the hotel. Significant improvements were made and it was promoted as a hotel for motorists. He was a keen car driver himself and even made a wireless broadcast on the subject. Edwin never failed to mention who his father was in his advertising and in 1926 he announced that he had acquired 28 gold medals won by his father between 1861 and 1898. He died suddenly of an aortic aneurism at his hotel in 1930.
In 1895 the Aberdeen Press and Journal carried a piece entitled, “Another of the Dinnie family – Challenge to strong men. There has just arrived in this country from the United States where he has been for over five years, George Dinnie aged 21 years, son of the renowned Scottish athlete Donald Dinnie of Aboyne.” Although Donald Dinnie did not react to this article at the time, which might suggest that the claim was true, George Dinnie was included, along with Edwin Dinnie in the 1906 letter by “An old athlete”, which suggested that Edwin and George were of similar status, ie illegitimate children of Donald Dinnie and that George’s registered surname was “Anderson”. A search for George Anderson, born 1873 to 1875, reveals many potential candidates, “George” and “Anderson” both being common Scottish names at the time. The individuals included six born in Aberdeen and one, born 1874, in Birse. This last individual was also illegitimate, born to Jean Anderson, a domestic servant living at Tillygarmond (farm and cottage in Finzean, Parish of Birse), but had no second given name, which might have hinted at the identity of the father. At that time Donald Dinnie was the tenant of the Victoria Hotel, Kincardine O’Neil, about 6 miles by road north of Finzean. This George Anderson is a very strong candidate for the George Dinnie referred to by “An old athlete”. Donald Dinnie is a candidate to have been his father but it is not proven that this was so.
The Brothers Dinnie
In August 1895, “the brothers Dinnie (sons of Donald Dinnie) the strongest youths on earth”, appeared at the People’s Palace, Nethergate, Dundee. It was George and Edwin. Now, if they were appearing together on stage so soon after George had returned to Great Britain, it suggests that they were known to each other, one possibility being that they were both strongmen and it was a professional connection. An alternative reason is that they knew each other through a family link, ie that they were half-brothers. Edwin wrote to the editor of the Aberdeen People’s Journal confirming that Millar’s letter was accurate and that he was the son of Donald. However, it is not clear if his confirmation of the accuracy of Millar’s letter extended to the parentage of George Dinnie. George Dinnie had written to the editor of the Aberdeen People’s Journal before the publication of the Millar letter, rejecting the suggestion that the Dinnie name was adopted for professional reasons and stating that he was an original member of the “Dinnie Brothers”. This statement suggests that George had adopted the “Dinnie” surname and perhaps hints that he had a similar connection to Donald as did Edwin. None of this evidence amounts to proof that Donald Dinnie was the father of George Dinnie.
More on “George Dinnie”
To make matters both more complicated and more uncertain, there were two George Dinnies who potentially linked back to the second member of the “Brothers Dinnie”, one will be called “Western Australia” George Dinnie and the other “Sheffield” George Dinnie. A third Dinnie, “New South Wales” George Dinnie, also made a late appearance on the scene.
“Sheffield” George Dinnie
Between November 1901 and November 1909, “Sheffield” George Dinnie, who was both a strongman and a wrestler, was based in Sheffield and frequently performed on the music hall stage. Between the latter date and February 1913, he did not appear in athletic events but he was either a projectionist or a manager at the Don Picture House, Sheffield. After 1913, he disappeared from the columns of British newspapers. The 1911 Census reveals that he was born in 1878 in Cincinatti, Ohio and he was of American nationality but resident in Britain. A branch of the Dinnie tribe did exist in Ohio and has been detailed by Gordon Dinnie. The earliest member of this branch was a John Dinnie born in 1830 in France. There is no known connection between this Ohio branch and the Aberdeenshire branch, of which Donald Dinnie was a member. Thus, it seems likely that “Sheffield” George Dinnie was using a genuine surname, but that Donald Dinnie was probably not his father. Donald Dinnie did visit the eastern United States in 1870, 1872 and 1882 but not in 1877! Interestingly, “Sheffield” George Dinnie was only once described by the press as a son of Donald Dinnie and that claim was made by the newspaper concerned and not by “Sheffield” George Dinnie himself who, although he advertised his shows extensively through the press, never claimed to be a son of the great Donald, in marked contrast to “Western Australia” George Dinnie. But at present, “Sheffield” George Dinnie has not been definitely excluded as one of the original “Brothers Dinnie”.
“Sheffield” George Dinnie’s absence from Sheffield after 1913 may have been related to the outbreak of WW1. In 1918, at the age of 40, a George J Dinnie, (who was also known as George Dinnie) born in Cincinatti in 1878, enlisted in the Auxiliary Forces of the USA. The following year he was honourably discharged due to disability. From 1932 he received a pension from the military and lived in a home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. It seems likely that this military veteran was “Sheffield” George Dinnie.
“Western Australia” George Dinnie
“Western Australia” George Dinnie was another strongman and wrestler, who lived in Australia, mostly Western Australia, between June 1904 and his death in 1939, except for war service during WW1 with the ANZAC forces. He came to visit Australia in the first place as the professional partner of the well-known wrestler, Jack Carkeek. (In November 1901, Carkeek fought a George Dinnie in Sheffield but it is not clear if this was “Sheffield” George Dinnie or “Western Australia” George Dinnie. The Sheffield Evening Telegraph described Carkeek’s opponent as “at present connected with Sandow’s School of Physical Culture in Sheffield”. But maybe the newspaper was also confused!) The pair wrestled at the Melbourne Opera House on 6 June 1904 and again on 13th, 15th and 22nd of that month. Carkeek was the star wrestler and “Western Australia” George Dinnie the make-weight. In each case the competition rules were set for Dinnie to survive for a certain time before being thrown, to win a prize. A few days later he fought Gus Rennart the Australian wrestler (twice) and then Carkeek, Carkeek’s trainer, George Stephenson and WH Barker. The final bout against Carkeek took place in Melbourne on 22 June 1904. About this time Carkeek and Dinnie had a disagreement and Dinnie stayed on in Australia when Carkeek returned to England.
“Western Australia” George Dinnie had moved to Perth by the middle of July 1904, where he was recruited by the local football team. Dinnie also quickly became involved in the local wrestling scene. He frequently travelled to the Goldfields around Kalgoorlie 400 miles east of Perth. Gold had been found there in 1893 and it has been a centre of gold and nickel mining ever since. George Dinnie initially became a fireman in the Perth Fire Brigade and later he joined the Perth Police. He became the wrestling champion of Western Australia. In one contest against local man Woods, Dinnie gained a bad reputation for deliberately throwing Woods into the orchestra pit and injuring him so seriously that he could not continue. George Dinnie had to resign from the Perth Police when he failed to get permission to absent himself from duty for a second bout with Woods.
In advertising himself through the newspapers, “Western Australia” George Dinnie seldom omitted to refer to himself as the son of Donald Dinnie. George had a florid complexion, a shock of red hair and spoke with a strong Scottish accent. It was claimed in one local newspaper that he was a native of Aberdeen. He was usually attributed with a weight of over 14 stone and a height close to 6ft. About the end of 1907 he settled in the Goldfields and even became a miner, operating an electrical coal-cutting machine. In 1908, he transferred to Melbourne for a few months to pursue wrestling opponents in the east of Australia. He beat Indian, Buttan Singh at Ballarat in July of that year and then claimed to be Champion of Australia.
“Western Australia” George Dinnie’s reputation suffered even more during a bout with local wrestler Bannon for the championship of the state, signified by possession of a special belt. Dinnie forced Bannon off the mat and appeared to be about to throw his opponent into the orchestra pit. This infuriated Bannon, who then punched Dinnie repeatedly. The bout broke up in pandemonium and the police had to intervene. The referee awarded the contest to Bannon because Dinnie had not obeyed his instructions to return to the mat. Dinnie was roundly condemned for his tactics in the press, with calls for him to be banned from wrestling in the state. One paper pointed out that Dinnie had not actually committed a foul, only appearing to be about to do so, but that his opponent had been guilty of foul conduct. However, the local populace was decidedly hostile to Dinnie and there was no support for this point of view. Dinnie retaliated by refusing to sanction the hand-over of the Championship belt, held for safe keeping in the offices of the West Australian. The newspaper was placed in a difficult position and only agreed to hand over the belt if sanctioned by the authority of the courts. No one gained that authority and the belt may still be in the care of that press organ!
“Western Australia” George Dinnie continued to earn a living in and around the Goldfields until 1914 and the outbreak of WW1, when he volunteered for the military forces of the Commonwealth of Australia. He landed at Gallipoli in April 1915, which was a costly operation for the ANZAC forces. George was soon injured by shrapnel in his arm, tearing muscles. This led to him being invalided back to Australia, where he quickly recovered and resumed his former life, though wrestling activities declined and mostly consisted of issuing challenges to former opponents, which never came to fruition. “Western Australia” George Dinnie became a sheep farmer and breeder of sheepdogs. He died in 1939.
When he enrolled for military service in Australia, George stated that he had been born near Ayr, Scotland and that his next of kin was Mrs Janet McKenna. His actual birthday had been given in a newspaper as 18 July 1875. Janet McKenna has been identified in the 1911 Census. She had remarried, her previous married name being Kerr but it has not been possible to find her first marriage details and thus her maiden name. She could have been the mother of “Western Australia” George Dinnie (she was an appropriate age) but there is no direct evidence for this. Equally there is no information directly implicating Donald Dinnie as the father of this George Dinnie. Concerning the alleged birthday of 18 July 1875, there was no George Kerr born in Ayrshire in that year. The origins of “Western Australia” George Dinnie are still mysterious.
“New South Wales” George Dinnie
In July 1913, another George Dinnie arrived in Melbourne, en route for Sydney and Brisbane. He said on arrival (as reported by The Age) “that he was a nephew of the famous Donald Dinnie and may, later on, arrange for a championship (wrestling) contest”. This George Dinnie appears not to have wrestled in Australia. He acquired land in Queensland but had to surrender it later, through non-residence. He lived his life in New South Wales and worked as an engineer at one time. He also won the state lottery. “New South Wales” George Dinnie died in 1972. The identity of this George Dinnie is also mysterious. Donald Dinnie only had one nephew by the name of George Dinnie, a son of his brother Edmund, born in 1870. He seems to have been too old to fit the bill.
Alf Stone or Dinnie
Returning to “An old athlete” and his reply to the Millar letter, published in the Aberdeen People’s Journal in 1906, concerning Alf Stone or Dinnie, “An old athlete” claimed, with the endorsement of Donald Dinnie, that Alf Stone had been employed as the other half of the “Brothers Dinnie”. Alf Dinnie, usually under that surname, toured with Donald Dinnie around the North-East of Scotland on his return from South Africa in late 1898 – early 1899. Alf was twice referred to as Donald Dinnie’s son by Sporting Life. He was said, by the John O’Groats Journal, to be a native of Lancashire. Alf Stone or Dinnie remains a possible candidate for being a son of Donald Dinnie, but again it is only a hypothesis.
In conclusion, Donald Dinnie only had one certain illegitimate son, Edwin but George Anderson, “Western Australia” George Dinnie and Alf Stone or Dinnie should be born in mind as possible candidates for inclusion in this category.
Glasgow again, 1905 - 1911
From his new base at 62 Buccleugh Street in Glasgow, Donald continued to make appearances at Highland games from summer, 1905, occasionally performing with other veterans, such as E Clayton, A Scott, the American, John Gray and on one occasion at the Scottish games at Stamford Bridge in London, George Davidson. On this last-mentioned occasion, both veterans were injured. Donald also, once, wrestled Alex Munro his co-endorser of Iron Brew, but Donald’s predominant role was now as a judge. For some unknown reason Donald Dinnie made few public performances during 1906 but returned to the circuit in 1907 and 1908.
In October 1908 Donald Dinnie instigated a court action against Moray and Nairn Newspaper Company Ltd, alleging slander. He sought £500 in damages from the defendant. A correspondence had arisen in the pages of the newspaper debating how good Dinnie and other athletes were. The newspaper’s defence was that it did nothing more than make its columns available to the various letter-writers to express their opinions. It did not express its own opinions and it had published an explanation and apology. There was no intention to slander Donald Dinnie, nor did it do so. Donald had been particularly aggrieved by a statement in “Athletic Correspondent’s letter, “As a matter of fact Dinnie was only a third-class wrestler and hammer-thrower, when at his best, the only feat at which he was first class being the caber.” Other subjects were aired which also irked Donald, such as that he held no records (a McCombie Smith contention from two decades ago) and that he was guilty of dishonourable practices in hammer throwing competitions. Lord Salvesen allowed the issue to go to trial by jury, though he expressed the opinion that, “it is difficult to imagine what injury this veteran athlete sustained apart from possible injury to his feelings”. At this point, the newspaper sued for peace, settling for a sum out of court. They recognised, even if Donald Dinnie did not, that litigation was an expensive process with an unpredictable outcome.
Perhaps resulting from her father’s apparent success against the Moray and Nairn Newspaper Company Ltd, Evie Dinnie took the same route in an action against Albert Hengler, proprietor and manager of Hengler’s Circus in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. Both Evie and Donald Dinnie became employees of the circus about August 1907. Evie operated the box office, while her father ran the bar where his celebrity was a major attraction for punters. In June 1908, the Dinnies indicated that they wanted to leave and this displeased Albert Hengler. He accused Evie, in the presence of other people of defrauding him of 11/- by reselling old tickets and not accounting for the money realised, which she denied. The accusation was later repeated before Evie was dismissed without notice. Hengler denied the charge and the case was sent for trial. The case was subsequently settled out of court on undisclosed terms.
In mid-December 1909 the Glasgow Athletic Association, with a “first class variety party” toured to Inverness and the towns north of the capital of the Highlands. Included in the party were Donald Dinnie, Edwin Dinnie and Edwin’s son Harry, billed as “the child wonder”. This linking of the three generations of Dinnies indicated that the family spat had been overcome at last. When the party reached Aberdeen, Donald did not attend and it was left to Edwin to make his father’s excuses: he was attending the High Court in Edinburgh. The action in the High Court was by Donald Dinnie as pursuer against David Murray for £500 for alleged slander. Back in September 1899, Donald Dinnie had rented premises in Old Govan Road, which he used as his fish restaurant, from the defender’s father. Dinnie also rented other premises nearby in Govan Road. While the rent for the fish and chips shop had been paid, the rent for the other premises was not and Donald Dinnie left for England with this debt outstanding. On his return to Glasgow David Murray bumped into Donald Dinnie and accused him of leaving Glasgow without paying his outstanding bill of £16. Dinnie had recently been promised a testimonial by well-wishers (see below) and Murray threatened to arrest the money raised to recoup the outstanding rent. Donald Dinnie alleged that this accusation amounted to a slander on him by suggesting that he was again likely to decamp leaving unpaid bills behind. It was a case of third time unlucky for the Dinnies. Lord Skerrington dismissed the action, with expenses. That seemed to put an end to Donald Dinnie’s love affair with litigation.
During 1910, Donald Dinnie continued as a referee at Highland games. At the Ballater games he talked to a reporter, decrying the falling off in interest in Highland events and offering a low opinion of the value of Association Football, then the rising sport of the masses. Amazingly, he also offered the opinion that athletes now competed for money rather than glory, yet his own athletic career was littered with examples of himself putting money before all other considerations.
London area, 1912 – 1916
Donald Dinnie’s financial circumstances were again giving concern to his admirers. Donald and his family had moved to Croydon, South London at New Year, 1912, perhaps thinking that it would be easier to make a living there. He acquired a small shop in East Croydon and walked around the town in Highland dress, apparently becoming a well-recognised figure in the neighbourhood. Towards the end of 1912, a well-attended meeting was held in Fleet Street, with Donald Dinnie, resplendent in medals, present. It was claimed that a previous benefit had not yielded sufficient funds and Donald was now relying solely on his old age pension. Subsequently a “Rally of the Strong” was held at Camberwell Baths to raise money. Funds were also raised by sending collecting cards to all athletic clubs in the country and to Scottish associations. Additionally, an appeal for funds was made through the press. As the Dundee Courier put it, “Mony a mickle mak’s a muckle”. When the fund eventually closed, £213 net had been raised and £147 of this amount was used to purchase an annuity for the great man, paying an annual sum of £25.
By 1916, Donald and his family had moved again, to 114 Portland Road, Notting Hill. Donald Dinnie died there of a diseased heart valve on 2 April 1916. It is said that he believed he would live to be 100, but, sadly for his aspirations, he only achieved 78 years. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Kensington Cemetery, Hanwell. Hector Dinnie, the son of Donald’s second marriage to Eleanor Bagley subsequently became an electronic engineer and Donald’s widow went to live with her son. When Eleanor died in 1943, she too was interred in the same plot as her husband. Hector took possession of his parents’ burial plot in 1961 and, together with his sister Evie, paid for a commemorative stone to be placed on the grave. It reads, “Here rests Donald Dinnie 1837 – 1916 Champion all round athlete of the World for 30 years. Also, his wife Eleanor Died 1943”. Even in death his undoubted athletic prowess was being over-egged.
Donald Dinnie’s Complex Personality
Writing about Donald Dinnie is aided by two fundamental facts. Firstly, the surname “Dinnie” is rare and thus on-line searches throw up very few false positives. Secondly, he was in the public eye for over 50 years, so a great deal of detail from his life, some of it trivial, has been preserved. These two factors combine to allow the production of a fine grain patchwork of his life from being a young adult until his death. Delving into this plethora of detail allows an assessment of Donald Dinnie’s personality, in which it is possible to have a good deal of confidence, since there are many examples which illustrate each facet of his behaviour. So, what generalisations can be made?
Gratuitous insults. Donald Dinnie gave gratuitous insults to many people with whom he needed to cooperate, Caledonian society committees, audiences and fellow athletes, for example.
Falling out readily with those close to him. Almost no friendship of Donald Dinnie’s was permanent, with the possible exceptions of his friendships with James Fleming (terminated by Fleming’s death) and George Davidson. In the case of these two, the endurance of the friendship may have been aided by the amiable personalities of the people themselves. In the case of Davidson, the friendship survived despite an unpaid debt. Donald had numerous disputes with Advance Agents, athletic partners and close relatives.
Easy resort to violence. On many occasions, Donald Dinnie used foul language in a public place at a time when such use was not socially acceptable. He also made threats of violence against people with whom he disagreed and threats frequently progressed, with little further stimulation to actual violence. The stem of his horse whip was a regular weapon and his violent reactions were usually disproportionate to the provocation suffered by him.
Disdain for the law and for authority. As a landlord of licensed premises, both in Scotland and Australia, Donald Dinnie showed a casual attitude to the observance of the law, especially on Sunday trading. This brought him into conflict with the police. Instead of trying to cultivate a relationship with the local force, he accused them of persecuting him, or ignored advice given by them. He also fell foul of other officials, such as Dog Inspectors and those concerned with the control of objectionable agricultural waste.
Inability to husband his financial resources. Donald Dinnie made substantial gains from his athletic activities in the early and middle parts of his career, up to his departure from America in 1883, yet he still managed to become effectively bankrupt twice, once in Scotland before he left for America in 1882 and again in Australia in 1889. This second event occurred before the property crash of 1891 – 1892, when he failed to liquidate his land assets before they lost most of their value. He was at least financially naive to invest all his spare money in one asset class. Donald was also notorious for failing to pay his debts and employees and others frequently had to seek court action to recover money owed to them. Also, he was awarded three minor benefits in both Australia and New Zealand and two more significant attempts to raise funds for him were made by well-wishers in Aberdeen in 1900 and in London in 1912. In the latter part of his life he lived almost constantly in financially-strained circumstances. The Australian property crash alone cannot explain the penury of the latter part of Donald Dinnie’s life. It is still a mystery as to where his substantial earnings went. Donald was also a serial businessman but none of his commercial ventures yielded much in terms of material rewards.
Inability to make plans and to stick to them. Planning his life was not Donald Dinnie’s forte. This became clear when he left Scotland for America in 1882. First, he planned to travel with George Davidson, then he went alone. He initially proposed to be away only for a matter of months but then stayed away for 16 years, leaving behind his children and parents in Scotland. He planned to travel to Batavia and Calcutta with Duncan Ross but then did not go. He planned to return from Australia direct to Great Britain but then spent several months in South Africa. He planned for Edwin Dinnie to travel out to New Zealand but he never arrived. Every plan he ever made was liable to change without notice.
Lack of a sporting ethos or a sense of fair play. For Donald Dinnie, winning in the cause of making money was his driving aim. For him it did not matter if he fixed the rules, such as the rules of his creation, the “Scotch” wrestling style, so that his opponents were disadvantaged, or that rules were changed without notice, or that the rules were manipulated, or that matches were decided in advance. He also stormed out of competitions if some matter irked him. If he could get away with such tactics, he did. He never exhibited any embarrassment of shame at his own behaviour. Indeed, it was as if he could not even recognise that the way he behaved was unacceptable to most of the people who were witness to his antics.
Sensitivity to criticism. While Donald Dinnie simply could not recognise when his own words and actions were insulting to others, he was hyper-sensitive to the opinions that others expressed about him. This was particularly so in his interactions with the press. Any perceived slight would instantly lead to a letter, or multiple letters, being fired off to editors, either directly under his own imprimatur or allegedly from others writing under pseudonyms. In many cases it is certain that the pseudonymous author was Dinnie himself, since personal detail was included which would not have been known to a disinterested bystander. Such letters are revealing because they probably present Dinnie’s view of himself.
Exaggeration or over-estimation of his own abilities. At various times Donald Dinnie presented himself as a skilled organiser and claimed that he competed for honour, not money. Published words which were almost certainly Donald’s included that he was “quiet and unpresuming”, displayed “old strict truthfulness” and that he was characterised by “simple honesty in all his transactions”. Anyone reading the many anecdotes in the above account of Donald Dinnie’s life is unlikely to find that these phrases have a ring of truth. Donald also liked to present himself as an unapproachable expert on heavy event statistics and certainly superior to McCombie Smith. The obverse of this facet of Donald’s personality was that he denigrated or under-represented the achievements and abilities of opponents or those with whom he had fallen out. For example, in the aftermath of his dispute with Louis Victor he threw down a fantastical challenge to the French wrestler that he could throw him 60 times in an hour. He also represented his brother in law, William McCombie Smith, an intelligent man and a heavy athlete of some stature, as “a slow learner”.
Lying and dissembling. Donald Dinnie, sometimes accompanied by his second wife, Eleanor Bagley, found himself in the courts of all the countries in which he lived and toured, except South Africa. In most such appearances, it was as a defendant, rather than as a pursuer, or as a witness. When needing to explain the circumstances of some incident, usually how a pursuer came to be injured, he came up with explanations which were either barely plausible or unbelievable. His wife Eleanor was from a similar mould. Typical examples were the claim that they had a licence for under-age Evie to appear on stage in New Zealand and the claim that a farmer, who was trying to prevent Donald Dinnie removing ferns from his land was injured, not by Dinnie’s violence but by trying to tip up a cart and being struck by the shaft in the process. In Newcastle, when Eleanor and Evie were convicted of running a brothel, Donald claimed that he knew nothing of the activities of his wife and daughter and seldom visited them, even though the house of ill-repute was close to the pub he was running.
An inability to evaluate where his own best interests lay in negotiating a situation. There were two clear examples of this trait. In Australia, he doggedly hung on to a horse belonging to a client who would not pay for poor grazing, even though Donald’s actions finally cost him much more than £40. The nag he retained was only valued at £14. Back in Scotland in 1906, he took offence at his (probable) illegitimate sons Edwin and George using the surname “Dinnie”, which he said they had no right so to do. Technically, Donald was right but in pursuing this matter in the press he drew attention to his own philandering.
Some of Donald Dinnie’s aberrant behaviour seems to be attributable to him being very low on the scale of emotional intelligence. “Emotional Intelligence” is defined as “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”. It is a continuous variable. The almost inevitable consequence was the breakdown of Donald’s relationships with friends, relatives, clients, fellow athletes, police and the press in every country where he lived and thus, over a long time, shows that this was not a transient behavioural phase but a basic component of his emotional being.
It has also been suggested above, based on incidents of bodily exposure during his sporting life, that he may have been an exhibitionist (one who has a compulsion to expose his genitals in public).
There was also a phase in Donald Dinnie’s life, while he was the owner of the Croxton Park Hotel in Melbourne, that was clearly very stressful for him. He lost his licence due to being in frequent conflict with the law and with the local police, he had lost money on his land investments and he was financially stretched. He lost weight and his friend James Fleming commented that he looked unwell. At the time, he showed signs of paranoia. He believed that the local police were concocting accusations against him and that the wife of his new tenant at the hotel was pursuing him repeatedly to provoke a fight.
Throughout most of his adult life, he also had an exaggerated sense of his own status and importance, as an athletic champion “of the world”. He could not accept that he was past his best and continued to perform in the athletic arena and on the wrestling mat long after he should have retired. Donald also believed in himself as an unchallengeable expert on athletic records, when he clearly did not warrant that status. Such exaggerated self-belief is also a symptom of paranoia. However, Donald clearly did not suffer from full-blown paranoia.
Another possible explanation of Donald Dinnie’s lack of inhibitions in the use of violence is alcohol addiction. Although Donald stated several times that, while not a teetotaller, he was not a serious drinker, he repeatedly turned to running pubs and hotels throughout his life. This seems strange for someone who claimed that he believed alcohol was damaging to health.
Without doubt, put in lay terms, Donald Dinnie was a very difficult person with whom to deal.
Donald Dinnie the Athlete
Donald Dinnie hailed from a remarkable family, a family whose male members were of well above average weight and height for the time and who were also very muscular and athletic. Robert Dinnie, Donald’s father was of similar build to his six sons, Donald’s sons Cuthbert (within the limit of his illness and his relatively short life), Royalan, Edwin and George (presuming that Donald was his father) and Edwin’s sons were all similarly blessed and mostly of substantial height and weight. But Donald was the star of the family in terms of athletic achievement.
Donald Dinnie was unquestionably a very good athlete by at least three measures, the frequency with which he beat other competitors when at his best, between about 1860 and 1880, the length of time over which he competed, about 1855 to 1912 and the range of disciplines in which he achieved competent performances. Donald’s best events were throwing the hammer, putting the stone and tossing the caber. He was less good at other events such as hurdles, running, high leap and vaulting. Donald Dinnie also had other talents, being a good Highland dancer, an average fiddler and a wrestler who excelled at his own creation, the “Scotch” style, which favoured strength and weight over skill and agility. At other wrestling styles, such as Cumberland, Donald was never in the top echelon.
The athletic performances of Donald Dinnie were to some extent constrained by illness and the accidents that he suffered. He contracted a severe bout of influenza in 1867 which reduced his performances throughout summer of that year. He broke his left leg as a young man, his ankle in 1871 and he suffered severe damage to his left knee in a riding accident in about 1868. While in America in 1872 he damaged his arm while pole vaulting. Donald had a bold, even foolhardy, streak and found it difficult to resist a challenge, such as trying to cross a dangerous river as a youth or arresting a runaway horse and cart in Armidale, Australia and this tendency may have been a contributory factor to his inventory of injuries.
In the years in which Donald Dinnie was at his best as an athlete, there was a lack of standardisation in the rules defining most Highland disciplines and certainly the ones where Donald excelled, hammer, stone and caber. The hammer provided the most extensive catalogue of variants in the instrument itself. Hammers might be any weight from a nominal 8lbs to 26lbs or more, the shaft could vary in length, stiffness and weight and the throwing technique varied between individual athletes. For example, Donald Dinnie favoured a hammer with a long flexible shaft and had a pit dug in front of the throwing line, so that he did not contact the ground while swinging the hammer prior to release. Add to these variations the fact that hammers were often not weighed accurately, the throwing ground was often not level, the measuring criteria were not standardised, the distances recorded were not formally verified and there was no impartial scrutiny body to oversee the complete process and to record and disseminate the results.
Now, none of these variations mattered very much if, on a given day, in a particular location, all competitors in a discipline were subject to the same set of conditions. Their positions in the competition would be an objective measure of their relative competencies. But once attempts were made to compare the performances of the same or different individuals on different occasions, objectivity was replaced by assertion and opinion and it was possible for different athletes all to claim to be champion at a particular discipline, on the basis of their own assessment of their own performances and those of their rivals.
William McCombie Smith, Donald Dinnie’s brother-in-law, became an expert on historical performances at Highland sports, especially those disciplines in which both he and Donald Dinnie excelled. He argued cogently for standardisation of the conditions under which Highland games were held and also for the objective judging, verification and recording of performances. He rejected claims by any athlete to be a champion or a record holder, where the performance claimed was not conducted under rigorous conditions. Most of Donald Dinnie’s performances were made under non-standardised conditions and so it is not difficult to see why Dinnie and McCombie Smith became such tetchy antagonists. McCombie Smiths strictures, if accepted by Donald would have meant that virtually all the performances he considered to be his records, ie the best that had been achieved, would have to be abandoned. Donald Dinnie countered that a person with judgement, experience and personal knowledge of different performers could make a valid judgement as to who were the best athletes in the different disciplines. McCombie Smith bluntly rejected Dinnie’s stance as being without intellectual credibility. Of course, McCombie Smith was right, as the subsequent course of competitive athletics has shown.
Undoubtedly, Donald Dinnie puffed up his own athletic status and engaged in verbal spats in the press as a means of bolstering his image, deliberately causing controversy and thus attracting a larger paying audience to events at which he was appearing. But his own unusual personality characteristics promoted the same actions. To that extent, Donald’s personality helped him in making money from his athletic abilities. However, his personality was also responsible for promoting the many disagreements he encountered and his abysmal reputation damaged his standing and had a negative impact on his career.
So, how good an athlete was Donald Dinnie? William McCombie laid down a direct challenge which Donald could not answer. “Can he name a single feat of strength at which he can beat all-comers? Unless he can do so his talk of being an all-round champion is simply empty brag.” “He has no genuine records authenticated by any recognised authority and I defy him to name a single athlete who holds a genuine world’s record for any athletic feat whatever whom he beat.” But it could also be argued that Donald was a victim of the times when he was a routine winner at his best events, those best performances not being conducted under the stringent conditions demanded by McCombie Smith and thus not being objectively comparable over space and time with the achievements of others. William McCombie Smith was Donald’s sternest critic but, at the same time he was also Donald’s steadfast supporter. “Donald Dinnie was not only champion athlete of Scotland for a much longer period than anyone else but the best all-round athlete of whom we have reliable record”. It is not possible to answer the question posed at the beginning of this paragraph in absolute terms but he was quite outstanding for his time.
The author set out on this study not having significant knowledge about Donald Dinnie. He conducted the investigation on the basis of, “Why do I write? To find out what I think”. The outcome is a vision of Donald Dinnie as an amazing athlete but a deeply flawed person. Donald Dinnie will undoubtedly be remembered as the first sporting superstar and for many that will be all they know or, indeed, all that they want to know. But, if anyone wants to understand Donald Dinnie’s life and the factors and influences which shaped it, then it will be necessary to delve deeper to see his athletic performances in the context of his personality, his family circumstances and even such subjects as the history of Scottish emigration. I hope my readers will find that this account, so different from those which preceded it, has made some progress in providing a deeper understanding of this complex but fascinating man.
I am indebted to Dr Jim Douglas for his comments on the personality of Donald Dinnie.