Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (London, May 24, 1852 – March 20, 1936) was a Scottish politician, writer, journalist and adventurer. He was a Liberal Party Member of Parliament (MP); the first-ever socialist member of the parliament of the United Kingdom; a founder of the Scottish Labour Party (1888-1893); a founder of the National Party of Scotland; and the first president of the Scottish National Party in 1934.
Cunninghame Graham was the son of Major William Bontine of the Scots Greys. His mother was the daughter of Admiral Charles Elphinstone-Fleeming and a Spanish noblewoman Doña Catalina Paulina Alessandro de Jiménez, (who along with her 2nd husband Admiral James Katon), heavily influenced Cunninghame Graham's upbringing, and niece of John Elphinstone-Fleeming, 12th Lord Elphinstone and the HonMountstuart Elphinstone Governor of Bombay and author of early Indian History. The first language Cunninghame Graham learnt was Spanish. He spent most of his childhood on the family estate in Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire, Scotland.
After being educated at Harrow public school in England, Robert finished his education in Brussels, Belgium before moving to Argentina to make his fortune cattle ranch. He became known as a great adventurer and gaucho there, and was affectionately known as Don Roberto. He also travelled in Morocco disguised as a Turkish sheik, prospected for gold in Spain, befriended Buffalo Bill in Texas, and taught fencing in Mexico City, having travelled there by wagon train from San Antonio de Bexar with his young bride sic "Gabriella Chidiock de la Balmondiere" a supposed half French half Chilean poet.
Convert to socialism
After the death of his father in 1883 he reverted to the Cunninghame Graham surname. He returned to the UK and became interested in politics. He attended socialist meetings where he heard and met William Morris, George Bernard Shaw, H. M. Hyndman, Keir Hardie and John Burns. Despite his wealthy origins, Graham was converted to socialism and he began to speak at public meetings. He was an impressive orator and was especially good at dealing with hecklers.
Liberal Party MP
Although a socialist, in the 1886 general election he stood as a Liberal Party candididate at
Graham's main concerns in the House of Commons were the plight of the unemployed and the preservation of civil liberties. He complained about attempts in 1886 and 1887 by the police to prevent public meetings and free speech. He attended the protest demonstration in Trafalgar Square on November 13, 1887 that was broken up by the police and became known as Bloody Sunday. Graham was badly beaten and arrested. Both Cunninghame Graham, who was defended by H. H. Asquith, and John Burns were found guilty for their involvement in the demonstration and sentenced to six weeks imprisonment.
When Graham was released from Pentonville prison he continued his campaign to improve the rights of working people and to curb their economic exploitation. He was suspended from the House of Commons in December, 1888 for protesting about the working conditions of chain makers.
Scottish independence and the Scottish Labour Party
Graham was a strong supporter of Scottish independence and in 1886 had helped establish the Scottish Home Rule Association, and while in the House of Commons made several attempts to persuade fellow MPs of the desirability of a Scottish parliament. On one occasion Graham joked that wanted a "national parliament with the pleasure of knowing that the taxes were wasted in Edinburgh instead of London."
While in the House of Commons Graham became increasingly more radical and went on to found the Scottish Labour Party with Keir Hardie. Graham left the Liberal Party in 1892 to contest the general election in a new constituency as a Labour candidate.
He supported workers in their industrial disputes and was actively involved with Annie Besant and the Matchgirls Strike and the 1889 Dockers' Strike. In July 1889 he attended the Marxist Congress of the Second International in Paris with James Keir Hardie, William Morris, Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling. The following year he made a speech in Calais that was considered by the authorities to be so revolutionary that he was arrested and expelled from France.
Graham was a supporter of the eight hour day and made several attempts to introduce a Bill on the subject. He made some progress with this in the summer of 1892 but he was unable to persuade the Conservative and Unionist government, headed by Lord Salisbury, to allocate time for the Bill to be fully debated.
In the 1892 general election 1892 Graham stood as the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party candidate for Glasgow Camlachie. He was defeated and this brought his parliamentary career to an end. He remained active in political circles though, and helped his colleague Keir Hardie establish the Independent Labour Party.
Graham retained a strong belief in Scottish home rule. He played an active part in the establishment of the National Party of Scotland (NPS) in 1928 and was elected the first ever president of the Scottish National Party in 1934. He was several times the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association candidate for the Lord Rectorship of the University of Glasgow, which he narrowly lost in 1928 to Stanley Baldwin the then Prime Minister.
During his life Graham had a large number of books and articles published. Subject matter included history, biography, poetry, essays, politics, travel and seventeen collections of short stories. Titles include Beattock for Moffat, Thirteen Stories (1900), Scottish Stories (1914) and "Brought Forward" (1916). He helped Joseph Conrad, whom he had introduced to his publisher Edward Garnett at Duckworths with research for Nostromo. Other literary friends included, Ford Madox Ford, John Galsworthy, W. H. Hudson, George Bernard Shaw (who openly admits his debt to Graham for "Captain Brassbound's Conversion" as well as a key line in "Arms and the Man") and G. K. Chesterton, who famously proclaimed in his autobiography that Cunninghame Graham had "achieved the adventure of being Cunninghame Graham".
Robert Cunninghame Graham died on March 20, 1936 in the Plaza Hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He received a countrywide tribute before his body was shipped home to be buried beside his wife, the Chilean poet Gabriela de la Balmondiere, in the ruined Augustinian Inchmahome Priory on the island of Inchmahome, Lake of Menteith, Stirling. The following year, June 1937, a monument to Cunninghame Graham was unveiled at Castlehill, Dumbarton, near the family home at Ardoch. Later it was moved to Gartmore, closer to the principal Graham estate, which he had been forced to sell in 1901 to Sir William Cayser.
- ^ In 1986, some 80 years after her death, it was discovered that she was really Caroline Horsfall (the daughter of a Ripon Doctor), who had repeatedly run away to the stage. She and Don Roberto had concocted a whole new identity for her to make her more acceptable to his mother, the redoubtable Hon Anne Elizabeth Bontine.
- A bibliography of the first editions of the works of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, compiled with a foreword by Leslie Chaundy, London: Dulau, & Co. 1924
- Cunninghame Graham and Scotland: an annotated bibliography, John Walker, Dollar: Douglas S. Mack, 1980
- Gaucho Laird: The Life of R. B. Don Roberto Cunninghame Graham, by Jean Cunninghame Graham, Murray Grigor
- Cunninghame Graham: a centenary study, Hugh MacDiarmid, with a foreword by R.E. Muirhead, Glasgow: Caledonian Press, 1952
- Cunninghame Graham: a critical biography, Cedric Watts and Laurence Davies, Cambridge [Eng.], New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979
- Don Roberto: being the account of the life and works of R. B. Cunninghame Graham, 1852–1936, A. F. Tschiffely, London, Toronto: William Heinemann, 1937
- Don Roberto: vida y obra de R. B. Cunninghame Graham, 1852–1936, A. F. Tschiffely; versión castellana de Julio E. Payró, Buenos Aires: Guillermo Kraft, 1946
- El escocés errante: R. B. Cunninghame Graham, Alicia Jurado, Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores, c1978
- The friendship between W.H. Hudson and Cunninghame Graham; translation of an article ... in the Buenos Aires illustrated weekly Acquí Está, José Luis Lanuza, Argentina: Florencio Varela, n.d.
- Lecture on R.B. Cunninghame Graham for the Anglo-Argentine Society, 24th January 1979,Jean Polwarth, London: n.p., 1979
- A modern conquistador: Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, his life and works, Herbert Faulkner West, London: Cranley & Day,1932
- Personalidad de Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham: extracto de la tesis doctoral ... en la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad de Madrid sobre: Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham : personalidad del autor y estudio crítico de sus ensayos, Julio Llorens Ebrat., Madrid: Florencio Varela, 1963
- Testimonio a Roberto B. Cunninghame Graham, Buenos Aires: P.E.N. Club Argentino, 1941
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