R.B.Cunninghame Graham: Adventurer and writer

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r.b.cunninghame graham379 SEVENTY years ago on March 20 1936, one of Scotland's most famous men — whose family home was at Ardoch, Cardross — died at the age of 84 on a last visit to Buenos Aires.

Robert B.Cunninghame Graham of Ardoch, known as Don Roberto, was an adventurer, politician, explorer, and writer.

A friend of George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Joseph Conrad, many other literary figures, and Labour Party founder Keir Hardie, he helped found the Independent Labour Party and later the Scottish National Party. In his day he was one of the best known Scots, and as late as 1930 he was voted top Scot in a newspaper poll.

A cairn to his memory was erected at Castlehill, Dumbarton, a year after his death, but in 1981 it was moved to Gartmore, where he grew up in a large mansion and estate, which he later inherited.

After his death he became all but forgotten, but more and more people are discovering this fascinating man since his great niece, Jean Cunninghame Graham — now Lady Polwarth — published a biography entitled 'Gaucho Laird' in 2005.

“He is absolutely immortal, the most fantastic man, with such magnetism,” she says.

Born in 1852 into a family descended from King Robert II and Robert the Bruce, he went to a leading public school, Harrow, at the age of 14 where he loathed the bullying and snobbery, then to a finishing school in Brussels. But at the age of 17 he decided to seek adventure and fortune in South America.

A keen horse rider, he went to Argentina where he was kidnapped by gauchos. But he loved their cowboy lifestyle, and they parted friends. After several financial ventures failed, he returned to Britain where he was known as 'the modern Don Quixote'.

In London he became a friend of the intellectual giants of the time, rode every day in Hyde Park, and married a Yorkshire girl, and the happy couple spent time in Texas before he moved to Gartmore.

He met Keir Hardie, fought for universal suffrage and workers rights, and spent six weeks in jail for fighting with a policeman at a political rally. He was co-founder of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party with Hardie and helped Hardie found the Independent Labour Party. He was president of both.

He called the Houses of Parliament the 'National Gasworks', and he was the first politician to be suspended for swearing during a debate. He returned to Gartmore, but because of a huge inherited debt the estate had to be sold in 1901.

He began writing and had great success, one of his novels being used by George Bernard Shaw as the basis of a play. He wrote many books, and in 1986 his book 'A Vanished Arcadia' was made into a film called 'The Mission', starring Jeremy Irons.

His actual estate was left to his nephew, Admiral Sir Angus Cunninghame Graham, who lived with his wife Patricia at Ardoch and was Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire and Keeper of Dumbarton Castle. Jean, Lady Polwarth, is their daughter, and their son Robert lived in Helensburgh for many years.

Don Roberto, whom Sean Connery described as “a true socialist, unlike Tony Blair”, was revered in Argentina, and the republic went into mourning when he died there.

His nephew and heir, Admiral Sir Angus Cunninghame Graham, KBE, CB, whom many will remember from his time as Lord Lieutenant and keeper of Dumbarton Castle, was also a man of many achievements.

Although he is usually listed as being of Gartmore, another of the family homes, Sir Angus lived with his family for many years at Ardoch.

r.b.cunninghame graham Born in 1893, he joined the Royal Navy in 1905, and a decade later served for two years on the royal yacht Victoria and Albert. In World War One he served on HMS Agincourt, then in 4 Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet.

Between the wars he held various senior staff posts, including two years as senior naval officer for China's West River.

His Second World War duties included captaining HMS Kent on escort duty on the torrid Russian convoys, and Aide-de-camp to the King in 1944.

After the war he was superintendent of the Rosyth naval dockyard, and his final post before retiral in 1951 was as Flag Officer Scotland.

Before his death 30 years later he donated his naval papers to the Churchill College in Cambridge.

The picture (above left), taken by Stewart Noble, shows a likeness of Don Roberto on the part of the monument which now stands in Gartmore having been in Dumbarton. Part of the text reads: “Famous author, traveller, and horseman, patriotic Scot and citizen of the world . . . He was a master of life, a king among men”.