Friday, 3 July 2015

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (and the Criollo connection)

We had a wee trip out today to track down some Criollo related history and that of a man who loved the breed...

Firstly we visited the grave of Robert Cunninghame Graham at Inchmahome Priory, which is on an island on the Lake of Menteith.  The gravestone is inscribed with his Argentine brand, of which he was very proud. Cunninghame Graham was also known as "Don Roberto" and was better known in Argentina than his native Scotland.  Born and raised in nearby Gartmore he travelled to Argentina in his late teens and this is where he met Criollo horses which were involved in many of his adventures, be those ranching, horse dealing or fighting in the revolutionary war.  

After his return to Scotland he became the a politician and was the first president of the SNP but he still always rode a Criollo.  His favourite was a horse called Pampa who he found while walking through the streets of Glasgow.  He was in the traces of a tramway car and clearly unaccustomed to the work and giving the driver some trouble.  Don Roberto approached to give the driver a hand and immediately recognised the horse as an argentinian import and more so it had the brand of Eduardo Casey of Curumulan, a ranch he had known.  He was absolutely delighted with his discovery and went to the director of the tramway company where he heard the horse had only arrived from South America two days previously.  He offered fifty pounds for it and as this was around three times what the company had paid for it they were delighted to accept.  When the horse came back from its tramcar round Don Roberto unharnessed it, saddled him, had a bit of a wild tussle in which the horse came out second best and then rode him home to Gartmore.  Pampa turned out to be the pride and joy of Don Roberto.

Don Roberto was 62 at the outbreak of World War One but still he attempted to enlist in the cavalry. Probably quite sensibly the War Department found a better use for him, commissioning him Colonel and tasking him with the job of finding remounts for the cavalry and artillery in South America.  He bought hundreds of horses but was particularly struck with one. Its gaucho owner was not keen to sell his favourite horse for it to die in the mud and glore in France and Don Roberto had to promise this horse would be for his own use and it came to the UK to replace Pampa.  The ship did get torpedoed in the English Channel but they were able to run it aground with no loss of life to horses or humans.

In 1936 Don Roberto knew he was dying and travelled back to Buenos Aires.  The day before he died he met Mancha and Gato, the Criollos belonging to his friend Aime Tschiffely,  famous from their long ride from Buenos Aires to New York, the story of which Don Roberto had helped to have published and brought to the world.  He fed the two criollos a bag of oats Tschiffely had sent over from London for them.  When Don Roberto died he was laid in State while the Argentine nation mourned him and when his coffin processed to the liner which would take him home Mancha and Gato followed behind.

He was buried on Inchmahome, beside his wife, who's grave he had dug himself thirty years before. 

He had given up riding in his eighties and retired his Criollos to a farm near London and provided for them in his will.  Aime Tschiffely brought a strand of hair from each of Don Roberto's favourite three horses and laid them on his coffin before it was lowered. 

After our own visit to Inchamhome we went to Gartmore to see his former home and the memorial to  Don Roberto and his horses.  Pampa's hoof lies under it and an inscription reads, "To Pampa my black Argentine who I rode for twenty years without a fall.  May the earth lie upon him as lightly as he once trod upon its face."


Unknown said...

This is absolutely fascinating Laura, amazing links between Scotland and South America and the Criollo : This man had a Life and a Half . And a deep attachment to The Criollo . Thank you .

Cindy said...

I really enjoyed this story! Thank you for sharing :-)

Unknown said...

My heart goes out to these memories! Ann from Argentina.