What i did when the internet was down
August 12, 2010
A lengthy downtime of our internet connection set me to clearing out old folders and papers, and I was fascinated to read through again the search history of an enquiry I first received by letter in 1996.
A lady from Perthshire doing a spot of family history had heard of a poem connected with her great-grandfather, who was dispatch rider to Queen Victoria, and who took the news of the fall of Sevastopol to Balmoral: ‘A horseman rides at dead of night / through the forest braes of Mar…’. We failed to find the poem in 1996.
In 2000 we were asked for it again, by a library in Northern Ireland, and though shaking off confusion with the rather more famous lines ‘The standard on the braes o’ Mar / is up and streaming rarely’, still failed to find it.
In 2006 we heard from Northern Ireland again, from a gentleman whose family had some lines of it as handed down by a grandmother who had first learned the lines at school in Antrim in the early 1900s. This time we first contacted the Royal libraries, and then called in Aberdeenshire Libraries, where the local history department came up with several mentions of the poem, and at last, an author. I was able to rush up to the National Library of Scotland, find the book, copy the poem, and send it off with a flourish to our enquirer. (For your edification, the title is ‘The Bonfire at Craig-gowan’, and it’s by William Shand Daniel.)
I was laying bets with myself that the whole rigmarole would be unnecessary in 2010, as the thing could possibly be found on Google, so as soon as our internet connection went live again I was on it, and sure enough, eventually scored a hit. And why would someone at school in Antrim in 1903 be learning a (not incredibly good) Scottish poem about the ride to take Queen Victoria news of the progress of the Crimean War? I had guessed it would be because it had been included in a school reader of ‘improving’ verse, and I was right – there it is, now digitised by – well, you know who.
And although one question was solved in 2006 with the finding of the poem, another had been thrown up: in the copy of the local newspaper report of the event that Aberdeenshire libraries kindly sent us, the person named as the conveyor of the news to Her Majesty was the manager of the Deeside Railway and Telegraph – not the dispatch-rider whose glorious deed has gone down in the family history of our very first enquirer. But that, thankfully, is not a problem for us to solve. Enough to know that the beacon was lit, the bells were rung, people gathered and joyfully sang the national anthem at midnight as the Queen stood in the doorway of her palace listening, and Prince Albert ordered the crowd to be ‘handsomely regaled with refreshments’.