Although there is no record of a pipe band having been established in New Zealand in the early days of the colony, it is alleged that the skirl of the bagpipes was heard in Wellington on Christmas Day 1848, when the distinguished statesman Donald McLean, after attending Highland Games in Wellington, was marched off to Barrett's Hotel with bagpipes playing a march. It was not until nearly 50 years later that the first properly organised pipe band was established. This was the Caledonian Pipe Band of Southland which was formed at Invercargill in 1896. At a subsequent band meeting held in June 1898, a set of rules was drawn up governing the Caledonian Pipe Band of Southland, and although the name of the band was later changed to the Caledonian Pipe Band of Invercargill, and still more recently to the City of Invercargill Caledonian Pipe Band (Inc.), it has functioned continuously and successfully up to the present time. While in its infancy, this pipe band had the unique experience of being invited by the then Prime Minister, the Right Hon. R. J. Seddon, to take part in the Australian Commonwealth celebrations in Sydney in 1900, at the expense of the New Zealand Government. On this historic trip the band was under the control of Pipe-Major Kenneth Cameron, its first pipe-major, who was largely responsible for its formation, and Drum-Major James McGregor, the first drum-major, who continued in office for a period of 15 years. Smartly attired in the Royal Stewart tartan, the band created something of a sensation in Sydney and it attended numerous functions associated with the Commonwealth celebrations. During the week's stay in New South Wales the band was feted wherever it went, and by its smart appearance, music, and discipline, brought much credit to New Zealand. From the time of its formation in Invercargill, the Caledonian Pipe Band of Southland was in constant demand at sports gatherings, concerts, regattas, and the like all over Southland and Otago. The interest thus created gave Scots in other parts of the Dominion the idea of forming pipe bands for their own cities, towns, or districts.
The first Dominion Pipe Band Contest to be held in New Zealand took place in Christchurch during the International Exhibition of 1906–07. Three bands only took part in the contest – the Dunedin Highland Pipe Band, the Ashburton Pipe Band, and the Waimate Pipe Band. There were two events in the contest – a test selection and a quickstep. The Dunedin Highland Pipe Band was adjudged the winner, with Ashburton and Waimate equal in second place.
Following this first contest, pipe bands became more numerous throughout the Dominion and during the International and South Seas Exhibition in Dunedin in 1926, the next contest of note was held. Conducted by an Exhibition Pipe Band Contest Committee, it was the first contest to attract bands from all over New Zealand. Altogether 13 bands took part in the test selection and quickstep. The championship was again won by the Dunedin Highland Pipe Band, with the Balclutha Pipe Band second and the Wanganui Highland Pipe Band third. The next Dominion contest was held in Christchurch in February 1928, under the control of a local contest committee as the New Zealand Pipe Bands Association had not yet been established. Seven pipe bands competed at this contest, the championship honours going to the Wanganui Highland Pipe Band, with the Wellington Caledonian Society's Pipe Band second and the Christchurch Scottish Society's Pipe Band third.
Up to the time of the contest in Christchurch, the pipe bands in New Zealand were governed by the rules of the Piping and Dancing Association of New Zealand, which had been an incorporated institution since 1918. As the Piping and Dancing Association was chiefly concerned with solo piping and highland dancing, many bandsmen became dissatisfied, and they therefore sought to establish a New Zealand Pipe Bands Association which would be completely separate from the other organisation. All the pipe bands in the Dominion were invited to send delegates to a meeting which was held in Dunedin in February 1926, when members decided to form a New Zealand Highland Pipe Bands Association.
As soon as the result of this meeting became known, the Piping and Dancing Association set out in a vigorous campaign in opposition. The president, strange as it may seem, was Kenneth Cameron, first pipe-major of the Caledonian Pipe Band of Southland, who by this time had retired from actual band work but was still a prominent competitive solo piper. He strongly opposed any severance from the Piping and Dancing Association and canvassed the bands throughout the Dominion, urging that they remain as part of the Piping and Dancing Association. Cameron's strong Highland influence over the bands caused at least a delaying action, as a result of which no immediate progress was made in implementing the policy arranged at the Dunedin meeting. A case of stalemate existed for over a year and, when it appeared that the formation of a Highland Pipe Bands Association was doomed, Charles S. Thomas, a Christchurch barrister who for many years had been a tireless worker in the interests of Scottish affairs, decided to make a fresh beginning and to call a meeting which would coincide with the band contest being held in Christchurch in February 1928. Thomas, who was appointed chairman, outlined the purpose for which the meeting was called, pointing out the advantages of a New Zealand Pipe Bands Association completely separate from the Piping and Dancing Association. It was unanimously resolved that a New Zealand Pipe Bands Association be formed, and the meeting thus marked the beginning of the Highland Pipe Bands Association of New Zealand as it is known today.
From a comparatively small beginning, the association has grown steadily over the years and at the present time there are some 130 New Zealand pipe band members. For control purposes the Dominion is divided into centres embracing districts from Auckland to Southland, each centre having its own officers and committee elected from its respective bands. Supreme control of the association is vested in a Dominion executive consisting of a president, two vice-presidents (one from each island), a secretary-treasurer, and a committee consisting of representatives of the different centres. Since the formation of the Pipe Bands Association in 1928, when a new set of rules was drawn up governing contests and all aspects of band administration, a Dominion Pipe Band Contest has been held annually with the exception of the war years. It has become the policy of the association to alternate the Dominion contests between the North Island and the South Island. Each Dominion contest comprises a quickstep, test selection, street march, and drum-major's display, although the championship is decided upon the highest aggregate points in the quickstep and test selection. Trophies are awarded to the winner of each event, with special awards to the winner of the championship.
Over the past half century pipe bands have become increasingly popular in New Zealand, so that today each of the main cities has three or more, and every town of any size, one pipe band. A number of secondary schools now have pipe bands, perhaps the best known being Scots College, Wellington, St Andrew's College, Christchurch, and John McGlashan College, Dunedin. That the pipe band is not exclusively a male combination is evident from the fact that there are ladies' pipe bands in Auckland, Napier, New Plymouth, Wellington, Christchurch, Timaru, and Dunedin.
The City of Wellington Highland Pipe Band, which holds the New Zealand Championship at the present time, must surely hold the finest contesting record of any New Zealand pipe band. Apart from having won the New Zealand Championship on a number of occasions, this band travelled to Scotland in 1958, at a cost of over £16,000, and took part in the World Championship Pipe Band Contest in Aberdeen on 28 June 1958, gaining seventh place in a competition which attracted the finest pipe bands in Scotland. The band also competed at a contest at Harpenden, and won the test selection among bands from the south of England. There were seven bands in the contest. Following this, the band went to Scotland and, prior to the world championship event, competed in the European Pipe Band Championship at Renfrew on 19 June, gaining fifth place in the test selection. During this tour the band was under the control of Pipe-Major Allan Guild and Drum-Major R. J. Binning. The band manager was A. A. MacLachlan, S.M., a former president of the Highland Pipe Bands Association of New Zealand, and the assistant manager was Louis MacKinnon, the band's president.
Associated with the high standard of pipe bands' organisation in New Zealand are names too numerous to outline in detail, but the following are some of those responsible for the success and efficiency of the Highland Pipe Bands Association of New Zealand – Charles S. Thomas of Christchurch, life member and present patron; Ian D. Cameron of Mauriceville, a life member and former president; V. J. Nicholson the present president who has held the position since 1950; N. L. Hider, the present secretary-treasurer; S. Newton, Christchurch; T. A. Gordon, Christchurch; N. MacKenzie-Forbes, Wanganui; T. M. Charters, Christchurch; G. M. Telfer, Christchurch; Harold Johnston, Christchurch; and Thomas Gilchrist, Dunedin.
by Neill John Sammon McPhee, Wellington.
Dominion Pipe Band Contest Winners
|1907||Christchurch||Dunedin Highland Pipe Band|
|1910||Dunedin||Dunedin Highland Pipe Band|
|1914||Auckland||Dunedin Highland Pipe Band|
|1920||Dunedin||Dunedin Highland Pipe Band|
|1922||Wellington||Wellington Caledonian Pipe Band|
|1925||Dunedin||Dunedin Highland Pipe Band|
|1930||Dunedin||Christchurch Scottish Pipe Band|
|1933||Dunedin||Dunedin Highland Pipe Band|
|1935||Timaru||Dunedin Highland and City of Christchurch Highland Pipe Bands|
|1936||Wanganui||Timaru Highland Pipe Band|
|1937||Timaru||Timaru Highland Pipe Band|
|1938||Palmerston North||Timaru Highland Pipe Band|
|1939||Christchurch||Timaru Highland Pipe Band|
|1940||Wellington||Ruahine Highland Pipe Band|
|1946||Timaru||City of Christchurch Highland Pipe Band|
|1947||Wanganui||Hamilton Caledonian Pipe Band|
|1948||Dunedin||Hamilton Caledonian Pipe Band|
|1949||New Plymouth||Ruahine Highland Pipe Band|
|1950||Auckland||Auckland and Districts Pipe Band|
|1951||Christchurch||City of Christchurch Highland Pipe Band|
|1952||Timaru||Invercargill Caledonian Pipe Band|
|1953||Napier||Dunedin Highland Pipe Band|
|1954||Dunedin||Dunedin Highland Pipe Band|
|1955||Auckland||City of Wellington Highland Pipe Band|
|1956||Christchurch||City of Wellington Highland Pipe Band|
|1957||Wanganui||City of Wellington Highland Pipe Band|
|1958||Dunedin||Dunedin Highland Pipe Band|
|1959||Timaru||City of Wellington Highland Pipe Band|
|1960||Lower Hutt||City of Wellington Highland Pipe Band|
|1961||Hastings||Pipes and Drums, New Zealand Scottish Regiment, Christchurch|
|1962||Christchurch||City of Wellington Highland Pipe Band|
|1963||Rotorua||City of Wellington Highland Pipe Band|
|1964||Dunedin||City of Wellington Highland Pipe Band|