Jessie Niven MacLachlan


Singer 1866 – 1916


Stuart Eydmann has written of her pioneering use of the Scottish harp:

 The Gaelic concert at the first Mod [in Oban in 1892] was attended by John Campbell, then Marquis of Lorne, who was to become the 9th Duke of Argyll in 1900, his wife Princess Louisa, daughter of Queen Victoria, and members of the local aristocracy. The programme featured the professional soprano Jessie Niven MacLachlan (1866-1916) “the golden-voiced prima donna of Gaelic song”. MacLachlan also performed at the concert of the 1893 Mod on one of the Queen Mary harps “made by her husband, Mr Robert Buchanan, to the order of Lord Archibald [Campbell] along with the successful choirs, soloists and clarsach accompanists. Born in Oban to parents from Mull, she achieved fame as one of the earliest popular singers of Gaelic song and in September 1899 made the first commercial gramophone record of singing in the language. MacLachlan introduced the clarsach into her concert tours, including those in North America and Australia, and press reports ban spoke of her having rescued it “from oblivion” and that she was “an accomplished performer on the clarsach, the Scottish harp, that almost extinct instrument”. Her harp had been a gift from Lord Archibald Campbell and perhaps it was in return that her husband and musical director made a setting of the words of Lord Archibald’s poem ‘Give ne no Diadem of Earthly Bliss’ that was performed before Queen Victoria, presumably by Jessie in one of the appearances she made at Balmoral. Stuart Eydmann In Good Hands. The Clarsach Society and the Renaissance of the Scottish Harp. (Edinburgh, 2017), pp. 19-20.


The presentation of the clarsach was noted here:

Lord Archibald Campbell has presented Miss Jessie Niven MacLachlan with a beautiful clarsach, or harp, the first of several manufactured by Mr R. Buchanan Jnr., Glasgow. The Celtic Monthly March 1894, p. 137.

Oban Gaelic ChoirOban Gaelic Choir with early clarsach

Jessie had a profound influence on the prolific Canadian recording artist Henry Burr:

Henry Burr was born Harry McClaskey on January 15, 1885 in the border town of Saint Stephen, New Brunswick. The son of a candy and tobacco store owner, his vocal talents were recognized early and by age 13 as he was performing as a boy tenor with the Artillery Band in nearby Saint John. In 1901, he appeared at the Opera House in Saint John for his first important concert with the Scottish soprano Jessie Maclachlan. Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (

It was this encounter that convinced Burr to make Scots song a key part of his concert repertory.

Jessie Tatler

Jessie was a popular performer at the concerts of the Gaelic Society of London as was veteran fiddler James Scott-Skinner with whom she made many other appearances.

Jessie Gaelic Society

A review of the 1903 concert noted:

Miss MacLachlan has been absent from these festivals some little time owing to an extended tour in America, where she has sung the songs of Scotland to 300 American audiences. Not only the clapping which greeted the singer’s return, but the coughing and throat-clearing while she blessed “the Scottish tongue that sings the auld Scottish songs to me” must have been very welcome to a singer’s ears. In the few but neatly expressed phrases with which Miss MacLachlan addressed the audience she hoped that the Gaelic Society would do all in its power to perpetuate all that was beautiful in Scottish melody, a wish that should be as heartily endorsed by southron as by Gael. The Tatler No. 124, 11 November 1903, p. 228.

The following photograph was specially taken at her 1903 London concert (Army and Navy 21  November 1903, p. iii).

We can reconstruct Jessie’s stage repertory, in part at least, from the discography detailed in William Dean-Myatt Scottish Vernacular Discography, 1888-1960 Draft. December 2012.  This would suggest a large number were songs in English and Scots. Concert programmes and reviews may provide further details.

Recorded Cockburn Hotel, 141 Bath Street, Glasgow, 5 September 1899: 
Ye Banks and Braes (Robert Burns; trad)
Mo Dhachaidh (trad)

Recorded Cockburn Hotel, 141 Bath Street, Glasgow, 6 September 1899:
Ho Ro Mo Nigheann Donn Bhoidheach (trad)

Recorded Cockburn Hotel, 141 Bath Street, Glasgow, September 1899:
Comin’ thro’ the rye (Robert Burns; Robert Brenner)
The Scottish Blue Bells
Air fal-al-al-o (Waulking song) (trad)
Bonnie Prince Charlie (trad)

Recorded London, Tuesday, 1 December 1903:
Mo Dhachaidh (My house) (trad)
Am Fleasgach (The brown haired laddie) (trad)
Blue Bonnets (Walter Scott; trad)
The Rowan Tree (Lady Caroline Nairne; trad. arr. Paterson)
The Auld Scotch Songs (Rev. George W. Bethune; Joseph Frederick Leeson)
Farewell to Fiunary (Norman MacLeod; trad)
Leezie Lindsay (trad)

Recorded London, c. l904:
The Scottish Blue Bells
The Hundred Pipers (Lady Caroline Nairne; trad)
Blue Bonnet [over the Border]
Auld Robin Gray (Lady Anne Lindsay; Rev. William Leeves)
Will ye no come back again? (Lady Caroline Nairne; trad)
Mo Dhachaidh (trad)
Ho Ro Mo Nighean Donn Bhoidheach (trad)
Land o’ the Leal (Lady Caroline Nairne; Robert Burns; trad)

Recorded London, c. l906:
Hail to the Chief (Henry Bishop)
Loch-na-Gar (Lord Byron; Henry Bishop)
Angus MacDonald (Fred E. Weatherly; Joseph L. Roeckel)

Was this the Jessie MacLachlan mentioned in the history of the Gaelic Society of Inverness ( who undertook early field recording of Gaelic song on phonograph?:

Towards the end of the next decade musical programmes, were introduced which enlivened the annual dinners and gave great pleasure to all who heard them. At these Mod medalists gave of their best. Who can ever forget the beautiful singing of Rory MacLeod, who had begun his musical career under the auspices of the Society — and his pawky stories of Highland folk; the pianoforte playing of Miss Chrissie Fraser, and my own sister Katharine; the violin playing of Mr. Andrew MacKintosh, whose history of the strathspey brought out all that was best in the technique of this dance; the singing of Miss Kate Fraser, a native of Glenurquhart and first woman in the Highlands to have her voice recorded for the phonograph of Jessie MacLachlan and Miss Watt, and the stirring strains of the Strathspey and Reel Society under the leadership of Mr. Alexander Grant?