Ross the Piper

Piper to Queen Victoria from 1854 to 1891

William Ross

William Ross was born  March 27, 1823 in the parish of Knockbain on the Black Isle in Rosshire, Scotland on the property of Sir Ewan Mackenzie of Kilcoy.  William's father was Andrew Ross, a farmer.   Andrew's first wife was Margaret Young who died in 1830.  William, their only son, was seven at the time.  Andrew remarried and in 1832 he emigrated to Upper Canada where he was still living near Coburg in 1870.  William remained in Scotland under the charge of his grandmother until he enlisted in the 42nd Regiment Royal Highlanders in 1839.  In 1852 he married Mary Davidson.  On May 10th, 1854 he became Queen Victoria's piper. His wife died in 1861. It is known that they had one son.


Grave of William Ross at Windsor

The following article appeared in The Windsor and Eton Express on June 20, 1891 :


The remains of Mr. William Ross, first piper to the Queen who died in his 69th year, after a short illness, at his residence, Crathie-villas, Windsor, on the 10th inst., were interred in the Cemetery on Monday afternoon amidst general signs of respect and in the presence of a large number of spectators. Deceased, who was a native of Rosshire, served in the 42nd Highlanders - the Black Watch - for a long period, and was pipe-major in that famous regiment at the beginning of the year 1854, when he entered the royal service, in which he remained until his death. Another proof of the constant solicitude of her Majesty for the attendants who serve under her with so much loyalty and devotion was afforded by the touching notice in the "Court Circular," which, under date of June 11th, announced that the Queen had again lost a faithful servant, which had caused her much grief. Her Majesty sent a message of condolence to the widow. Mr. Ross was a stalwart man, and the martial strains of his celebrated pibroch were always heartily welcomed by every gathering of Scotchmen in London, by whom he will be greatly missed. The cortege left the residence of the deceased at three o'clock, and was headed by the pipers and drummers of the Second Battalion of the Scots Guards, who played "The Flower of the Forest" on the way to the cemetery. The body was enclosed in a shell, which was encased in a handsome coffin of polished oak, with brass furniture, bearing the inscription: "William Ross, died June 10th, 1891; aged 68 years." It was conveyed in a Washington car, which was followed by two broughams, containing Mrs. Ross (the widow), and Mrs. Porter and Miss Ross (daughters of the deceased). The other mourners present were Messrs. Alfred and William Ross (sons) and Mr. Porter (son-in-law). Captain Walter Campbell and Major the Hon. H. C. Legge attended on behalf of her Majesty, who requested all the servants at the Castle who could be spared from their duties to be present. The Royal Household was represented by Mr. Leonard Collmann, inspector; Mr. Lloyd, clerk comptroller; Mr. J. Manning, of the Master of the Horses department; Mr. Donald Mackay (piper to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales), Mr. John Farquharson (piper to the Duke of Edinburgh), who wore their Highland costumes and decorations; Mr. Ridgeon, Mr. Collins, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Archibald Brown. There was also present Messrs. W. Baxter, E. Haward, and J. Carey (deacons of the Congregational Church, of which deceased was a member), Mr. Mackenzie, and Mr. Bryant. An impressive service was conducted in the cemetery chapel by the Rev. T. Orr, who officiated at the grave. The coffin was covered with beautiful floral tokens, among which were a wreath of yellow immortelles, bearing the inscription, "A mark of regard from Victoria, R.I.", from the Queen, and a chaplet of white flowers and foliage from Princess Beatrice. The remainder of the wreaths were from Mrs. Ross and family, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, Mr., Mrs., and Miss Ridgeon, Mr. Farquharson, Mr. A. Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Porter, and Mr. Thomson. The funeral arrangements were satisfactorily carried out by Mr. W. Cleave.

We have received the following biographical sketch of the late Mr. Ross from a contributor :-
"Last Monday afternoon were consigned to their last resting place the mortal remains of her Majesty's piper and highly valued servant, Mr. William Ross, whose lamented death was chronicled in our last issue. As Mr. Ross resided in our town ever since he entered the Royal service, and continued to do so up to the time of his death, we offer to our readers - numbers of whom will miss the well remembered figure of the veteran piper - a brief sketch of his life and labours in the cause of that particular branch of music in which during the last thirty odd years he has had no equal. Some of us - most of us - Englishmen look with contempt and positive dislike at the bagpipes, and are apt to fancy that the study and practice of them is unworthy of the name of musical art. There is no doubt at all that we err from ignorance and perhaps prejudice: from the former by misunderstanding the true purport, and the latter perhaps on account of their historic memories.
Before quitting this subject the writer would like to quote a few words from the introduction to Mr. Ross's magnificent collection of 'Pipe Music' (which will be referred to later on) by the eminent Scottish divine, the late Dr. Norman McLeod. He says: 'The bag-pipe is the instrument for summoning the clans from the far off glens to rally round the standard of their chiefs, or for leading a Highland regiment to the attack amidst the roar of battle. The pibroch is also constructed to express a welcome to the chief on his return to his clan, and to the old burial place in the glen, or in the 'Sainted Isle of Graves.' To those who understand its carefully composed music, there is a pathos and depth of feeling suggested by it, with which a Highlander alone can fully sympatise; associated by him, as it always is, with the most touching memories of his home and country, recalling the forms and faces of the departed, and reviving impressions of his early and happiest years. And thus, if it excites the stranger to laughter, it excites the Highlander to tears, as no other music can do in spite of the most refined culture of his after life.' Mr. William Ross was born in the parish of Knockbain, Rosshire on the 27th March, 1823. He had the misfortune to lose his mother when he was but a child of seven years old, and his father emigrated to Upper Canada two years later. At the age of sixteen he enlisted in the 42nd Regiment (Royal Highlanders), better known as the famous 'Black Watch.' He had mastered the bagpipes before he entered the army, having been instructed by an old Highland piper, whose daughter he subsequently married. He soon took a leading position as a piper, and was very quickly promoted step by step until he had in an unprecedentedly short time attained to the highest degree of perfection. He served in Corfu, Malta, Bermuda, and at home, and bore an exemplary character; and on the 10th May, 1854, he was appointed piper to her Majesty, a post which he continued to occupy up till the time of his death. The deceased gentleman, by his unswerving integrity, not only gained the respect and esteem of his Sovereign and the other members of the Royal Family, together with a large number of the Scottish and English nobility, but also of all who came in contact with him. In private life he was genial and kind-hearted, and could tell a good tale, or crack as good a joke as would have rejoiced the heart of the famous Dean Ramsey. As a player of a 'pibroch' or of a 'lament,' he was unapproachable; he seldom played in public, but whenever he was required to adjudicate at Highland gatherings (which he was often called upon to do both at home and abroad) he was lionised. Unlike many of his compatriots, Mr. Ross had a keen appreciation of the best in music of whatever nationality it might be; he could enjoy a sonata of the great masters, or a fine performance of the grandest in sacred musical art, while at the same time no one liked better than he the simple but exquisite ballads of our great grandfathers. The work by which he will chiefly be remembered is that to which reference has already been made, viz. the great 'Collection of Pipe Music,' the preparation and production of which cost years of patient labour; two editions were published, the later in July, 1885. One may gain an idea of the weight and responsibility of this undertaking by remembering the fact that the amassing and augmenting of this collection occupied a period of over thirty years. This valuable work comprises upwards of four hundred of the rarest and the best of old and new music for the pipes. A large number of the tunes in this book had never been in print before; indeed, many were taken down by the compiler from old pipers both in Scotland and in Ireland, who played them traditionally, having been handed down to them with zealous care and veneration from times remote. While to the musical antiquarian this book must always be of great interest, to those who love national melody for its own sake, because it to a large extent reflects the very life and character of the people, this collection cannot fail to be highly prized by its possessor. This book has been and is likely to continue to be the 'Standard Collection of Pipe Music,' and is recognized as such all the world over. It is used by the pipe-bands of all the Scottish regiments and even in India forms the text-book from which soldiers of our Sepoy army and of some of the native contingents have gained a knowledge of the pipes and pipe music."

I would be interested in hearing from anyone related to William Ross the Piper.  My maternal grandmother and her siblings used to refer to him as "Cousin Willy" but I don't know exactly how he was related.  Her father was named Andrew Ross.  His father was a John Ross, born in 1826.  That's as far back as I can trace my Ross ancestry.  I know that John came from the Coburg area, where William's father settled.  It could be that William's father emigrated to Canada along with a brother who was John's father.  That would make William and John first cousins.

I know that William's father, Andrew, married his second wife before coming to Canada.  According to records at the General Register Office in Edinburgh, a Janet McPherson married an Andrew Ross in 1831.  This could be the second marriage of William's father.

In 1869, William published a collection of pipe music, over 400 tunes.  It went into three editions and included marches, strathspeys, reels, and several piobaireachd.  It's available through Scotpress in West Virginia (see link below).

External Links:

Clan Ross Association of Canada


General Register Office for Scotland (online)

Local Links:

Letter of reference

Comments/queries: Bean stone clue: Start in the middle. Irish tale