It would be impossible to invent Don Roberto today – a fantastic combination of Don Quixote and Sir Gawain, Indiana Jones and the Lone Ranger. He was so multi-faceted, so complex that every chapter in his story reveals some new and contradictory aspect of his personality.
Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham was born in London in 1852 and died in Buenos Aires in 1936. He is best known for his involvement, with Keir Hardie, in the founding of the Scottish Labour Party, and later as the founding president of the Scottish National Party. But in a long and extraordinary—there’s no other word for it—life he was many other things besides.
As a young man in Argentina he became an expert horseman and rode with gauchos. The instinct for travel and adventure never left him—in middle age he was held to ransom in the Atlas Mountains by a local sheikh. At Westminster he declared himself the first ever socialist Member of Parliament and was convicted of rioting. A radical laird, he advocated land reform and abolition of the House of Lords. He was a champion of underdogs, a crusader for social justice and freedom of speech. Fêted by his literary peers as the ‘Scottish Maupassant’ he was friends with Conrad, Wells, Wilde, Shaw and Chesterton. Painted by Lavery and sculpted by Epstein he was directly descended from King Robert II of Scotland. He was above all a great humanitarian.
I am his great-great-nephew, Jamie Jauncey. I am currently writing a book about him. He inspires and perplexes me in more or less equal part.