Papers of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, 1852-1936, politician and author

Scope and Content

  • Galley proofs for The Pass of the River and A Page of Pliny with alterations by the author and covering letter 1909
  • Letter from Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham to John Byers, to accompany a copy of his wife Gabriela Cunninghame Graham's poems (The Rhymes), 11 Jan 1909

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham was born in London, England, on 24 May 1852 , the eldest of the three sons of William Cunninghame Bontine, of Gartmore, Perth & Kinross, Scotland and Ardoch, West, Dumbartonshire, Scotland. He was educated at Harrow School, London, and spent a year at a private school in Brussels.

At the general election of 1886 he was elected as a liberal for North-West Lanarkshire, Scotland. His political sense was both erratic and acute and went to the underdog wherever he found him. He quickly developed into an ardent socialist devoted to William Morris, and a friend of John Burns. He contested unsuccessfully the Camlachie division of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1892, and in 1918, again unsuccessfully, Western Stirling & Clackmannan. When the national party of Scotland was founded in 1928 he was elected its first president. In the same year at the election for the lord rectorship of Glasgow University he polled only 66 votes fewer than Stanley Baldwin.

In height, appearance, and bearing, Cunninghame Graham looked a Spanish Don for his maternal grandmother, Catalina Paulina Alessandro, was Spanish and as a boy taught him Spanish and brought him up in the Spanish way.

At the age of seventeen he paid the first of several visits to Spanish America and rode with gauchos over the South American plains and, later, with Indians in Mexico, where he formed a close friendship with 'Buffalo Bill'. W H Hudson, dedicating El Ombu to him in 1902, called him 'Singularisimo escritor ingles' because he 'alone of European writers has rendered something of the vanishing colour of that remote life.' He was in Paraguay when that land had lost most of its male population in the four years' war waged by Francisco Solano Lopez upon Brazil, Argentine, and Uruguay, and he gave an account of the man in his Portrait of a Dictator (1933). In the war of 1914-1918 he was there again, buying remounts for the British government and in 1935 he went there once more, at the age of eighty-three, and at Buenos Aires, greatly respected by the people, he died 20 March 1936. In honour of him, a new city in the Argentine was named Don Roberto.

His understanding of old Spanish life and of the Conquistadors is shown in nine volumes of historical and biographical studies. He wrote a little-known classic of travel, Mogreb-el-Acksa (1898), an account of a dangerous journey, when he travelled through southern Morocco; a local cadi imprisoned him, and he was released only after a painful experience. His best work is considered to be his many volumes of stories, essays, and sketches. His style was candid, direct, and vivid; his images are homely and apt.

In 1879, Cunninghame Graham married Gabriela, daughter of Don Francisco Jose de la Balmondiere. Born in Chile of a French father and a Spanish mother, she was poet, water-colourist, botanist, and mystic. She died, childless, in 1906, and he himself dug her grave in the grounds of the ruined Augustinian priory on the isle of Inchmahome in the Lake of Menteith, Stirling, Scotland. He was buried beside her following his own death in March 1936.

H M Tomlinson, , 'Graham, Robert Bontine Cunninghame',Dictionary of National Biography ( 1949 )


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Purchase : Francis Edward Ltd, bookseller : 1965 : ACCN 4145

Other Finding Aids

Item level descriptions are available via the department's online manuscripts catalogue available at  searching by the call number MS Gen 512/27

Alternative Form Available

No known copies

Archivist's Note

Compiled by David Powell, Hub Project Archivist, March 2003

No alterations made to date

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the Keeper of Special Collections

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use & condition of documents

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with standard GB 247 procedures

Custodial History



None expected

Related Material

GB 233 Acc 11335 Correspondence and literary papers of Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division)

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