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Monday, 29 April 2013

Lochaber Strongman: A. A. Cameron

Even these days many folk might be familiar with A. A. Cameron who hailed from Lochaber. In his own day, his fame spread far and wide as being one of the best athletes to have ever competed at heavy events. Calum Maclean recorded three items about the Lochaber strongman from John MacDonald of Highbridge and here is one which was transcribed on the 4th of January 1951:
Tha fhios gun cuala iomadh duine fora(fh)ais air a’ ghaisgeach a bha ’s an dùthaich seo, mar a theireadh iad A. A. Cameron, an Camaranach. B’ eòlach mi air, ri mo thaobh, agus duine còir agus duine coibhneil. Bhiodh e a’ falabh thall is a-bhos aig na cleasan agus e a’ dèanadh a’ ghrõthaich orra anns a chlach nearst agus anns a chuile car a bhitheadh ann (F610.). Ach bha e turas a’ dol ro Siorrachd Pheairt. Is bha na Pearstaich a’ smaoineachdainn nach robh a’ nearst aige idir a bh’ aige. Agus bha clach mhór ann an sin aig taobh balla taobh an rathaid mhór. Agus thuirst iad gum b’ àbhaist daoine a bh’ ann a Siorrachd Pheairst a chlach a bha sin a thogail dìreach rud beag fos cionn an talaimh, cho àrd ri ’m brògan agus feadhainn nach togadh cho àrd sin fhéin i  (H1562.2.). Agus thuirst iad ris a’ Chamaranach a fiachainn. Cha robh an Camaranach air son seo a dhèanadh.
“O,” thuirst iad, “chan eil umat ach an gealtaire cha téid agat air.”
Agus thug e dìreach leum far an rathaid mhóir agus rug e air a’ chlach agus thilig e taobh thall a bhalla i (F624.2.).
And the translation goes something like this:
Many folk have heard mention of our local hero who was called A. A. Cameron. I knew him as well as myself and he was a decent, kind fellow. He would travel far and wide to attend Highland games and he used to win at putting the stone and every other type of heavy event. But one time he was travelling through Perthshire. The Perthshire folk didn’t believe at all that he was as strong as all that. There was a big boulder besides the dyke next to the highway. And they said that folk in Perthshire used to lift this boulder as high as their shoes and a few others who couldn’t lift it quite so high. They said to the Cameron to try it but he didn’t want to.
“Oh,” they said, “you’re such a coward if you can’t manage it.”
And he jumped from the highway and he caught hold of the boulder and threw it over the other side of the dyke.
There is also catchy two-part strathspey entilted A. A. Cameron and is a popular tune in music sessions and has been recorded by various pipers, and other musicians besides, over the years:

Alexander Anthony Cameron (1877–1951), to give him his full name, was one of the all-time great strongmen and athletes and hailed from Dochanassie in Brae Lochaber. He was sometimes known as the Mighty Mucomir and was indubitably the greatest heavy of his time. He dominated the heavies from the turn of the century until the First World War when many of Dinnie’s and Johnstone’s records fell before the onslaught of the strongman from Inverness-shire. A native of Dochanassie, Cameron was a true Highlander in every respect and although he did his share of travelling and sampled the bright lights of the entertainment world he preferred his native land. Farming meant more to Cameron than anything else and it is a farmer that his friends knew him best. Indeed to this day the good folks of Fort William refer to him as “Mucomir”, following the old Highland custom of naming a person the property he owns. As well as a farmer and professional athlete A. A. was for a time a member of the Partick Police and being over 6 feet 1 inch in height and 17 stones of muscular bodyweight, a better upholder of law and order would be hard to find. There were times, however, when he would have appeared to be on a hairline between lawful and lawless. At a fair ground in Aberdeen for instance he pulled the handle off a grip machine intended for testing the strength of lesser men than himself. At Turriff Games he proved “grippy” in quite a different way for he was the leader of a strike for better cash prizes. The athletes on this occasion refused to compete unless the prize money was raised.
Alex was a natural strong man; he came of hardy stock who had been tillers of the soil for generations. His father was quite a small man but his mother was a MacMillan, a clan renowned for their great strength and fine physiques. One of A.A.’s MacMillan ancestors was casting peat one day when the horse and cart got well and truly stuck in a bog. The horse struggled and strained but its efforts only succeeded in getting it more firmly embedded in the peat. Muttering at the horse he loosened the harness, freed the animal and practically heaved the terrified horse out of the bog and on to firmer ground. Going back to the cart he carefully selected foot-holes and after a titanic struggle he finally pulled the cart back on to the track. Perspiring and panting he gently patted the horse’s neck. “I dinna wonder ye couldnae pull it oot horse,” he puffed, “it was a struggle even for me.”
From such stock came the Lochaber athlete and he rarely indulged in proper training. The best training, he maintained, was swinging a scythe and he could work day after day at this task. This was an exercise Cameron enjoyed until the hour of his death for he died as he was happily cutting grass in front of his cottage on the Letterfinlay estate at Speanbridge.
The tales of Sandy Cameron reached the ears of English entrepreneurs who immediately made tempting offers to entice Cameron to their stages. The era of the strong man was at its height and Sandow, Cyr, the Saxon Brothers and many others were commanding huge salaries. The modest country lad was reluctant to leave his native heath but decided life in front of the footlights was at least worth trying. He didn’t stay long. The greensward, he felt ,was the place for him to demonstrate his strength and those who wished to do battle with him could meet him there, and although such notables such as C. B. Cochrane and George Hackenschmidt the great wrestler made attractive offers, he simply refused point blank. Hackenschimidt, The Russian Lion, who once wrestled Mucomir was particularly impressed with the Scot. He described him as the strongest man he had ever handled and went into a bout and left him to think over a particularly good offer to go on tour with Hackenschmidt’s team. Returning to the dressing room after the contest the Russian again brought up the subject of the tour. “You’ll be going to take it,” said Hack, never dreaming for a minute that anyone would turn down such a good chance.

“Aye, I’ll be going,” answered Cameron, adjusting his bowler hat, “back to Lochaber.” And matching his words he picked up his umbrella and made for the door.
At the Highland games, the Highland Adonis displayed similar determination and confidence. Often he would only take his first attempt in an event and leave the remainder of the heavies to battle it out for second and third places. On one occasion he got a particularly good throw of the hammer and J. J. Miller who was judging the competition complimented him on his efforts. “You’re good for another five feet,” Miller said encouragingly. “Na, na” replied Cameron. “If I do that they’ll expect it every time.”
In the late 1900s he toured Australia and New Zealand and later was a great success on a sensational tour which took him as far as Russia. Although best known for his feats in the heavy events Mucomir was extremely agile and actually established a record on the standing high jump with a leap of 4 feet 11 inches in a competition against Marsh, a great American jumper. No mean feat for 17 stone man-mountain. A. A. Cameron retained his strength and fine physique to the very end. He was a popular judge at the games and officiated right up until the year of his death. Just a few weeks before he died he attended Glenfinnan Games where he was seen talking to the athletes in Gaelic and shaking hands with friends. A handshake from A. A. incidentally was described as a “shattering experience.”
Although this great athlete finally passed the last tape on 18th September 1951, at the age of 76, his memory will be evergreen in the minds of Scottish strength lovers and admirers of the virile Highland character. His championship belt and several photographs can still to be seen in the museum at Fort William.
His obituary from The Oban Times reads as follows:
THE DEATH TOOK PLACE ON TUESDAY of Mr Alexander Anthony Cameron, the well-known Lochaber former heavy-weight athlete who, in his day, held ground records at practically every Highland Games in the country.
“A. A.” as he was called by his friends, had been living for the past five years in a cottage at Letterfinlay on the shore of Loch Lochy and was cutting hay on Tuesday when he collapsed and died. He was 75 years of age.
Although retired from athletics for thirty years, he still took a keen interest in the performances of the heavy athletes of to-day, and regularly assisted at the athletic events at the Lochaber Games–the Games at which he first made his name.
It was at the beginning of the century that A. A. Cameron was in his prime and at one time he held 16 records, some of them still unbeaten. These included the light and heavy hammer, the 56 and 28 lb. weights, and the 22 lb. ball. His Canadian record 16 lb. ball putt of 56 ft. was only broken last year. His Scottish record standing leap of 4 ft. 11 ins. is still unbeaten by a heavyweight.
As a young man he joined the Patrick Police and while he was on the Force he toured the Highland Games making his name as an outstanding athlete. He toured America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
A tall, fine figure of a man, he looked much younger than his years. His hand-shake still retained that strength which made him famous as a wrestler in his youth.
He was the son of the late Mr and Mrs Donald Cameron of Mucomir. Before going to stay at Letterfinlay, Mr Cameron farmed at Fassifern at Lochielside.
Anon., ‘Lochaber’s Famous Athlete: The Late A. A. Cameron’, The Oban Times, no. 5045 (22 Sep., 1951), p. 3
SSS NB 5, p. 480
A. A. Cameron, c. 1890s.

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