When Archibald, 13th Earl of Eglinton, died in 1861 at the early age of forty nine he was, according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 'the most popular nobleman in Scotland', while Disraeli described him as 'the most honest man, and the most straightforward, I ever dealt with'.
He had been active in politics and on the turf. Today he is probably best remembered for his extravagant medieval tournament in 1839, but his legacy to the sport of his native land is more significant.
As a founder of Prestwick Golf Club and its first captain in 1851 he was one of those instrumental in causing the famous golfer Tom Morris to move to the west from St Andrews as golf professional, and later in establishing The Open Championship.
Curlers remember him as an enthusiastic supporter and player of the game. When the Grand Caledonian Curling Club met in Kilmarnock in October 1841 the youthful earl thus addressed the meeting: "…there can be no doubt that there is no curler present who has sent his stone gliding through a port, which, at the distance of the rink, seemed almost impassable - or who has delicately cracked an egg on a stone… - or who has, perhaps, performed a glorious in-wick… - or who has planted his stone on the tee, the all-important stone upon which the success of his party depended - and who has enjoyed the rapturous applause with which such feats have been greeted by his fellow-players, there is not a person present I dare say, who has done and seen all this , who will not engage in the game with pleasure… Who that has passed the day at that game , or enjoyed the glories of in-wicking and out-wicking that does not rejoice that he was born a Scotsman; and glad to think that he is not like the poor shivering wretches of other countries, who know not how to pass the frosty season of the year, and the tedious hours of winter!"
And then the company elected him President for the ensuing year.
This speech is eloquent testimony to the earl’s love of the game and of his warm patriotism.
Two paintings by the famous painter, Charles Lees, R.S.A., celebrate these two games which were such significant parts of his life. In each the earl is shown as a keen votary of the game.
The earlier is the famous The Golfers A Grand Match Played on St Andrews Links 1841, which now belongs to the nation, having been bought by the National Galleries of Scotland in 2002.
The second is the slightly later Grand Match, North versus South, of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, at Linlithgow. This painting, of course, belongs to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.
In each of the pictures the earl appears - taking a keen interest in the proceedings - though in neither is he in an ostentatious position.
Last week Bonhams, the famous auctioneers, at a sale of Sporting Memorabilia in Chester, sold a preliminary sketch of our earl in oils on paper done for the golf picture. Such is the fame of the artist and the subject that the price achieved, including buyer’s premium, was £10,920.
The sketch is reproduced by kind permission of Bonhams 1793 Ltd.
David B Smith.