Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Day in China, 1913

I was searching in the British Newspaper Archive last week for articles about curling on Christmas Day in times past, and my search took me to this page of the Daily Record of January 14, 1914. There was a photo of a group of curlers on the page. The header was, 'Curling in North China Reminds Exiled Britons of Home'. I was intrigued!

The photo was captioned, "The new curling rink in the Russian Park at Tientsin drew a large number spectators Christmas Day, when a curling match was played between two teams, captained by Mr Cunningham and Major Pringle respectively. Mr Cunningham’s team won in the morning and Major Pringle's in the afternoon. It is many years since curling was played in Tientsin. (Central News.)"

Who were Mr Cunningham and Major Pringle? And who are the others in the photograph? The sweeping implements look like traditional broom kowes!

But, these questions aside, I realised immediately that the Christmas day match was not simply a one-off occasion organised by homesick Scots, as the romantic headline would imply. From where had the curling stones been obtained, for a start? And the caption had the intriguing information that curling had been played in Tientsin before 1913. I set out to find more! 

Tientsin is Tianjin, a port city some 150 kilometers south east of Beijing. Read about it here. The city became a 'treaty port' in 1860, one of many as China opened to foreign trade in the middle of the nineteenth century (see here). Tientsin had two concession areas at first, for Britain, and for France. This number increased to nine, and by 1913, when the Christmas curling match took place, the United States, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia, also had a presence in the city (here).  Read about the British concession here. A flavour of what the concession areas of Tianjin were like can be seen in this collection of old postcards.

Where was the 'Russian Park' in Tientsin? I cannot be sure, but old maps of the city do show a park in the Russian concession just across the river from the British Bund. Perhaps the new rink in 1913 was here.

We have to jump forward a few years to find that there was a Tientsin Curling Club which became affiliated to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1932. It was active before that date though, as the Berwickshire News and General Advertiser reported on December 2, 1930. The article was headed, 'Greenlaw Native In Tientsin'. This referred to the 'Captain' (presumably the President of the Tientsin Curling Club), Mr Sligh, who had headed up a delegation from the curling club to be entertained in  the officers' mess and receive a trophy from the Royal Scots, who had been stationed in the city. 

The article read, "On Sunday evening, November 9, Colonel Romanes and officers of the Royal Scots invited the officers and members of Tientsin Curling Club to a reception, at the Officers’ Mess, at which trophy was presented by the officers of the regiment to the Club in the form of a silver curling stone. In the course of very happily-worded speech, Colonel Romanes said they had enjoyed their curling in Tientsin very much indeed, and very greatly appreciated the help the Curling Club, in the provision of the requisite facilities, such as the loaning of stones, etc. Consequently they would be happy if the Club would accept the challenge trophy to be played for annually by the members. The Captain of the Curling Club (Mr Sligh, who is a native of Greenlaw), thanked the Colonel and officers of the regiment for their very fine present, and said they had thoroughly enjoyed their many pleasant games with the officers, who had given great support to the game during their sojourn here. All the members of the Club were genuinely sorry they were going away. The Club delegation were thereafter hospitably entertained at the Mess."

I find it interesting and somewhat heartening that Scottish officers had had time to play curling when stationed at Tientsin. The background for the military presence of the Royal Scots in Tientsin is hereThey were in the city for around two years before being relieved by a company of The Queen's Royal Regiment. Being English, the new officers may not have been so enthusiastic about the sport of curling as the officers of the Royal Scots had been!

So we know then that the Tientsin curlers had at least one trophy to play for in the following years after they became affiliated with the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. And that at least one of the club's members during that time was a Scot - J Sligh, from Greenlaw. He's pictured below. Looking at the names it would appear that the curling club membership was not exclusively Scottish, and certainly included expats from other nations.  

This is the Tientsin club's membership as published in the Royal Club Annual for 1932-33. Note that this entry suggests that formalised curling in Tientsin dated from 1890. However, curling may well have been played in the city as early as 1874. Such a suggestion can be found in a speech by the President of the Tientsin CC, a Mr. S. L. Briault, as reported in the Royal Caledonian Annual of 1939-40: "Curling in Tientsin commenced about 1874 and it may be interesting to you to know that the first rink was on the river in front of the Taku Tug and Lighter Co's premises."

Briault goes on to say that in 1910 a club was formed and curling took place on the pond in the Russian Park. That would be consistent with the report of the Christmas curling at that venue in 1913.

In the 1930s the Tientsin Curling Club's home was at the Race Club, just to the south of the British Concession. Read about the Race Club here and here. There were certainly ponds on the grounds at the race track, and one such may well have been for curling.

The club had a large and active membership in the 1930s. We have photos of some of the members from season 1936-37.

This photo, from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1937-38 is captioned 'TIENTSIN CURLING CLUB The members of the Tientsin Curling Club at Mr J C Taylor's residence.'

From left to right, back row: Messrs J Sligh, HF Barnes, LH Twyford Thomas, SL Briault, J Irvine, A McKechnie, JA Mouat and WN Bentinck.

Middle row: Messrs LCM Ouwerkerk, R Geyling, LW Jenner, JE Cloke, JWCameron, JM Bandinel, J Allan, WH Evans Thomas, GE Hansen, H Laidlaw and HH Faulkner.

Front row: Messrs A Istl, H Nielsen, GB Carruthers, A MacArthur, JC Taylor (President), HG McKenzie (Hon Secretary), PW Jones, A Burgess and R Bauer.

And here is a photo of the skips in season 1936-37:
(L-R) JM Bandinel, SL Briault, J Allan, J Sligh, JC Taylor (President), HH Faulkner, R Geyling, JS Jones.

It looks like the players are standing on an artificial 'Cairnie-style' rink, presumably the rink at the Race Club. And the brooms in use now are more modern than in the 1913 photo!

The 1938-39 Annual has ten rinks playing regularly. With World War 2 on the horizon, I wonder how the lives of those shown in the photographs above unfolded in the years that followed.

Curling did not resume after the war, and of course the political system in China changed dramatically then. However, Robin Welsh, in his book International Guide to Curling (Pelham Books, published in 1985) records "in 1966, Ernst Debrunner, Treasurer of the Swiss Curling Association, was astonished to find curling stones in Tientsin (they were used by members of the Tientsin Club, which, founded by Scots in 1890, was active until the Second World War)."

According to TM Devine and Angela McCarthy in their introduction to The Scottish Experience in Asia c1700 to the Present: Settlers and Sojourners (published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2017) between 1815 and the WW2 more than 2.3 million people left Scotland for overseas destinations. Scotland had a population of less than 4.5 million at the census of 1901. The Christmas curling story from 1913 would seem to be yet another example of Scots emigrants taking the sport of curling with them! Not all those mentioned in this article were Scots, but certainly many were. It would be interesting to learn more about them, and what took them to China. And I'm sure I've only scratched the surface of the history of the Tientsin Curling Club and its members.

Read more about Tianjin today here. And of course the Chinese themselves now curl! The Chinese Curling Association became a member of the World Curling Federation in 2002. Beijing has hosted both the World Men's and World Women's Curling Championship in recent years, and a Chinese women's team will compete in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone!

The image from the Daily Record is ©Trinity Mirror, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive. The other images are from Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annuals in the author's archive.


Matt said...

I have to wonder: what happened to the stones?

Bob Cowan said...

Good question. Hopefully someone might know the answer to that. Also, which of Scotland's curling stone companies had supplied the Tientsin CC with stones over the years, or had members arranged privately to have their own stones shipped out.