Thursday, December 11, 2014

Henrietta Gilmour: Pioneer Woman Curler

by Bob Cowan

The photo above can be found in the magazine Hearth and Home of March 14, 1895. It depicts four women on the ice, and is probably the earliest published photograph of women curling in Scotland. The skip is Henrietta Gilmour - that's her, second from the right.

Note the long handled brooms the women are using, with their crook tops. It cannot have been easy to curl wearing the dress of the time! It would appear that fashionable headgear was de rigueur. What shoes were they wearing? The stones are just a little lighter than used by the men, at 31 to 34 lbs, according to the Hearth and Home article. Note the wooden tee-marker at the centre of the rings scratched on the ice.

Hearth and Home was a weekly broadsheet magazine, for women, published in London from 1891-1914. A short article in the March 14, 1895, issue, on a page entitled 'The World of Sportswomen', explains that during the 1894-95 season, the Gilmour team had played ten matches, and won seven. Just who these matches were against is not stated in the article, but, thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, it has been possible to find details of two of these. The Dundee Courier of February 16, 1895, reports that the Gilmour rink took on a team of ladies from the Hercules club in a friendly on Kilconquhar Loch, and won 23-7. The skip of the Hercules team was Mrs Scott Davidson. Another game against Hercules was played out on Montrave Pond and is reported in the Dundee Courier of February 21, 1895. The Hercules team was skipped on this occasion by Mrs Palm, with Mrs Scott Davidson at third, but were again defeated. The Gilmour team won 42-5.

Incidentally, the Hercules women were to form their own club later that season, see David B Smith's article here.

During the nineteenth century women of the middle and upper classes were expected to be content with a life lived mainly in the home. Not all of these women were happy to do so, and, by the end of the century, many defied convention and began to participate in sports such as climbing, cycling, and curling, not always with the approval of their male counterparts. Although there are accounts of women curling earlier in the nineteenth century (see for example here), and even in the eighteenth century (see here), these occurrences were not common. Henrietta Gilmour was a pioneer of curling in Scotland, at a time when the sport was just becoming accepted as an activity in which women could compete, and she deserves to be better known. Who was she?

She was Canadian, born in 1852 in Quebec City. She married her first cousin, John Gilmour, in September, 1873. John was son of Allan Gilmour, one of Scotland’s principal shipowners and involved in the Canadian timber trade. The family business (Allan Gilmour and Company) took John, a young man in his twenties, to Canada, where he was to meet his future wife, a daughter of David Gilmour, his father's younger brother who had died in 1857. The couple returned to Scotland and set up home in Montrave House, on an estate owned by John's father and which he duly inherited.

They had seven children. Allan was born in 1874, but died when just four years old. John (also called Jack) was born in 1876, and Harry in 1878. Maud, the first of two daughters, was born in 1882. Henrietta (Netta) was born in 1884. Ronald was born in 1888, but survived only for three weeks. Douglas, the youngest child, was born in 1889.

It is not thought that Henrietta had curled as a youngster in Canada. She was at home on ice though, and was an accomplished skater.

Her husband John was certainly a keen curler, as his father had been. John founded a curling club based in and around his Fife estate. At the Annual Meeting of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club held in the Bold Arms Hotel, Southport, England, on Friday, July 31, 1885, the Lundin and Montrave Curling Club applied for membership of the governing body, and, having been duly proposed and seconded, the club was admitted at that meeting. In the 1885-86 Annual, John Gilmour and 'Mrs Gilmour' are listed as patron and patroness. John Gilmour was also the club's president and was one of the sixteen regular members listed.

To have been admitted to the Royal Club, the Lundin and Montrave CC would have needed a sheet of ice on which to play. The curling pond, near to Montrave House, can be found easily on old maps, clearly marked on this 25 inch to the mile, from 1894.

The Hearth and Home photograph was taken on this pond. 

Henrietta's curling career likely began in earnest after the birth of her son Douglas in 1889. In 1895, when the photo was taken, she would have been around 43 years old. Her team was Isabella Gentle of Kilwhiss, at third, and Mary Martin of Priestfield at lead. The second player was a 'Miss Fortune'. Both Martin and Gentle are listed in the membership roster of the Lundin and Montrave club. Miss Fortune is not, and unlike her teammates I can find no mention of her in reports of curling games in the years following that first successful season. She was perhaps Mary Fortune of Pilmuir Farm. Her younger brother was head of the family there, according to the 1891 census, and lived with his widowed mother, and his two sisters Mary (28) and Jessie (22). George was a member of the Lundin and Montrave club until the 1895-96 season, and that might have been the connection which brought his sister to the ice.

The Lundin and Montrave club flourished, as did the estate, and so did the Gilmour family. John seems not to have been much involved in the family business. He joined the Fife Light Horse in 1874 as Second Lieutenant. He gained promotion to Captain in 1881, and was Lieutenant-Colonel in 1895. He was active in politics, contesting the East Fife constituency on three occasions. In 1897, John Gilmour was created a Baronet, and the Glasgow Herald of June 28, 1897, records scenes of great excitement when Sir John and Lady Gilmour arrived back at Leven station from London. They were undoubtedly popular landowners and held in high esteem.

The Gilmours were a curling family. The parents seem to have encouraged their children to play. By 1897-98, John and Harry were both regular members of the Lundin and Montrave club, and sixteen year old Maud was an occasional member. Two years later she was a regular member. In the 1900-01 Annual, four children, John, Harry, Maud, and Netta, are all listed as regular members of the curling club. Netta indeed may well have been the youngest women to become a 'made' curler. The Dundee Courier of February 18, 1899, reports the annual dinner of the Lundin and Montrave Club. During the evening a curlers' court was formed and a number of curlers, including Miss Netta Gilmour, were 'duly initiated into the mysteries of the brotherhood of the broom'. She would have been fifteen years old!

Lady Henrietta Gilmour continued to compete. For example, on February 15, 1901, the Dundee Courier records that she skipped an all ladies' rink against one from the Balyarrow CC, skipped by Mrs Johnstone, on 'spendid ice' at Montrave, winning 21-14.

The Lundin and Montrave women also played alongside the men. The Dundee Courier reports on February 3, 1902, that a friendly match took place between the Cupar curling club and the Lundin and Montrave club, on the former's pond on Thomaston Farm, four rinks aside. The report highlights the fact that three ladies took part and 'despite the unfavourable conditions, played a sterling game'. Lady Gilmour played lead for her husband. Miss Gentle played second stones for James Balfour, and Miss Martin played lead for T E Mudie. The Cupar teams were the stronger on the day.

Sir John Gilmour became a Vice-president of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1902, and in 1912 he became President. He and his wife left a curling legacy, donating trophies to promote women's curling, more about which in a future article.

But there are two additional important things to say about Henrietta Gilmour. She was one of only two women included in Charles Martin Hardie's famous painting of the Grand Match at Carsebreck, from 1898. The Royal Caledonian Curling Club owns the original of this which hangs in a room in Scone Palace. The National Galleries of Scotland have a smaller version, thought to be a preliminary 'sketch', and this can be seen online, here. Hardie included likenesses of many curlers of the time, and this is discussed by David B Smith in an article about the painting here.

But the discovery which excited me most in my research was that Henrietta Gilmour took up photography as an interest and hobby, probably after Douglas was born in 1889. She is important as the first identified woman photographer in Scotland! Much of her work has survived. Fifteen hundred of her negatives were deposited in St Andrews University Library by her grandson, Sir John Gilmour, 3rd Baronet of Lundin and Montrave, in 1978. These now comprise the Lady Henrietta Gilmour Photographic Collection, looked after and cared for by specialist staff at the University Library. Some of her photos have been exhibited in the past and more recently some of the collection has been digitised and can be seen online, here. A further six hundred negatives were given to the National Museums of Scotland, and these are in the Scottish Life Archive.

Many of Henrietta's photographs depict her husband, her children, and friends. Sir John leased sporting estates in the West of Scotland, and stalking, shooting, fishing, picnicking, bathing, and boating became subjects for Henrietta's camera. At home at Montrave Sir John bred prize livestock. His stud of Clydesdale horses gained national recognition, and horses, as well as prize-winning cattle and sheep, were the subjects of photographs by Lady Gilmour. There are many highland scenes, and photos of buildings. There are also a number of self portraits.

Rarely do we have the privilege of such an insight into what life was like for a landed family in the late Victorian era, Henrietta's photographs providing a fascinating record.

But, given her own interest in the sport, did she photograph curlers and curling? Indeed she did! I have discovered that several such photographs exist. There are two in the Lady Henrietta Gilmour Photographic Collection at St Andrews. And five are in the Scottish Life Archive at the National Museum of Scotland. Some of the latter are available to view as thumbnails on the SCRAN website, and at larger size if you have a subscription. One is (incorrectly) entitled 'Women curling on the Ladies' Curling Pond, Fife, 1896', see here. This is similar, but not identical, to one of those held at St Andrews. The photo is certainly of the Montrave pond, not a 'Ladies' Curling Pond'. The women in these photographs are not all the same as those in the photo that appeared in Hearth and Home, at the top of this article. These seem to be from a different season and are of a different team! But Henrietta Gilmour is herself in the photos. Presumably she had an assistant to operate the shutter of her camera, after setting up the composition of the photo herself.

Could it be that the Hearth and Home photo was also one of Henrietta's own photographs, and supplied to the magazine for its use? Could it be the first ever curling 'selfie'?

More to come about Sir John and Lady Gilmour in a future article.

My thanks go to the helpful staff at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh, which holds a run of the Hearth and Home magazine. And to Rachel Nordstrom, Photographic Research and Preservation Officer, Special Collections Division, University of St Andrews, who went the extra mile to help me. The map clipping is from the 25inch to the mile, second edition OS map, from the NLS maps website here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Stone Collector

by Bob Cowan

Most involved in Scottish curling will have come across the name of Andrew Henderson Bishop. The trophy he presented and which bears his name is played for as the premier ladies' event in Scotland each season, aside from the Scottish Championship. That's him above, the rather grainy photograph from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual of 1911-12, at which time he was a Vice-president of the Royal Club.

Andrew Henderson Bishop was born on May 19, 1874, the son of Thomas George Bishop and Elizabeth Henderson. Young Andrew is described in the census return for 1890 as a 'science student'. He married Mary Gibb McAlpine, daughter of Sir Robert McAlpine, in 1897. In the Edinburgh Evening News of February 16, 1904, it is reported that his father, who had founded the successful grocery business, Cooper's, had purchased the estate of Thornton Hall, near Busby, and this was to become the home of Andrew and Mary.

At Thornton Hall, Andrew laid out gardens in which, according to this website, there was a floodlit curling rink. He extended the railway station platform and kept a private carriage which could be coupled to the Glasgow train. His involvement with the family business gained him considerable wealth, and allowed him the time to pursue an interest in archaeology. He collected extensively and amassed one of the largest prehistoric collections in Scotland. In 1951, Andrew Henderson Bishop gifted his collection of prehistoric artifacts to the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow, see here.

After his wife died in 1935, he moved to Switzerland and lived there until his own death in 1957.

The University of Glasgow has a painting of him from 1950 by Hermione Hammond, see here.

Andrew Henderson Bishop's curling career seems to have begun as an occasional member of Haremyres Curling Club in the 1905-06 season. Three years later he was a regular member and was on the Council of Management of that club. He was secretary of the Thornton Hall Curling Club when it was formed in 1907, and two years later, its president. He curled in Switzerland too, and in the 1910-11 season is listed as a Vice-president of the Villars Curling Club.

Off the ice, Andrew Henderson Bishop was an enthusiastic student of the history of curling, and amassed a large collection of artifacts. He was responsible for putting together the curling history display at the Scottish Exhibition of National History, Art and Industry, at Kelvingrove, Glasgow, in the summer of 1911, see here.

The Royal Club Annual for 1911-12 notes that "The Historical Exhibition in Glasgow has been very successful, and one of its most interesting features was the extensive collection of curling curios brought together by Mr Henderson-Bishop of Thornton Hall, who is known to the brotherhood as one of the keenest of keen curlers and is at present an active and useful Vice-President of the Royal Club."

The 'Sports and Pastimes' section of the catalogue of exhibits for this exhibition lists 146 items of curling interest, 65 of which are described as 'lent by A Henderson Bishop'.

Here is a photo of part of the South Gallery of the Palace of History at the 1911 Scottish Exhibition. You can see many curling stones lined up on the floor on the left of the picture. 

This old postcard shows what the outside of the building looked like. It contained six separate galleries, the South Gallery also having space in a balcony area. Exactly where the Palace of History was constructed on the exhibition site can be seen in the plan here.

Back in the 1970s, David B Smith had wondered what had happened to the various items that had belonged to Henderson Bishop, that had been exhibited in 1911. Writing in 1989, David recalled, "In 1978 I was discussing with Stuart Maxwell, then assistant keeper of the National Museum of Antiquities, when he told me that he seemed to remember coming across a large number of curling stones in the basement of the Highland Folk Museum at Kingussie. A telephone call to Ross Noble, the very helpful curator of that museum, confirmed that the stones were still there, and that it was thought that they had come in some way from Henderson Bishop."

Shortly afterwards, I received a very excited call from David about this 'find', and before too long David, Willie Jamieson and I were heading north in my wee Datsun Cherry!

This was the sight that greeted us when we were shown into the cellar of a building at the Folk History Museum at Kingussie. There were old curling stones everywhere. Exciting? You bet! The Henderson Bishop collection had indeed been found!

David and Willie examine the stones. A few were selected to be brought up from the cellar.

Here David is cleaning up one of the stones at a sink in the museum's kitchen!

Washed and dried, six of the stones were laid out on the grass to be photographed.

In the years since 1978, the stones have been safely cared for by the museum at Kingussie, although most were stored out of public view.

The story of how the Highland Folk Museum came into being, and of its founder Dr Isobel Grant, is fascinating and can be read here. Additional space to allow the museum to expand was purchased and a large site at Newtonmore opened in 1995. Among the many memorable features of this open air museum is a curling pond and replica curling hut (see here) in which a small number of artifacts from the Henderson Bishop collection are displayed.

You can find out more about the Highland Folk Museum on its website here.

Some years ago when I was still editor of the Scottish Curler magazine I enquired of the museum the status of the rest of the Henderson Bishop collection, particularly the large number of stones that we had seen back in 1978. These, I was reassured, were still safely in store, and that the museum had plans for a new building on the Newtonmore site, which would give more space for the museum to store and preserve its considerable collections. In this past year, this vision became a reality.

This is Am Fasgadh, at Newtonmore, the Highland Folk Museum's wonderful new facility, with space to store and conserve the various items in the collections, as well as offices, study areas, a conservation laboratory, a library, and meeting spaces. It's quite separate from that part of the museum which is usually open to the public in the summer months, currently closed for the winter.

Am Fasgadh's primary function is to house the Highland Folk Museum's core collections - 10,000 objects ranging from teaspoons to tractors! The name 'Am Fasgadh' is Gaelic for 'the Shelter', and comes from the original name given to the Highland Folk Museum by its founder, Isabel Grant, and reflects her philosophy that the Museum was a safe haven for her collection.

Rachel Chisholm is the present Curator, and here she is with some of the Henderson Bishop stones in the background. We counted 122 on the new shelves, and there are others in the replica stone hut, as already mentioned.

This channel stane jumped out as an 'old friend'. You can see it in the photo above of the six stones taken in 1978. Who 'DW' was is not known. Indeed, the notes that Henderson Bishop must surely have made on the provenance of all the items in his curling collection have been lost. It is to be hoped that one day these records might be found.

However, some of the stones can be identified from their descriptions in the catalogue from the 1911 exhibition. These two are numbers 106 and 107 in the group of 'Curling stones more or less circular in shape, used from about 1750'. Their descriptions say, 'Hammer-dressed curling stone, initialled 'R C' and dated 1781, from Cumbernauld' and 'Stone initialled 'R C'. This stone was probably made to match No 106 when pairs of stones came into use about 1840, and the screwed tubes to receive the handles may have been inserted at the same time.'  Both had been lent to the exhibition by Henderson Bishop himself.

No 121 in the 1911 exhibition catalogue is this 'circular, hammer-dressed stone, engraved 'THE PIRATE', JAs Orr, 1831. This stone, along with 118, 119 and 120, shows an endeavour to preserve the identity of the stone after they had lost the peculiarity of shape from which, in the days of the boulder stone, they often took their name'.

Interestingly, this stone had been 'lent by James Waldron'. Most of the items borrowed from various clubs and individuals would have been returned after the exhibition closed. We can assume that at some point after the 1911 exhibition 'the Pirate' became part of Henderson Bishop's own collection, in which it remains! We do not know exactly how and when the Henderson Bishop collection came into the possession of the Highland Folk Museum. Was it given to Dr Grant? Was it a bequest? The two must have known each other. More research to be done.

Not all of the collection was kept together. Some stones were presented by Henderson Bishop to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1938, an example here.

There is so much more research to be done on this collection of stones, and the various other curling items in the museum's care. The 130 or so stones make up the most significant collection of seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century curling stones in any museum collection anywhere in the world! I am extremely happy to have seen them at Am Fasgadh last week.

Thanks to Rachel Chisholm for allowing me to visit Am Fasgadh to view the Henderson Bishop collection. The Scottish Curler of October, 1989, published an article about the visit to Kingussie remembered above. The photos here are all by the author, or from his archive, except as indicated. The top pic is from the Royal Club Annual for 1911-12, and was by T and R Annan and Sons, Glasgow, and the photo of the inside of the South Gallery has been scanned from the Catalogue of Exhibits of the 1911 exhibition, which was published in two volumes by Dalross Ltd.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Scotland's Sporting Buildings

Book reviewed by David B Smith

One of the most remarkable - and least publicised - 'by-products' of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer was the publication by Historic Scotland of the book, Scotland's Sporting Buildings, by Nick Haynes.

The purpose of the book is 'to celebrate the divers range and outstanding quality of historic purpose-built sporting architecture that exists across the country'.

The book is not long at 108 pages, but it is crammed full of illustrations in colour and black and white. Its format is a general introduction on Scotland's sporting history followed by shorter sections on each of a list of sporting activities beginning with archery and ending with tennis, racquets, and squash.

The place of Scotland's two 'national games', golf and curling, is emphasised in the introduction, and each has its own chapter following.

The emphasis is on the buildings which accompanied each sport. Naturally there is more continuous history of, say, golf and bowling clubhouses, than there is of curling houses because the former sports have maintained their buildings whereas curling has more or less departed from its ancient outdoor ponds and rinks and become an indoor sport played in ice rinks.

Nonetheless, the rear cover of the book sports a fine picture in colour of the 'Thomson Tower' in Duddingston, as the ancient curling house designed in 1826 by Edinburgh's foremost architect of the day, William H Playfair, is nowadays improperly called. It is worth telling the story of the tower, which one looks for in vain in the book. It is that the Duddingston Curling Society whose favourite ice was that of Duddingston Loch, which bordered the manse glebe and garden, got the permission of the minister to have their curling house erected on the glebe. The minister, the Rev. John Thomson, who was a keen, keen landscape painter as well as a curler, gave permission on condition that the upper storey of the two storey curling house should be referred to always as 'Edinburgh' and used as the minister's studio, so that his family and staff could tell inquirers that the minister was 'in Edinburgh', when in fact he was indulging his artistic passion.

There is an early, nineteenth century photograph of the making of curling stones by hand in Kay's factory at Mauchline, and a wonderful picture of The Royal Patent Gymnasium at Canonmills, Edinburgh. This little known sporting structure was designed for 'the promotion of healthful and exhilarating exercise' and among its many machines and contraptions, contained a vast 'rotary boat' 471 feet in diameter, seated for 600 rowers. I mention the gymnasium for it also included a curling rink, very close to the site of the pond on which David Allan painted the curlers at the end of the eighteenth century in the water colour painting belonging to the Royal Club.

From the curler's point of view perhaps of most interest are the colour photographs of the curling houses of Abdie CC, Aberlady CC at Gosford, Banchory CC, Easter Balmoral CC (the Queen's), and Partick CC, all of them listed by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, and therefore likely to remain as icons of the earlier days of curling's history.

We are very grateful for Nick Haynes's permission to reproduce the photographs which follow.

The interior of the Abdie Curling Club House, Lindores Loch, Fife.

Aberlady Curling Club House, Gosford House.

Banchory Curling Club Hut, Burnett Park, Banchory.

Easter Balmoral Curling Pavilion.

Partick Curling Club Pavilion, Victoria Park, Glasgow. There are more photos of this here.

The book may be purchased online, see here, and at all good booksellers.

The images of the curling houses are © Nick Haynes

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Sculptured Relief by Rolf Brem

by David B Smith

On a recent surf of the internet seeking items of curling interest I was quite surprised to see in a Swiss auction house's catalogue a modest sculptured relief of a modern curling scene. The relief was said to be made of 'Englischzement' and it was signed by the sculptor Rolf Brem.

It did not take long to ascertain that the piece had been modelled by one of Switzerland's most famous, popular, and prolific sculptors, whose long life had centred on the Swiss city of Lucerne. He had died in 2014.

There was lots of material by him on display on the net but as far as my researches went this was the only depiction of curling.

I therefore resorted to my old and faithful friend, Max Triet, who was until his retirement director of the Swiss Sport Museum in Basel, and with whom I had collaborated in putting on several historical exhibitions in Switzerland, including one in the old Olympic Museum in Lausanne, and one in the new.

He was very excited by my news and told me more about Brem than I really needed to know. He thought the 'guide price' was low for the artist but he said he would go to Zofingen, where the auction house was. When I protested about the cost he explained that he would use the Swiss equivalent of the Scottish bus pass and travel free by train.

On his return his excitement was unabated, but he was still of the view that the guide price was low and that I should not expect to buy it for even the top estimate. We discussed the price and he said he would attend the sale, and bid on my behalf if that seemed prudent.

He did, and I was very pleased at the result.

A few days later my pleasure was complete with the arrival in a very large but light box of the latest addition to my collection. When it emerged from its copious bubblewrapping I was exceedingly pleased – the more so because it also pleased Hazel, my wife.

The relief is 41cm by 15cm. I have been informed that 'English cement' (Englischzement) is a mixture of plaster, ground white marble and cement. The look of it is very like stone.

The composition is of a curler – right – who has thrown his stone - left – to where his colleagues and the house are shown.

It is always difficult to decide where a new work of art should be shown. We managed to place it in the dining room below a painting of an elderly man whose place above the mantelpiece was sacrosanct. The children would never forgive us for moving 'the Old Man'.

Images © David B Smith.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Naval Surgeon John Gibson, and Curling on the Columbia River in 1847

by Bob Cowan

It is often glibly stated that Scotsmen took the sport of curling wherever they went, especially in North America. It is rarely possible to document exactly when curling was first played in any given area. Here's an unusual story of how serving Royal Navy personnel played the sport in the Pacific Northwest in 1847.

On November 26, 1845, a Royal Navy warship crossed the bar of the Columbia River to sail upstream. No doubt the ship's captain, Thomas Baillie, progressed cautiously, as his charge, HMS Modeste, had damaged her rudder on a previous visit to the Columbia in the summer of 1844. This time all went well, and by November 29, 1845, HMS Modeste was safely anchored 100 miles upstream, off Fort Vancouver, an outpost of the British Hudson's Bay Company.

HMS Modeste, a sail powered sloop of some 560 tons, had been built at Woolwich Dockyard and launched in October 1839. She carried eighteen guns and a crew of a hundred and twenty. She saw service in the Anglo-Chinese war (the first Opium War) in 1842, see here. Then in 1843 she was commissioned to the British fleet in the Pacific. In 1844 her captain was ordered to visit and report on British settlements on the Northwest Pacific Coast, which were mostly posts of the Hudson's Bay Company. Although a small vessel by Royal Navy standards, nimble enough to be capable of navigating the Columbia, she would have been a significant military presence at Fort Vancouver.

Some background is needed here. In the early nineteenth century, the modern-day US states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and most of the Canadian Province of British Columbia, were part of what Britain called the Columbia District, and what the United States called the Oregon Country. In 1818 the United States and Great Britain had agreed to a 'joint occupation' of the area in which citizens of both countries could settle.

The return visit of the Modeste to Fort Vancouver in November 1845 was a consequence of the election of James K Polk as the eleventh President of the USA earlier that year. Polk now claimed the entire Oregon area for the United States, from California northward to the southern boundary of what is now Alaska. Britain and the USA were on a path towards war. Positioning HMS Modeste at Fort Vancouver was an early example of what might be called 'gunboat diplomacy', and was a warning that Britain was not prepared to give up the area without a fight. The reality was that neither country was prepared to go to war over the disputed territory. A compromise was eventually agreed, with Britain accepting the 49th parallel as the northern US border, excluding the southern tip of Vancouver Island. The deal to resolve the 'Oregon Question' was sealed on June 15, 1846.

Although the danger of war had receded, HMS Modeste remained anchored off Fort Vancouver for a second winter, that of 1846-47. One reason for this was that it took time for Captain Baillie to be reassured on the details of the political agreement, in the days when information had to be conveyed across the miles by sea. That winter was a severe one, and the Modeste was icebound on the Columbia. One has to imagine that keeping morale high among the crew was difficult. Captain Baillie and the ship's officers and crew needed to stay on cordial terms with the Americans, as well as those associated with Fort Vancouver. It is recorded that the British crew put on plays several times; there was a ball, and horse races. The log also records that curling matches were played!

John Gibson, the ship's surgeon, sent a letter to the Secretary of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, back in Edinburgh, describing the curling activities. This letter was printed in the Royal Club Annual for 1847-48, and can be studied today. Gibson writes:

Columbia River, 27th January 1847
Dear Sir,
Knowing the interest which you take in the prosperity of our manly game, at home, as well as in foreign lands, I beg to acquaint you, that in this the Far West, upon the noble river Columbia, a friendly Match was yesterday played (the first in Oregon) between a party of the Officers of HMS Modeste, now frozen in, and of the Honourable the Hudson's Bay Company's Officers.

Gibson goes on to explain that one of the ship's marines had helped to procure suitable stones with which to play: "To procure stones of a proper shape, (Brother Masons being as yet scarce in this corner of the Globe,) was a difficulty at first; but by the aid of a Marine of the Ship, a kind of Cowan, I was enabled to muster a few, which although minus the polish of surface and handle, yet they led well up to the tee."

(A 'Cowan' in this context probably meant someone who had worked in stone, such as a drystane dyker.)

Gibson describes a series of three games. On one side there was the team representing HMS Modeste (Captain Baillie, Lieutenant Coode, Gibson himself, and Mr Grant, a midshipman) against the Hudson's Bay Company team (Dr Barclay, and Messrs Lowe, Sangster, and Grahame). Each game was the first to 21 points. The Modeste team won the first match, the Hudson's Bay team won the second. The Modeste side won the third. The rink was 32 yards in length, and Gibson describes the matches with these words, "The ice was roughish, with occasional snow showers, but the sooping being well attended to, I assure you that shots were taken by some of the parties, sons of 'keen keen curlers' at home, that would be no disgrace to our crack clubs."

The games were considered a great success. Afterwards, the participants dined on board the ship with traditional curlers' fare of 'beef and greens' and plans were laid for the formation of a curling club.

Can we say anything of those who took part? Captain Thomas Baillie, who was from Earlston in the Scottish Borders, continued to serve with distinction in the Royal Navy, reaching the rank of Vice-admiral. Lieutenant Coode is likely to be Trevenen Penrose Coode (see here), who went on to have his own commands. On the Hudson's Bay Company roster, the Dr Barclay would have been Dr Forbes Barclay, originally from the Shetlands, and there is much about him here.

There would seem to be little doubt that John Gibson, Modeste's surgeon, was the curler with the most experience of the group, and probably the instigator of the curling activities. He joined the Doune Curling Club in 1835, some years before he was appointed to the Modeste in 1843. On his return from the Pacific Northwest he served as the surgeon on the convict ship Scindian in 1850, and again on the Minden in 1851, both three month voyages to Western Australia. The National Archives has a document commending his 'judicious treatment of convicts'.

He married, and set up home in Doune, in Kilmadock Parish. His enthusiasm for curling continued, and by 1849, he was already one of the two representative members of Doune Curling Club to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Sadly he died suddenly on October 10, 1858, aged just 52, leaving behind his wife, and three young children, twins aged two, and a year-old son. The Stirling Observer of October 14, 1858, in recording his sudden death, describes his as 'one of our most active and intelligent townsmen'.

Perhaps you know more about Gibson, and the others who are named in the 1847 games: Midshipman Grant, and the Hudson's Bay Company officers, Lowe, Sangster and Grahame? Let me know if you do.

A report of the curling matches appeared in the Oregon Spectator, the very first newspaper published west of the Missouri. It had been going for just a year in Oregon City, see here.    

The report of the curling matches was on page 3 of the issue of February 4, 1847. Thanks to the website of the University of Oregon Libraries, this newspaper can be read in its entirety (see here), and the curling piece extracted, above.

This newspaper clipping confirms the detail in John Gibson's letter to the Royal Club (other than suggesting that the rink was just 22 yards in length, rather than 32 yards). It does contain an additional piece of information about the proposed 'Vancouver Curling Club'. As with many curling clubs back in Scotland, it was to have a patron, P S Ogden. This has to have been Peter Skene Ogden, the most senior representative of the Hudson's Bay Company in the area. His life story is a fascinating read, see here. For example, Ogden, Utah, is named after him, and was the venue for the curling competition in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games!

In 1847, according to the Oregon Spectator, Ogden says, "... and we doubt not, but in the winters to come, the 'roaring game' will have a place in the pastimes and diversions of Oregon."

Ogden's prediction did not come about immediately. HMS Modeste left Fort Vancouver on May 3, 1847, to return to Britain. The importance of Fort Vancouver to the Hudson's Bay Company diminished as more and more Americans settled in the area, and on June 14, 1860, the Company abandoned Fort Vancouver and moved its operations north of the border. It is not recorded if any of the American settlers took part in curling matches in January 1847. The fact that the 'Vancouver Curling Club' did not survive, suggests perhaps that they did not. (That club name should not be confused with British Columbia's 'Vancouver Curling Club' which dates from 1912. Fort Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver are all named after Captain George Vancouver, who charted much of the Pacific Northwest at the end of the eighteenth century, see here.)  

Curling did not return to the Oregon area until 1962, see here, and Ogden's predictions DID eventually come true. Last year (2013), as curling's popularity continued to increase throughout the USA, the Evergreen Curling Club opened a dedicated three-sheet facility in Beaverton, Oregon. The club is well aware of the matches in 1847 and on June 12, 2007, staged a reconstruction of the event!

This photo, from the Evergreen CC's website, was composited by Gary Stasiuk, and there are more photos here. We wish the club continued success!

Note. The following documents and websites have been useful in understanding the political context of the positioning of HMS Modeste in 1847: 'The Royal Navy and the Oregon Crisis, 1844-1846' by Barry M Gough, which can be downloaded from here; and 'HMS Modeste on the Pacific Coast 1843-47: Log and Letters', an article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, Volume 61, No 4 (December, 1960), pp 408-436, found here. The history of Fort Vancouver is here.

Thanks to Eileen Kamm for assistance. 

ADDED LATER (13/8/2014)

Bruce Irvin, the President of the Evergreen Curling Club, has been in touch with the following additional information.

There's a photo of Dr Forbes Barclay, with one of his grave and headstone, here.

According to History of Oregon, 1886-1888, by Hubert Howe Bancroft , p 576, Midshipman Grant's full name was Charles Grant.

Apparently T P Coode was something of an artist as shown here and here.

Lowe was Thomas Lowe, clerk at Ft. Vancouver who served as chief accountant at the post during most of the 1840s. He kept an extensive diary that has been used for restoration efforts by the National Park Service. (Bruce wonders whether any of his early 1847 journal entries mention curling.) Lowe was a Scot, originally from Coupar Angus, Perthshire. A short biography of him is contained within the biography of Francis Ermatinger. When the California gold rush started in 1849, Thomas Lowe deserted the Hudson's Bay Company for California to form Allan, Lowe and Company, commission merchants in San Francisco.

The brief biography of Mr Lowe also mentions another of the curlers, James Allan Grahame, born in Edinburgh in 1825. The two were brothers-in-law having both married daughters of retired Hudson's Bay Company officer James Birnie. Grahame was also a clerk at Ft. Vancouver, became a silent investor in Allan, Lowe and Co., rose quickly through the ranks at Ft. Vancouver, became head and chief trader until the fort was handed over to the Americans in 1860. He continued his career with the Hudson's Bay Company in British Columbia.

Sangster probably was James Sangster the clerk in charge of pilotage at Ft. Vancouver. Apparently Sangster was from Port Glasgow. He later moved to Victoria, BC where he was pilot, harbormaster, collector of customs and Victoria's first postmaster. He committed suicide in 1858. Sangster Elementary school in Victoria, BC is named for him.

Many thanks to Bruce for this information.

The article by Gregory Shine, 'A Gallant Little Schooner: The US Schooner Shark and the Oregon Country, 1846', see here, provides background from an American perspective, and also provides detail about the difficulties on navigating the Columbia River at that time.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Grand Match at Linlithgow 1848

by Bob Cowan

This week has seen Charles Lees's painting of the Grand Match at Linlithgow Loch, beautifully restored, go on display in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh as part of the 'Playing for Scotland: The Making of Modern Sport' exhibit. It is on loan to the Gallery from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

To celebrate this, here is the story of the actual Grand Match depicted in the painting!

The first Grand Match of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club had been successfully held in January 1847 at Penicuik Pond, after three mild winters. A second such contest was eagerly anticipated, and arrangements were put in place when the Grand Match committee met in Edinburgh, on Thursday, December 30, 1847. The meeting resolved that the Grand Match should be played again between curlers from the North and the South sides of the River Forth, as it had been earlier that year at Penicuik.

It was decided that the second Grand Match should take place at Linlithgow on Friday, January 28, 1848, but should the state of the weather afford ice at an earlier date, then it should go ahead then.

On January 19, the Grand Match committee met again, and forty-three rinks from the North were ballotted to play against the same number from the south, although no fewer than 171 rinks had applied from South of the Forth. The extra 128 rinks were ballotted to compete against each other to take part in a President v President-Elect match. Not all the ballotted rinks mustered on the day though, as will be noted below.

The match took place on Tuesday, January 25, 1848. It was a beautiful day, a blue sky, and cold. The ice had a slight covering of dry snow. The conditions could not have been better.

The Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1848-49 contains the results of all the matches and also the following 'Report of the Grand Match'. In the days before cameras and smart phones, it fell to the anonymous writer of this report to paint a picture with words of the happenings of the day!

"The 25th of January 1848—a day which will long be pre-eminently memorable in the Curling Annals of Scotland—having been fixed upon by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club as that on which the Grand Match was to 'come off' between the Curlers of the North and those of the South side of the Forth; and Queen Mary's loch, a beautiful expanse of water in the immediate vicinity of the ancient burgh of Linlithgow, having been selected as the spot on which this great contest for the palm of superiority was to take place, a vast national gathering of the heroes of the Broom—certainly by far the most numerous that ever congregated—assembled at this place. As regards its geographical and central position, its easiness of access from all parts of the country, by means of railway connection; its ample and extensive capability to accommodate the large assemblage of Curlers and spectators who might be expected to turn out on the occasion, a spot more appropriate or better calculated for the purpose, could scarcely have been chosen.

At an early hour, and during the whole course of the forenoon, the Members of the Royal Club, which now numbers in its ranks upwards of 8000, might be observed pouring from all parts of the country, far and near, into the quiet town of Linlithgow; every train, both from east and west, as it arrived at the station, disgorging some hundred combatants, fully accoutred with stones and besoms. Numerous vehicles, besides, of all descriptions, loaded with passengers, came rattling in through every inlet to the town. From the position which we occupied, we had a very good opportunity of surveying the different groups as they arrived. First comes a band of strapping lads from the hills, with their plaids and broad blue bonnets, the very beau ideal of Scottish peasantry. Next comes a party who, from the ruddy glow of their cheeks, and their big top coats, are evidently south country farmers, come up to fight for the honour of the Loudons. Here again is a lot of spruce-looking brethren of the rink, evidently from Edinburgh; they are the Merchiston Club, who have the honour to claim Prince Albert as a Member. Another train arrives with a fresh batch of Curlers, among whom we distinguish the Noble President-Elect of the Royal Club, the Duke of Athole, at the head of his four Rinks of Highlanders; and never did one of his illustrious ancestors fight more stoutly for name and for fame than did His Grace that day for the honour of the North.

The muster being now completed, the Skip of each Rink, after receiving his note of instructions, marched off with his troops to the scene of action, while every eye beamed with joyous anticipation of a 'roaring game'. Thirty-five Rinks from the North, and the like number from the South, constituted the Grand Match between the North and South sides of the Forth. The South side having mustered in greater numbers than the North, were formed into another great Match, consisting of fifty Rinks a side, and designated, respectively, the President's and President-Elect's party. Numerous other rinks were made up by amateurs not belonging to the Royal Club. The whole field amounted in all to about 130 rinks (consisting of 8 players each) so that altogether, including the immense concourse of spectators who had assembled, some from great distances, to witness this interesting trial of skill in our favourite national game, there could not be fewer, at one time, than 6000 persons scattered over the surface of this magnificent sheet of ice.

His capricious Majesty, John Frost, by putting his veto for some years past upon public meetings on the slippery board, though convened for the most legitimate and constitutional purposes, and by having treated the prayers, petitions, and complaints of his liege subjects, with the most sovereign contempt, seems to have been meditating an abridgement of the liberties and privileges of his devoted people. Such an attempt was not to be tolerated; discontent, insubordination, and desertion, were beginning to manifest themselves among his troops; and having received from certain quarters a premonitory hint of what was likely to be (and has eventually been) the result of similar proceedings elsewhere, the sulky Arch Monarch prudently altered his intention in time, came down from his high throne, and at last abandoned his project altogether. Accordingly to make amends for previous neglect, His Majesty on this occasion came out in great strength, appeared in person 'with all his frozen honours thick upon him', and took up a position on the bartizans of the old Palace of Linlithgow from which he might enjoy a full and uninterrupted view of the 'doughty deeds of arms' performed by his valorous combatants on the glassy plain below.

In the whole annals of curling, there never was a more propitious day, keener ice, or a more interesting locality for the exercise of this truly national game. The mist which hung over the loch in the morning had given way to the glowing effects of a glorious sun who was shining now in all his splendour, and whose golden rays refracted prismatically in the glittering and pearly fringework with which every tree, and every shrub, and every plant was luxuriantly adorned, in honour, no doubt, of the presence of the hoary monarch, shed a lustre and a brilliancy all around that was truly enchanting. The loch, which was covered slightly with a sprinkling of dry powdery snow, to the depth of an inch or so, and just sufficient to enable the players to keep their feet with safety, and to give occasional employment to the 'sooping department', had been laid out and prepared for upwards of 150 rinks, and every precaution had been taken to provide against the possibility of accident from the ice giving way, by the distribution of life buoys, ropes, and ladders, in every direction, under the charge of a detachment of police, specially engaged for the occasion.

The report of a gun, the appointed signal for preparation, was now heard. All was bustle and motion; the individuals composing the collected multitude, hurrying to and fro, over the broad expanse, to occupy the various positions allotted to them. Order, however, soon took place, and the immense mass gradually resolved itself into separate distinct groups formed of the different rinks, who, with their Skips at their head, awaited with intense anxiety the word of command to 'set to'. At this moment, the scene, to a spectator, was animating and exciting beyond description. Presently another discharge from the ruined battlements of the ancient palace gave the expected signal, and in the same instant, the deep roll of a hundred ponderous stones sent booming up the Rinks, mingling and dying away in the distance, with the receding echoes of the discharged artillery, produced an effect truly grand. Then on every side might be heard:

That music dear to a Curler's ear,
And enjoyed by him alone,
The merry clink of the Curling rink
And the boom of the roaring stone.

Taking a survey through the different Rinks you might here and there observe the titled peer and the hardy peasant,—the belted knight and the honest ploughman,—the Reverend Doctor and the Minister's Man, all promiscuously engaged in the friendly contest; title and station giving no other distinction than that derived from superiority of skill in the game, —for it is a marked and peculiar characteristic of this manly sport, that its votaries meet on the Ice upon a footing of the most perfect equality and fraternity that the reddest and most ardent republican could desire. Passing along you might hear some honest broad-bonnetted Skip bawling out ' Canny noo, Sir John, play canny and drap a gaird on this stane; the sorro's in the man! he's raging like a lion."

Another sharp-eyed carle cries out, "Come up here, my Lord, between Tam Gladstane and the Cornel, there's plenty of room to draw a shot ;—I like you man, I like ye, she's bonny, bonny—weel dune, my Lord, ye're the shot—ye 're a perfect pat-lid man." " Be up amang them here, Doctor," shouts a decent looking elder to his worthy pastor, "and outwick Jamie Tamson,—tut, tut, ye want heels, whar's your pith the day, Doctor; I see ye're keepin' your pouther for the poopit on Sunday." And thus the joke and the play went on, all, however, in the most perfect good humour, the banners under which they fought being inscribed "Rivalry and Good Fellowship."

Around every Rink were gathered a group of interested spectators who had assembled from various quarters, and who certainly were not without their enjoyment in the sport, from watching the various turns of the game, and the unconstrained excitement of the players. The Rink which had the greatest number of bystanders was that which included the Duke of Athole, the President-Elect; and such is the genial influence of this manly game on the feelings of all engaged in it, that it would have been impossible, from his Grace's manner, to have known that he stood 'a peer of the proudest title' amongst the honest and independent but humble sons of industry and toil with whom he was mated.

The contest raged with 'various success' over every portion of the ample loch from 12 till half past 3 o'clock, when another discharge of musketry announced the close of the game. The different Skips, according to previous orders, immediately repaired to head quarters to report the result of the game in their respective Rinks, and after a little time spent in summing up, the Secretary reported, amid the shouts and huzzas of the victorious party, that the Curlers of the South had beaten their opponents, in the aggregate, by a majority of 106. We beg to refer, for the particular result of each Rink, in both Matches, to the tables given in pages 18, and 19 of the present Annual. *

In concluding these remarks, we must not omit to mention, that the arrangements made by the Secretary and the Local Committee, were most judicious. Nor must we forget the kindness of Provost Dawson, in allowing the free use'of his fields bordering upon the Loch, and of Mr Scott in giving up for several days the use of the water of the Loch for his mills,—nor the attention shown by the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Company, in placing Special Trains at the disposal of the Dinner party in the Evening.

Finally, the kind and courteous manner of the noble President-Elect throughout the whole day, were such as to endear him to every keen Curler."

The Grand Match results are below. Was your club involved? In 1848, some 170 clubs were member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

In each case the team from the North is written first. The name is that of the skip, with the club name in brackets. In some cases only the surname is listed. In one case, that of Largo, the name of the skip is not recorded.

1. John Drysdale (Dollar and Devonvale) 14, John Piper (Penicuik) 20
2. James Sharp (Dunblane)15, Allan Pollok junior (Mearns) 20
3. Daniel Macrobie (Bridge of Allan) 18, - Cowan (Corstorphine) 22
4. - McLaren (Ardoch) 11, Wm Dalgleish (Avondale) 22
5. J W Williamson (Kinross) 7, - Wilson (Buchan) 29
6. John Milne (Dunkeld) 21, Jas Guild (Cumbernauld) 26
7. Matthew Barr (Bridge of Allan) 26, D Hoggan (Banknock) 22
8. Alex Cowie (Torry) 22, Henry Shanks (Bathgate) 19
9. Robert Paterson (Doune) 16, Wm Spence (Northwoodside) 15
10. Rev J Gilchrist (Abdie) 19, M Hay (Banknock) 28
11. David Anderson (Balyarrow) 28, Andrew Wright (Corstorphine) 15
12. John Braynion (Ardoch) 25, Robert R Glen (Linlithgow) 9
13. Thomas Saunders (Alloa Prince of Wales) 13, J W Gray (Merchiston) 24
14. Hugh McLaren (Alloa) 16, A Prentice (Cambusnethan) 30
15. Andrew Walker (Cupar) 29, Archd Thomson (Buchan) 13
16. Wm Thomson (Coldoch) 11, Wm Morrison (Grahamston) 17
17. D C Macdonald (Dunkeld) 8. T Stodart (Newlands Water) 25
18. The Duke of Athole (Dunkeld) 17, John Coubrough (Airth and Bruce Castle) 17
19. -- -- (Largo) 10,  P Gemmil (Rowallan) 28
20. Robert Douglas (Dunblane) 30, John Ferguson (Hamilton) 13
21. Alex Monteath (Ardoch) 19, Dr Wilson (Whitehill) 12
22. James Forbes (Doune) 27, James Smith (Avondale) 13
23. Thomas Law (Inverkeithing St Margts) 19, H Caldwell (Paisley Union) 19
24. John Reid (Dunblane) 29, Jas Mossman (Uphall) 17
25. George Todd (Kinross) 19, R Drennan (Linlithgow) 21
26. John Robertson (Dollar and Devon Vale) 5, G Glendinning (Buchan) 30
27. A Mitchell (Alloa) 12, John Fleming (Bathgate) 26
28. D Monro (Bridge of Allan), 16, Thos Cuningham (Currie) 23
29. Wm Stirling (Dunblane) 24, John Gibb (Linlithgow Junior) 21
30. J Wright (Bridge of Allan) 17,  Bailie Landels (Linlithgow) 20
31. John Dewar (Doune) 19,  Archd Hunter (Buchan) 19
32. John Balfour (Doune) 18, Wm. Boak (Merchiston) 17
33. J Duncan (Tullibody) 10, Dr Simpson (Kirknewton) 25
34. Wm Robertson (Dunkeld) 15, Thos Lawson (Newlands Water) 27
35. A Seton Stewart (Alloa) 21, B Scott (Linlithgow Junior) 28.

Total for the North 626, for the South, 732. Majority for the South, 106.

The club with the highest score on the winning side was Buchan, and that on the losing side was Dunblane.

The results of the further fifty games in the President v President-Elect match can be found in the Annual for 1848-49.

Top photo © Bob Cowan

Friday, May 23, 2014

The 'Manly Game of Balls': A Substitute for Curling in 1846

David Smith writes:

Until the arrival in Scotland of indoor ice rinks, the ice of which was made by machine and did not depend on the climate, there was a continuous search for ways to provide more curling. Perhaps the most successful was John Cairnie's 'artificial rink', in which a thin skin of ice was sprayed onto an impermeable surface. Since a thin skin of ice could be created almost whenever there was a bit of frost this invention proved very popular. It has been calculated that a well-situated Cairnie rink could quadruple the number of curling days. Cairnie, the first President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, had sought to popularise his invention by the publication in Glasgow in 1833 of his book, An Essay on Curling and Artificial Pond Making.

The laird of Morrishill beside Beith, Alexander Shedden, who was a keen sportsman, created a Cairnie-type rink which was used for curling in the winter. That did not give him as much curling as he wished and so he devised a game which was to be played on this rink outdoors but did not need even a degree of frost. The rink he used was composed of a bottoming of large stones, which were covered with a stratum of rotten-rock, covered by a layer of engine ashes and freestone sand well mixed. This was meticulously levelled.

The location of this artificial curling rink can just be seen in this screenshot from the Ordnance Survey, 25 inch to the mile map, first edition, published in 1858, as found on the National Library of Scotland maps website here.

The rink was situated between the walled garden and the boundary wall of the estate, as identified in this article.

The 'stones' which Shedden designed for outdoor use on this rink were spherical in form, the body of wood covered all over with a skin of copper, or tin. It was necessary to balance each ball and this was done by floating them in water. Balls which had a core made from lignum vitae had to be balanced by floating them on mercury for that wood is heavier than water. After various attempts at throwing these balls it was found that a spring handle answered the purpose admirably.

We are fortunate that Chance has preserved for us an example of one of these balls in the Dick Institute at Kilmarnock. Click here to see a photo.

Also preserved are one or two copies of a publication, entitled Report of Dinner and Presentation to Alexander Shedden, Esq. of Morrishill, 17th February 1846. This was printed by John Smith and Son, Beith.

The dedication of the Report is to Mrs Shedden. The spring-loaded handle is shown in an illustration of one of the 'balls'. What the precise purpose of the brush was is not mentioned.

The Report narrates in considerable detail the names of persons attending the dinner, and the reasons for holding the dinner and making the presentation. It began: “A number of Curlers, and others in the parish of Beith, anxious to convey some expression of their esteem and regard towards Alexander Shedden, Esq, of Morrishill, for the uniform kindness he has ever displayed in inviting them to join with him in the various games he has so liberally promoted within his grounds, foremost among which is 'Scotland's Ain Game'; and also for the talent and ingenuity he has exhibited, not only in inventing, but bringing to perfection an entirely new game, which being played on an artificial rink prepared for the purpose, can at all times be practised, and is an excellent substitute for curling."

Alexander Shedden was entertained at a public dinner, on Tuesday, February 17, 1846, on which occasion he was presented with an elegant silver jug.

“The party was purposely of a select nature, but upwards of 60 gentlemen, comprising the most influential and keenest curlers of the district, sat down to an excellent dinner provided by Mr Kennedy of the Saracen's Head Inn, Beith. Hugh Brown, Esq, of Broadstone in the chair...”

The Report's description of the new game meant that, “The announcement of its success, a success practically proved, and warmly acknowledged by the keenest and most experienced curlers of the district, would not be unacceptable to their curling and sporting friends at a distance, who had neither the opportunity of seeing the rink, or hearing its construction and double use fully explained.”

At the dinner and after the presentation to him of a silver jug, appropriately engraved, and bearing on its lid a statuette of a man – presumably the laird himself – preparing to throw one of his new 'stones', Alexander Shedden, in the course of replying to the toast in his honour, displayed one of his balls, 10 inches in diameter and weighing 23 lbs and explained, “My idea always was, that a substitute game might be got up, and my argument in favour of this was, that if one could produce a thoroughly level surface, a perfectly round Ball, and equally balanced, it would be as unnatural for a ball so adjusted to depart from a direct line, when once set in motion on a perfect level, as for a stone to move out of a perpendicular dropped from a height...”

An illustrated page from the publication, a celebration of the Roaring Game and its conviviality. At the bottom is depicted the natural pond at Morrishill.

After many toasts, as was the custom at that period, the proceedings were concluded by a speech from Mr William Paton, the oldest curler present. He said, “With regard to our worthy Guest's improvement; he has brought forward a set of balls, majestic in their appearance, and if a stranger was standing fifteen yards distant he would wonder how the balls were to be propelled. (Great cheering.) But, by the ingenuity displayed by our worthy Guest, there's a handle springs up from the bowels of the ball as if by magic, and when the ball is delivered, it recedes back into the ball by the same magic, just as it had come forth; (cheers) and, gentlemen, at the word of command, 'Hocus pocus, fly, Jack, and begone!', it rolls away majestically to its destination. (Great cheering.)

That manly game of Balls is a substitute for curling, and has been brought forward by Alexander Shedden, Esq, and in my opinion, as a curler for the last fifty years, it comes as nigh curling as anything that has been produced...”

By David B Smith

Illustrations are courtesy of the author 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Theft of Olympic Curling Medals

The Curling Connections exhibition in Dumfries Museum has been a great success. But last night the museum was broken into, and a number of items stolen. These include the two Olympic Gold Medals that were the star attractions of the exhibition, from the 1924 and 2002 curling competitions.

The former was on loan from the Scottish Curling Trust, and the latter from Rhona Martin. The local police are keen to trace three individuals seen running away from the museum around 10pm last night. They were last seen on Rotchell Road heading in the direction of Park Farm. If you were in the area around this time or saw any suspicious activity, please call the police on 101 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Needless to say here, the loss of Rhona's medal is heartbreaking. Click here to see what it looks like.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Curling Connections

The Dumfries Museum was founded in 1835 as an astronomical observatory and museum in a stone windmill built about 1790 on Corberry Hill. A Camera Obscura in the tower is still a popular attraction. The main hall of the museum was built in 1862 and houses collections from all over Dumfries and Galloway.

The museum is worth a visit at any time, but from today until June 15, there is a special exhibition, 'Curling Connections', celebrating that Dumfries Ice Bowl is the venue for the World Seniors and the World Mixed Doubles Curling Championships. The exhibition examines the social importance of curling and reveals the contribution to the development of the sport made by the people of Dumfries and Galloway.

As well as local items, some of the rarest artifacts from the history of the sport have been brought together for this exhibition. Display boards and descriptive labels tell the story.

More modern memorabilia, on loan from some of the region's 'local heroes', is also on show.

My pick as the star attraction? Seeing the first Olympic Winter Games gold medal awarded for curling in 1924, alongside the gold medal won by Rhona Martin in 2002!

There's spectacular video footage to watch. And any children will find there are lots of activities for them to do too.

Almost the whole team was in action yesterday to set out the final display showing the 'evolution' of the curling stone, with a variety of examples to ponder over. The workers were: (Back L-R) Kayleigh (museum intern), J-P (museum attendant). Front: Siobhan (museum curator), Joanne (museums officer) and Catherine (museums officer).

And here's how this area of the exhibition looked with just hours to go to the (soft) opening today. World Curling Federation President Kate Caithness will be the guest of honour at the official opening on April 22. The exhibition will run until June 15.

Photos and text by Bob Cowan

Friday, April 04, 2014

Olympic gold medal to star at Curling Connections

by Bob Cowan

Arrangements are well in hand for the Curling Connections exhibition in Dumfries Museum, set to open on April 18. The exhibition, featuring many aspects of curling's history, runs in parallel with the World Seniors and World Mixed Doubles championships with their slogan of 'Bringing Curling Home'.

The exhibition will emphasise local Dumfries and Galloway associations with curling over the centuries. A huge variety of items has been brought together for the exhibition which is being co-ordinated by Siobhan Ratchford and her curatorial team at the Dumfries Museum, with much input from local curler and former Scottish Champion Graeme Adam.

Many items to go on show have worldwide significance. For example, the Scottish Curling Trust has loaned an Olympic Gold Medal, one of two owned by the Trust which were awarded to Willie and Laurence Jackson, the skip and lead of the team which represented Great Britain in the first Olympic curling competition in Chamonix in 1924. This will be the first time in recent years that such a medal has been on public display!

The evolution of the curling stone will be well illustrated, and on display will be the Stirling Stone, the best known example of a loofie, the earliest type of curling stone, on loan from the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

These are just two examples. I won't spoil the surprise by describing any other exhibits. Suffice to say that you won't be disappointed!
Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum
Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum

My own interest in the history of curling was ignited when I visited a display in the Perth Museum during the 1975 Silver Broom. Hopefully, Curling Connections will similarly enthuse visitors. The exhibition will run for a while after the events at the Ice Bowl are over - until June 15. Don't miss it!

Aside from my memories, I only have two images from that 1975 exhibition. This one has been rescued from a 35mm slide of the advert outside the Perth Museum.

And this is the only 35mm slide I have of the exhibition itself. I wonder if any more images from 1975 have survived anywhere?

The catalogue of the 1975 exhibition survives in this A4 booklet which has a ten page 'Introduction', written by David B Smith, an elegant summary of the sport's history.

Photos from the Bob Cowan archive