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The Life of Tom Morris
Chapter V - Early Players at St. Andrews


TOM'S occupation in Allan Robertson's shop was entirely that of ball-making. The making of the old "featheries" was a somewhat arduous task. They were made, as everyone who knows anything about the history of the making of golf balls is aware, by taking a lot of feathers it is said "a him hat" held about the quantity sufficient for making a ball and compressing them, handful after handful, into a little pocket of bull's hide, cured with alum.

"You were just like a kind o' shoemaker," said Tom to me lately, speaking of those far-off days, "for after you had filled them as far as the pocket could hold, pressed into as small a compass as possible, you had to sew them."

The shape thus assumed by the full and sewed-up pocket was more like an egg than the round sphere we are accustomed to associate with golf balls. They were by no means perfectly round. The feathers were obtained chiefly from farmyard poultry. A good workman could make about four feather balls in a day.

Of course, Tom would often have to be spared from his work to take part in matches with gentlemen of the Club who consulted Allan about a partner in a foursome, and also for the playing of single matches. And every now and again he would be matched either with or against Allan and some brother professionals. A very charming life in many ways it would be. He would get plenty of healthful exercise and pleasant recreation in the game he loved, and of which he was rapidly becoming such a first-class exponent. He "doesna mind" much about his earliest matches. But among the gentlemen he played with alone or along with Allan, there would be, besides the famous quartette I mentioned in the previous chapter, Colonel Oliphant of Rossie, grandfather of the late Mr T. T. Oliphant a family related collaterally at least to the Baroness Nairne, to Laurence Oliphant, and even to Mrs Oliphant, the distinguished novelist and most versatile and industrious of writers.

Colonel Oliphant lived in St Andrews for a long time. Here is how Carnegie speaks of him:

"But where is Oliphant, that artist grand?
He scarce appears among the golfing hand.
No doubt he's married; but when that befalls,
Is there an end to putters, clubs and balls?"

And, again, had they known the game:

"Mars, Jove, and Neptune would have studied golf,
And swiped like Oliphant and Wod below,
Smack over Hell at one immortal go!"

Then there is Mr Craigie Halkett:

"One who can
Swipe out, for distance, against any man.
But in what course the ball so struck may go
No looker-on not he himself can know."

And Major Holcroft:

"He's a steady hand
Among the best of all the golfing band;
He plays a winning game in every part
But near the hole displays the greatest art."

And Captain Cheapo:

"A sailor by profession,
But not so good at golf ;is navigation."

Then there was the French teacher, Mr Messieux, at the Madras College, whose feats in long driving are still remembered on the links:

"A noble player,
But something nervous, that's a bad affair,
It sadly spoils his putting, when he's press'd,
But let him be and he will beat the best"

Then there was Dr Moodie, a well-known medical practitioner in St Andrews, a stout little man with a face and complexion rightly or wrongly associated with the colour of port wine:

"There Dr Moodie, turtle-like, displays
His well-filled paunch, and swipes beyond all praise,
While Cuttkhill, of slang and chatter chief,
Provokes the bile of Captain George Moncrieffe."

"Cuttlehill" was Mr James Wemyss of Cuttlehill, known as "Flash Jim." He was laird of Cuttlehill near Dunfermline. He ran through his estate in early years, and resided for a considerable time at No. 3 Bell Street, St Andrews.

Carnegie thus writes of him:

"But Cuttlehill, that wonderful buffoon.
We meet him now no more, as wont, at noon;
No more along the green his jokes are heard,
And some who dared not then, now take the word.
Farewell! facetious Jem too surely gone
A loss to us Joe Miller to Boulogne."

Of the other early players of those days we shall get a good idea by reading what Carnegie says of them as depicted in the old golfing picture, entitled "The Finish of a Big Match," which we reproduce as an illustration. It is from a painting by Mr Charles Lees, R.S.A., engraved by C. E. Wagstaffe. The scene is at "the Ginger Beer" the fifteenth hole where matches in the old days used often to end and luncheon was taken. The figure of the tall man bending forward to see the fate of the ball is that of Sir David Baird, Bart., of Newbyth, whose acquaintance we have already made, and who, as Carnegie wrote:

"Can play
With any goiter of the present day."

Next to him, also with a tall hat, is the one who has evidently just made his putt. It is Major, afterwards to become Sir, Hugh Lyon-Playfair.

"That's Major Playfair, man of nerve unshaken,
He knows a thing or two or I'm mistaken;
And when he's pressed, can play a tearing game,
He works for certainty, and not for Fame!
There's none, I'll back the assertion with a wager,
Can play the heazy iron like the Major."

He was "a star at golf" and "skilled in many a curious" art

"As chemist, mechanist, can play his part,
And understands besides the power of swiping,
Electro Talbot and Daguerreotyping."

The little man with bent knees, and eyes so closely watching the progress of the ball, is Mr Thomas Patton, of Glenalmond, the first of "The Mushrooms" named by Carnegie in "Another Peep at the Links:"

"Now lor the mushrooms, old perchance or new,
But whom my former strain did not review;
I'll name an old one, Patton, Tom of Perth,
Short, stout, grey-headed, but of sterling worth;
A golfer perfect, something it may be
The worse for wear, but few so true as he;
Good-humour'd when behind, as when ahead,
And drinks like blazes till he goes to bed."

It was a match in which Tom Patton was engaged that gave rise to a famous contest between Allan Robertson and James Condie. Condie and Patton had obtained a handsome victory over Allan and Sir John Mackenzie. At dinner, alter the match was over, Mr Condie teased Allan about having a lot of good clubs with a poor player behind them. The result of this chaff was that Mr Condie and Allan betted clubs against each other for another round of the links. Let Mr Peter Baxter tell its story, as given in his excellent and compact little book on Golf in Perth and Perthshire. "Mr Condie was a great humorist, and completely put Allan off his usual game. The result was that Allan no sooner won back a club than he would lose two holes in succession, which caused the club to be again handed over to Mr Condie's caddie, and another along with it. Allan had rather a rueful countenance as the finish of the Perth course came into view. On driving to the last hole Allan had only his driver and his putter left. Had he been able to win he would have redeemed his iron, but instead he lost and his driver was claimed. Mr Condie insisted on Allan showing what he could do with his putter alone, and an extra hole out and back was played. Condie won the putter!' Surely you'll let me take one club home? ' pleaded Allan. 'No,' replied Mr Condie, and Allan's clubs remained in Perth, at least for one night."


Samuel Mesieux (who drove a ball 380 yards)

The last of the four players, drawing back his figure as if he would keep the ball from going into the hole, is Sir Ralph Anstruther, Bart., of Balcaskie.

"Sir Ralph returns he has been absent long
No less renown'd in golfing than in song;
With Continental learning richly stored,
Teutonic Bards translated and explored
A Literaire a German scholar now,
With all Grischia's honours on his brow!

The little caddie jumping with delight is Willie Pirie, and the tall one strenuously leaning forward is Sandy Pine, about both of whom I shall have something to say in my book on Caddies.


An exciting finish

There does not seem to be any indication as to who are the two men, whose heads and shoulders we only see, bending down behind Tom Patton. But immediately behind him is Colonel Murray Belches, of Invermay, who is commemorated to the present day in the handsome silver cross which is the first prize at the May Meeting of the Royal and Ancient Club. A little behind him and to the right, with bare head and hat in hand, is Mr James H. Dundas, W.S., and still further to the right and behind Dundas are Mr James Blackwood and Mr James Oliphant, W.S. Still further to the right, with the tall hat, is Sir N. H. Lockhart, Bart., Carnwarth, and behind him Mr Charles Robertson ("Cowling" Charlie). A little to the right in a group of six is John Campbell of Glensaddell, of whom we have heard, and at his shoulder, bareheaded, is Dr Henry Macfarlane, Perth, "The Young Doctor," as he was called. By Saddell's left shoulder, also uncovered, is Sir John Campbell of Aird. Behind him is Col. Moncrieife, subsequently "The General," and Robert Chambers, the famous publisher.

"Still George Moncrieffe appears the crowd beiore,
Lieutenant-Colonel Captain now no more;
Improv'd in everything, in looks and life,
And, more than all, the husband of a wife."

Colonel George Moncrieffe was the nephew of old Mrs Cheape, of Strathtyrum (Helen Moncrieffe), and lived much there. On leaving the Army he settled in St Andrews and lived at The Priory. In my early days he was known as General Moncrieffe, and was Provost of the city. He was the father of the popular General Moncrieffe, whom I lately saw at Sunningdale during the competitions for the News of the World prizes, looking not one day older than he did in the old St Andrews days; and of Mrs Curwen and Mrs Harriot, one of his twin daughters. The Priory, under the benignant sway of this well-known St Andrews family, was ever a centre of hospitality and kindness. The General was prominent as a citizen and as a member of the Club, though what Carnegie calls his choleric "bile" was sometimes in evidence.

The tall farthest back figure with the tall hat is Lord Viscount Valentia. The little girl is a seller of ginger-beer. Taking the glass from her is the Hon. Henry Coventry. Sitting beside him, leaning on his staff, is George Cheape of Wellfield. Looking over Mr Cheape's head is Willie Dunn, the golf club-maker, Musselburgh, destined to be one of Tom Morris's opponents. The big man in the tall hat behind him a little to the left is Mr W. Wood, Leith.

"Still portly William Wood is to be seen,
As good as ever on the velvet green.
The same unfailing trump."

To his left a little, club in hand, is Captain David Campbell. Behind him to the right is Mr W. Peddie of Black Ruthven. Patton's ("Tom of Perth")

"friend is Peddie, not an awful swiper,
But, at the putting, he's a very viper;
Give him a man to drive him through the green
And he'll be bad to beat, it will be seen.
Patton and Peddie, Peddie and Patton,
Are just the people one should bet upon."

Next to him and almost behind Mr Wood is Mr George Dempster of Skibo; then Mr Goddard of Leith, and the figure to the extreme right at the back is Mr Robert Patullo of Balhouffie, a small proprietor near Anstruther. He lived in Balfour House in North Street, and was a great "habitue" of the links:

"There young Patullo stands, and he, methinks,
Can drive the longest ball upon the links,
And well he plays the spoon and iron, but
He fails a little when he comes to putt."

Again:

"And good Patullo! he who drove as none,
Since him, have driven he is also gone!
And Captain Cheape, who does not mourn the day
That snatch'd so good, so kind a friend away!"

This exhausts those members of the group on the right hand of the foursome. In the distance a match is seen coming in. That there must be some good players in it may be inferred from the fact that it seems to have a considerable following. To the left of the picture St Andrews is seen in the distance. Of the group in the foreground to the extreme left is Sir John Muir Mackenzie of Delvine, Bart., and Sir John Murray Macgregor, Bart. The third member of the little group with the two ladies is Mr Tyndall Bruce of Falkland. He is looking "sideways" at the holing out. Sir Charles Shaw is standing far back, just beside the head of the horse which is ridden by a lady. Next to him, with a tall white hat, is Colonel Playfair, of St Andrews.

"See Colonel Playfair, shaped in form rotund,
Parade the unrivall'd Falstaff of the ground;
He laughs and jokes, plays 'what you like,' and yet,
You'll rarely find him make a foolish bet."

The tall, good-looking man in front of him, bareheaded, is the Earl of Eglintoun. Behind him the head only of Mr Robert Lindsay of Straiton can be seen. "Old Robert Lindsay" was the younger brother of the Earl Lindsay of Balcarres. He lived many years in the "east-most house" in South Street, St Andrews.

"Old Robert Lindsay plays a decent game,
Tho' not a golfer of enormous fame.
Well can he fish with minnow as with fly.
Paint, and play farthing-brag uncommonly.
Give jolly dinners, justice courts attend,
A good companion and a steady friend."

Behind him again, with the tall hat, is Mr James Hay of Leith. Bending down, a little more in the foreground, is the Earl of Leven and Melville. The figure behind and next to him is unmistakable. It is Allan Robertson. Right behind him, with the tall hat, is the well-known Sheriff Gordon, a great humorist in his day, whose wife was a daughter of Christopher North. To his right are John Sligo of Carmyle and Hamilton Anstruther. In the nearer foreground but behind, a little to the right of Allan, is Mr John Whyte Melville.

"There, to the left, I see Mount Melville stand
Erect, his driving putter in his hand.
It is a club he cannot leave behind,
It works the balls so well against the wind."

And again:

"Mount Melville still erect as ever stands,
And plies his club with energetic hands;
Plays short and steady, often is a winner,
A better Captain never graced a dinner."

The head without the hat is that of Lord Berridale, and to the right and behind him are Mr F. Blair of Balthayock, and the Master of Strathallan. The figure to the left of Sir Hugh Lyon-Playfair is that of John Grant of Kilgraston.

"But for John Grant, a clever fellow too,
I really fear that golf will never do!
Tis strange indeed, for he can paint and ride,
And hunt the hounds, and many a thing beside;
Amuse his friends with anecdote and fun;
But when he takes his club in hand he's done '

Stay! I retract! Since writing the above,
I've seen him play a better game, by Jove;
So much beyond what one could have believ'd,
That I confess myself for once deceived.
And if he can go on the season through,
There's still a chance that he may really do."

To the right of him, without his hat, is Mr J. Wolfe Murray of Cringlctic.

"Next comes a handsome man with Roman nose,
And whiskers dark Wolfe Murray, I suppose.
He has begun but lately, still he plays
A lairish game, and therefore merits praise;
Ask him when at his worst, and he will say,
'Tis bad, but Lord! how I play'd yesterday!'

Mr Wolfe Murray was long about St Andrews as a bachelor. He married the younger daughter of Mr Whyte Melville.

Next to him, tall hat in hand, is Colonel Ogilvie Fairlie of Coodham, a line-looking man, a splendid golfer and a great patron of Tom Morris. He was the brother-in-law of "Saddell," and often lived with him at The Priory.

"I've kept a man, in petto, for the last
Not an old golfer, but by few surpassed
Great Captain Fairlie! When he drives a ball
One of the hcsf, for he don't hit them all,
It then requires no common stretch of .sight
To watch its progress and to see it light."

Behind him is Mr John Hay of Morton, and underneath him to the right is John Balfour of Balbirnie, a large landed proprietor in File, and prominent business man in the county, which he contested for a seat in Parliament. He was Master of the Hounds, and a great golfer.

"Balbirnie and Makgill will both be good,
Strong, active, lathy fellows; so they should."

George Makgill is not in the picture. He was a nephew of Sir Hugh Lyon-Playfair. He was much about the links and was a fine type of a country gentleman.

Behind Mr Balfour is the Hon. David Murray. Then come John Stirling, St Andrews; James Condie of Perth; and so back to Col. Murray, Belches.


Tom Morris, Allan Robertson and others


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