HISTORICAL  SELECTION  OF  THE  BALLARAT  CHESS CLUB                                                                          


                                           "The Ballarat versus Geelong and Melbourne Matches in 1925-'26"

                                                                  "The Smokery"- the Ballarat Chess Club in 1932      

                                                        "The Ballarat Handicap Chess Tournament 1866-'67"

                         The Ballarat Champions 1966-2004


Compilation and Research in progress

 Bas van Riel


The 1856 Club.

The first Ballarat Chess Club was formed at Brun’s Cigar Divan on Monday, 16th June 1856.

The Ballarat Times reported this meeting on 18th June and as part of the account it published the rules and regulations of the new club. These are the first known rules of a Victorian chess club. The formation of the club was also reported in The Ballarat Star on June 19th 1856, but this issue of the paper no longer exists.

The Treasurer of the club was Mr.Tuckett.  Other names mentioned in the newspaper report of the meeting are Messrs. Pine, Hammond, Bunington, Morgan, Carter and Robertson, all of whom presumably became members. The published rules provide for a Treasurer and Secretary only. Since these two officers are often combined at this time Mr Tuckett may have been the sole official.

The club met three times a week at Brun’s Cigar Divan and the quarterly subscription was 1 pound.

It is unknown how long the 1856 club lasted. A number of chess clubs were founded in Victoria during the 1850’s (Melbourne 1851, 1855 and 1857, Geelong 1855, Beechworth 1857, Ararat 1859) but the constant movements of the population during the gold rushes mitigated against the clubs lasting for very long.

Chess World (1949) reported that it believed that the Ballarat Chess Club was the oldest chess club of Australia. It also said that Ballarat owes its accurate chess records to Mr.Nathan Spielvogel, who became secretary in 1893 and who also played interstate competition. The first Ballarat Chess Club is no exception and it seems to have petered out like the others.

The1865 Club.

It seems likely that the present club goes back to a meeting at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute on Tuesday, February 28th, 1865, when the Ballarat Chess and Draughts Club was founded with 35 members. The meeting was chaired by Mr.Daniel O’Connor who a few days later was to be elected the first President of the club.

Events moved fairly quickly. On Tuesday night the club was formed. On Friday night at a meeting of the Mechanics Institute Committee O’Connor introduced a delegation consisting of Messrs. C.Fisher and W.Marshall which applied for the use of a room at the Institute two evenings a week. The room was granted for use on Thursdays and Saturdays, provided the club paid the gas bills. On Saturday night, March 4th, 1865, a general meeting of the club was held where rules were adopted and the following committee elected: President-D.O’Connor; Vice-President- Dr.Richardson; Secretary/Treasurer-C.Fisher; Committee- Messrs Bolton, Kemp, Marshall, Pennell. Subscriptions were 2/6 per quarter for members of the Institute and 5/6 for non-members.

The club meeting-nights were set at 7.30p.m.

The club held a tournament in 1865-’66 which Chas Fisher won. There is a lot of information about this tournament recorded in the Ballarat Star, the Australasian and Bell’s Life in Victoria. The names of all players, progressive scores, some games and the first five placegetters: 1.C.Fisher; 2. C.M.Watson; 3.A.G.M’Combe; 4.C.Q.Kennedy; 5.W.H.Batten.

There was a dispute about the conduct of the tournament and a couple of letters appeard on the subject in April/May 1867 of Bell’s Life and the Australasian.

The top three players were an interesting lot.

Fisher was president of the Ballarat Chess Club 1867-? And he used to be one of the Vice-Presidents of the newly formed Victorian Chess Association in Sept.1877. He went on to become an Intercolonial player and editor of chess columns in the Sydney Mail (1878-’79) and the Australasian (1884-’85). His personal collection of press cuttings of his chess columns from both the Sydney and Melbourne papers is held in the MV Anderson Collection at the State Library of Victoria.

C.M.Watson, a Ballarat lawyer, was the father of the future Australian champion (C.G.M.Watson, champion in 1922 and 1931) while A.G.M’Combe played an important part in the early history of chess in Victoria. A former secretary of the Glasgow Chess Club, he triggered off the surge in chess activity in 1855/56 in Melbourne which led to the first tournament in Victoria (Melbourne 1856). After playing in the Ballarat tournament in 1867, he returned to Melbourne where he became editor of the Australasian chess column from 1867 until his retirement (in disgrace) in 1870.

There was another tournament in Ballarat in 1867 (in Smythedale, actually), won by Mr.T.Taylor, and the reference to the club started to die out since then. There is nevertheless a strong enough thread of evidence to enable us to track the club through to the beginning of last century.

A number of reports in the Ballarat Star newspaper of 1869 show a lively interest in chess at the time:

** The Ballarat Star 26th April 1869.

"The chess players of Ballarat noted with no little interest, a few weeks since, in the columns of the Australasian, a challenge from Mr.Burns, of the Melbourne Chess Club, to play any player in the colony, giving the odds of pawn and move, and assuming in his letter that he is the champion player of Victoria. Some of our Ballarat admirers of the game, while admitting this so far as Melbourne is concerned, seem very much to doubt Mr. Burns’ superiority over at least one of our local players, and to test the matter have had conveyed to Mr.Burns their willingness to match our local champion-Mr.Fisher-for a trophy of what value he pleases.

It now comes out that Mr.Burns can only play in Melbourne, and, in fact, that his challenge had some other object than to apply to the chess players of Ballarat. Now, a match to be played in Melbourne would, at least, occupy a fortnight; and very few indeed could for so long a time absent themselves from their business engagements. We would, however counsel Mr.Burns to abstain from any egotistical boasts of his prowess until he gives every opportunity to some noted provincial chess player to measure their strength with his"

The Ballarat Star 27th April 1869.

Letter to the editor from W.Simpson, Melbourne Chess Club.

"Sir,- Referring to the paragraph on this subject in your issue of 26th instant, will you permit me to state that I have received from some admirers of Mr.Burns’ play instructions to submit the following:-"Terms of proposed match at chess between Messrs Fisher and Burns:-1. The stake to be 100 pounds or upwards, 20 pounds being allowed to the player who has to leave home. 2. The player who first wins seven games to be the winner of the match. 3. To ensure the match being finished within a reasonable time, play to be continued every afternoon at six o’clock from the date of commencing the match (Sundays excepted), and on Saturday from two or three ‘clock, and each player to have two hours for making thirty moves, the time to be measured by hour-glasses.4. The match to be played either at the Mechanics’ Institute, Ballarat, or in the room of the Melbourne Chess Club, and no spectators except the umpires to be present, unless with the consent of the players.5. Two gentlemen to be appointed (one by each player) as umpires, to arrange preliminaries and decide disputes, with power to appoint a third in the event of their disagreeing.6. No game to be adjourned without the consent of both players and, in the event of adjournment, no analysis of the position to be allowed.7. The match to be played under the rules laid down in Staunton’s Praxis. Further, permit me to state that, as to the challenge of the odds of pawn and move, Mr.Burns has written me thus: "I am quite prepared to adhere to it in the case of any player, on the terms mentioned, namely- to give the pawn and move, and the match to be played at the Melbourne Club, for a trophy, if my opponent so desires." It is obvious that no match at odds and move could decide the championship; and your paragraph referred to is taken to be a challenge upon the part of the admirers of Mr.Fisher to contest the championship. Mr.Burns has personal objections to play for money; and the proposition to do so emanated from Ballarat and passed through me to Mr.Burns’ backers. Mr.Burns, however, in view of the excellent counsel given him at the conclusion of your paragraph, waives these objections; and I am fully authorised by his backers to conclude arrangements during my stay; and in sporting parlance, I am to be heard at the Royal George Hotel,-Yours etc "

After the references stop in the Australasian in 1872 there is the evidence of the Ballarat Directory for 1875 where chess and draughts are listed among the activities of the Mechanics Institute. Fisher returned to Ballarat in 1884 to give a demonstration of simultaneous play and the uproar caused when an official of the Institute turned the gas out on him was reported in the Ballarat Courier (21st March 1884)* and reprinted in Fisher’s column in the Australasian the following week.

N.Spielvogel noted in his compilation of the History of the Mechanics Institute, that in 1880 a chess club was formed and a room was set aside three night a week for the exclusive use of the chess club members.

The final reference for the 1800’s is in the Australian Chess Annual for 1896 where the full list of officials is given for the Ballarat Chess Club: President-J.L.Archer; Vice Presidents-J.Rickard, H.W.Crowe; Secretary-F.F.Gordon; Treasurer-R.R Clarke;

The Annual noted that "this is a club within the circle of members of the Ballarat Mechanics Institute and there is play daily".

With the club meeting at the Mechanics Institute in 1865, 1875, 1885 and 1895 it seems the Institute’s record would be a good source of information for further researches.

A publication by E.I Rosenblum in 1926 briefly described the Ballarat Chess Club and some of its more notable members. T.Taylor and W.Tullidge played in Interstate matches. Lampe played in the 1888 Congress. It mentioned that the club was revived on 12/12/1892 (N.Spielvogel) for 8 years. The club’s best result during those years was a drawn match against an almost full strength Melbourne Chess Club in 1894. Amongst it strongest players were J.Armstrong (3rd in the 1915 Victorian Championship and an Interstate player), N.Spielvogel (4th in the 1918 Victorian Championship and an Interstate player), and probably the best of them all Herbert Lockett, but business commitments kept him away from chess.

After 1900, the club faded away again but was reformed in 1926. Matches were played against Geelong and Melbourne. Players like Fletcher, Odlum, Kleinman, Hancock, Figgis, Barnard were devotees between 1900 and 1925.

*Ballarat Courier 21st March 1884

" A very grave act of discourtesy, not to say tyranny, was perpetrated last night at the Mechanics’ Institute chess-room. Mr. Fisher, the well-known intercolonial chess-player, an old Ballarat citizen, now of Melbourne, had come by appointment with the Mechanics’ players, to play all the tables at once, giving each opponent a knight. Before the play was finished, a member of the committee, Mr.Rawlings came into the room and put out the gas, saying he would not permit the play to continue beyond the usual hours. The room was full of members of the institute, all of whom took a great interest in the match, and several gentlemen offered to pay for any extra gas that might be consumed, fortifying their word by relighting the gas. Mr.Rawlings then ordered the gas to be turned off at the meter and the match was thus irretrievably broken up. An appeal was made that the small courtesy of permitting the match to continue ought to be conceded, but the appeal was rejected. We certainly think that, seeing that billiards, with some not perfectly desirable accompaniments, are permitted by the committee till midnight, the more innocent and more educative game of chess under such exceptional conditions as those of the match last night, should not have been prohibited; and we presume that the members of the institute will have something further to say upon the matter at the proper time. What Mr. Fisher’s report will be to the Melbourne Atheneum and chess players generally in that city, we leave to the evolution of events."


The Ballarat Times 18th June 1856

Australian Chess Lore Vol.II, 1982

Chess World 1st June 1949, p139

The Ballarat Star, June 19th 1856; 26/4/1869; 27/4/1869;30/4/1869;

The Ballarat Courier, March 21st, 1884

E.I Rosenblum, "70 years of Victorian Chess", 1926

The Australasian: 12/4/1884; Nov 1884; March 1885; 28/1/1885