The Argus, Saturday 14 October 1893
THE GAME OF BOWLS.
BY T. R.H.
Of the many pastimes imported intoVictoriafromGreat Britainprobably not one has taken firmer root than the game of bowls. It was introduced some 30 years ago at the instance of a few gentlemen, who, being no longer young, were anxious to have at command a means of out-door recreation which did not necessarily involve toil; and the introduction was effected without any flourish of trumpets. Indeed, nothing could, have been more quiet or unobtrusive. Nevertheless, the idea quickly caught on, Club after club was established-the rate being greater than one per year-with the result that now there are, within a radius of ten miles from the General Post-office, something like thirty bowling greens-charming areas of verdure, a great delight to the eye, and a source of immense enjoyment to those who use them. Within the limits of the city ofMelbourne, there are six bowling greens. Prahran has three, Fitzroy, South Melbourne, Hawthorn,Brighton, and Port Melbourne have each two.
And there is scarcely a metropolitan municipality without one. But the love of bowls is not confined toMelbourneand its suburbs. The game is played with great zest in all parts of the colony. In fact, there is hardly one considerable centre of population fromPortlandtoBendigo, from Ararat to Dandenong, without its bowling-green. Ballarat can boast of two. So that bowling has become quite an institution in the land. At a low computation, there must be something like two thousand bowlers inVictoria. Under these circumstances it cannot well be considered out of place, on the opening of a new bowling season, to lay before the public a few facts of interest relating to the game.
There is some obscurity as to the period when the game of bowls was first played inEngland. One writer on the subject asserts that it was in the thirteenth century, but this is not early enough, for Walter Besant, who, in his novel, St. Katherine’s by the Tower, speaks of a bowling-green which was in existence during the reign of King Stephen. Whatever may be the time when bowling originated, there is little doubt that it was a favourite pastime inEnglandduring the regime of the Tudors. There is no escape, from this conclusion in view of the number of allusions to the game contained in the plays of Shakespeare. In “The Tragedy of King Richard IV,” the following colloquy takes place between the Queen and one of her ladies in the Duke of York’s garden atLangley:
” Queen.-What sport shall we devise here in this garden to drive away the heavy thought of care?
“Lady.-Madame, we’ll play at bowls.
“Queen-‘Twill make me think the world is full of rubs, and that my fortune runs ‘gainst the bias.”
In ” Coriolanus,” Menenius Agrippa is made to speak thus to the Volscian sentinels :
” Sometimes, Like to a bowl upon a subtle ground, I have tumbled past the throw.”
In “Cymbeline,” Cloten complains of his bad fortune at bowls. Says he- .
“Was there ever man had such luck? When I kissed the ‘ jack’ upon an up-cast to be hit away!”
And in “The Taming of the Shrew,” Petruchio exclaims, after securing Katherina’s docility
” Thus the bowl should run, And not unluckily against the bias.”
The game has held in high esteem by those bold mariners of Devonshire who, in the time of Queen Elfrida, made the name of England feared and respected on the seas.’ Charles Kingsley, in his beautiful’ tale Westward Ho! speaks of the bowling-greens of Sir Richard Orenvile,.at Bideford, and of Mr. St. Leger, at Amiery. He also describes what was to be seen on the bowling-green attached to the Pelican Inn, atPlymouth, on the afternoon of the fifth July, 1585, when the sea captains ofEnglandwere awaiting news of the approach of the Spanish Armada. All at once-just when John Hawkins and Francis Drake are in the middle of a game the intelligence is received that the invading fleet are off theLizard Point. Admiral Lord Howard thereupon invites Drake’s assistance at a council of war, but Drake declines to leave the green until the match is over,, Says he to his opponent Kingsley
“Does he think they are going to knock about on a lee-shore all the afternoon, and run our noses at night-and dead up-wind too-into the Dons’ mouths ? No Jack, my friend, the following game is the game, and not the meeting one. Let them go by, and go by, and stick to them well to ‘wind-ward.” And so the two captains went on with and finished their match, and the wisdom of Drake’s policy was justified by the event;
During the reign of that unfortunate Stuart king Charles I. there were bowling-greens at the Earl of Sunderlands place, Althorpe, in Northamptonshire ; also at Lord Vaux’s, at Houghton, and Sir Giles Allonby’s, at Allonby, in the same county ; at Mr. Shutc’s, Burking Hall, in Essex ; and likewise at Carisbrook, in the Isle ot Wight, where the monarch was immured previous to being brought to trial at Westminster. On all those greens the king, at one time or another, played bowls, he was an adept at the game, and, when misfortune overtook him, he was apt in course of conversation to allude to bowling by way ot pointing amoral. ‘ G. J. Whyte-Melville, in Holmby House, makes the King philosophise about bowls in this wise:
‘Tis a game I love well, und yet methinks ’tis but a type of the life of men-and kings. How many are started fair upon their object with the surest aim and the best intentions ; how few ever reach the goal. How the bias turns this one aside, and the want of loree let another die out in mid career, and an inch more would make a third the winner but that it fails in the last hair’s breadth. That is the truest bowl that can best sustain the rubs of the game.”
According to the Mémoire du Comte, de Gramont, by Anthony Hamilton, the game had a daily share in the diversions of the court of the “merrie monarch,” Charles li. W. M. Thackeray, in his History of Henry Esmond, speaks of bowls being played at Custlewood-Hall, in Hampshire, when, owing to suspicions that plot-hatching was there carried on for the return of the Stuurt, the place was occupied by a detachment of the norse Guards under Dick.Steele, afterwards Sir Richard Steele, the founder, of the Taller .and the Spertulm: ‘ And John Ashton, in his Social life in the reign Queen Anne, dis- courses about this multiplication of bowling greens in that perind, and. of their establishment ” at Putney Hoxton, Marlbone, Hamp-stead, Stoke, .Newington, Ham-lane,” and’ other suburbs of London.
Thenceforward the game of bowls continued to be held in great favour, “No baron or squire or knight of-the shire “considered his stately home complete without a bowling-green. It became as indispensable as the pleasatince and the park. Of course, bowling-greens so situated were for the entertainment only of “the quality”-the people of high degree. Humbler folk who loved bowls had to content themselves with the local greens which happened to bean adjunct to the hotel or tavern.
The institution known as the “bowling club” did not come into existence until the commencement of the present century. The ” Willowbank Club” at Glascow is regarded as one of the oldest of bowling organisations. That club had a most successful start, and in consequence other associations in the interests of, bowling were created ; and in a few years the number increased considerably, particularly in the South of Scotland and the North of England. Most of the clubs then formed have continued until this day, affording to their members a healthful and rational means of recreation timing the summer months.
The game was introduced intoVictoriaearly in the “sixties.” The person who took the initiative in the matter was one John Campbell, it was the Scot, and for a time, a well-known figure in commercial circles. In 1861 he thought of turning his attention to politics, and at, the general election which took place in that year he offered himself us a candidate tor the representation of St. Kilda in the Legislative Assembly. However, he failed to secure election, and thereupon he abandoned any thought of public life, and turned his attention to the game of bowls, of which it was common in the mother country. He put himself into communication with a number of old bowlers who had settled in the colony, and convened a meeting at the Argus Hotel inCollins street. At that meeting it was resolved to form a club to be known as the Melbourne Bowling Club, and soon afterwards a piece, of land .near the Windsor railway station-was purchased, and in due-time converted into “a noble bowling green ; but no sooner was the Melbourne Bowling Club first in operation then other localities began bowling, for means of entertainment in the location ; and it was not long before Fitzroy, Richmond, West Melbourne, Carlton, St. Kilda, and even Ballarat each had a bowling-green. ‘
In 1873 a bowling tournament, in which six clubs took part, came about on the St. Kilda green. Each club was represented by eight members; and the play occupied an entire day, the result being that the trophy for which the-six teams competed was carried off by’West Melbourne. This tournament became au annual event, but in 1871, by which time other clubs had come into existence, the number of competing clubs was increased, by the Richmond Union, the South Melbourne, and the Victoria-and then the play ran into part of’ a second day. Subsequently there arose clubs in the districts ot Brighton, North Fitzroy, Hawthorn, Williamstown, Kew, Albert Park, Essendon, Collingwood, Port Melbourne, and Armadale, and in the tournament of 1890-which then extended over three Saturdays in the month of December-no less than 14 clubs engaged. Between then and now clubs have been formed at Moonee Ponds, in Prince’s-Park at Flemington, and at Camberwell. Two years ago it was deemed expedient to substitute for the tournament a series of pennant matches. In these-matches Borne 20 clubs take part. For the convenience of play the clubs are grouped in two sections-A and B. Every club in each section links to play every other club in the same section, and the club in section A that succeeds in winning the most matches links to play off with the club that proves equally fortunate in section B. The pennant was won in the season 1891-2 by the Melbourne club, and in the season 1892-3 by the Hawthorn club.
Another feature of the bowling season is the “champion match ‘which has been an annual contest for the last 15 or so years. In this competition the piny is what is known as “single-handed,” each player using four bowls. The winner receives the chief prize, and acquires the right to be recognised as the champion bowler for the metropolitan district for the ensuing year. Formerly, the champion match came off on Good Friday and the following day, now it takes place on two Saturdays in January.
And what-about the game? The non bowling-reader may naturally desire a little information on this head. Well, the first thing wanted is a stretch of smoothly-shaven grass-any 40 yards long by 3 yards wide. This is sufficient to accommodate a” rink” that is to say, a party of eight. Double the width of the ground and there will be room for two “rinks,” quadruple it and four ” rinks ” can play, and so on. Every public bowling-green should be large enough for at least four ” rinks,” because in the case of an inter-club match the number of players on each side is 16. The appliances needed are, for each player a pair of bowls, and for each rink a small white ball of wood, perfectly spherical, which is known as the “jack,” and a mat or cloth, upon which each player stands when delivering his bowl. The bowls are usually made of Lithium vite wood of a. diameter not exceeding 8in. round, and with a ” bias” which’ means that one-half of the bowl is made smaller or ” leaner ” than the other and. they’are so shaped in order that when played they may reach their destination by a curved instead of a straight course.. The players form in sides-four against four-and their aim is to deliver the bowls that they may come to rest as near as possible to the “jack.” When all the bowls have been delivered, what is called an “end” has been achieved, and the sides whose bowls happen to be nearest the ” jack ” reckon one point for each bowl so placed. No doubt the pastime is “cavalier to the general.” A casual looker-of a person knowing nothing of the game is prone to wonder what pleasure, is to be derived from bowling. Perhaps he is disposed to think, like Sir Charles Coldstream, that ” there is nothing in it.” But the player of a few years’ standing-the man whose liking for the game has grown into a love, which love promises to expand into a passion-is prepared to declare that the pleasure is scarcely to be measured. Why, in a well-contested match, the game may change-that is to say, fortune may lean first to the one side and then to the other, with every bowl that traverses the green.
As has been indicated already, bowling is not confined to “rink” play. It is perfectly competent for two bowlers to have a game by themselves, and it is in that way that matches for prizes are conducted. Each competitor plays with four bowls, and the match I is not won until 25-points are scored; and a competition- of this kind cannot be’ got through ‘on a warm day.without the players having exercised to induce a pronounced perspiration. So much for the assertion sometimes indulged in,.that bowling is only an old man’s game.
But the groundlessness of the assertion is shown by the ,last that with every, new season there is a large accession of-young men to the bowling.rinks. Indeed, so formidable have the young-men bowlers become I that last Easter 32 players who claim Australia as the country of their birth were able to take part on the Carlton green in a .friendly game with 32 bowlers who were born elsewhere. It was a-case ofAustraliav the World, andAustralialost by 31 points the numbers at the close of the contest being 235 to 204.
However, the “rink” game is the favourite one, simply .because of the ‘ sociableness which characterizes it. The players, while they play, can also converse , they can indulge in an interchange of thought ; they are free to laugh at a merry tale or pun ambiguous or conundrum talk.”
And while they do so they must keep a keen eye on the game. They must not relax in watchfulness, otherwise there may be mistakes puzzling and disconcerting to those who have the direction of the play-mistakes calculated-to make the unskillful laugh and the judicious grieve.
One noticeable feature in connection with bowling is that the game is indulged in by all sorts and conditions of men. Legislators and lawyers, divines and medical men, bunkers and merchants, civil servants civil engineers, architects and contractors, innkeepers and shopkeepers all meet on the same level, only the men who play best holding, during the progress of a game, the places of authority. Certainly, if anyone wants a “sample” in connection with the question of the real democracy, he should visit a bowling-green.
I like the game not merely because it affords so much pleasure, but because it gives healthful exercise to the abdominal muscles, and, as you know, when those muscles are used there is not much cause for apprehension as to the digestion which should wait on appetite, or the health which should attend both.”
It was in this fashion that the late William Gillies, eminent surgeon and worthy citizen, was wont to discourse when introducing a brother medico to the Fitzroy Bowling-green, the place where he was in the habit of seeking relaxation during the little leisure that he could spine from his professional engagements. The declaration here quoted is veiled by experience. “There is little doubt that many of the well-presented men who walk Melbourne streets, although their- age urges upon three score years and ten, are indebted for their erect carriage and their still elastic step to the circumstance that in earlier life they regularly practised the grand old game of bowls”.