Category Archives: Early Australian Golf

Golf in Sydney in 1839

Alexander Brodie Spark was born in Elgin, Scotland, in 1792. He arrived in Sydney in 1823. As a merchant entrepreneur he became a wealthy and respected member of colonial society. He died in Sydney in 1856. Spark is important to historians because he was an
assiduous diarist and his diaries have been preserved. His diaries are important to golf historians because they give us the first reliable, stress reliable, evidence of golf being played in Australia. It was played on Grose Farm, land now occupied by Sydney University, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Victoria Park. The first two entries
from the 1839 diary relating to golf are reproduced here in their original form.

Alexander Brodie Spark

The Spark diaries first came to the attention of golf historians in a ground breaking article by David Innes in 1992. Innes, however, left several questions either unanswered or only partially answered. Firstly, what triggered the start of golf at Grose Farm on 25th May
1839? Secondly, why did that phase of golf and the first New South Wales Golf Club have such a short life? Thirdly, what was the connection between those early golfers and the (now Royal) Blackheath Golf Club in London? The Blackheath connection presented the greatest puzzle. Innes reported that in 1841 Spark was made an honorary member of the Blackheath Golf Club, but he made no comment on this rather surprising event.

Grose Farm – looking east from what is now Camperdown

All the evidence points to Captain James Ferrier, master of the Lady Fitzherbert, which had an extended stay in Sydney in 1839, as the most important of the three key persons. Captain Ferrier lived in Blackheath, played golf there from 1820 to shortly before his death in 1844, was a member of the Blackheath Golf Club and on occasions chaired their meetings. Golf at Grose Farm started shortly after he began his forced stay in Sydney and apparently faded after his departure. The second key figure was John Masson, Spark’s shipping agent and close friend from their youthful days in Elgin, Scotland. He was part owner of the Lady Fitzberfrert and a cousin of Captain Ferrier. He was Captain of Blackheath in
1825 and Secretary from 1827 to 1844. It was Masson, Secretary at the time, who in 1841 informed the Club of the birth of Spark’s first son and, acting for Spark, presented the Club with the customary “gallon of claret”. It was as a direct consequence of Masson’s action that Spark was made an honorary member of Blackheath. The third key figure was Adam Wilson, an associate of Spark and a member of the Blackheath Golf Club from 1828 to 1840. In 1844 he attended the Mayor of Sydney’s Fancy Dress Ball in the uniform of a
Blackheath golfer.

The research article by AGHS Members Michael Sheret and Norman
Richardson, on which the short summary above is based, was published in the March 2014 issue of Through the Green, magazine of the British Golf Collectors Society. It is a long article with a detailed reference list to sources of evidence, the bulk of which are from primary sources. For example: the original Spark Sydney diaries, his London journal, his London letters, Blackheath GC archives, papers held at the Derbyshire Records Office, ship ownership records, the wills of Captain Ferrier and his wife Frances Dick, records fromn the censuses of England. It was a very exciting research journey for the authors.

A copy of the full article can be obtained from the History Sub-Committee

The Australasian Golf Museum in Bothwell has been asked for comment on the research detailed below and as yet, no comment has been forthcoming.

Early Golf in New South Wales

David Robertson, John Dunsmure and Captain Kirk

On the 15th and 22nd of December 1849, the paper Bell’s Life in Sydney published several articles promoting golf including a column asking why the Scots in Sydney had overlooked their national game and suggesting the formation of a society to be called the Australian Golf Club.

Originally a caddy from St Andrews, David Robertson, a draper in Sydney and brother of the St Andrews golf champion and
ball maker Allan Robertson, replied to the editors offering assistance to form a club. He made suggestions of areas in Sydney suitable  to be used as “links” and offered to play any man in the colony for any sum as soon as clubs could be procured from home.

John Dunsmure

John Dunsmure arrived in the Sydney in 1837 from Leith having lived with his family in the town of Wardie between Granton Harbour and Leith, near Edinburgh. Dunsmure practised as a
solicitor and attorney. In January 1851, after auctioning the contents of his Bligh St home and his horses and carriages, Dunsmure and his family left for an extended trip to see family in Edinburgh. The holiday was curtailed when his business partner died in late 1851, and the Dunsmure family returned to Sydney on 11th July 1852. John Dunsmure built a country residence near Homebush which he called “Wardie”. The grounds were seven acres, and featured an orchard, vineyard, vegetable gardens and three grassed paddocks, as well as having plenty of vacant land adjacent to the grounds. The location was on Parramatta Road, beside Powell’s Creek extending towards Concord near the present day George St, this location being consistent with often quoted and vague location of Dunsmure’s golf course as “being between Homebush and Concord”. This location was confirmed by personal recollections in the Evening News of the 3rd of October, 1905.

In The Empire newspaper of 24th of November, 1857 the following advertisement appeared.

“GOLF, GOLF, GOLF – The undersigned is prepared to play any man in Sydney in the above game for fifty pounds. H.K., Brisbane Inn, corner of Kent and Druitt Streets.”

HydePark1840sElizabeth Creagh, mother-in-law of David Robertson, was the licensee of the Brisbane Inn and Robertson accepted the challenge.
That same afternoon at 4 o’clock the game of golf was played at Hyde Park, from St James Church to Lyons Terrace and back twice, the winner being the one who covered the distance in the  fewest strokes. David Robertson was the victor, taking 18 strokes to Captain Kirk’s 20 (Captain Kirk being the H.K. in the advertisement). Another match was played the following Wednesday. Again Robertson was victorious. After the event David Robertson undertook to write home to his brother to procure clubs and balls from the R&A for the youth of the colony and offered to teach any party gratuitously, an account of the game was reported in Bell’s Life, 28th of November, 1957,  and of Robertson promoting the formation of a club to play on  Dunsmure’s Homebush course.
In September 1859 one case of golf clubs was listed as imported into
Sydney – were these the clubs the R&A were asked to donate or a
shipment organised by John Dunsmure and David Robertson for a club playing at Homebush? On 18th of November, 1859, the Sydney Morning Herald carried the announcement of Allan Robertson’s death. David Robertson thereafter soon left the colony to return to St Andrews. He subsequently died on 14th of February, 1864, aged 39. John Dunmore died not long after on 29th of September, 1864, aged 59.

Charles Lawrence.

On 20th of September, 1864, an advertisement was placed in the Sydney Morning Herald,

“GOLF GOLF GOLF – A club is now being formed
for the practice in this Ancient and Royal game, and
gentlemen desirous of joining are requested to call upon
the undersigned who will afford all information.
Charles Lawrence, Cricketing Depot, 353 George St.

Charles Lawrence

Charles Lawrence was a member of the first English cricket team to tour Australia in 1861-62. He decided to stay on in Sydney and operate the Cricket Depot. From 1862 Lawrence was advertising to “impart instruction in golf – the national game of Scotland.”

He was also to become coach of the Albert Cricket Club at Redfern. In 1863, the Albert Cricket Club published a yearly report which included a section on the Laws of Golf. An Albert Cricket Club committeeman at the time was Edward Goddard, whose son, William Cornelius Goddard, was a prominent cricket player in the later part of the decade. In 1871 William Goddard married Mary Mitsford Dunsmure, daughter of John Dunsmure. One of their sons John Mitsford Dunsmure Goddard, was to become a member of the Australian Golf Club in the days when the club was based at Botany. John Goddard made the donation of John Dunsmure’s clubs to the Australian Golf Club. Unfortunately these relics of golf in Sydney in the 1850s  described in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 1st of November, 1921 in an article titled  early history of the game,  were lost in the fire that destroyed their clubhouse at Kensington in 1931. In the early 1880s Englishman Thomas Brentnall, an old Royal Musselburgh golfer and later to become one of the formation members of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, played on Moore Park with Scottish golfers – British Army Officers on rest and recreation from India, Brentnall’s  recollections of this game was published in his book ‘My Memories being the reminiscences of a nonagenarian ‘ by Thomas Brentnall, published by Robertson &​ Mullens  in 1938.

Soon afterwards  an account in the Sydney Mail of the 1st of March, 1884, of members of the future Australian Golf Club having
commenced play on the same location, and from this time on golf
in NSW went from strength to strength.


The Mitchell Library, Sydney, which holds the newspapers and
other material used in this article.
Elizabeth Hamilton – great, great, granddaughter of
John Dunsmure, in private correspondence with the author.

Graham A & Little, G  The Respectable Sydney Merchant – A.B. Spark of Tempe  Sydney University 1976
Innes D. The Story of Golf in NSW  NSWGA 1988
Innes D. Golf in Sydney Town before the 1850s Golf News November 1992.

Early Golf in Tasmania

Myths and misconceptions regarding early golf in Tasmania

The author questions some of the claims made for the earliest known golf played at Ratho Farm in Bothwell, Tasmania. There is reliable evidence for golf first being played somewhere in the Bothwell area about 1860. The article presents primary source evidence for the earliest known dates when Ratho was used for golf and when the Bothwell Golf Club adopted Ratho as their home course.

The Australasian Golf Museum in Bothwell has been asked for comment on the research detailed below and as yet, no comment has been forthcoming.

Published in 1975, Muir MacLaren’s 5th edition of The Australian and New Zealand Golfer’s Handbook contained in a chapter on the Royal Hobart Golf Club by R C Porter was the following paragraph,

Denis Crawford, in his researches into golf history, reveals that Tasmania has the honour of introducing golf to Australia, some twenty years before Melbourne‘s first golf links. Mr Alexander Reid, a pioneer of Bothwell in the Midlands of Tasmania, brought with him his golf sticks and golf balls from Scotland in the 1820’s and the game of golf was played at Ratho and the Logan Flats during the 1830’s. Again a copy of the Colonial Times reports in 1827 a game of golf being played by two young Scotsmen. It is unfortunate that no details are given of where the game was played in Tasmania and who the young Scotsmen were.

Unfortunately R C Porter did not check Denis Crawford’s research and for 35 years the statements made were perpetuated by golf writers to the point that the above statements are generally accepted as fact. New findings dispute this.

The Importance of Primary Sources

Firstly, regarding the incident of the two Scotsmen playing
golf without details given in the report of where the game was played, the Colonial Times dated 6th April, 1827 named the game as shinty and gives a description of what is clearly a game of shinty – a lively Gaelic team sport similar to hockey. Unfortunately, the original report confuses the game with golf.

Cutting from the Colonial Times – April 6th, 1827

Secondly, Crawford’s apparent source for his research on Alexander Reid was The History of Bothwell and its Early Settlers written in 1958 by K R Von Stieglitz in which Von Stieglitz interviews Alexander Reid’s grandson, A. A. Reid. After describing his involvement in football and cricket matches, Reid talked about golf.

The first golf links were laid out at Logan, which was just over the Clyde from Ratho, but the ground was not really suitable. Then we started links at Ratho, and the club has been there ever since. I think my family must have been one of the first to introduce golf out here, and I can remember seeing some very old fashioned golf clubs and golf balls in the early {eighteen} seventies, before I went to school. They were kept in a long box with some croquet mallets, but were given to a schoolmaster who afterwards went to live in New Zealand, and I have no idea where they are now. They could have been brought out in 1822, with my grandfather’s things, but I think more likely they arrived in 1839 when my people returned from a trip to Scotland. 

From this, Von Stieglitz concludes in his summary of sport in Bothwell, that golf was played on links at Ratho and Logan Flats during the 1830s, with primitive clubs and golf balls brought out by pioneer Alexander Reid. The Australian Dictionary of Bibliography states that: “Von Stieglitz was best known for his contributions to local history. The books lacked a chronological or thematic framework, and included unverified stories …

The Williams Correspodence

In January 2010, I located a letter from Mrs Jane Williams to
The Mercury newspaper published on 28th July I890, which
puts the introduction of golf to the Bothwell district as about
1860. The letter was in response to a report in The Mercury of
22nd ]uly 1890, where the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Robert G Hamilton expressed a wish to see golf introduced to Australia.

Jane Williams’ letter 1890 to the Mercury newspaper. The spelling of Dunedin as Dumashee was corrected in the Mercury of July 31st, 1890.

The new information from Jane Williams is of great significance as she was the eldest child of the 1820s pioneer, Alexander Reid. Jane was born in 1814 at Leith, Scotland, and was eight when she arrived with her family in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania. Soon afterwards the family moved to granted land at Bothwell and named the property Ratho. In 1829 she married a British Army Captain, William Williams, who at the time was the Bothwell Police magistrate. In 1830 Jane travelled with her husband to Madras, India but he died there in 1834 whilst serving with 40th Regiment. A widowed Jane returned to Bothwell in early 1835 and spent her remaining years with her parents and brother at Ratho except for the period of the family’s return to Scotland from 1838 to 1842.

Jane Williams and her brother Alexander Reid II, circa 1840

Jane was considered an authority on the history of Bothwell and her writings, journal and letters are an integral part of the Clyde Company Papers. These are reproduced in a seven volume history of The Clyde Company, which was an extensive pastoral business, and are the main reference work for the Bothwell Historical Society. Alexander Reid,  Jane’s father, died in 1858, having suffered from chronic illness for about ten years. Jane died in March 1897.

William Blackburn Wood, mentioned as the originator of golf in Tasmania, was the son of Captain Patrick Wood of the Madras Army. In 1822 Captain Wood led a party of Scots to settle in Bothwell, Tasmania. He was given a land grant and established the Dennistoun Estate and was an original partner of The Clyde Company. The Wood family left Bothwell in 1839 and returned to Edinburgh, Scotland, where William Wood and his brothers were educated at Edinburgh Academy (Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, 29th ]uly, 1850).  The Hobart Town Daily Mercury of the of 23rd of February 1860 gives an account of William Wood returning to Tasmania on the ship Aurora Australis. Wood settled on the famiiy’s estate, Dennistoun, where, we might reasonably assume, he played his golf. A keen sportsman, William was the opening batsman for the Bothwell cricket team and was actively involved in the Melton Mowbray Steeplechase Club and the local hunt club the Mowbray Hounds, who would often run on the Dennistoun Estate. He died suddenly on 1st August, 1866, at the age of only 30 and was buried at Dennistoun Estate.

JohnBrownParkThe state schoolmaster was John Brown Park, who was appointed as a senior teacher for Tasmania in 1855. Park was born at Strathbungo, Glasgow , Scotland on the 14th January, 1821. He was a teacher at Loanhead near Edinburgh prior to his arrival in Tasmania. After a dispute in the reduction of his teaching salary  he resigned and left Bothwell in 1864 for New Zealand to become schoolmaster at Dunedin South School. In the 1870s Park was Secretary of the Dunedin Golf Club, which when founded in 1871, earned the distinction of being the first golf club in New Zealand. John Brown Park died in Dunedin in 1891.

The letter from Jane Williams suggests that:

  1. William Wood introduced golf to Tasmania around 1860.
  2. He played in the Bothwell district, probably on the Dennistoun Estate.
  3. Alexander Reid II (Aleck) gave Wood’s clubs to the former Bothwell schoolmaster some time after Wood’s death in 1866.

The reliability of the information given in Jane Williams’ letter is further strengthened in a letter written by A. A. Reid to Harry Culliton, golf columnist, and published in the The Australasian on 8th March I930.

I thought it might be interesting to know I came upon an old letter written by my father in the early (eighteen) sixties, where he said they are forming a golf club here at Bothwell with 15 or 16 members. I myself can just remember the queer shaped old clubs which were kept in a long box and remained for a good while. They were eventually sent to a schoolmaster in New Zealand who had asked for them – for which I am extremely sorry, as they would have been great curios now.

Ratho Links and Bothwell Golf Club

It is significant that Mrs Williams’ letter does not mention
her father, Alexander Reid, playing golf; nor did it mention a
golf course at Ratho, either at the time of writing or previ-
ously. Instead she states that ‘golf ceased to be practised in
Bothwell’ and that ‘the implements of the game’ were sent to
New Zealand, these events occurring in the 1860s. Mrs
Williams’ letter states that golf was introduced to the
Bothwell area 30 years prior to 1890, i.e. about 1860. This
evidence runs counter to the belief that Ratho ‘golf links’
date back to much earlier. This led the current author to wonder how old the Ratho ‘golf links’ were.

We are indebted to AGHS member, Ross Baker, for providing the earliest known primary evidence of golf played on Ratho. This evidence was found by Ross in the diary of Frederick (Fred) McDowall. Fred McDowall was son of Archibald McDowell of Logan, and had grown up as a great friend of A. A. Reid sharing a common interest and participation in most sports. His diary records on 24th August 1901 that Fred McDowell ‘had first game of golf at Ratho links. A. Reid 67, Griffiths 76, Fred McDowall 85 for 9 holes”. Evidently these three were novice golfers.

The current Bothwell Club was formed at a meeting on 3rd ]une, 1902. From the minutes of that meeting we know this motion was carried — “That with the consent of F. McDowall The ‘Links’ be laid out on ‘Logan’.” At a club meeting at Logan on 10th June, 1902 it was agreed “That funds be applied towards making and upkeep of links “. Fred McDowall, A. A. Reid and Police Sergeant Charles Griffiths were amongst the foundation members. During that year their golf had noticeably improved since their first games at Ratho, with Reid (from the diary) getting round 18 holes in 110 and McDowall in 112; by 1903 Griffiths, McDowall and Reid had handicaps of 3, 3 and 4 respectively. The golf course remained at Logan until 1910. This is determined by the Annual General Meeting of the Club, reported in The Mercury newspaper. Up until 1905 Mr Archibald McDowall (III), owner of Logan, was given a vote of thanks for the use of ‘the links’, whereas in the period 1906 to 1910, Mr Norfolk, Wise,
Mrs Wise (Archibald McDowall’s daughter) and Miss McDowell (Mrs Wise’s sister) were thanked.

In 1911, the Tasmania Mail reports that Cluny ‘links’ were being used. Cluny Farm was owned by Lawrence Cleghorn Cockburn. It seemed to be a temporary course until the course was completed at Ratho Estate.

From July 1911 we start to get evidence of Ratho becoming established home of the Bothwell Golf Club. The Tasmanian Mail’s golf column of ]uly 20, 1911, reported that:

…next Saturday the new links on the Ratho Estate are to be opened
and a mixed foursome competition has been arranged to celebrate the event. I have been told that the natural turf is far more suited to golf than the present links, so l presume that Ratho will ultimately
become the recognised Bothwell course.

The Tasmanian Mail golf column reported the following week that the Ratho course opening had been postponed until 5th August, 1911. The formal opening did proceed and the Mercury of 8th August, 1911 gave the following report.

Mr and Mrs Reid gave a golf afternoon on the newly laid out Ratho
links at Bothwell on Saturday… The new course is a really excellent
one, the turf being naturally suitable for golf, the grass greens are all
wonderfully good. Every hole has its difficulties, and the sporting
nature of the course adds to its attractiveness. The length of the
course (9 holes) is 2551 yards. Mr and Mrs Dennistoun Wood and
other visitors were present.

From the minutes of the Bothwell club, at the Annual General Meeting on 2nd March 1912 Mr A. A. Reid offered to place the Ratho links at the disposal of the club. As a compromise it was resolved, “That for the coming season matches be played on alternate Saturdays at Logan and Ratho.” Mr N. Wise, who objected to the motion then stated, “that the club must discontinue playing as a golf club on Logan”.

The newspaper reports tally perfectly with A. A. Reid’s
recollections of golf in Bothwell in the Von Stieglitz book,
as he was talking of his time in the current Bothwell Golf
Club, and as he is quoted as saying in that book ‘and the
club has been there ever since’. So 2012 was the centenary of the Bothwell Golf Club’s move to Ratho Links.

Von Stieglitz made the error of associating Logan course (1902) and Ratho course (1911), with A. A. Reid’s conjectures about the golf clubs in his parent’s home and linking this to the return of his forebears from Scotland in what he thought was 1839. It has been perpetuated by writers since the time of MacLaren’s book, and hopefully now the error stands corrected. Bothwell still has much to
be proud of regarding its golf history; as it stands now it was the first place in Tasmania to play golf — about 1860 —and still very early for Australia. Only 1839 – Grose Farm in Sydney, in 1847 – the vicinity of  Flagstaff Hill in Melbourne, in 1852 – Homebush in Sydney and in 1857- Hyde Park in Sydney have been found to have beaten them to it. Refer to the timeline for a clear picture of events in this period

Brown, PL The Narrative of George Russell, Oxford University Press. 1935.
Brown, PL The Clyde Company Papers Volumes I-.7, Oxford University Press. 1952-71.
Kelly, GM Golf in New Zealand -A Centennial History. New Zealand Golf Assoc. 1971.
MacLaren, M (Ed) The Australian and New Zealand Golfers Handbook (5th Edition). AH & AAW Reed. 1975
Von Stieglitz, K R. The History of Bothwell and its Early Settlers. Telegraph Printery. 1958.
Additional Bibliography

Colonial Times, The Mercury, Tasmanian Mail, Launceston Examiner: The Australasian
Newspaper resources were researched using the Trove search engine of the National Library of Australia.
Minutes of The Bothwell Golf Club 1902 -1919 held at the State Library of Tasmania, Hobart.

Information on John Brown Park was given by his great great grandson Stuart Park, Kerikeri, New Zealand.

Note: This article is a revised and updated version of an article
entitled  Australia’s Honour? published in the June 2011 issue of Through the Green, magazine of the British Golf Collectors Society. It was also published in the Summer 2015 edition of The Brassie