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.