Sunday 31 October 2021

Particulars of a chess match, played in Cambridge, in March, 1831



BCM 1917 Page 265

Following on from my article dated 8th October 2018 regarding the rare chess pamphlet: Particulars of a chess match, played in Cambridge, in March 1831, John Townsend has carried out some further investigations into this historic chess match and the related pamphlet. His detailed research firstly corrects the publication details (I had erroneously stated that the pamphlet was published in Hatfield, but it was published by Weston Hatfield in Cambridge), and secondly provides extensive information regarding the identities of the two players.

John Townsend's essay follows and the frequent mentions of Goulding Brown refer to comments made in his article Early Oxford and Cambridge Chess: A Sequel, in the British Chess Magazine, October 1932, pages 434 and 435.


I found the blog article about the Cambridge 1831 match very interesting, and, as it is an early example of a match, I believe it would repay closer study of its circumstances, even though the standard of play was said to be low.  I would like to try to tie up at least some of the loose ends.

"Hatfield" was interpreted as the place of publication of the pamphlet, whereas the 1917 article in B.C.M. (footnote to page 265) said it was published "at Cambridge".  "Hatfield" is, indeed, part of the publication details, but I believe it is the name of the publisher, Weston Hatfield.  In the Cambridgeshire section of Pigot and Co.'s National Commercial Directory, 1830, his business at Sidney Street, Cambridge was listed twice: once, on page 26, under "Newspapers", regarding the Cambridge Independent Press, and once, on page 27, under "Printers".  He was best known as a local newspaper publisher, but he also handled some books.  For example, in 1830 he was the publisher of a local poll book, The Poll for two Knights of the Shire for the County of Cambridge ... August, 1830.  In 1820, in a notorious trial, he had been acquitted of rioting.  Weston Hatfield's death was noted on 18 August 1837 at the age of 43, on page 358 of Proceedings of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, No. XXXIV, Cambridge, 1893.  The insertion also notes that he unsuspectingly became the "political representative" of Reformers and "courageously fought their battles".

Of the players, one, Henry Daniel Oppenheim, can be easily identified.  His entry in the same Pigot's is to be found, on page 27, under "Professors and Teachers"; his subjects were given as French, German and Hebrew, and his address was Market Hill, Cambridge.  "Professor" was used in a loose sense rather than as a university academic, and Bertram Goulding Brown correctly surmised that he was a private tutor and not employed by the University.  He had works on Hebrew published. Brown also noted that he was a subscriber to W. G. Walker's 1836 volume on Mcdonnell, and he could have added that his entry was listed under "Cambridge Chess Club".

Concerning the other player, the victor, Brown's findings should be challenged.  Firstly, he correctly states that "there were two Gordons in residence at Trinity".  However, there was only one Gordon who could be correctly referred to as "Mr. Gordon" or "Gordon, Esq.", and that was Francis Hastings Gordon.  The other, the Hon. Francis Arthur Gordon, was a member of the aristocracy, being the son of an earl and, though untitled, was styled "the Honourable".  His situation was similar to that of John Cochrane's father, the Honourable John Cochrane, as described in Edward Winter's Chess Notes (C.N. 11102).  It would have been wrong to apply "Mr." or "Esq." to the Hon. F.A.G. and, in an age that was conscious of social rank, it is not a mistake that was likely to be made.

Secondly, I believe Brown was right to assume that "Gordon, Z. H., Esq." contained an error (presumably, the initial, "Z"), but, surely, he ought to have allowed for the possibility that the middle initial "H" had some significance; at the least, he could have mentioned that the explanation might be the middle name "Hastings" of the candidate whom he did not favour.

Thirdly, part of Goulding Brown's argument was that "the greater age of the former [i.e. the Hon. F.A.G.] strengthens this identification".  However, in his previous paragraph he had just given data which suggested that F.H.G. was the elder!  John Venn's Alumni Cantabrigienses gives the date of birth of the Hon. F.A.G. as 20 January 1808, while the age of 20 given for F.H.G. on admission on 2 October 1826 confirms that F.H.G. was born first.  Therefore, insofar as their respective ages have any significance, as Brown evidently thought, his logic needs to be reversed in favour of the sizar.

Whereas, understandably, plenty has been written about the Hon. F.A.G., comparatively little is known about F.H.G.. Venn records that he was born at Westminster [by inference about 1806], and educated at Bristol School.  After his B.A. in 1831, he worked as a tutor, spending an undefined period in Scotland, where his daughter, Jane, was born about 1836-7.  (That much has been learned from her 1871 census entry in Chelsea (National Archives, RG 10 76, page 52) and the record of her marriage at St. George's Church, Battersea on 21 December 1868 to Job Mason, a labourer; this latter record described F.H.G. as "Tutor B.A.", without saying whether he was still alive then.)

Brown asserted that the son of the earl was more likely than the "poor sizar" to have connections who might have such a pamphlet printed, but that also seems open to question.  According to Brown, it was "badly printed".  Insofar as Weston Hatfield's political leanings could be a consideration, they seem, if anything, to detract from the argument for the earl's son.  Besides, though a sizar, F.H.G. was not exactly from an impoverished family. His father, Anthony Gordon, went to Trinity College, Dublin, became a "Retired Captain of Invalids" and wrote books about military weapons, dying in 1831 shortly after the chess match.  F.H.G.'s elder brother, Rev. Anthony Gordon, went to St. Paul's School and graduated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he later served as Chaplain for a number of years, until his death at Trumpington, near Cambridge, on 25 December 1857.  Wills were proved for both Anthony Gordon senior and junior.  This family could afford the pamphlet if it had the inclination.

In summary, there is a good case for suspecting that F.H.G. was the winner of the match, rather than the Hon. F.A.G. whom Brown suggested, although, clearly, there is as yet no proof.