The Founding/Fisher Era 1856 -1880

Chapter 1. The First Ballarat Chess Club (1856)

The first Ballarat Chess Club was formed at Henry J.Brun’s Cigar Divan on Monday, 16th June 1856. The Ballarat Times reported this meeting on 18th June and it included the rules and regulations of the new club. These are, infact, the first published 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 new 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 rules provided for a Treasurer and Secretary only. 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. We have not been able to find any information about the people and names involved in the chess club, nor recovered any of their games, nor are aware of any competition they had been part of in these very first years of a Ballarat Chess Club.

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. The first Ballarat Chess Club is no exception, and it seems to have petered out like the others.

The Cigar Divan was located in Main Road, with Mr.Henry Brun as the recorded owner of the shop. A Cigar Divan was a British invention, a mixture of a shop, where cigars were sold, and a club/cafe type of establishment where customers were offered a stimulating atmosphere to smoke their cigars, have a drink and socialise. In England, chess playing-facilities often were provided by ‘Cigar Divans’ in order to entice customers to stay longer, thereby spending more money.

The stretch between Eureka and York Street of Main Road was the centre of Ballarat in the very early days of the town, because it was close to the first alluvial gold discovery at Golden Point. However, the Ballarat Star (March 1857) reported that Henry Brun (a former tobacconist, it said) had moved on, one year after the foundation of Ballarat’s first Chess Club and that hehad bought Brun’s Hotel, also in Main Road. He sold or had leased his Cigar Divan to one Miss E. Marriott and that is where the story of the first Chess Club stops, unfortunately.

To give an idea how Ballarat looked like at the time of the first Chess Club, the attached photograph shows Ballarat at the junction of Main Road, Sturt Street and Bridge Street in 1857. It also refers to Henry Brun, ‘our first landlord’, and his new hotel. To make the picture more complete, it would be nice to solve the puzzle of where exactly the original Cigar Divan, alias the first Ballarat Chess Club, had been located in 1856.

Black and white Photograph of the lower end of Sturt St, 1857, showing the Congregational Church in the RH corner A typed caption has been pasted at the top of the print reading "Lower end of Sturt St 1857. 1)Right corner Congregational Church now Gas Company; 2) No buildings on north side but path to Bruns Hotel; 3) Scores of tents at Golden Point; 4) Humffray's Book shop Corner of Bridge Street.


The Ballarat Times 18th June 1856

The Ballarat Star, June 19th 1856


Chapter 2. The Establishment of the 2nd Ballarat Chess Club in 1865.

The Ballarat Star, Saturday 25 February 1865.


SIR,-It is a remarkable fact that although we have in Ballarat clubs and societies of almost every description, we do not possess, and (so far as I am aware) never have possessed a chess club. There are probably four or five hundred chess players in the town, many of whom would be delighted to have the opportunity of enjoying a quiet game; and there are doubtless many others who would gladly learn  it, if facilities offered for their doing so. With a view to test public feeling on the matter it is proposed to hold a meeting to discuss the subject, of which notice is given in your advertising columns. Trusting so on to commence (at the club) as I now end,

I am, sir,

24th February.                    KINGS PAWN TWO MOVES.


The Ballarat Star, Wednesday 1 March 1865.

A meeting of gentlemen interested in the formation of a chess club was held on Tuesday evening in the Mechanics' Institute, Mr P. O'Connor in the chair. The formation of such a club was decided upon, and it was resolved that it should also embrace draught playing, and be called the Ballarat Chess and Draught Club. A sub-committee was formed for the purpose of drawing up rules and communicating with the committee of the Institute for the purpose of obtaining a room for the use of the members. The committee will bring up its report on Saturday evening, when a general meeting of the club will be held. Thirty members are already enrolled.

 The Ballarat Star, Tuesday 7 March 1865.

A general meeting of the Ballarat Chess and Draft Club was held on Saturday, when the rules, as prepared by the sub-committee, were amended and adopted. Mr Daniel O'Conner was elected president, Dr Richardson vice-president, and Mr C.Fisher honorary secretary and treasurer. A committee was then chosen, consisting of Messrs Bolton, Kemp, Marshall, and Pennell. The club will meet every Thursday and Saturday, in one of the classrooms of the Mechanics' Institute, at 7.30 p.m.

The subscription for members of the Institute is to be 2s 6d per quarter, and non-members 5s, with an entrance fee of 2s 6d. About 35 names have already been handed in.

 The Ballarat Star, Friday 10 March 1865.

The members of the Ballarat Chess and Draught Club met on Thursday evening, in the Hall of the Mechanics' Institute, and played a number of games. The club has already nearly forty members enrolled, and that number bids fair to be speedily increased.


The Ballarat Star, Wednesday 14 February 1866.

The Ballarat chess tournament, the commencement of which we noticed some time ago, was concluded a few days ago, and resulted in favour of Mr. Charles Fisher, who has succeeded in proving himself champion of the Ballarat Chess Club. Since the conclusion of the tournament, Mr. Fisher has played with a gentlemen lately, we believe, from Geelong, who, according to his own account, had beaten all the chess players in that lively town. The Geelong player evidently considering that Ballarat could not furnish an antagonist worthy of his steel, never joined the local chess club, and, we understand, that he would not even condescend to compete with our inferior players—as he appeared to consider them—unless here was some stake on the game. Accordingly, Mr. Fisher, departing from his usual rule of not playing for money, accepted the challenge of the Geelong champion to play him the best five of nine games for 3 pound aside. The match was, of course, regarded with a considerable amount of interest by the members of the club, and it resulted in the utter discomfiture of the Geelong representative, who by the way is now a resident of Ballarat. Mr. Fisher won the first five games running, and thus teaching his opponent a lesson to respect a little more the talent to be found in the Ballarat Chess Club.

The Ballarat Star, Friday 23 Feb 1866.

At the annual meeting of the Ballarat Chess Club, held last night in the Mechanics' Institute, Mr D.O'Connor in the chair, the annual report was read, showing the club to be in a very prosperous condition.

A letter from the secretary of the Melbourne Tournament Committee was read, inviting the members of the club to take part in the ensuing tournament, to be held next month in Melbourne. It was resolved to reply, expressing the regret of members at their being unable to accept the invitation owing to their inability to devote the necessary time.

Various alterations were made in the rules. The following gentlemen were elected for the year, viz:-Mr D. O'Connor, president; Mr C. Fisher, vice-president; Mr J. M. Connell, secretary and treasurer; and Messrs R. Mitchell, J. Harvey, C. Watson, and T. Gaggin, members of committee.

The Argus, Monday 2 April 1966.

During the afternoon Mr. Fisher, the winner of the Ballarat tournament, paid the rooms (of the Melbourne Chess Tournament, BvR) a visit, and played a game with one of our strongest amateurs. We hope before the matches are concluded to see some more of our Ballarat friends at the scene of friendly strife, and take this opportunity, in the-name of the chess players of Melbourne, to assure them of a hearty welcome, and if we cannot give, to take in good part a sound drubbing.

Apropos to this last, I believe that in the event of the formation of a club here, the gage of battle has already been thrown down by Ballarat for a game by correspondence.

This would be a most interesting match, and would in itself tend greatly to give stability to a club, as each individual member would feel his individual chess reputation to some degree at stake on the issue of the contest.

It has been too much the fashion to decry games of this class, and consultation games also, as tedious and uninteresting; but for giving a thorough and solid knowledge of the game, and cultivating the habit of analysis, we believe them to be unequalled by anything.


Chapter 3. Ballarat Handicap Chess Tournament: Sept.1866 - Apr.1867 newspaper reports

As far as I know, this is one of the first chess tournament held in Australia, albeit restricted to players from Ballarat. It probably was the longest ever played, lasting over a period of no less than 8 months (i.e. September 1866-April 1867), and ending in beautifully reported controversy.    

Amongst the players was the winner Charles M. Fisher, one of the strongest players in the ‘colony’ of Victoria. A database of 47 of his games can be found on the internet: They are amongst the oldest recorded games of Australia.

The old newspaper reports include beautiful and flowery descriptions of the chess-scene in Ballarat, more than 150 years ago.

Bas van Riel

The Ballarat Star 8 Sept.1866, pg 2

A meeting of the Ballarat chess tournament committee was held last evening at the Mechanics’ Institute, when the players entered were handicapped and paired off by lot. There are still two more entries required, and as these will be forthcoming to-day, we shall be enabled in our Monday's issue to give the complete list of the players. The tournament will commence on Tuesday evening.

The Ballarat Star 15 Sept 1866

The chess tournament has at length been finally arranged, under the most favourable auspices, and it has been decided by the committee that play shall commence on the evening of Tuesday, 11th September, at the Mechanics’ Institute. Fourteen days will be allowed for the first set of matches to be played off, and it is hoped members will not exceed that time, as by doing so the tournament will be protracted and the other competitors will be delayed from commencing the second series of matches. It has been arranged for the winners in the first set to play for the first, second and third prizes. The committee, with the view of equalizing the play, has taken great pains to discover the relative strength of the respective players, so that neither should have any undue advantage, and has accordingly divided them into four classes- the first class giving the second a pawn and move, the third a pawn and two moves, and the fourth class a knight. The following is the list of entries, together with their classification:

First Class- Messrs J.M.Connell, C.Fisher, and A.G.M’Combe.
Second Class- Messrs W.H.Batten, R.Bristow, H.Deveril, T.W.Gaggin, J.A.Harvey, W.Hogarth, R.S.Mitchell, A.Mongredien, D.O’Connor, J.B.Partridge, F.W.Tatham, and C.M.Watson
Third Class- Messrs Davey, Kennedy, H.M.Pascoe and J.Taylor
Fourth Class- Messrs J.Campbell, J.P.Fennings, G.Fisher, J.Holdes, and J.A.Wilson.

The players have been paired as follows by lot:-

Batten-Holdes 0-1
Connell-Taylor 1-0
Davey-Partridge 1-0
Deveril-O’Connor 1-0
G.Fisher-Harvey 0-1
Mongredien-Tatham 0.5-0.5
Watson-Wilson 0.5-0.5

The chess tournament, since its commencement, has progressed favourably, and the chess-room is almost every evening crowded with players. Already no less than nine games have been played off, and more would probably have been concluded were it not that many of the competitors refrain from playing to the last moment, in order to make themselves proficient in the openings. See above for the list of the games already finished.

The Ballarat Star 25 September 1866.

We give in detail the game played by Messrs O’Connor (white) and Deveril (black):-
(The comments in the game about some moves were actually made by the original reporter in 1866! BvR)


The Ballarat Star 10 October 1866.

The Ballarat Chess Tournament.
The tournament ahs advanced another stage, and the winners are now placed against each other. The losers are also matched to play for the smaller prizes. The chess room was enlivened since our last report by a visit from the 2nd prize taker in the Melbourne tournament, and in a game which he had with one of our strongest players here he was worsted, but he pleaded as his excuse his want of practice for some months past. A chess match with Melbourne by correspondence has been spoken of, and it is probable that a series of games between the two clubs will shortly take place.
The pairs among the winners of the past contests who now play for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes are Mr.Davey v Mr Watson, Mr Deverill v Mr Connell, Mr Fisher v Mr Harvey, Mr Gaggin v Mr M’Combe, Mr Hogarth v Mr.Mitchell, Mr.Holdes v Mr Mongredien.
The losers in the first contest who play for the 4th and 5th prizes are paired as follows:- Mr Batten v Mr Fennings, Mr Bristow v Mr Taylor, Mr Campbell v Mr Kennedy, Mr G.Fisher v Mr Pascoe, Mr Tatham v Mr Wilson, Mr O’Connor v Mr Partridge.

The Ballarat Star 9 November 1866.

The Ballarat Chess Tournament.

The chess tournament is now drawing towards its close, and since our last report of its proceedings, a very large number of games have been played. Only four players are now remaining, Messrs Fisher, M’Combe, Mitchell, and Watson. It is generally thought that the honor of first place will fall to the first-mentioned player, who has not yet lost a game in the tourney, but Mr. M’Combe brings with him a home reputation of no mean order, and Mr Watson, with the odds of pawn and move he receives, will stand a fair chance. The winners of the pairs previously given were Messrs Watson, Deveril, Fisher, M’Combe, Mitchell, and Mongredien, who were again divided, the result of their play being as follows: Mr Deveril v Mr Fisher 0-2; Mr Mitchell v Mr M’Combe; Mr Mongredien v Mr Watson 0-2.

The games among those who lost in the first matches have resulted in leaving six players, the winners among whom will come for the 4th and 5th prizes. In the pairs previously mentioned in a report in the Star for these prizes, the winners are Messrs Batten, Taylor, Kennedy, G.Fisher, Tatham, and O’Connor who have been again divided by matching Mr Batten against Mr Taylor, Mr.Kennedy against Mr Tatham, and Mr G.Fisher against  Mr O’Connor, but none of these opponents have as yet played off.

The Ballarat Star 24 April 1867.

The Ballarat Chess Tournament has at length been concluded, resulting in the first prize falling to Mr.C.Fisher, second prize Mr.C.M.Watson, third prize Mr.A.M.McCombe, fourth prize Mr.C.Q.Kennedy, and fifth prize to Mr.W.H.Batten. The tournament has, on the whole, been a very successful affair.
A meeting was held on Wednesday last for the presentation of prizes. The first consist of a very handsome set of Staunton’s ivory chess men, in a carved ebony box, with handsome board, value ten pounds. The second prize is five volumes of Wright’s Encyclopedia, handsomely bound, value seven pounds. The remaining prizes are mostly books.

Subsequent published reports about the Ballarat Handicap Chess Tournament controversy

The Australasian May 1867.

The Chess Tournament organised by the above club has, we are informed, been brought to an unsatisfactory termination, and the contests decided in a somewhat arbitrary manner, inasmuch as the degree of Champion has been conferred upon a competitor before the stipulated number of games has been played, and the second place given to another who had previously become, through defeat, ineligible to compete for that honour.

We glean from the correspondence before us that the competitor referred to first adopted the extremely slow-movement tactics of play, consuming repeatedly half an hour, and in one instance an hour and a half, over a single move, and by this process prolonged one game over two evenings, and another game over three evenings, occupying about six hours each sitting; that after losing the second game he refused to proceed with the match until he had had an opportunity of studying the “irregular" openings and defences adopted by his opponent; and that after a lapse of several, weeks he announced his readiness to continue the match, but at a time when it was impossible for his opponent to play, and through this default was declared the victor.

Whilst there is no law by which the time of moving can be limited, it is a well-known fact that from four to six hours is the average time required to contest a well-played game; and having examined carefully the games above referred to, we confess our inability to discover any intricate positions in the play of either combatants to warrant the unusually long time spent over these games. We also consider that the refusal of a player to proceed with a match until he had acquired a knowledge of the particular style of play adopted by his opponent is an innovation of the laws and chivalry of chess, and should disqualify the player from further contest with that opponent.

The Australasian 11 May 1867

The remarks which we were called upon to make in our last issue with reference to this tournament have produced an angry protest from Ballarat, and we regret that the intemperate language used by the writer thereof, and the introduction of the name of a third person, preclude the publication of that communication in our columns.

Our statement, however, that the championship has been conferred upon a competitor before the stipulated number of games had been played is substantially admitted, whilst a general contradiction is given, to the other portions of the report.

Our remarks about slow play were founded on what we believe to be reliable information, corroborated by the receipt of the two games which occupied five sittings, in one of which games it was shown that a whole evening was consumed over moves Nos. 19-26, and this we decidedly call slow play.

With reference to the statement that a player refused to proceed with the match until he had had an opportunity of studying the "irregular" openings and defences adopted by his opponent, we have the positive assurance of one the players that such is the fact, and that an interval of nearly four weeks elapsed between the second and third games, namely, from about the 19th December to the 12th January. A correspondent also furnishes us with the following particulars of the mode adopted in pairing the players in the fourth and last rounds, and which completely corroborates our statement, that the “second place had been given to a player who had previously become, through defeat, ineligible to compete for that honour."

Our correspondent states: -“In the fourth round the competitors were reduced to three, say A, B, and C. These names were written on cards, and with a blank card were placed in a hat, and drawn out in the presence of the secretary in pairs. A. and the blank were drawn together, and according to the rules which govern chess tournaments, A. became a winner in that round. B. and C. were necessarily drawn together, and B. became a winner also in that round. In the fifth and last round (and which always terminates a chess tournament) there were only two players left, A and B, none others being qualified to compete for first and second prizes. Therefore, if a second prize has been awarded it is an injustice to either A. or B”.

We are also referred to the latest similar case on record in the Chess Players Magazine of November last, where, in a tournament between the members of the Birmingham Chess Club, the above mode of pairing odd numbers was adopted, and where the players paired with blanks were declared winners in which blanks were drawn.

Before quitting this subject we would, in the interest of chess, suggest the desirability of the gentlemen interested in the first and second prizes finishing the match by correspondence or by the medium of the telegraph, and would be glad to facilitate the arrangement of preliminaries if both players were agreeable to play in the way suggested.

Postscript by BvR.

The above controversy seems to implicate the two top finishers of the tournament, Fisher and Watson, in a serious way. I find it hard to believe that they were involved, in light of the many subsequent reports which speak highly of their distinguished careers in chess, as well as in their professions. Both men apparently were highly regarded by their peers. However, it is highly likely, that the ‘controversy’ was actually unrelated to the Handicap Tournament, but rather to the tournament played early 1867 in Smythesdale, and won by Mr.T.Taylor.


Chapter 4. The Ballarat Star 26 April 1869

Challenge by Mr. Andrew Burns for a match against Charles Fisher.

The chess players of Ballarat noted with no little interest, a few weeks since, in the columns of the Australasian, a challenge from Mr. Andrew 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 27 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 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 as to 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 “

The Ballarat Star 29 April 1869

Letter to the editor by Charles Fisher

Sir- A letter appears in your issue of the 29th inst. from Mr. Simpson, conveying a challenge from Mr. Burns, of the Melbourne Chess Club, to play me an even match for the championship of the colony. So far as the challenge itself is concerned I am quite willing to accept it. But in respect to the terms of such challenge, viz., that it is to be 100 pound a-side, I must beg to decline; and would merely remark that it is not my intention to do so. Your correspondent also remarks on some challenge thrown out to Mr. Burns in a paragraph in Monday’s Star, and further states that the proposal to have money on the match came first from Ballarat. I beg distinctly to state that I know nothing of either, and no one was authorised by me to make any proposals. At the same time I should be most happy to play Mr. Burns a friendly match when convenient.
Your, etc, Chas Fisher