TWO SCOTTISH ‘CASTLES’ IN KINTYRE WHERE TWO KEY FIGURES IN EARLY HISTORY OF SPORT

CLUB HISTORIAN’S VISIT TO TWO SCOTTISH ‘CASTLES’ IN KINTYRE WHERE TWO KEY FIGURES IN EARLY HISTORY OF SPORT AND YC&AC GREW UP, AND ANOTHER THAT ANOTHER ONE INHERITED

In driving from Minard Castle to Skipness Castle, I passed through the small town of Tarbet.  I have just remembered that the connection between the Yokohama Hamilton and Fraser brothers and Scottish castles did not end in 1866 at Skipness. Evan James Fraser inherited the Dunmore estate near Tarbet of his aunt in the late 1880s on condition that he changed his family name from Fraser to Fraser Campbell. He spent quite a lot of time there including in 1910, one year before he was run over and killed near the entrance of Central Park in New York. His planned  retirement to Dunmore never happened but his wife spent most of the rest of her life in the castellated Dunmore House which was often referred to as her ‘castle in Scotland.’ ‘Tommy’ is a term often used in 19th and 20th centuries to refer to ‘the common British soldier’ and one story of its origin is that it comes from the name of a private called Tommy Atkins who was killed in the siege of Lucknow in 1857 during the Indian Mutiny. Poems by Rudyard Kipling and William McGonagall at the end of century helped to popularize the term which is sometimes used disparagingly.  It would be interesting to confirm the earliest use of the term in Japan but it seems to me that some historians would like to denigrate the earliest playing of western sport in Japan by giving the impression it was played casually by transients such as passing sailors.

 In fact, the evidence shows that many of those earliest players of western sports were the sons of some of Britain’s leading families, though not the first sons who generally wouldn’t have been permitted to risk their family’s future in such dangerous places and Japan.  This month I will introduce you to the childhood residences of some of these men, including those involved in the founding of the Yokohama Foot Ball Club in 1866, which were among the finest in blighty and at least one of its colonies.

In fact, this March I hired a car and drove up to the Kintyre peninsular of Scotland west of Glasgow to check out two ‘castles’ where the childhood homes of three key figures in the introduction of western sports to Japan and the start of the YC&AC.

James Campbell Fraser captained the Yokohama ‘Shore’ team in the ‘lost’ first ever cricket match played in Japan and set up his business J.C. Fraser and Co. in No. 48 which in the 1880’s was sold or transferred to and worked and lived in by YC&AC founder J. P. Mollison who for many years ran Fraser’s business after Fraser left in 1868.  The remains of the building, today known as Mollison Shokai, survives and is designated as an important cultural asset and the oldest surviving western structure in Kanagawa prefecture.

George Hamilton arrived in Japan in 1870 after being educated at Rugby School and worked for J. C. Fraser & Co and lived with Mollison. He was a great all round sportsmen and was the mainstay of the football club, rowed in the first ever interport event in Japan, and prominent in other sports clubs.

Evan James Fraser was James Campbell Fraser’s younger brother, but unlike his brother who attended Eton College, he went to Rugby School entering not long before George Hamilton left.  When he arrived in Yokohama not long after Hamilton did and took over the management of his brother’s company from Mollison. He rowed in the famous fours victory in 1871 behind Hamilton and was an excellent cricketer and football player. He moved from Yokohama to New York in the late 1870s and his close friend Hamilton followed him to the US in the mid-1880s.

I learned from the Rugby School Register for the period that the home of Hamilton’s family was Minard Castle and that of the Fraser brothers was Skipness Castle, both in Argyll. These two so-called ‘castles’ are located on the Kintyre peninsula on the shore of the sea loch Fyne.

Minard Castle is about a two and a half hour drive from Glasgow and Skipness Castle is another one and a half hours drive further along the coast road to Campbeltown. I have put the word ‘castle’ inside inverted commas because although there is a genuine old castle at Skipness, Minard Castle was originally an estate and a country pile called Knockbuie House until George Hamilton’s father William acquired the estate in around 1842 and built a new large castellated structure on the front and called it Minard Castle after the small nearby village of Minard. In the early 1830s William Hamilton had become a partner in one of the first East India trading firms set up after the East India Company lost its monopoly.  His firm Hamilton & Gray was one of the first British firms to trade in Singapore and that company’s subsidiary J. Jarvie & Co.  had offices in Shanghai and in Kanagawa.  Unfortunately, Hamilton’s companies went bankrupt in 1865 and Minard Castle, which had been collateral for part of the borrowings, was sold to John Pender, the undersea cable communications magnate who also happened to be J. P. Mollison’s uncle.  It is possible that this transaction led to the introduction of George Hamilton to Mollison and to Hamilton’s job in Yokohama with Fraser & Co.

Minard Castle has had its ups and downs over the years has been owned the Gayre Clan since 1974 and the Gayres have restored many of main rooms to something like they were. The mansion has several fine rooms and great views of the sea loch. WH is carved into the wooden fireplace in the main dining room.

James Campbell Fraser was born in Demerara, a Dutch colony in South America until 1815 and is now part of Guyana. Fraser’s father William made a fortune in the sugar plantation business and in 1843 used the fortune to buy the estate of Skipness which included the old castle which was described long ago as ‘a memorable and majestic pile’ and being probably built by the Danes. The family didn’t live in the castle but in a fine Queen Anne mansion close nearby. Wiiliam Fraser died in 1856 at the age 69 but not in Skipness but in London.  The estate was inherited in 1858 by his eldest son William Thomas Fraser, a lieutenant in the 42nd Royal Highlanders,  when he came of age. He held a dinner for the tenants and their families at the ‘castle’ which was followed by a ball at which ‘the dancing was kept up with great spirit and hilarity until an early hour.’ Unfortunately for the family, William Thomas squandered his inheritance and Skipness Castle estate was sold in 1866.  The fine house was knocked down in the 1870s and replaced with a grander mansion leaving the entrance to the castle land as the only surviving evidence of the ownership by the Fraser family.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: