An Australian bridge champion

I well remember when, in my later teens, my first real girlfriend, who was a bridge player, tried to teach me how to play. Bidding systems were beyond me, and it was almost the quick end of our relationship,. We soon decided I had a mental block.

So it was with some humility that I discovered the other year that one Cayley was an Australian bridge champion. He was Harry Francis Cayley (1910-1981), usually known as Frank, son of Henry Priaulx Cayley (about whom there material for at least one future blog post) who was himself a keen bridge player. He was Australian national champion in all the main types of bridge championship – individual, pairs and teams. He represented Australia in bridge matches against New Zealand and frequently played in the top team of his own State of New South Wales. He was a founder member of both the NSW and the Queensland Bridge Associations: he was the first president of the latter, and president of the NSW Association for 38 years, afterwards being given the honour of being made President Emeritus. He was Vice-Presient of the International Bridge Association for ten years, and, for a period, President of the Australia Bridge Federation.

He was a journalist who was the second Australian to have a regular bridge column. He wrote a number of books on bridge, the last of which – Contract Bridge Made Easy – might have helped me in my teens if I had had any aptitude for the game. He also wrote what some regard as still the standard work on the history of the Australian flag – Flag of Stars, reprinted in 1980 as Beneath the Southern Cross: The Story of Australia through Flags.

He was 13 when he first played bridge. This was apparently a school punishment which was inflicted for playing poker, and the punishment angle was that he was kept indoors and not allowed to go boating. Many of us will have had experience of rather more severe punishments at school.

Let me close this blog post with words from Frank Cayley’s last interview, when he said that the “worst attribute in a bridge player is complacency. Self-satisfaction is fatal to progress. When you think you know everything, you really know nothing about the game.” Those thoughts could be applied wisely to so many aspects of our lives.

Main source:


The cricketing baronet

Sir George Allanson Cayley, the 8th Cayley baronet, played first class cricket for Cambridge University and the MCC. Unfortunately, despite the level at which he was selected to play, his actual record smacks just a little of the moderate sporting ability of a number of the Cayleys.

His heyday as a cricketer was from 1854 to 1862, and his batting average was 17.83 runs, not quite enough to get him into the record books, and as a bowler he never secured a wicket. In 1854, playing for the MCC against Cambridge University, he was out for 4 in the first innings (he never got a chance to play in the second). In another match that year, playing for the Cambridge Quidnuncs, he was, so the Chelmsford Chronicle gleefully recorded, caught for a duck.

In 1869, when he was playing for the Yorkshire Gentlemen, he was again out for a duck – though this time as a fielder he caught one of the opposing batsmen. On that occasion he was playing alongside his brother Digby, who was bowled out for 3 runs but managed to catch two of the other sides’ batsmen.

As someone who was always totally hopeless at all sports, I find all this comforting. But it has not stopped the Wikipedia article about George Allanson Cayley being entitled “George Cayley (cricketer)” to distinguish him from his grandfather the aeronautical baronet.


“Reports of my Death are Greatly Exaggerated”

One of a gaggle of Cayleys – father, sons and grandson – who distinguished themselves in the military was Henry Cayley (1834 to 1904), the father. He rose to the rank of Deputy Surgeon-General in India, and in retirement volunteered to go out to South Africa to run a hospital at the start of the Second Boer War, and was Honorary Surgeon to Queen Victoria and King Edward VII.

In his younger days in India, his aptitudes were evidently seen as going well beyond the medical. Early in his career, alongside medical duties, he was pout in charge of a Sikh police corps. He took part in a number of expeditions in N W India and central Asia, and also represented the United Kingdom. In 1867 he was appointed Joint British Commissioner in Ladakh, and soon after the British newspapers reported that he had been killed. At the end of December that year, they issued a corrective report stating that, happily, “the reported assassination of Assistant-Surgeon H Cayley, the British representative at Ladak, was without foundation; and some very interesting notes by him respecting that remote region have just been published.”


Lacking in Bedside Manner

I always enjoy this extract from the obituary of my great-great-uncle Dr William Cayley (1836-1916) in the British Medical Journal.

“Cayley’s abilities as a physician were recognised by his colleagues as being of the highest order. But he was reticent to a fault and lacking in the bedside manner and the capacity for small talk that often contribute to popular success. A lover of flowers and the classics, he was an expert mountaineer, spending his annual holidays in Switzerland and the Tyrol. A bachelor, non-smoker and teetotaller, he died in retirement in Richmond.”

C E Lakin, who studied and worked with him, said that William Cayley was always “quick, direct and practical.” He described William Cayley’s ward rounds thus:

“at the bedside there would be a few questions, “a rapid examination conducted with a suppressed eagerness of manner and mostly with closed eyes, a picking out of the hidden feature of a case, possibly another question or two, and then the sudden enunciation of the diagnosis… It reminded one remotely of the oracular announcements of Apollo.”

William Cayley also gave lectures to medical students in an inimitable style. Quoting C E Lakin again:

“The lecturer started with rapid, jerky sentences as though possessed of great eagerness to impart important or wonderful information of absorbing interest, the words tumbling over each other in their intensely eager delivery. A short pause followed each principal sentence as though to give his listeners time to take in what had been so rapidly presented.”

When in my working life I gave training talks to junior civil servants, or spoke at conferences of business or City people, I suspect my manner was similar: it must have been in the genes.

One day William Cayley turned up at the Middlesex Hospital, where he was based, with a smile on his face. When a colleague remarked on this, he responded, “To see a patient at home is a somewhat rare event these days, but this morning I saw two and my dog bit them both!”

A number of Cayleys were noted for being socially awkward, like William Cayley. I would not dream of commenting on living members of the family – not even myself!


A letter from aeronautical Sir George to Charles Babbage

Sir George Cayley, the aeronautical baronet, and Charles Babbage were friends for many years, and some of their correspondence has survived. They often teased each other, including about some of their scientific preoccupations: Sir George would refer in amused tones to how long Babbage was working on his calculating machine – a forerunner of the computer; and Babbage would tease Sir George about the time he was devoting to inventing an ‘air engine’ to replace steam engines in locomotives – and hopefully to be light enough to power flight (Sir George never managed to invent a light-enough engine for that purpose, despite years of working on the problem).

Here is a letter dated 29 April, probably in 1842, from Brompton, where Sir George was confined by a kidney problem. It is a typical example of his slightly heavy-handed facetiousness. Sir George’s handwriting was very crabbed, and, as is common in his letters, one or two words are uncertain or illegible.

Dear Babbage

I am invalided here down in Yorkshire, having some time ago run down by train to give my vote for a medical friend as physician to our Lunatic Asylum, by which I shook my own kidneys, had the pleasure of being beat by a majority of one, & brought unto medical [undecipherable word follows] into the bargain; so much for doing work gratis, you will say!

But to my point, & now mind if you had not been bored by this note, you would have been more perhaps by my having got in person into your snug pit[?] study, so take me quietly & give me three words gratis in brotherly love to an old Brother in the mechanical line.

I am much requested to enter into a Society or Association for promoting the wooden paving, or what may be the best pavings for London, under the auspices of a Mr Cochrane as president who lives in Devonshire place (number not specified). I have had but little experience in London matters & always dread being the dupe of persons seeking the means of patronage for sharks & managers [the word ‘manager’ could mean someone who was promoting a scam enterprise]. As you stand in the position to be fully acquainted with all that arises in a genuine way on matters of practical science, I want a jog of the elbow, if you can, as to this particular case. I send you the printed prospectus which as “proof confidential” you may keep snug or return.

I do not want you to bore yourself with writing more than two words, fudge or a true bill.

I hope in a few weeks to get up to town again & be able to get a little more leisure time with you over roast beef, the only legitimate leisure of the philosopher.* –

Yours ever sincerely

Geo Cayley

*Excepting as has ever been excepted, when Ladies are in the case. Then even you kneel at their shrine.

PS As a man of the world I wrote to Edward Cayley, who is in my house in Hertford St as to this point yesterday; but as to the mechanical value of the matter, or Mr Cochrane’s position as an efficient mechanical head to such an association, he can have no means of judging. GC

The Edward Cayley referred to in the Postscript was almost certainly Edward Stillingfleet Cayley (1802-62), who married his cousin, Sir George’s daughter Emma, and who was MP for the North Riding of Yorkshire from 1832 to his death.

[Source – British Library ADD 37192 f.73]

Sarah Walker, wife of the aeronautical baronet, and an Anglo-Saxon manuscript

Sir George Cayley, 6th Baronet, best-known today for his pioneering work on manned flight, married Sarah Walker, daughter of his tutor George Walker. Her daughter Catherine described her as beautiful, clever and highly educated – but having a vile temper. She probably needed to be educated and intelligent to keep up with the multifarious interests of her husband, and to hold her own in conversations around the dinner table with Sir George’s friends such as Charles Babbage. Catherine Cayley said that her father was Sarah’s “slave through life.” According to one of Sir George’s biographers, J Laurence Pritchard, “after his marriage it was said of [Sir George] Cayley that he had been born in Paradise but lived in Purgatory” because of his wife’s tantrums.

Sarah was an invalid in later life, suffering particularly from asthma. For this her doctor recommended that she take up smoking – the health risks of tobacco smoking were not appreciated back then, and it was often regarded as beneficial.

She seems to have maintained her intellectual interests to the end, and clearly was a collector of books. Records of manuscripts held by the British Library state that on 1 July 1841 she bought a 1669 Mainz edition of Emblemata Ethico Politica by Jacobus Bornitius (Jakob Bornitz, who died in 1625). Bornitz was a German jurist who wrote on legal and constitutional matters, and this work went through many editions, so it must have been something of a best-seller. The book was in Latin, so Sarah was probably able to read Latin fairly fluently.

The copy Sarah acquired has a particular interest for those interested in the Anglo-Saxons. In the 17th century, older manuscripts were often recycled in the bindings of books, and the binding of her copy of the Bornitz work incorporated sheets from a 9th-century manuscript of a work called De Virigintate (On Virginity) by the Anglo-Saxon writer, scholar and ecclesiastic Aldhelm, who died in 709 and was Abbot of Malmesbury and, in his last years, Bishop of Sherborne. This work was a Latin treatise praising virginity, and was addressed to the nuns of the monastery of Barking. We do not know if Sarah bought the Bornitz book because these sheets were in the binding.


  • Colonel Sir James Digby Legard KCB, The Legards of Anlaby and Ganton (Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co 1926)
  • J Laurence Pritchard, Sir George Cayley, Max Parrish 1961
  • British Library manuscript catalogue

Hung, drawn and quartered – Nicholas Postgate

Sir William Cayley, the first baronet, was a Justice of the Peace in Yorkshire during the reign of Charles II. In the area for which he was responsible there was a Roman Catholic priest called Nicholas Postgate. Nicholas Postgate had come to England in the 1630s to work in secret as a priest, and by the 1660s had responsibility for an area which included Pickering and Scarborough in Yorkshire – the area where Sir William exercised his role as JP.

In 1678 Titus Oates gave false evidence of a conspiracy to assassinate Charles II and replace him with a Roman Catholic monarch. His claims became wilder in the weeks and months that followed, and among those he accused were various senior ecclesiastics, peers, the royal physician, and Samuel Pepys. Charles II himself, to his credit, never believed the accusations, but it led to a period of anti-Catholic hysteria and some executions before reason and sense prevailed.

In this period of panic, on 9 December 1678, Nicholas Postgate was brought before Sir William Cayley and his son William (also a magistrate) at Brompton-by-Sawdon. He had been discovered hiding, under the name of Watson, in the house of a suspected Roman Catholic which was being searched for weaponry. John Reeves, an exciseman of Whitby who made the search, said that there were “alsoe, Popish bookes, relicks, wafers, and severall other things, all which the said Postgate owned to be his. The said Postgate said that he was called Watson, but afterwards being called by others by the name of Postgate, he owned that to be his right name.”

Nicholas Postgate, when questioned, stated that “of late he hath had noe certaine residence, but hath travailed about among his friends. Being demanded whether he be a Popish priest or noe, he saith, “Let them prove it,” and would give noe other direct answer. Being demanded how he came by, and what use he made of the bookes, wafers, and other things which were found with him, and which hee owned, he saith that some of them were given him by Mr. Goodricke, a Roman Catholicke, and other some by one Mr. Jowsie, a supposed Romish priest, both which are dead; and that hee made use of them by disposeing them to severall persons who desired them for helping their infirmities. Being demanded why he named himself, att the first, Watson, he saith that he hath sometimes been soe called, his grandmother on his father-side being soe called, and he being like that kindred.”

Sir William and his son had no choice but to commit the unfortunate Nicholas Postgate to trial at the York Assizes. There he was condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered. The sentence was carried out on 7 August 1679. He was over 80 at the time of his death. The segments of his body were distributed among friends and buried. Macabrely, one hand was sent to Douay College in France, where he had been trained as a priest.

Nicholas Postgate was beatified in November 1987. The portable altar stone he used can be seen at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Pickering, where there is also a statue of him.