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:


More Medieval Mayhem

The Cayleys of the Middle Ages seem to have been as rough in their ways as most land-owning families of a period when people often took the law into their own hands – or ignored it. Edmund de Caly, who was from the main baronial Cayley branch of Norfolk, was the subject of a complaint by Henry de Hastynges in 1315 that he [Edmund] and many others had assaulted his servants at Gretton, Cambridgeshire when they were carrying cloths from St Ives, “and followed them in hostile manner from Gretton to Cambridge, where the commonalty of the town being assembled they took his servants and imprisoned them, and took from them the cloths and other goods and chattels… and carried the same away.”

Edmund de Caly clearly got the good folk of Cambridge on his side. Probably he believed that right was on his side too – perhaps because of a standing quarrel, or perhaps because he thought that Henry de Hastynges’ servants were stealing. A commission of oyer and terminer – a judicial investigation – was ordered on 3 July 1315, but, alas, I have been able to find no record of what the outcome was. As this was the time when the Cayleys were at their wealthiest and most powerful, one suspects that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the affair, Edmund got away with it.

Source: Calendar of the Patent Rolls, Edward II, 1313-1317, pub. HMSO 1898


“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.”


Drowned in a Maritime Disaster

The Empress of Ireland – colorised photo from Wikipedia

In the early morning of 29 May 1914 there was thick fog at the mouth of the St Lawrence River, Canada. RMS Empress of Ireland was carrying 1057 passengers and 420 crew members from Liverpool. At 2 am she collided with a Norwegian collier, SS Storstad. The collier stayed afloat, but there was a gash in the liner’s side. The Empress of Ireland had watertight doors, and more than enough lifeboats for everyone, but there was no time to close the doors and get everyone into the boats. The ship listed quickly to starboard, and the angle was too steep for many of the lifeboats to be launched. Some of those that were launched crashed violently into the ship’s side, those on them going overboard. The Empress of Ireland foundered in 14 minutes, throwing most of the hundreds still on her into the freezing water. The lifeboats of the Storstad rescued as many as possible, and other ships came to the rescue and did what they could, but only 465 were saved. 1012 died, among them 134 children and almost all of a large Salvation Army group.

This was the worst Canadian maritime disaster in peacetime.

Among those who perished was John Joseph Cayley, one of the Canadian Cayley-Nokes line. He was a first-class passenger, and, as with so many, his body was never recovered.


A Yorkshire Quarrel

The Court Rolls of Wakefield, Yorkshire are one of the most extensive sets of judicial records, running from the 13th to the 19th centuries. They are full of gems. Cayleys feature quite often in the medieval period, usually with just a record of their having given excuses for non-attendance (a landlord could command all tenants to attend and fine them if they did not have an acceptable excuse for not doing so), a pledge that someone would attend at a future hearing or a guarantee of someone’s good behaviour. But some entries tell rather more of a story.

In the 1290s there was clearly some ill-feeling between members of the Cayley family and one Richard del Bothem. On 16 November 1296 Richard made a formal complaint that Nicholas de Caylli had assaulted him: Nicholas countered with a suit for trespass against Richard. A few weeks later, on 6 December, Richard del Bothem sued Nicholas de Caylli for “assaulting him and wounding him on the head with his sword in his own house, also for carrying off one of his horses which Richard had impounded in his corn, after cutting the tether with his sword”, and sought damages of 100 shillings. The defendant denies it, saying that when he came to redeem his horse, impounded in the common pasture, Richard beat him with a stick, and used insulting words, etc.; he claims damages 100s., and says that he had only acted in self-defence. They both crave an inquisition [a formal court hearing].”

On 1 January 1297 a day is set for the hearing. By then Richard del Bothem is also accusing John de Cailly of trespass as well.

But – as such quarrels must frequently have been – a settlement was reached. On 15 February 1297 “Richard del Bothem and Nicholas de Caylly have a love-day” – a splendid term, highly appropriate for the morrow of St Valentine’s! A ‘love day’ was a day set by a court for arbitration between parties to a legal dispute: it was not always successful, and sometimes one of the parties would even attack the other on the way to arbitration (on one notorious occasion in 1411 a litigant with some 500 men ambushed his opponent on his way to a love day). The arbitration clearly worked in this instance: in the first week of Lent, 1297 Nicholas is recorded as giving 12 pence “for license of concord with Richard del Bothem” and another 12 pence for withdrawing his suit against Richard.

Richard del Bothem must have been quite a difficult character. The Wakefield Court Rolls record other quarrels in which he was engaged, other allegations of assault and insult, theft of timber and nuts from woodlands, a case in which he denied having been paid for a feather-bed, accusations of trespass, and a fine on his guarantor because he was not “faithful” to his earl. I don’t set too much store by the thefts of forest produce – forest laws were strict and such fines were a welcome source of income for feudal landlords. But Richard clearly tended to get caught up in fractious disputes.

Home Children sent to Canada

From 1869 to the 1930s tens of thousands of orphaned, abandoned and poor children were sent from Britain to Canada by a range of church organisations and charities. One of them was a Cayley.

On 19 May 1898 Annie Cayley, age 12, left Liverpool on the Numidian. She was one of a group of children sent by the Liverpool Catholic Children’s Protection Society under the supervision of a Miss Yates to St Vincent’s Home at 11 St Francis St, Montreal, Quebec. This home was established for the Society by a Miss Brennan in 1884. The children were selected by a school board committee, usually with the consent of the child but with frequently little attempt to obtain the consent of parents, other relatives or guardians. The conditions which children endured after emigration could be harsh, and accommodation could be cramped an unsuitable. Whether that was the case at St Vincent’s Home, I do not know.

If any reader has more information about Annie, I would welcome it. She was presumably from Liverpool.

More on Sussex and Kent Cayleys

I have now added more people to the website page on Cayleys associated with the Weald area of Sussex and Kent. This takes things as far as I can at the moment, but I would welcome any information from others. As I have stressed on the webpage, some of the family relationships and details about individuals are very tentative and may need to be revised  in the light of further data.

There are other Sussex and Kent families with the Cayley surname, and I may add information on them at a later date.

You can see what I have done at Sussex and Kent Cayleys of the 16th to 18th centuries.