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 information on Cayleys of Sussex origin

With the help of Roger Cayley, an Australian Cayley who came to England in the spring of this year and did some research in the parish registers of Maresfield, Sussex, I have been able to add very substantially to the information on Cayleys of Sussex origin, many of whose descendants now live in Australia and the United States, and to link in families I had not been otherwise able to connect with any certainty. You can see the results in the now very-much-extended page on the Cayley-Bradbury line. There are still some uncertainties, so if anyone can contribute more, or offer any corrections, please get in touch!

I would love to be able to link these Cayleys firmly in to the earlier Sussex Cayleys. And ultimately to the medieval Cayleys who held some lands in Sussex and from whom the Cayley baronets descend. But that may not be possible.

Obfuscations of Bird Painters

In Australia, one of the best-known Cayleys is not connected with the Cayley baronets: he is Neville William Cayley, a prolific painter of Australian birds and wildlife and author of what was, I think, the most popular Australian bird guide, editions of which were published over several decades – What Bird is That? (It was first published in 1931 and reissued as late as 1991.) But Neville William Cayley and his father – another bird painter, Neville Henry Peniston (or Penniston) Cayley – seem to have laid a number of false trails about the family origins.

Many sources state that Neville Henry Peniston Cayley was born in Dover, or on a ship off the town, and some add that his father was a sea captain. These stories appear to have emanated from Neville Henry Peniston Cayley himself, and his death certificate gives the place of his birth as “at sea off Dover”. Neville William Cayley himself is reported to have told an amateur historian that his paternal grandfather bought his way out of the Royal Navy.

The birth in or off Dover is a myth. And there is no evidence that Neville Henry Peniston Cayley’s father served in the Royal Navy.

Several other factors suggest that there may have been a deliberate concealment of the facts relating to the family origins. First, a trail seems to have been laid to suggest that he came to Australia in about 1880, a date given in a number of sources. A few sources give the immigration year as 1882. In fact it was 1877 (several of Neville Henry Peniston Cayley’s siblings came with him). Second, on arrival in Australia, the surname spelling was changed from Caley to Cayley. It has been stated that this was to distance the family from genteel Caley connections: this seems improbable, given the fact that so many Cayleys were linked to the Cayley baronets. Third, there was confusion about the date of Neville Henry Peniston’s birth: it is shown as 1853 in his death certificate but was in fact 1854. Finally, art catalogues etc give his third name variously as Peniston and Pennington.

The facts are firmly established. Birth, baptismal and census records show that Neville Henry Cayley was born and baptised in Norwich with the names Neville Henry Penniston Caley; his father was a silk mercer, Nathaniel Caley, who died in Norwich in 1867; and in 1871 he himself was working as an assistant draper in Norwich.

Neville Henry Peniston Cayley had a reputation as a hard-drinker, and it is possible that he was given to inebriated romancing about his origins. But my suspicious mind wonders whether there was a deliberate attempt to conceal the facts: whether something happened in Norwich which precipitated his emigration, along with two of his sisters and two of his brothers, to Australia and which he wanted to conceal or distance himself from. Is there some disreputable secret? Was there a big quarrel which split the family? If anyone can throw light on this, I would love to hear!