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Drummond, William Huntly – 15th Earl of Perth. (1871 – 1937)

William Huntly Drummond  

The 15th Earl of Perth.

(05.08.1871   -   20.08.1937)

The January 1929 edition of the British Chess Magazine carries the full result of that season’s Devon v Cornwall match. The score was 15½ – ½ to Devon, which, assuming a 16 – 0 result is almost impossible, must surely be the biggest winning margin in the long history of this annual encounter, if not the whole of westcountry inter-county chess. The details as published were:- 

  Devon     Cornwall
1 F. Pitt-Fox 1 0 H. A. Addison
2 H. J. H. Cope 1 0 T. M. Willoughby
3 T. Taylor 1 0 F. R. Mills
4 H. J. Stretton 1 0 Rev. J. M. Ford
5 A. B. Treloar 1 0 Rev. H. Hole
6 R. W. Hornbrook 1 0 J. M. Bear
7 A. H. Hart 1 0 J. B. Elcum
8 H. V. Mallison 1 0 F. Roberts
9 Dr. L. C. Lander 1 0 D. B. Peacock
10 F. W. Andrew 1 0 H. T. Robinson
11 H. J. Taylor 1 0 G. H. Walker
12 W. Ball 1 0 G. Dobell
13 W. Rickard 1 0 W. E. Grenfell
14 Rev. J. Smith 1 0 H. J. Grenfell
15 C. H. Paul ½ ½ W. Gray
16 Earl of Perth 1 0 W. B. Williams
  Total 15½ ½  

 The magazine editor was sympathetic, adding “The luck was all against Cornwall. This cannot show Cornwall’s real form and we shall expect to see something quite different next time“. 

Even more interesting than this, however, is the identity of Devon’s bottom board, there listed as “the Earl of Perth”. He was, in fact, William Huntly Drummond, the 15th Earl of Perth. He had been born in Simla, India, to the Hon. Captain James David Drummond and his wife Ellen, née Thornhill. Although serving in the 90th Foot Regiment of the Indian army, James was the 10th Viscount Strathearn but at that time was not in line for the Earldom of Perth. 

James’ wife, Ellen died, and he re-married, this time to Margaret Smythe of Methven Castle, Perthshire. Interestingly, the coat of arms of the Smythes of Methven consisted of two chess rooks. She bore James a further 3 sons and 2 daughters, the eldest son of whom was James Eric, who was eventually to succeed his half-brother, William, as the 16th Earl of Perth in 1937. 

In 1902, George Drummond, who had been the 14th Earl for almost half a century, died aged almost 100, and as his sons had predeceased him without male issue, the title went to William as the nearest relative, having already become the 11th Viscount Strathallan on the death of his father in 1893. 

The title of Earl of Perth did not come alone – with it he also became Thane of Lennox, Chief of the Clan Drummond, Baron Drummond of Cargill, Baron Maderty and the Steward of Menteith & Strathearn. 

In 1911, William married Anna, the daughter of Jacob Strauss of Prague, and at the outbreak of the Great War had been resident in Munich for several years, whereupon he was immediately seized by the German authorities as a suspicious alien. He was imprisoned in a fortress in southern Germany before being moved to Ruhleben Camp, a converted racecourse near Berlin, where he spent the duration of the war with 5,500 others. Although conditions there were tough, the Geneva Convention was observed, and as the probable alternative for him, as a former Captain in the Black Watch, was the trenches of the Western Front, it is a matter of some conjecture which was the better option.  One fellow prisoner, Francis Gribble, recalled in his memoirs of the camp…”our most brilliant chess-player, if a player of my own poor capacity may presume to judge, was the Earl of Perth, who had long settled at Munch”. 

In 1922 he made a large donation to the Edinburgh Chess Club to enable them to purchase their own premises in Alva Street, which they still have to this day. 

In 1925, he was listed as a paid-up member of the Dawlish Chess Club, which at that time met at Brunt’s Café, where its owner, A. E. Brunt was a member. This provides a clue as to the Earl’s possible Devon connection, for at this time the President of the Devon County Chess Association was Robert Newman, Lord Mamhead, (q.v.) whose local club would have been Dawlish. It is possible that these two members of the House of Lords knew of each other’s interest in the noble game, and that Drummond was a regular visitor to Mamhead House at this time, although this bit is conjecture. 

For the 1925 – 26 season he joined the Exeter Club, after his application for membership was approved at the October 1925 Committee Meeting. He attended their 1927 and 1928 A.G.M.s and competed in their Championship “B” section, which he won. His address was given as 13, The Strand, Dawlish. In 1927 he took temporary residence at the Marlborough House Hotel, Teignmouth, before moving to 13, Barton Villas, Dawlish. Although it is clear he was more than just passing through, he was not listed as a member for the 1929 – 30 season, and was not heard of again in Devon. His match against Cornwall in December 1928 must have been the climax of his stay in the county. 

It’s not clear exactly what his connection was with Devon, but William Huntly Drummond must be the only peer of the realm to have played chess for the County, which qualifies him for this gallery of pioneers. 

He was succeeded as Earl in 1937 by his half-brother (James) Eric Drummond who had for many years been a major player on the world political stage. From 1912 – 15 he was PPS to Prime Minister Asquith, and until 1919 served Foreign Secretary Balfour. The US President Wilson secured his appointment as Secretary General of the League of Nations from its inception in 1919 until his elevation to the peerage.

 © R. H. Jones  2010

 Bibliography: 

Exeter Club minutes.

B.C.M.

Various websites.

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