Dr. Robert Dunstan (1849 – 1927)
Probably the Best Cornish Player Cornwall Never Had.
A few days ago, someone asked me for information about a certain Dr. Dunstan who played for Surrey, Devon and Sussex during his long playing career. His was a name I’ve often seen in the records but otherwise knew nothing about, so I took the opportunity to dig a little deeper, and this is the result.
Dr. Robert Dunstan was born in Liskeard in 1849, the eighth of nine children born to Robert Dunstan (a Mine Agent born in Modbury, Devon) and Anne (born in Tywardreath, a small village between Liskeard and Fowey). They lived at 68, Trevecca Cottages, Liskeard. The family must have moved frequently, as all the children were born in different places in south west Cornwall.
By 1861 father Robert was listed as a Surveyor of Mines, so there was ambition in the family. By 1870 Robert’s sister Annie, 13 years his senior, had married John Rundell and they lived in London, so when young Robert went to study medicine at Guys Hospital, he was able to lodge with his relatives, which probably made his higher education financially possible.
Very soon after qualifying he married a Cornishwoman, Emily Jane from Launceston, and by 1880 they had 4 children under 5, though they put a quick stop to all that. The eldest child was born back in Cornwall, in St. Ives in 1875 and the following year Walter Robert was born in Wistanston, a small village between Shropshire’s Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge and his patients came from the nearby villages described so succinctly by A. E. Houseman …
“Clunton & Clunbury, Clungunford & Clun
Are the quietest places under the sun”.
Which suggests that he would have had to get experience through a series of temporary posts, but idyllic though these places undoubtedly were, he was keen to get back to London and by 1881 he was practicing as a GP in the Seven Sisters Road.
A decade later he was living at 61, Acre Lane, Lambeth and was listed as a “Surgeon in General Practice”. By 1901 they had moved to 282, Balham High Road.
His early chess career was spent in Surrey, joining first the Tufnell Park Liberal Club and then Brixton. In the season in which they won the League championship his personal score was 14½ / 15. He later became President of the Surrey C. C. A.
By 1904 he had moved to Devon and in 1905 was playing for his new county against Kent on Bd. 1 (drawn) and against Essex on Bd. 3 (Won), this latter game appearing in BCM analysed by Samuel Passmore. However, the following year he played top board for Cornwall against Devon, the only occasion I can trace. Apart from that he played for Devon on Bds. 1 or 2. However, even then he flitted from club to club, playing at one time or another, for Plymouth, Paignton and Exeter. To this extent, he is somewhat difficult to pin down. He is not mentioned in Gaige’s encyclopaedic Chess Personalia, there are no photographs and no games of his are to be found in on-line databases. Yet in the decade 1904 – 14 a game of his was published in BCM most years, indicating either his gifts for entertaining play or self-publicity.
In 1911 he became Devon Champion and was Runner-up in 1917 & 1918, winning it back in 1921 & 1922, then aged 73. That same year he also led Exeter to victory in Devon’s Division 1 – the Bremridge Cup. He had already led Paignton to victory in the same tournament in 1914.
During WWI he was a medical officer of troops in Paignton. This was probably at Oldway Mansion, the home of Paris Singer that he turned over to the war effort, becoming the American Women’s War Hospital, with Lady Randolph Churchill as Chairman of the Committee and Paris as her Deputy. It was a place where injured officers could recuperate. In 1951 this became the home for 60 years of the much-loved Paignton Chess Congress.
In 1914 he was recorded as living at “Russley”, Palace Avenue, Paignton, and was a member of both Paignton and Torquay, although playing only for Paignton in matches. In 1923 – 25 there was a paid-up member of the Teignmouth & Shaldon Club called Dr. W. Dunstan, but this was almost certainly his son, Walter Robert, who had also qualified as a “Surgeon in General Practice” and would have inherited at least some of his father’s chess talent. It’s easy to confuse the two from the records. His other son, John Arthur Dunstan also played and had two quick wins in the Knightsbridge Chess Circle Tournament published in the BCM in 1915.
Eventually he retired to Brighton where he played for the Christ Church Club and played for Sussex until he retired from county match play in November 1926. Ironically, his last game was against Surrey, and his win was published in BCM with the footnote by J. H. Blake: As this is understood to be (at 78) Dr. Dunstan’s last match game he is to be warmly congratulated on quitting the arena upon so happy and characteristic an effort. He died on 27th November 1927, aged 78.
And BCM noted He was gifted with a very quick sight of the board but was not a superficial analyst. On the contrary, he was always a dangerous opponent; and away from the board he was an adept at repartee.
The following game scores may be found in BCM.
|1901||DR||B||0||P. R. England||North||P. R. England||Postal gm|
|1903||DR||W||0||M. Jackson||North||Postal gm|
|1904||DR||W||1||H. E. Dobell||Hastings||F. J. Marshall|
|1908||DR||B||1||T. Taylor||Plymouth||C. T. Blanshard|
|1910||DR||B||1||C. Jenkinson||Cornwall||F. D. Yates|
|1914||DR||B||1||T. Taylor||Plymouth||C. E. C.Tattersall|
|1926||DR||W||1||W. Greenwood||Surrey||J. H. Blake|
This is a synthesis of material from (a) British Chess Magazine, (b) Chris Ravilious and Brian Denman published by Dr. Dave Regis in his book 100-Odd Years Of Exeter Chess Club (c) my own archives and (d) ancestry.co.uk.