Note: In this article, to show that the sport being referred to is a direct antecedent of modern American baseball, the term “baseball” is used throughout, except in quoted passages. The alternative of “base ball” is actually a more accurate way to refer to the sport in its early years.
Going all the way back to the late 19th Century, histories of American baseball in Britain (or at least the more accurate ones) have observed that the sport was first played on the country’s soil in the summer of 1874 during the tour of two leading teams from the United States: the Boston Red Stockings and Philadelphia Athletics. The tour’s opening game was played at Liverpool Cricket Club in Edge Hill, placing an important early marker for the game’s history in Merseyside, where later so many teams would enjoy success.
A more interesting question concerned when baseball first established a domestic footing. Writing in 2010 for the book What About the Villa?, after extensive research into baseball in 1889 and 1890, I noted that there were two domestic teams claiming to be the first established in Britain: Birmingham Amateur Base Ball Club and Derby Base Ball Club. I concluded that perhaps the clubs deserved joint credit, “Derby for being the first British group to assemble to play baseball of their own volition; and Birmingham for being the first to go a step further and form themselves into an official club.”
Then, in late 2011, following an upload of new material to the British Library’s online searchable database of 19th Century British newspapers, I began running my searches again. I was stunned to find that domestic baseball had been played in Leicester in 1876, fully 13 years before teams were being founded in Derby and Birmingham. At an almost identical time that I was reading through these newly emerged cuttings, the discovery was also being made by a researcher on the other side of the Atlantic: San Francisco resident David Block. More can be read about this joint finding in its announcement on BaseballGB here.
I swiftly followed up this online finding with a visit to the British newspaper library in Colindale, accompanied by fellow BaseballGB writers Matt Smith and Mark George. We carefully searched other papers from Leicester in 1876 but sadly found no additional mentions of the sport.
After this, the dust settled, and we began to get comfortable with the notion that baseball was first established in a domestic fashion in 1876, but that the 1874 tour remained the first example of it being played in any capacity.
That was until about a month ago, when an email landed in my inbox that would upturn all previous beliefs on American baseball’s introduction to Britain. The email was from David Block, who was forwarding a message he’d received about a new finding from a Protoball “Digger”, Bruce Allardice. Protoball is a tremendous initiative that continues to unearth findings on the early evolution of games in baseball’s immediate family tree, and “Diggers” are the enthusiastic and skilled researchers making the discoveries.
Bruce Allardice’s discovery (published here) was as follows:
The Washington, DC Evening Star, June 13, 1870: “The American game of “Base Ball” has been instituted at Dingwall, Scotland.” Dingwall was then a seaport in extreme northern Scotland. To the same end, the New London [CT] Democrat, June 25, 1870: “Scotland announces the introduction there of “the American game of base ball.” We pity Scotland.” and the Springfield [MA] Republican, Aug. 19, 1870: “Base-ball is popular in Scotland.”
This suggested that not only was domestic baseball established earlier than previously thought, but that the 1874 tour did not in fact represent the introduction of the sport.
To fully confirm this, we would need evidence that a club was formed and a game played. Thus, David suggested that a search of Inverness newspapers at Colindale could yield further results. I am delighted to announce here, following my visit on the Saturday just gone, that it did just that.
I was particularly thrilled that the stories I found in the Inverness Advertiser (“IA”) and Saturday Inverness Advertiser (“SIA”) presented a narrative: club formed; funding obtained; club looks for other teams to form in order to start competition; organizers get bored waiting and hold intra-club game; club gets more funding). Together, the reports confirm that we are definitely talking about American baseball, that at least one club was formed, and that at least one game was played (with, it would appear, eight on each team).
IA – 3 May 1870 (repeated in SIA – 7 May 1870)
DINGWALL—On the 27th ult. a numerously attended meeting of young men was held in the Burgh Court-room—Mr James Maclennan, Sheriff-Clerk-Depute, in the chair—for the purpose of instituting the American game of “Base Ball.” Mr D. Macdonald, after intimating the purpose for which the meeting was called, read a proposal, signed by thirty young men, to get the object carried into effect, which was unanimously agreed to. Mr A. K. Brotchie, of America, gave an explanation of the manner in which the game is played. Office-bearers were then elected; and after a vote of thanks was awarded to Mr Maclennan for his conduct in the chair, the meeting broke up.
IA – 14 June 1870 (repeated in SIA – 18 June 1870)
The Treasurer of the Dingwall Base Ball Club begs to acknowledge, with thanks, the following contributions made towards the funds, viz. :— Charles Munro, Esq. of Fowlis £1 ; Crawford Hill Esq. of Allenfield, 10s ; Captain Warrand, Ryefield, 5s ; John Macrae, Esq. of Ardlair, 5s. The club is in good working order, and carried on with spirit. The wish now expressed is that similar clubs be started in the surrounding towns, that challenges might be received and given for prizes to be awarded. Information regarding the game can be had by applying to Mr Brotchie, Captain of the Dingwall Club.
IA – 19 July 1870 (repeated in SIA – 23 July 1870)
DINGWALL.—BASE BALL.—The friendly match of this game came off in Dingwall on Saturday the 9th inst. A number of spectators assembled to witness the contest between picked nines of the club, headed by the Captain and Lieutenant. The match was extremely well contested, and victory seemed to hover over the second nine, until the fifth innings, when they stood 29 to 17. The first nine, not the least intimidated, were only spurred on by their opponents’ success, and in the 6th innings added 16 to their score, which odds the second nine were unable to cancel though they fought well until the termination of the game. The following is the score :—
First Nine. Runs. Second Nine. Runs.
A. K. Brotchie .. 6 W. W. Jack ....... 8
R. J. Gibson .... 3 W. Nelson ........ 7
H. Main ......... 11 J. Munro ......... 3
D. Maciver ...... 7 J. Mackay ........ 5
J. M. Forbes .... 9 A. Strachan ...... 3
J. Stewart ...... 7 W. R. Ross ....... 5
A. Reid ......... 3 J. Robertson ..... 5
D. Macdonald .... 5 H. Maclennan ..... 3
IA – 5 August 1870 (repeated in SIA – 6 August 1870)
The Treasurer of the Dingwall Base Ball Club begs to acknowledge, with many thanks, the receipt of £1 1s from Duncan Davidson, Esq. of Tulloch.
IA – 30 August 1870
The Treasurer of the Dingwall Base Ball Club begs to acknowledge with many thanks the receipt of £1 1s from Sir Robert Mackenzie, Bart. of Coul.
Naturally, some further questions remain, including the following.
- Did AK Brotchie import equipment, or was it fashioned from raw materials in Scotland?
- Were more teams formed in the area?
- Did any formal competition take place?
- What happened to the club and AK Brotchie?
- Finally, and most importantly, was Dingwall Base Ball Club the first-ever club established outside of North America?
The answer to questions 2 and 3 may well be no in both cases. I subsequently conducted an online search for “base ball” and “baseball” on an archive of various Inverness area papers and only found one additional report, from 18 April 1870. I have ordered this article and will add a note below if it yields any additional information.
Finally, it’s worth reflecting that Dingwall might be considered an unusual spot for baseball to gain its first foothold. Today it has a population of 5000, and (nestled into Scotland’s geography near the mouth of the Cromarty Firth) I hope that any residents reading this can forgive me for describing it as being in one of Britain’s forgotten nooks and crannies. Nevertheless, it is firmly on the country’s sporting map, with home soccer team Ross County having risen from the ranks of the Highland League in the early 1990s all the way to the Scottish Premier League. In the campaign just completed they finished a mere three points shy of a Europa League place.
Long before Ross County were delighting Dingwall’s residents (as early as 7 July 1870 in fact), the town was being entertained with American baseball.