Diary of a Scottish rugby trailblazer

Diary of a Scottish rugby trailblazer

The archives and library of BT Murrayfield run deep with history and tales of our great sport.

From spectacular silverware to trinkets and tokens from countries afar, jerseys worn in historic clashes and caps earned by some of Scotland’s mightiest players. If these items could only talk, oh the stories they would tell…

But now, thanks to the generosity of one family from Helensburgh, we are a step closer to hearing stories directly from one of Scotland’s rugby trailblazers, John W. Arthur, as they donate his diary to Scottish Rugby.

With John’s cap now on display at BT Murrayfield, Seonaid Jackson (nee Arthur), John’s great granddaughter, decided to add to the collection with the diary, which details many of his personal sporting and career achievements.

Included in the leather-bound book, John recounts his memories from 27 March 1871, when he and his 19 Scotland team-mates took to Raeburn Place to face England in the first ever international rugby match, winning by two tries and a goal to England’s one try (and back in those days it was the goal that was the decisive factor).

The caps list at this time was coordinated in alphabetical order by last name, and so, John W. Arthur earned Scotland’s first ever cap.

Over the years, a few of John’s possessions have been looked after (and sometimes not looked after) by Seonaid.

“My earliest memories of John’s connection to our family is probably his cap”, said Seonaid.

“My Dad kept it in a drawer in his study, and I remember I used to take it out, stick it on my head and ride my trike round the dining room and fling it about, not really having any idea what the significance was.

“The cap and stories about John had always just been part of our family, but it’s only been in the last few years we’ve truly understood how huge it is. We knew he played in the first game, but that was it. It’s only with last year being the 150th anniversary of the first game that we’ve understood everything, and it’s been really amazing.”

Seonaid Jackson (left) with son, Colin (right) presenting the diary of John W. Arthur at BT Murrayfield.

So, what was the moment that sparked this somewhat dormant family history?

In the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, as part of the Scotland’s team’s tribute to the pioneers who had worn the thistle in the very first rugby international against England, 20 of the players on duty at Twickenham, had the names of the Scotland 20-man team from the historic 1871 match, embroidered on their jersey – and that included John.

“I was watching the game at home building Lego for work, and they homed in on Stuart Hogg and he was wearing the captain’s name on his shirt, and I thought, ‘I wonder who has my great grandad’s name?’”

With help from Scottish Rugby’s Head of Stakeholder Engagement, Graham Law, it transpired John’s name was immortalised on Duhan van der Merwe’s shirt, the try scorer in the match.

Seonaid and her family were then offered a chance to speak with both Duhan and Gregor Townsend via video call, which triggered a memory of a diary which had long been forgotten.

“When my Dad passed away, I was left with all these papers, and I wasn’t really sure what to do with them. I tried to hand them off to my son, Colin, but he couldn’t take them, so I thought, ‘I’ll just throw them in the back of the cupboard’.

“There was something in the back of my memory though. I knew my Dad had a diary and that his Dad had a diary, and I knew there was another diary. I trawled through all the stuff, and I found it!”

Whilst it took Seonaid a while to locate the pages about the match, which was hidden amongst his main tales of sporting endeavours such as cricket and mountaineering, it took even longer to decipher his copperplate writing!

“I eventually found the bit [about the match] but he’s put the wrong date on, which is really quite funny! But it took us a good hour to work out what he was saying because it’s so intricate. There is a good paragraph and a half about the game, why they did it and what they were doing.

“It was just going to go back into the bottom of the wardrobe, where it’s been for the last six to eight months since I spoke to Gregor, and it would just get lost. To me, the right place for the diary to be is here.”

Rugby continues to play a large part in the family’s lives, and they hope it will long continue.

John’s great-great grandson Colin, who now resides in Canada, has swapped his playing boots for the whistle, refereeing in local fixtures, whilst also taking his four-year-old son, Dawson, to rugby sessions for toddlers.

“I tell everyone about my family connection to John. Even people in Canada, I tell them”, said Colin.

“I remember as a kid my Grandad showing me the picture of the team outside Raeburn Place, so I’ve always known about John, and I now have that picture in my basement at home so whenever anyone comes over, I point it out.”

For Seonaid and her husband Carl, they continue to hold court at BT Murrayfield in their debenture seats in the East stand, left to them by Seonaid’s father.

John’s diary and cap, along with many other items from Scottish Rugby’s rich heritage, can be seen on Scottish Rugby’s popular stadium tours at BT Murrayfield.

To find out more about the tour and to book tickets, visit our e-ticketing website, HERE.

You can now watch a video interview with Seonaid and Colin from the handover of the diary at BT Murrayfield, HERE.

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