George W. Ferguson and Scotland’s 1930 British Empire Games Team

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The archive of Commonwealth Games Scotland includes the minutes of its predecessor the Scottish National Sports Federation, established in April 1931. Influential throughout its formative years was the Federations secretary, treasurer and general team manager George W. Ferguson. Captured in the centre of the photograph and looming large among the Scottish team, Ferguson came to prominence on the Scottish sporting scene as an administrator of Warrender Baths Club in Edinburgh, Scotland’s preeminent swimming club of the period – which would go on to foster a number of Scottish Commonwealth and Olympic champions, most famously David Wilkie in the 1970’s.

In the minutes, Ferguson comes across as the key driving force behind the organisation, planning and processes of the SNSF, especially regarding the fundraising needed to send a Scottish team to successive Games in Hamilton (1930), London (1934) and Sydney (1938). Ferguson was President of Warrender (1928-32) and the East District of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association (1927-29), and subsequently became President of the Scottish Amateur Swimming Association in 1930. He was influential in ensuring swimming was included in Scotland’s team for the British Empire Games which included a number of Warrender swimmers.

The 1930 team was hurriedly put together with next to no financial resources, and heavily dependent on the generosity of the Canadian hosts in Hamilton. The photograph is one of a few surviving images of Scottish competitors at the inaugural British Empire Games of 1930. At this time, there was no overarching federation of Scottish sports associations, so a lot of trust and faith fell upon Ferguson who was one of Scotland’s most prominent amateur sports administrators of the era.

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On 6th August 1930 the Scottish team consisting of 13 competitors, team officials, and Ferguson, left Liverpool on route to Montreal aboard the Cunard liner Andania. Two months earlier, the same liner had taken Glasgow Rangers across the Atlantic on a tour of North America, and now for eight days was home to the Scottish British empire Games team. Recalling the journey in 1970 athlete Dunky Wright remembered how the athletes kept fit during the cruise:

We were happy and excited at the thoughts of taking part in a pioneering adventure. The crew responded quickly to our mood and made a temporary swimming pool by stretching a huge tarpaulin across the hold with each corner fixed to an iron stanchion and filled with seawater. In it, the bonnie lasses of our swim team wiggled like tadpoles in a bowl right across the Atlantic. We all had our different ways of keeping in trim. For my part, I pounded round the top deck, taking the corners in the Charlie Chaplin manner, for a couple of hours each morning. The ‘heavies’ and the boxers did their training in the gym, encouraged by friendly passengers who were also willing to have a go.

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Wright, one of Scotland’s most successful long-distance runners appearing in three Olympic Games (see http://www.scottishdistancerunninghistory.co.uk/Dunky%20Wright.htm), would go on to win gold in the marathon, and can be seen receiving his gold medal in the photograph above. In a strong field, Wright drew on the support of ex-patriot scots to spur him on to the finish line in a time of 2 hours, 43 minutes, 43 seconds:

Englishman Sam Ferris and Harry Payne, Canadian champion Johnny Miles and I raced in a tight bunch to the 15 mile mark. Then Sam Ferris and I went into a clear lead and battled it out neck and neck until we reached the streets of Hamilton which, fortunately for me, were lined by a wildly cheering Scottish crowd. I found extra strength from their encouragement and raced through to finish collapsing into the arms of a delighted George Ferguson.”

Canadian journalist and writer M. McIntyre Hood later recalled the moment Wright entered the Hamilton stadium and a rather unusual happening in international competitive sport:

 “After a lapse of 40 years, it is not possible to recapture in memory all of the thrilling moments of the 1930 Games, but a few still linger. Greatest of all is the memory of the tremendous ovation given to Scotland’s Duncan Wright as he entered the stadium to finish the gruelling marathon race, half a mile ahead of his nearest competitor, Ferris of England. Hamilton is noted as being a city with a predominance of Scots in its population. The ‘Hampden roar’ has nothing on the tremendous wave of cheering which arose as Duncan ran around the stadium. As he was passing the stadium entrance on his second lap, Ferris entered, and stopped to shake Dunky’s hand in congratulation before going on to take second place.

The celebrations of hosts and champion continued in to the night as Wright vaguely remembered:

 “From an indistinct memory, I recall that our celebration that night in Hamilton’s Royal Connaught Hotel lasted well into the ‘wee sma’ oors’.”

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The only female representatives sent to the first Games in 1930 were Warrender swimmers Jessie McVey, Cissie Stewart and Jean McDowall, and former club member Ellen King. Women’s participation in sport during the inter-war period was thriving, as access to more disposable income and spare time increased. Nevertheless, to reach the pinnacle of a sport, such as swimming, female athletes had to work hard against a male-dominated administration of the sport, including at Warrender, where resistance to integrating women’s swimming in to the club, such as excluding them from the club’s gala, created a challenge to elite competition.

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King, one of Scotland’s greatest swimmers of the period with multiple titles and records to her name, including two Olympic Silver medals in 1928, established Zenith Ladies Swimming Club in 1925 in response to the constraints on female competitive swimming at the time. In 1930, she won individual silver in the women’s 100 yard freestyle and bronze in the 200 yard breaststroke. She won a further bronze medal in the Scottish 4×100 yard relay team with Stewart, McDowell and McVey.

Scotland’s other medals in the Games included a silver for Willie Francis in the 100 yard backstroke, in boxing, gold for James Rolland (Lightweight), silver for Tommy Holt (Bantamweight) and bronze for Alex Lyons (Featherweight), and a bronze for the Scottish bowling fours. The Scottish bowling team – not present in the team photograph above – included a Canadian, Tom Chambers, who was brought in as a replacement for John Kennedy who sadly died in the United States during the journey to Hamilton. The Scottish bowls team was captained by Dr John Orr, who would become the SNSF’s first Chairman in 1931.

On return from Hamilton, Ferguson was appointed secretary of SNSF in 1931 and was immediately given the task of coordinating plans for the second British Empire Games in London. The 1934 Games were originally to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, but the Canadians had persuaded the English to host the Games amid fears the apartheid regime in South Africa would discriminate against African and Asian competitors. Ferguson was Team Commandant and from 1935 became the Honorary Secretary of the Scottish National Sports Federation, a position he held into the 1950’s.

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One thought on “George W. Ferguson and Scotland’s 1930 British Empire Games Team

  1. Great summary!…George Ferguson was in goal for an Empire All-star Water Polo Team that played a team from Bermuda at those games…in August 1930…

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