Early History of Chess at the Geelong Mechanics’ Institute.

The Ballarat Chess Club archives (website) mentions a Geelong club being founded in 1855. The Mechanics Institute was established at the Ryrie Street site in 1855, but the extent of any chess played at this site between 1855 and 1870 is not known.
Chess activities at the Mechanics’ Institute were well reported in the Geelong Advertiser in
the early 1870’s. This was undoubtedly due to Graham Berry, Geelong Club President (and later, Premier of Victoria) who owned the newspaper at this time. Geelong played a match against Melbourne in 1874, Melbourne winning 30 points to 10.

Graham Berry (later Sir), President of Geelong Mechanics Institute Chess Club , 1874

In 1890, a Chess and Draughts Club was formed at the Mechanics Institute. This suggests that chess club operating in 70’s had folded or was struggling with numbers and needed to amalgamate. It is not known when chess and draughts parted ways. There are no reports of activities following the formation of the club in 1890, but the Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1904, mentions the Mechanics Institute situated at Ryrie St., describing ‘commodious smoking, chess, draughts and card rooms.’

The Ballarat Courier reported extensively on matches held between Ballarat and Geelong in 1925-26. The first match was held in April 25 at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute, the Ballarat players meeting the Geelong contingent at the train station. The photo of the occasion shows the formal dress required of the time, with players seated at dedicated chess tables. There are no clocks visible. Ballarat trounced Geelong, 12 points to 5, (top 5 boards played one game, lower 6 boards 2 games each).

Ballarat and Geelong players at the Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute, 1925 “Strategist met strategist yesterday afternoon and evening when the chess club of the Mechanics Institute met players of the Geelong Institution in the rooms of the former body.
It is some considerable time since the game has been locally played in an inter-city sense,
and a great deal of interest centred in it. On Wednesday evening the visitors arrived and were met at the station by Ballarat players. The match commenced yesterday and at the end of the afternoon Ballarat were holding the fort with a substantial majority.”

However, a truce was called about 6pm and during a brief armistice, the opposing sides
fraternised over an excellent dinner at Brazenor’s Alexandria Café.

A return match was held at Geelong on September 1925. The visitors were entertained at
dinner on arrival. Mr D. McLennon, president of the Geelong Mechanics’ committee
welcomed the Ballarat players and Mr Fletcher responded.

Ballarat again won easily, winning 5 out of 7, drawing one and losing one.

Ballarat versus Geelong 1925

In a further match at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute (24/5/1926), Ballarat were again
supreme against Geelong, winning 5 to 1 with 1 draw. Geelong were represented by Keage, Fitzpatrick, Fallow, Adams Wallace, Synot and Robins.
The Ballarat Courier reported that a Sicilian and a Vienna opening was used in two of the
games. Also, “Fallow met Fletcher on board 3 and opened with an eerie-weird move known as the Geelong Gambit. Fletcher was not disconcerted, but playing strongly, secured a victory.”

Ballarat and Geelong continued to meet, if somewhat infrequently, the last match being a rapid play in the early 2000’s.

In 2010, Ballarat was drawn to play “at home” against Geelong in Round 6 of the Victoria Teams Championship Division Two. This teams event was a form of interclub, each club fielding four players a team. Geelong travelled to Ballarat for a fighting 2-all draw. The event was a pleasant catch up for the players, and it was proposed an annual challenge should be made. Thus began the Ballarat – Geelong Challenge.


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