Captain Buller: that prodigious hit to square leg
U 5.560-1 Still Captain Buller broke a window in the Kildare street club with a slog to square leg.
The history of cricket is littered with tales of prodigious hits. At College Park, Trinity College, in Joyce’s day, the mythic hit was a massive slog over square leg, out of the ground and breaking the windows of the Kildare Street Club on the far side of Nassau Street.
Joyce ascribes such a hit to Captain Buller. Dublin was bristling with Captain Bullers in the second half of the nineteenth century, and it may never be possible to identify the particular batsman he was recalling.
The rough trajectory of Buller’s hit
(Courtesy: Eamonn Finn)
There is some reason to doubt whether Joyce was correct in associating this feat with a Captain Buller at all. In June 1898, R. H. (‘Bob’) Lambert was drafted in at the last moment by the visiting Scotland cricket team to play for them against Dublin University (which included his brother Septimus as one of the opening batsmen). Bob Lambert was a young Irishman who played his cricket at the time for the Leinster club, where he was noted for his powerful striking of the ball. He came from a famous Irish sporting family. Lambert had an excellent game for Scotland, scoring 63 and 18, as well as taking 8 wickets for 96 runs in the second innings. Right at the end of his first innings he lofted the ball high over square leg. According to the Freeman’s Journal for 30 June:
In the following season Bob Lambert led the batting averages for the Leinster Cricket Club with the remarkable total of 1,458 runs in 28 innings, at an average of 69.4 (Sport (1899), 30 September, p. 8). He later went on to play for Ireland for many years.
Earlier hits in the same direction
The following day the paper does not elaborate on whether the ball sailed on into Nassau Street, though tradition says it did, breaking the window of a cab standing in the street, and rebounding off the wall of the Kildare Street Club (Irish Times (1956) 10 July, p.2). But the Journal continues:
The weekly Dublin paper Sport duly reported the feat on 2 July. The relevant article was written by John Stanislaus Joyce’s drinking friend and sporting journalist John Joseph (‘Jacques’) M‘Carthy:
The strike into the windows of the Kildare Street Club was clearly regarded as a legendary feat in Joyce’s day.
‘Dublin Week’ consisted of a week of cricket matches in Dublin, organized in both 1871 and 1872. It was a popular event, but unsuccessful financially. In July 1871 A. T. Young did indeed play for the Gentlemen of Ireland against the visitors Marylebone (the ‘MCC’) at College Park. He scored 14 and 3, but neither the Freeman’s Journal (which recorded it as a ‘poor match’) nor the Irish Times records that he struck the ball into Nassau Street. Perhaps he did, or perhaps he did not (does that ‘Still’ at the start of Joyce’s sentence suggest, in context, that he was thinking of an Irishman?). No Bullers were playing in that game.
The obvious choice for Joyce’s Buller is Charles Francis Buller, captain of the Harrow XI in 1864, who played for various teams including Middlesex and I Zingari, Bloom's favourite team (18.296), and was in his youth widely regarded as one of the most promising young batsmen of his generation. As a cricketer he was known principally as ‘C. F. Buller’ (rather than ‘Captain Buller’), and, although he was not gazetted above the rank of Lieutenant in the Household Cavalry (2nd Regiment of the Life Guards), he was known as ‘Captain Buller’ at the time of the high-profile society divorce scandal of 1880 in England in which he was cited as co-respondent. Prior to this he had been discharged from the Army in 1871 as a result of his bankruptcy. He continued to play cricket successfully (though he was not particularly associated with Ireland), and when he died in 1906 Wisden, the cricketer’s ‘bible’, accorded him an appreciative obituary.
Don Gifford, in his Notes for Joyce (1974) identifies a Captain Buller 'residing at Byron's Lodge, Sutton (a village near the Hill of Howth)', and listed in Thom's (1904) [p. 76]. John Kidd incorrectly notes that this is “Dublin’s only Captain Buller”. A 60-year-old (retired) Captain Buller, perhaps the same man, was living at 17 Kimmage Road, Rathmines at the time of the 1901 census (he died in 1906). Neither of these men appear to have been associated with cricket.
The only player found who was referred to as ‘Captain Buller’ in reports of the game in the late nineteenth century in Dublin was Frederick Charles Buller-Yarde-Buller, educated at Harrow, and commissioned as an Ensign and Lieutenant in the Household Cavalry (Coldstream Guards) in 1855.1 He was gazetted Captain in 1860 and served in Dublin until around 1871. He was 'a most kindly, genial sportsman and friends, and a quiet gentlemanlike rider to hounds' [C. J. Blagg, History of the North Staffordshire Hounds (1902), p. 163], who married in 1881, and served with distinction in Egypt, before dying suddenly back in England in 1884. He had changed his name to Frederick Charles Manningham-Buller in 1865, when his father (at some time MP for Stafford) was raised to a baronetcy. As a cricketer F. C. Buller seems to have had more success as a bowler than a batsman, but this would not necessarily preclude him from making the massive hit over square leg.
One would tend to the view that if one cricketer was being referred to by Joyce it was the dashing Charles Francis Buller, but Frederick Charles should perhaps be in the reckoning. On the basis of the report in the Freeman’s Journal of 30 June 1898, however, neither may be the cricketer most popularly associated locally with the prodigious feat of breaking the windows of the Nassau Street Club.
1 Captain F. C. Buller is the cricketer referred to in these reports. On 3 September 1860 the Freeman's Journal records:
Three years later the paper again reports:
And on 31 August 1866 the Irish Times has: