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:

It is a debatable point whether R H Lambert hit the ball into Nassau Street or not. The Pressmen were too well housed in a special pavilion to pronounce upon it. The ball which to forward square leg [sic] went very high over their tent, and was first recorded as 4, the batsman’s total being returned as 61 on both scoring boards, but then it was changed to 63, with 6 for this, [...] which was right.

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:

Under these circumstances, if verified, Lambert has broken a thirty years’ record, achieved by A T Young, who smashed in the windows of the Kildare street Club when playing for the Gentlemen of Ireland against Marylebone in the ‘Dublin Week’.

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:

Meldon [...] got a dreadful mauling from ‘Bobbie’ Lambert, who hit him into Nassau street, and lest there might be any doubt about the first one he had a job lot on hand, wholesale and country orders promptly attended to, etc., and the second one went half way up Kildare street. Four hit the rails, and about half a dozen hopped back off the wall. This ought to be about a record, for I only saw one man do it once and that was A. Young, brother of Frank Major Young and his crease was much nearer to the wall. Lambert’s crease was in the very centre.

The feat has also been claimed for John D O’Mara, the Tullabeg-Carlovian-Australian, and James Moore, another Carlovian, but my would-be informant gives himself away by saying that the ball was hit from the pavilion end which would be impossible because James Moore was left-handed, but perhaps my friend means the old pavilion which was at the Provost end.

Sport (1899) 2 July, p. 7

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.

John Simpson


1 Captain F. C. Buller is the cricketer referred to in these reports. On 3 September 1860 the Freeman's Journal records:

Viceregal Club v. 76th Regiment. This match was recently played at the Viceregal Lodge - the 76th proving victorious by seven wickets. Subjoined is the score [...] Capt. Buller, bowled Bland... 1; c. Alexander b. Berry [...] 11 [...] Viceregal Club v. Royal Artillery. This match was played on Saturday, Sept. 1st, and ended in favour of the Viceregal Club.[...] ‘Capt. Buller, A D C, b. Lambert [...] 0; b. Lambert 24.

Three years later the paper again reports:

Twenty of Civil Service v. Viceregal (12)… Captain Buller was next, and when he had scored 12 was bowled by Mr. R. Penny. The gallant Captain’s innings was a regular ‘fulky’ [sic: = fluky] one, giving four changes.

And on 31 August 1866 the Irish Times has:

The I Zingari v. 18 of Carlow… He was easily caught by Mr A. L. Smith of one of Mr Buller’s balls, having made 41 runs. Pat Dooley went out ‘duck’ on one of Captain Buller’s shooters… The last wicket went down by a ball from the hands of Mr. Buller.

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