From 19th century interstate telegraphic chess matches, to the establishment of numerous chess clubs, the game of chess has had a long and vibrant history in Victoria. Today the Library’s dedicated Chess Room is regularly full of users, from school children to seniors, tourists to fanatics, most sitting or standing with furrowed brows, just like the players below (though not everyone has a beard today).
Intercolonial chess match- Melbourne players in the telegraph office, IAN04/12/73/193
Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, Dec 4, 1873
Chess in early Victoria was widely reported on in various newspapers. One of the most intriguing snippets comes from the Geelong Advertiser (12 April 1845), which reported that a much anticipated chess match in Paris was postponed while the English champion, Mr Staunton, recovered from what appears to have been a chest infection, or as the newspaper puts it, a ‘violent inflammation’, where ‘leeches were applied in abundance’.
Chess clubs began popping up around Victoria in the 1800s, but also closing, with the first Melbourne chess club lasting only a few weeks after being established in 1851. The Argus newspaper published a letter to the editor on the 2nd June 1854, which implored chess aficionados to “call together, by public invitation, the friends of this delightful entertainment to take the necessary preliminary measures for the establishment of a Melbourne Chess Club”. The second club was created in 1855, but closed a few years later.Over the decades, enthusiasm for chess has not waned, and the Melbourne Chess Club is still going strong, to the point that it’s hosting the 2016 Australian Chess Championships in Fitzroy. The State Library’s MV Anderson Chess Collection is one of the largest publicly accessible collections in the world. Based on the personal collection of Magnus Victor Anderson, the collection of 1500 items was offered to the State Library in 1955. Since then it has grown to over 13,000 volumes.
You can find more information about chess in Victoria, and the Library’s Chess collection, on our new chess research guide.