Notable Sportsmen Who Were Blind.: Thormanby Spins Some Interesting Yarns About the Extraordinary Talent of Some., Daily Racing Form, 1908-08-02


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NOTABLE SPORTSMEN WHO WERE BLIND Thormanby Spins Some Interesting Yarns About the Extraordinary Talent of Some 1 once heard the late Professor Fawcett who as a young man had the sight of both eyes destroyed by shots from his fathers gun say that lie knew certain parts of the River Itchen so well that if placed in particular spots and told where he was he could throw a flv with unerring dexterity into a pool where he knew a trout lay And not only that but so quick was his ear that when a lish rose he could tell by the splash exactly where to throw Ills fly 1 have often seen him at Cambridge rowing in the Ancient Mariners Eight with brother Dons of aquatic tastes and keeping stroke and time with the best of them 1 have seen him skating too but then he always had a companion to pilot him himProbably Probably most Yorkshire men are familiar with the name of John Metcalf Blind Jack of Knarcs borough who is cercriHy cited as the most ex ¬ traordinary instance of a sightless sportsman on record Metcalf was tittacked toy smallpox at the age of six and eventually lost his eyesight 1 ct lie was an enthusiastic lover of coursing steeple chasing and hunting Ho rode wonderfully straight t hounds guided by Ills acute sense of hearing and the occasional warnings of a friend who kept near lilm But bis greatest feat in the saddle was his memorable match with another Yorkshire sports ¬ man three miles on the flat owners up for 2500 a side Metcalf who bad a small stud of his own at this time rode his own horse bet ¬ ting was 20 to 1 against him because it was thought the shape of the course a circular one would be fatal to his chance They had to ride three times round the course to make the three miles Tinre were flosts at intervals and at every one of tlieso Metcalf stationed a man with a bell The sound of the bflls guided lilm and enabled him to keep the course And the end of It was that he rode in au easy winner winnerBut But Blind Jack was also a remarkable runner as the following anecdote will prove It was the week before tlie York gorinc mcctlur la 1822 when the wellknown Colonel iMelllsh being at the Dragon Hotel Harrogate met Captain Stancllffe there whose groom was rather a celebrated runner Met ¬ calf happening to be at the Dragon tap heard some talk about the grooms powers as a pedes ¬ trian when be said lie would run him himself from where they stood to Knaresborough Churchyard gate if any one would back him This Melllsh who had often heard of Blind Jack offered to do and there and then backed Metcalf for 250 against Captain Staucltffes groom The men soon got ready the groom in running costume but Metcalf made no preparations A tall heavymade man with a slouching walk it looked even bad he not been blind as If the odds were 100 to 1 against him However they were started Eyes taking the lead No Eyes at the same time keeping close be ¬ hind All at once Mctcalf was seen to deviate to the right and soon got into another direction when most of the people thinking it was all over turned back The groom kept on straight for the bridge over the Swale while Metcalf had also made for the river into which be plunged clothes and all and swimming across reached the goal long before bis opponent The way he had taken was threequarters of a mile the nearer one oneBut But Jack Metcalf not only distinguished himself as ta horseman and a runner he was also a capital hand at bowls He managed In this way A friend and confederate was stationed close to the jack and another midway They kept up a constant conver ¬ sation and from the sound of their voices he guessed the distance His dexterity at cards too was won ¬ derful But perhaps his most extraordinary achieve ¬ ments were as a boxer He was a man of magnifi ¬ cent physique six feet two inches In height and very finely made His want of sight however might well have been thought a fatal bar to his ever attaining pugilistic laurels Yet it was not so and among other feats with his fists he fairly thrashed In six hardfought rounds a man as biff as himself and reckoned the champion ol the neigh ¬ borhood borhoodMetcalf Metcalf was a soldlcr too and served all through the campaign of 1715 against the Jacobite Preten ¬ der played the fiddle he was a firstrate musician nt the head of bis company after the fashion of the Highland pipers On his return from the wars he became a trader In 1751 he started the first stage coaclr or stage wagoii as they called it then be ¬ tween York and Knaresborough driving it himself twice a week in summer and once in winter Event ¬ ually he became a contractor for roadmaking and it was in this capacity he made his fame and for ¬ tune for his engineering skill was remarkable Fi ¬ nally this wonderful blind sportsman died at Spof iortb near Wethcrby on April 27 1810 in the ninetyfourth year of bis age ageJack Jack Metcalf s exploits however were rivaled by a notable Scotsman named McGilvray who despite his blindness was both a firstrate jockey and an ex ¬ cellent judge of horses When examining a horse be was guided entirely by feeling all over the ani ¬ mals frame but so well did be know the good points and the bad ones lu a horse that he never made a mistake mistakeOf Of his remarkable gifts in this respect the fol ¬ lowing story is a proof Mr Birriie au owner of race horses ami a coach proprietor in the south of Scotland picked up a fine bargain at Edinburgh Hal ¬ low Fair the great equine mart of Scotland On his way home with his purchase lie put up at the Blacksbiels Inn Fala kept by McOilvrays father Mr Bimie while sitting at bis dinner asked Willie McGilvray to go and examine his purchase at the same time extolling the handsome figure the spirit and the docility of the animal In half an hour or so youug McGilvray returned and on being asked to give his opinion of the purchase replied the horse was everything that could be wished for had be been able to see with both eyes How do you know be does not see with both eyes the owner asked I have passed my hand over and over the right side of bis head was the reply and his eyelids never tlinch but when I do so on the other side they close Instantly It was fouud that the horse was really blind on the right side and it was a blind jockey who discovered an imperfection which lie purchaser a firstrate judge bad failed to de ¬ tect tectAs As a jockey McGilvray was guided when he rode a race by his knowledge of two or three race courses and as he never went upon unknown ground his lack of sight did not appear to be much detri ¬ ment At least be won as many races as most jockeys in the north witb the exception of Tommy Lye whose relationship to the Dawsons at all times secured him good mounts The blind man naturally trusted much to bis acute sense of bearing which frequently informed him when his opponents horse had shot his bolt by the tune his pipes were playing playingMcGilvray McGilvray in addition to his raceriding did a small trade in cattle and in watches of which be was accounted a rare good judge judgeA A blind man was pointed out to me when I was in Lincolnshire in 185V as the hero of some extraor ¬ dinary feats of horsemanship His name was An ¬ drews and he was generally known as Blind Tommy On February 18 1850 he rode a blind horse from Stamford to Spalding twenty miles Starting from the Olive Branch Stamford at 8 a in he arrived at the White Horse Spalding at 120 started for bis return journey at 20 p m and reached Stamford at 730 p m the whole jour ¬ ney guideBut being accomplished without a guide But this feat was far eclipsed by another which he achieved on March 12 1855 when be rode a blind horse from the Royal Hotel Peterborough to the White Hart Wlsbecb He started from Peterbor ¬ ough at 10 a m went through Thorney and reached WIsbech nt 410 p m left Wlsbcch next day at 130 p m and arrived at Peterborough at C p m accomplishing the whole distance as before without a guide Six years later in May 1SG2 this wonder ¬ ful blind man rode a donkey from the Hare and Hounds at Wisbcch through Thorney and Thurlby in Lincolnshire a distance of thirty miles all through the Fen country with dykes ou either side of the road in twelve hours without a guide An ¬ drews was a crack sprintrunner too and beat the wellknown professional George Maxey in a hundred yards race on the Thorpe and Peterborough road for a stake of 125 a side on August 13 1850 1850In In 1SCS my old friend Mr C A Wheeler wrote to Mr Lloyd the then postmaster at Stamford to Inquire whether Andrews were still living and in reply Mr Lloyd wrote as follows The person you refer to is well known here and all around this neighborhood as Blind Tommy You ask whether the extraordinary stories of bis riding feats are true I can assure you that they are quite authentic and persons in this office and elsewhere can vouch for their accuracy I saw him on bis journey to Spald ¬ ing in 1850 Tommy is still alive and during the fair here on March 27 1S6S he went into a public house and challenged the company to play any two at dominoes his partner being a ticket collector at the Midland Station here who gave me the Informa ¬ tion Tommy and his partner von the game He Is really an extraordinary character he will find out any house or place he wants he seems to find the particular doorway by stamping bis foot I may Add that about he time of his journey to Spalding a traveler who had lost his way was guided by Tommy with a lighted lantern across the country from Thurlby to a village almost a mile and a half distant distantLieutenant Lieutenant James Holman the blind traveler de ¬ serves mention In this connection for he was a keen sportsman with both rod and gun after he had lost his sight which he did at the age of twentyfive It is said that his hearing was so exact and acute that when a covey of partridges or a pheasant got up he would three times out of five down his bird This is the only Instance I know of a bilnd man attempting to shoot Lieutenant Holman traveled twice round the world and published the narrative of these two expeditions besides a graphic account of his travels through Russia and Siberia All these journeys were undertaken after he had entirelv lost his sight It is related that on one occasion he was attacked by a polar bear which he shot although he bad nothing but his ear to guide his aim But this can only be regarded as a piece of sheer luck The mere fact however of a blind man having the nerve to carry a gun is remarkable And for a man who after losing his sight to make up his mind to travel In days remember when there were no Cooks personally conducted tours and none of the modern luxury and ease of traveling is a proof of singular confidence in his own powers of getting about without the aid of eyes Most if not all of his journeys were of the nature of explora ¬ tion expeditions in regions little known and con ¬ sequently he had to rough it in a fashion which might well have tested the powers and resources of a man with perfect sight His skill as a fisher ¬ man I do not take much account of because It was not like Professor Fawcetts flyfishing but his shooting feats I must confess move me to un ¬ bounded astonishment astonishmentThe The late Mr Kavanagb long a wellknown member of the House of Commons though not blind suf ¬ fered from iphysical disabilities which might have been thought more fatal to the enjoyment of sport than the loss of sight He bad neither arms nor legs yet be hunted and shot and drove and in all these was an adept He was fastened on horseback In a kind of basket arrangement and guided his horse partly with bis teeth and partly by hooks attached to his stumps which reached some six inches from each shoulder In shooting a wooden arm was attached to the left stump which gave him a rest for his gun gunSir Sir William Maxwell of Monreith the owner of Filho da Puta winner of the St Jeger of 1815 lost his arm in the Peninsular War yet afler that mis ¬ hap was one of the best game shots of his day He had a gun specially made for him and was another instance of a plucky sportsmans determination not to bo deterred by physical disability from pursuing his favorite sport Thormanby in London Sporls

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