Tale of Old Tom Morris and his son goes online

The story of 'Old Tom' Morris, his son Tommy and his family is being told in a special display at the National Records of Scotland.
The story of 'Old Tom' Morris, his son Tommy and his family is being told in a special display at the National Records of Scotland.

The triumph and tragedy in the lives of Scotland’s legendary golfing champions, Old Tom Morris and his son Young Tom, have been revealed online.

And their stories are being told in in a special display by the National Records of Scotland.

In 1875 Old Tom was at the top of his game – an outstanding golfer, and a leading maker of golf clubs with a prosperous family business in St Andrews. His family was also prospering. His eldest son, Young Tom, was already a successful professional player, having won The Open three times by the age of 19, and was newly married. Old Tom’s daughter Elizabeth also married in early 1875.

Using newly-available valuation rolls, and records of births, deaths, marriages and wills, archivists at the National Records of Scotland have pieced together the sad tale of Old Tom Morris and his family.

The year 1875 turned out to be their ‘annus horribilis’, when personal loss followed professional success.

In September Young Tom’s wife died in childbirth along with her child, followed three months later by Young Tom himself, when he died of a lung haemorrhage, aged just 24.

The following year, Old Tom’s wife Nancy died, and he went on to lose his two younger sons, James and John, his daughter Elizabeth and her husband.

Despite his personal grief, Old Tom continued his business and designed many golf courses in Scotland and beyond. When this elder statesman of Scottish golf died in 1908 at the age of 86, as the result of a fall in the New Golf Club in St Andrews, only his grandchildren, Elizabeth’s children, survived him.

The 1875 Valuation Roll for St Andrews shows that Old Tom Morris lived at Pilmour Links, where he not only owned his house and garden, but also the shop where he and his sons worked in his club-making business.

Young Tom and his bride rented a house and garden nearby on North Street Road.

The famous golfing father and son are among hundreds of thousands of Victorian Scots who can be found in the 1875 Valuation Rolls being made available online on ScotlandsPeople.

Each Roll is fully searchable by name and address, and researchers can investigate people living, working and playing all over Scotland – from country estates to city tenements, castles to crofts, and factories to golf courses.

Tim Ellis, registrar general, said: “The Morrises helped Scotland’s golfing reputation to grow across the world, and we are using the outstanding historical resources of the National Records of Scotland to mark the Ryder Cup being at Gleneagles with a tribute to these two remarkable Scottish sportsmen.

“The release of the Valuation Rolls for 1875 enables people worldwide to take a virtual peek into people and places throughout Scotland between 1841 and 1920 on the ScotlandsPeople website.

“This is part of the commitment of the National Records of Scotland to provide access to the key records that researchers want.”

The free display of archival documents telling the story of ‘Old Tom Morris’s Terrible Year’ runs at General Register House, Edinburgh, until October 31 on weekdays.