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The Mystery of AT Turnbull


The Wakefield Express of 5th September 1903 revealed the signing of AT Turnbull “[the] Scotch (sic) international [forward] of the past three years. He is engaged in engineering work in Doncaster .”

The trouble is I can find no record of an AT Turnbull playing for Scotland . A number of players with the surname Turnbull have played for Scotland over the years but none with those initials. The closest match in terms of dates was a Phipps Turnbull who showed played six times for Scotland in 1901 and 1902.

I was fortunate to find a website run by the great nephew of Phipps, Brian Turnbull who confirmed that Phipps wasn’t my man, but provided an interesting insight into his character and the story of a life cut tragically short as he died of the effects of Consumption [Tuberculosis] at the age of 29.


Phipps Turnbull sitting second on the right for the Scotland team in 1901

Phipps was a good and “often brilliant” scholar as the obituary in the Edinburgh Academy Chronicle revealed; at “mathematics he had few equals”, (he was later to become a Fellow of the Faculties of Actuaries - F.F.A) but it was in sport that he really excelled. At school athletics, he won a record five first prizes in 1896 but he never ran again after leaving school.  He also played Cricket and was an excellent golfer but it was at rugby that he made his mark, his athletic speed marking him out as a three-quarter of the highest order.             

He helped Scotland win the 1901 “Triple Crown” and played in all three internationals in the 1902 season including a victory over the ‘auld enemy’ before he was compelled to give up the game when the first signs of his fatal illness started to show.  He died on the 24th August 1907, a long stay in Switzerland having no beneficial effect. His family including his half brother Gerald Crole and brother in law Jack Crabbie, both Scottish Internationals mourned the man whose “great gentleness never faltered”.

There are two connections with Wakefield . Phipps no doubt would have been familiar with JW Sagar, Wakefield ’s first captain who played twice for England during 1901 – but not against Scotland and Wakefield ’s first confirmed Scottish International Dr JB McDougall, who played for Scotland just before the Great War and again in the 1920’s after moving to Wakefield . He was later to be the Chief Tuberculosis officer at the World Health Organisation in Geneva .

The mystery of AT Turnbull remains. From the records compiled by David Ingle whilst he was researching the history of the club for the Centenary, we know that he played for Wakefield during the 1903/04 season and scored two tries and also played for Yorkshire , so must have been a good player but I would be interested to know more about him. Can you help?


© Richard Lowther, 2010
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