Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait minature of Captain James Ogilvy Fairlie of Coodham, Ayrshire (1809-1870) 1827

Sir William John Newton (1785-1869)

Portrait minature of Captain James Ogilvy Fairlie of Coodham, Ayrshire (1809-1870), Sir William John Newton
Watercolour on ivory
19th Century
5 1/8 x 3 3/4 inche., (13cm x 9.5cm)
Commissioned by the sitter; Thence by descent to Mrs Edith Maude Pollok-Morris; By descent to William Fairlie Buchanan Pollok-Morris.
Royal Academy Exhibition 1830, no. 896
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This engaging and handsome portrait depicts the eighteen-year-old James Ogilvy Fairlie, also known as the ‘father of the Open’ (more commonly known today as the British Open).

James Ogilvy Fairlie was born in Calcutta on 19th October 1809 to William Fairlie, known as the ‘Prince of Merchants,’ who traded in rice, cotton, indigo and opium and provisioned the East India Company’s army in the wars against the Marathas in the Anglo-Maratha Wars (1775-1818). To this day there is still a street in Calcutta named after William Fairlie, ‘Fairlie Place.’ Shortly after James’ birth the family returned to England and resided in Park Crescent in London.

Following William Fairlie’s death in 1825, when James was just sixteen, his widow purchased an estate at Coodham, Ayrshire which she named Williamsfield after her late husband; James inherited this estate after his mother’s death in 1845 and subsequently gave up his commission in the 2nd Regiment of Life Guards, after he was made Captain. Fairlie was educated at Harrow and then at St. John’s College, Cambridge, he was a keen sportsman and, with the Earl of Eglington, organised the Eglington Tournament in 1839, a mock medieval tournament in honour of Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne and in which Fairlie was one of the thirteen knights who jousted. 100,000 people came to spectate at this tournament including Louis Napoleon and Fairlie began to refer to himself as the Knight of the Golden Lion. He married Anne Eliza Macleod of Macleod in 1840, followed by Elizabeth Houlson Craufurd after Anne’s death in 1843. With Elizabeth, Fairlie had six sons and three daughters; three of his sons became Captains of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews.

The same year as his marriage to Elizabeth, Fairlie became Captain of the North Berwick Golf Club, where he was already one of the nine original members. He was also a member of the Honourable Company of Golfers, Edinburgh, which is now located at Muirfield and later hosted the first Open Championship over 72 holes in 1892. In 1850 Fairlie was elected Captain of The Royal And Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, a club founded in 1754 which now runs The Open and is considered one of the governing authorities on international golf; originally Captaincy was granted to the winner of the Challenge of the Silver Cup but during Fairlie’s lifetime the role became an elected position. Fairlie won the Gold Medal at The Royal And Ancient twice in 1857 and 1862, the Silver Cross in 1849, 1854 and 1860, and the Silver Medal in 1848 and 1853.

In 1851 Fairlie founded the Prestwick Golf Club along with ‘Old’ Tom Morris, who had recently become unemployed as a ballmaker after the introduction of the gutta percha over the feathery ball at St Andrews. Prestwick Golf Club was founded on 2nd July 1851 at a meeting of 57 gentlemen at the Red Lion Inn and the Earl of Eglington was elected the club’s first Captain. The first Open Championship, the oldest international championship in professional golf, was held at Prestwick Golf Club on 17th October 1860 to determine ‘the champion golfer in the world’; eight professional golfers took part in the tournament in a single day which was played over 12 holes. The winner received a decorated red leather belt with a silver buckle and it was this event that named Fairlie ‘the father of the Open.’

Sir William John Newton was a successful miniaturist and, later, photographer of the 19th century and was the son of James Newton, the engraver, who produced detailed plates for his architect brother William Newton’s translation of Vitruvius’s De Architectura. William John Newton was admitted into the Royal Academy Schools in1807 as an engraver but quickly excelled in miniature painting, a medium for which he would later become famous; he exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1808 and 1863, and in fact this portrait of Fairlie was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the 1830 exhibition. Newton was appointed miniature painter-in-ordinary to William IV and Queen Adelaide in1831 and then again from 1837 (the year he was also knighted) until 1858 under Queen Victoria. His most famous miniatures were three large groups titled: The Coronation of Queen Victoria (1838), The Marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (1840) and The Christening of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (1842).

This unique portrait of James Ogilvy Fairlie has been passed down through the Fairlie family since its creation in 1827. William Fairlie Buchanan Pollok-Morris’s mother, Edith Maude Pollok-Morris (1878-1967), was born Edith Maude Fairlie. Her great-grandfather, James Fairlie of Bellfield (c.1750-1819), was the uncle of James Ogilvy Fairlie of Coodham (1809-1870).
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