William Forsyth (rugby union)

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William Forsyth
Birth nameWilliam Forsyth
Date of birth23 March 1850
Place of birthLogie-Easter[1]
Date of deathunknown[2]
Place of deathunknown[2]
UniversityEdinburgh University
Rugby union career
Position(s) Forward[2]
Amateur team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
Edinburgh University RFC ()
National team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
1871 Scotland 1 (0)

William Forsyth was a rugby union international who represented Scotland in the first international rugby match in 1871.[2]

Early life[edit]

William Forsyth was born on 23 March 1850 in Logie Easter, Ross-shire. He was the son of John Forsyth (died 1898) and Ann (née Bell) (died 1857). John, at the time, was a farmer on the Balnagowan estate, the seat of Sir Charles Ross and site of Balnagowan castle. Later, in the 1860s, John Forsyth would become the factor of the whole estate, some 300,000 acres, of which about 8000 acres were arable, 400 acres under wood, and 288,000 acres under pasture.[3] William’s mother died in 1857 when he was just seven years old and his aunt moved in, helping to look after William and his siblings. John would later remarry. In around 1869, William began attending Edinburgh University. He was noted in the 1869 Edinburgh calendar (as William Forsyth of Ross-shire) for earning a certificate of merit[4] and later was cited as William Forsyth of Balnagowan.[5]

Rugby union career[edit]

Whilst at Edinburgh University William Forsyth was a noted athlete and rugby footballer. He was on the Edinburgh union’s rugby committee in 1871[6] and in 1871 was selected to represent Scotland in the first international match against England. This was played on 27 March 1871 at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh and won by Scotland. He was one of two representatives from Edinburgh University.[7][8][9][10][11] After this match he continued to play for Edinburgh University and in the oldest known picture of any university sporting club, he is pictured alongside his team mates for the 1872/3 season.[12] In that team were also Cathcart and Stewart.

In the first intercity match between Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1872, William Forsyth is notably absent from the Edinburgh line-up. In the side however was a J Forsyth, representing Wanderers.[13] Given W Forsyth was still playing for Edinburgh in that season, and that J Forsyth was a Wanderers player, it is unlikely they are the same man. But there is evidence to suggest that Forsyth may have on occasion been given the initial "J". Certain sources for the 1871 International quote Forsyth’s initial as being J rather than W.[14] The argument that it was W Forsyth being the 1871 international is bolstered by the fact that he is the same man pictured in both the 1871 Scotland side and in the 1872 Edinburgh University side, and all records of the University show him as W or William Forsyth.[15] In Francis Marshall's 1892 publication, Football; the Rugby union game, he is once again referred to as W Forsyth in a picture of the 1871 Scotland side[16] although on another occasion he is referred to as R Forsyth.[17]

In addition to rugby, Forsyth was also a noted athlete whilst at University. In 1871 he is recorded as having won the mile walk in 8 minutes at the Edinburgh University Club meet, on 23 June.[18]


  1. ^ 1861 Scottish census, General Register Office for Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland and the Court of the Lord Lyon
  2. ^ a b c d Profile of Forsyth (incorrectly named as J Forsyth) at scrum.com
  3. ^ Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland: On the Agriculture of the Counties of Ross and Cromarty, by James Macdonald, Special Reporter for the Scotsman, Aberdeen.
  4. ^ The Edinburgh University Calendar 1869-70, 1869.
  7. ^ W. W. Wakefield, Rugger - The History, Theory and Practice of Rugby Football, (READ BOOKS, 2008) ISBN 1-4437-3609-0, ISBN 978-1-4437-3609-1
  8. ^ Rugbyfootballhistory.com Scotland
  9. ^ St Andrews Alumni rugby club
  10. ^ Glasgow (Scotland). Academy, The Glasgow academy: the first hundred years, (Pub. for the Glasgow academy by Blackie), 1946
  11. ^ [E. H. D. Sewell, Rugby football up to date, (Hodder and Stoughton, limited), 1921
  12. ^ Rugby Team, 1872-1873, Edinburgh University Sports Union - the oldest photo of a Sports Union Club
  13. ^ The balance inclines to the city possessing a successful and dominating club team. at Glasgow Hawks.com detailing the first 1872 Cup match
  14. ^ Allan Massie, A portrait of Scottish rugby, (Polygon), 1984
  15. ^ Glasgow Accies official site - 1872 and all that
  16. ^ Marshall, Francis, Football; the Rugby union game, p201, (1892) (London Paris Melbourne, Cassell and company, limited)
  17. ^ Marshall, Francis, Football; the Rugby union game, p144, (1892) (London Paris Melbourne, Cassell and company, limited)
  18. ^ The Field quarterly magazine and review, Volume 1, Publisher Horace Cox., 1870, p241