Francis H. Merrick

From British Chess Magazine, October 1944

In view of the Merrick Memorial, some recollections of the Braille Chess Club may be of interest. That Club was the first attempt at organised Correspondence play among the Blind. It was founded by Mr. Merrick in 1902 and continued until the outbreak of war in 1914. I think the peak period was about 1910, when there were some 30 Members, including 2 of Mr. Dawsons (Braille Composers), W. M. Brown and T. Salthouse. Brown and the late C. H. Spenser were the strongest players the Club had.

In it's first years the games were mostly friendly, with an occasional knockout tournament. "Inside" matches, such as Coast versus Inland and North versus South were tried but were not a great success. "Outside" matches proved much more popular. There was a Tournament Game of 54 games which lasted a year and then ended in a draw. The 48-hour rule was rather a pius aspiration and I do not remember that a penalty was ever enforced. Towards the end there was talk of adjudication but it met with some opposition and no decision had been reached when the Club ceased.

At the beginning the annual report was hand-written and circulated but later it was stereotyped. Later still, there were Gazettes which were in the nature of interim reports.

One notable achievement was a Braille Chess library comprising a number of volumes transcribed by Mr. Merrick and some of the Members. These volumes were typical of the Chess literature of the time and although they would now be considered outdated, they had a value beyond the imagination of readers of this Magazine.

Mr. Merrick made an ideal Secretary and was specially interested in beginners. Yet he would have been the last to deny the help he received from his members, for instance, "outside" Matches were pioneered by the late T. S. Faulkner when he was Match Captain and it was Faulkner who suggested the Gazette and there was Miss Merrian who organised the presentation to Mr. Merrick on the 10th anniversary of the Club's foundation.

I retain many happy memories of these days, though looking back they seem experimental. Yet it is surprising how much of Mr. Merrick's practice has passed into the Braille Chess Association and how many of his ideas we have developed. We publish a report and 2 Gazettes annually. The 48-hour rule is a fact and numerous penalties have been enforced. Our Tournament games are limited to 6 months. Our Tournaments overlap and the "roundless" Tournament, which we have used for many years was another of Merrick's ideas. We have established adjudication, which if not popular, has at least been excepted. We even have the nucleus of a Chess library, although that is of far less importance now than it was 40 years ago, especially in view of the fine collection provided by the Student's Library and the Chess publications of the RNIB, but much of what we have done has been inspired by Mr. Merrick's earlier efforts and it is doubtful whether there would be today a Braille Chess Association, had there not previously been a Braille Chess Club.

Ernest Day H. Eaton