Scotland to India: the spread of Sevens

By tournament:

1886 Khajjiar Gymkhana [29 June]

The list may be subject to change if more rugby union sevens tournaments are discovered.

Khajjiar Gymkhana Sevens match

Scotland’s influence on India increased when the Earl of Dalhousie, James Broun-Ramsay, became the Governor-General of India in the middle of the nineteenth century. The role of the Governor-General of India at the time was to increase British colonial control of India; and increase the power of the East India Company. At the time, the East India Company used a ‘Doctrine of Lapse’ to take over Indian States. This meant that any state either without an heir, or any state that they deemed unworkable the East India Company just took over. The Earl of Dalhousie accelerated the use of the Doctrine of Lapse by militarily playing off Indian States against one another, so that the East India Company could pick up the losing states. This was a dangerous ploy as it increased the military power of Indian States and his colonial detractors conclude that this led to the 1857 Indian Rebellion. His colonial supporters note that Dalhousie brought trains, postage stamps and the telegraph to India.

The Earl of Dalhousie was Governor-General of India between 1848 to 1856. He spent his summers in India in the north in the state of Himachal Pradesh, in the western Himalayas. His retreat, a colonial hill station, formed the basis of a Scottish based town, and called Dalhousie. The area of Dalhousie and Khajjiar is still known as a ‘Little Scotland of India’.

Teams from Chamba and Dalhousie played the first rugby union sevens match in India, in 1886 at Khajjiar. The teams played cricket and association football with Chamba winning both matches. The Chamba side was predominately colonial civilians but also mixed with native Indians. The Chamba side was backed by the Rajah of Chamba; and his brother proved a fearsome bowler in the cricket match.

They met in the Khajjiar Gymkhana; a gymkhana being a sports venue or pitches where predominately colonials, military and civilian, would play, though occasionally native Indians would also play if sides had to make up numbers.

Arguments raged into the night after this, with alcohol flowing. It seemed that the Dalhousie (military) side much preferred rugby union to cricket and association football. They challenged the Chamba (civilian) team to a game of seven-a-side rugby union. The Chamba side having already won at cricket and association football against the Dalhousie side readily accepted.

It was now 1am in the morning when the teams played their Sevens match.

The report from the Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore) of 2 July 1886 is from the era; disappointingly implying that the native Indian Chamba players were to blame for their side’s defeat, playing down that rugby union was the favoured sport of the Dalhousie side.

As many of the defeated team [Dalhousie] were enthusiastic Rugby Unionists, this game led to much discussion; and during dinner and afterwards, contempt for the Association game and everything appertaining to it was roundly expressed. Talk flowed freely, and so did the champagne; and eventually it was decided, with a view to see what one and all could do, that a Rugby Union match—Military versus Civilians—with teams of ‘seven a side, should be played then and there. The goals were illuminated by lamps, and at 1 °clock in the morning, when the ladies and the more venerable members of the party had retired to rest, we were raised from our slumbers by yells of “hold him ! Hack him over !” and the usual concomitant language, which echoed in the dead of night with appalling distinctness from the encircling hills. The Civilians were obliged to play two of the [native] Chamba boys to make up their team; and the game proving too rough for their liking, the Military team was victorious after a good struggle by four goals to one.

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