A Giant from the Past - Henry Edward Bird (part II)

A Giant from the Past - Henry Edward Bird (part II)

FM like-a-hurricane
May 8, 2017, 9:08 AM |

In November last year I made a rather extensive blog post here at Chess.com in which I wrote a bit about my research on Henry Edward Bird. It was announced as a “Part I”, but circumstances prevented me from writing a follow-up. By now I believe such is no longer necessary. Those interested in the book and/or H.E. Bird’s life can have a look at Amazon or Google Books for an extensive preview, while I also sketch Bird’s life and career in an article for New In Chess (2017/02). With this blog post I would like to focus on some new information that I discovered since I delivered my manuscript to McFarland in September 2015. I will divide the bits of new information and the few games I unearthed in two blog entries.

I delivered my manuscript in September 2015, and for more than a year I found nearly nothing about Bird that has not been in the book. Which pleased me a bit. Only around the turn of the year I stumbled, in various ways, upon four new games – while some other small tidbits of curiosities are also waiting to be added. In this entry I will share two games with you, as well as two of these tidbits.

Since a few years an interesting digitization project is going on within Europe, called Europeana. There several documents/photos, but also newspapers can be consulted. In the latter category falls the Altonaer Nachrichten.


Altona was a town west of Hamburg in Germany. Since 1938 it became part of its big neighbor. Altona, as well as Hamburg, had some tradition in chess – with two major tournaments with a stellar field being organized in Hamburg in 1869 and in Altona in 1872. An article in the Nachrichten, published on 31 July 1880, announces/describes Bird’s visit. Bird played in Wiesbaden that summer, and then moved to Brunswick, where a major dispute was shaped that broke out later that year (see the book for an extensive overview of this). Then Bird moved to Hamburg and Altona to play incessantly for several days. In this article it is stated that Bird’s visit was facilitated by a few chess friends and that one could meet and play the master in the garden of the “Erholung” in a simultaneous exhibition. Players able to beat him would receive a valuable book to remember their deed.

Another piece of information aligns with the above came to me thanks to my correspondence with Dirk Jan Ten Geuzendam, prior to my article on Bird for his New In Chess magazine. He confessed me that he was an avid collector of chess books and that he had several of Bird’s in his collection. He sent me the following scan, which shows Bird’s dedication, written in his book Modern Chess. Bird’s handwriting is not so difficult to decipher, and Dirk Jan succeeded in identifying the player (also with some help of the name index in my book) as William Halcro (born ca. 1855).


Halcro was a solicitor who lived in Sunderland. I found two miniatures he played with Bird in simultaneous exhibitions given by Bird on 23 December, shortly after he was crowned as British champion (these are in the book).

On the scan one sees, written in pencil, that Bird signed the book on 7 October 1887. In my book I mention exhibitions in Sunderland, given on 5 and 6 October. On the seventh Bird left for Newcastle, for other engagements.

Now I'd like to present you two of the four new Bird games I retrieved. The moves of the first one were forwarded to me by Alan Smith, who conducts the highly-respected Quotes and Queries column in the British Chess Magazine

To my surprise it concerns game played by Bird before 1873 – something that I deemed very unlikely, as I had checked nearly every source until then. With the emphasis on “nearly” this must be – because I was of course aware of some minor sources that ran for many years which I considered much less important. And thus it came that I didn’t check Reynolds Miscellany, where the following game can be found in the column of 10 November 1860. Bird’s opponent, Frank Healey, was a true contemporary of Bird, he lived from 1828 until 1906.


Healey was a problem composer, especially famous for the “Bristol problem”, composed in 1861 – undoubtedly in connection with the chess congress held there that year. I am a complete novice in problem chess, so I can’t really say anything about the value or importance of his problem.

White mates in three moves. Enjoy!

The decisive maneuver in this problem reminds me of a fantastic game that I once saw - my favorite game of Jacques Mieses. If you wish to solve the problem, do this first before playing over the following game.

I recall from my research that Healey was the uncle of another avid London chess amateur – of whom I have a game in my book – but as I wasn’t aware of any game between Bird and Healey I didn’t mention this. And now I forgot…


I haven’t seen the column of the Reynolds in which the game was published (should anyone have access to it then a scan would be hugely appreciated) but according to what I know Bird was quite inactive in chess from April 1860 onwards – until he returned to the game in 1866. He may have played a bit though, as this game testifies. It is a slashing affair – slight notes are made by me (and my silicon companion – of course).

A second game I retrieved was published in one of the absolutely major sources of the 1870s – the Westminster Chess Club Papers. It is a pity that I overlooked it. It ranks among many other games played in Vienna in 1873 – but its heading clearly says it was an offhand game. I must have misread it and thought that this game was played in the tournament. It appeared in August 1873 (p. 75) and was annotated by John Wisker. Bird played it on 18 July, the day after his arrival in Vienna. 

Philipp Meitner was a prominent Austrian chess player, not too strong however. Another piece of gossip is that I once read he was not liked at all - but again my source knowledge is lacking. Here is a picture of the man.


(see www.chesshistory.com, C.N. 3478 for the original which includes many Austrian chess players).