David Scott Duncan: An Appreciation

David Scott Duncan who, for many years prior to his death was looked upon as the “father” of amateur athletics in Scotland, was born in Monkton House, Inveresk, where his father had farmed for many years.   After a short term in Musselburgh Grammar School, he became a pupil in the Royal High School, Ednburgh, where he remained until he left for the University with a view to qualifying for a legal career.

While in the RHS, he was looked on as a sound scholar, and left with a very good grounding in Latin, Greek, English and French.   He was proxime accessit for the India Prize, and in this competition he was awarded a soecial prize on account of the high standard reached.

While at school he competed successfully at the annual sports; but it was not until 1880 that he took up distance running seriously.   During the following eleven years he won over 150 prizes, and in addition to winning the Scottish Mile Championship five times, he was runner-up three times and held for a short time the records for the two and three miles.   He competed in the AAA Championships and, while never a winner, did faster time at Stamford Bridge than he had ever done in Scotland.   His record for the mile race (4 min 28 sec) stood for some years.

After a short business career in Leith he became the Scottish representative of the Field and continued in this capacity till the Great War.   He was a born journalist; his marvellous memory and intimate acquaintance with all branches of sport gave him a pre-eminent place in the journalistic world; indeed it could be truly said of him that in these islands for many years he stood without a peer in all round knowledge of athletics.

Two years after the founding of the SAAA he took over from Mr AS Paterson, Advocate – a distance runner of distinction – the duties of Secretary, and for the long period of forty years guided the destinies of the Association.    His legal training, scholarship and , above all, his retentive memory fitted him in a high degree for the duties of Secretary, and whether in furthering the athletic contest with Ireland, or in conference with sister countries he worthily upheld the interests of his own.

He was a golfer of more than average ability, being a “scratch” player when he captained the RHS Golf Club, indeed, his method drew, on one occasion from a champion golfer and a friend of his own, the remark “Man, David, if you hit the ball on the back swing, you would be the longest driver in Britain!”   For a time he was the captain of the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club.   In the royal burgh by the sea members of the club still recal his eloquence, fine diction and humour when he presided at their annual dinner.

The Golfing Annual, of which he was editor, stands as a memorial to his research and hard work.   In laying the foundation of this work he met most of the great golfers of his time, many of whom became his fast friends.   But he was at hs best during the visits toIreland with the Scottish international team, and while always anxious for a Scottish win, never failed to congratulate an Irish opponent on a brilliant performance.   As a time keeper and judge, he excelled, and one recalls his indignation when in 1908 at the Olympic Games in London and apparently pre-arranged attempt to shoulder Captain Halswell off the track in the memorable 400 metres race was made, and failed.   It is no secret that in this race, which Duncan judged, it was he who broke the tape when he saw the foul, and “no race” was unanimously declared.

The sentiments of the writer, who met “DSD” for the first time in 1883, and those of his numerous friends, were well stated by an eminent member of the SRU: “He was one of the whitest men I ever knew.”


Athletics in the beginning