The Madras College Archive


Former Pupil Biographies

Robert Marshall (1863 - 1910)

Dramatist, Writer of the golf classic The Haunted Major, also known as The Enchanted Golf Clubs.

Robert Marshall's father was a magistrate in Edinburgh, who sent his son to school in St Andrews and afterwards to the University of Edinburgh, where he read Greek, Latin and English literature. His father's death curtailed his studies and he spent some time as the articled pupil of his uncle, a solicitor but he tired of this and chose to enlist in the 71st Highland Light Infantry, his brother having graduated from Sandhurst with distinction.

After three years service in the ranks, he was given a lieutenant's commission in the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment, at that time stationed in the Bermudas. While on guard duty on Agar's Island, he used his off-duty time to write his first play The Subaltern, which was produced by The Amateur Dramatic Club of Bermuda for which he also acted and painted sets.

The regiment then moved to Canada where Marshall wrote a three-act play called Strategy which was produced in Halifax, being played by a first-class company from New York. His next piece was a burlesque entitled Guy Fawkes with music composed by the regiment's band-master.

The regiment then moved to Barbados where he again had great success with Guy Fawkes. While in Barbados, he wrote a play about the Jacobite rising of 17451746 entitled 1746 but although it was bought by an agent, it was never produced.

In 1893, he was posted to the Cape Colony as adjutant to Sir William Gordon Cameron, a post which he held for over a year. While stationed at the Cape Town Castle, he wrote a play entitled The Great Day which was to have been produced by George Alexander but F. Pigott, the Examiner of Plays (censor), objected to it and so this never occurred. A few months later his one-act play The Shades of Night was produced at the Lyceum Theatre.

He was then posted to the Colony of Natal where he became aide-de-camp to Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, Governor of Natal. When his first important play His Excellency the Governor succeeded, he resigned and took playwriting as his profession. He had two other big successes, The Second in Command and The Duke of Killiecrankie. With the latter, he rescued from imminent financial disaster one of the best known managers in London. He died at the age of forty-seven.

The 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for June 1905 reports:

"The visit that has been made to Edinburgh by the skilful dramatic company playing 'The Duke of Killiecrankie' deserves to be noted here for the sake of its brilliant author, Captain Robert Marshall, an old Madras boy. Captain Marshall rates as one of the foremost dramatists of his day. His first important play, 'His Excellency the Governor' attained a remarkable popularity, and this was well sustained by 'The Second in Command'.  His new piece is greatly lauded by the critics. Captain Marshall's plays are always witty, cleverly constructed, and happy in their characterization. "Old boys" of twenty years ago will remember him well as a very pleasant and popular schoolboy, and an excellent amateur actor. "

The 'Old Boys Chronicle' in the Madras College Magazine for Easter 1911 reported:

"By the lapse of time the elder generation of 'Old Boys' is being inevitably thinned. Some time ago a distinguished former pupil of the College passed way in the person of Captain Robert Marshall.

Captain Marshall was a native of Edinburgh, born in 1863.  He and his brothers were boarders with Dr. Fogo while attending 'The Madras'. When at school the brother was esteemed the smarter and more literary of the two.

Latterly Robert attended Edinburgh University, and was a student of Blackie, Sellar and Mason. In his student days he was keen on amateur theatricals. He first tried the law as a profession, but not liking it, he enlisted as a private in the Highland Light Infantry. Then he was transferred to the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, with which he served for some time in the West Indies. Of this regiment he was a captain. His military duties subsequently took him to Cape Town, where he held a staff appointment in 1893, and later to Natal, where he acted as Aide-de-Camp to the Governor, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson. He retire in 1898. His first acted play was Shades of Night, in one act, which was produced by Mr. Forbes Robertson at the Lyceum in 1896. Then followed His Excellency the Governor which, with its pleasant story and sparkling dialogue, at once took the public fancy, and drew crowds to the Court Theatre for many months. Among his other works were The Broad Road (1898), A Royal Family (1899), The Noble Lord (1900), The Second in Command (1900) - which had a great run at the Haymarket - There's Many a Slip (1902), The Unforeseen (1902), The Haunted Major (1902), The Duke of Killiecrankie (1904), Everybody's Secret (1904), The Lady of Leeds (1905), The Alabaster Staircase (1906) and The Outsider. The Second in Command was perhaps Captain Marshall's best play. In it the dramatist provided Mr. Cyril Maude with a part - that of the courageous Binks - which will be remembered as one of the actor's most delightful creations. Captain Marshall during the last year of his life was engaged on a play for Mr. Maude, but bad health prevented him from finishing it. As a dramatist, Captain Marshall was blessed with imagination and with the gift of writing bright and witty dialogue, and his work was always wholesome and amusing."