Daft Willie Gunn
6 January 2016
Caddie Willie Gunn was the most famous caddie at Bruntsfield. He was also the most eccentric and mysterious and as a consequence was known as Daft Willie Gunn.
Willie caddied for members of the Edinburgh Burgess Golfing Society and after he died they purchased a painting of him for 3 guineas in 1845. This was not expensive; the frame cost £1.
The history of the picture is almost as much of a mystery as Willie's. It was lost while on loan to an exhibition in Glasgow in 1911 but recovered some years later. The artist is believed to be Charles Robertson.
In 1881, Douglas McEwan provided a description of Caddie Willie who was notable for the multiple layers of clothing that he wore. His dress would have been more suited to an expedition to the Antarctic rather than a round of golf on Bruntsfield Links.
McEwan states that Willie wore three or four sleeveless coats at the same time; he had to cut the sleeves off to get them on. On the top he wore a scarlet red coast probably a cast-off Burgess jacket. Underneath he wore three or four vests with an old fur one outermost, three or four pairs of trousers with the worst exposed to the weather, and three bonnets sewn together.
Apparently, Willie subsisted on a diet of milk and baps (soft rolls). One of his other idiosyncrasies was that he did not address the people for whom he caddied by name. Instead he would call them by their profession. Once he gave a surgeon a club saying "You'll be needing your long spoon here, man o' the knife."
Caddie Willie lived beside the course, in what was described as a garret in Wright's Houses. In the winter of 1813, he was the victim of a burglary when his bedclothes and other articles were stolen. All he was left with were the clothes on his back, which luckily were sufficient to keep him going.
He petitioned the Burgess club for assistance and the Captain arranged a donation of 12 shillings.
“The Humble Petition of William Gunn, residing at Wright’s Houses, sheweth, That in your Petitioner’s absence from home some person or persons unknown broke into my dwelling house and have stolen all my bed clothes together with several other articles in my room, and I am just now exposed to the severity of the season without any covering for my bed and very little covering for my body. May it therefore please the gentlemen who frequently the Links to contribute some small thing for my support which will be gratefully received and John Robertson, Elder, St Cuthbert's, John Brand, James Young, Henry Young, Peter McEwan, and William Gourlay will receive the same and see it properly applied.”
Petition of William Gunn to Edinburgh Burgess Golf Club 23rd January 1813
This petition was not written by Willie. He was a Highlander, whose first language allegedly was Gaelic. He was certainly illiterate and unable to sign the petition submitted.
It is significant that six people stood as Trustees to ensure the money was 'properly applied.' The Elder of St Cuthbert's in Lothian Road would have been a very respected figure. James and Henry Young were brewers and innkeepers to the Burgess club at the Golf House Tavern. Peter McEwan and William Gourlay were the golf club-maker and golf ball-maker respectively to the Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society. Clearly Willie was well liked, as these important Bruntsfield people took an interest in his welfare. The manner of his dress is reminiscent of homeless people today and it looks as if he struggled to look after himself properly. By all accounts he never had enough money for fuel and other essentials; hence the multiple layers of clothing.
Legend has it that Willie walked back to his home, where ever that was, at the end of the golf season and then returned when the season started again. Most people take this to be the winter, but as the grass would be too long in summer, until it had been grazed down, it could be that he went home for the mid-summer and returned in the autumn. This would have been more suitable if he did part time agricultural work.
In 1820, however, he walked north, never to return and to this day nobody knows what happened.