'Bob the Shot' 

ROBERT7 MCVITTIE (JOHN6, ROBERT5, JOHN4, ALEXANDER3, ROBERT2, JAMES1) was born 1839 in Langholm, Scotland, and died January 21, 1918 in Langholm, Scotland.

He married ELIZABETH HYSLOP November 11, 1869 in Langholm, daughter of ROBERT HYSLOP and SARAH ARMSTRONG.

Robert was a rifle marksman, of international repute. He attended many contests in the UK, Canada and the USA. He was a member of the Bisley Team, and was known as 

"the best shot in the British Empire." 

Bob the Shot

He came to Canada with his family to repair his health. Later, just prior to the start of WW 1 he went back to his birthplace, Langholm, Scotland and because of the hostilities was not able to return to Canada, prior to his death, in his home town.

There is a remarkable short story, published in "The Border Magazine", Vol. XXIII, No. 268, April 1918. This illustrated magazine is devoted to "Border Biography, History, Literature and Folklore." The story, "Private McVittie, a Great Border Marksman," is by Robert Hyslop, F.S.A. (Scot), FR Hist. S. 

Excerpts from this memorial to Robert McVittie, include: 

"Have won the St George's Challenge Vase, Dragon Cup, Gold Jewel, and of 25 sovereigns - McVittie." This telegram was received at the Hyslop home in July 1874. The author's remembrances of the past came to him as he wrote his story, "I was a boy again on the shooting range at Arkinholm, spotting for the renown marksman, giving him elevation and windage or registering his score in one of those wonderful Wimbledon scoring books.

"His skill was not limited to one weapon, but was shewn alike with the heavy old Snider and the most delicate Match-rifle or Military Breech-Loader."

"His successes ranged from the Kolapore Cup, won time and again on Arkinholm, the Langholm range, to the great prizes striven for by the finest shots in the Empire at Wimbledon and Bisley."

He was a fine team player, and his dedication and experience contributed to winning contests in Scotland, England, Canada and the USA. In 1882, he was the Captain of the Scots Team at Washington - they used Military Breech loaders at 200, 500, 600, 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. The highest possible score at each was 35 and the highest possible aggregate was 210. McVittie average was 181.4 or a range average of 30.23 - a remarkable performance taking into consideration the rifle and the ranges of the day.

"In 1888 McVittie, who had been greatly impressed by his visits to America, migrated to Canada, where he made his home in Toronto..... at rifle meetings at Toronto and Ottawa he won many important prizes, and more than once he shot at Bisley in the Canadian Team."

Private Robert McVittie wrote 

" Hints and advice on RIFLE-SHOOTING" which was first printed at the office of the Volunteer Service Gazette by T.G. Johnson , 121 Fleet Street, London. It cost 1 shilling. The introduction to the 1993 edition by W.S.Curtis points out that whilst Robert McVittie did not aspire to any greater military glory than that of private in the 7th Dumfries Rifle Volunteers his name can be found in a great many Prize Lists of the period.

" He was a member of the Scottish Eight in the Elcho Matches of 1876 ( top score for Scotland), 1878, 1879 ( win for Scotland), 1880, and 1882-3-4-5. In 1876 he was in the Scottish team to Creedmoor and placed 2nd in the team. He was at Creedmoor again for the military matches of 1882 and in the team the following year at Wimbledon. In 1874 he won the Dragon Cup for the St. Georges and was then described as " a very famous service rifle shot". He placed 4th in the Queen's Final for 1878 and had many other successes.

The rifles he used, in addition to the service Martini-Henry, included the Ingram, the Fraser and the Deeley-Edge-Metford"

In his introduction to the book Robert McVittie wrote,

"If I were to condense into one word all the advice that I have given or may give, that word would be perseverance.

Cultivate a spirit of untiring energy. Just as "Rome was not built in a day," so neither can any famous marksman make his reputation by any one performance. It is only after years of steady perseverance, and with a spirit undaunted by difficulties or discouragements, that the tyro can become the "crack".




The following is an article written by David Hyslop Pool, son of Alex and Marion McVittie Pool (nee Hyslop). Many thanks to David for allowing us to reproduce it here -

                                                                     PRIVATE McVITTIE

The Forgotten Champion


David H. Pool  

David Pool

My parents have, in their possession, a telescope. Nothing particularly unusual about that, as many homes throughout the country will be able to claim the same. This telescope however was never used to study the stars or gaze at the galaxy. The instrument in question belonged to a gentleman who was born 160 years ago this year. He was a Borderer, he was an Army private and he was one of the most remarkable world record holders that Scotland has ever produced.

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century Private Robert McVittie was without doubt the best Rifle Marksman in the world. The telescope referred to earlier was used because of the amazing distances the leading marksmen of this period had to shoot in competition.

Private McVittie was born in Langholm, Dumfriesshire in 1839. There is little of any consequence recorded of his early days other than he honed his art with a rifle on the Arkinholm range above the town. The first mention of international recognition is when he was selected to shoot for Scotland in 1867. This being the start of an extraordinary career which saw him shoot for Langholm, Scotland, Great Britain and after emigrating in 1888, Canada.

  McVittie had the ability to gauge the wind, and decide on the amount of powder needed to fire a piece of lead from a muzzle-loading rifle into the bullseye of a target sometimes over half a mile away. To do it at all takes some believing. To do it time and time again, to a level that if the bull was missed it was a major shock, is uncanny. This ability was to make Robert McVittie renowned throughout the world. As an individual he was seldom beaten. He competed at all the great shoots of the day.

  He picked up the major prizes for many years at Irvine, Lanark, Edinburgh, Inverness, Bisley, Wimbledon and abroad at Toronto, Ottowa and New York. It was eventually reckoned that he had carried off more cups, medals and trophies than any other shot in the British Isles. It is recorded, however, that his fame as a marksman was as high for the Team Shooting as for his individual efforts.

In 1876 he was in the Scotland team to contest the great Centennial Match at Creedmoor, New York. It was his shooting in this match which was to seal his fame as “ the best all-round shot in the world”. This contest had the top marksmen from the Home Countries, the United States, Canada and Australia competing for their respective teams.

After the first day’s shooting, Scotland were in the lead and Private McVittie had produced the highest score ever recorded in this type of match. Out of a possible 225 he had made 209. It astounded everybody and when the results were cabled back home there was great excitement in Scotland, and in Langholm in particular. Unfortunately the Scots could not produce the same scoring on the second day and were eventually third behind USA and Ireland. McVittie’s first day score, however, was never again reached. An American paper of the day even stated that even although the USA had won the match, “McVittie’s unapproachable score was even more cause for celebration”.

In 18882 Private McVittie was in the British team to oppose the Americans once again in New York. The Brits won handsomely and it was the remarkable performance of McVittie which once again made victory possible. Shooting over the amazing distances of 200, 500, 600, 800, 900, and 1000 yards and with a possible total of 35 able to be scored over each distance, he averaged 30.23 over the two days of the competition. His aggregate score ended up fourteen points higher than the next best competitor, A Major Pierce, who just happened to be the best shot in England.

Private McVittie was described in a London periodical as “canny, quiet and unassuming”. He was also without doubt a very modest man. When the triumphant British team returned from their victory in America, several members were to be given a public welcome. The same was to be accorded to the hero on his return to Langholm. He had other ideas, however, and arrived home unexpectedly in the early hours of a Sunday morning in order to avoid any fuss.

By the late 1880’s McVittie’s fame was at its zenith and after many requests he produced a book entitled Hints and Advice on Rifle Shooting . This was regarded throughout the shooting world as the “marksman’s bible” and soon sold out its issue of 5000 copies. In 1888 he emigrated to Canada and spent many successful years thereafter shooting for the “Dominion”. It was also around this time that a newspaper asked its readers to vote for the “best all round shot in the world” and Private McVittie came out on top by some 500 votes.

Another example of the recognition that he had achieved by this time came in a verse from the Wimbledon Ballads , Wimbledon in those days being a Mecca for the rifle rather than the racket.

The verse went like this :

“From near the Borderland comes nestor, sage,

For skill esteemed the wonder of his age,

May heaven reward him and protect him still

Preserve his eyesight, and his snuff-box fill.”

McVittie’s habit of taking a pinch of snuff to clear his sight was legendary and his snuff-box became as much a part of his equipment as his telescope.

  It seems that there were three major factors which made him so phenomenally successful. Firstly there was his incredible eyesight, Robert Hyslop, the historian, wrote in the Border Magazine in 1918, “ I have seen him on a wet, misty day make 33 out of 35 at 600 yards when other shots declared they could not see the target!” Secondly there was the fact that he seemed totally devoid of nerves. Once while shooting at Wimbledon a member of the National Rifle Association who was accompanying the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, said loudly for the marksman to hear “this is the great McVittie”. Press reports of the day stated “ the Royal presence did not disturb his equanimity in the slightest”.

  Then there was his judgement, his sixth sense which allowed him to gauge the wind currents and the amount of allowance to give his aim. Because of this he was frequently asked to shoot first in team events so as to pass on the information to his teammates. These three qualities along with this enthusiasm for the sport, his modesty and his genuine interest in the performances of even his closest rivals made this “canny” Borderer into the Legend that he undoubtedly was.

  Private McVittie returned home and spent his last years in Langholm where he died in 1918 and is buried with his forebears in the Wauchope Kirkyard a mile out of the town. There is little to mark the resting place of such a prolific sporting figure. I would suggest, in fact, that there are few Langholm residents other than the remaining relatives who even know the story behind the man. That, in itself, is a pity as I doubt if we will see his like again. It is, however, not all that surprising as, of course, long range field Rifle Shooting is not the popular sport it was a century ago. Individual sports such as Golf and Snooker are now very much the favourites especially in Scotland. Golfer Colin Montgomery and Snooker player Stephen Hendry are the stars of these days. However, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, Private Robert McVittie of Langholm, could, I suggest, claim to have been Scotland’s first sporting superstar.

  He was after all the “World’s No.1”

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