Story: McConachy, Clark

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McConachy, Clark

1895–1980

Billiards and snooker player

This biography was written by N. A. C. McMillan and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 5, 2000

Clark McConachy was born at Glenorchy, Otago, on 15 April 1895. He was the son of Peter Hill McConachy, an Australian-born storekeeper and later a billiard saloon proprietor, and his wife, Frances Lydia Stead, who was born in England. The family moved briefly to Gore but by 1905 were living in Timaru.

Mac, as he was known, was educated at Timaru, but left school at 14 to work in his father’s billiard saloon. Under the tutelage of Alf Southerwood he developed his natural aptitude for both billiards and snooker and at the age of 17 was making breaks of 1,000 on the billiard table. In 1915 he won the New Zealand professional billiards championship from Bill Stephenson, a title he retained until his death. In the same year, on 14 October, he married Gertrude Emily Anderson at Wellington. McConachy made several tours around New Zealand and subsequently played all over the world, but by 1938 the couple were living in Auckland. He developed rapidly into a talented professional and was soon recognised as one of the world’s top five players, along with the Australian Walter Lindrum and the English trio of Joe Davis, Tom Newman and Willie Smith.

McConachy performed some amazing feats. He was the first player to make two breaks of over 1,000 in consecutive matches, and he achieved a personal best break of 1,943 against Davis at Leicester Square Hall in 1932. Two years later, while playing Lindrum, he made a break of 1,927. On another occasion, in a match at Manchester, he set a record of 466 consecutive cannons.

He first played in the world billiards championship in 1922, eventually winning the title in 1951 when he beat the British champion John Barrie. The New Zealander held the championship until 1968, when he lost to Welshman Rex Williams. At the end of this week-long match, the 73-year-old McConachy, who was said to be suffering from Parkinson’s disease, was only 265 points in arrears. Although snooker held less appeal than billiards, McConachy was a world snooker championship finalist in 1932 and 1952. He achieved the maximum possible break of 147 in the latter year. During his career he made breaks of 100 or more on at least 300 occasions.

McConachy, New Zealand’s greatest billiards and snooker player, never lost his fascination for the games. He maintained that his outstanding success was due not only to his natural ability but also to his dedication to practice, his remarkable physical fitness and his ability to relax under pressure. Throughout his career he practised at the table for hours each day, and even in old age trained several times every week. A non-smoker and teetotaller, McConachy regularly ran four miles a day when on tour and was a strong advocate of the benefits of skipping and press-ups. He also worked out on a punch-bag and was renowned for walking around the table on his hands before a match.

McConachy often donated his exhibition match fees to hospital charities. In 1964 he was made an MBE for services to billiards and the community, and in 1990 he was among the first inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. A life member of the New Zealand Billiards and Snooker Association, he was also an examiner for referees’ certificates. Gertrude McConachy died in September 1966, and on 29 May 1967 McConachy married Effie Jay (formerly Jacobs), a gown designer, at Auckland.

McConachy played his last tournament in 1972 but, a master of trick shots, he continued to display his skills at exhibitions for three more years. He died at his home in Greenlane, Auckland, on 12 April 1980, just three days short of his 85th birthday. His wife and his son from his first marriage survived him.