The Australian Cricket Tour of England in 1868

By Anne Cochrane

There will be a lot of media coverage shortly commemorating the  150th anniversary of the first  (unofficial) Australian cricket tour of England.  It was a team of  aboriginal cricketers, and it took many years for them to be given the respect their efforts deserved.

The Aboriginal tour of the  summer of 1868 is a  strange, wonderful, complicated and interesting story,  and  a full account can be found on the BBC Cricket website at here.

Very, very  briefly, 150 years ago this week, a party comprising 13 indigenous Australian cricketers from Victoria, plus  Coach and Player Captain, Charles  Lawrence, a former All England player, and their Managers, who hoped to make a lot of money out of the venture,  landed in England after a sea voyage which took 3 months.

The Tour started with a match v Surrey at the Oval on 25th May, and ended there, 47 matches later, at the end of October.  Two players went  home in August probably ill, one player known as “King Cole” (the players were known by English names as  the public found their real names too difficult to pronounce), died within a month, from “inflammation of the  lungs” possibly pneumonia or TB.  From June to October, the remaining players  criss crossed the country, usually playing two days of cricket then a day of “Australian sports” such as running backwards, throwing spears etc. which if truth be told was the main attraction to the public, although in Cuzens and Mullagh, the tourists had at least two genuine top quality players.

They played two games in Lancashire, on 29th and 30th June at East Lancs., and 2nd, 3rd and 4th July at Rochdale, where  it was reported  that “one of the Australians was giving an illustration of the use of the boomerang (a piece of carved wood, which they can throw with great dexterity) when some person carelessly threw it up in the air and it fell upon the head of Master Walter, son of Mr. Robert Leach of Harridge.  Strange to say, it did not cut through his straw hat but cut a wound in his head, from which the blood flowed copiously.  Dr. Buckly expressed the opinion that the wound was not very serious.”

After that final match at the Oval, and a dinner when  they were each presented with a commemorative bat, they sailed home from Plymouth on the Dunbar Castle around 26th October, 1868, putting on sporting exhibitions for the paying public to the very end. It was reported that the tour had not been a financial success, with one club, Savile in Dewsbury complaining at  their 1868 AGM, that “the management of the Aboriginal Eleven failing  to fulfil their engagements will account for the state of the cash account.”

In 1869 The Victorian State Board of Protection brought in laws which effectively controlled all aspects of the lives of the indigenous aboriginal people, which  prevented such a tour happening again.

There is just one little mystery though… and that involves Nelson Cricket Club

The mystery of “Dick-a-Dick” (Djungadjinganook) and Nelson CC

One of the tour party known as “Dick-a-Dick”  had excelled at the Australian Sports but had been pretty rubbish at cricket:  “Dick-a-Dick  for example, had little in the way of cricket ability, yet became an undoubted star of the tour because of his skill at “dodging”. Spectators threw cricket balls from 10 paces, which Dick-a-Dick “dodged” using a parrying shield and leangle (an Aboriginal war club). He was hit just once on the entire tour.” (BBC)

When the team played in Sheffield at Bramall Lane, the Sheffield Telegraph of 13th August reported that in “English” Sports,  he won the 100 yards in 10.25 seconds, the 100 yards backwards race, throwing the cricket ball (108 yards, 2 feet 6 inches),  and the 150 yards hurdles in 19.5 seconds.  In Australian Sports he showed “his dexterity in dodging the cricket ball, and would have gone on longer had it not been for the spectators getting too close”.

So he was a superb all round athlete, and a showman, shrewdly extracting  individual payment from Management for his popular performances.  He also reportedly met an English woman on the tour, and they wanted to marry, but the manager prevented it.

At home he was a renowned tracker, having famously found some  lost white children when all hope seemed gone, and was a well known and important figure in his community.  (See the  Wikipedia page dedicated to him).  His death was  officially recorded in Australia  in 1870, although there are conflicting reports on this.

Yet  Nelson CC’s history shows that “in 1879  “Dick o’ Dicks”, alias Francis Crueze, came to Nelson after having played at the East Lancashire club with the Australian Aboriginal touring team. “  Francis Cruze played for Nelson only until August 1879.  He was not much of a batter, but apparently bowled fast.  However, was he really the famous Aboriginal sportsman?  None of the Aboriginal team went under the name Francis Cruze. Contemporary match reports for Nelson games only ever refer to him as F. Cruze, making no connection to the  Aboriginal cricket tour,  a major event which many people would still remember.  There is no mention of any Australian sports,  although he did win the “Throwing the Cricket Ball” event at the 1879 Nelson Cricket Club Athletics Festival.

His time at Nelson ended controversially.  On 6th September the committee felt obliged to place a notice in the press in response to criticism about a benefit match for the pro, on 16th August.  Guest professionals from Derby who were advertised as playing, didn’t appear, and it was alleged that the committee had never even invited them. and it was all a scam.  Outraged, the Committee announced that Cruze alone had organised the game, had assured them he had invited the star attractions but had been let down, and they then  reprinted a letter from those professionals denying they had been invited, and didn’t know anything about the game.

He may well have been the Francis Cruze, who joined Llanelli Cricket Club in 1881, as professional, (they had advertised for the services of a fast bowler). The 1881 census shows him as being born in Melbourne,  around 1849, and describing himself as a professional cricketer. He settled there, playing cricket for Llanelli for many years, and also trading as a shopkeeper/confectioner. He died in 1924.

So perhaps Nelson’s archives, or indeed any other club’s records, can shed more light?  Why did they believe they had signed the famous Dick-a-Dick?