The Australian Cricket Tour of England in 1868

By Anne Cochrane

Originally posted 11 May 2018

The  Australian  Cricket Tour of England, 1868.

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 for example on the BBC Cricket website at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23225434

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 25thMay, 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 29/30 June at East Lancs., and 2/3/4 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.”

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, with photos).  His death was officially recorded in Australia in 1870, although there are conflicting reports on this.  

After that final match at the Oval, and a dinner when they were each presented with a commemorative bat, the party 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.

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