Albert Moss debut First-Class 10 wickets record
The ball Albert Moss used for his debut 10-wicket haul

“Far away from home, in a strangers’ land,
A prodigal had wandered alone:
And his feet were sore from the burning sand,
As he sank by an old churchstone.
Weary and hungry, in slumbers embraced,
He dreamed of his home so dear,
And in fancy looked on his mother’s face,
As the song came to his ear:
‘Just as I am without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.’”
— Traditional spiritual song

RT Brittenden had written in Great Days in New Zealand Cricket: “Cricket in Canterbury had a natural birth. The settlement in 1850 was a planned reproduction of a piece of England in a strange land 12,000 miles away. It was a church-based design, but the bat went with the Bible, for if there was to be another England, there most certainly had to be cricket.”

History tells us that it was barely six months from the arrival of the first four ships from England carrying 792 pilgrims to Lyttelton Harbour, that the locals formed their first cricket club. On December 16, 1851, as part of the Founders’ Day celebrations at Canterbury, an ‘enthusiastic’ game of cricket was played on an open area that was to later become the Hagley Oval, the spiritual home of cricket in New Zealand, often referred to as the King’s Castle.

Meanwhile, 12,000 miles away from Canterbury, and about 12 years later, a strange saga was about to unfold in England. A consumptive family living at 32 Station Street in the village of Hugglescote, about a mile from the centre of the town of Coalville in north-west Leicestershire, comprising boot-maker Edward Moss and his wife Ann, were blessed with the second of their ultimate six children on October 3, 1863. This boy, subsequently named Albert Edward, seemed to be a little different from the others in the family.

He appeared to have an attention deficiency problem and found it difficult to concentrate on his studies in school. Many of his actions appeared to be ‘silly’ and ‘purposeless’ to his childhood sweetheart Mary Hall. He was also a little hyperactive in his formative years. Despite that, he found a job as a teacher after finishing schooling and taught in a boys’ school at Derby for a while. His father and his brother James succumbed to the dreaded tuberculosis, the latter at the age of six.

Wary of the disease that had already claimed two lives in the family, Albert decided to leave his native shores and make a new life for himself at New Zealand, emigrating to the colony in 1889. The plan was that Mary Hall, his betrothed, would follow him to the colony later. Michael Wright, taking great pains to gather his material from available archives and from contemporary media reports, has reconstructed the poignant tale of the life and troubled times of Albert Edward Moss and his long-suffering, but loving wife Mary under the heading … Your Affectionate Wife.

Reported by contemporary historians as “probably the fastest bowler ever seen in New Zealand,” Moss was soon turning out for the Lancaster Park Cricket Club in Canterbury local cricket. He caught the eye of the powers that be and was selected for Canterbury to take on Wellington at Hagley Oval in 1889-90. Several contributory elements, past and present, combined to make this match a landmark in the annals of cricket history.

One of the most important factors was the 1884 change in cricket laws that prohibited the covering of the pitch once the game had got underway. In an era when the art and protocol of curating a wicket was still a distant dream, exposure to the uncertain elements was proving to be a powerful ally to the bowlers of the age, the faster men benefitting greatly from the ruling.

The overhead weather conditions at Christchurch spanning the duration of the game added further spice to the proceedings. There had been heavy rain the night before the match was to begin, and though the precipitation had ceased temporarily on the day of the game, dark clouds were still in evidence. A southerly sea-breeze gradually dispelled the cloud cover and the sunshine began its work on the wicket. The end-result was a nightmare from the batsman’s point of view, a drying wicket with uneven bounce that still held enough moisture to allow lateral movement off the seam for a bowler. The added factor of a fast bowler in the opposition with a reputation of genuine pace of the level that most local batsmen had not been accustomed to face made the prospect quite intriguing.

Edward Cotterill won the toss for Canterbury and opted for first strike. There were three debutants for the home side: opening batsman: Fiji-born Herbert de Maus; Aynesley Harman, one of the three cricketing sons of the pioneering Harman family; and Moss. Going by extant reports, the Canterbury innings was over by lunchtime on the first day, the home side being dismissed for 138. Leg-spinner Charles Dryden took 7 for 58. By this time, the sun was in the process of turning the wicket into a dreaded “sticky dog.”

Wellington mustered 71. There were only two men in double figures: William McGirr (20) and Alexander Littlejohn (13*). Opening bowling, 26-year old Moss bowled short and fast through the innings, using crafty variations of pace and length, and had figures of 21.3-10-28-10. Till date this is the only instance of a bowler capturing all 10 wickets on First-Class debut in an 11-a-side game, the record standing the test of time.

The local media commented: “The feature of this innings was the bowling of Moss, for he took all the ten wickets for the small cost of 28 runs.” For the sake of completeness, it must be mentioned that there was an instance in 1900-01 when ‘Fitz’ Hinds, making his First-Class debut, and playing for AB St Hill’s XI against Trinidad, had taken 10 for 36 at Port-of-Spain, but the match in question had been a 12-a-side affair. and that Henry Simmons had taken the other wicket.

By the end of the first day, 26 wickets had fallen, and Canterbury went in at 94 for 6. The innings did not progress much further on the morrow, Canterbury being bowled out for 111. Wellington began their second innings requiring 179; they managed 139, the highest total in the match. Lost in the wonder of Moss’s first-innings bowling performance, one other debutant shone with the ball for Canterbury in the game, Harman taking 5 for 43 in the second innings, while Moss added another 3 wickets to complete a remarkable debut match. Canterbury won the game by 39 runs.

As a fitting memento of the unparalleled bowling feat performed by Moss in the match, the Lancaster Park Cricket Club had the ball mounted with a silver shield on which was inscribed the legend: “A.E. Moss, from L.P.C.C., Cantby v Welln, Dec 1889, 1st Innings, 10 wkts for 28 runs.” The ball was then presented to Moss and it became his dearest possession.

During the rest of the season, Moss played in 3 other First-Class matches for Canterbury with 5 for 51 and 3 for 21 against Auckland; 3 for 57 and 1 for 43 against a visiting New South Wales; also at Lancaster Park; and 1 for 35 against Otago. That was the extent of his cricket career as far as can be found from documentation. His brief stint in First-Class cricket netted him 26 wickets in 4 matches at 10.96, with 2 five-wicket hauls and a ten-wicket haul. His only other known link with First-Class cricket was the match between Wellington and Canterbury at the Basin Reserve in 1890-91, when he had officiated as an umpire.

Unfortunately, even at this relatively young age, his fondness for alcohol soon wooed Moss away from the straight and narrow path. He found a job as a clerk in the offices of the National Mortgage Agency Company and boarded with a respectable householder in central Christchurch. While leaving his native English shores he had promised Mary that he would arrange a berth for her to come over to New Zealand. Although his letters to her were full of love, he failed to keep his promise to secure a berth for her on a steamship to New Zealand on numerous occasions.

Perforce, Mary herself arrived in New Zealand on her own initiative on the SS Tainui in May 1891, and they were married shortly after her arrival. Unfortunately, the narrative enters a sombre phase from this point onwards. Moss had not been keeping good health and was being increasingly afflicted with severe headaches that prevented him from sleeping soundly. Medical opinion of the time put it down to tubercular meningitis, and Dr Benjamin Moorhouse, his physician, felt that the consumptive process was likely to cause degeneration of his brain and spinal cord, with the possibility of seizures.

By this time, Moss had begun to exhibit some worrying behavioural traits. He took up a new position as a clerk in the office of the merchants Friedlander Brothers but Moss’ demeanour became more and more irrational and erratic. Moss and his new bride moved to a new house at Burnett Street, Ashburton, and found the place in complete disarray, the newly ordered fine mahogany furniture, amounting to about $10,000, not having been unpacked as yet. There was some unpleasantness over the payment for the shipment of furniture and Moss’s explanations for these and other related events were found to be inconsistent. There were allegations of misappropriation of funds from his employers.

Things came to a head when, on a Saturday morning of July 1891, he attacked his wife with an axe and slit his own throat with a razor. Miraculously, both survived the gruesome experience, but legal wheels began to turn. Let us draw a discreet veil over the details of the lengthy legal proceedings, merely mentioning that there emerged sufficient evidence to show that Moss had tried to poison his wife before the physical attack and that there was insufficient proof of his having been swindled out of a substantial amount of money as he had professed. The other factor that emerged from the trial was the fact that he had become besotted with alcohol, leading to mental degradation.

The first jury of 12 could not reach any verdict and a second jury was constituted. They brought in a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity.” Moss was incarcerated in Lyttelton Jail. Moved to Wellington Jail, he was finally released in December 1896. The Police Gazette noted that he had been “pardoned and sent to Montevideo.”

In the meantime his wife had left him, taking with her his favourite possession, the ball with which he had performed the miraculous feat of taking all 10 wickets in an innings on debut. Mary took up a job as a schoolmistress and began a new life in New Zealand.

Moss became a drifter once he was in South America, not being able to find a stable job for a while. He finally secured a situation with the Railways, but again fell prey to his old failing of alcoholism. Unable to hold down his job for long, he wandered to the expatriate British Colony of South Africa at Cape Town and again found a position, this time in South African Railways. His drunkenness, however, precluded any meaningful performance in his job, and he reached the depth of despair when he was served a notice of divorce from his wife in New Zealand in June 1904. His mental devastation was now complete.

He thought of suicide and of casting himself into the sea off the coast of Cape Town, yet he lacked the courage to carry out his intention. The Almighty, however, performs His miracles in wondrous ways and under the most unlikely situations. Moss was accepted at a social farm under the auspices of the Salvation Army at Rondebosch. His level of education, and the fact that he had once been a teacher, went in his favour. No awkward questions were asked about his antecedents or about the scar on his neck, and he gradually integrated well with the other inmates of the farm and began to participate in the regular pastoral activities.

Almost 47 and greying prematurely, Moss applied for a position in the Salvation Army in 1910. When he was formally accepted as a probationary lieutenant, he was one of the oldest to be appointed to the post in the history of the organisation. He was posted to Johannesburg and later to Pretoria, and seemed to find a mission in rehabilitating former prisoners and alcoholics. His outstanding contributions to the cause of the Salvation Army were mentioned in the South African edition of the official Army newspaper called War Cry in 1915.

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, Mary was working in a school, and happened to be on a walking tour when, by the merest chance, or perhaps by the intervention of The Almighty, an incident occurred that was reported in the New Zealand edition of War Cry as follows: “Stopping on a stretch of road, she felt a piece of paper blow against her legs by a strong gust of wind.” It happened to be a page of the War Cry, and she read of the deeds of her husband in far off South Africa and became aware of how he had finally found his redemption under the gentle guidance of the altruistic spirit of the Salvation Army.

Shortly after this incident, Moss received a package from New Zealand containing a hard, round object and a hand-written note. It was his treasured ball, the one with which he had taken his 10 wickets. The note was from Mary. Fond old memories revived, and the couple was reunited when Mary travelled to South Africa after three years of exchange of ardent letters. Moss married Mary again in 1918, and Mary also joined the Salvation Army, a precondition laid down by the organisation. They lived in Pretoria and worked together for the cause for seven years. Moss was promoted to Adjutant and he specialised in working for the reformation of former prisoners.

A teacher at heart, the evangelistic life did not suit Mary and her health began to fail. The couple returned to England and spent ten happy years together before Mary passed away at their Essex home in 1928. Moss remained in the same house till he passed away on December 12, 1945, aged about 82. His funeral programme declared: “He was called suddenly to his Reward, which was the kind of death he desired. So has passed to the fuller life a sterling Salvationist and large-hearted gentleman.”

That was not, however, the end of the Albert Moss story. Shortly before his demise, Moss had handed over his much-prized and inscribed cricket ball to his friend, Salvation Army Commissioner, John Lewis, with the instruction that it be returned to the Lancaster Park CC after his death. Lewis carried out his friend’s last wish in 1947 while on a visit to New Zealand. The story might have ended with the Lancaster Park CC accepting the memento and commenting that it would be kept with the club and “treasured as a historic memento”.

After the ball had been in residence at Lancaster Park CC for about two decades, there was a new entrant into the continuing saga, one Rodney Knight, a lieutenant-colonel of the Salvation Army. It seems that Knight had read a brief account of Moss and his work with the Army, and had stumbled upon the story of the ball. In the 1970s, Knight felt that the ball would be a very suitable prop for his lectures on the activities of the Salvation Army. Knight borrowed the ball from the club, delivered the sermon, and duly returned it to the club.

At a later date, he approached the club authorities again with a request for the ball for another set of sermons. In an interview, his son, also called Rodney Knight, was to relate later that his father “was told that they were actually cleaning out the clubrooms and that the ball was … In the back of a truck ready to go to the dump.” Knight Sr had then asked if he could have it if no one else was interested in it. On being assured in the affirmative, Rodney Knight had secured it and had used it numerous times in his sermons and lectures.

In 2005, the ball had made another appearance after Canterbury spinner Paul Wiseman took 9 for 13 against Central Districts, the second-best bowling figures by a New Zealand bowler, and Knight Sr spoke to the press about the iconic ball. The club authorities had then showed some interest in keeping it under their custody again. The family had refused but had told the club that they could use it when required. After Knight Sr passed away in 2005, the ball remained as part of his estate.

His sons hope that an agreement will be reached with the Salvation Army so the ball will be able to find a permanent home, perhaps in the New Zealand Cricket Museum at Basin Reserve, Wellington, as a testimony not only to the record bowling feat of Albert Moss in 1889, but also to the redemption of the man who had found his own salvation through willpower and through a random scrap of paper blown by a gust of wind.