Charles Augustus Ollivierre. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia commons
Charles Augustus Ollivierre. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia commons

It was a Monday, the June 18, 2001. The 50-over match between MCC Women and Australian Women had just been concluded at John Walker’s Ground, Southgate, with a resounding victory for the visitors by 142 runs. After the usual post-match formalities were over, there was a somewhat special awards ceremony. Well, hold your breath, one Ebony-Jewel Cora-Lee Rosamond Camellia Rainford-Brent, a member of the England Women’s team as a right-hand bat and a right-arm medium-fast bowler, was about to receive a very significant award.

It had all started with a church service at St Martin-in-the-Fields organised by writer Clayton Goodwin (an English writer married to a Jamaican lady for over 40 years, and writing about matters of Caribbean and Commonwealth interest, especially cricket, since the early 1960s) and sponsored by the BWIA West Indian Airways. The occasion was the celebration of 100 years of the first West Indian cricket tour to England. At the end of the service, a joint decision had been made to donate the entire amount of the collection taken as an Award to the Memory of the pioneer cricketer Charles Augustus Ollivierre, to be awarded to a modern ‘pioneer’ of West Indian cricket in England.

On June 18, thus, actor Rudolph Walker presented the inscribed cup to Ebony and Jasmine Baksh, Manager of the St Vincent & the Grenadines Tourist Board, handed over the voucher for equipment and travel expenses. (Ollivierre was Vincentian).

The citation stated that Rainford-Brent had been selected because of “her contribution to the enhanced profile of youth participation in women’s cricket, of youth cricket in the inner-city, and of West Indian heritage players within the national structure of English cricket, and, above all, her philosophy that ‘cricket is fun’.” It is intended that the award shall henceforth be annual.

A thesis submitted by Jonathan Newman as part of the requirement for his MA degree at the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, entitled Massa Day Done: Cricket as a Catalyst for West Indian Independence, 1950-1962, traces the history and gradual evolution of cricket in the Caribbean Islands and the unifying effect the game had on the social matrix of the entire population of the areas colonised by the British in the 18th century.

As with other corners of the Empire, cricket was brought to the Caribbean Islands by the British, particularly the military. There appears to be some evidence that the Commander-in-Chief of all the British troops stationed in the Caribbean had issued specific orders in 1841 that every barrack should be provided with a cricket ground. According to Hilary Beckles, an eminent scholar of the development of cricket in the Caribbean, “there was nothing surprising or spectacular about the journey of English cricket culture to the ‘sugar colonies’ of the West Indies at the end of the eighteenth century.”

Far removed from their home ambience and stationed in alien lands with vast differences in climate, food, and culture, British soldiers sought solace in the familiar game. Gradually, the game spread throughout the white colonials, cutting across social strata, to encompass the planters, the mercantile group, colonial administrators, and even the Anglican clergymen.

In Just Cricket: Black Struggles for Racial Justice and Equality, Beckles speaks of the initial social divide between the white colonials and the darker-skinned inhabitants, many of them slave labourers: “Organised cricket culture, as a social practice, was defined in colonial society as an institution of high culture. It excluded blacks and mixed race people from the 1790s, when the game was introduced by garrisoned imperial soldiers and domesticated by the planter-merchant elite. On racial grounds blacks were denied by whites the opportunity to participate in colonial leagues and competitions in which they played.”

With the mandated abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire in 1834, the social structure changed, relaxing the severe restrictions on the movements and activities of the erstwhile slave population to a certain extent. According to Michael Manley, former Jamaican Prime Minister and prolific cricket writer: “The rest of the population began to emulate the habits and practices of the elite and even to create parallel, though less well endowed, institutions of their own”.

The social structure gradually revealed a layer of white planters, merchants and colonial administrators at the top of the pyramid, followed by a somewhat thicker stratum of predominantly mulatto (of mixed black and white ancestry) middle-class. The lowermost echelon consisted of a large mass of ‘black’ people (predominantly people of African descent, and, in Guyana and Trinidad, newly arrived indentured labourers of East Indian origin). As a preliminary measure to bring about some measure of integration in the multi-cultural population, the erstwhile ‘natives’ were slowly admitted to British schools and were cautiously imbued with British values, and the Gospel of cricket, which, in the end, proved to have a powerful unifying effect.

Even so, the achievement of true cultural emancipation took a little longer. Initially, the cricket code in the colonised regions of the Caribbean Islands stipulated that the art of batsmanship was the preserve of the whites, whilst the darker-coloured slave population would be required to bowl and field while the “Massas” enjoyed their recreation.

Batting was perceived to be an art that required thinking, strategy, style, and temperament, attributes beyond the capabilities of the “simple” dark-skinned people. On the other hand, the mere act of hurling the ball was thought to be well within their capacity. The fallout of this thinking process closed the doors on many capable batsmen of colour in the early days. Captaincy, again, was thought to be well beyond their unsophisticated minds.

It was in this milieu that cricket gradually evolved in the West Indies, and the first inter-colonial match was played between Barbados and Demerara at Garrison Savannah, Bridgetown, on February 15, 1865, the first cricket match in the Caribbean to be accorded First-Class status. Barbados won the game by 132 runs. In a return match in September at Parade Ground, Georgetown, Demerara won by 2 wickets.

There followed a sporadic series of 10 inter-colonial matches till 1890, mainly because of the distances and travel difficulties involved, the participants being Barbados, British Guiana (often referred to as Demerara in the early years), and Trinidad. An important landmark was reached in 1882 when, in the match between Demerara and Trinidad, played at Georgetown, Edward Fortescue Wright of Demerara scored the first century (123) in Caribbean First-Class cricket history. It helped his side to win by an innings and 6 runs. Born in Devon, Wright was posted in the constabulary of Jamaica. During a riot at Montego Bay in 1904, Wright was attacked and injured, succumbing to his injuries shortly after the attack.

An important chapter in West Indies cricket was written in 1886, when, for the first time, a team from the Caribbean made an overseas tour. In Liberation Cricket: West Indies Cricket Culture, Hilary Beckles and Brian Stoddart write that the idea had first been mooted by one George Wyatt of the Georgetown Cricket Club of Demerara. It was felt that the time was ripe for an overseas foray by a West Indies team, and the destination selected was North America.

Although the original idea had been to select players from Jamaica, Barbados, Demerara, and Trinidad, the Trinidadian contingent had to pull out of the venture, possibly because of the cost involved ($350 per player). The final squad of 12 included six Jamaicans, two Barbadians, and four members from Demerara. Wyatt was named the captain and LK Fyfe form Jamaica went as the vice-captain (Fyfe was to keep valuable notes about the action on the tour under the name ‘One of Them’). It was an all-white contingent. A total of 13 matches were played in August and September 1886, though none of them were of First-Class status. The West Indies team won 6, lost 5, and 2 of the games were drawn.

There was a reciprocal tour of the West Indies by The Gentlemen of the USA in 1887-88. On this trip, however, the tourists played only against territorial sides and not against full-strength West Indian teams. The relatively weak touring team was defeated by the ‘Big Four’ — Barbados, Demerara, Trinidad, and Jamaica. All this whetted the appetites of the Caribbean cricket fraternity; they now felt that their recognition would be complete as cricketing powers only after they could cross swords, as it were, with English cricketers.

Acting independently and individually, Wyatt and Fyfe tried to arrange for separate tours to England in 1888 and 1889, but the negotiations fell through. Slowly, the truth dawned on the Caribbean cricket enthusiasts that opposition to the skill and competence of English players would only be possible, at this juncture of the development of Caribbean cricket, through visits by teams of English cricketers in the West Indies. Well, the dreams came true when the Medway docked at Barbados with the first team of English cricketers on January 28, 1895.

Dr RB Anderson, a physician from Lincolnshire, had been practising his medical skills in Tobago for 28 years. An ardent supporter of Caribbean cricket, he proved to be the catalyst for the first English tour of the islands. He had hoped to be able to persuade Lord Hawke to bring the first English team over. The good Doctor had been convinced that the mere presence of the luminary would not only act as an enormous encouragement for local West Indian cricket, but would also open doors for future West Indian trips to England.

Unfortunately, Hawke was unable to make the trip at the time. Anderson, not a man to give up hope easily, met Hawke personally while on a private visit to England in 1895 and appraised him of the state of cricket in the islands, suggesting that Hawke’s personal presence in the Caribbean would do wonders for the game there. His persuasive tongue seemed to have achieved his aim, and Hawke did make the trip two years later.

Ultimately, the 1895 all-amateur 13-member group consisted mainly of players with relatively low-level skills, and was led by the England and Middlesex player ‘Slade’ Lucas. Even so, the team was greeted rapturously wherever they went by the excitable local population. This was, after all, the ultimate confirmation that West Indies cricket had finally arrived.

The first English visitors on Caribbean shores played 16 games in all, all against teams comprising the local white players. Of the matches, 8 were of First-Class status. Of these 8, Barbados, Demerara, and Jamaica played 2 games each against the tourists while Trinidad played 1, and there was one game between the “Jamaica Born” and the tourists.

The Englishmen won 10 of the games and lost only 4, beginning the tour with a loss against Barbados at Bridgetown in the match that began on the day next to their arrival in the Islands by 5 wickets.

The next match proved to be an exciting one, with Barbados ending the first day on 359 for 7 and ending their first innings on 517, an unprecedented total in Caribbean First-Class cricket at the time. Surprisingly, there were no individual centuries in the innings. The enormity of the achievement was even reported in The Times: “That Barbados possessed the ability to compile 517 runs in a single innings was what the most judicious observers of our boys’ play or even the most sanguine spirits among us would have described as belonging more to the region of exuberant imagination than to be within the bounds of possibilities.”

The Englishmen, though being forced to follow on, won by 25 runs, with centuries by Frederick Bush (101) and John Dawson (138).

The real sensation of the tour, however, was the 12-a-side single-day single-innings game against St Vincent at Kingstown. St Vincent was not considered to be much of a cricketing force among the territories at the time. Yet they restricted the tourists to 48 before scoring 138 for 9 themselves, continuing batting after the winning target had been reached. Very obviously, the visit of Lucas’s team to the Islands lent an immense fillip to local cricket, and the West Indian cricket fraternity soon rejoiced on hearing that further excursions by English cricket teams were being planned to the Caribbean islands to “test the Colonial cricket steel.”

There was some confusion in 1896-97 when two separate English teams toured West Indies. On the invitation of Barbados and Jamaica, Arthur Priestley (later Sir Arthur Alexander Priestley) led a team of 13 members to play a total of 16 matches, of which 9 were attributed First-Class status. Of the 9 First-Class games (3 against Barbados, 3 against Jamaica, 2 against Trinidad, and 1 against a team designated as All West Indies), the visitors won 4 and lost 5.

At the same time, accepting an invitation from Demerara, Hawke himself arrived at Trinidad leading a 12-member, all-amateur group. This team played 14 games in all, 7 of which were of First-Class status, won 3, lost 2 and drew 2. Inevitably, the two teams met, but the autocratic Hawke could not come to a compromise with Priestley regarding the tour. They decided, wisely, to go their separate ways. It was reported at the time that the Hawke had treated Priestley in a rather high-handed manner.

While all these momentous events were taking place in the major cricketing centres of the West Indies, a male child was born to a Helon Ollivierre in his Back Street residence, somewhere between Victoria Park and the local cemetery of Kingstown, in little St Vincent, a part of St Vincent and the Grenadines, a sovereign state of the Lesser Antilles Islands arc, in the southern portion of the Windward Islands, on July 20, 1876.

Ollivierre was a man of importance in the area, being considered “one of the most popular and respected coloured gentlemen in the country. He was a nominated member of the Kingstown Board, belonged to a number of benefit societies, was Treasurer of the Mechanic Association and Chief Ranger of the local Court of the Ancient Order of Forresters.”

St Vincent being one of the smaller islands, there were very limited opportunities for cricket for the talented Ollivierre brothers, Charlie, Richard, and Helon. Charlie moved to the larger island of Trinidad for better cricketing prospects, and there made his First-Class debut, primarily as a right-hand batsman, with the Trinidad team against Lucas’s XI. Interestingly, the skipper of the Trinidad team for the match, Aucher Warner, elder brother of the more famous Plum, also made his debut in the same game. Charles’ performances with bat (7 and 12) were moderate, but he took 2 for 45. A future Caribbean star had been launched.

In a First-Class career spanning 1894-95 to 1907, Charles Augustus Ollivierre played 114 matches in all, aggregating 4,830 runs with a highest of 229 and an average of 23.56. He had 3 centuries and 25 fifties and held 110 catches. He claimed 29 wickets as well, with best figures of 6 for 51 and an average of 22.89. He had 5 five-wicket hauls and took 10 wickets in a match once. Considering that West Indies cricket was still in its relative infancy during his playing days, his figures bespeak the achievements of a player of notable merit.

A white gentleman named Arthur Bertram St Hill, born in Barbados, and a cricket enthusiast though of very limited capabilities in the game himself, raised a team and toured Trinidad and Tobago with them twice, in 1899 and 1900-01. Both Charles and his brother Richard were included in the AB St Hill XI that played against Trinidad in the two games in 1899 at Queen’s Park Oval, Port-of-Spain. With bowling figures of 6 for 51 and 5 for 69 and scores of 13 and 67, Charles was easily the star of the 5-wicket win by his team in the first match. Although Trinidad won the next match by 8 wickets, Charles had figures of 5 for 62 in the first innings. His value as a cricketer was increasing by leaps and bounds.

By 1899, the cricket fraternity in the Caribbean began to get the feeling that the time had perhaps come for a representative team from the West Indian communities to pay the first visit to the home of cricket. Briefed extensively by Anderson, Hawke and the mandarins of MCC were also thinking along the same lines. The fact that Hawke had experienced the state of cricket in the islands personally on his tour of 1897 helped him to make an informed assessment on the issue and to convey his personal feelings and moral support for the idea to the MCC committee.

In the meantime, it may be remembered that James Logan, the Scottish-born South African cricket patron, had also been in communication with Lord Hawke and the MCC about a projected tour of England by a South African team sponsored by him in 1900. As things turned out, however, the outbreak of the Boer War in October 1899 resulted in the cancellation of the South African venture.

With an assurance from Hawke that the projected tour of England would indeed be on, preparations began on the Caribbean side in right earnest. The business of selecting the touring party began in January with the nomination of a Selection Committee comprising representatives of all the Caribbean islands. The Committee met in Trinidad. Warner, having been named captain of the touring side, was co-opted into the selection panel.

This was the final shape of the squad selected: Stanley Sproston, George Learmond and Tommy Burton (of Demerara); Percy Cox, William Bowring, Percy Goodman and Fitz Hinds (Barbados); Aucher Warner, Lionel D’Ade, ‘Float’ Woods and Lebrun Constantine (Trinidad), Malcolm Kerr and Gilbert Livingston (Jamaica); William Mignon (Grenada); and Charles Ollivierre (St Vincent), with WC Nock (Trinidad) as manager. 

The 1900 West Indians who toured England (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) Standing, from left: Malcolm Kerr, William Mignon, Gilbert Livingston, Percy Cox, WC Nock (manager), Tommy Burton, Stanley Sproston, Charles Ollivierre Sitting, from left: William Bowring, Learmond, Aucher Warner, Percy Goodman, Lebrun Constantine, Fitz Hinds, ‘Float’ Woods
The 1900 West Indians who toured England (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Standing, from left: Malcolm Kerr, William Mignon, Gilbert Livingston, Percy Cox, WC Nock (manager), Tommy Burton, Stanley Sproston, Charles Ollivierre
Sitting, from left: William Bowring, Learmond, Aucher Warner, Percy Goodman, Lebrun Constantine, Fitz Hinds, ‘Float’ Woods

Harold (later Sir Harold) Austin, a white cricketer born in Barbados, and one of the more accomplished batsmen of the times, was not available, being in South Africa fighting in the Boer War. Another white player born in Barbados, Hallam Cole, withdrew from the team on personal grounds. Despite his impressive performances against Hawke’s and Priestley’s teams in 1897, Barbadian fast bowler Archie Cumberbatch was not selected in the party. The selected squad did not have a specialist wicketkeeper and the ‘keeping duties were shared by Constantine and Learmond. And thereby, as they say, hangs a tale. Constantine and Learmond developed a deep and abiding friendship on the tour, to the extent that Constantine thought it fit to name his son Learie after Learmond.

Writing in the 1930s, CLR James had this to say about Ollivierre: “Up to a few years ago there were experienced West Indian cricketers who believed that Ollivierre was the best batsman the West Indies had ever produced. He was a big powerful man who at school threw 126 yards and cut one-handed for 6. He made most of the strokes with a few of his own, chiefly a glorious lofting drive over extra-cover’s head.”

Dr Adrian Fraser, a social commentator and historian, says that at a Local Cricket Committee meeting in St Vincent, a decision was taken to raise a “special purse” for Ollivierre, and that the batsman left the island that was his home on May 25 to join the rest of the team at Barbados. According to Fraser, the St Vincent Handbook had captured the moment: “The jetty was thronged with spectators to wish him ‘bon voyage’. He was presented with a purse, contents of which were contributed by his many friends and well-wishers, also with a congratulatory and encouraging letter. From Barbados, he communicated his thanks with the assurance that nothing on his part would be wanting to make his selection satisfactory.”

The story of the inclusion of Constantine, a black plantation foreman and father of the legendary Baron Learie Constantine, is no less interesting. It seems that he had been passed over initially and that his indignant friends and admirers had then raised the necessary capital to buy his kit and passage money and that he had been escorted to the ship by a group of his well-wishers just prior to the sailing.

MCC, meanwhile, had met and decided, somewhat arbitrarily, that the standard of play of the tourists was not likely to be of such a standard as to warrant any of the matches being accorded First-Class status. This was somewhat surprising, given that this was to be the first representative team from the West Indies, with players from different colonies that had already been accorded First-Class status individually.

Ten of the 15-member team were white amateurs. Burton, born of a black mother and white father in Barbados, was a coloured professional, as was Woods, born in Barbados, and reputed to be a furiously fast bowler. Hinds, Constantine, and Ollivierre were the coloured amateurs in the group. The members of the touring part met in groups at Barbados, and were entertained at a luncheon at the Ice House by the Barbados Committee, before departing on the RMS Trent on May 26.

Arriving at Southampton on June 6, the team practised there prior to travelling to London for their first engagement against WG Grace’s London County XI at Crystal Palace. Warner, however, played in only 7 matches on the tour, being laid low by malaria fever, losing all 7 tosses, and placing the team under duress in all the games he played in. Indeed, the early part of the tour was not a happy time for the tourists, given the relatively colder and more unpredictable weather and the unaccustomed turf wickets in England, and of course, the higher level of the opposition.

It was not an auspicious beginning, London County winning by an innings and 198 runs after scoring a forbidding 538. Ollivierre had relatively decent figures (2 for 24). For the home team, Jack Mason scored 126 and had figures of 5 for 50 and 5 for 43. There is a story, apocryphal perhaps, related by Andy Carter in A Flash Outside The Off Stump, of the naturally exuberant Woods providing a humorous interlude by looking around the crowd and remarking to the Manger of the team: “Mr Nock, they have a lot of white people in this country.”

The visitors lost the first 3 games on the tour by large margins. Well, it was on record that after the formal welcome at London, Warner had remarked very politely to Grace: “We have come to learn, Sir.” Unfortunately, this courteous and deferential remark was grossly misrepresented in a cartoon appearing in the following day’s edition of The Star depicting the familiar bearded figure of WG towering over a group of hideous, weeping pygmies with the caption, “We have come to learn, sah.”

June 21, 1900 turned out to be a red-letter for the visiting West Indians when Warner and his men took field on the hallowed turf of Lord’s for their game against Gentlemen of MCC. The home team got 379. The West Indians could muster only 190, Learmond scoring 52 and WG taking 5 wickets. Following on, they put up 295, Constantine scoring 113 (the first century of the tour). There was a phase in the second innings when the West Indians were at a precarious 132 for 8. Constantine and Burton then engineered a partial recovery by adding 162 runs for the ninth wicket in 65 minutes of furious batting, forcing the Gentlemen to bat again. The Gentlemen of MCC then by 5 wickets. Even so, Constantine had lit a spark on behalf of the visitors.

The first win of the tour was against the Minor Counties at Northampton. Ollivierre (69) had his first fifty of the tour and added 83 for the third wicket with Cox. Thereafter, Burton (6 for 55 and 3 for 11) and Woods (2 for 57 and 4 for 31) ensured a victory by 61 runs.

The Gloucestershire game at Bristol proved to be a sort of massacre of the innocents when the county side put up 619. Gilbert Jessop got 157, reportedly scored while 201 team runs were added in a mere hour of batting. According to Warner in My Cricketing Life, “the black men of the team were so amused (at this hitting) that they sat down on the ground and shouted with laughter at the unfortunate bowler’s discomfiture!” The West Indians were not up to it and lost by an innings and 216 runs, their heaviest defeat till this point.

At the end of the first month of the tour, the West Indians had played 6 games and won only 1. It must be remembered that this was a very inexperienced side and they were up against established county sides, often playing to their full potential. As Warner, a Trinidadian by birth explained, “the team had never played together before, and they were unaccustomed to the strain of continuous three-day cricket.”

July began on a more cheerful note for the visitors with their match against Leicestershire ending in a victory by an innings and 87 runs. For a change, the West Indians batted first, and began with a first-wicket stand of 238 in 135 minutes between Plum Warner (113, playing his only match of the tour) and Ollivierre (159, the highest score for the visitors on the tour). Bowling unchanged, Woods (5 for 39) and Burton (4 for 39) then dismissed the county side for 80. Following on, the home side were dismissed for 219.

Two more innings defeats followed, against Nottinghamshire, and, surprisingly, Wiltshire. Against Lancashire the margin of defeat was less, only 57 runs, after good performances by Ollivierre (44 and 60). Johnny Briggs finished the game with 7 for 43. The rain-interrupted game against Derbyshire was drawn. Another draw followed in the 2-day game against Staffordshire.

Fortune swung the tourists’ way when they won the next 2 matches. The West Indians won against Hampshire by 88 runs despite the heroic efforts of ‘Buck’ Llewellyn, the first ‘coloured’ man to play Test cricket for South Africa. Llewellyn had scores of 93 and 6 and bowling figures of 7 for 153 and 6 for 34.

The Surrey game provided the visitors with their best win on the tour. It began with a first-wicket stand of 208 between Ollivierre (94) and Cox (142) to take the total to 328. Burton (2 for 53 and 4 for 67) and Woods (7 for 48 and 5 for 68) then disposed Surrey for 117 and 177 to gain the team victory by an innings and 34 runs.

The next 2 games were drawn, the penultimate match of the tour, against Yorkshire at Bradford, being rained off. The last game of the tour, against Norfolk, which the West Indians won by an innings and 16 runs, was a triumph for Burton, who took 8 for 9 to dismiss the home side for only 32 in their second innings.

At the end of the inaugural tour then, the West Indians had played 17 matches in England, winning 5, losing 8, and drawing 4 (the game against Yorkshire being virtually washed off). It was time for reflection on what the tour had achieved for West Indian cricket.

This was Warner’s opinion: “I will begin ‘right away’ as the Americans say, by stating that the tour was a success. Considering that the team had never played together before, that they lost the toss on no fewer than twelve occasions out of the seventeen matches that the programme comprised, I think that the judgment I have given will be endorsed on all sides.”

Wisden’s assessment was more guarded: “A tour which, as an experiment, was extremely interesting and far more successful than might have been expected. As everyone thought at the time, the programme of matches arranged in December was too ambitious, but the defect was easily remedied, the leading counties putting far less than their full strength into the field when the West Indians had to be opposed.”

Overall, 5 batsmen aggregated over 500 runs on the tour, with Charles Ollivierre leading the table with a total of 883 runs, as shown below:

P

P I NO R HS Ave 100s 50s C/S
Ollivierre 17 29 2 883 159 32.70 1 4 11
Constantine 14 22 2 610 113 30.50 1 3 15/1
Cox 16 25 0 755 142 30.20 1 5 5
Goodman 15 23 3 563 104* 28.15 1 2 4
Sproston 17 27 0 600 118 22.22 1 3

7

Only 2 bowlers took more than 50 wickets:

P O M R W BB Ave 5WIs 10WMs
Woods 547.4 128 1551 72 7/47 21.54 6 2
Burton 660.5 188 1681 78 8/9 21.55 8 -

It was reported that a banquet was hosted at the West Indian Club in honour of the West Indian visitors at the conclusion of the tour. The return journey began from Southampton on board the RMS Don on August 23. Not all 15 members of the team were on board the ship on the day, however.

As a direct consequence of his commendable performance on the tour, Derbyshire (third from the bottom in the Championship that year) thought it fit to sign Ollivierre up to play for the county as an amateur in a bid to strengthen their doubtful batting. Writing in Derbyshire Life and Countryside, Peter Seddon says that by accepting the offer, Ollivierre “became the first black West Indian to play English county cricket. That broke an important barrier in sporting history, one that had great resonance for the future.” Although his performances in the game against Derbyshire were moderate for a man of his talent (3 and 23*), Ollivierre’s reputation as a fine all-round cricketer had sufficiently impressed the Derbyshire Committee to inspire them to extend the offer to join their ranks. Ollivierre accepted the offer and remained behind in England.

Hawke, the martinet of English cricket, made it clear however, that Ollivierre would be required to fulfil the extant two-year residency rule before he would be allowed to play Championship cricket as a regular member of the Derbyshire team.

Ollivierre took lodgings with a family in the little market town of Glossop situated in the border areas of Derbyshire. While there, he played some games for the Glossop Cricket Club in the Central Lancashire League, the opportunity coming to him courtesy Sam Wood, the sport-loving cotton magnate and Derbyshire captain. Ollivierre also turned out in 6 friendly matches for Derbyshire during his time at Glossop.

He made his First-Class debut for Derbyshire in the match against London County at Crystal Palace in 1901. The debutant acquitted himself well enough, scoring 12 and 54 in a match that was dominated by the batting of George Beldam (125) and Tom Fishwick (102), both playing for London County. Beldam would later achieve near immortality with his action photograph of Victor Trumper jumping out to drive at The Oval in 1902. South African all-rounder Jimmy Sinclair was another star of the game, with 8 for 32 in Derbyshire’s first-innings total of 64. Derbyshire went down by an innings and 119 runs in the match.

Ollivierre’s Championship debut was against Essex, a match that Essex won by 120 runs. Ollivierre contributed 20 and 0. It took some time for the English public to become accustomed to the sight of a black West Indian playing Championship cricket, and the initial reactions were somewhat ambivalent. It was not long, however, before that attitude changed.

Ollivierre’s 167 in a first day total of 455 for 7 against Warwickshire set tongues wagging. The Manchester Guardian was moved to comment: “The hero of the day was C.A Ollivierre, the West Indian, who was batting three hours for a most brilliant and faultless innings of 167 and who thus early proved what a valuable acquisition he is to Derbyshire cricket … His magnificent innings being quite faultless and full of brilliantly executed strokes on either side of the wicket. Three times he hit the ball over the people’s heads, and on twenty-seven other occasions he sent it to the boundary, his other hits being five threes and nine twos.” This was to be his maiden First-Class and Championship century. Derbyshire won the game by an innings and 250 runs.

Ollivierre’s First-Class career with Derbyshire spanned 1901 to 1907. He played 110 matches for them, aggregating 4,670 runs with a highest of 229 and an average of 23.70. He had 3 centuries, held 109 catches, and took 10 wickets.

At Queen’s Park, Chesterfield, Essex piled up 597, Percy Perrin undefeated till the end at 343. The home supporters might have been experiencing a sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs at the enormity of the opposition total as the home openers, Levi Wright and Ollivierre, made their way to the wicket on the second day.

A first-wicket stand of 191 runs that which ended with the wicket of Wright (68) might have acted as a tonic for the fans. The second wicket fell at 319, the third at 378, and the home team went in at stumps with the score reading 446 for 4, Needham batting on 37 and Curgenven on 17. Earlier in the day, there had been a swashbuckling and muscular 229 by Ollivierre in 225 minutes, with a five and 37 fours, full of dazzling shots all around the wicket, executed with gay abandon. The innings ended next day on 548, giving Sussex a first-innings advantage of 49 runs and a psychological boost. The feeling of well-being in the Sussex camp was to be short-lived, however.

In next to no time, the Sussex second-innings was over, with only 97 on the board. Billy Bestwick (3 for 34) and Arnold Warren (4 for 42) had brought Derbyshire right back into the intriguing game. The winning target had been whittled down to only 147 runs in a remarkable turnaround.

Amid mounting excitement around the ground, Derbyshire lost Wright with only 11 on the board. Was there going to be another twist in the scenario? Birthday boy Ollivierre was still there, however. In the company of the veteran Bill Storer (not keeping wickets in the game), Ollivierre’s strong, dark limbs flashed, despatching the ball to all corners of the field as he played another virtuoso innings on the second successive day to take his team home by 9 wickets. Ollivierre remained undefeated on 92 and masterminded one of the greatest victories from an almost impossible situation in the history of First-Class cricket.

The local press reported “one of the greatest ovations ever given to a Derbyshire batsman” as Ollivierre walked back to the pavilion. The triumph was described in Wisden as the most phenomenal performance ever recorded in First-Class cricket for never before had a side won a county match after such a high first-innings total had been posted against them. 

The game that should have been recognised by posterity as Perrin’s game, went down in history as Ollivierre’s match. Perrin added a forlorn footnote to cricket history by becoming the man with the highest individual score in a defeat. The game generated an amusing anecdote about Ollivierre, very much in keeping with his Caribbean temperament and upbringing. It seems that the celebrations following his double-century had been long and hard. On the last day of the game he had been heard complaining to skipper Maynard Ashcroft, while on the field, of feeling unwell, to the extent that even the church steeple seemed to be falling on him. He had obviously never noticed the existence of the famous Crooked Spire of the nearby church before.

Later that season, the spectators at Derby were witness to an unusual sight — that of a dark-skinned man on each side of a Championship game, as Derbyshire confronted Sussex. CB Fry declared the Sussex innings closed at 363 for 4. Ollivierre scored only 7 in his only innings as the match had to be abandoned due to the weather.

1904 proved to be very productive for Ollivierre as he scored 1268 runs at an average of 34.27. Spectators in England soon came expect a certain ebullient flair in Olliviere’s approach to batting, something that had not been seen in the county circuit before. Both Ranjitsinhji and he brought, in their own diverse ways, flamboyance and freedom of strokeplay not taught to English schoolboys. Arthur Knight describes Ollivierre as batting with a “certain allusive nuance, suggestive of a far-away glamour which no English player possesses”.

David Mutton concludes his essay on the effect of the pair on English cricket at the turn of the century thus: “Ranji and Ollivierre were pioneers long before the era of mass migration. On the field, they could play as equals, and through their exceptional talent they won the affection of the English public at a time when the vast majority of people had never seen an Indian or a black man. That they achieved this against a background of racism, social Darwinism and plain ignorance is remarkable. On their shoulders sit generations of cricketing migrants who have come to England to grace the game.”

Ollivierre never returned to the land of his birth and upbringing. He demonstrated his fidelity to his adoptive county by not making himself available to the touring West Indies team of 1906, preferring to honour his commitments to Derbyshire. He scored his last First-Class century against Leicestershire that season in his familiar surroundings of Glossop. His 157 laid the foundation of Derbyshire’s victory by an innings and 50 runs. His association with Derbyshire was long and fruitful, and he always maintained his status as an amateur.

In his later years, Ollivierre was afflicted with eye problems which gradually compelled him to retire from First-Class cricket at the end of 1907, having registered a duck in each of his last 4 Championship matches. The lure of the cricket green stayed with him till his sixties, however, and he played a more light-hearted genre of club cricket in Yorkshire during his senior years. From 1924 through to 1939, up to the outbreak of World War II, he made an annual visit to Netherlands to coach the young in the nuances of the game that had been his life for as long as he could remember.

There is no record of him ever having married. He passed away on March 25, 1949, aged 72 fulfilling years, at Pontefract, West Yorkshire. He was laid to rest at St. Stephen’s Church, Fylingdales. The grave was marked by a simple gravestone that bears his name but, sadly, makes no mention of his cricketing accomplishments. Even his birthplace is wrongly entered on his memorial.