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Francis Alexander Mackinnon, 35th Mackinnon of Mackinnon — a hat-trick victim in his only Test

Francis Alexander Mackinnon. Photo Courtesy - kentcricket.co.uk
Francis Alexander Mackinnon. Photo Courtesy – kentcricket.co.uk

Francis Alexander Mackinnon, born April 9, 1848, was the 35th chieftain of the Mackinnon Clan and a Test cricketer for England. Arunabha Sengupta remembers the life and career of the man who was the second batsman to be dismissed during Test cricket’s first hat-trick.

The Mackinnons of Mackinnon

The Caisteal Maol stands near Kyleakin, a picturesque seaside village on the east coast of the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland. Till the Battle of Largs in 1263, this quaint Scottish hamlet was ruled by the Norwegian monarchy.

Legend has it that Caisteal Maol, or the castle of Dunakin, was built by a Norwegian princess known as ‘Saucy Mary’. This Nordic lady ruthlessly collected toll from ships that had to pass through the narrow stretch between the castle and the mainland. Only Norse vessels were exempted. She married Findanus, the man who is considered the forefather of the Mackinnon clan. And Casisteal Maol became the original seat of the Mackinnons.

Caisteal Maol. Photo Courtesy - Wikipedia
Caisteal Maol. Photo Courtesy – Wikipedia

According to the Scottish mythology, the McKinnon clan is supposed to have defeated the Vikings at Goir a’ Bhlair, on the eastern slopes of Beinn na Cailleach, above Broadford. Down the years, in recorded history, the clan played a major role in the Wars of Scottish independence. The early Mackinnons supposedly provided shelter to Robert the Bruce during his escape to Carrick. After Bruce triumphed in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, the Mackinnons were rewarded with land on the Isle of Skye.

By the early 19th century, the chieftainship of the clan had passed to William Alexander Mackinnon, the 33rd Mackinnon of Mackinnon. And it was during the time of this patriarch that his grandson Francis Alexander Mackinnon was born on April 9, 1848, three months before the birth of WG Grace. And by the time Francis Alexander Mackinnon passed away on February 27, 1947, he had almost outlasted the career of Don Bradman.

At the time of his death, Francis Alexander Mackinnon, the 35th Mackinnon of Mackinnon, had lived through an eventful 98 years and 324 days, which made him the oldest Test cricketer ever till that time. The record lasted 62 years until Eric Tindill went past him by spending 99 years and 226 days on earth before passing away in 2010. Of course, both these venerable gentlemen have been left behind now by South African fast bowler Norman Gordon, who is still going strong on 102 years and 246 days as we celebrate Mackinnon’s 164th birthday.

Mackinnon the cricketer

Mackinnon the cricketer was not quite born in the ancient islands of Scotland. He saw the light of day at Acryse Place, Kent and was schooled in Harrow.

As a Harrovian, he did not quite manage to get into the playing eleven. But, by the time he was in St John’s College, Cambridge, he was a good enough player to get his Blues.

In 1870, he was a member of the Cambridge side during their historic encounter with Oxford. That was the match at Lord’s in which Frank Cobden, the Cambridge fast bowler, claimed the last three wickets with a hat-trick to win the match by two runs.

Years later, Mackinnon recalled the game with a sense of mock-vanity, “I really won the match, for I scored two.” Yes, his score in the second innings amounted to the margin of victory. However, he always omitted to say that in the first knock he had scored a very useful unbeaten 17, the second highest score of the innings.

Later, Mackinnon’s only Test match went down to be associated with another famous hat-trick.

He played for Kent for a decade from 1875, and was one of the members of the side of Lord Harris that went to Australia in the winter of 1878.

It was not a very happy tour for the batsman. The only decent runs he made were in the matches against the odds teams put together by the local sides. In the Test match at Melbourne, Mackinnon scored a duck and five and on both occasions had his stumps flattened by the demon bowler Fred Spofforth.

In the first innings, on the first day of the Test, he walked in to bat at 26 for five after Spofforth had whisked one past Reverend Vernon Royle. The ball that greeted him was too good for Mackinnon and his stumps were rearranged as well. And then Tom Emmett, one of the two professionals, came in and lofted the first ball down the throat of the long stop. It resulted in the first hat-trick in Test cricket.

Mackinnon continued to play for Kent till 1885, and in his penultimate year he enjoyed his most prolific season. When Australia played Kent that year, he opened the innings and scored 28 and 29 in a fantastic victory, earned mainly through the memorable bowling of Alec Hearne. That same summer he hit 115 against Hampshire and 102 against Yorkhsire, the only two hundreds of his career. He was second in Kent’s averages that year, his 33 following the 41 of Lord Harris.

Fred Spofforth, nicknamed “The Demon”, accounted for the first hat-trick in Test cricket © Getty Images

He ended his career with 2310 runs from 88 matches with two hundreds and an average of 15.71. He never bowled.

The long life

After giving up cricket, Mackinnon was made the President of the Kent County Club in 1889. A Captain in the Royal Kent Yeomanry from 1871 to 1893, he was promoted to Honorary Major in 1886. He was later appointed a Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for Kent from 1900 to 1902.

In 1903, his father William Alexander Mackinnon, the 34th head of the clan, passed away. Francis Alexander Mackinnon succeeded him to become the 35th Mackinnon of Mackinnon.

Till ripe old age, Mackinnon remained in close contact with the game. He could be seen meeting old cricketing cronies in the Kent grounds, even after his legs had long called it a day, venturing around the ground leaning on two sticks. Occasionally, he could be glimpsed at Lord’s as well. Generally the I Zingari tie would be proudly worn around his neck. From time to time, he would take peeks at his watch, dangling from a chain decorated with a gold medallion bearing the insignia of crossed bats — a memento from the Australian tour, presented by Lord Harris. He used to regale the audience with hilariously narrated reminiscences of his happy days.

During the Tunbridge Wells Cricket Week in 1946, at the age of 98, Mackinnon watched the cricket from the pavilion, as also the Band of Brothers’ tent. One afternoon during the week, he visited the Rose Hill School, with his daughter and the Marchioness of Abergavenny in tow. It was here that he had sat as a pupil 89 years ago. Now, he embarked on a search for his old desk where he used to sit. He followed it up by inspecting the Sea Scout Troop before giving a talk to the whole school.

A few days later, he presented a picture of a Kent and Sussex match at Hove to the Canterbury pavilion — the painting depicting a century-old match, with Alfred Mynn and Fuller Pilch wearing tall hats.

When a few days later he was called on telephone and asked about his health, Mackinnon cheerfully responded, “I am going into hospital tomorrow — but only for the annual meeting at which I shall preside. I am very well in health — very well indeed. I still do a lot of work in the garden: weeds don’t like me at all.”

On February 27, 1947, Francis Alexander Mackinnon passed away at his home, Drumduan, in Forres, Morayshire, Scotland.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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