Major Warton’s team in South Africa, 1888-89. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons. Back, from left: James Roberts, Maurice Read, Frank Hearne, Johnny Briggs. Middle, from left: Arnold Fothergill, Harry Wood, Major Warton, C Aubrey Smith (c), Hon. Charles Coventry, Basil Grieve. Front, from left: Emile McMaster, Monty Bowden, AC Skinner, Bobby Abel.
Major Warton’s team in South Africa, 1888-89. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons. Back, from left: James Roberts, Maurice Read, Frank Hearne, Johnny Briggs. Middle, from left: Arnold Fothergill, Harry Wood, Major Warton, C Aubrey Smith (c), Hon. Charles Coventry, Basil Grieve. Front, from left: Emile McMaster, Monty Bowden, AC Skinner, Bobby Abel.

Hon. Charles Coventry, born February 26, 1867, played twice for England in the early days of Test cricket. Years later, he arrived home while his own memorial service was taking place at the family chapel. Arunabha Sengupta recalls that momentous day.

His namesake equalled the world record score in One-Day Internationals set by Saeed Anwar. But, almost a century earlier, Hon. Charles Coventry did something far more remarkable. He visited his own memorial service.

The second son of the Earl of Coventry, Hon. Charles Coventry was educated at Eton. He played some cricket for Worcestershire, but those were the days when the side was considered a Minor County. Hence all those matches did not boost his first class record.

In 1888-89, when Major Warton’s side became the first English team to tour South Africa, the 21-year-old Coventry was one of the men who turned out. There were mainly odds matches, and the two played against moderately representative South African sides have gone on to be considered as Test matches. Coventry played in both of them. He batted at No. 10 in both the games, and made 12 and an unbeaten 1 in the two innings.

After the tour, captain C Aubrey Smith and vice-captain Monty Bowden set up business at 26, Royal Chambers at Marshall’s Township. They became Randt shareholders, as did teammate Basil Grieves. Smith and Bowden later opened their own partnership on the Johannesburg Stock Exchanges. Grieve started out as a broker. And Hon. Charles Coventry joined the Bechuanaland Police.

In 1893 he served in the Matabeleland campaign and later, in 1896, took part in the Jameson Raid. It was during the Jameson Raid that a friend reported that he had seen Coventry stretched out on the ground covered by a blanket. Naturally, he was presumed dead.

In fact, Coventry was sentenced to five months in prison for his role in the raid, but was released after 24 days because of ill health. And he sailed home, miraculously arriving at the family chapel in Worcestershire just as his memorial service was being performed.

He stood in the corner and listed to the eulogies and tributes that flowed, and was so moved that he revealed his presence and insisted that the wake be transformed into a celebration. The mourners, many of them still in considerable shock, were coaxed to exchange tears to merriment,

Coventry lived for 33 more years, and served during The Great War, taking part in the Dardanelles Campaign. He commanded the Worcestershire Yeomanry during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. In April 1916 he was captured with many of the regiment at Katia, Egypt, and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in Turkey. He survived.

In 1922 Coventry took command of the re-formed Worcestershire and Oxfordshire Yeomanry Brigade, now serving as 100 Field Brigade, Royal Artillery. He retired from the Yeomanry in 1925.

For many years he served as the official starter to the Jockey Club.