The Australian team of 1886 in England (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons) Back, from left: George Giffen, Fred Spofforth, Benjamin Wardill (manager) Middle, from left: Frank Farrands (umpire), Bates (scorer), William Bruce, John McIlwraith, Tom Garrett, Edwin Evans, John Trumble, Salter (scorer), Bob Thoms (umpire) Front, from left: George Bonnor, Jack Blackham, Henry Scott, Affie Jarvis, Sammy Jones, George Palmer © Wikimedia Commons
The Australian team of 1886 in England (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
Back, from left: George Giffen, Fred Spofforth, Benjamin Wardill (manager)
Middle, from left: Frank Farrands (umpire), Bates (scorer), William Bruce, John McIlwraith, Tom Garrett, Edwin Evans, John Trumble, Salter (scorer), Bob Thoms (umpire)
Front, from left: George Bonnor, Jack Blackham, Henry Scott, Affie Jarvis, Sammy Jones, George Palmer © Wikimedia Commons

As shipboard romances go, it had all the elements of a Mills & Boon romantic bestseller. On the one hand was the comely 21-year old aspiring amateur actress Jemima, one of the nine children of Scotland-born John Boyd Watson and his wife Mary Ann.

This Watson was an Australian entrepreneur extraordinaire from Bendigo, Victoria, with business interests in gold and quartz mining, banking, the media,real estate, a railway company, a tramway company, shipping, and sundry other profitable enterprises.

On the other hand, there was the 30-year-old Billy Murdoch, skipper of the Australian cricket team on the way back from a tour of England. This was the man who had bettered WG Grace’s score of 152 with 153* of his own in the very first Test on English soil, and the man who had been at the helm of the Australian team in the epic Test match of 1882 at The Oval, when the Colonists had won a nail-biting victory by 7 runs.

The first Australian to score a First-Class triple-century (321 against Victoria in 1881-82), Murdoch was also the current holder of the record for the highest individual Test score (211 against England in the recently concluded Oval Test of 1884).

The ship in question was the Mirzapore, conveying the 1884 Australian team back home after their tour of England. The wedding was solemnised on December 8, 1884 at Melbourne, the ceremony being conducted by Rev. N Kinsman of the Free Church of England, with George Bonnor acting as Murdoch’s best man and George Alexander giving the bride away. It is intriguing that the name of Watson, the father of the bride, finds no mention in the detailed report of the wedding appearing in the Bendigo Advertiser.

In the meantime, England’s fifth Test tour to Australia was scheduled to last from September 1884 to April 1885 as the second English team under the management of the triumvirate of Alfred Shaw, Arthur Shrewsbury and James Lillywhite Jr to embark for the Antipodes began their outward journey on the SS Orient from Plymouth on September 18. The 1884 Australian visitors to England were still very much in England at the time, and were to depart for Australia a week later. Having already won two consecutive Ashes series, both in Australia and at home, the eighth contingent of English cricketers to tour Australia felt fairly confident of being able to enhance their reputation as cricketers.

All 13 members of the England team were professionals. The distribution was as follows: Shrewsbury (the skipper), Billy BarnesWilliam AttewellWilliam ScottonWilfred Flowers, and Shaw were all Nottinghamshire men; wicketkeeper Joe Hunter, Billy Bates, Bobby Peel and George Ulyett were from Yorkshire; and there was one representative each from Lancashire, Surrey, and Sussex in Johnny Briggs, Maurice Read, and Lillywhite respectively. For the first time in Test history, a 5-Test series was about to be played and England fielded the same 11 players in all the Tests, another first in Test history. The only two members to miss out were Lillywhite and Shaw.

Just as two new venues had been added to the Test roster on the 1884 Australian tour of England when Old Trafford and Lord’s had hosted their first Tests, there was to be a new venue in Australia on the current series as the Adelaide Oval was allotted its first Test.

Australia were without the services of Fred Spofforth (due to the demise of a relative) and Billy Midwinter (congestion of the lungs), while rheumatism was to reduce the efficacy of George Giffen in the game. Early in the England first innings, Alec Bannerman was to receive a blow that was to split a finger while fielding, the injury rendering him hors de combat for the rest of the match.

The chronicler is indebted to Charles Davis for his detailed statistics and analysis of the Test matches discussed in this write-up.

His wedding festivities were barely over when, with favourable weather conditions overhead and a fine wicket underfoot, Murdoch won the toss in the wake of controversy with regard to money matters and the choice of umpires for the Test (there was dissatisfaction in the Australian camp over Lillywhite being nominated as one of the umpires, the issue only being settled with the nomination of two local men for the umpiring posts). Australia took first strike, and England fielded as many as five debutants in the Test. England won the match by 8 wickets to go 1-0 up after centuries by McDonnell (124), out of a first-innings total of 243, and Barnes (134) out of an England first-innings total of 369.

Money matters continued to be a bone of contention between the powers that be and the Australian teamin the wake of the bad publicity in the British press during the 1884 England tour by Murdoch’s men. Things came to a head as Murdoch’s men demanded half the total takings from the second Test to be played at Melbourne. Victoria Cricket Association, however, refused to be brow-beaten, following which Murdoch’s men withdrew from the match en masse.

This compelled the authorities to nominate a completely new team for the Melbourne Test scheduled to begin on New Year’s Day of 1885. There were as many as nine debutants in the Australian camp, and Tom Horan was recalled and named captain. Sammy Jones was the other man in the team with previous Test experience. In passing, it may be mentioned that five of the Australian debutants never played Test cricket again, including Samuel Morris, the first cricketer of West Indian descent to represent Australia at Test cricket (the other being Andrew Symonds at a later date). Blackham’s continuous run of 17 consecutive Tests was thus interrupted when Australia took the field at Melbourne for the second Test.

The weather Gods smiled on Melbourne for the entire duration of the Test as Shrewsbury won the toss and came out to bat along with Scotton. Against the inexperienced Australian bowling, England reached a total of 401, replete with a tenth-wicket stand of 98 runs between Briggs (121) and ’keeper Hunter (39*). The Australian first innings finished at 279. Invited to follow on, the new-look Australian team was dismissed a second time for 126. Barnes (6 for 31) and Peel (3 for 45) were the principal wicket takers for England.

England won the Test by 10 wickets in fine weather throughout, about 11,000 spectators turning up on the opening day, and a total of 22,400 witnessing the game. One enthusiastic supporter of cricket made a generous contribution of £30 in prize-money for individual performances in the Test, £10 each being won by Briggs and Affie Jarvis as the highest individual scorers from each side, and £5 each being won by Jones and Barnes for their bowling efforts. At the end of the Test, England led the series by 2-0.

The third Test at Sydney is known in history as much for the thrilling nature of the result as for the mysterious non-appearance of Barnes, the prize-winner for his bowling efforts of the second Test, as part of the England attack. In his 8 First-Class matches on the 1884-85 tour of Australia, Barnes captured 26 wickets at 13.23, and was to claim 97 wickets back home in the 1885 season. It was rather surprising, therefore, that he was not used as a bowler at critical junctures of the third Test.

As one (unnamed) Australian newspaper was to report at the time: “In the report on the second day’s play adverse comment was passed on Shrewsbury for not putting Barnes on when Garrett and Evans made their stand. It appears that Shrewsbury did ask Barnes, and that the latter refused, as he did again in the second innings. It is to be regretted that a cricketer of Barnes’ experience and skill should so far forget himself and his side as to let personal pique affect the result of a contest.”

It appears that there had been some (unspecified) unpleasantness between the skipper and Barnes in the run-up to the Test match, an issue about which the English camp and media appeared to have been in a denial mode.

Following the 10-wicket defeat at Melbourne, Australia fielded a different team at Sydney, nominating 31-year old Hugh Massie as the new skipper, and restoring Bannerman, Scott, Bonnor, Spofforth, Garrett, and Evans to the playing XI. Wisden commented that the new contingent was “one of the strongest combinations the Australian Colonies could produce.”  One key man surprisingly missing from the team line-up was Murdoch, who had, in a sense, given up First-Class cricket after his marriage in late 1884 and had retired to his law practice, first in Cootamundra (in later years, the birthplace of Don Bradman), and later in Melbourne, till he was persuaded to make a comeback in 1890.

Massie discharged his first important duty as captain successfully by winning the toss in his only Test in charge. Having survived a chance at slip when the total was 20, Bannerman, accompanied by Jones, went in to lunch at 40 for no loss. The heavens then opened up at about 2 in the afternoon. In the words of Wisden, “a terrific storm of lightning, thunder and hail, burst over the ground. In an incredibly short time it had the appearance of a field of snow, and then, the hail quickly melting, the ground became a sheet of water. It was scarcely to be expected that play could be resumed that day, but the water was soon absorbed, and at quarter past 4, Jones and Bannerman continued their innings, the wicket, of course being in a sloppy condition.”

At the end of the first day, the Australian total stood at 97 for 8. After Spofforth was dismissed early into the second day, the home team was spared the blushes by a 10th-wicket stand of 80 runs in 95 minutes between Garrett (51*) and Evans (33). Sporting Life reported: “Garrett was missed at slip with the total at 106, and then with Evans added 80 for the last wicket; but somehow the English bowlers could not bowl a bit, and Barnes, the wicket being made for him, was actually not tried.” The Australian innings ended at 181, and Flowers (5 for 46) and Attewell (4 for 53) bowled their hearts out, but the sting was perceived to be missing from the English attack.

Wisden makes the interesting observation that, at the conclusion of the Australian 1st innings, “The new wicket having been rolled, Shrewsbury and Scotton opened the batting for the Englishmen,” giving rise to the notion that not all four innings had been played on the same strip during this Test. England were bowled out for 133 as Spofforth (4 for 54) and Horan (6 for 40) ran through the innings.

Bannerman and Bonnor then put up a first wicket stand of 37, the highest of the innings as Australia were bowled out for 165 just after 5 o’clock, securing an overall lead of 213. Bates claimed 5 for 24. England required a matter of 214 runs in the last innings to go 3-0 up and take the series.

Scotton and Shrewsbury launched the quest for the series at about 5.20 to the bowling of Spofforth and Garrett. They lost Scotton and Ulyett that afternoon. Wickets began to come in clusters on the fourth day. When the sixth man was on his way to the pavilion, the sequence of partnerships for England read 14, 4, 11, 30, 2, and 31. With the fall of Bates, the score read 92 for 6, and the game appeared to be slipping away from England at this stage.

Read then joined Flowers, and the pair gradually grew in confidence, playing the bowling on merit. The Union Jack appeared to be again in the ascendency as Massie shuffled his bowlers around in an attempt to break the partnership. The score crept up to 194 as 102 invaluable runs had been added for the seventh wicket in only 75 minutes, and the winning target was only 20 away. Spofforth then ended the valiant stand by clean bowling Read (56).

Attewell was run out for a golden duck, Peel managed 3, and when the last wicket fell, that of the gallant Flowers (56), the England second innings ended at 207. Spofforth (48.1-22-90-6) was the undoubted hero of the home attack, and Australia had won another close encounter against England, this time by a margin of only 6 runs. The series now stood at 2-1 in favour of England.

Australia had a fourth captain in the series when Blackham was entrusted with the job of leading the country for the first time, at Sydney. There were four changes in the home side from the team of the third Test, with Palmer, McDonnell, Giffen and Blackham replacing the quartet of Scott, Massie, Jarvis and Evans.

There were two stellar performances on behalf of the home team in a rather easy 8-wicket victory: Giffen’s 52-14-117-7 and Bonnor’s punishing 128 (off 135 balls). Indeed, Bonnor’s eighth-wicket stand of 154 runs with Sammy Jones (run out for 40) accounted for about half the total.

Under a 40-run disadvantage on the first innings, England were all out for 77, Spofforth (5 for 30) and Palmer (4 for 32) bowling unchanged throughout the innings. Australia won by 8 wickets to level the series interestingly poised at 2-2. The teams went back to Melbourne for the decider.

There were more changes in the home squad, with Bonnor, Blackham, McDonnell, and Palmer making way for Bruce, Jarvis, Walters, and George McShane. McShane had umpired the fourth Test at Sydney a week ago. Horan, named captain, he acquitted himself well by winning the toss.

Unfortunately, it was a poor batting effort by the home team who were dismissed for 163. The only saving grace of the innings was the 10th wicket partnership of 64 runs between Spofforth (50) and Trumble (34*). England then put up a substantial total of 386, built around a fifth-wicket stand worth 115 between Flowers and Shrewsbury (105*). They won by a innings on 98 runs the day after.

Preparations soon got underway for the fourth Australian Test tour of England (fifth overall by a representative Australian team), under the auspices of the MCC, with club functionary JG Sutherland being entrusted with the task of organisation. It was not going to be an easy task, with the New South Wales and South Australian associations not being very enthusiastic about the proposed 1886 tour initially. Then again, the discontent surrounding the ‘mercenary’ attitude of the 1884 Australians had not yet died down in England; indeed, it resurfaced when five members of the 1884 touring team were included in the new squad.

The names of the touring team were announced to the media on February 1. Dr ‘Tup’ Scott was nominated by the sponsors to lead the 13-member party. Horan, Boyle, and Massie were unable to join because of business commitments, and Spofforth indicated his availability late in January. The last three selected were Garrett, Jones, and Evans. Major Benjamin Wardill accompanied the group as manager. Frank Farrands and Robert Thoms, both Englishmen, formed part of the touring party as umpires.

The tourists left Australia in two different batches, seven of the touring party leaving Adelaide on March 20 on the Austral, and the remaining members departing on the Adelaide on April 10. The two groups got together at Naples, from where Bonnor preferred to travel overland. The squad finally reached Plymouth on May 4.

Of the 1886 Australian team, Blackham (18), Giffen (14), Palmer (14), Spofforth (14), Garrett (13), and Bonnor (12) were the only members with the experience of more than 10 Tests. Jones (7), skipper Scott (5), Evans (4), Trumble (4), Jarvis (3), and Bruce (2) had only played a handful of Tests each while John McIlwraith was the only newcomer to Test cricket.

Often hampered by wet weather and unaccustomed green wickets, the 1886 Australians played a total of 38 First-Class games on the tour, 3 of them being Tests. The overall performance of the visitors was definitely not up to expectations, either of themselves, or of the cognoscenti in England; they won only 10 of their matches on the tour.

In the assessment by Wisden, “The fifth tour of Australian cricketers in England was emphatically a failure, whether we regard it as an event of itself, or compare it with the previous visits to this country of the picked teams of the Australian colonies.” Indeed, the 1886 Australians were destined to blot their copybook well and truly by becoming the first team in Test history to suffer the ignominy of a whitewash in a Test series. 

In the meanwhile, The Oval was going about its quiet way, accumulating unforgettable memories of great cricketing feats. Between July 1847 and June 1883, no less than 5 First-Class matches ended in exciting ties (the sequence began in 1847 with Surrey vs Kent). Surrey vs Sussex (1857) saw another first at The Oval, the match finishing in a day.

On July 31, 1866, an 18-year old WG Grace condescended to score his maiden First-Class century on this ground, a majestic 224*. Henry Jupp wrote himself into the record books by becoming the only batsman till date to have batted through each innings of a First-Class match twice.

William Josiah Hammersley — the name has an imposing ring about it — and the gentleman in question justified his grandiose moniker playing for the MCC in the match against Surrey in 1848 by becoming the first to take a First-Class hat-trick at The Oval, accomplishing the feat in the Surrey 1st innings. One of his victims was Nicholas Felix (whose real name happened to be Nicholas Wanostrocht). It was a ‘Colonial’, however, who took this particular honour by taking two separate hat-tricks on the ground till 1886. Spofforth claimed his first hat-trick against the Players in 1878, and again against the South in 1884.

Let us return now to the 1886 Australian tourists in England. They were not having much luck at The Oval on this tour, going down by 3 wickets to Surrey and drawing the game against the Gentlemen of England in June from a favourable position. The latter game was marked by high scores, WG creaming 148 in a total of 471 and Jones scoring 151 in the Australian first innings of 488. The Gentlemen were dismantled for 105 in the second innings, but there was no time for the visitors to administer the coup de grace.

It was soon time for the first Test at Old Trafford. Scott, in the first of his 3 Tests as captain, won the toss under overcast conditions, and Australia took strike. This may be as good time as any to dwell on the skipper’s unusual nickname of ‘Tup’. It seems that during his previous tour of England as a relatively young tourist, Scott had been an avid sightseeing enthusiast, frequently availing the London bus service for the purpose. The bus fare would often come to two pence (tuppence in local lingo). Well, it seems that the London version of the fare had been shortened to give the young tourist his endearing nickname.

For once, the notorious Manchester weather proved to be kind and the match was played throughout in favourable overhead conditions. Before a first-day crowd estimated to be about 10,000 strong, Australia were bowled out for 205. England, under new captain AG Steel, managed 223 in return. Dick Barlow (7 for 44) then shone with the ball as Australia were dismissed for 123. England won by 4 wickets to go 1-0 up in the short series of 3 matches. The lone England debutant, George Lohmann, had a quiet start to his Test career.

There were some weather concerns at Lord’s when the teams met for the second Test. In his second Test in charge, Steel won the toss and sent Grace and Scotton in. England compiled a comfortable first-innings total of 353. The outstanding performance for the home team was the commanding 164 by Shrewsbury. Among the bowlers, Spofforth (4 for 73) had the best figures. Australia were dismissed for a very inadequate first-innings total of 121, Briggs excelling with figures of 34-22-29-5. Following on, the Australia could only manage 126. Briggs was at it again, this time with 38.1-17-45-6. England emerged victorious by an innings and 106 runs to go 2-0 in the series.

At this point, the morale of the visiting team was understandably low, and the match against Surrey at The Oval gave them more grief. Shot out for 185 (Tom Bowley 7 for 64), the Australians had to toil as Surrey amassed a gigantic 501. Bobby Abel scored 144, sharing a third-wicket stand of 135 with Walter Read (80) and a fourth-wicket stand of 241 with another, unrelated Read, Maurice by name, who scored 186. Australia then scored a sorry 107, Giffen putting on a fine all-round display, top-scoring in both innings with 59 and 39. The visitors went down to Surrey by an innings and 209 runs, a comprehensive and spirit sapping drubbing.

The battle with England was renewed at The Oval for the final Test. Unfortunately for the Colonials, this match turned out to be something of a replay of the humiliation suffered against Surrey in the end of July. Although there was no rain, the sky was dull and overcast as the two captains went out to toss. Having won the flip of the coin, Steel sent Grace and Scotton out to begin the England innings before a gathering of more than 11,000 spectators.

In the match report, Wisden states that batting had not been very easy initially due to the vagaries of the pitch, and that WG had scored only 40 runs in an hour and 52 minutes before lunch. With the wicket improving as the game progressed, the 1st wicket realised 170 runs, till then the England record for a first-wicket stand.

The man dismissed was the abstemious Scotton, who battled tenaciously through the 225 minutes and 538 deliveries that the stand lasted, scoring 34 (from 275 balls faced, with 3 fours). Indeed, Wisden makes special mention of the fact that there had been one phase in Scotton’s innings when he had batted for an hour and seven minutes without adding even a single run to his tally in a remarkable exhibition of self-denial. The Champion scored a prodigious 170 (with a six, presumably hit out of the ground). England scored 434 as Spofforth (4 for 65) had the best figures.

There had been some rain in the London area during the night of the first day after the hosts had gone in at 279 for 2 at close of play. After the England innings came to an end at 10 minutes to four in the afternoon of the second day, the Australian innings was all over in 110 minutes as the team was dismissed for a mere 68. George Lohmann (7 for 36) and Johnny Briggs (3 for 28) bowled unchanged throughout the innings and devastated the Australian batting line-up.

There would have been but a handful over 2,500 spectators present on the ground on the last day to see Australia dismissed for 149. Lohmann (5 for 68) and Briggs (3 for 30) laid the Australian batsmen low a second time in the Test. The Australian innings lasted 178 minutes in all and resulted in abject surrender to the supremacy of the English bowling attack. By winning the Test by an innings and 217 runs, England made a clean sweep of the 3-Test series, the first such instance in Test history.

Spofforth, in his daytime job as Manager of the Melbourne branch of the Moonee Ponds branch of the National Bank of Australasia since 1885, wound up a rather disappointing tour with an important personal event on September 23 at the parish church of Breadsall, Derbyshire, England, when he married Phillis Marsh Cadman, daughter of a wealthy tea merchant.

Bowled over by the maiden, Spofforth went back to Melbourne with his wife at the conclusion of the tour. His wife, however, did not find the Australian ambience to her liking and the couple returned to England in 1888 and settled in the Midlands, Spofforth playing some cricket for Derbyshire and Hampstead Cricket Club. Spofforth became the Midlands representative of the Star Tea Company and later Managing Director of the company. He contributed towards some cricket reminiscences and became a prosperous person in his later years. Upon his demise on June 4, 1926 of chronic colitis, his estate was valued at about £164,000, a colossal sum for the times.

Scott remained behind in England to complete his medical studies, becoming a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1888, and a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, England. A natural athlete, he played in many sporting disciplines and became a highly respected person holding various Medical, administrative and honorary posts later in his life. He passed away on September 23, 1910. In 1913, the newly built Scott Memorial Hospital of Scone, New South Wales was named after him.

The 1886 English tour proved to be a rather depressing part of a sequence of 7 consecutive Tests that Australia lost to England. It had begun with the Melbourne Test of 1884-85, incorporated the 3 Tests of the 1886 tour, and culminated in the Sydney Test of 1887-88. During this period, Australia were to be led by 3 different captains — Horan (1 Test), Scott (3), and McDonnell (3).