Mordecai_SherwinThe year was 1880, and about a year prior to graduating from the University of Edinburgh Medical School, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle a fledgling Doctor, had gone on a voyage on the Greenland whaler Hope to Peterhead in a medical capacity. There was, perhaps, an underlying element of serendipity ingrained in the bland statement of the event above. It was, in fact, a fellow student of Conan Doyle’s who was to have gone on the trip. Finding himself unable to honour his commitment, he had requested Conan Doyle to fill in for him. Conan Doyle’s experiences on the voyage were to provide the ingredients for a series of short stories later on. It was during the early days of his medical practice at his rooms at 2, Devonshire Place, London, when patients were few and far between, that Conan Doyle had embarked seriously on his other career, that of an author.

Doyle’s famous sleuth had initially been named Sherringford (or Sherrinford) Hope. It was Louisa ‘Touie’ née Hawkins who had first expressed her reservations about it. Conan Doyle had married her, his first wife, the sister of one of his patients, in 1885.

Louisa had thought Sherringford to be an ‘awful’ name for a detective. The ‘Hope’ was probably in reference to the Greenland whaler of 1880. Prevailed upon by his wife, Conan Doyle had first changed the name to Sherringford Holmes, thought to be inspired by the great American thinker and literary personality Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had frequently advocated the theory that a keen power of meticulous observation and the capacity of logical deduction from observations made were prerequisites of a successful doctor. Conan Doyle had already come under the influence of a Scottish surgeon, Joseph Bell, from his student days, and had been suitably impressed by the latter’s uncanny powers of observation and deduction.

The persona of the fictional detective, then, was modelled on that of the Scottish surgeon, and the surname of Holmes seemed satisfactory enough to the author. There remained the issue of the ‘Sherringford’. Cricket lent a hand here. Conan Doyle, being an avid follower of the game, and was to play 10 First-Class matches himself between 1900 (when he was already 41) and 1907 for MCC.

During much of the Victorian age of cricket, there used to be a very common entry in the local cricket scorecards when Nottinghamshire would be playing: “c Sherwin b Shacklock.” It is thought that the juxtaposition of ‘Sher’ from wicketkeeper Mordecai Sherwin and ‘lock’ from the fast bowler Frank Shacklock had been instrumental in the formation of the final moniker of the most famous private investigator in fiction. It is thought that Conan Doyle had used derivations from the names of diverse cricketers of his time to name about 250 characters from his various literary works.

The exordium above brings the hero of the following narrative, Mordecai Sherwin, into focus. Records from the Greasley Parish, Nottingham, reveal the fact that Mordecai Sherwin was born on February 26, 1851. He played his early cricket for Basford Park Cricket Club.

Philologists are of the opinion that the name Mordecai is of Hebrew origin and means ‘warrior’ or ‘warlike’. He was to justify his name over and over again during his 20-year career with Nottinghamshire. AA Thompson, selecting his All-Time Nottinghamshire XI in Cricket Bouquet, says: “Perhaps we might stick to the genuine old rough diamond, Mordecai Sherwin, who one day walked into Trent Bridge for the first time and announced ‘I’m t’new county stoomper!’”

The 25-year-old roly-poly Sherwin was one of the group of players that made the journey to the Clifton College Close Ground for the match between Gloucestershire, led by WG Grace, and Nottinghamshire, led by Richard Daft, in 1876.

When the match began, Sherwin found himself playing his first game for his county. The Grace brothers, EM, WG, and GF, all played significant roles in virtual a roll-over of Nottinghamshire in the game. As was fairly common at the time, WG won the toss (this was a bit of a mystery for opposing captains of the time; there seemed to be an element of voodooism in the vast proportion of times that he did manage to win the toss), and the home team took first strike.

WG opened himself and anchored the innings, scoring 177 out of a total of 400. GF chipped in with 78. In the Nottinghamshire total of 265, GF captured 5 for 55. Asked to follow on, Notts were bowled out for 165. The burly form of WG took 8 for 69 in the rout of the visitors, his donkey drops coming in quite handy for the team. EM and GF then gave Gloucestershire victory by 10 wickets. Debutant wicketkeeper Sherwin scored 0 and 6*, and held 2 catches.

Sherwin’s First-Class career was to last till 1896 and was to include 328 matches in all. His mirror-image aggregate of 2,332 as a right-hand batsman runs had come at an average of 7.59 in an era when a wicketkeeper was appreciated more for his skills behind the wickets. He held 611 catches and made 225 stumpings, giving him a total of 836 dismissals. His Test career with England consisted of 3 matches between 1886-87 and 1888, and included a total of 30 runs with a highest of 21*, 5 catches, and 2 stumpings.

Despite standing about 5 feet 9 in his stockings and weighing in at about 17 stone (in the opinion of Bill Frindall, Sherwin was probably the heaviest Test wicketkeeper of all time), Sherwin, an unlikely figure for a stumper, had been feted by one and all for his skills. In the words of Stuart Frew from the cricket blog The Tears of a Clown: “In the mid-1880s, Mordecai was in his pomp and feted as arguably the leading wicket-keeper in the land and more than useful batsman. This was all achieved despite possessing a less than sylph-like 17-stone frame coupled with a reasonably modest height of 5ft 9ins for his bulk!”

There was another dimension to the sporting activities of Sherwin. In the early 1870s and 1880s he used to be a goalkeeper for Nottinghamshire County FC despite his plump figure. The story is told of how the sturdily built Joseph Lofthouse of the Blackburn Rovers had once charged Sherwin bodily with the intention of bundling him into his own nets. The ploy had failed when Lofthouse had rebounded off the nonchalant Sherwin, who had warned him: “Young man, you’ll hurt yourself if you do that again.”

Undeterred, Lofthouse had made another attempt. This time, Sherwin had stood perfectly still waiting for the onslaught, side-stepping at the last possible moment notwithstanding his avoirdupois, with the result that Lofthouse had had a first-hand experience of the hardness of the goal-post and the sharpness of its corner.

In Cricket All His Life, EV Lucas recalls the incident of Captain ‘Hellfire’ Henry Holden, Chairman of the Nottinghamshire Committee (also the Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire) interviewing Sherwin at Trent Bridge as a potential wicketkeeper for the County side. Holden asked Sherwin if he was afraid. Sherwin’s prompt reply had been: “Nowt fears me.”

Lucas goes on to say: “He followed by keeping wicket for Nottinghamshire for eighteen years with a remarkable record.  Mordecai (and I think Sherwin must have been the only cricketer with that name) was a rotund man of mirthful character and a leading member of the Nottingham Glee Club, which used to meet at the Black Boy to sing and be hearty together.  William Gunn, who was a glee singer too, lifted his voice also in the choir of St Thomas’s Church.”

A remarkable man of many talents, both sporting and aesthetic, Mordecai Sherwin is remembered very fondly in Nottinghamshire folklore.

Sherwin’s figures for Nottinghamshire make impressive reading: 206 matches, 1,444 runs, 387 catches, and 113 stumpings. He fills in the No. 6 spot for the most wicketkeeping catches for Nottinghamshire, the list being headed by Chris Read with 919 catches. Sherwin is the third wicketkeeper with 100 or more stumpings for his county, a list headed by Thomas Oates with 223.

Among his contemporaries he was a colossus behind the stumps. In the overall figures for the all-round performances for Nottinghamshire wicketkeepers, he figures at No. 6 in the all-time list with a round tally of 500 dismissals, the list being headed by Thomas Oates with 967, closely followed by Read with 963.

When the team for England’s sixth Test-playing tour of Australia in 1886-87 was being finalised, the wicketkeeper’s slot was the last to be filled in. Sherwin got the nod, one of six Nottinghamshire men in the group of 11. This was to be a relatively short tour, featuring only 2 Tests, therefore the selection of only one specialist wicketkeeper seemed justified, given the projected expenses of the venture.

The first Test was played at Association Ground, Sydney from January 28. There were two debutants for England in the game in William Gunn and Sherwin. Australia introduced the formidable duo of Charlie Turner and JJ Ferris, together with Henry Moses. For Fred Spofforth, of legend and song, this proved to be the last hurrah.

Winning the toss for Australia, skipper Percy McDonnell put England in to bat, a very wise decision, as it turned out: England were bundled out for a paltry 45. Debutants Turner (6 for 15) and Ferris (4 for 27) bowled unchanged and captured all the wickets. At the end of the first day Australia were 76 for 4.

The Australian first innings ended at 119, giving them a 74-run lead. Things did not look good for England as they ended the second day on 103 for 7. England would have spent a sombre Sunday contemplating a situation of being less than 30 ahead of the game with only 3 more wickets in hand. The Monday brought some relief to the visitors as they added 81 for the last 3 wickets, Johnny Briggs scoring 33, and Wilfred Flowers (14) and Sherwin (21*) sharing a last wicket stand of 31 vital runs.

On the third day Australia had a winning target of only 111 runs. Against the run of play, Billy Barnes (6 for 28) and George Lohmann (3 for 20) combined to dismiss the home side for 97 to ensure a thrilling 13-run victory for England. The smiles were back on the English faces. Wisden was to declare: “On the Monday, however, they played up in splendid style, and gained a victory that might fairly be compared to the seven runs win of Australia over England at Kennington Oval in 1882.”

Several noteworthy events marked the second Test, at the same ground, from February 25. The final result was a victory for England by 71 runs. In the interim, Barnes was rendered hors de combat after a spat with McDonnell during which he had aimed a punch at his opponent, missing the mark, hitting the wall, and breaking his hand in the process. Under the circumstances, and remembering that the touring party had consisted of only 11 men, the Lancashire cricketer Reginald Wood, who had emigrated to Australia, was drafted into the playing XI, and made his debut in the second Test.

Dick Barlow (34 and 42*) starred with the bat for England. Sherwin had a good game, with 2 catches and 2 stumpings in the Australian second innings of 150. But it required a flourish of clarion calls to proclaim the extraordinary feat of Lohmann, who had captured 8 for 35 in the Australian first innings of 84. It remains (130 years later) the best individual Test bowling performance at Sydney, and one of only four instances of a bowler taking 8 wickets in an innings on the ground (the second-best performance, 8 for 58 in 1891-92, also being credited to Lohmann). This was also the first instance of a bowler taking 8 wickets in a Test innings.

In the Australia second innings of 150, Turner provided the third instance of a player taking a catch while fielding substitute for the opposition when he held the catch to dismiss Reginald Allen off the bowling of Bates. The previous two instances had been provided by Australians Billy Murdoch and ‘Affie’ Jarvis. Perhaps the most intriguing event was when Gunn was called upon to stand in for umpire for John Swift when the latter was unable to take the field on the final day. As mentioned above, Turner had substituted for Gunn in the field for England.

In his third and last Test, the first Test against Australia at Lord’s in July 1888, Sherwin had an indifferent game, scoring no runs and holding 2 catches as Australia won the Test by 61 runs. The 1888 Australian tour of England provided the first instance of three wicketkeepers being used in a Test series, England using Sherwin (at Lord’s), Henry Wood (The Oval), and Dick Pilling (Old Trafford). Perhaps Sherwin could be forgiven for his off-colour performance in this Test, as he had a lot on his mind during this time. The last week of May of the previous year had brought about an unexpected upheaval in his cricket career.

Nottinghamshire were in a state of transition at the time. The 45-year old Alfred Shaw was past his heyday as a player, and had lost the captaincy when the 1887 season began. To fill the void, the county deemed it fit to nominate veteran wicketkeeper Sherwin for the captaincy role in 1887.

Wisden reported the change of leadership of Nottinghamshire as follows: “The captaincy was offered to Shrewsbury, but for some reason or other he did not care about the office, and so the choice fell upon Sherwin, who gave such satisfaction that he was made captain of the county team for the season.

It turned out to be a rather unexpected turn of events for Sherwin, but he undertook the added responsibility of captaining the county for 34 matches between 1887 and 1889 with aplomb .The man behind the Falstaffian façade proved to be in possession of a shrewd cricketing brain and a steely mettle.

Sherwin’s very first match in charge turned out to be a salutary lesson for him in cricket strategy, although he happened to be on the losing side. Nottinghamshire, having won five consecutive unofficial ‘titles’ from 1883 to 1886, were playing host to Surrey, who were bent on taking the 1887 ‘title’.

On a very slow Trent Bridge track Surrey were dismissed for 115. William Attewell took 5 for 36. Then Lohmann (5 for 39) and Thomas Bowley (4 for 25) bowled with great fire to dismiss the hosts for 89. New skipper Sherwin was run out for 12. Surrey were 157 for 3 at stumps on the second day, Bobby Abel (44) having batted for three-and-a-half hours in an anchor role. They led by 183.

Wisden had described the last day as a “curious and most interesting day’s cricket.” Rain had caused a delayed start to the proceedings on the last day. The two Reads, Walter and Maurice, took the total to 264. The game seemed to be heading for a draw, not a result that Surrey were looking for.

Not having the option of declaring the innings (the concept was to be introduced about two years later), Surrey skipper John Shuter, conceived of a plan of sacrificing wickets in a bid to get the home team in again. The last 7 wickets added only 25 runs as the batsmen went out of their way to sacrifice their wickets. The innings ended at 289.

That left Nottinghamshire 316 runs to get to win the game or to bat out the rest of the day to achieve a draw. There was a further rain interruption, but the home wickets began to go down at regular intervals to Lohmann (5 for 66), supported by the others. With 45 minutes of play left in the game, Notts were 133 for 7, and Gunn (72) and Sherwin (13) appeared to have things under control.

Lohmann then accounted for Gunn with 25 minutes of play left, Sherwin and Shacklock soon followed, and the game was over at 17 minutes past 6 with Surrey winning by 157 runs.

In the 1880s, when the Southern counties were largely amateur sides with amateur captains, the Northern county of Lancashire consisted mostly of professional players captained by an amateur.

Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire were two exceptions, being professional sides with professional captains. In an era when only the amateurs were thought to be fit for the captaincy of the various counties (and indeed, for England, in the Tests), and when the professionals were considered to be lower down the social order, Mordecai Sherwin had the distinction of being the last professional cricketer to captain any county side until Leicestershire appointed Ewart Astill to the leadership role in 1935.

Wisden chose Mordecai Sherwin as one of the cricketers of the Year in 1891. In the citation, the almanac said: “Always in the best of spirits, and never discouraged, however much the game may be going against his side, Sherwin is one of the cheeriest and pluckiest of cricketers. In point of style behind the wicket he is more demonstrative than his Lancashire rival [Pilling], but, though the applause and laughter of the spectators may occasionally cause him to go a little too far, he has certainly never done anything to really lay him open to censure.”

Tales are told of Sherwin as an entertainer regaling the company with renditions of Oh Dem Golden Slippers and performing various somersaults and jigs to the amusement of others at social events!

Sherwin’s last First-Class match was for his beloved Nottinghamshire against Cambridge at Trent Bridge in 1896, aged 45. He was bowled by a young Gilbert Jessop for 2. During his time, Sherwin took up umpiring and officiated in 117 First-Class matches between 1877 and 1901. He also officiated in a Test, the third between England and Australia at Headingley, in 1899, the first ever to be played on the ground. A notable incident of this Test was the violent seizure Briggs had suffered on the first night for which he had to be admitted to the care of Cheadle Asylum, playing no further cricket until the following season.

Sherwin and his wife Emma had three daughters and three sons. Like many contemporaries, he is known to have been a publican at various public houses during his life, including The Red Inn at Basford, The Belvoir Inn at Nottingham, The Meadow Inn at Arkwright Street, The Alexander Hotel at Carrington Street, and The Grove.

He passed away on July 3, 1910, aged about 59, at his residence, The Craven Arms, Nottingham. This is what Wisden had to say about this lovable man in their obituary of Sherwin: “A very bulky man of great physical power, he could stand any amount of work, and his strong fleshy hands did not often suffer damage. He was inclined to show off a little for the benefit of the crowd, but this after all was a small fault. He was at all times one of the cheeriest of cricketers.”