The Australian team in England, 1884. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons Back, from left: Percy McDonnell, George Alexander (manager), George Giffen, George Palmer. Middle, from left: Fred Spofforth, Jack Blackham, Billy Murdoch, George Bonnor, Billy Midwinter, Alec Bannerman, Harry Boyle. Front, from left: William Cooper, Tup Scott © Wikimedia Commons
The Australian team in England, 1884. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Back, from left: Percy McDonnell, George Alexander (manager), George Giffen, George Palmer.
Middle, from left: Fred Spofforth, Jack Blackham, Billy Murdoch, George Bonnor, Billy Midwinter, Alec Bannerman, Harry Boyle.
Front, from left: William Cooper, Tup Scott © Wikimedia Commons

When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn;
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return;
The welkin will ring loud,
The great crowd will feel proud,
Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;
And the rest coming home with the urn.

Gideon Haigh mentions one Clarence Moody, an Adelaide sports journalist, who used to write in the South Australian Register under the pseudonym of Point. Moody had written a book entitled South Australian Cricket: Reminiscences of Fifty Years, published at Adelaide in 1898, in which he had taken upon himself the task of preparing a list of what he considered ‘Test matches’ played till the time of publication of the book. For various reasons, Moody’s categorisation became the accepted norm later and he came to be known as the originator of the term ‘Test’ in connection with cricket. Consequently, the great cricket matches played before 1898 between representative national teams were attributed the title of ‘Test Matches’ with retrospective effect.

The story of the legendary Ashes rivalry should perhaps begin with the sailing of the SS Peshawar from Gravesend on September 14, 1882. On board was the English team on its way to Australia, to “beard the kangaroo in his den and try to recover those ashes,” as declared by the Hon. Ivo Bligh, skipper of the touring team.

The exciting finish of the one-off Test at The Oval earlier that season in the most thrilling manner possible with a dramatic win by Australia, followed by the enigmatic insertion in The Sporting Times of September 2, had set tongues wagging both in England and in Australia. Cricket between the arch adversaries was never going to be the same again.

Interestingly, the 12-member English team embarking on their tour of Australia for the 1882-83 series had as many as six players, the skipper included, who had never played Test cricket. One of them was fast bowler Fred Morley, one of the four professionals; he had sustained a fractured rib and severe contusions on his chest in the collision and was unable to participate in almost half the scheduled games on the tour.

There was, however, another important protagonist in the drama surrounding the Ashes that was to unfold later on the tour over Christmas, a very distinguished person, on board the same ship. It transpired that William John Clarke, a noted Australian land-owner, businessman, and generous philanthropist, and his second wife Janet, had been in England in 1882.

One of Clarke’s pleasant duties while in England had been the initiating of the Clarke Music Scholarship worth 3,000 guineas at the Royal College of Music, one of the numerous grants and scholarships that the altruistic Clarke was to be the founder of in his lifetime. During this trip to England Clarke had been invested with the title of 1st Baronet for his crucial role as the President of the Melbourne Exhibition of 1880-81 and his prominence as a Colonist. He was the first Victorian to be granted a hereditary honour. Thus, Lady Janet and Sir William found themselves on the same vessel as the English team on the voyage to Australia.

The ship had stopped over at Colombo where the touring English team had played some light-hearted cricket against sundry English expatriates and military personnel over October 13 and 14. It is on record that disaster had struck the Peshawar shortly after departure from Ceylon when there had been a collision with the Glenroy, requiring the Peshawar to return to Colombo for repairs. The repairs had taken rather longer than anticipated and the ship was finally on her way on October 24.

Well, the propinquity of being on the same vessel for the duration of the voyage and the excitement caused by the collision with its attendant delay in the proceedings, resulted in a state of social bonding between Sir William’s family and the touring English team, in particular, with Bligh.

Bligh was the second son of the 6th Earl of Darnley, and educated at Eton and Trinity College. The fortuitous bonding was to ripen into a deep friendship. The ever generous Sir William took the opportunity to invite the touring party over to his manor on his country estate of Rupertswood, Sunbury (about half an hour’s drive from Melbourne in today’s modes of transportation) over Christmas.

The story goes that it was on Christmas Eve that the Bligh had accepted Sir William’s playful challenge to a social game of cricket between the touring team and a team comprising his house-guests and staff. In an article published in 2006, The Sydney Morning Herald claims that the Bligh had light-heartedly asked what the team would be playing for, upon which, Lady Janet is reported to have picked up a pair of the bails that were to be used for the game and said, “Mr Bligh, play for these!”

Kennington Oval, a brief history: Part 3
Kennington Oval, a brief history: Part 3

If the tale is to be believed, the bails were subsequently burnt and the ashes presented to the Bligh in a small wooden receptacle in the form of an urn prepared by a local wood carver by an admiring group of socialite ladies of Melbourne. One of them happened to be Florence Rose Morphy, music teacher of the Clarke household. It is a historical fact that the English skipper later married Florence at St Mary’s Church, Sunbury, on February 9, 1884. The ceremony was solemnised by the Rev WC Ford, Pastor of the Church, and the bride was given away by Sir William, with the reception being held at the Rupertswood estate of Sir William.

There are numerous variations of the story, of course, a popular version being that the urn had been presented at the conclusion of the third Test of the tour. Opinion is also divided over the material from which the original ‘urn’ was crafted, silver being a popular choice. The trophy preserved at the Memorial Gallery at Lord’s, however, is a terracotta receptacle.

In any case, the legend goes that the sports-ground at Sunbury, adjoining Sir William’s Rupertswood estate, was thus the true ‘Birthplace of the Ashes’. As a matter of interest, it may be mentioned that a cricket match was actually played at the ground on November 12, 2006 as a Sunbury Ashes Challenge Twenty20 match. The trophy being an Ashes-sized urn carved out of the wood of an 80-year old Victoria red gum tree and from a rare Tasmanian King Billy pine. Several noted cricketers of Ashes fame like Mark Taylor, Jeff Thomson, Rodney Hogg, Dean Jones, Allan Lamb, and Graham Thorpe played in the game.

But we digress. Bligh took his bride back to England in the spring of 1884 and succeeded to the title as the 8th Earl of Darnley when his elder brother, the ‘fiery-tempered’ and profligate Edward died without any male heir in 1900. The 8th Earl himself passed away in 1927, after which the Dowager Darnley, his widow, presented the iconic 11-centimetre high terracotta urn, in its velvet bag, to Lord’s.

After the Yuletide festivities were over, the serious business of the tour began with the first Test at Melbourne. Six Englishmen, including the skipper himself, made their Test debuts in the match. Australia won the Test by 9 wickets after a punishing innings from George Bonnor (85 in 135 minutes, with 5 fours and 4 sixes) in their first-innings total of 291. Then Joey Palmer, with figures of 7 for 65 and 3 for 61, saw Australia to their victory. This was Palmer’s second 10-wicket haul in Test cricket (after 7 for 68 and 4 for 97 against England at Sydney in 1881-82).

England had their revenge in the second Test, also at Melbourne. They won rather easily by an innings and 27 runs, thanks to the almost unplayable bowling of the woollen-weaver-turned-cricket-all-rounder Billy Bates. With 7 for 28 and 7 for 74, Bates became the first ever England bowler to take a 10-wicket haul in a Test. His first innings haul included a hat-trick with the wickets of Percy McDonnell, George Giffen, and George Bonnor, and Bates became the first Englishman to claim a Test hat-trick in this match. 

Bligh substantiated his promise to “beard the kangaroo” by winning the third Test at Sydney by 69 runs. Alec Bannerman’s 94 and Fred Spofforth’s 4 for 73 and 7 for 44 could not prevent England from winning the first ever Ashes series 2-1. This was to usher in a period of prosperity for English cricket; they would win an uninterrupted sequence of seven more Ashes series till the 2-match rubber of 1890 in England. 

There was a fourth ‘Test’ played at Sydney as well, won by Australia by 4 wickets. This last match, however, was not part of the Ashes campaign, but was rather a sort of bizarre experiment (to which both teams had surprisingly given their consent) in which each team innings was played out on a different pitch, a total of four strips being used for the game.

England’s triumphant return to England with the ‘Ashes’ was commemorated for posterity in the ditty quoted above, and it was later engraved on the urn for all to see at the Memorial Gallery at Lord’s.

Smarting under the surrender of the home series of 1882-83 to England, the cricketing fraternity of Australia were eager to reclaim their honour in England, and preparations soon began for a visit to England in the near future. Chronologically, it was to be the fourth tour of England by a representative Australian team. This time, however, there were to be some new twists in the tale.

For the first time, the three colonial Cricket Associations, of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia, were all sidelined in the preparation for the forthcoming tour. With memories of the triumphant 1882 tour of England still fresh in their minds, the players themselves set about making arrangements for the tour, putting up their own money to fund the private venture in the expectation of handsome returns on their investment. It was to be a 3-Test match tour, the first ever in England, and two more venues were to be added to the Test roster.

Kennington Oval, a brief history: Part 2
Kennington Oval, a brief history: Part 2

George Alexander of Victoria drew up a preliminary list of players for the tour. The list comprised nine Victorians, three from NSW, and a lone representative from South Australia in Giffen. Later additions of Spofforth and ‘Tup’ Scott and the co-option of Alexander as player-manager gave the final 13-man party a regional representation of seven Victorians, five New South Welshmen, and a South Australian. Scott was the only man in the group without any Test experience. Wicketkeeper Jack Blackham, with 13 Tests, was the most experienced man in the side. The tour selection committee was to be Alexander, Billy Murdoch and William Cooper (great grandfather of Australian Test cricketer Paul Sheahan of later years).

Having completed 6 preliminary pre-tour matches, the touring party left Melbourne on the P & O steamer Sutlej on March 11. Stopping at Adelaide to play a 3-day game against XV of South Australia from March 14, a drawn game, the squad played a game against XVIII of Ceylon at Galle Face Green, the first time that a touring team from Australia had played a cricket match in erstwhile Ceylon. The Sutlej finally docked at Plymouth on April 29.

The touring Australians played a round of 16 First-Class matches in England prior to the first Test. The round began with a game against Lord Sheffield’s XI at Uckfield. Palmer and Giffen bowled unchanged in both innings and picked up 10 wickets each in a match that the Australians won by an innings and 6 runs.

Shortly afterwards, the tourists were brought down to earth in no uncertain manner by the Oxford undergraduates of Oxford University, who won their match by 7 wickets.

The first significant match of the tour was against Surrey at The Oval. Edward Barratt continued his torment of the Australians with figures of 5 for 93 in the Australian first-innings total of 195, four of his victims being bowled. The visitors won in two days by 8 wickets, with Spofforth and Harry Boyle running into bowling form.

The topsy-turvy nature of the tour continued for the Australians in their next game, their first of the tour at Lord’s, against a strong MCC and Ground side. MCC won by an innings and 115 runs inside two days thanks to WG Grace (101), AG Steel (134), Billy Barnes (105*), and Tim O’Brien (72).

Fred Spofforth starred for the tourists in their next match, against a side called England XI, claiming 7 for 34 and an incredible 7 for 3 runs from 8.3 overs in a second-innings rout of 26 all out. The team totals for the match were as follows: England XI 82 and 26, Australians 76 and 33 for 6. The match lasted a single day.

Indeed, the results of the first 16 First-Class games of the tour leading up to the first Test make interesting reading from the perspective of the touring Australians, as follows:

Against Result
Lord Sheffield’s XI Won by an innings and 8 runs
Oxford Lost by 7 wickets
Surrey Won by 8 wickets
MCC and Ground XI Lost by an innings and 115 runs
England XI at Edgbaston Won by 4 wickets
Gentlemen of England Lost by 4 wickets
Derbyshire Won by an innings and 40 runs
Lancashire Drawn
Yorkshire Won by 3 wickets
Nottinghamshire Won by 3 wickets
Cambridge Won by an innings and 81 runs
North of England XI Lost by an innings and 22 runs
Liverpool and District XI Won by 1 wicket
Gentlemen of England Won by 46 runs
Players of England Won by 6 runs
England XI Drawn

By the time the first Test was upon them, the Australians found themselves with all their frontline bowlers in good form. They were a little concerned with their batting: apart the 94 by Bannerman in the very first game, there had been only two individual centuries scored on behalf of the tourists till this time, 113 by Giffen against Lancashire and the 132 by Murdoch against the undergrads of Cambridge. Their batting, then, appeared to be a matter of some concern for them at this point.

The city of Manchester was about to stage its first Test. The prospective new Test venue was to be Old Trafford (established in 1857), south of the city centre in Manchester, and the third venue for Lancashire County Cricket, after Moss Lane (till 1847) and then Chester Road (till 1856). The venue only became a permanent address for Lancashire cricket when Manchester Cricket Club shifted to the meadows of the de Trafford estate in 1857. It was only in 1898, however, that the ground was purchased outright from the de Trafford family for a consideration of £ 24,372, and developed into a fine cricket venue over a period of time.

The name Old Trafford seems to have come from one Humphrey, a descendant of Radulphus, who had been gifted this parcel of land by King Canute the Great in the year 1020 in return for his valiant deeds in warfare on behalf of the King. Radulphus took the surname of de Trafford (from Trayford, one of the boroughs of greater Manchester). Humphrey, who died in 1716 aged about 85, was often known as ‘Owed’ Trafford; the name Old Trafford is thought to have been derived from his moniker.

The report from the Met Office for the period of the Test states that the weather for most parts of the British Isles was “cloudy, showery and thundery”. While the weather patterns for the major part of the match were not favourable, there was no doubt about the importance of the fixture in the larger context of English cricket. Chris Harte, writing in A History of Australian Cricket, stated that this was “the first time that a match of such importance had been staged outside of London.”

‘Monkey’ Hornby won the toss for England at Old Trafford and elected to bat. There was, regretfully, no play at all on the first scheduled day of the match. Harte feels that the reputation for wet weather at Old Trafford may have come from this inaugural Test at the new venue.

Kennington Oval, a brief history: Part 1
Kennington Oval, a brief history: Part 1

Play finally got underway at about noon on the second day, and the England innings ended at 95 in, the highest individual score being Arthur Shrewsbury’s 43. Spofforth (4 for 42) and Boyle (6 for 42) took all the wickets. Australia were dismissed for 182 on the last day of the match. When time ran out, England had scored 180 for 9.

The story of how England had then won their first Test on home soil at another new Test venue, Lord’s, has already been recounted in this forum. Suffice it to state that England won the second Test of the 3-Test series at Lord’s quite comprehensively by an innings and 5 runs. The architects of the famous victory were Ted Peate (6 for 85 in the first innings). This was followed by a commanding batting performance by Steel (148 in 230 minutes, with 13 fours). The icing on the cake for England came from George Ulyett (7 for 36) in the second innings. The inaugural Lord’s Test ended shortly after lunch on the third day.

One of the statistical and historical highlights of this Test was Scott’s dismissal for 75 in the Australian first innings. He was caught by a substitute, the first such instance in Test history. The fact that the substitute happened to be Murdoch, his own captain, made it all the more interesting. As per previous arrangement, the entire proceeds of the Test, amounting to £1,334, were awarded to the Australians.

The teams then moved on to The Oval, the venue that had already hosted the first two Tests on English soil, for the last Test of the series, chronologically, the 16th of all, and the fifth on English soil. It was rather hot when Murdoch won the toss and Australia began their first innings at around noon. Bannerman (4) so forgot himself as to actually hit a four in his 8-ball tenure at the crease and may have had dark thoughts about the rash deed as he made his way back to the pavilion with the total reading 15 for 1. That brought the skipper to the wicket. Writing on the match, Wisden took pains to point out that the pitch was a “flat ’un”.

Taking advantage of the docility of the wicket, Murdoch and McDonnell steadied the innings with a second-wicket stand of 143 before McDonnell was dismissed for 103 (off 170 deliveries with 14 fours), the second of his 3 Test centuries. According to the detailed database of Tests by Charles Davis, Murdoch had reached 47 from 129 balls by the time McDonnell was dismissed. The Australian batting, which had been somewhat disappointing on this tour, had begun to display some of its true colours in this Test.

The fall of the second wicket brought Scott to the crease. The collaboration was to underscore the inherent solidity of the Australian batting, and the teams went in at stumps at 363 for 2, with Murdoch batting on 145 and Scott on 101, his only Test century. The day’s play had seen 183 four-ball overs bowled, and had been witnessed by an estimated 14,648 of spectators. The first day’s play, then, had seen three individual centuries scored, a unique occurrence in Test cricket at the time.

Scott was caught behind off Barnes after adding only 1 run to his overnight tally. The pair had added 207, the first ever double-century partnership in Test cricket. Scott’s 102, made off 220 deliveries, had included 14 fours and a six (presumably hit out of the playing field, as hits over the boundary counted as only 4 runs in those days). He had offered a chance on 60.

Giffen walked out at the fall of the third wicket on the total of 365.

The England skipper Lord Harris appeared to be at a loss about how to stem the flow of runs. In his desperation, he felt compelled to press all 11 members of his team into bowling assignments, even wicketkeeper Alfred Lyttelton. In fact, Lyttelton had already bowled an over the previous day with his wicketkeeping pads on, while WW Read had done the honours behind the stumps. This was to be the first instance in Test history of all 11 members of a team having a bowl in an innings. For the sake of completeness, here are the other three instances of all 11 members of a team bowling in a Test innings:

- By Australia in the Pakistan 1st innings at Faisalabad, 1980-81

- By India in the West Indies 1st innings at St John’s, 2002

- By South Africa in the West Indies 1st innings at St John’s, 2005

Giffen was the fourth man dismissed, at the total of 432. Murdoch had meanwhile moved on to 177, the highest individual Test score till date, going past the 165* by Charles Bannerman in the very first Test match of all. The gentle giant George Bonnor followed shortly afterwards, dismissed by WG Grace for 8.

By the time Murdoch was the sixth man dismissed at the team total of 494, he had scored 211 (off 520 balls faced, with 24 fours). It was the first double-century in Test cricket. Murdoch’s 211 was to remain the highest individual Test score till ‘Tip’ Foster went past it with his monumental 287 in 1903-04 on his Test debut. It must be recorded here that that Murdoch had received three reprieves in the epic knock, all off Ulyett, at 46, 171, and 205. 

Wisden was moved to comment: “Armed with a small physique, quick footwork, and stylish off-side strokes, Billy Murdoch was the outstanding Australian batsman of his era, a prolific accumulator on good pitches…”

CB Fry had his say about Murdoch as well: “He always thought he was going to make a century. At least, he did not think he was not going to, no matter whether he had a month of minute scores behind him.” One marvels at the endearing prolixity of the typically proper Englishman of the day!

With his more recognised bowlers drawing a relative blank, Harris turned to Lyttelton again on the second day of the Test, this time WG being stationed behind the stumps. WG immediately causing a sensation of sorts by catching Midwinter off Lyttelton’s first ball of the day: he became the first in Test history to take a catch off the first ball while wearing the wicketkeeping gloves.

Peter Nevill was to do something very similar 131 years later, at Lord’s in 2015: he accepted a catch offered by Adam Lyth off the second ball of the Test, bowled by Mitchell Starc. It was his very first touch of the ball on Test debut, the quickest that any wicketkeeper has effected his first dismissal in Test cricket till date, according to statistician Andrew Samson.

The introduction of Lyttelton into the bowling attack on the second day turned out to be an inspired move on the part of the English skipper. The wicketkeeper, still wearing his pads, picked up the remaining 4 wickets from his 11 overs of lobs on the day, returning the best bowling figures of the innings with a performance of 4 for 19.

Australia were finally dismissed for 551, there being no provisions for declaring the innings at the time. This was the first instance of a team scoring in excess of 500 in a Test innings. The innings had lasted just over 9½ hours and the runs had come at a rate of about 1.8 runs per four-ball over, rather slowly, given the favourable weather conditions and flatness of the track.

England lost Grace (19) at the total of 32. The other opener, the professional William Scotton, was joined by Billy Barnes. Shrewsbury, often thought to be the second-best English batsman of the time after WG himself, arrived to the crease at 32 for 2. He perished for 10 as the score read 75 for 3. Scotton had moved to 21 by this time.

Scotton had moved to 34 when Steel went, at 120. Ulyett, a Yorkshire product and another consummate professional, did not last either. The score read 136 for 5 when he fell.

Palmer then had Dick Barlow caught at point by skipper Murdoch for a golden duck. The score read 136 for 6. Harris’s innings consisted of 14. The seventh wicket fell at 160, but by then Scotton had made his painstaking way to 51.

Lyttelton helped Scotton to add a further 21. Read came to the wicket at No. 10 at the total of 181 for 8. The ninth-wicket pair was to produce the highest partnership of the innings, a very respectable 151. Scotton’s patient innings ended at this juncture. The opener was the ninth man dismissed, having scored 90 very stoical runs off 375 balls faced. He had hit 9 fours in his marathon innings.

The total read 332 for 9. Read, having completed off 135 deliveries, was batting on 107, becoming the first No. 10 batsman to score a Test hundred. Read was to be joined by Reg Duff, Pat Symcox, and Abul Hasan in subsequent years.

The England innings ended on 346 when Read was dismissed for 117 (off 153 balls, with 18 fours and 2 sixes). Following on, England reached 85 for 2 in 26 overs when play was called off. An estimated 37,306 spectators had witnessed the batting exploits of the Test over about 16 hours of play during which 982 runs had been scored for the loss of 22 wickets overall.

The end result was a series win for England by 1-0, with the victory at Lord’s, and retention of The Ashes. The Oval had witnessed a plethora of batting records being set.

Buoyed by their batting performance in the third Test, the Australians performed much better in the remaining 7 First-Class matches of the tour: they won (including the match against Grace’s Gloucestershire by an innings and 136 runs), drawing against Nottinghamshire and going down by 170 runs against North of England.

Murdoch, McDonnell, and Giffen all topped the 1,000-run mark on the tour while Spofforth picked up a staggering 207 wickets at 12.82, the only man with more than 200 wickets in the English season of 1884. Palmer (132 wickets at 16.43) was the other Australian with more than 100 wickets on the tour.

Finally, it was time to say good bye, and the 1884 Australians departed from Gravesend on the clipper Mirzapore on September 25. On the way back to Australia, they played a drawn game against XVIII of Ceylon. The team finally reached Melbourne on November 9.

It had not been a very happy tour for the Australians, and financial controversies had dogged them all through. The English press had often been scathing about their ‘mercenary’ attitude on the tour, quite oblivious to the fact that the team had toured England without official backing from any of the three regional Cricket Associations. The British press berated the Australians mercilessly for “introducing a bloodthirsty spirit” into the game, and of “playing too obviously for money’s sake.”

At the end of it all, each member of the Australian side was able to show a personal profit of £900, a fair return for five months of cricket in the Home Country.