Cricket Riverdale Park Toronto
Cricket in Riverdale Park, Toronto (representational photo). Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

There appear to be two seemingly disparate threads to this story, arising from different eras and set in different continents. In the end, however, the threads merge to form a fascinating history of the early days of cricket exchanges between two countries, the story ending in an unexpected twist.

Bowing to antiquity, let us begin with events taking place in North America in general, and in Canada in particular, as related by Kevin E Boller in The History of Cricket Canada. As in other parts of the Empire, cricket in the region blossomed gradually following the installation of the Union Jack by British soldiers in the aftermath of the historic battle at the Plains of Abraham near Quebec City, between the armies of General Wolfe and General Montcalm in 1759.

After a modest beginning in the Upper Canada town of York, later renamed as Toronto, in the province of Ontario, the gradual evolution of cricket in Canada owed much to the efforts of the young and enthusiastic English school-teacher George A Barber, who is rightfully considered to be the father figure of Canadian cricket.

A multi-talented individual, Barber was the publisher of the Toronto Herald and a master in the Upper Canada College. He was one of the founding members when the prestigious Toronto Cricket Club was set up in 1827, and was instrumental in introducing cricket to the newly established college in 1829. Barber is regarded as being the brain behind the initiation of the historic tradition of cricket ties between Toronto Cricket Club and the Upper Canada College, doing so in 1836, a tradition that persists to this day.

As is well documented in history, it was in 1844 that Canada and USA met in their first international at the St George’s Club in New York on the site where the New York University Medical Centre is now located. This was over thirty years before the famed England versus Australia series began and historians believe the contest is the oldest international sporting fixture in the world.

The first cricket tour of all by an English side was led by George Parr, who brought the flavour of international cricket to Canada in 1859, even before Canada had become an independent nation. By 1867, when Canada did acquire a national identity, cricket was so popular in the land that the first Prime Minister of the fledgling nation, Sir John A Macdonald and his cabinet colleagues declared cricket to be the national sport, according to Canadian cricket historian Donald King in the columns of The Canadian Cricketer in April 1973. The American Civil War of 1861-1865, was, however, a watershed for the popularity of cricket in Canada, with the rise in the acclaim of basketball in the USA, although touring cricket teams from Australia and England continued to visit.

A cricketing milestone was reached in 1872 when WG Grace, visiting with the third English team, struck 142 against the Toronto Cricket Club, the knock remaining the highest individual score achieved in Canada for over a hundred years, until it was surpassed by a young David Gower who scored 157 against Manitoba Cricket Association at Winnipeg in 1976 as part of the DH Robins’ XI.

Canadian cricket began to move west when the North West Cricket Club was formed in Winnipeg in 1864, followed by the establishment of the famous Victoria Cricket Club in 1876 on the west coast. Other clubs followed in the Prairie Provinces, Alberta and British Columbia areas until cricket was being played all over the country by the last quarter of the 19th century. In 1880, a Canadian team took the historic step of making the first ever cricketing tour to the British Isles. And that brings us to the second thread of the story.

Let us now allow our collective minds to drift across the Atlantic Ocean in an easterly direction and to alight at the small market town and parish known as Helmsley in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire. The family of the chief herdsman to the Earl of Faversham at Duncombe Park had a very welcome present on the Christmas Day of 1847 when a son was born to them. The lad was named Thomas and he grew up in the heady pastoral atmosphere of his birthplace.

Biographer Brian Sanderson gives us a short account of the activities of Dale as depicted in the Huddersfield Chronicle of June 5, 1880. It seems that Dale had enlisted in the Royal Horse Guards, becoming quite popular with his comrades and officers for his manly athletics skills, particularly in rowing and cricket.

The report had gone on to state that shortly after one of his “athletic contests”, he had not reported back to his barracks and had, in effect, deserted. When he had surrendered in a day or two, his comrades had persuaded the military authorities to give the offender a relatively short imprisonment. Unfortunately, his brush with the rigors of military discipline did not have the desired effect on him and he had apparently deserted from the Guards a second time around 1873 while stationed in USA.

Changing his identity to Thomas Jordan, Dale appears to have then joined the Mounted Police, and to have been engaged in driving back the Mexican Rangers. Known as Jumbo to his teammates, and based in Detroit, Dale had played as a professional right-arm fast bowler of considerable merit in St Louis and Chicago. He later joined the Peninsular Cricket Club, for whom he played 49 games between 1877 and 1889, turning out for the club against Dave Gregory’s Australians in 1878 and against Richard Daft’s English XI in 1879.

On a more personal note, the journal had recorded that Dale (or Jordan, to give him his current alias) had been married twice and that he had fathered six children, becoming, over the years, quite a ladies’ man, much to the discomfiture of his wife.

Martin Williamson feels that the visit by an English team under Richard Daft with seven Nottinghamshire and five Yorkshire professionals to North America in 1879 may have been the inspiration for the arrangement of a Canadian cricket team to visit the British Isles in 1880.

As it turned out, the squad could hardly have been called a representative Canadian team, there being only eight players who had played some cricket in Canada and three who had played most of their cricket in the USA, including Jordan, the designated captain.

There was another Chicago cricketer in the team, a man of God named the Rev. Thomas Dowell Phillips, who had been the mathematics master of the Ottawa Collegiate Institute, and was an ardent advocate of cricket. The Reverend is thought to be the prime mover for the formation of the first cricket club in the seminary in the 1870s, and his name is to be found among those who had played cricket for Upper Canada College from 1855 to 1858.

Rev. Phillips, Editor of the Canadian Cricketer’s Guide, was reputed to have been one of the best of the contemporary Canadian players, usually in the role of opening batsman, later also becoming an occasional wicketkeeper. Of late, the elderly cleric had become a resident of Chicago and had turned out to be one of the key batsmen of Chicago Cricket Club, and the fact that he was by this time 47 had not diminished his enthusiasm for the game. He was to play a crucial role on the tour, but more of that later.

Was there, perhaps, a nascent fear in the mind of Dale, now Thomas Jordan, as he prepared to lead his motley crew in the land of his birth, given his past brushes with the military authorities of the land? More importantly, did he feel confident enough to lead this historic first touring team from Canada to the British Isles, the acknowledged nursery of cricket?

The tour was beset with problems from the start. There being no well-recognised players in the team, fixtures were difficult to organise. Another factor proved to be presence in England of an Australian team under Billy Murdoch. In the end, the Gentlemen of Canada, to give them their ceremonial title, played 14 Second-Class games in England, after beginning their summer campaign with 3 official games in Scotland.

The first match of the tour was a personal triumph for the skipper, his team beating the West of Scotland at Glasgow in a two-day game by 5 wickets. The skipper scored 41 and 19 and captured 4 for 34 and 8 for 70. The match notes state that Dale played the match under the alias of Thomas Jordan. Dale’s performances, particularly with ball, were fairly good in Scotland, but is seems that his leadership skills were not up to the expected standard.

There may have been some trepidation in the mind of Dale as he arrived at Hunslet, south of Leeds, in Western Yorkshire to play a 12-a-side game. The weather did nothing to alleviate his mood as the entire first day was washed out by rain. On the second (and last) day of the game, the locals batted first and were bowled out for 126, Dale capturing 9 for 54. The visitors were then dismissed for 80, and Dale captured one more wicket before the game ended in a draw.

It is quite noticeable that the name of the Rev. Phillips is not found mentioned in any of the line-ups for Gentlemen of Canada till this point of time, including the 12-a-side game, giving rise to the possibility that the clergyman may not have been in the original squad but had been summoned as cover for the perceived inadequacies of the designated skipper. His name first appeared in the scorecard of the next game of the tour, against Leicestershire, at Grace Road, a match that would go down in history for all the wrong reasons.

Meanwhile, wheels had been turning in USA. It is reported that, frustrated by the “philandering” of her husband, the skipper’s wife had revealed the true identity of Thomas Jordan to the authorities. By the time the Canadians arrived at Grace Road, barely ten days into their tour, the local authorities had been alerted to the unusual circumstances surrounding the visiting skipper.

The Huddersfield Chronicle was to report later that it was a Sergeant Stray of the Royal Horse Guards who first recognised Dale and came forth with a description of him. The home team batted first on the opening day and were bowled out for 168. Dale/Jordan opened the attack and captured 4 for 49. The drama unfolded as the teams were returning to the pavilion after the completion of the innings.

Dale was apprehended and arrested by Detective Crisp on the charge of desertion from the Royal Horse Guards Blues in 1873. J Dewhurst of Montreal was allowed to substitute for Dale, while the Reverend took up captain’s duties for the rest of the game and for the rest of the tour. A clergyman, teacher and a good administrator, he had an altogether different persona, backed up by his experience of having played for Canada against George Parr’s English side of 1859.

Dale/Jordan was sentenced to a prison term of 35 days by a specially convened military court. However, he reportedly escaped from the guardroom while waiting to be conveyed to jail. He was overtaken while running down Knightsbridge Road and produced back to the military court where his sentence was extended to 336 days of incarceration. That resulted in a premature end of the tour for him.

The mentally traumatised Canadian team found it difficult to cope with the turn of events and were bowled out for a mere 64. Following on, they were 49 for 5 at the end of the second day, the game ending in a draw. The Canadian think-tank decided to cancel their next two fixtures, against Swansea and Cardiff, while they prepared for what was to be the highlight of their England tour, the match against the MCC at Lord’s.

At Lord’s, XV of the Gentlemen of Canada squared off against XI of the MCC. The hosts batted first. There was a rousing first-wicket effort from Charles Thornton (22) and Isaac Walker (35) during which Walker drove a straight six off the bowling of James Gillean, the ball landing on the roof of the Lord’s pavilion. The MCC innings ended on 192. The bowling honours went to Henry (4 for 84) and Gillean (4 for 81). The MCC innings finished at about 3.35 in the afternoon.

The Canadians were dismissed for 33. Alfred Shaw (5 for 21) and Fred Morley (8 for 10 including a hat-trick) bowled unchanged. Asked to follow on, the Canadians managed only 36. For the second time in the game, Shaw (10 for 19 including a hat-trick) and Morley (3 for 16) bowled unchanged. The entire Canadian batting effort, over both innings, had lasted just over two hours, and the game ended on the first day with MCC winning by an innings and 123 runs.

It seemed quite evident at this point of the tour that Dale/Jordan had so far provided whatever sting there may have been in the Canadian bowling attack. With him out of the equation, the performances of the tourists continued to be embarrassing, even in their own estimation.

As word spread, the spectator turnout, never very healthy, began to fall further, and the tourists soon found themselves facing financial disaster. Despite exhortations in the local press for the public to “encourage the Canadians in their uphill and plucky enterprise,” the Canadians just could not attract the sort of gate that they had hoped for, even though they had sought the services of the Nottinghamshire bowling professional, Walter Wright, to bolster their attack.

It was a very disheartening progress for the Canadians for the rest of the tour, even though their Nottinghamshire recruit had repaid their trust by capturing 61 wickets for them. Losing money at an alarming rate, the organisers felt compelled to terminate the tour prematurely in mid-July, despite the fact that they had managed to win their last two games, thanks to the bowling of Gillean, whose figures read: 9 for 8 and 7 for 23 against Wavertree, the tourists winning by 36 runs, and 10 wickets in the last fixture against Stourbridge, the visitors winning by 26 runs.

Having served out his prison term, Dale returned to USA divorced his wife immediately, and continued to play cricket. Indeed, there is a New York Times report dated June 21, 1887 of a championship match between the East and West, played at Pittsburg, which states “Thomas Dale, of Detroit, and A Burrows, of Pittsburg, did the bowling for the Western team, and Hazen Brown was wicket-keeper.” Dale is documented as having played 89 Second-Class games in the USA and Canada between 1877 and 1897.

Dale’s only First-Class match was for USA against the Gentlemen of Philadelphia. The USA team won the 12-a-side match by 8 wickets, Opening bowling. Dale picked up 3 for 27 in the first innings but did not bowl in the second. As a matter of historical interest, one of the Philadelphia players in the match was John Thayer, later to become the only First-Class cricketer to go down with the SS Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland on that fateful April 15, 1912.

Having carved out a somewhat controversial niche for himself in the in the history of cricket by being nominated as the captain of the first ever Canadian cricket team to tour the British Isles, albeit under an alias that was later blown, Thomas Dale passed away in the USA on August 2, 1921.