Victor Trumper (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons). Inset: Trumper’s scoring shots during his 335 (courtesy: Referee)
Victor Trumper (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons). Inset: Trumper’s scoring shots during his 335 (courtesy: Referee)

The story may be said to have had a somewhat nebulous beginning in 1801 when one Dr William Redfern arrived at Sydney as a convict, having been court-martialed for his part in the great British naval mutiny of 1797.  He later won the friendship of Governor Macquarie, becoming his personal family physician. As his personal fame and prestige grew, an area of Sydney came to be named after him, complete with a Local Council, also named after him. A parcel of land from the Redfern area was granted to Edward Smith Hall, editor of Sydney Monitor, in 1822. Hill disposed of it to one Solomon Levey almost immediately.The land remained undeveloped for many decades as it was a dangerous ‘pestiferous bog’ known as Boxley’s Lagoon.

In 1855, the Redfern Council allocated a parcel of 12 acres for the development of a park, and the work began almost immediately. The Council members were soon flooded with requests from several local residents and community groups for permission to utilise the newly constructed oval on the southern part of the park for cricket and rugby. Permission was gracefully granted. A bowling green and pavilion were added in 1890, along with a bandstand, and an ornamental fountain was donated to the park by a nurseryman, one John Baptist.

His player profile states that Victor Trumper had played 36 First-Class matches in England in the miserably wet and cold summer of 1902, many of the games having been disrupted to a greater or lesser extent by the capricious English weather in the season. In his 53 innings, Trumper had scored 2,570 runs with a highest of 128, an average of 48.49, scoring 11 centuries and 11 fifties. The next Australian name in the list for the tour was that of Monty Noble with 1,357 runs at 33.09, 3 centuries and 6 fifties. The top English name in the list for the batting figures of the season is that of the Surrey stalwart Bobby Abel, with 2.299 runs at 41.05, 9 centuries and 3 fifties.

A comparison of the above statistics will give some idea of the complete dominance of the batting of Trumper in England in 1902, even under adverse weather conditions. In the process, Trumper had become the first Australian to score more than 10 centuries on an England tour, the first Australian to score a century in each innings in a First-Class game in England (109 and 119 against Essex), and the first batsman in history to score a century before lunch on the first day of a Test match (103, ultimately dismissed for 104 at Old Trafford).

Jack Pollard informs us that even against the fastest bowling Trumper usually wore only one glove, on his lower hand, and relied on his skill to protect his upper one. In Complete Illustrated History of Australian Cricket, Pollard gives us the interesting information that the Australian players appeared in green caps for the first time during this 1902 series, following the adoption of green and gold as the official national colours after the Federation of January 1, 1901. Although an official coat of arms for Australian cricket had not yet been officially arrived at, the players had sported a blazer emblem of a kangaroo and an emu over a map of Australia.

Encomiums were heaped upon Trumper, both in England as well as in Australia. In the considered opinion of Wisden, “All bowlers came alike to him. They were simply unable to check his wonderful hitting. The way in which he took good length balls and sent them to the boundary had to be seen to be believed. His cutting and off-driving approached perfection and he did everything with such grace and style that his batting was always a delight to the eye.”

English lyricist Sir Tim Rice, writing in The Telegraph, had this to say about Trumper’s cricket on that tour: “It was a wet and dismal summer but Trumper’s elegant power brightened many a murky day’s play. One contemporary commentator described his style of batsmanship as ‘graceful and finished’, as if impossible to improve upon. It was a coronation year, and the Australian team watched Edward VII’s glittering procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey from a privileged vantage point. Victor Trumper became known as the Crown Prince of cricket.”

Wagga Wagga Express made this announcement on September 25, 1902: “At a meeting in Sydney on Monday it was decided to recognise, in some public manner, the success of Victor Trumper in England. An influential committee was formed.”

In Trumper The Definitive Biography, Peter Sharpham gives graphic accounts of many of the receptions that had been given to the triumphant Australians of 1902 on their return to Australia, and goes into details about how Trumper had been specifically chosen for personal honours during different welcoming sessions. He speaks of the dignity and humility with which Trumper had worn the mantle of his fame.

Meanwhile, the 1902-03 domestic season got underway with the usual round of matches in Australia. A Sydney Grade cricket match between Trumper’s club Paddington and Redfern began on the relatively small Redfern Oval on January 31. The surprising events of that game have passed into the folklore of Sydney cricket and are still spoken of with awe. As was the prevalent custom in Grade cricket in Sydney, the game began on the Saturday afternoon.

In a contemporary report by Jack Davis in The Referee, a crowd of between nine and ten thousand spectators had thronged the ground on the day of the game, “the largest attendance ever seen on the ground.” As the game progressed, “The trees in the park were peopled and the streets blocked with tradesmen’s carts, whose drivers waited to see the hero of the hour operating….”

Trumper scored 335 that day in 180 minutes of spectacular batting, hitting 22 fives (shots over the boundary ropes counted for only five in those days) and 39 fours. This remains a record individual score in senior cricket in Sydney: Phil Jacques (321 for Sutherland against North Sydney) came closest, in 2006-07. As for clearing the boundary, the next name on the list belongs to Tibby Cotter, who hit 16 sixes for Glebe against Waverley in 1906-07.

Redfern had become so desperate that they had employed ten bowlers altogether, and between them, they had bowled the equivalent of 85 overs that afternoon. Theirs was no mean attack. For example, in his five previous matches for Redfern, Ernest Hume had taken 18 wickets at 12 apiece. On this day he bowled 10 six-ball overs and was clobbered for 120 runs, though, to be fair, The Arrow reported that he was “not in good health, and unfit for work at the bowling crease.”

It seems that the ball for six of Trumper’s fives were either lost or appropriated as souvenirs. His most famous hit, a lofted on-drive, had reportedly cleared the fence by a margin of more than 50 feet, sailed over the traffic on Chalmers Street and smashed a window of the second floor of the boot factory of John Hunter and Sons Ltd, about 150 yards away from where Trumper had been batting. Hunter, a doyen of the Australian business community of the times, with about 75 business outlets in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland and having 120,000 square feet of floor space in the Redfern factory alone, capable of turning out 100,000 pairs of boots per month, had been so overwhelmed by the enormity of Trumper’s deed that he and his sons had refused to have the window repaired for some 60 years after the incident. Christopher Cunneen, elaborating on the memoirs of Bill McKell, 12th Governor-General of Australia, who had grown up near Redfern, and had seen the game as a bright 11-year old, reports, “that smashed window, boarded up, remained a memorial to Trumper for years.”

Another mammoth strike had apparently sailed out of the southern side of the ground to the second-floor balcony of a neighbouring house, whilst a third had bounded across Elizabeth Street, threatening to enter the bar of a nearby hotel. These three strokes of Trumper had been specifically elaborated upon by Yabba, who had been commissioned to write exclusive articles for the press, initially for the Sunday Sun (1932-33 Ashes), and later for Truth (1936-37 Ashes). His comments on the three specific strokes had appeared in Truth on January 3, 1937.

There was also an outrageous stroke on the offside: “The Ebsworth stroke, square out of the ground with the wicket, on the off side, was improved on by Trumper. He lashed the ball clean out of the ground by means of the means of that stroke without making the ball describe a lofty, aerial curve.”

In despair, the Redfern bowlers had resorted to underarm lobs in the hope, rather than the conviction, that that the ploy would curb the scintillating strokeplay and rapid scoring of Trumper. Nothing worked: Paddington reached fifty in twenty minutes (Gee scored only 5 of these); hundred in forty-five; 200 in seventy-five; 300 in a hundred; and 400 in a shade above two hours.

The great man had reportedly responded by sending two consecutive deliveries bounding among the date trees outside the stadium towards Redfern Street. According to McKell, “disturbed by the continuous roar of the crowd, and thinking that a riot had broken out, Chinese shopkeepers rushed to put shutters over their windows when Trumper began his big hitting.”

McKell also recalls that Labour Member for Redfern, James McGowen, “was playing bowls on a nearby rink, and the bombardment from Trumper’s hits over the fence was so incessant that the bowls had to be abandoned. They watched the cricket instead.” According to media reports, the drive that had brought up Trumper’s 300, another five, had gone bounding “over a fence well away from the ground and into a carrying yard.”

The Arrow mentioned the misfortune of yet another man: “The driver of a baker’s cart, standing on his vehicle in the street in the southern end of Redfern Park, was intently watching Victor Trumper at the wickets, when the ball from the bat sped through the air, and, with the fleetness of thought struck the admiring baker’s man a thumping blow on the shoulder.”

And then, there were his teammates: “Some members of the Paddington eleven were rooting off through the park in search of some liquid refreshments, when there was a roar, and the ball fell amongst them.”

Jack Davis takes pains to explain in The Referee that on that day, Trumper had not been satisfied by merely hitting the ball out of the smallish ground. He had sent it out to the adjoining streets where all sorts of vehicles had been lined up, with the “drivers standing upright on them to catch a glimpse of the play.” It was also reported that Trumper broke so many windows in neighbouring houses that day that householders thought it prudent to board up all the remaining ones. Trumper had scored 266 of his 335 runs in boundary hits in the innings that spanned 180 minutes, despite some time being lost because, in accordance with the extant laws, he had to change batting ends each time he hit a five.

The Arrow quoted one unnamed Redfern cricketer thus: “Nothing like it was ever seen before, and nothing like it will be ever seen again. It is too much to believe that any one batsman — such a batsman even as Trumper — will repeat it.” “It was a [sic] freak, phenomenal, you can’t describe it. We’ll never see anything like it again,” admitted ‘another cricketer who saw it’.

Sydney Sportsman was rightfully sympathetic towards the scorers: “To try and describe Vic’s innings on paper would mean failure: it required to be seen to be fully realised and appreciated, and it will be sufficient to say that it was a marvellous and masterful display.”

The first wicket partnership of 423 with Dan Gee (172), made in 135 minutes, remains the highest for any wicket in Sydney First Grade cricket till date (no other pair has reached the 400-mark). Gee’s contribution to the partnership makes it evident that he was no mere spectator: while he got off to a slow start, Sydney Sportsman mentions that he was on 95 when Trumper was on 103, 125 when Trumper was on 166, and 143 when the great man reached his double-hundred. But keeping pace with Trumper, that too at his best, was not a job within the scope of a mortal. Gee was eventually bowled by E Newton, the tenth bowler used.

Frank Iredale, former Australia and NSW cricketer but still a giant at this level, scored 37 and added 131 with Trumper for the second wicket. Four runs after Iredale departed, Trumper stepped out to Hanigan, missed completely, and was stumped by Prescott (the only Redfern player who did not bowl that day). “The applause was deafening. The pace had been a cracker from start to finish, the spectators being kept in a frenzy of delight for three solid hours,” opined Sydney Sportsman.

Trumper scored his runs at the almost unbelievable rate of about 110 an hour before finally getting dismissed. He gave his one chance after 167 minutes of batting, when the long-on fielder, a substitute for Hume, did not advance to take a catch and let the ball drop a few feet in front of him. In all, concluded Referee, Redfern’s fielding was “not quite as smart as it has been in earlier matches … Two or three of the young players were a trifle faulty, notably Sone.”

Paddington scored 618 for 9 in the afternoon, declaring the innings closed with Alec Bannerman and Noble, no less, at the crease. The bowling figures make interesting reading: Ernest Hume 10-120-0; E Prowse 15-114-0; W Hume (brother of Ernest) 8-41-0; Hanigan 11-70-3; Creswell 6-58-0; Foster 2-21-0; Sone 6-39-0; Houghton 15-39-5; Jesson 3-39-0; and E Newton 9-64-1. In all there were 6 overs without a single ‘dot ball’, and 7 more where 5 balls were scored off.

On the following Saturday, Redfern were dismissed for 53 (Noble 7 for 27, Trumper 1 for 25). Following on, Redfern could only manage 122, capitulating by an innings and 443 runs to Paddington.

It was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of December 15, 1941 that the 618 that Paddington had scored in a single afternoon was the highest in Sydney Grade cricket for a single day. It was also mentioned that although Paddington had also scored 726 for 5 against Redfern in 1895-96, the runs had come when the innings had been continued over the next Saturday. A more remarkable display came in 1918-19, when Paddington piled up 636 for 6 against Parramatta in only 63 eight-ball overs.

In Sydney Morning Herald of February 5, 1913, there was a section of an article with the sub-heading “Trumper’s Style, ‘Sui Generis’”. It said, in part, “Probably on no cricketer has such lavish and elaborate praise been bestowed from time to time, largely, no doubt, because of the inherent charm of his style…. Even when he graduated into the better company of grade cricket, for a time, his results were altogether incommensurate with the promise of his style. Then, as he better understood, and more thoroughly practised the essential principles of batsmanship, he evolved a most remarkable combination of style and effect….”

This paragon of “style and grace,” the very epitome of the spirit of cricket in the Golden Age, passed away on a grey Sydney Monday morning, June 28, 1915 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, aged about 37. The NSW Death Registers for 1915 recorded that Victor Thomas Trumper had succumbed to “chronic parenchymatous nephritis” and “uraemic convulsions”. Nothing could have been done for Australia’s greatest hero in 1915 despite the medical profession of the times trying so desperately to keep him alive. It was later conjectured that the disease that eventually killed the great cricketer may well have been taking its toll even as he had been playing his greatest innings at the Oval in 1902, though no evidence of it would have been apparent at the time.

“To those of us who were privileged to meet him during his illness, his cheerfulness under great suffering was amazing,” Frank Iredale, one of Trumper’s teammates, was to write later. “Just as in his cricket, so in his illness, he refrained from choosing the middle way, but fought the foe face to face. His was a noble nature, free, unrestrained, and open. He made no foes….”

On July 1, 1915, Sydney Morning Herald published the details of the great cricketer’s internment, as follows: “The funeral of Mr. Victor Trumper took place yesterday at the Waverley Cemetery. The large number of veteran cricketers atthe graveside was even more impressive as a tribute to Australia’s most brilliant batsman than the funeral procession through thecity, with 200 men walking in front of the hearse.”

On the day of his funeral, 20,000 people were said to have lined the streets of Sydney, forming a 3.5-mile procession behind his funeral cortege. He was survived by his wife, son (who bore the same name and later played cricket for New South Wales) and daughter. Trumper’s pallbearers had all been his comrades-in-arms: Noble, Cotter, Hanson Carter (his erstwhile business partner), Syd Gregory, and Warwick Armstrong. He was laid torest in a family vault of Waverley Cemetery.

Brief scores:

Paddington 618 for 9 decl. (Victor Trumper 335, Dan Gee 172; Houghton 5 for 39, Hanigan 3 for 70) beat Redfern 53 (Monty Noble 7 for 27) and 122 by an innings and 443 runs.