A cricket ground in Tasmania, 1935 (file photo) © Getty Images
A cricket ground in Tasmania, 1935 (file photo) © Getty Images

Tasmania was the last of the six states to join Sheffield Shield, but was the first to host a First-Class match on Australian soil, starting February 11, 1851. The match, the outcome of a challenge sent by Melbourne Cricket Club (and accepted by Launceston Cricket Club), got over in two days, but that was enough to set a landmark. Though the match was played between Port Phillip Cricket Club (not a full Victorian side) and Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania), it is accepted as the first inter-colonial match in Australia. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the day in Launceston where it all began in the Antipodes.

It had been over two centuries since Dutchman Abel Tasman had become the first European to land in the little island to the south-east of Australia. They called it Anthoonij van Diemenslandt (Dutch for Van Diemen’s Land) after Anthony van Diemen, then Governor-General of Dutch East Indies.

Surprisingly, the fact that Tasmania was an island (and not part of the Australian mainland) remained unknown till 1798, when Matthew Flinders and George Bass circumnavigated the island. Once they found out, it became a deporting haven for the British: during the first half of the 19th century, about 70 per cent of deported British and Irish criminals were sent to Port Arthur Prison in Tasman Peninsula, and other prisons in Tasmania.

Tales of these prisons are not very well-documented, though Michael Rowland’s much-acclaimed The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce describes the conditions vividly. Pearce, an Irishman deported to Van Diemen’s Land, escaped, became a cannibal, and once caught, was sentenced to death.

Then came cricket

Robert Knopwood, chaplain of Van Diemen’s Land, mentioned the popularity of cricket in his diary. That was in 1814. Ric Finlay mentions a contest between “Eleven Gentlemen from the Counties of Sussex and Kent against the choice of the whole Island of Van Diemen’s Land” in 1826. The stake was 50 guineas.

Hobart Town Club was founded in 1832; Derwent Club, in 1835; and Launceston CC, in 1841. Soon afterwards, Hobart and Launceston were decided to play each other, but the match did not materialise. That eventually happened in 1850.

The teams, North vs South (essentially Launceston and Hobart), took place in Oatlands, midway between the cities, on April 23. North scored 40 and 37, but beat South, who folded for 36 and 29. South were led by John Marshall. We will hear more of him later.

The challenge

Some Vandemonians, for that was what people of Van Diemen’s Land were called once they were free, decided to stay back in the land. However, shortly after Edward Hargreaves found gold in Australia, a chunk of the population migrated to nearby Victoria, where the Gold Rush started.

Hargreaves announced his claim on February 12, 1851, a mere nine days before our match started. But our story begins a year before that — in February 1850, when Melbourne CC challenged Launceston CC to a cricket match for a match between Port Phillip and Van Diemen’s Land.

This roughly coincided with the period when Melbourne had started developing as a city. The British had landed in Port Phillip in 1803, but lack of wood and fresh water did not allow them to settle. It was not before John Batman and John Fawkner arrived from Van Diemen’s Land and founded Melbourne that Melbourne-Port Phillip grew in stature. The Gold Rush would make Melbourne-Port Phillip the primary city of Victoria.

SS Shamrock, and beyond

The match was to be played in March. Launceston readily accepted it, offering to host the match. Unfortunately, their response did not reach Melbourne on time. Following subsequent correspondence, it was decided that the teams would play a timeless match against each other in February 1851.

Launceston Examiner documented the semi-hilarious incident: “The match arose from a challenge having been sent in February of last year by Victoria to the club then newly formed in this town, which was by them accepted, to come off in the March following, and was only then prevented by the gentleman deputed to forward the acceptance forgetting to post his letter in time for that steamer.” This, of course, was written when the match actually happened in 1851.

Thomas Rose wrote in ESPNCricinfo: “The Victorian team wore red, white and blue colours. It was selected by the MCC [Melbourne Cricket Club, not Marylebone] and sailed to Launceston by SS Shamrock.”

Note: It is not clear whether the Victorians undertook the journey in such attire or took field in them. Taking field in random clothing was not uncommon those days.

Launceston Examiner reported that the Victorians arrived “with a numerous party of friends and some ladies.”

Exactly when SS Shamrock set sail from Port Phillip is not known, but on February 6 (five days before the match), a lethal bushfire spread across Victoria, setting approximately 5 million hectares (about a quarter of the colony) ablaze. The day has gone down in history as Black Thursday.

The match was played on February 11. A good response was expected, and Launceston Racecourse, the venue, had several booths erected in anticipation. They were not let down, for a thousand turned up to see the visitors from across the Bass Strait in action. Little did they know that they, just like the players, were on the verge of becoming a part of history.

As mentioned above, it was a timeless match. As was norm in the era, each over consisted of four balls. Charles Lyon and CJ Weedon were the umpires for the match. They did a commendable job, for the ground was so undulated that they even had a problem in deciding where the pitch would be!

Van Diemen’s Island were led by Marshall (remember him?), who also kept wickets. He was one of the three men from Hobart to represent the hosts, along with one from each of Perth (of Tasmania, not Western Australia), Longford, and Westbury. The others were locals, from Launceston.

At 10.30 AM, Marshall won the toss and put Victoria in. William Philpott, Marshall’s Victorian counterpart, walked out, but let Duncan Cooper take first strike.

Day One

The first ball in First-Class cricket history on Australian soil was an underarm delivery, sent down by William Henty to Cooper. Robert McDowall, also an underarm bowler, started proceedings from the other end.

Cooper was also the first man to be out, bowled McDowall for 4 (his scoring shots read 1, 2, 1). The opening pair had put up 14 in 22 minutes. Thomas Hamilton, the new batsman, soon hit the first boundary, but Henty and McDowall kept striking at regular intervals.

William Philpott scored a defiant 17 before holing out to George Maddox at mid-off off McDowall. Lister fell next, run out by Marshall for 10. The score read 31 for 3 after the first hour.

James Brodie eventually hit out with 3 boundaries. Along with William Philpott, Brodie was the joint-top-scorer of the innings with 17 before edging one to Henty at slip off McDowall. Richard Philpott, elder brother of William, also played for Victoria: he scored 12.

Though three other men reached double-figures, Victoria folded for a mere 82 against Henty (4 for 52) and McDowall (5 for 27). Both bowled unchanged for 13 overs each.

In response, Marshall and Gervase du Croz survived till lunch, adding 25. They eventually added 40 in 93 minutes for the opening stand. The situation changed when Thomas Antill was introduced. Du Croz went first, for 27 (Antill bowled “a fine ball” that hit the bail).

Antill bowled William Field, the new batsman, first ball. Maddox took a run off the first ball he faced, but Marshall was caught by Lister the following ball, giving Antill 3 in 4. There was no stopping Antill after that as he ran through the side.

Barring Marshall, Walter Westbrook, and McDowall (batting at No. 11) no one went past 13. Westbrook batted 38 minutes for his 10 (a five, a four, and a single), but could not get going. It was only due to a dogged last-wicket stand between Vincent Giblin and McDowall ensured the hosts reached 104.

Antill finished with 7 for 33; Hamilton, with 3 for 24. Lister, who had bowled first over, went wicket-less.

Note: Antill was the cousin of Thomas Wills, who later played for Victoria, went to Cambridge, and played for Kent and MCC as well as Rugby Union for Cambridge. However, Wills’ main claim to fame lies in the fact that he is credited as a co-founder of Australian Rules Football.

Unfortunately, Victoria conceded 24 extras, 11 of which were byes and 5 were leg-byes. The wicketkeeper probably went to his grave a happy soul, for neither scorecards nor newspaper reports mention his name.

Victoria, having conceded a 22-run lead, went in again. The second innings was dominated by Hamilton, who took first strike and was last out, scoring 35 in an hour with 3 fours. Unfortunately, he lost his partners in quick succession: none of them reached as much as 7.

Unfortunately, nobody else reached 7, and the tourists were bowled out for 57. Brodie went first, trying to clear the ground off Henty and being caught by Brodie at long-on for 5. Melmoth Hall hit a four, but fell for 6.

Henty, bowling unchanged, took 5 for 26, McDowall 3 for 21, and Field, 1 for 9. The innings lasted a mere 17 overs (11.2 six-ball overs). Van Diemen’s Land needed a mere 36.

But the match was far from over. This time Brodie opened bowling with Antill. Five minutes into the innings Giblin was bowled by Antill, who also took out both du Croz and Westbrook. The score read 11 for 3. Antill had taken his tenth wicket of the match, and was looking menacing.

John Tabart took his time, but he kept losing partners. Brodie took out Field at the other end. Antill bowled George Gibson. The score read 12 for 5 when Marshall, who had held himself back, finally emerged.

Not that it helped. Three runs later Marshall hit one back to Antill, and returned for a duck. Charles Arthur hung on, and when stumps were drawn due to bad light, the hosts had meandered to 15 for 6, Tabart still holding fort with 4. They still needed 21.

Day Two: Climax

Tabart and Arthur walked out at 11 the morning after in front of a 1,500-strong crowd. Arthur hit the second ball he faced high in the air, but it was grassed. It did not matter, for he was soon caught by Matthew Hervey (off Antill, of course) for a duck.

McDowall walked out to join Tabart. However hard Antill and Brodie tried, they could not separate them. In the end the hosts won by three wickets, Tabart remaining unbeaten on 15 and McDowall on 4. In the second innings, too, there were 5 extras (3 byes, 2 leg-byes); a more competent wicketkeeper would probably have ensured a different result.

The first First-Class match on Australian soil was one both teams could certainly be proud of. The media lauded the quality of cricket, especially fielding. Launceston Examiner reported: “The fielding on both sides was first-rate: where all did so well remark is hardly needed; but justice compels us to say that the fielding of the gentlemen from the south of the island — Messrs Marshall, Westbrook, and Tabart, was the admiration of everyone on the ground.”

They added: “The game throughout was marked by the most gentlemanly feeling and good humour, and reflects great credit upon all. We were especially delighted that the spectators refrained from clapping or shouting on the fall of a rival wicket, or a rare stroke from our own.”

Exactly why the spectators did not cheer the fall of a rival wicket is not quite clear. It would perhaps have been a gesture as generous to laud both sides.

They concluded: “We think the history of cricket can furnish no parallel to the spirit displayed by the Victorians in leaving their homes and professions, and undertaking a sea voyage of some hundreds of miles (no light matter), for the purpose of playing a friendly game, and also, as we believe, promoting an increased love for cricket in this island.”

Indeed.

On Thursday, the day after the match ended, the Victorians played cricket at the local college. A ball was arranged that night at Cornwall Hotel to honour the guests. It was attended by the Who’s Who of Launceston.

When the tourists left for the mainland by SS Shamrock soon afterwards (along with “a heavy load of apples, horses, plums, rams, and opossum rugs)”, a return match had already been promised.

Back at Melbourne

 On return, the Victorians praised the quality of cricket in Tasmania whole-heartedly. To quote The Argus, they admitted that they were “well entertained and well beaten”.

An unnamed cricketer from the Victorian XI wrote Editor of The Melbourne Morning Herald on February 20: “I take this opportunity of expressing my own impressions, and those as I believe of our whole party, in your widely spread columns. The words of an eloquent spokesman, previous to our leaving the Launceston wharf, well expressed the feelings with which we quitted the shore of our able antagonists and hospitable entertainers. I however avail myself of this means of recording by a more permanent, if less impressive medium, how much I, and I am certain my fellow cricketers and other companions, have appreciated and enjoyed our visit.”

What followed?

The Vandemonians toured Victoria the following season and lost by 61 runs at South Yarra Ground. Victoria crossed Bass Strait again the following season. In 1855-56 New South Wales became the third team to play inter-colonial matches, at MCG.

Victoria, led by Wills (cousin of Astill, remember?), brought a round-arm fast bowler called Gideon Elliott in 1857-58, who took a ridiculous 9 for 2 in the first innings to bowl out Tasmania (the name had changed in 1856) for 33 at Launceston. They never recovered, and lost by an innings.

Note: Elliott’s 9 for 2 remain the cheapest 9-wicket haul in history.

The sides then played at Hobart for the first time, and once again Elliott (3 for 19 and 3 for 6) and Willis (6 for 25 and 6 for 10) prevailed: the hosts were bowled out for 51 and 25.

Following the massive defeats, Tasmania faded away from inter-colonial matches. They did not get to play till 1868-69, and host till 1872-73. South Australia joined the fray in 1877-78, and Western Australia and Queensland in 1892-93.

Sheffield Shield started the same year with Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia as the only three participants. Queensland had to wait till 1926-27, Western Australia till 1947-48, and Tasmania, well, till 1977-78.

During the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2015, a cricket memorabilia display was held at Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. The display boasted of, among other things, Charles Eady’s pads and Ricky Ponting’s bat, and was fittingly called 164 Not Out to commemorate the anniversary.

The firsts

A list of firsts (in First-Class cricket on Australian soil), recorded during the match, may come handy for statisticians.

First to…

Person

Value

Team

Host a match

Launceston Racecourse

Win a toss

John Marshall

Tasmania

Bowl a ball

William Henty

Tasmania

Face a ball

Duncan Cooper

Victoria

Hit a four

Thomas Hamilton

Victoria

Hit a five

Walter Westbrook

Tasmania

Get out

Duncan Cooper

Victoria

Get bowled

Duncan Cooper

Victoria

Get caught

William Philpott

Victoria

Get stumped

Thomas Antill

Victoria

Get run out

Charles Lister

Victoria

Get caught & bowled

John Marshall

Tasmania

Get LBW

Thomas Hamilton

Victoria

Take a wicket

Robert McDowall

Tasmania

Take a catch

George Maddox

Tasmania

Effect a stumping

John Marshall

Tasmania

Take 5WI

Robert McDowall

5/27

Tasmania

Take 6WI/7WI

Thomas Antill

7/33

Victoria

Take 10WM

Thomas Antill

13/52

Victoria

Score 20

Gervase du Croz

27

Tasmania

Score 30

Thomas Hamilton

35

Victoria

Score a duck

Thomas Antill

Victoria

Note: In the above table, Victoria stands for Port Philip, Victoria, and Tasmania stands for Van Diemen’s Land.

Brief scores:

Port Phillip, Victoria 82 (William Henty 4 for 52, Robert McDowall 5 for 27) and 57 (William Henty 5 for 26, Robert McDowall 3 for 21) lost to Van Diemen’s Land/Tasmania 104 (Thomas Hamilton 3 for 24, Thomas Antill 7 for 33) and 37 for 7 (Thomas Antill 6 for 19) by 3 wickets.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)