Arthur Edward Jeune Collins (left) and a plaque at Clifton College honouring his epic feat. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
Arthur Edward Jeune Collins (left) and a plaque at Clifton College honouring his epic feat. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

On June 27, 1899, a 13-year old orphan schoolboy’s batting marathon ended when the last man was out, leaving him unbeaten on 628. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the epic innings of AEJ Collins that stood as the highest recorded score in any grade of cricket till Pranav Dhanawade went past him, in 2016.

The day the marathon ended

Clifton College always had a strong cricketing connection. Not only did WG Grace score as many as 13 of his hundreds for Gloucestershire on the college grounds, he also sent his sons there to complete their education.

However, when the then highest-ever innings in any cricket was recorded here, it was not scripted by any of the Grace scions, but by a 13-year old orphan schoolboy. Arthur Edward Jeune Collins was incidentally born in Hazaribagh, India. The son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service, by the time he started at Clifton in 1897, he had lost his parents.

Known to be of reserved nature, he was short, stocky, fair-haired and pale. According to the cricketing wisdom of the institution, he was regarded as talented, but likely to fall short of the highest standards as a cricketer because of his recklessness at the crease.

Yet, captaining Clark’s House against North Town, Collins opened the innings on June 22, 1899, and carried his bat through four playing days and a weekend, ending on June 27 with an unbeaten 628 out of a total of 836.

Curious conditions

True, the game was played on Clifton’s Junior School field, mainly used for the under-14 matches. The playing area was bizarre, only 60 yards long. The boundary on one side was a wall 70 yards away. On the other side, the field sloped away towards a sanatorium in the distance. All hits down the hill had to be run. The hits that reached the boundaries on the other three sides earned only two runs. Besides, the game was played during scheduled break hours on regular school days. But, irrespective of the conditions, 628 takes some scoring.

On the first day, Collins won the toss, and in only 150 minutes, raced to 200 not out. It is reported that he was dropped at 50, 100 and 140, although the roundness of the scores at those critical junctures makes the accuracy of the documentation dubious.

When he resumed the following afternoon, the news of his progress had already travelled far, and many spectators busy watching the battle between the College and the Old Cliftonians on College Close, began to assemble in the junior field. Reporters also got wind of something important in the making. Accordingly, Bristol Evening News noted that Collins hit the ball “into Guthrie Road, sometimes into the churchyard, and not infrequently sending the ball away down towards the sanatorium for five or six.”

The fives and the sixes were all run.

At close on Friday — some five hours after he had started — he was unbeaten on 509, having overtaken Andrew Stoddart’s world-record score of 485 for Hampstead versus The Stoics in 1886. The 309 scored in a day was something that Don Bradman would repeat at Headingley 31 years later, although in the more sacrosanct conditions of a Test match. The runs had come at the rollicking rate of two a minute.

No breakthrough after the break

This was followed by a weekend break which Collins spent with his guardians at Tavistock, Devon.

On Monday, the game got under way at 12.30. Many thronged to the ground even though Clark’s House was already 8 down. In the 55 minutes of play, Collins continued to entertain, moving on to 598 after being dropped again at 556. The day ended at 804 for 9. Tom Redfern, the No. 11, had managed to hang on.

The fourth day’s play, on June 27, again started at half past 12, but the hours were extended to accelerate the match to a finish. Public interest had grown to massive levels and several serious members of the media had made their ways to the ground. In the school, classes were forgotten. Collins now shifted gears to “downright reckless” as he hit out, and was dropped twice more — in the slips on 605 and at square leg on 619. The merciless slaughter was finally brought to an end when Redfern was caught at point by the youngest player on the field, Fuller-Eberle. The two had put on 138 for the final wicket.

In all, Collins batted 6 hours 45 minutes, hit a six, 4 fives, 31 fours, 33 threes, 146 twos and 87 singles. The scorebook still adorns the pavilion at Clifton, but the exactness of the figures is somewhat unconfirmed. Edward Peglar, one of the scorers, said, “the score was substantially correct — 628 plus or minus 20, shall we say.”

The other scorer was JW Hall, and in one of the quaint coincidences of cricket, his father had batted with the majestically named classics scholar and Test cricketer Edward Ferdinando Sutton Tylecote on the same college grounds in 1868 when the latter had set the then world-record score of 404 not out. In 1938, Hall wrote a letter to the Times recalling: “The bowling probably deserved all the lordly contempt with which Collins treated it, sending a considerable number of pulls full pitch over the fives courts into the swimming baths to the danger of the occupants.”

Collins, however, was not done yet. He opened the bowling as well, and took 7 for 33 and 4 for 30, as North Town were bundled for 87 and 61, losing by an innings and 688 runs.

Long innings and short life

The nearest anyone has ever come to beating the score was just two years down the line, when Charles Eady, playing for Break-o’-Day against Wellington at Hobart in March 1902, scored 566 in under 8 hours.

Unlike Stoddard and Eady, who played the game at the highest level, including once against each other in the Lord’s Test of 1896, Collins never managed to graduate into First-Class cricket.

The innings propelled him into instant fame, making him as widely known as possible in 1899. However, he quickly came back into the realm of the cricketing mortals.

He remained a good cricketer who once played at Lord’s for the Royal Engineers against Royal Artillery in 1912, scoring 58 and 36. Indeed, after joining the army in 1902, he played cricket quite regularly.

Yet, the several lives that he had enjoyed during his colossal knock did not get metaphorically transferred into his own life. Within a few months of getting married, he became one of the first men to leave to fight in France during the First World War. Lieutenant Collins was killed in action in November 1914, at the tender age of 29.

Brief scores:

Clark’s House Junior 836 (AEJ Collins 628, Whittey 42; AH Crew 4 for 165, Monteath 3 for 129) beat North Town Juniors 87 (AEJ Collins 7 for 33) and 61 (AEJ Collins 4 for 30, Sheriff 4 wickets) by an innings and 688 runs.

(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)