Robert Poore: A sporting Hussar

Robert Poore retired as Brigadier-General from the British Army. He played Test cricket for South Africa, for the Europeans in India, and scored the first triple-hundred for Hampshire.

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Robert Poore (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
Robert Poore (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

“There is no modern encyclopaedia to which the inexperienced man, who seeks guidance in the practice of various British sports and pastimes, can turn for information”. — The Duke of Beaufort.

Perhaps one should begin this narrative with Captain Henry Charles FitzRoy Somerset, 8th Duke of Beaufort KGPCDL, styled Earl of Glamorgan until 1835 and Marquess of Worcester from 1835 to 1853, a British Peer, soldier, and politician. Among the many facets of his character was his love for sport. He felt, however, that while the average Englishman enjoys his sport, there seemed to be a lack of proper documentation that could be used as a template by a tyro willing to learn the nuances of any specific sport or pastime. Not one to let the matter rest, the Duke began to conceptualise a series of books imparting practical advice on the necessary skills and techniques in the various popular sports of the day. He eventually founded the Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes, popularly known as the Badminton Library, in 1885, continuing the process through till 1902.

Dedicated to HRH the Prince of Wales, “one of the best and keenest sportsmen of our time”, the initial collection comprised 32 volumes, each of which was written by a man experienced in the respective game. Volume 10, published in 1888, written primarily by AG Steel, concerned cricket. This volume was later upgraded and republished in 1920.

The second thread of the story concerns the “saucy seventh”, as the 7th Queen’s Own Light Dragoons, whowere renamed Hussars on December 25, 1807, came to be known, when the Prince Regent sanctioned “that the Regiments of Light Dragoons be permitted to be clothed and equipped as Regiments of Hussars.” The legend of the 7th Hussars says that the title ‘Hussar’ was added at the end the year but only in brackets. It was not until 1861 that the words ‘Light Dragoons’ disappeared completely from the title.

The third strand takes us to Carysforth House, Blackrock, Dublin, where Major Robert Poore, late of the 8th Hussars, and his wife Juliana Benita (daughter of Rear Admiral Sir Armar Lowry Corry, KCB) celebrated the birth of their eldest son on March 20, 1860. The child was christened Robert Montagu, but was usually referred to as Bertie.

Coming from a family with strong military roots, his father, Major Poore, having been awarded the Victoria Cross for his service during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, Bertie had a vigorous and privileged childhood, being introduced to horse riding almost as soon as he could walk, and being sent out for cross-country runs from about the age of five. He was trained in boxing, rifle shooting and sword exercises from a relatively early age, his father being a firm believer in the virtues of the ‘manly’ pastimes. Bertie’s formal academic education was at Cheam School.

He also had home coaching from a series of private tutors, both in England and in Paris, where his father had been posted, to prepare him for the Preliminary Examination for the Army. He finally cleared the tests in 1884. Mainly influenced by his father, 20-year-old Bertie was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion of the 62nd Wiltshire Regiment on April 28, 1886. He was transferred to the 7th Hussars as Lieutenant on October 13, served in India from 1886 to 1895, and was ADC to Lord Harris, then Governor of Bombay, from 1892 to 1895.

During his time in India Bertie Poore developed an interest in cricket, never having had any previous indoctrination in the sport. He learnt the basic laws and techniques of the game from his diligent perusal of the Steel’s Badminton Book on cricket, as mentioned above, and from his keen observations of the game being played in the subcontinent. Back home temporarily on furlough, he utilised his newfound knowledge of the game by playing in 5 Second-Class matches for Wiltshire in 1888 and 1889 without being able to do much justice to his largely theoretically acquired knowledge about the game.

Yet, somewhere deep down in his soul, cricket seems to have struck a primal chord that inspired him to seek higher honours in the game. In 1892, the 7th Hussars moved to the Bombay Presidency. On Aug 26, 1892, aged 32, Poore made his first foray into senior-level cricket, turning out for Europeans against Parsees at the Gymkhana Ground in the Bombay Presidency Match of 1892-93. Perhaps a little of the historical background of the match may be indicated here.

As the keen student of cricket history would bewell aware, the Parsees were the first Indian community to take seriously to cricket, touring England in 1886 and 1888. Gradually acquiring sound cricketing skills, they soon arrived at the stage when they vanquished GF Vernon’s XI in 1889-90. There were two British Gymkhanas in India at the time, at Bombay and at Poona. Things gradually came to such a pass that the individual British Gymkhanas soon began to find the Parsees quite a handful on the cricket field. Trying to preserve their supremacy and dignity as the progenitors of the game, they felt it prudent to merge their two Gymkhanas to form a combined team called the Europeans, and to challenge the Parsees to a match that was to be later designated as the Presidency Match. It was to be the first of a long series of games between the adversaries, and the matches would be attributed First-Class status retrospectively.

The Bombay encounter between the Parsees and the Europeans in August 1892 was an epochal one for Indian cricket, being designated as the first First-Class match ever played on Indian soil. Unfortunately, persistent rain washed out the second (and last) day’s play to leave the game undecided. Played with 5-ball overs, the match saw as many as nineteen men make their First-Class debuts, eight for Europeans and the entire Parsee team. The Europeans were dismissed for 104; for the Parsees, MD Kanga captured 4 for 30 and Nasarvanji Bapasola 3 for 12. Poore managed just 7.

The Parsees won the return game against the Europeans at Poona from 19 Sep/1892 by 3 wickets. The Europeans, under new skipper John Trask, were dismissed for 108, Poore scoring 11. Skipper ME Pavri (3 for 25) and RE Modi (3 for 20) did most of the damage. In reply, the home team were all out for 101, Ernest Raikes picking up 7 for 34. Then the off-breaks of Bapasola (3 for 9) and the left-arm pace of Dinshaw Writer (4 for 17) disposed of the Europeans for a mere 79. Needing 87, the Parsees got home for the loss of 7 wickets.

Between 1892 for 93 and 1913 for 14, the 6’4” and grandly moustachioed Bertie Poore played 55 First-Class matches, scoring 3,441 runs with a highest of 304 and a very creditable average of 38.66 in the days of uncovered wickets. He had 11 centuries and 12 fifties, and held 38 catches. He also captured 13 wickets.

Poore scored his first fifty (57) against the Parsees at Poona in 1894-95, the match being played in aid of the Red Cross Fund. He followed that up with his maiden century (100*) against the same opponents at Bombay in 1895. Meanwhile, his military career saw him being posted to South Africa, where he served with great distinction from 1895 to 1905, particularly in the Matabele (1896) and Mashonaland (1897) campaigns. His heroic deeds were mentioned in Despatches (London Gazette, February 1898), and he was promoted to Captain in July 1896, and was awarded the Brevet of Major in May 1898.

Amidst the backdrop of war and political unrest in South Africa, eleven members of the third Test-playing team of Englishmen to South Africa, on board the Union steamer Guelph anchored at Cape Town on December 22, 1895. Three other members of the team, skipper Lord Hawke, Tim O’Brien, and Herbie Hewett of Somerset, reached Cape Town five days later. This English tour was made possible by the Scottish emigrant and millionaire James Logan, who arranged and financed the entire venture. The timing of the tour was perhaps not quite appropriate in hindsight, the infamous Jameson Raid taking place on New Year Eve even as the first game of the tour was being played.

Though disrupted considerably by non-cricketing, mainly political, reasons, the tour comprised 19 games, only 4 of them being of First-Class status. Of these, 3 were designated Test matches. There was a logistical problem for England when Hewitt returned to England after playing only 6 of the early games, without any replacement player being sent out.

Poore had come out to South Africa in October 1895, and Natal Witness was quick to report that “he has been described as the ‘second Grace’.” After a mere six weeks of local cricket, Poore did his reputation no harm by scoring 625 runs in 8 innings against the available bowling. Suitably impressed, Natal Witness commented: “There is no doubt in Lieut. Poore we have an exponent of the batsman’s art such as we rarely see.”

Poore, who had already impressed Hawke by scoring 112 for a Natal XV against the visitors at Pietermaritzburg, and who had later scored 107*to win a match for Natal against the tourists, was on a year’s service in Natal at the time, and Hawke approached him to fill in the vacancy in the English team caused by the departure of Hewitt. The South African Cricket Association, however, took exception to this and protested vehemently against this attempt to woo away a man who was regarded as being qualified, on the strength of his military posting, to represent South Africa in the series. In the end, Poore turned out for South Africa in all 3 Tests. Poore was one of South Africa’s seven debutants.

The 47th Test match in history began at St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth with O’Brien, in his first match as skipper, winning the toss and, somewhat inexplicably, coming out to bat himself with George Lohmann as his partner. The ploy of using Lohmann to launch the innings turned out to be ill-advised when he was back before the scoreboard had registered any runs to England’s credit. CB Fry scored 43 while debutant Bonnor Middleton took 5 for 64. The home first innings was over for 93. Only four men reached double figures, including Poore (11). Lohmann was in his elements, picking up 7 for 38, bowling unchanged. England then realised 226, with erstwhile Australian Test cricketer Sammy Woods scoring 53 and Middleton picking up 4 for 66, South Africa were set 319.

Alas, the home team was destined to produce the lowest team total in history till then by being all out for 30, only one man being in double figures, Poore, with 10. Lohmann surpassed his first innings figures with 8 for 7, again bowling unchanged. This included a hat-trick with the wickets of Fred Cook, Middleton, and Joseph Willoughby, the hat-trick ending the game. This was the fourth hat-trick in Test history and the third by an England  bowler. England won by 288 runs.

This match was witness to an unparalleled event in Test history, with Willoughby and Lohmann dismissing one another for pairs in the match. As an aside, it may be mentioned here that South Africa were to blot their copybook once again against England at Edgbaston in 1924, by being dismissed a second time for 30.

The second Test began at Old Wanderers, Johannesburg on a dramatic note. When Harris and his men arrived at the venue, he found the club buildings sheltering several blast injury survivors from a dynamite explosion nearby. Maintaining his sang-froid under the unusual circumstances, Harris, in charge of the team for the first time, won the toss and England batted first. Despite both openers being back in the pavilion by the time the total was 8, England scored 482, with Tom Hayward scoring 122. Debutant George Rowe had figures of 5 for 115 and Jimmy Sinclair 4 for 118.

South Africa were all out for 151. Lohmann (9 for 28) was again the destroyer. Poore (20) and Sinclair (40) shared the largest partnership of the innings, a second-wicket stand of 51 in 45 minutes. The third day saw the home team dismissed for 134. Chris Heseltine took 5 for 38, while Lohmann added 3 more wickets to his match tally. Poore scored 10, and England won the contest by an innings and 197 runs.

At Newlands, Cape Town, debutant Alfred Richards spun the coin for South Africa along with Harris, the latter winning the toss and sending the hosts in. The South Africans were dismissed for 115. This time Lohmann’s figures read 7 for 42. Poore managed 17. England were all out for 265, Ledger Hill duly completing his century (124). The South African second innings effort was almost a copy of the first as they were bowled out for 117, Hill returning enviable figures of 8-4-8-4. England won by an innings and 33 runs. Playing his last Test, Poore scored 8.

Bertie Poore, then, played 3 Tests in all, scoring 76 from his 6 innings with a highest of 20 and an average of 12.67. His lone wicket cost him 4.

Life was not all fun and games for the career of soldier Robert Poore. He fought for England in the Boer War from October 1899 to May 1902, first with the Military Mounted Police till November 1899, and later as Provost-Marshall, seeing action in Orange Free State and the Transvaal. He won several Military awards in these campaigns, and was mentioned in despatches back home. London Gazette of April 19, 1901 notified his being created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) as follows: “Robert Montagu Poore, Captain and Brevet Major, 7th Hussars. In recognition of services during the recent operations in South Africa.”

During his time in South Africa, Poore played a considerable amount of Army cricket, more than justifying the reputation as a batsman that he had been heralded with.

Meanwhile, back in England, he played 3 matches for MCC in 1898 and began his career in county cricket with Hampshire against Somerset at Bath the same season. He carried his bat for 49 in the Hampshire first innings total of 97. This was the third instance of a man carrying his bat for Hampshire.

On a personal note, Poore married Lady Flora Douglas Hamilton, daughter of Capt. Charles Henry Douglas Hamilton and sister of Alfred Douglas Hamilton, the 13th Duke of Hamilton, on September 29, 1898.

Poore’s alliance with Hampshire stretched from 1898 to 1906, and 36 of his total of 55 First-Class matches were played under the banner of the club that had been founded in 1863. His performances for his county projected him into the limelight of the Golden Age of English Cricket, a situation that would have been quite unthinkable when he had first laid his hands on the Badminton Book of cricket. For them he scored 2,819 runs at 47.77.

His annus mirabilis was 1899, and his feats for his county in the 9 championship matches he played in the season are still spoken of with awe and respect. His sequence of scores for Hampshire in the season was 104, 119*, 111, 40, 11, 175, 39*, 304, 36, 0*, 122, 17, 79, 53*, 157, and 32. In 16 Championship innings for Hampshire he scored 1,399 at a Bradmanesque average of 116.58. His figures included 7 centuries and 2 fifties. In addition to these 9 games, Poore also represented Hampshire against the visiting Australians, scoring 29 and 71, and boosting his aggregate for his county to 1,499 ru.

In Empire & Cricket: The South African Experience 1884 – 1914, editors, Bruce Murray and Goolam Vahed have elaborated on the life and times on Poore. Speaking of his various sporting achievements of 1899, they recount his exploits in the early June when he had made the winning score in the Inter-Regimental polo tournament at Hurlingham, and had been awarded Best Man at Arms (Mounted Events) at the Royal Naval and Military Tournament of swordsmanship at the Agricultural Hall in Islington (he was to win the award for four consecutive years that he had competed in the event, 1898, 1899, 1906, and 1907). On the cricket field, he scored of 104 and 119* against Somerset (becoming the first ever Hampshire man to score a century in each innings in First-Class cricket), followed by 111 against Lancashire, making it 3 centuries in consecutive innings. He rounded off the month with 175 and 39* against Surrey, a team described by Sporting Chronicle as being “well-nigh perfect.” He could do no wrong in 1899, and excelled at all the sports he participated in, adding victories in tennis and racquets championships to his impressive profile, besides enjoying a well-deserved reputation of being one of the finest horsemen of his time.

It seems that Poore was not satisfied with his twin centuries against Somerset, however, and achieved the pinnacle of his cricketing fame against the same opponents in the return match at Taunton. Somerset put up a respectable 315. Towards the end of the first day, Hampshire were on shaky ground with their total reading 62 for 4. No. 6 Tom Soar then joined Poore.

The overnight pair put up a fifth-wicket stand of 196 runs before Soar (95) fell at 258. Hampshire skipper Major Teddy Wynyard joined Poore at the wicket at this point. The next wicket fell at the end of the second day on the total of 669, the two Majors having added 411 for the sixth wicket. The man dismissed was the Wynyard, for 225. Poore (304, with 45 fours, the first triple-century for Hampshire) was the next to go, at 670. The innings was declared at 672 for 7.

Perhaps overwhelmed by the majesty of the Hampshire batting, Somerset were dismissed for 206, conceding victory by an innings and 151 runs, Wynyard picking up 3 for 18 in 10 overs. The partnership of 411 between Poore and Wynyard remains a Hampshire record for the sixth wicket, and was the first instance of a 400-run partnership for the sixth wicket in First-Class cricket. Hampshire’s only higher partnership has been 523, for the third wicket, between Michael Carberry (300*) and Neil McKenzie (237) against Yorkshire at Southampton in 2011. His 304 raised the speculation in England that he would surely be selected to play against the 1899 Australians, and there was public incredulity when he was not.

Wisden named Robert Poore as one of their Five Cricketers of the Year in 1900 following his wonderful season in 1899, when he was in his 34th year, at an age when most ‘gentlemen’ cricketers like him would have given up First-Class cricket and would have been thinking of taking up some other occupation. Poore became the first Irishman to be selected for this honour. In the citation, Wisden went on to say: “He was, however, later than most men in taking seriously to the game, and in an interview with him, which appeared in Cricket during the autumn, it was stated that in order to make up for lost time he studied the Badminton Book as thoroughly as though he had had to get it up for an examination. While he was thus learning the theory of the game in all its branches he was getting plenty of practical experience on Indian cricket grounds.”

Having reached the zenith of his career with his 304 against Somerset, Poore’s performances gradually, and somewhat inexplicably, went into a gradual decline, save for 129 against Sussex in 1906. The career soldier became busy with his military duties, principally in South Africa. He did not lose all contact with English cricket, being updated by his wife through the mail from time to time. He also maintained a long correspondence with ‘Jungly’ Greig, whom he had recommended to the Hampshire committee in 1900.

Poore’s cricket career ended where it had begun, in India, for Europeans against Parsees at Poona from in 1912. He scored 76 and 34 in a match that Parsees won by 6 wickets despite 142 by captain Greig. By this time, he was in his 54th year and his joints were, perhaps, stiffer and his movements more laboured. His scores in his last match were 4 and 1, and the Parsees won the game rather easily by an innings and 29 runs.

While his magic on the cricket field was on the wane, Poore’s military status was on the rise. On June 26, 1911, he was elevated to the post of Commanding Officer of the 7th Hussars, the regiment he had joined as a lowly 2nd Lieutenant in 1886. He returned to India along with his regiment in 1911 with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was to be at the helm of his regiment till 1915. The outbreak of World War I saw him in action with his men and was promoted to Colonel in December 1914, followed by Temporary Brigadier-General in October 1915. He also commanded the Rani Jhansi Brigade in India from 1915 to 1919.

Regularly mentioned in despatches, Poore was created a Companion of the Indian Empire in the Birthday Honours of 1918. He returned to England in 1920 and retired from the army in 1921 as Brigadier-General. He is reported to have settled down to a very active retired life, playing club cricket till 1936 and developing into a more than decent golfer. Brigadier-General Robert Montagu Pore passed away on July 14, 1938 at Bournemouth, Hampshire, respected by all.

During his playing career and in his retirement, Poore had acquired the reputation of being singularly eccentric, one of his idiosyncrasies being his insistence of wearing a pith helmet in all weathers while fielding. Indeed, to go by the opinion of AA Thomson, “of all the people in the history of the game he seems to stand for the Eccentric Ideal.”

Autocratic and acerbic by nature, he is said to have had the habit of being highly opinionated on most issues. A story is told of a young and deferential cricketer soliciting his advice on the best method of tackling the express bowling of Harold Larwood. He is reputed have bellowed, “Charge him, sah! Fix your bayonet and charge him!”

For valedictory comments on the impact of Poore, as a military man and cricketer, on the social structure of the times, and on the cricket fields that he had graced, let us again seek the opinion of Murray and Vahed, who feel that Poore may have been the “first Imperial sporting hero.” They feel that “he carried the appellation of the ‘Grace of the Army’ at a time when there was no greater compliment.” Drewy Stoddart had suggested that “when he returned to South Africa on service, he was the imperial epitome of the sportsman as moral exemplar.”

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