Lord Hawke’s team to South Africa, 1895-96. Back (from left): Ted Tyler, Tim O'Brien, Audley Miller, Tom Hayward, George Lohmann.Middle (from left): CBFry, JamesLogan, Lord Hawke, Charles Wright, Christopher Heseltine, Ledger Hill. Front (from left): Sammy Woods, Hugh Bromley-Davenport, Harry Butt © Getty Images
Lord Hawke’s team to South Africa, 1895-96. Back (from left): Ted Tyler, Tim O’Brien, Audley Miller, Tom Hayward, George Lohmann.Middle (from left): CBFry, JamesLogan, Lord Hawke, Charles Wright, Christopher Heseltine, Ledger Hill. Front (from left): Sammy Woods, Hugh Bromley-Davenport, Harry Butt © Getty Images

January 2, 1896. As the English cricketers under Lord Hawke asserted their superiority on a Cape Colony side at Newlands, the infamous Jameson Raid was carried out on Johannesburg. Arunabha Sengupta describes the harrowing experiences of the touring cricketers in highly charged politically combustible circumstances.

The ship’s sinking

It was a tour doomed from the very start.

The relentless efforts and finances of James Logan had made the visit of Lord Hawke’s men possible. This stocky Scottish railwayman had not only bankrolled it, he had carefully planned the itinerary.

Logan, according to CB Fry, was the possessor ofa long, rectangular face and a pugnacious yellow moustache, with a blend of genial hospitality, business-like energy and latent pugnacity. Having made his fortune in the South Africa, Logan ran his business empire from his seat in Karoo Riding, and poured his enthusiasm into cricket. He heavily financed the fledgling cricketing nation’s initial forays into the international game.

The founder of the town Matjesfontein, Logan managed to coax Lord Hawke to winter in South Africa, with a team of formidable strength. The great Surrey bowler GeorgeLohmann had been suffering for long with tuberculosis, when he had come to the warmer climes of South Africa on medical advice. Logan had provided Lohmann with shelter and means, appointing him manager of his farms. Now, Lohmann acted as the player-manager of the tour as a strong English side, including Fry, Hugh Bromley-Davenport, Sammy Woods and professionals of the quality of Tom Hayward, sailed for the southern subcontinent.

Yet, for all the impeccable preparation, complications rose early. The main body of the party sailed from Southampton on the Union Line steamer Guelphwhile Lord Hawke and professionals Herbie Hewett and Tim O’Brien followed a week later on the Moor. Five days away from Cape Town, a cylinder blew off in the boiler. A morose faced O’Brien roused Hewett from deep slumber and said, “The ship’s sinking. Which boat are you going in? The skipper’s?”

The result of this mishap was that the three trailing cricketers had to celebrate Christmas on the ship and arrived too late to play in the first tour match. The rest of the team, however, were welcomed in a great ceremony by the mayor Mr Attwell, and Logan’s political ally Colonel Schermbrucker entertained them lavishly as they played their first match against Western Province at Newlands.

But, plenty of things were taking place off the field.

Brewing trouble

Even as Hawke, Hewett and O’Brien finally reached Cape Town, Dr Leander Starr Jameson was getting restless. This Colonial politician had his reasons.

Cecil Rhodes, the millionaire who lent his name to Rhodesia, was then thePrime Minister of Cape Colony. In the recent past, Rhodes had assured Jameson that the Uitlandersin Johannesburg— the expatriate migrant workers—were ready to rebel against the Boer government of Paul Kruger. Alfred Beit, the other millionaire who co-founded the Chartered Company with Rhodes, had the same opinion.

Jameson had more than four hundred Rhodesian mounted police ready at Pitsani, part of the Bechuanaland Protectorate. All the horsemen belonged to the Chartered Company that administered the colony of Rhodesia for the Crown. Additionally he had collected another 120 volunteers 25 miles away from Mafeking, just about within the borders of Cape Colony. If one counted the Cape Coloured boys who led the spare horses, the number of the force amounted to 600.

In 1892, Jameson and the Rhodesian troops had crushed the 6,000 Matabeles with just 600 men. He was confident that with help from the rebel Uitlanders inside Transvaal, they could topple the Boer army. There were furthermore six Maxim machine guns, two 7-pounder mountain guns and a 12 and a half pounder field piece to blow the resistance to bits. This was going to be much easier than the Matabele. Yet, the coded telegrams that arrived from Johannesburg told him that the reforming Uitlanders were not ready.

Four months ago, a secret letter from Rhodes to Beit had said that Johannesburg was ready. The millionaires had hatched a plot with Jameson. And now, Jameson was all set, itching to go, while the messages deterred him.

Runs, race and raid

Having landed in Cape Town, Lord Hawke played a one-innings game against Western Province. Aided by the sea legs of most of the tourists, the local side won a closely fought encounter. After the game the team proceeded to Groote Schuur, the great estate of Cecil Rhodes. And on that property, previously owned by the Dutch East India Company, Hawke and his team were lavishly entertained.

While the party was going on, the bulletin arrived that Jameson had thrown caution to wind and had marched to Johannesburg in an attempt to oust President Kruger. The infamous Jameson Raid had been set in motion.

In that tense political climate, on New Year’s Day 1896, Hawke’s men took field at Newlands and played the Cape Colony XIII. The Colony men had no clue about the slow lobs of Ledger Hill, and the young Hampshire man claimed 6 wickets for just 3 runs. After the hosts had been bowled out for 118, Hayward and Fry proceededto bat magnificently.

The second morning saw Fry extend his score to 108. That very same day, Jameson’s column halted close to a small whitewashed farm south of a kopje called Doornkop in the brown, grassy hills of the Rand. They had ridden 170 miles into Transvaal, and there had been no halt for sleep. And they found out that Johannesburg was indeed not ready for a revolution hatched from within. No help came their way. Additionally, the Boers had got wind of them long back.

Jameson’s men had hacked off the Boer telegraph wire at Malmani, but it had been too late. Some said later that the drunk soldiers had instead cut the fence wire. The Boers had been dogging their tail all through, picking off the stragglers. All the lives lost till now had been British. This morning, Jameson sent the last message to Johannesburg.

That was also the day Lord Hawke arranged what he called one of the most interesting races of his life.

Audley Miller, the Wiltshire amateur, ‘thought he could lick Hawke’s head off in hundred metres’. Hawke thought he could ‘wipe the floor with Miller, because he had not forgotten his Eton running days.’  The race was set to take place after stumps were drawn. But, faced with a 287 run deficit, the local side batted somewhat better in the second innings. It required an eight-wicket haul by Lohmann to dismiss them, and even then play carried on into the following day. Miller, who was not playing in the match and instead standing as umpire, was at a clear advantage as Hawke spent hours in the field. Hence, in spite of demurring of Miller, the race was postponed from the second evening to the third morning of the match.

During the second day, bulletins arrived confirming that the Jameson raid was over. Inspector Cazalet had been hit in the chest, Major Coventry in the spine, Captain Barry was dying. Someone had raised a white flag, not a proper one but the best that could be managed. It was made from the white apron of an African servant girl. The firing had ceased and the Boers had got up from the ground all around them. Some were dressed in their Sunday best, having joined the skirmish right after the New Year celebrations. The British soldiers had been disarmed and Jameson had been led away in a cart to the gaol in Pretoria. The hands of Cecil Rhodes and the British were clearly out in the open.

Nevertheless, Hawke raced Miller the following morning, at half-past ten. Fry, the athlete, started the race with a regulation pistol. Hawke won, and Miller went away muttering, “Well, no matter. You are the bally slowest runner I have ever seen chasing a ball.” Victory in the match was achieved by an innings and 125 runs.

And then it was all uncertainty.

The capture of Dr Jameson at the end of the Raid. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The capture of Dr Jameson at the end of the Raid. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Of Boer Commandos and gifted bats

The following match was scheduled in Johannesburg, in the heart of Boer-land. As theCape Argusput it:

“There is considerable doubt about the future movement of Lord Hawke’s team. It was intended that they should proceed to Matjesfontein and play a match against a local 22, Mr Logan and the professionals having already proceeded there. But it has been found impossible to raise a team, and Mr Logan with the professionals have [sic] gone to Kimberley. Lord Hawke, with the remainder of the team, remain [sic] in Cape Town, until arrangements for the continuance of the tour are completed. In the event of affairs in the Transvaal settling down, they will proceed to Pretoria; otherwise they will proceed to Maritzburg, a fixture for the 17 having been arranged provisionally.”

Hawke’s men found themselves cooling their heels for ten days in Cape Town, while wild rumours circulated all around them. Rhodes tried his utmost to diffuse the situation. Finally, it was decided that they would be sent North as a sort of distraction against the backdrop of political unrest. Fry later noted, “Presently it was deemed useful to send us to Johannesburg as an antidote to the inflamed melancholy of that distant city, then in the throes of not knowing what to do…”

The team boarded the train and set off for the Boer heartland at dusk, and travelled through the night. And in the wee hours of the morning, they came to a halt at the frontier of the Transvaal Republic. Soon, the train was teeming with Boer commandos, armed to the teeth and distinctly unwelcoming.

Hawke’s men were gruffly ordered off the train and their luggage was put through severe inspection. Duties were levied on every item, including cricket equipment. The Irish temper of O’Brien flared dangerously, but Hawke intervened with tact and composure.

There were further problems. Hewett was suspected of carrying a revolver and when asked to submit to being searched he refused point blank. Armed Boer commandos surrounded him, angry words were exchanged, and once again Hawke had to intervene. The diplomatic acumen of the English peer won the day. The offending item was discovered as Hewett’s cylindrical toothbrush bottle rather than a revolver.

Eventually the English cricketers were allowed to resume their journey, but only after bats had been presented to the customs officials.

Party in prison

The arrival in Johannesburg took place only a few hours after another train, this one transporting dynamite for the mining work, had blown up in the station leaving hundreds dead and injured. The Old Wanderers had been converted to a hospital, the Boer artillery was being ranged on the city from commanding heights of the nearby hills; commandos were patrolling the streets.

The legendary financier Abe Bailey had been expected to meet the cricketers at the station, but he could not make it. He had good reason. With several other leading British citizens, Bailey had been imprisoned, given the option of buying his freedom or rotting behind the bars.

In these circumstances, one of the two matches scheduled in the city was called off. Cricketquaintly attributed the cancellation to ‘disturbed times.’

However, on January 13, Lord Hawke’s side did walk out on to the Old Wanderers and take on a Johannesburg XV. As James Coldham notes in Hawke’s biography, “Hawke’s men went about their business with the complacent assurance of the English abroad. They made a virtue of making the best of a bad deal, almost behaving as if there was no problem. If the Boers had no time for them it was their problem, the Boers were miserable beggars, anyway.”

Obviously, the Boers were not too delighted with the Englishmen playing there. Even then, crowds flocked to the ground and £800 as taken at the gate. The match was drawn, with Jimmy Sinclair of the local side hitting his way to 75 and captured 7 wickets to demonstrate his enormous potential.

All the while General Piet Cronje marched through the town with his victorious army, and also attended the game in all his pomp. When the booing of the crowd hinted at potential trouble, Hawke, not having his revolver with him, bolted into the Club.

During the days in Johannesburg, Hawke, O’Brien and Charles Wright also dined with the prisoners at the gaol. The men in the cells included George Farrer, Frank Rhodes, Percy Fitzpatrick and Lionel Phillips.

Cecil Rhodes was also supposed to entertain them, but had to rush away to a Cabinet Council just before the cricketers were scheduled to arrive. But, Hawke and his men did drink a magnificent Cliquot on the occasion.

Nevertheless, it was a relief when the match at Johannesburg came to an end and the party travelled to Pietermaritzburg. After all the tension and political turmoil of Transvaal, it was a soothing change in Natal. Hawke stayed as a guest in the Government House and members of the team were either put up by the Hussars or accommodated in the best hotels.

The England team did return to Johannesburg to play the second Test match of the tour, but that was two months down the line. By then the embers of political frenzy had died down to a great extent.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)