The first English touring team pictured on board ship at Liverpool. William Pickering was one of the organisers of the tour. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
The first English touring team pictured on board ship at Liverpool. William Pickering was one of the organisers of the tour. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In the year 673, a small area of Saxon England was referred to as ‘Sudergeona’ or Southern Region, that was, in effect, a small part of a much larger kingdom encompassing Middlesex to the north of the Thames. It is conjectured that the Saxon term of Sudergeona was the first known reference to one of the smallest Counties in England — Surrey. Years later, an old English term was used to describe the area — ‘Suthrige’, denoting an area south of the Thames, and probably of Middlesex, and the area was recorded in the contemporary archives by that name in 722.

One of the most important historical events of the region occurred on June 15, 1215, when King John signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede (an island on the river Thames), the first written testament recognising the rights of the common man, the Church, and of the upper social classes. The Magna Carta was to serve as the template for the Constitution of the United States of America at a later date.

Sports used to play a big role in the lives of the inhabitants, horse racing, often referred to as the ‘sport of Kings’ being an old pastime of the region, the preferred venues being Epsom, Lingfield Park and Sandown Park. Indeed, the Epsom Derby race has been run on the same course since 1780. Cricket was not far behind in popularity in the history of the county of Surrey. The earliest definite recorded instance of cricket being played in Surrey surfaced on January 17, 1597 by the Julian Calendar (1598 by the present-day Georgian calendar).

During the hearings of a legal case at Guildford, Surrey regarding a parcel of land going back to about 1550, coroner John Derrick had testified to playing ‘creckett’ there as a student with his fellow students of The Royal Grammar School at Guilford around that time, giving rise to the speculation that cricket had been played at Surrey well before 1550. However, the exact date of the origins of the game in the region cannot be ascertained very accurately.

As time went on, cricket began to flourish in Surrey, spreading within the confines of the county and outside, and several ‘important’ and ‘great’ matches were played in the 18th and early 19th centuries, some of which have been documented, to the extent possible, by respected cricket historians, and many tales are still recounted about the great players of the time and their incredible deeds. 

The Pickering family of Clapham, Surrey, trace their ancestry from one Robert Pickering, born in 1575, and supposedly being descended form a kinsman of William the Conqueror. Since that time, there have always been Pickerings in Surrey.

The 8th generation of the family had one son, Edward Rowland Pickering. Grown to man’s estate, he had married Mary Vere on October 15, 1805. The couple were blessed with 11 children, three daughters and eight sons. The seventh son, William Percival, was born October 25, 1819. In due course, William was sent to Eton College where he acquired the nickname of ‘Bull’ to distinguish him from two elder brothers, Edward Hayes and Percival André, both of whom were also at Eton around the same time.

‘Bull’ Pickering was captain of Eton in 1837 to 1838, and matriculated in the Michaelmas term of 1839, being admitted at Pembroke, Cambridge, that year. He then migrated to Trinity Hall in 1840. He took his BA degree in 1843 and MA in 1846, and was called to the Bar from Lincoln’s Inn in 1846.

Pickering won his cricket Blue at Cambridge in 1840 and 1842. Cricket occupied a large slice of his time from his University days onwards, he being one of four brothers to play First-Class cricket, the others being the afore-mentioned Edward Hayes, Percival Andre, and another sibling, James Henry.

Having developed into an amateur right-hand batsman and a round-arm left-arm medium-pace bowler, William is found to have made his debut for Eton against the traditional rivals, Harrow, at Lord’s, in 1834. Harrow won by 13 runs as Pickering scored 0 and 8*.

However, there was a twist in the tale. The match notes state that the game had begun on July 31 but not resumed till August 2, to accommodate another game between Eton and Winchester that had begun on August 1, and also carried over to August 2.

In all, Pickering played 10 games for Eton between 1834 and 1838. These games, however, were all of the ‘Minor’ variety.

William Pickering made his First-Class debut with Cambridge against Oxford at Lord’s in 1840. He opened batting in both innings and scored 12 and 27 in a game Cambridge won by 63 runs.

In a First-Class career spanning 1840 to 1848, William Pickering played 29 matches scoring 445 runs. He had a highest of 51*, his only fifty, and an average of 9.67. He also held 17 catches and took 7 wickets.

During his playing years, Pickering’s fielding was thought to be his forte, and he was regarded for a time as one of the greatest cover-points in the game at a time when, according to Wisden, “the days when fielding was considered of as much importance as batting and bowling.”

Pickering’s Surrey debut was against Kent at Aylesford in 1846. He scored 21 and 2 and held a catch in each innings. The game ended in a draw when rain stopped play halfway through the third afternoon.

1845 proved to be of great significance for Surrey cricket. According to ‘Shrimp’ Leveson Gower, himself a Surrey amateur of note, the members of the famous Montpelier Cricket Club had to vacate their own ground (adjoining the Bee Hive Tavern, Walworth), as some building activity had been planned on the premises.

W Baker, the club’s Treasurer and a fine all-round cricketer and possessed of great charm and influence in the proper circles, succeeded in gaining a 31-year lease on the Kennington Oval from the Otter family, who had themselves had a 99-year lease on the ground from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1835.

In the spring of 1845, the first sod of earth, one of 10,000 such turves that had come from Tooting Common, was ceremoniously laid on the ground. The famous and iconic Kennington Oval had thus begun to take shape in 1845 and was to become the headquarters of Surrey cricket in the coming years.

The first idea of the Surrey County Cricket Club had been mooted in the autumn of 1844, and it was on August 21, 1845 that the Gentlemen of Surrey took on the Players of Surrey. After the game was over, the company had gathered for a celebratory dinner at the Horns Tavern, Kennington. William Ward had been in the Chair. About 100 representatives of various cricket clubs from in and around Surrey had attended on that day and had all consented to the proposal put up by William Denison (destined to become the club’s first Secretary), “that a Surrey club be now formed.”

A further meeting had followed at the Horns Tavern on October 18, during which the formation of Surrey CCC had been officially formalised. The Hon. Fred Ponsonby (later 6th Earl of Bessborough) was elected the first Vice-President.

It was at this juncture that William Pickering, one of the numerous representatives of Surrey cricket present at the formal launching of the Surrey CCC, had risen and made an impassioned address to the distinguished company, explaining that the object of the newly-formed club “was to give the cricketers of Surrey an opportunity of proving that they inherited or retained much, if not all, the strength of play for which their forefathers in the game had been so distinguished.”

Pickering did not, however, take the field in the inaugural First-Class game of the Surrey CCC, against MCC in May 1846. He made his Surrey debut in July, as mentioned above. 

I Zingari was formally launched at the Blenheim Hotel in London’s Bond Street on July 4, 1845 by John Loraine Baldwin, the Hon. Frederick Ponsonby (later 6th Earl of Bessborough), the Hon. Spencer Ponsonby (later Sir Spencer Ponsonby-Fane), and Richard Penruddocke Long. Pickering was one of first 20 of the friends of the founders to be invited under the club banner. Indeed, there is record of William Pickering’s participation in no less than 52 matches under I Zingari colours from 1846 to 1872.

In his book Cricket in America 1710-2000, P David Sentance, postulates the theory that it was the cricket-playing Anglicans vicars of England who had inspired the middle-classes to take up cricket as a sport in North America, receiving tacit endorsement from the Church in this respect. 

Initially, the pursuit of cricket in the region was only for recreational purposes, but the commercial possibilities of the game soon began to draw the attention of the middle classes who indulged in the game, gambling never being far from cricket even in the game’s infancy. As has been well documented in the history the game, the first international cricket match of all had been launched on September 24, 1844 when Henry Groom of USA had bowled his first delivery to Canadian opening batsman David Winckworth at Bloomingdale Park, Manhattan, New York.

Pickering emigrated to Canada in 1852, settling initially at Toronto. Scott Reeves, in his exhaustively researched The Champion Band, informs us that Pickering had been quick to seek out and join Toronto Cricket Club. He rose rapidly in the ranks to become a very influential figure and the President of the club. 

Pickering was also be recognised as the best cricketer in Canada, given his skills and experience. He was found turning out for Toronto against Hamilton in 1852, and acquitting himself fairly well with scores of 1 and 12* with Toronto winning the game by 6 wickets.

He was the skipper of the Canada team that had travelled to Harlem to take on the USA in 1853. The Canada skipper contributed 14 and 0 with the bat, and took 2 wickets and a catch as USA won by 34 runs. This was to be the first experience of ‘international’ cricket for the man from Clapham. 

Canada won the return match at Toronto in 1854 by 10 wickets, skipper Pickering registering a duck but picking up 2 wickets. Admittedly, these were all classified as ‘Minor’ games and were played on underprepared surfaces resulting in low totals, but the larger picture was that by this time, cricket was gaining a fairly secure foothold in North America and the game was becoming popular by the day. 

By 1857, Pickering had the occasion to captain his new homeland Canada in 2 more ‘Derby’ matches against USA, losing at Hoboken in 1856 by 9 wickets and winning at Toronto in 1857 by 7 wickets. At this stage of his life, Pickering was 38, and had shifted base to Montreal in the mid-1850s. He had joined the recently established Montreal Cricket Club.

Pickering found a job as the Montreal Manager of the Canada Life Insurance Company, and soon became the Secretary and Treasurer of Montreal Cricket Club, also shouldering the added responsibility of being the Secretary of the Eastern Committee, Cricket Clubs of Eastern Canada.

 At a dinner being held at New York after the conclusion of the 1856 USA-Canada match, the idea was first floated of arranging for a team of English professional cricketers to tour North America, playing games both in Canada and USA. 

History does not record the identity of the person who had first raised the issue, but states that it would probably have been one of Pickering, by now an important figure in Canadian cricket, or Robert Waller, a person of a similarly high stature in the cricket world of USA. Reeves is of the opinion that the original idea must have come from Pickering who had been in England most recently and was familiar with the rapid rate at which cricket was evolving and flourishing in the home country. Anyway, the ball had been set rolling for the first official overseas tour by an English team. 

In the absence of any telegraphic communication facilities between the USA and Canada at the time and given the vast distances involved, arranging the tour was always going to be a big problem in logistics. Then there was the issue of the finances. However, Pickering and Waller, on calm contemplation, came to the conclusion that despite the problems, the tour was likely to throw up more positives than negatives. The locals would get some idea about how cricket was played in England and try to improve their own technique by comparison, and would be able to pit themselves against the skills of the professional players from the home country.

Pickering took up the responsibility of coordinating the arrangements for the tour on the North American side of the Atlantic Ocean. An article written by Frank Keating and published in 2009 reveals that using all his persuasive skills, Pickering was finally able to guarantee an amount of £1,300 from local sponsors for a set of 5 matches and Waller had been able to arrange for about £500 out of the total sum. 

Meanwhile, preparations for the epochal tour began in full swing in England. A team of 12 professional cricketers was chosen, comprising six members of the All England XI and six from the United All England XI. George Parr, the Nottinghamshire right-hand batsman, often referred to as the ‘Lion of the North’, was chosen as the skipper of the team that would travel under the name Eleven of England during their tour of North America.

The 12 chosen players gathered at the George Hotel in Liverpool on September 6, 1859 and began their trans-Atlantic voyage of cricketing adventure the next morning, with the guarantee of individual monetary gains of £50 plus expenses per person. The first ever overseas cricket tour by an England team, masterminded by an expatriate Englishman in Canada, an Eton, Cambridge, MCC, and Surrey man, William Percival Pickering, had finally been launched.

Passing lightly over the travails of the sailors on the stormy Atlantic Ocean, and their very much delayed arrival on the other side, let us look at the games they played in lands foreign to them. There were 5 main games, all against 22 of the opposition and hence, not of First-Class status, as follows:

- Against XXII of Lower Canada at Montreal. XI of England won the game by 8 wickets

- Against XXII of the United States of America at New York. XI of England won by an innings and 64 runs.

- Against XXII of the United States of America at Philadelphia. XI of England won by 7 wickets.

- Against XXII of Upper Canada at Hamilton. XI of England won by 10 wickets.

- Against XXII of the United States of America and Canada at Rochester. XI of England won by an innings and 68 runs.

Apart from the above matches, there were 4 other ancillary games played on the tour for which the 12 Englishmen had split themselves to form two teams and had co-opted local talent to make up playing XIs.

Pickering, the principal coordinator of the tour, was by now 40. However, he played in both the main matches held in Canada in a captaincy role, scoring 8 and 0 at Montreal, and 10 and 2 at Hamilton. He was also in the team for the main game at Rochester, scoring 11 and 14*. In addition, he played in the side game at Montreal where All England played United All England, with help, of course, of local players. Pickering appeared for the United All England team under the leadership of John Wisden, registering a duck.

From all accounts, the first international tour by an English team was a financial success for the organisers on an unexpected scale. Not only did Pickering manage to make a tidy profit for himself, he found himself in the pleasant position of being able to pay each of the 12 tourists an additional £90 bonus per head for the tour, a large sum in those days, and equivalent to about two months’ work. When all was said and done, the venture had turned out to be an unqualified success, and the trend had been set for future overseas tours by English teams to other parts of the world. 

Pickering returned to England in 1860 and continued to represent I Zingari, Surrey, and MCC till 1872. He became a member of the London Stock Exchange during this time and prospered financially. At some time after 1872 (the exact year is not accurately known) he reverted back to Canada. 

In 1879, there was another English touring team in North America comprising seven professionals from Nottinghamshire and five from Yorkshire. The team was led by Richard Daft, the ace Notts batsman. Pickering was 60 years old by this time, but his spirits were high enough for him to play 2 games against the tourists, once for the Anglo-Canadians (he registered a duck) at Toronto, and once for Ontario at Toronto (he scored 1 and 1).

Before we conclude the narrative of this grand pioneer of cricket, let us just mention, sotto voce, as it were, an unpalatable incident in the life of Pickering from the time the almost 40-year-old cricketer, barrister, and insurance agent was in Montreal in the mid-1850s, recounted by Frank Mackey in the Montreal Gazette in 2011.

There was a young ‘coloured’ lady, one Susan Ellis, a seamstress by profession, whose family had fled to Canada along with a flood of American ‘coloured’ persons after the promulgation of the US Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Susan was in her teens at the time. One thing led to another, and before long, the liaison had resulted in a son Pickering had never acknowledged.

The 1861 census noted the child as a two-year old Canadian-born mulatto boy, family name Pickering, but as a member of the Ellis family. Since there was no acknowledgement from Pickering’s side about the boy, Susan, 18 at the time of the 1861 census, had passed herself as being a widow. 

When Pickering was back in England in 1860, he appears to have authorised a Montreal agent to offer Susan some money to settle the issue of the progeny once and for all. The notarised record of this transaction shows that Susan got £50 for releasing Pickering “from all claims if any she ever had or (is) likely to have against William P Pickering — of whatsoever nature or kind soeveror resulting from any natural cause or causes whatsoever — and from all claims generally from the beginning of the world up to the day of the date hereof.” The offspring was known as William Ellis Pickering.

Upon his return to Canada after 1872, Pickering again shifted base and took up residence at Vancouver. He worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway for several years, well into his 70s, and continued to play local cricket. Pickering was the author of a little booklet entitled Cricket Wrinkles, published by Trythall from Vancouver in 1900, and dedicated to the students of a Toronto school.

William Percival Pickering passed away at Vancouver on August 16, 1905, aged about 85. Upon his demise, the Vancouver Daily had reported: “Every sportsman in the city will regret to learn of the death of Mr. William Pickering, who passed away late on Saturday evening. The deceased was the father of cricket, so far as Vancouver is concerned, and was moreover a very popular and loveable man. 

As always, Wisden had the last word, quoting a notice that had appeared in The Field: “Mr. ‘Bull’ Pickering was not the only cricketing member of his family, for his elder brother, Mr. Edward Hayes Pickering, played for Eton in 1824-5-6, for Cambridge in 1827 and 1829, and for the Gentlemen against the Players from 1836 until 1844, whilst a nephew, Mr. F. P. U. Pickering, was a member of Mr. R. A. FitzGerald’s team which visited America in 1872.”