The birth of Edward and Mary Gregory’s third son in 1845 occurred at a time of considerable change for the colony of New South Wales. Sir George Gipps was nearing the end of his eight years as governor, with public criticism and opposition to his land and education policies leading to his replacement by Sir Charles FitzRoy. Australia’s main cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide were scattered ports that relied largely on sea-borne communication. There were no operative passenger railways and no telegraph system. Each of the colonies were keen to maintain its independence, it being clear that a British push for federation would fail. The schism between the colonies was such that the press in each centre actively promoted the separation of the colonies, primarily away from the control of the Governor residing in Sydney.
In spite of these differences, the various colonies were about to enter a period of prosperity. The 1840s was a period of depression with a severe drought and financial downturn, but the discovery of gold and the changing face of industrialization meant that Sydney and Melbourne began a period of prosperity. This change in the fortunes of the colonies, associated with the large-scale immigration of gold hunters, provided the perfect stimulus for the development of inter-colony cricket matches. The timing of this change was ideal for children of Edward Gregory, providing opportunities for them that their father’s generation never had.
David William Gregory was born on the 15th of April, 1845 in Fairy Meadow, near Wollongong, eighty kilometres south of Sydney. He was the seventh child of Edward and Mary and lived his early life at the Government School House in Wollongong. Dave led a normal childhood for the age, with games of cricket with his brothers a standard part of his upbringing. His father, Edward’s, enthusiasm for the game ensured that Dave and all his siblings, both male and female, were instructed in the basics of the game.
Dave’s early years included education at firstly at Mr McDonald’s Private School at Underwood’s Paddock in Paddington, and then at the St James Church of England School in Sydney. The Governor of the Colony, Sir William Dennison, presented medals for meritorious conduct to pupils at the school, and during the presentation ceremony, he informed the male students that if they were able to gain good results in their studies, a job would be made available for them. The fifteen year old Dave Gregory listened to the speech carefully, and took the Governor at his word. After he received a medal for meritorious conduct in 1860, he went to government house and informed the Governor that “I’ve come about that job, sir”. His audacity was rewarded with a place as a probationer in the Auditor-General Department, starting in January 1861, and he was appointed as a Clerk in May. Dave moved to Paddington in Sydney, living initially with his brother Ned.
Dave’s cricket career began in the 1860s playing in the Domain with his brothers. The Governor of the time, Sir William Denison, along with two other cricket enthusiasts, William Tunks and Al Park, had all donated five pounds each in order to develop a pitch suitable for play. This was achieved with hard work, shovels and a spirit level to ensure its flatness. Dave played games along with his brothers Ned, Walter, Charlie and Arthur for the National Club against other teams of the time, such as the Currency Lass Hotel, which was composed of Australian-born players, or varying teams of regimental cricketers. He made his debut in Sydney cricket for the National Club as a 17 year old in November 1862. He struggled to make an impression over the next few years, and had dropped back to the National’s second XI by 1865.
Dave Gregory was very fortunate in that he had received regular coaching from his father Edward early on in his life. This instilled in him the basics of the game and held him in good stead throughout his career. As Dave grew up and progressed in the game, he attracted the attention of, and received ongoing instruction from, English player William Caffyn who was residing in Sydney at the time. Billy Caffyn was to play an integral role in the development of the standard of play in Australia and was instrumental in the progress of Dave’s cricketing career.
Caffyn was a professional cricketer, who had trained as a barber in England. He had a long professional career, playing for Surrey from 1849 to 1863. He toured Australia twice with English sides, initially with H.H. Stephenson’s team in 1861/62. Caffyn was a very fine batsmen, leading the English player’s batting averages on the 1861/62 tour with 419 runs at 23.27, and he also opened the bowling for the team with his round-arm deliveries. He returned with George Parr’s team in 1863/64, the only player from Stephenson’s side who was selected to come back again for the second tour. Photographs of Caffyn show him batting with only the one glove, located on his bottom, right hand.
Caffyn was attracted to stay in Australia at the conclusion of the Parr tour, through an offer to coach with the Melbourne Cricket Club. The sum on money that Caffyn was offered was three hundred pounds per annum, a very substantial amount for the time. Caffyn stayed in Victoria for the next year, but he was persuaded to move to Sydney for the 1865/66 season, with the lure of a hairdresser’s shop the incentive. The Melbourne Cricket Club were very considerate, allowing him out of his three year contract. He maintained this shop for the next six years in conjunction with his wife, until her ongoing ill-health necessitated their return to England in 1871. Caffyn had hoped that a move to Tasmania may have assisted his wife’s health, but a letter to the Hobart Cricket Association in 1869 was met with a flat rejection from their secretary.
As a coach, Caffyn never tried to make two players alike, allowing them to develop their skills naturally. This was in contrast to the other major coach in Australia at the time, another English professional Charles Lawrence, who encouraged all of his protégés to play back whenever possible. The efforts of Caffyn and Lawrence were largely responsible for closing the vast divide in cricketing ability that existed in the mid 1860s between Australia and the mother country. Lawrence is best remembered now for his organization of the first ever Australian team to tour England, the Aboriginal side of 1868, but he was also an outstanding player and coach in Victorian cricket.
By the age of twenty, Dave Gregory had developed into a very physically impressive individual. He stood six foot two inches tall (187cms), and weighed fourteen stone and four pounds (90.7kgs). His height was emphasised further by his straight back and upright bearing. In spite of this though, the most noticeable feature of Dave Gregory’s physical appearance was his magnificent beard. This aspect of his appearance no doubt took a few years to develop, but his whiskers became famous around the country and were as much his calling card as the facial hair that has adorned modern players such as Dennis Lillee and Merv Hughes.
Like his father Edward, Dave played for the Australian Club in Sydney. He was a natural right hander with both bat and ball, and whilst he was primarily a round-arm bowler in his early days, his batting was starting to develop under the guidance of William Caffyn. He worked hard on his game, and only a year after he had been dropped back the National’s second XI, Dave was selected to play his first game for NSW against Victoria. This match took place on his home ground of the Domain, and was a timeless match starting on the 26th of December, 1866. It took place a decade after the first ever inter-colony game between New South Wales and Victoria.
New South Wales captain Charles Lawrence won the toss and opted to send the Victorian team in. Dave bowled the first ball of the game to J.B. Turner, and one hundred minutes later the Victorian innings was over with only 74 runs on the board. Dave’s inaugural wicket in first class wicket was John Conway, the Victorian number three, caught by Lawrence. He finished with 3 for 36, whilst his fellow opening bowler Nathaniel Thomson took 3 for 33. They were the only two bowlers required in the innings, with the other four wickets all falling to run outs.
New South Wales had managed a lead of 19 runs at stumps on the first day, with six wickets still in hand. Dave batted at number eleven in the New South Wales innings, and Conway extracted his revenge by bowling him for a duck. New South Wales scored 145, with Dave’s mentor Caffyn top scoring with 24. Victoria went back in a second time, and performed even worse than in the first innings. Dave took 4 for 31, including both openers for only 2 runs, and Victoria were all out for 58. New South Wales had won by an innings and 13 runs, and with a total of eight thousand spectators watching, the timeless match had finished inside two days.
The Australian Club folded completely in September of 1867. Dave, along with his brothers, joined the Warwicks Club which immediately became the strongest team in Sydney. His reasons for joining Warwicks can only be guessed at, but the presence of William Caffyn at Warwicks was probably one of the major motivations. It was undoubtedly a good move for his batting, as the continuing assistance of Caffyn saw an ongoing improvement in Dave’s batting statistics. Dave moved up the order with Warwicks to start opening the batting. These changes were to show immediate benefit, with Dave and Charles Oliver combining for an opening partnership of 155 against the strong Alberts Club in his first season.
In the 1860s there were only spasmodic inter-colonial games, and it was therefore twelve months between Dave’s initial and second match. This was held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and was another timeless match that started on Boxing Day 1867. Lawrence again won the toss and asked Victoria to bat, but this time round the tactic was not as successful. Victoria totalled 252, with Dave bowling ten wicketless overs for thirty four runs. New South Wales reply commenced at the beginning of day two, and they were bowled out for only 158. Whilst Dave’s improved batting had seen him promoted from number eleven to number nine, the result was unfortunately the same, and he was dismissed by Tom Wills for a duck. New South Wales were asked to follow on, and whilst Dave was demoted to number eleven again, he finally managed to get his initial runs, remaining 2 not out in his side’s score of 173. Victoria were left with only 82 to win, a score they achieved with the loss of only three wickets, with Dave again went wicketless.
Whilst Dave’s cricket was intermittent for both Warwicks and New South Wales through the mid to late 1860s, his rise through the Auditor-General Department had started in earnest. His abilities as a clerk and his manner of dealing with both other employees and the public had brought him attention within the Auditor-General Department, and he was promoted to oversee the performance of other public servants within the department. His physical appearance was also gaining him attention, being known by many women around Sydney as “handsome Dave”. Photos of Dave show his facial hair to great effect, but they also reveal a stern expression. It would be easy to use this type of photograph now as an illustration of Dave’s strict nature and sober demeanor, but the technology of the day demanded a rigid expression be maintained for a prolonged period of time, and as such, all pictures tended to have a similar degree of seriousness.
The photos could not hide the glean in his brown eyes that hinted at the genial and fun loving personality that family members and friends said existed under a serious exterior. He was twenty two when he married Mary Ann Hitchings in the Paddington Church of England in 1867. This union was to produce them eleven children over the following twenty years. Their first child Sydney was born in 1869, and he was followed by Herbert (1871), Percy (1873), Albert (1875), Emmeline (1876), Leslie (1877), Coralie (1880), Arthur (1881), Pearl (1883), Alfred (1885) and Ruby (1887).
Dave’s next inter-colonial game took place at the Domain and was scheduled to last from the 4th to 6th of March, 1869. While Dave was picked primarily as a bowler, his improved batting performances for Warwicks had been noticed and he moved up to no. 7 in the New South Wales batting order. The home team batted first yet again, and Dave opened the bowling, taking one for ten off ten overs. Victoria collapsed dismally, only making sixty one. New South Wales responded to that with an impressive total of thirty seven all out. Dave second top scored from his place in the middle order, a feat less impressive than it appears as his innings was only 9.
Nonetheless, his batting must have been sufficiently impressive on this occasion to encourage his captain Joseph Coates to promote him to open the batting for New South Wales for the first time in their second innings. New South Wales were chasing 173 for victory, after dismissing Victory for 149. Dave had taken 4 for 34, and he then second top scored for the second time in the game. Once again it was not nearly enough, with Victoria winning by seventy eight runs. New South Wales were dismissed for under one hundred again, and Dave only managed 15 out of the team total of 95.
Dave’s next game for his state occurred nearly a year later on the 24 February, 1870. Throughout the first half of the game Dave’s performances were not impressive. He bowled only six wicketless overs in Victoria’s first innings of 181, and then scored 14 in New South Wales reply of 164. When Victoria batted again they managed the good total of 337, but New South Wales’ star was Dave Gregory who toiled away for almost twice as many overs as any other bowler. He took his first five wicket haul for fifty five runs off nearly forty four ball overs. Interestingly all five of his victims were bowled. New South Wales captain Charles Lawrence promoted Dave up the order to number three in the second innings, but the move failed with him being bowled for only 2. Victoria continued their dominance over New South Wales, winning by 265 runs.
Dave’s batting had continued to improve with the guidance and continuing instruction of William Caffyn and New South Wales captain Charles Lawrence. This betterment is reflected in his ever improving record with his club side in Sydney. His bowling was still very effective in 1871, with Dave winning the club averages with the impressive figure of 3.35 runs per wicket. In 1872 he again won the bowling averages with a slightly higher figure of 4.14 runs per wicket, but he also headed up the batting, averaging 25 runs an innings. He proved that this wasn’t a fluke by again winning the batting trophies in 1873.
In the match starting on the 9 March 1871, Dave showed his increasing abilities as an allrounder being selected to open both the batting and the bowling for New South Wales. The game was at the Albert Cricket Ground and whilst his team was at the wrong end of the score card four days later by 48 runs, Dave could be well satisfied with his first score of over fifty. His score of 51 helped New South Wales to a lead on the first innings, but the team collapsed second time round for only 84, with Dave’s contribution being 10.
In the game against Victoria commencing on the 30 March, 1872, Dave was selected to bat at number three and also open the bowling. Once again Victoria were the champions, this time to the tune of an innings and 26 runs. Dave had a less than successful game with scores of 11 and 7, and twenty two wicketless overs. Up to this point, the Melbourne Cricket Ground was a very unhappy place for Dave, with New South Wales losing every game played there. This was remedied in Dave’s next first class game on 26 December 1872, when he was selected to play against Victoria at the MCG for the Rest of Australia. The Rest was a combined side composed of eight players from New South Wales, three from South Australia and two from Tasmania. This composite team managed to provide Dave with his first win over Victoria since his initial first class game six years earlier, with victory coming by five wickets. The transition of Dave from a bowler to a batsman was becoming clearer; whilst he opened the batting in both innings for the Rest he only bowled a total of three overs out of the nearly two hundred bowled by the Rest in the game. Part of the reason for his reduction in bowling related to Dave being no-balled for throwing in the first innings by umpire George Curtis. Some of the gloss of the victory was removed as it was a game against the odds, with the Rest playing with thirteen against Victoria’s eleven. In spite of this discrepancy in numbers between the two teams, the game has been granted official first class status.
In 1873, W.G. Grace led a team of English players on a tour of Australia. All of the games in this tour were against the odds, and Dave Gregory played games against Grace’s team for the Eighteen of New South Wales and for a Combined Fifteen of New South Wales and Victoria. Dave’s performances with the bat led the Eighteen to a famous victory by eight wickets, with him top scoring for the match. His performances were not so noteworthy for the 15, and they collapsed to lose to Grace’s side by 218 runs. Dave, taught by his father to be a keen observer of the game, took notice of the tactics and techniques of English players, and in particular their fielding positions. This habit was one that would serve him well in the years to come.
Dave found himself at the middle of a dispute between two clubs regarding the use of the Military and Civil Ground which would later become the Sydney Cricket Ground. Dave was playing with the newly formed East Sydney Cricket Club, which had free use of the Military and Civil Ground. Another new club, the Civil Service Club asked Dave to join them as he was a civil servant, but he declined and remained with the East Sydney Club. The Civil Service Club used their influence within the government, and they gained the use of the Military and Civil Ground at the expense of the East Sydney Club. This caused a considerable amount of bad feeling, and it was perhaps ironic that the first team the Civil Service played in the 1874/75 season was East Sydney. Dave top-scored for East Sydney with a half century, and their total of 219 proved far too much for the Civil Service side, which could only score 59 and 44. The Sydney Mail’s comment at the time that “the Civil Service Club came in like a lion, and, if present appearances be any criterion, will probably retire lamb-like” proved remarkable accurate, with the Civil Service Club folding at the end of the season. Dave’s decision to remain loyal had been vindicated.
Over the next four years, Dave’s bowling at a first class level ceased almost completely. He played four first class games against Victoria over this period, bowling only in one of them. His batting continued to improve and he was recognised primarily as a stubborn and somewhat stodgy opening batsman, but one who could hit out strongly on occasions. His improved technique, still being honed with the assistance of fellow players such as Charles Bannerman, resulted in an excellent double in NSW victory over Victoria that started on the 25th of February, 1876. He scored 36 out of New South Wales’ total of 99; a score that was put into perspective by Victoria’s reply of only 37. Dave then drove New South Wales’ advantage home, by scoring his highest first class score of 74 in the second innings. Victoria’s reply of just 95 left New South Wales as convincing winners, with Dave’s contribution with the bat central to their victory.
Dave was selected to open the batting for New South Wales against a team of English tourists under the captaincy of J Lillywhite at the Albert Ground in a two day game starting on the 15 January, 1877. This game followed his participation in two unexpected wins against Lillywhite’s team, but both games were played against the odds. This match was on an even basis, and the English side regained a considerable amount of pride, even though the game ended in a draw. Lillywhite’s XI made 270 following the New South Wales captain Ted Evans choosing to field first. Dave failed in the first innings with only 3, and New South Wales could only total 82. New South Wales had to follow-on, and when time ran out they were 6 for 140 and still well short of avoiding an innings loss. Once again emphasizing Dave’s emergence as a batsman, he held together the New South Wales response through a patient and undefeated 53.
At the conclusion of this game, Dave had played a total of 12 first class games. He had accumulated the first class batting figures of 331 runs at an average of 15.76 with only three half centuries and a highest score of 74. Even taking into account the significantly lower batting performances of the age, his statistics did not compare well against other players. Dave’s bowling figures were more acceptable, having taken 21 wickets at the average of 16.19 with best figures of 5 for 55. The problem was that his bowling had become less penetrative in the previous few years, and there was still a nagging suspicion about the legitimacy of his action. Dave had never captained New South Wales, and yet the cricketing moment that would lead to his ongoing place in history was about to happen. He was named as the captain of the combined New South Wales and Victorian cricket team to take on the English XI in the game that was to be recognised as the inaugural Test match.