While two other English teams had toured Australia since the first led by HH Stephenson in the early 1860s, it was James Lillywhite’s tour of Australia in 1876/77 that has since been recognized as providing the start of Test cricket. As with all English teams that toured Australia prior to the M.C.C.’s involvement in 1903, Lillywhite’s side was organized privately and was not considered an official English representative side when it left.
Lillywhite, a left hand slow-medium pace bowler and lower order batsman, had previously toured North America in 1868 and was a member of W.G. Grace’s 1873/74 side to Australia. He was a member of a well-respected family within English cricketing circles. Although he was the son of a bricklayer, John Lillywhite, his uncle Frederick and cousins James snr. and John Lillywhite also all played first class cricket in England professionally. The family’s Lillywhite Cricketers’ Annual rivalled Wisden as the pre-eminent ‘bible’ of the game for many years. By 1877, he was thirty five years old and had considerable experience in first class cricket. He had made his debut in 1862 for Sussex, and ultimately played a total of 256 first class games.
The twelve member team that Lillywhite brought out was composed entirely of professional players from only four counties. Joining Lillywhite from Sussex were Henry Charlwood and James Southerton, with Thomas Armitage, Tom Emmet, Andrew Greenwood, Allan Hill and George Ulyett from Yorkshire, Henry Jupp and Edwin Pooley from Surrey, and John Selby and Alfred Shaw from Nottinghamshire. Shaw was the vice-captain of the touring party, and also acted as the assistant manager. Shaw had been previously been invited to tour Australia by Grace, but had chosen not to take part.
The Lillywhite tour was arranged in conjunction with Victorian player and journalist John Conway, and was financed by a wealthy English farmer, Arthur Hogben. The players all agreed to tour for a total of one hundred and fifty pounds a man, with a share of profits taken from the matches. The only exception was the Alfred Shaw who asked for and received three hundred pounds in return for his role as assistant manager. One of main reasons Shaw had not chosen to take part in the 1873/74 related to the second-class travel arrangements for all professionals, with only the amateurs receiving first class passage. With this tour being composed entirely of professionals, Lillywhite organized that they all travelled and stayed first-class. The team’s sea voyage to Australia took forty eight days on the P & O steamship Poonah, with stops in Malta, Suez and King George’s Sound at Albany to refill with coal.
As the tour was only composed of professionals, many of the greatest English batsmen were not present. For a period of ten years between 1871 and 1880, the top English batsmen were exclusively amateurs. Grace, who had captained the touring party of Australia four years previously in 1873, was without doubt the most famous cricketer in the world, and his first class record over this period of 16,877 runs at an average of just under 49 was almost 18 runs better than his nearest rival. Other notable players of the age who did not tour with Lillywhite included Lord Harris, Arthur Shrewsbury, the Hon. Alfred Lyttleton, Allan Steel, ‘Monkey’ Hornby, Richard Barlow, and Alfred Lucas. Grace’s brothers G.F. and E.M. also were famous non-starters; in fact Fred Grace was proposing a rival tour to Lillywhite’s that did not eventuate. The fact that Fred Grace’s team did not transpire was highly significant; with another English team touring Australia in parallel it is unlikely that a game with Lillywhite’s XI would have afterwards been given the status of the inaugural Test match.
Despite the unavailability of players of this, it was a side of seasoned and well performed professional players, with Alfred Shaw considered the premier bowler in England and Edward Pooley the best wicketkeeper in the country. Prior to the tour the English expectations were that they would not be troubled greatly by the colonies. Lillywhite’s team struggled on the tour, losing first to a New South Wales XV by two wickets, then to a Victorian XV by 31 runs, and finally to another New South Wales XV. The Melbourne Punch magazine became somewhat overconfident at this point, putting forward a somewhat tongue-in-cheek view that in a decade an Australian XI would be playing against an All England XV.
With these victories, the Victorian Cricket Association was sufficiently confident as to consider that the time had come for a match to take place against combined colonial team on even terms, with eleven per side. Their enthusiasm was dampened a little with an impressive performance by Lillywhite’s side in a game against a New South Wales XI, but it was decided to progress with a Combined NSW-Victoria XI against the All England XI. This game was set down to begin on the 15th of March, 1877. Lillywhite agreed to this additional match, and whilst his side headed to New Zealand for a two month tour, the hard work of organizing the combined eleven began. Conway, who had been the key Australian contact in planning the Lillywhite tour, was instrumental in the coordination of this game that was initially referred to by the media as the “grand combination match.”
In 1877, the federation of Australia was still almost twenty five years in the future. When the British first settled Australia in 1788, all the land was referred to as New South Wales. New settlements such as Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in 1803, Moreton Bay (Brisbane) in 1824, and Port Phillip (Melbourne) in 1835 were established over the next few decades. Whilst these were overseen from Sydney initially, the new colonies complained of neglect and demanded their right to govern themselves. The British Government’s Australian Colonies Government Act of 1850 empowered the colonies to frame their own constitutions, establish legislation and determine the voting rights for legislation. In 1851, Victoria gained its legislation under this act, and this development created further divisions and differences. Victoria and New South Wales viewed themselves as adversaries, rather than as a potential coalition. Some of this enmity arose from the fact that Sydney had originated as a penal settlement, while Melbourne was composed of free settlers. Both states tended to view the other with considerable suspicion, with inter-colonial trade barriers and tariffs greatly restricting free commerce between the two states. There were also significant complications associated with varying navigation, insurance and quarantine laws, postal services, the gauge of railway lines and banking. Even though New South Wales was the most populous state, Victoria was quickly closing the gap and was becoming the centre of many important manufacturing and commercial enterprises, a situation that led to considerable jealousy on the part of politicians in Sydney.
With a considerable amount of inter-colonial rivalry ever present, the naming of a mutually acceptable side was always going to prove a difficult exercise. As a compromise, it was initially conceived that the team would be composed of six players from New South Wales and five from Victoria. The Victorians, and Conway in particular, bypassed the New South Wales Cricket Association and approached the Sydney-based players directly to take part. That Association was clearly disgruntled at being ignored, and issued the following resolution: “It has been publicly notified that a game is about to be played between the All-England Eleven and a combined eleven of New South Wales and Victoria. This association desires to place on record that the game has been arranged without any reference to the association, and cannot be regarded as a match in which chosen representatives of NSW take part.” As one of the most respected and senior players in Sydney, Dave Gregory, in particular, was subject to considerable pressure from the NSW cricket authorities not to take part in a game lacking their direct sanction.
One of the first problems facing the organizers was agreeing upon a ground on which to hold the match. As the game was being organized by the Victorian Cricketers’ Association, the Melbourne Cricket Club’s Richmond Paddock was the obvious choice. The only problem was that Lillywhite had agreed prior to the tour commencing to play his matches on the East Melbourne Club’s main ground. This was the result of the proposed rival tour by G.F Grace that had booked the Melbourne Cricket Ground before Lillywhite could. Conway examined the options for Lillywhite, with five recreational grounds in the East Melbourne area. In addition to the Melbourne Cricket Club’s Richmond Paddock, there were also established pitches at Richmond Cricket Oval, Gosch’s Paddock, and two ovals run by the East Melbourne Club. With the Melbourne Cricket Ground pre-booked by Grace’s tour, East Melbourne was the next-best option Conway to organize for Lillywhite. Ultimately it would not have been an issue, as Fred Grace’s tour did not go ahead, but the agreement to play games at the East Melbourne Ground had been signed before Grace cancelled his plans.
Changing the location of the game from East Melbourne to the Melbourne Cricket Ground would not appear difficult. There were, however, a variety of factors that added to the problems facing the organizers. The Melbourne and East Melbourne Clubs were in the middle of a protracted dispute regarding the allocation of gate money, and they had refused to play each other that year in the Melbourne club competition. The East Melbourne Club’s committee regarded it as a major coup to have captured the rights for the Lillywhite matches, and they were not going to relinquish them easily. The Melbourne Cricket Club had established a monopoly over major cricketing contests, and the East Melbourne Club viewed the Lillywhite tour as an opportunity to break this domination.
This competition between the two clubs threatened to derail the match before it even started. The fight was carried out in public, with both sides acting through the newspapers, with threats made of legal action. There was a significant amount of negotiation before a compromise was finally reached between the various parties, with Lillywhite paying East Melbourne a total of 230 pounds and allowing their five hundred members into the Melbourne Cricket Ground free on each day of the match. The East Melbourne Club were not idle at this time, as they quickly aligned themselves with the Victorian Football Association which had formed in 1877. Their ground became the headquarters of the Essendon Football Club only a few years later in 1880. In an interesting aside, the Lillywhite Cricketer’s Companion starting publishing the averages of the East Melbourne Cricket Club’s players in the Melbourne Pennant Competition, a practice that continued well into the 1880s. Whether this was part of an unofficial agreement between Lillywhite and the East Melbourne Club or simply a strange idiosyncrasy remains a mystery.
The Melbourne Cricket Club had just built a new grandstand at their ground Richmond Paddock at a cost of £4678. As was common at the time, the stand was constructed in a manner that allowed the seating to be rearranged to permit spectators to watch cricket on the Melbourne Cricket ground in summer, and football on the adjacent Yarra Park in winter. In 1876, the prevailing wisdom was that the one ground could not cope with the stresses of both football and cricket, so a multi-directional stand was essential. The grandstand, with a capacity of two thousand people, greatly added to the comfort provided to spectators, and also allowed for increased revenue over the following years for the Melbourne Cricket Club.
Whilst the ground was finally organized and ready, the combined team had also proved difficult to confirm. Ted Evans from New South Wales was considered one of the leading all-rounders in the country and an automatic selection, but he declined a position because of the pressure of business. His withdrawal resulted in the initial selection of Charles Bannerman, Fred Spofforth, Tom Garrett, Nat Thomson and the two Gregory Brothers, Dave and Ned as the six New South Welshmen in the team.
The team faced further immediate problems with Spofforth refusing to play unless Billy Murdoch was selected to keep wicket instead of the Victorians’ choice of Jack Blackham. Spofforth believed that only Murdoch, his New South Wales wicketkeeper, understood his bowling well enough. The selectors did not give in to this blackmail, so Spofforth, a man of his word, withdrew from the side. The loss of Evans and Spofforth was then compounded by the last minute withdrawal of Victorian Frank Allan, a left armer considered highly enough to have attracted the sobriquet of “bowler of the century”. Allan, who had originally consented to play and had received time off work from his position with the Lands Department at Warrnambool in Western Victoria, later changed his mind and instead decided to meet up with friends at the Warrnambool Agricultural Fair. While the idea of a current Test player deciding to miss a game because he wanted to visit a fair is inconceivable, it does underline the fact that this game was not viewed at the time as the start of international Test cricket as we know it today.
The final eleven players who took the field were Charles Bannerman, John Blackham, Bransby Cooper, Tom Garrett, Dave Gregory, Ned Gregory, Jack Hodges, Tom Horan, Tom Kendall, Billy Midwinter and Nat Thomson. There is still some confusion regarding the exact identity of Hodges, with some sources referring to J.R. and others to J.H. It is now considered that the individual in question is John Robert Hodges. It is believed that the confusion may have arisen around five years later, when John Henry Hodges umpired in the 1884/85 Melbourne Test Match. During this period many umpires were also current first class cricketers, and in the years following J.R. and J.H. Hodges were mistakenly assumed to be the same person. Likewise, Nat Thomson’s surname is often spelt as Thompson in many records.
Of the final eleven players, only five were native born in Australia. This was perhaps not surprising, as in 1871 only 60% of people in Australia were born there. In contrast to the initial plan, Victorians outnumbered New South Welshman by six to five. This was of particular importance, as the players chose the captain, and in light of the inter-colonial rivalry, it would not have been unexpected that the Victorian dominance would result in the selection of one of their own. Spofforth wrote in 1894 that he doubted
“if Englishmen will ever understand the spirit of rivalry that runs high between the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales. The spirit is not limited to the field, it extends to politics, to society, to every side of life, indeed, in which the two are brought into contact with one another’”.
Lillywhite had commented on the previous 1873/74 tour with Grace that the inter-colonial rivalries weakened the on-field performances of the sides. This level of antagonism can be further seen by the views of Charles Bannerman a few years later. The team was travelling by steamer along the coast of New Zealand and Bannerman, a strong swimmer, was asked who he would save in the event of the boat sinking. He replied that he would help his brother Alec, then Billy Murdoch and Fred Spofforth. When asked about the Victorian members of the squad, he said “Let them drown. Do you think I am going to risk my life for them?” In light of this prevailing attitude, it is even more extraordinary that Dave Gregory from New South Wales was nominated unanimously to lead this first ever combined eleven.
The influence of Conway on this decision is difficult to determine, but it is clear that he played a role. Conway had previously been very impressed by Dave’s clear thinking and capacity to remain calm under pressure. In a letter he wrote to a relative a few years before, he commented that “he not only looked the part, he was the part. Dave Gregory would be ideal to lead a combined colonies team against England.” In his capacity as the Australian organizer of this match, Conway was in a position to exert his influence over any decision made in respect to the makeup of the team. The other potential candidate for the captaincy was Bransby Cooper, a very experienced cricketer who had previously led Victoria in inter-colonial games. It is possible that Conway considered the appointment of a Victorian may have led to a division between within the team. Regardless of this possibility, however, it is clear that the players themselves were also fully supportive of Dave’s selection as captain.
In an interview with Dave’s daughter Pearl, noted cricket author Ray Robinson heard how happy Dave had been to be nominated for the role of captain.
“It always pleased father to recall that his fellow players elected him captain for the first of all test matches. Yes, the Victorians elected him as the match was in Melbourne.”
It seems clear that the personality and disposition of Dave Gregory are some of the primary reasons explaining why he was, with no prior captaincy experience, named as the leader of a combined team in a period of extreme rivalry between the colonies. His ability to lead other workers had been identified early on in the Auditor-General Department, and clearly his manner and ability to inspire others was a key factor in his selection as captain.
His father, Edward, had instilled into all of his children the need to be careful students of the game, and Dave had shown his ability to both read the game and to adapt to changing conditions. Gregory and Billy Caffyn had spent a considerable amount of time discussing tactics and strategies over the years. More than this though, it was obvious that Dave had the respect of all his fellow players. He had been representing New South Wales for over a decade, and at age 32, had the maturity and knowledge to back his self-confidence. Author Harry Hedley noted that “whilst Gregory’s performances did not look statistically great, he was seen as one of the key players in the NSW side”. Hedley’s description of Dave as “one of the foremost cricketers in New South Wales and one of the most popular in both colonies” again reinforced the prevailing view of him as a highly respected figure in both Sydney and Melbourne.
Noted Australian literary figure, A.B. (Banjo) Paterson was a passionate cricket lover and watched the game develop with a keen interest. He got to know many of the cricketers of the time, and his observations of Dave are especially interesting.
“I remember Dave Gregory, the captain of the first Australian eleven, black-bearded, high-shouldered, remarkably like the English captain Grace and with a good deal of Grace’s invincible self-confidence. We hear a lot about temperament nowadays but neither Grace nor Gregory was afflicted with any temperament, not so that you could notice it.”
This comparison with W.G. Grace is an interesting one, and underlines the respect that Dave was held in by his peers and the community in general. Frank Iredale, a noted Australian test player of the 1890s, summed up the feeling of the youth of Sydney towards Dave:
“I can turn my mind back to the days when his presence in the field mean as much to me, and no doubt thousands of other boys of Australia, as the name of W.G. Grace did to the boys of England.”
While his personal batting and bowling statistics were not overly impressive, it is clear that he had faith in the abilities of both himself and his team. It is worth remembering that in spite of Lillywhite’s teams poor performances on the tour, it was generally expected, both in Australia and back in England, that they would not be greatly troubled in overcoming the combined team. Dave’s confidence, and his ability to instill this self-belief in his players would go a long way towards determining whether this team would be able to compete on an equal level to the English side.
The organizers of the Australian team were not alone in having difficulties in arranging a side for the game. Lillywhite’s touring party had problems of their own to overcome. After their game against New South Wales, they had travelled to New Zealand for a series of matches. This segment was always a planned component of the tour, with the subsequent return to Australia for the Test match an addition to the original schedule. The tour was a difficult one for Lillywhite’s side. They did not lose a game against teams varying in number of eighteen to twenty two by winning six and drawing the other two, but financially it was a disaster for Lillywhite. The team’s assistant manager, Alfred Shaw, wrote an account of the tour, and mention was made of substandard accommodation and trying travelling conditions.
One particular incident has gained considerable coverage over the years, with the team coach nearly coming to grief in Otira Gorge. What the driver thought was a shallow ford was actually a swiftly running river. The four horses pulling the coach collapsed in mid-stream, and the players had to get out to help the horses ashore. Once there, the drenched players had to walk to the nearest town to find shelter for the night. No players were injured in this undoubtedly frightening experience, but that was considered more a matter of good fortune than anything else.
The troubles of Lillywhite’s team was not over, with one of their key members arrested. The team’s one and only wicketkeeper, Pooley, was charged in Otago for malicious damage to property above the value of £5, and also of assault. This story has been recounted many times, but it is worth recapping as it had a major impact upon the side Lillywhite was able to select for the game against the Australian combined side.
Pooley was detained in Otago to await trial, and whilst he received bail of £100, the remainder of the side did not see him again on the tour. This situation arose as the result of Pooley taking a side bet in the game against the Eighteen of Canterbury played against at Christchurch from the 26 to 28 February, 1877. Pooley offered any takers a bet in which he would name the individual score that each player of the opposition would get. For those he got correct he would be paid £1, and for each one he got wrong he would pay 1 shilling. A local by the name of Ralph Donkin felt this was too good an opportunity to miss, and agreed to the bet. Pooley promptly named a duck against each player of the opposition, and with a fair proportion of the eighteen failing to score in the match, Pooley finished substantially in front in respect to the wager. Donkin refused to pay up, and the subsequent argument led to a violent confrontation and damage to fixtures.
Pooley, and his fellow co-accused, a team assistant by the name of Alf Bramall, had to stand trial in at the Supreme Court in Christchurch on the 6 April, and therefore they were not able to travel with the rest of the team to Australia. This left Lillywhite without his regular wicketkeeper, and bearing in mind that the original touring party had twelve members, only eleven available players. Eventually Pooley and Bramall were both found not guilty on all charges, and whilst Pooley received a gold ring and a share of a £50 subscription from members of the New Zealand public for his ordeal, the Surrey wicketkeeper made the journey back to England having missed the change to play in the first ever test.
The loss of Pooley left Lillywhite with an easy decision regarding the makeup of his side the match. The remaining eleven members of the touring party were automatic selections. Jupp was expected to fill in for Pooley as the wicketkeeper as he had some previous experience, but he was suffering from an inflammation of the eyes and Selby took on the role instead. The general feeling of the newspapers of the day was that this team would prove far too strong for the combined colonies team. The absence of many of their great batsmen was counterbalanced by the fact that Lillywhite had a formidable pace bowling trio of Shaw, Hill and Ulyett that was as strong as any combination England could have mustered. Public enthusiasm for the game had dropped following the earlier victories against Lillywhite’s team, and there did not appear much hope that the combined side would be able to compete on even terms.