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All Right There – the 1868 Aboriginal Cricket Tour of England

Johnny Mullagh, the all-round star of the Aboriginal cricket team.

On 12 June 1868 an Aboriginal eleven strode onto the turf at Lord’s to face the MCC, fully ten years before white Australian cricketers ever did. Yet only a year later they were back home, forced to live on reserves and stripped of their civil liberties. It was to be more than 125 years before an Aboriginal player would step onto a cricket field as a representative of his country. The story behind the 1868 Aboriginal cricket tour of England is one of the least well-known yet most remarkable in all of sport.

The mere fact that the tour went ahead at all is testament to the character of these “stalwart” men, as they were dubbed in the English press, given that by the time the team had been disbanded after their tour of Sydney the previous year, four of their number had perished. It is also testament to the persuasive powers of ex-All England and now Sydney coach and cricketer Charles Lawrence, who travelled to Victoria to convince the team members to re-form and accompany him to Melbourne and from there onto England.

The core of the Aboriginal cricketers which would tour England had first been brought together in Victoria in 1866 under the tutelage of Tom Wills, also an ex-All England cricketer and later celebrated as the father of Australian Rules football. While playing at the MCG on Boxing Day they were seen by Sydney entrepreneur Captain Gurnett, who suggested a tour of Sydney and first proposed touring England, offering to provide all financing. After the team was transported to Sydney they ended up stranded there when the Captain could not or would not come through with the promised funds. This fact, plus the death of four of the Aboriginal players, Sugar before the first match, Watty on the journey home and Jellico and Paddy at the end of the tour, aroused the concern of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines of Victoria, as a result of which a degree of subterfuge was necessary to conceal the team’s departure from Victoria, a fake fishing trip providing the necessary cover to allow the team to board the Rangatira, bound for Sydney. The Bendigo Advertiser of Victoria was somewhat derisive of the Board’s failure to prevent the players from leaving, opining that it “served ’em right”, though in actual fact the Board had no legal redress to do so at that time.

The England tour had three backers, including William Hayman, who had also been involved with the abortive Sydney trip, Sydney businessman George Smith and his cousin George W Graham, whose accounts ledger from the England tour eventually came into the possession of a certain Bill “Tiger” O’Reilly, which was to help historians greatly in piecing together many tour details. The financial backing this time round being secure, the team of thirteen Aboriginals plus Lawrence and the management team departed Sydney on the Paramatta, bound for Gravesend on 8 February 1868. The journey was more than three months, the team arriving in England on 13 May. Their impending arrival had sparked much interest in the UK, newspapers publishing descriptions of the players and their physical attributes, including such fanciful stories as running the 100-yard dash in nine seconds flat as against a world best at that time of 10.0 seconds) as well as the ability to jump 5’7″ from a standing position, while as late as 1900 the world record stood at only 5’4″.

Reading the newspapers of the time with a 21st-century sensibilities is somewhat discomfitting, the players sometimes being described as “darkies” and almost exclusively with the sobriquet “Blacks”; this was unmistakably a different time. Indeed there is a clear attitude of racial superiority in the press, for example the 11 April edition of the Morning Post haughtily proclaimed that this sable troupe…can hardly be expected to vie successfully with our best professionals as exponents of scientific cricket, though in actual fact it had been agreed that professionals were to be specifically excluded from facing the tourists, representative sides thus comprising only amateurs, or “Gentleman”. Despite the obvious condescension in the press, it is also apparent that the Aboriginals were welcomed with whole-hearted affection in England, though as Dr David Sampson has pointed out this is due in no small part to their inherent racial superiority engendering “feelings of sympathy, kindness or obligation towards those who are regarded as racial inferiors” (“Culture, ‘Race’ and Discrimination in the 1868 Aboriginal Tour of England”). On arrival in England they were accommodated at Town Malling in Kent and the Kentish Gazette of 19 May described how “…Kentish courtesy to our antipodean traitors (sic) is by no means limited to the masculine division of Town Malling. The Australians have, in fact, by the display of good common sense and the exercise of quiet manners, already become general favourites…they are, to all intents and purposes, clothed and in their right minds.” It goes on to say that “they are very far removed from being an ill-looking or disagreeable set of men”. The general attitude seems to be of a naive curiousity conjoined to the innate superiority of the Victorian English, though there were to be some instances of racial prejudice which were thankfully, and perhaps surprisingly considering the times, rare.

Several newspapers included details of the team members’ names together with the European sobriquets, which are reproduced below:-

Bullocky Bullchanach
Johnny Cuzens Yellanach
Dick-a-Dick Jumgumjenanuke
Charley Dumas Pripumuarraman
Jim Crow Lytejerbillijun
Mosquito Grongarrong
Johnny Mullagh Unaarrimin
Peter Arrahmunyarrimun
Redcap Brimbunyah
King Cole Bripumyarrim
Sundown Ballrinjarrimin
Tiger Bonnibarngeet
Twopenny Jarrawuk

The Belfast Newsletter stated in referring to Cuzens “whose high-sounding native title we drop with reluctance from sheer and admitted inability to put it into anything like the twenty-six vowels and consonants which are used to express the nature and powers of spoken sound”. The Hampshire Advertiser went on to add that “their native names are polysyllabic and not very euphonious”.

As to the quality of cricket to be expected, the London Standard of 20 May cautioned that Mullagh, Cuzens and Bullocky “will bear favourable comparison as batsmen with a selected trio from the most renowned players in England.” As will be seen, the same could be said of them as bowlers. The Standard concludes by saying that “our visitors, irrespective of colour, are entitled to a hearty English welcome”. The tour manager, William Hayman had travelled ahead of the main party in order to furnish suitable arrangements, adding to the calendar of games agreed in advance to the effect that there was some rather inconvenient travel requirements once the full complement of games was organised, for example playing in Rochdale, then journeying to Swansea, followed by a return to Yorkshire to play Bradford all in the space of a week. In the event, the Aboriginals played an exhausting schedule of 47 matches in a little over four months, most of which also included a day of Australian sports exhibitions. In the latter, Dick-a-Dick gained some celebrity for his extraordinary ability to face a group of adversaries armed with cricket balls at a distance of fifteen or twenty paces and defend himself from being hit with a small shield and an L-shaped club, his success being such that having faced hundreds of cricket balls during the whole tour he was hit only once. Interestingly, the L-shaped weapon, variously referred to as a “leowill” or “liangle” now resides in the Lord’s museum.

In their first match the Aboriginals, with Lawrence as captain, faced “a very strong Surrey side” in front of a large crowd of more than 7,000 and, though they lost by an innings, Mullagh covered himself in glory by top-scoring in each innings (33 out of 83 followed by 73 out of 132) as well as taking three wickets in Surrey’s innings, his high score leading to the crowd rushing onto the field and carrying him jubilantly to the pavilion. An indication perhaps of the ignorant naivete of some sections of the English press was observed by the report of the Surrey match in the Leeds Mercury, proclaiming that the running of the Aboriginals “did not seem to satisfy the spectators, who having no doubt founded their expectations on what they had heard about the kangaroo, were astonished to see the usual style of running prevalent amongst bipeds adopted.”

Mullagh was to prove himself on both sides of the ball in the next few matches against some sturdy opponents such as Kent and Sussex, such that he was in top form when the great day came and the players walked out to face the MCC at Lord’s. Originally there had been opposition to this fixture however the visitors had proven themselves worthy of such an honour, as evidenced by the strength of the MCC team. The side included CF Buller, good enough to be selected for a WG Grace XI, Robert Fitzgerald and Harvey Fellows, England and I-Zingari representatives, along with Viscount Downs and the Earl of Coventry. Mullagh had Buller clean-bowled for 14, finishing with a first-innings tally of 5/82, Cuzens returning figures of 4/52 before Mullagh again top-scored with a splendid 75, receiving “loud and well-deserved cheers as he returned to the pavilion.”, so that amazingly the Aboriginals were 21 runs to the good on first innings scores. It was to be Cuzens who would take bowling honours in the MCC’s second innings, his “delivery of the windmill description, and consequently somewhat dangerous on the wickets at Lord’s” gaining him figures of 6/65 to give him a ten-wicket match haul, and this against the MCC. So the Aboriginals went into bat chasing 101, fully 84 less than they had managed in the first innings – surely they couldn’t beat the MCC at the home of English cricket? Things started badly however and Lawrence, injured and requiring a runner was unfortunately run out by him, leaving the Aboriginals in dire straits on 13 for five. Mullagh now came in to much cheering, “the entire sympathy of the crowd being with the ‘darkies'”, however after quickly thrilling the crowd with a three and a five he was soon dismissed for 12. Victory was thus the MCC’s by 55 runs, without a doubt a hugely creditable result for the visitors and which was probably not impacted by the unexplained absence of Bullocky for the tourist’s second innings. At the conclusion of the match the tourists once again gave a demonstration of “native sports”, the extraordinary Dick-a-Dick so impressing the crowd with his successful evasion of pelting with cricket balls that he was carried in triumph to the dressing-room on their shoulders.

The team now moved away from the London area and after having won just one match from their first ten they proceeded to win two of their next four. Mullagh was by now the clear star, having achieved both the most fifties with four and also the most five-fers, a very impressive ten in only fourteen matches including twelve wickets against Rochdale. On the 26th June, the following piece appeared in the London Standard: “DEATH OF ONE OF THE ABORIGINAL BLACK ELEVEN: We regret to say that King Cole died last night at Guy’s Hospital, from an attack of inflammation of the lungs. He was removed to Guy’s on the return of the eleven from Hastings, where they had been playing up to Wednesday evening. King Cole was under 30 years of age.” Mulvaney and Harcourt in Cricket Walkabout state that in fact King Cole died of tuberculosis aggravated by pneumonia. King Cole had played his final game in Portsmouth the week before his death. One of the objections of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines had been concern over the effects of the British climate on the Aboriginals and the death of King Cole seemed to be bearing this out.

The Aboriginals were now matched with the might of Yorkshire where, despite the efforts of Cuzens top-scoring in both innings (including 42 out of 58 in the second) and Red Cap’s seven wickets they lost by an innings. Cuzens had entered a rich vein of form, following his heroics against Yorkshire with consecutive fifties the second of which, 87 against Norwich would see him listed alongside the likes of WG Grace, Edward Tylecote and Richard Daft in the newspaper’s end of season summary. Lawrence was by now playing a captain’s role with eight five-fers in only seven matches, such that following the Yorkshire defeat the Aboriginals had since gone thirteen matches with only one loss. The six wins and six draws in that stretch were made all the more remarkable by the fact that Sundown and James Crow had been sent home in August, such that with the unfortunate loss of King Cole they were down to only eleven fit men including Lawrence. Amazingly, these eleven would play a total of eighteen matches in September and October, when the weather in England is hardly conducive to cricket. They were somewhat fortunate not to have been reduced to ten in actual fact, as Tiger had appeared before magistrates in Sheffield after having assaulted a policeman when drunk and disorderly. Despite having knocked the policeman to the ground and attempting to strangle him, he was let off with a “severe reprimand” after the secretary at Bramall Lane had spoken up on his behalf: “It appears Tiger occupied the position of long slip, and the secretary explained that he had given them the slip (laughter) as they were under the belief that he was at his lodgings at the time the offence was committed.” The Sheffield secretary also graciously paid the fine of twenty shillings.

Mullagh was now playing himself back into form, with two fifties and a five-fer against Bootle. It’s fair to say that not all of the opponents were of the highest quality and the tourists now followed a sequence of nine wins, six draws and three defeats with a stretch of tough matches against Sussex, Middlesex and Sussex, however they managed to force a draw against all three county sides. Three further draws preceded a trip to Hampshire and an astonishing serous of performances by Twopenny, who had bowled sparingly until then. In two matches vs East Hampshire at Southsea followed by the Gentlemen of Hampshire at Southampton he took in three consecutive innings 9/9, 6/7 (giving him scarcely believable match figures of 15 for 16) and 9/17, which with his 3/38 in the final innings against Hampshire gave him 27 wickets at less than three apiece over the two matches. Sadly no detailed report of the East Hampshire game could be located, though the Hampshire Advertiser noted in commenting on the match against Hampshire that “the bowling of Twopenny was particularly destructive.” The tourists completed their exhaustive program with a return to the Oval to face Surrey, the home team winning by nine wickets with Cuzens acquitting himself well with the bat in amassing 63 in the second innings.

That defeat left the tourists final record even at 14 wins, 18 draws and 14 defeats and with extremely limited resources the last fifteen matches had seen only two reversals. The interest of the public and press had been sustained through a long and exhausting tour such that all 47 results together with the final averages were reproduced in the national newspapers, as well as potted scores in the folowing year’s Wisden:-

BATTING (ranked by total runs)

Player Matches Innings Not Out Runs H.S. 50s Average
Mullagh 45 71 4 1698 94 9 23.65
Cuzens 46 72 8 1358 87 9 19.90
Lawrence 40 57 12 1156 63 3 20.16
Red Cap 47 73 3 630 56 1 8.46
Twopenny 46 70 6 589 35 0 8.29
Bullocky 39 61 3 579 64 1 9.33

BOWLING (ranked by total wickets)

Player Overs Maidens Runs Wickets 5wI 10wM Average
Lawrence 1579 451 3022 250 19 2 12.08
Mullagh 1877 831 2489 245 22 2 10.15
Cuzens 868 361 1296 114 5 1 11.36
Red Cap 366 141 576 54 5 0 10.66
Twopenny 176 78 242 35 3 2 6.91

It’s worth noting that Mullagh would likely have taken even more wickets had more of their stronger opponents been required to bat a second time. As mentioned earlier, a significant number of games were played against weak opposition, so it is enlightening to only consider the matches played against the representative teams of the counties and divisions thereof (e.g. South Derbyshire). The tourist’s record against these sides was a less impressive one win, five draws and nine defeats, while the aggregates and averages in those games was as follows:-

BATTING (ranked by total runs)

Player Innings Not Out Runs H.S. 50s Average
Mullagh 25 1 481 75 2 20.04
Lawrence 23 1 425 63 2 19.32
Cuzens 24 1 359 66 2 15.61
Bullocky 24 1 253 34 0 11.00

BOWLING (ranked by total wickets)

Player Runs Wickets 5wI 10wM Average
Mullagh 895 60 7 1 14.92
Lawrence 815 56 6 0 14.55
Cuzens 646 40 2 1 16.15
Twopenny 155 31 3 2 5.00
Red Cap 83 10 1 0 8.30

Those these figures may not seem impressive nowadays, but when assessed against the season aggregates, Mullagh in particular compares very favourably to the leading English players of the day. He would have finished in ninth position in the batting list and with a superior average to three of those above him, and in terms of bowling he would have been one place higher in eighth when ranked on total wickets, with a superior average to two of those above him. No less a writer than David Frith wrote of Mullagh in his book The Fast Men “a kind of early Sobers, who batted “elegantly”, sometimes kept wicket, and with his fastish bowling took 245 wickets at ten runs apiece”. While it would be expected that Lawrence’s pedigree would result in good performances from the captain, it is clear from the above that Mullagh and Cuzens were fine players and that Twopenny, were he given his head earlier may have carried all before him with the ball.

It was a very weary band of Aboriginal brothers which left Gravesend in October 1868, arriving in Sydney on 4 February the following year, four days short of a full year since their departure. No record exists as to whether the Aboriginal players received any payment for their overseas exploits, however further matches on their return in Sydney and Melbourne were arranged with the intent of providing the players with the takings. Unfortunately both were relatively poorly attended due to the weather, the first due to rain and in the second instance due to stifling heat. Ironically, it was in this, their final match together, which saw them achieve their highest score of 331/9 including fifties for Lawrence, Cuzens and Twopenny.

In November 1869 the Aboriginal Protection Act was passed into Victoria state law. This law gave the government extensive powers over the lives of the Aboriginal people including residence, employment, marriage and even legalised the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents, this last aspect becoming known as the Stolen Generations. So only a year after facing the MCC, the Aboriginal eleven now had what little freedom they had previously enjoyed taken from them – a great opportunity for development through sport had been sadly missed by a misguided attempt to protect what was thought to be a “race that is now becoming extinct”. The original players went their separate ways, some into obscurity and early death, others like Twopenny, Mullagh and Cuzens to further cricketing glories. Twopenny would become the first Aboriginal player to appear in a first-class match when he represented New South Wales in an inter-colonial match, and Mullagh and Cuzens were employed as professionals at Melbourne Cricket Club for a while, though none of the players could settle into that way of life and all soon returned to their origins. It would be Mullagh who, perhaps not surprisingly given his form in England, would leave the most lasting legacy; after years of sterling service playing cricket for Harrow, there is now a museum there in his honour. In later years exceptional Aboriginal cricketing talents such as Alec Henry, Jack Marsh and Eddie Gilbert were denied the honour of playing for their country, and it was not until 2001 that it became public knowledge that Jason Gillespie, first capped in 1996, was of Aboriginal extraction.

The 1868 tour has subsequently been honooured in several ways, most notably by the publication of the wonderfully detailed book Cricket Walkabout in 1967, which in today’s market-savvy publshing world would no doubt have been delayed to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the tour the following year, and which was substantialy revised in 1988 following further research. In the same year of the book’s revision, a 17-member Aboriginal Cricket Association team celebrated the 120th anniversary of the tour by travelling to England. Captained by John Maquire the team played 28 games, winning 16 of them, also being presented to the Queen at Buckingham Palace, the commemorative tour being documented in the film Dreaming of Lord’s. In March 2002 a Canberra cricket match between a Prime Minister’s XI and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) Chairman’s XI commemorated the 1868 tour. In 2009 a squad of 14 Aboriginal players aged 16-26 left Brisbane, Queensland, on 20 June to retrace some of the famous 1868 tour, playing eleven matches within a month, some at the same grounds where the original tourists had visited – the documentary From The Ashes traces the journey of two members of the 2009 team, Worrin Williams and Cameron Trask.

Finally in 2002, the same year that Cricket Australia adopted a formal indigenous strategic plan for the first time, the team was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

How did those young men feel after enjoying months of relative celebrity in England, playing cricket with Earls and Viscounts at Lord’s only to return to their home and have their freedom taken away so shortly after? Dick-a-Dick, the cricket ball dodger who years before had been triumphantly carried to the Lord’s dressing room, was asked by Jack Long, many years later an Aboriginal elder but at that time a callow youth, what he thought of his time in England and with stoic understatement Dick-a-Dick replied: “It was all right there in England, and it was all right here”.

Some perspective

Were the Aboriginals exploited and to what degree? Certainly when looked at through modern eyes the exploitation seems to have been significant. Advertisements carried by the local press prior to the first tour under Hayman emphasised that the Aboriginals were a “dying race”, as noted by “Cricket Walkabout” author Rex Harcourt during the 2001 ABC Radio broadcast “The Sports Edition”.

Also during the aforementioned ABC Radio broadcast David Frith had noted that “clown cricket” was quite common in those days, as was the parading of sports exhibitions from the colonies. The athletic events and exhibition of “native” Aboriginal sports proved to be much more of a draw than the cricket matches – estimates of crowds presented by Sampson indicate that an average of 1,000 more spectators attended the sports exhibitions than did the cricket matches. Lawrence anticipated this and had the Aboriginals practising their skills assiduously while coaching them in Victoria before their departure. A note in his journals, which were presented to the Melbourne Cricket Club by his descendants and subsequently serialised in the Wisden Cricket Monthly during 1989 as “The Lawrence Papers”, shows that Lawrence had speculated on this aspect when he first arrived in Australia some seven years previously: “I thought I should soon make a fortune, for I had an idea or a presentiment, after I had seen the blacks throw the boomerang and spears, that if I could teach them to play cricket and take them to England I should meet with success. This impression never left my mind until I succeeded in forming an Aboriginal team and took them to England in 1868.” It would seem from Hayman’s advertising copy and Lawrence’s journals that preconceived exploitation must be admitted.

This report from the the Hamilton Spectator in August 1867 shows a prevalent attitude to the Aboriginals, stating “Lawrence…and Mr William Hayman, having succeeded in mustering a very good team, comprising those who were left alive after the last tour, and some other darkies whose cricketing capabilities are highly spoken of.” The dismissiveness with which the deaths of four cricketers is addressed seems highly supercilious to modern readers. The piece goes on to belittle the exhibitions of Aboriginal sports by suggesting they be followed by eleven gaudily-dressed “lubras” (Aboriginal females) being taught croquet and flirtation “on scientific principles”. In England, the Norwich Mercury of 29 Jul 1868 pondered “how the most profound principles displayed in [the boomerang’s] construction could have been discovered by these barbarians, or by what accident the use of so eccentric a missile could have been revealed to them”. Set against that, a writer in The Field of September 1868 mentions ther skill at cribbage, draughts and billiards – “I am desirous of mentioning their skill at these games, inasmuch as we are frequently in the habit of speaking of the Australians as savages of so low a type that they are capable of civilization. But incapacity for civilization is one thing, and unwillingness to submit permanently to the restraints of civilized society another. It is strange that these men, when they return to the colonies will, in all probability, for a time at least, throw off all these restraints and their European clothing at the same time, and take to the freedom of the bush and the sweet society of unrestrained ‘glee'”. The Field’s opinion, though for the times enlightened, was decidedly in the minority.

Although there is evidence of a certain parental benevolence by Lawrence and the team management, there is also evidence of some less than munificent treatment. In Sampson’s paper he reproduces an excerpt of a letter written by Hayman’s daughter that Mullagh had been forced to earn his keep in an hotel following which he was “no trouble”, a huge embarassment for the team’s prominent player, and that Dick-a-Dick had fallen in love with an English woman but that Hayman would not allow him to stay and marry her.

A glance at the schedule of matches shows a distinct lack of consideration in regard to King Cole’s death; he died in London on June 24 and yet the team was required to play in Halifax on June 26. Sampson also gives details of the clumsy mishandling by the management and public as regards the Aboriginals’ coping with King Cole’s passing. Cuzens had also been ill at the start of the tour but recovered, however Jim Crow and Sundown were sent home early when they fell sick. It is unclear why the management felt that a three-month sea voyage home would be more beneficial than receiving immediate hospital treatment in England.

As to the subject of payment, the Eastbourne Gazette claimed in October 1868 that “We believe we are justified in saying that besides their weekly wages, and ordinary expenses allowed them in England, they will each receive 50 pounds upon their return home.” There is no record of such payments being made in Graham’s ledger, and it’s possible that the Gazette had become aware of the previous tour’s contractual details under Captain Gurnett; the contract re-surfaced in 1937 and showed that Gurnett had promised to pay each member of the team a weekly wage of 7/6 and 50 pounds on their return. Certainly Mulvaney and Harcourt did not believe the Aboriginals received any payment. A letter from Hayman which was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald on 27 Apr 1867, in response to a previous letter from Gurnett, stated”…at no time have I received any money from Mr Gurnett except the wages occasionally for the men”. However he does not state that he passed the wages onto the men, though he does say that he had “expended considerable sums on account of the blacks” and further alleges that Gurnett had directly received the takings from all games. It’s unclear what promises were made to the Aboriginals who went on to tour England which made them agree to travel in spite of the substantial human costs from the first tour. Sampson writes that Dick-a-dick managed to extract individual payment from the management for his performances, and there is evidence that Mullagh and others received payments from the clubs for particularly meritorious performances as well as impromptu donations from the spectators.

Some of the players are worthy of great credit for their performances on the cricket field and some for their exibition of outstanding prowess in athletics, but all deserved fulsome praise for their incredible endurance during this year-long journey. From a cricket perspective, it is quite possible that Johnny Cuzens introduced overarm bowling into Australia following the proficiency he displayed using that style in England.

Dick-a-dick had become quite famous in his homeland in 1864 when he was able to use his expert tracking skills to locate three white children who had been given up for dead, the story of which made the national press. He was of course the star of the show each time the cricket was done and attention was turned to the various Aboriginal exhibitions, the crowd thrilling to his demonstration of dodging the cricket ball. His performance was as much theatrical as athletic, featuring incredible bravery mixed with a not insignificant amount of taunting of his assailants. An entry in the Derby Daily Telegraph in September 1894, looking back on the tour match with South Derbyshire credits Dick-a-dick with holding the world record for throwing the cricket ball at 141 yards. “Cricket Walkabout” states that on his return from England he vanished back into the bushland and was apparently seen only once more, in 1884 at a race meeting, prior to the reminiscences by Jack Long related above. Furthermore, Bill Edwards, lecturer on Aboriginal Studies, in his paper on the subject of Dick-a-dick’s death states that Friedrich Spieseke, of the Ebenezer Mission in Dick-a-dick’s home district of Wimmera, wrote in some detail in September 1870 that Dick-a-dick was already dead.

However, there is some evidence that Dick-a-dick either stayed on in England or at least returned there. In an intriguing entry, the website of Nelson Cricket Club in Lancashire, which has boasted among its ranks of professionals the great Learie Constantine, states that after the club reformed in 1878 they “even engaged their own professional – the first of a very long line of internationally famous cricketers. It was in 1879 that “Dick o’ Dicks”, alias Francis Crueze, came to Nelson after having played at the East Lancashire club with the Australian Aboriginal touring team.” Jack Williams, in his excellent book “Cricket and Race”, suggests that the player in question was a gentleman of Portuguese origins. An examination of the English newspapers of the time reveals some interesting indications to the contrary, however. The Western Times of 23 June 1875 includes the following short piece entitled “The Clown Cricketers”:- “Yesterday the Clown Cricketers resumed their play in the field …The result of the match on Monday against the St James’ Club was the victory of the clowns (among whom there are several professional cricketers)…Dick-a-dick, the Australian who bowls at a great pace, took the majority of the club wickets.” Dick-a-dick is also listed as playing for various Yorkshire teams between 1876 and 1878 so was certainly in the north of England around the time of the hiring of Nelson’s similarly-named professional. The fact that the Western Times refers to him as “the Australian” and, considering the Aboriginal cricketer’s great showmanship during the England tour, that he was playing with the Clown Cricketers, coupled with the consistent spelling in the match reports and scorecards as Dick-a-dick rather than “Dick o’ Dicks”, would seem to suggest that it could well have been the Aboriginal player.

The Singleton Argus (New South Wales) in April 1913 quoted the Rev J Kirkland who had buried Johnny Mullagh: “I gave an address over his grave. I remember stating he had three characteristics that would adorn any white man and few could lay claim to them. They were, he never was known to be drunk, he never used an oath, he never disputed an umpire’s decision”. A poem which the Reverend wrote about Mullagh and read at his funeral ended with the words “The whitest man and the smartest one that ever played old England’s game”. According to The Sporting Life of 28 October 1868, “Mullagh received an offer from the Surrey club of an engagement at the Oval.”

The final word on Johnny Mullagh comes from the Champion: according to the Reverend Kirkland, WG Grace told Hayman “with practice Johnny Mullagh would be the finest cricketer in the world.”


“Cricket Walkabout”, John Mulvaney and Rex Harcourt (1967, revised 1988)
“Culture, ‘Race” and Discrimination in the 1868 Aboriginal Tour of England”, Dr David Sampson, Australian Aboriginal Studies (2009)
“Cricket and Race”, Jack Williams (2001)
“Eddie Gilbert”, Mike Colman and Ken Edwards (2002)
“The Fate of an Aboriginal Cricketer: When and Where Did Dick-a-dick Die?” Bill Edwards, Australian Aboriginal Studies (1999)


Amazing story – thank you for sharing ….

Comment by longtom | 12:00am GMT 16 January 2013

Awesome story Dave. The story behind the story is why I love sports. Glad you captured this.

Comment by David Kay | 12:00am GMT 16 January 2013

Thanks for the comments, longtom and Dave.

Comment by Dave Wilson | 12:00am GMT 18 January 2013

The sad part of that amazing story of our indigenous players is they have never been fully accredited with being the first aussie side to tour.If in doubt google it.They may get a minor mention.Because they did all sorts of indigenous displays eg boomerang throwing, they were sadly considered to be not serious players of the game but showman and it was curiousity value bringing crowds to their games and not their incredible ability to play our game.That was a good read though

Comment by JBMAC | 12:00am GMT 18 January 2013

I didn’t know they were lodged at Town Malling – that’s just up the road from me. Next time I’m there I’ll look in at the library to see if they have anything on the visitors.

Comment by stumpski | 12:00am GMT 20 January 2013

Great article. The story of the 1868 cricketers would make a cracking movie.

Comment by Kevin Hopgood | 10:11am BST 4 April 2017

Wonderful story. Mr. Wilson. Thanks for sharing all this valuable information about what was arguably the most important cricket tour ever made in England by an Australian team.

Comment by Dr. Pradip Kumar Dhole | 12:04pm GMT 18 November 2019

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