The Cricket Tour of Australia by W.G.Grace’s Twelve in 1873-1874

Published: 2023
Pages: 201
Author: Gault, Adrian (Editor)
Publisher: Mitcham CC
Rating: 3.5 stars

When it comes to James Southerton, whose record as the oldest Test debutant is almost certain to remain in perpetuity, some might describe Adrian Gault as a bit of an obsessive. A long association with Mitcham Cricket Club in South London has clearly put him under the spell of one of his club’s most famous former players, and this is the third book he has published in which Southerton plays a leading role.

The first in the ‘trilogy’, a straightforward biography, appeared in 2020. One of the points that comes out of that is that, despite being a professional with no great education behind him, Southerton also did some writing on the game. A more than competent writer during his two trips to Australia he was able to supplement his tour fee by sending regular reports back to England, where they were published in The Sporting Life.

Two years ago Adrian collected together the reports on the second of those trips, that of 1876/77 during which Southerton, at 49, made that debut in the inaugural Test match. Adding the results of his own researches to supplement Southerton’s words he produced an excellent account of the tour.

So the prequel was probably inevitable, and this time the 1873/74 trip gets the treatment. The format and layout of the book is much the same as the last, so for more on that do click on the link in the preceding paragraph.

In many ways despite its lesser status the 1873/74 trip, led as it was by the legendary WG Grace, is the more intriguing of the two. The background as to how it came to take place at all is succinctly explained in Adrian’s introduction, the commercial considerations of those organising the trip being of vital importance.

Southerton’s writing is very much of its time, and is of interest for that reason alone, although had it been couched in the style and language of the 21st century it would doubtless have seemed anodyne to say the least. Southerton had a vested interest in not maligning his fellow tourists, particularly his captain, so he says nothing very controversial.

Privately not all of Southerton’s views coincided with the contents of his writing, something of which his biographer is, naturally, the best placed to be aware of. In addition Southerton’s account of the trip was by no means the only one written, both Lillywhite annuals containing a report as well as Grace’s description in an autobiography. In Australia Rick Smith and Ron Williams researched the tour for their 1994 book WG Down Under. And of course Adrian now has access to the British Newspaper Archive and Trove in Australia.

All of which means that the annotations are in many ways more interesting than Southerton’s prose. Here Adrian takes the chance to clarify the meaning of some of the language used, provide useful background information, introduce others involved in the tour and, importantly, giving additional insights from other sources on some of the episodes that Southerton describes.

And there certainly were some controversial moments, mainly caused by WG being WG and, unsurprisingly, those holding the pursestrings trying to maximise the tour’s profits. On occasion these spats generated correspondence of their own, faithfully reproduced within the text.

As with the book on Lillywhite’s tour The Cricket Tour of Australia by W.G.Grace’s Twelve in 1873-1874 is presented in landscape format and is very well illustrated. There are over one hundred images within the text which add greatly to the appeal of the book. Once more this one appears in a limited edition, this time of one hundred signed and numbered copies, and it is available through the Mitcham CC website. One other point worthy of comment is the price. Current inflationary trends notwithstanding, and thanks to the use of a different printer from last time, this one comes in at £23 includes of UK postage, so more than 20% cheaper than its predecessor.

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