Aboriginal Cricket Team and Tom Wills (1866)Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
2018 marked the 150th anniversary of the 1868 first Aboriginal cricket team to tour England; a time of national reflection on the history of Aboriginal cricket in Australia.
Aboriginal involvement in cricket in Australia dates back to the earliest days of sport in the colony, with records indicating engagement in 1795 in Sydney, and the 1830s in Tasmania. The first reference to an actual cricket match was in February 1854, when three indigenous cricketers named Poonindie played in a game at St Peter's College Adelaide, South Australia.
The first international Australian cricket team was an all Aboriginal team. Formed by a pastoralist's son from western Victoria, in south eastern Australia, the team toured England in 1868. It is both a triumphant and tragic story comprising of Aboriginal Australian, Colonial Australian and British nations - all woven together by cricket.
AIATSIS map by David R Horton (creator), © AIATSIS, 1996.Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Tom Wills was born in Australia in 1835 and educated at England's prestigious Rugby school. As a child growing up on his father's Western Victorian property, he formed childhood friendships with the local Aboriginal children of the Jardwadjali, Dhauwurd Warring (Gunditjmara) and Wotjobaluk clans from the areas around Harrow and Edenhope in the Wimmera region of Victoria. As a child Wills played a local game with the Aboriginal children which would later become the basis for the founding rules of Australian Rules Football (AFL) to which he contributed. He became fluent in their language and taught them to play the colonial game of cricket.
This map attempts to represent the language, social or nation groups of Aboriginal Australia. It shows only the general locations of larger groupings of people which may include clans, dialects or individual languages in a group. It used published resources from 1988-1994 and is not intended to be exact, nor the boundaries fixed. It is not suitable for native title or other land claims. David R Horton (creator), © AIATSIS, 1996. No reproduction without permission. To purchase a print version visit: www.aiatsis.ashop.com.au/
Detail of this map shows the Jardwadjali, Dhauwurd Warring (Gunditjmara) and Wotjobaluk clans from the areas around Harrow and Edenhope in the Wimmera region of Victoria, on the south eastern Australian mainland. David R Horton (creator), © AIATSIS, 1996. No reproduction without permission.
Portrait of Tom Wills (1870) by William HandcockBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Tom Wills b.1855 - d.1880
On his return from schooling in England in late 1856, Wills became regarded as the finest Australian cricketer of his day right through to the early 1870s. He also captained Victoria and was sought after as a player by New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia.
Horatio Wills' grave, Cullin-Le-Ringo QLD (1861) by Wills Family ArchiveBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
In 1861 Wills' family moved with his father and staff, to establish a property, Cullin-La-Ringo (modern day Springsure) in western Queensland, northern Australia.
Relations between the local Aboriginal people and settlers had been tumultuous due to frontier conflict, which was particularly violent in Queensland. In October 1861, a local Aboriginal clan attacked Horatio Wills' property, murdering 19 men, women and children, including Tom's father, Horatio. It is the biggest massacre of white people by Aboriginal people in Australian history.
Tom Wills survived, but visibly affected by the catastrophe, reacted not with anger but with an act of compassion and courageous reconciliation. Taking no part in the ugly reprisal killings against the Aboriginal communities involved, Wills returned to the Western District of Victoria. Together with colleague William Hayman, Wills formed a cricket team of talented local Aboriginal men, making an early act of public reconciliation between Aboriginal people and the English settlers.
Image of Horatio Wills' grave, Cullin-Le-Ringo, Queensland. (Wills Family Papers, Bradman Museum)
Aboriginal XI cricket team with Wills and Gurnett (1866) by UnknownBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
During 1866 and 1867 the team toured New South Wales, and regional Victoria. As the team's prowess grew they became hugely popular, playing the Melbourne Cricket Club before a crowd of 8,000 people.
Image of the the Aboriginal cricketers, 1866 at MCG, Bullocky (Bullchanach), Mosquito (James Couzens) (Grougarrong), Charley Dumas (Pripumuarraman), Peter (Arrahmunijarrimun), Dick-a-Dick (Yangendyinanyuk), Red Cap (Brimbunyah), Jim Crow (Lytejerbillijun), Sundown (Ballrinjarrimin), Johnny Cuzens (Yellana), Tiger (Bonnibarngeet), Johnny Mullagh (Unaarrimin), Twopenny (Jarrawuk/Murrumgunarrimin), King Cole (Bripumyarrimin), with Tom Wills (left), William Gurnett and William Hayman.
Aboriginal Cricket Team Line Drawing (1867/1868) by Samuel CalvertBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Players like Unaarrimin (Johnny Mullagh), Yellana (Cuzens), Bullchanach (Bullocky) and Yangendyinanyuk (Dick-a-Dick) were the most accomplished and skilful players.
A devastated Tom Wills by Wills Family ArchivesBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
As the team strengthened, Tom Wills set about making plans to take the players to England, but behind his back William Gurnett, an ex-soldier and entrepreneur, seeing the earning potential of such a tour, signed the players ahead of Wills.
In 1868, accompanied by English player Charles Lawrence, who acted as Manager, the team departed for England without Wills. Suffering the long term effects of his father and friend's traumatic deaths, Wills commenced a fatal spiral into alcoholism and despair, which ultimately ended in his suicide on May 2, 1880.
Wills photographed after the 1861 Cullin-Le-Ringo massacre.
Contract of the Aboriginal Cricket Team (1867) by Courtesy State Library of VictoriaBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Meanwhile, Hayman prepared a A Deed of Agreement which was signed with the Aboriginal cricketers. Paid just seven shillings and sixpence per week each, it reads in part;
'…(players) shall not …embark in any other business or speculation but shall and will devote the whole of his time to the said Matches Athletic and other sports… and will when requested to act as umpire or Referee in any of such matches…'
Players Aboriginal names were set out accompanied by their colonial names, of which they were known on the tour.
Australian and English Sports on the Trent Bridge Ground (1868-08)Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Embarking from Sydney on the wool clipper 'Parramatta', the team took 74 days to reach England. The route took them south to the latitudes of the Roaring 40s, passing the southern tip of South America via Cape Horn, and north along the length of the Atlantic Ocean. They arrived in London on May 24.
In England the team were warmly welcomed and treated as exotic curiosities from the distant colony. They were also expected to perform other feats on top of their gruelling cricket itinerary.
The team played 47 matches over five months, winning 14, losing 14, with 19 games drawn. The rigorous schedule required them to play 99 days out of a possible 126, across 15 counties all against high calibre sides.
The advertisement on the left illustrates the underlying commercial imperative of the tour. In the hopes of capitalising on the exotic appeal of the Aboriginal players. However, cricket audiences and teams alike in England were more captivated by the team's skill and performance on the field, as evident in newspaper reports of the time.
The eurocentric ideology of the 19th century is evident in this news article. The Aboriginal names of the Australian cricketers are set alongside their colonial names (sobriquets). Respect for these cricketers is evident; Mullagh and Cuzens were noted for their 'considerable talent and precision in bowling'.
Wisden cover, with Aboriginal XI (1869) by Wisden. Bradman Museum CollectionBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Bradman Museum houses an original 1869 Wisden Cricketers' Almanac, which recorded the historic matches including against the MCC played by the 'Australian Aboriginals' in 1868.
Wisden, MCC v Aboriginal XI at Lords (1869) by Wisden. Bradman Museum CollectionBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
First Aboriginal Cricket Team (2001) by Dave ThomasBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
The Australian Aboriginal XI
Dave Thomas portrait 2001. Standing (from left) Mosquito (James Couzens) (Grougarrong), Charley Dumas (Pripumuarraman), Captain: Charles Lawrence, Tiger (Bonnibarngeet), Red Cap (Brimbunyah), Jim Crow (Lytejerbillijun), Peter (Arrahmunijarrimun), Dick-a-Dick (Yangendyinanyuk), Johnny Mullagh (Unaarrimin), Bullocky (Bullchanach), Twopenny (Jarrawuk/Murrumgunarrimin), Sundown (Ballrinjarrimin). Seated King Cole (Bripumyarrimin) and Johnny Cuzens (Yellana).
Only ten of the thirteen Aboriginal men endured the gruelling tour, with Bripumyarrimin (King Cole) tragically dying from tuberculosis in June. Two others, Ballrinjarrimin (Sundown) and Lytejerbillijun (Jim Crow) were sent home sick in August. Charles Lawrence, the team's manager/coach and former English First-Class player, frequently substituted.
Detail shows Bripumyarrimin (King Cole). Dave Thomas, 2001.
Cricketer Unaarrimin (Johnny Mullagh)Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Six team members played in excess of 45 matches. They created much interest in England which forced rescheduling additional matches including matches at The Oval and Lord's.
The most successful player, Unaarrimin (Mullagh), scored 1,670 runs at an average of 23.89 runs and took 245 wickets at an average of 10.16 runs per wicket.
The great English cricketer W.G. Grace witnessed the 1868 team. So impressed was he by Unaarrimin (Mullagh) and Yellana (Cuzens) against MCC at Lord's, he noted "...(they) had acquitted themselves very well" and shown "conspicuous skill at the game".
Aboriginal Team Collage (1867-10-08) by Werrnambool ExaminerBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
No Rest Between Play
In addition to the cricket, during breaks in play, the team was required to demonstrate their athletic prowess with running races, throwing and jumping activities. In addition Aboriginal activities such as boomerang and spear throwing were performed. On occasions they would also stage a mock battle. These additional activities only served to further enhance the team to English spectators.
The Aboriginal Cricketers as photographed by the Werrnambool Examiner, 8 October 1867. Photographed in their distinct individually coloured sash tops, many pose with traditional Aboriginal implements such as boomerangs, spears and shields. Charles Lawrence is seated at top, William Hayman standing at the bottom.
Cricketer Zellanach (Johnny Cuzens)Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Yellana (Johnny Cuzens)
The Aboriginal players returned to Australia in February 1869, having more than matched the standard of play in England. Most resumed their roles as farm labourers in Western Victoria, with the exceptions of Unamuriman (Johnny Mullagh) and Yellana (Johnny Cuzens) who were retained by the Melbourne Cricket Club for a short while.
Yellana scored 1358 runs at an average of 19.90 (HS 87) on tour, second only to Unamurriman. He also took 114 wickets at 11.30.
Faith Thomas (OAM). Imparja Cup, Alice Springs by Bradman Museum Collection. (Photographer unknown)Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
"In the years following the 1868 Tour, Aboriginal cricket declined due to policies of protectionism and segregation. The opportunities for Aboriginal advancement in the game were lost. No Aboriginal cricketers were able to demonstrate their full potential or to make a greater impact on white consciousness through sustained performances at the highest levels of the game until 1958." Bernard Whimpress
It was to be another ten years before a anglo-Australian team would embark on a similar overseas tour and another 120 years that a second Aboriginal side toured England. No Aboriginal person would wear a Baggy Green until 1958, when Faith Thomas OAM (née Coulthard) played for Australia. Renewed effort was made leading up to 1988 Bicentennial celebrations by the Australian Federal government and the Aboriginal Cricket Association, recognising Aboriginal cricket history, its struggles and survival.
The Imparja Cup, a national competition comprising Indigenous sides from all states, was first held in Alice Springs, Northern Territory in 1994. In 2016, the tournament was extended to a more competitive level with the inaugural National Indigenous Cricket Championships (NICC), also held in Alice Springs. The annual tournaments promote Indigenous cricket nationally, showcasing Australia's most talented Indigenous male and female cricketers.
In 2019 Faith Thomas was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her service to cricket and the Indigenous community. Notably, when Faith was selected to play Test cricket for Australia in 1958, she became the first Aboriginal, male or female, to do so. She is also the first Aboriginal woman to represent Australia in any sport.
The New South Wales Aboriginal Women's Cricket Team with the Imparja cup, 2012.
The New South Wales Men's Aboriginal Cricket Team with the Imparja cup, 2012.
The Second Aboriginal Cricket Team (1988) by Unknown photographerBradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Honouring the First Aboriginal XI Cricketers
In 1988, 120 years later a Second Aboriginal Cricket Team retraced the steps of the first team to coincide with the bicentennial celebrations.
During the 150 year anniversary of the 1868 Aboriginal XI Tour to England, two Indigenous sides again traveled to England marking the historic first tour. Captained by Ashleigh Gardener and Scott Boland, the tour received widespread recognition, awareness and engendered deep respect for the first XI, as well as indigenous cricket today. Indigenous Engagement Specialist at Cricket Australia, Paul Stewart, regards the tour as paving the way for the formation of Test cricket and international matches in the decade after 1868. Aboriginal people can hold great pride in the legacy of the 1868 side.
Image Second Aboriginal Cricket Team (1988): John McQuire (captain), Sean Appoo, Paul Bagshaw, Dwayne Breckenridge, Neil Bulger, Norman Fry, Donald Gardner, Eddie Graham-Vanderbyl, Pius Gregory, Greg James, Michael Mainhardt, Laurie Marks, Joe Marsh, Dennis Monaghan, Bert Pearce Darrin Thompson, Michael Williams, Mark Ella (manager), Ian King (coach).
Video courtesy Cricket Australia
Aboriginal XI First Cricket Tour- Commemorative stamp collection (2018) by Monica Donoso (photo). Australia Post. Bradman Museum Collection.Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
A Nation Reflects
In June 2018, a moving tribute was held at Lord's for Bripumyarrimin (King Cole), who died of tuberculosis during the 1868 tour. Paying respect to the great player at his final resting place, were the Aboriginal XI sides, indigenous and cricket representatives, and Australian High Commissioner to the UK, George Brandis. Australia Post issued a commemorative stamp collection celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Aboriginal XI First Cricketers. The stamps featured the portrait of the team, painted by Australian artist Dave Thomas. The original painting was commissioned by the Bradman Foundation in 2001 and now hangs at Parliament House, Canberra, at the seat of national government in honour of the 1868 side.
A dedicated display has also been created at the Bradman Museum. It showcases the team's incredible story both on and off the field; their triumph and losses, and of life's hardships in those times for Aboriginal people.
The 1868 team was the first Australian side to tour overseas in any sport.
The 1868 Aboriginal team, formed as an act of reconciliation, alongside the first Aboriginal female Test player Faith Thomas, are both the exception and pioneers. Their stories give hope to furthering reconciliation today in Australian society, and the role cricket can play in that journey.
Image of Australia Post 150 year First Cricketers Stamp Collection. Bradman Museum. Video courtesy Cricket Australia.
David Wells, Bradman Museum.
David Kampers, University of Wollongong.
Art Direction: Monica Donoso, Bradman Museum.
© Bradman Museum 2019
1869 Wisden Cricketers' Almanac, Bradman Library Collection.
Melbourne Cricket Club Museum
Wills Family Archive / Dr Greg de Moore
Contract, State Library of Victoria (PAC-10014204)
Imparja Cup 2012, photos by Charlie Lowson.
Faith Thomas (nee Coulthard), photographer unknown.
1988 Second Aboriginal Cricket Team official photo, photographer unknown.
1868 Aboriginal Cricket Team portrait by Dave Thomas 2001.
Australia Post Commemorative 150 yr Collection, Monica Donoso, 2018. Bradman Museum Collection.
AIATSIS Map. David R Horton (creator), © AIATSIS, 1996.
Aboriginal XI 2018 sides and King Cole Tribute. 2018. Courtesy Cricket Australia.
Bill Fogarty, Michael Dodson, Corrine Walsh, Adam Gilchrist, (foreword), Cricket Australia (sponsoring body). 'For The Love of The Game: Indigenous Cricket in Australia'. National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Australian National University. (2015)
Jon Gemmell 'All White Mate? Cricket and Race in Oz'. Sport in Society. (2007)
Ashley Mallett. 'The Black Lords of Summer : The Story of The 1868 Aboriginal Tour of England and Beyond.' University of Queensland Press, (2002)
John Mulvaney, Rex Harcourt. 'Cricket Walkabout.' Macmillan in association with the Dept. of Aboriginal Affairs, (1988)
Bernard Whimpress. ‘Passport to Nowhere –Aborigines in Australian Cricket 1850-1939’. Walla Walla Press, (1999)