The Mythical Ashes

The Ashes symbolise the supreme contest in Australian and English Test cricket since 1882.

Ashes Obituary, Weekly Record 1882Melbourne Cricket Ground

Ashes Obituares

In August 1882, cricket followers were
stunned when the touring Australian team beat a full-strength England side at
The Oval in London. The Ashes legend originated shortly after with several mock
obituaries published in English newspapers and journals, mourning the demise of
English cricket.

The first obituary to appear was published on August 31 in Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game. It was headed “Sacred to the Memory of England’s supremacy in the cricket field which expired on the 29th day of August, at The Oval”.

Ashes Obituary, Sporting Times 1882Melbourne Cricket Ground

Two days later a second obituary notice appeared in the Sporting Times, submitted by Reginald Shirley Watkinshaw Brooks, lamenting the death of English cricket. It is the more celebrated of the obituaries and contains the first use of the term “the Ashes”. With its final sentence proclaiming “The body had been cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”, Watkinshaw also references the contemporary debate over the legalisation of cremation in the UK.

Farewell Menu, 1883 Test tour, exterior (1883) by Melbourne Cricket ClubMelbourne Cricket Ground

Honour restored

England Captain Ivo Bligh pledge to restore England's cricketing honour on the 1883 tour of Australia.

Ivo and The Ashes, Paradie Regained (1883) by UnknownMelbourne Cricket Ground

An England team had been organised to tour Australia in 1882-1883 and was due to depart only a few months after the Australians’ famous victory at The Oval. Prior to their departure, England captain Ivo Bligh pledged to return with the Ashes of English cricket and thereby restore national cricketing honour.

Photograph of the Ashes urn with explanatory text, c1930Melbourne Cricket Club

The famous Darnley Urn which has come to represent ‘the Ashes’ was created during the 1882-83 tour which was organised by the Melbourne Cricket Club. While staying at Rupertswood, the country estate of MCC President Hon. William Clarke Bt, the England team played a match against the staff, which they won easily. After the match Lady Clarke arranged for the burning of an item, possibly a bail, the cover of a ball or a veil, and placed the ashes in a small pottery urn which was presented to team captain, Ivo Bligh (later Lord Darnley), in jest about his quest to recover the ashes of English cricket.

Farewell Menu, 1883 Test tour, exterior (1883) by Melbourne Cricket ClubMelbourne Cricket Ground

England and Australia drew the four-Test series and at a farewell dinner Bligh commented that he could not take ‘the ashes’ back to England, and it would perhaps be best if they were buried on a corner of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Photograph of the Ashes urn with explanatory text, c1930Melbourne Cricket Club

The Darnley Urn, now synonymous with the Ashes, was first displayed at Marylebone Cricket Club in England in 1929. Originally treasured as a personal memento of Lord and Lady Darnley’s relationship and the 1883 tour of Australia, the urn has grown in stature to become the most iconic symbol of ‘the Ashes’ contest. This photograph of the urn was presented to the Melbourne Cricket Club by Lady Darnley on a visit to Australia in 1930 and was displayed in the Members’ Pavilion.

1909 Ashes Urn, presented to Frank Laver (1910)Melbourne Cricket Club

Many trophies and mementos have been presented to victorious teams over the long history of the Ashes. The Laver Urn of 1909 was the first memento created to celebrate an Australian victory in Ashes Test matches. It forms the centrepiece of the MCC Museum’s Ashes display. The sterling silver urn was made by J. McBean & Sons of Melbourne and was commissioned by Henry Skinner, who had promised team manager Frank Laver that “if you win the Ashes, I will give you an urn to put them in”. After winning the series the bails and stumps used in the fourth Test at Old Trafford were given to Laver and upon the team’s return to Australia were burnt and placed in the urn. The front of the urn features the cricket coat of arms, which also appears on the Australian Baggy Green Test cricket caps.

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