Exhibition runs until 8 September 2019 at Brunel’s SS Great Britain in Bristol.
To mark the SS Great Britain’s historic role in that first ever meeting between English and Australian cricket, it is holding an exhibition this summer where visitors can see the original diary by EM Grace, brother of WG Grace, who was on board and treated his team-mates to champagne whilst moaning about the promenading women who ‘made my head ache’. The diary is amongst a selection of artefacts on show which include the cricket ball used by the team to practise on-deck and a newspaper written by the players to pass the time and stave off boredom.
This first ever England Vs Australia tour was originally conceived as a Victorian PR stunt and sponsorship opportunity by two entrepreneurial Melbourne-based businessmen, the wine merchants Felix William Spiers and Christopher Pond. Having failed to persuade Charles Dickens to conduct a lecture tour of Australia, the two Englishmen turned their attention to cricket. The sport’s popularity was growing in Australia, so Spiers and Pond invited a team of leading English cricketers to tour the country. Twelve players signed up for the tour. Named ‘The Eleven of All England’ or HH Stephenson’s XI after the English Captain Heathfield Harman Stephenson, they each received £150 (worth about £7,000 today), first class passage (costing 70 guineas), plus all expenses.
To add to this amazing record of ‘firsts’, it was on this tour that team captain Heathfield Harman Stephenson coined the term ‘hat trick’ which was first used to describe him taking three wickets in three balls. To mark the event a collection was held and he was presented with a hat bought with the proceeds.
The voyage took 66 days and when they arrived in Melbourne they were greeted by a crowd of 10,000 and a quarter of the city’s population watched the first game, plus, huge crowds watched during the entire tour.
After the tour, all but one of the English team returned home, in time for the 1862 English cricket season. The only player to opt to stay was Charles Lawrence who opened a sports shop in Sydney and also took up a position coaching at the Albert Club. Charles went on to play for New South Wales against the second English cricket team to tour Australia, which also travelled on board the ss Great Britain in 1863. He also helped to train a team of Aboriginal cricketers who toured Victoria during 1866-67 and it was with this team that he would return to England, in 1868, as a player and coach of the first Australian cricket team to tour England, which – except for Lawrence – was made up of Aboriginal players.
Entrance to the exhibition is included in the price of admission to the SS Great Britain which is dry-docked at Bristol’s harbourside. Visitors can explore the dockyard, dry dock, two museums and the ship.