The father of Australian cricket

15 May 2019


15 May 2019


Discover more about the SS Great Britain's connection with cricketer Charles Lawrence known as the father of Australian cricket.

In 2019 the UK will host both the Cricket World Cup and the Ashes, which since 1882 has been competed for between English and Australian Cricket teams. This summer of Cricketing goodness has led Brunel’s SS Great Britain to look again at her place in cricketing history.

All England XI, Charles Lawrence is stood far right

Charles Lawrence – the father of Australian Cricket Tours and the history of England vs Australia.

In 1861 the SS Great Britain carried the first English Cricket team to tour Australia. This All-England XI, otherwise known as “HH Stephenson’s XI” after the English Captain Heathfield Harman Stephenson travelled on Voyage 21 which sailed from Liverpool on the 19 October 1861, and arrived in Melbourne on the 23 December, that same year – a total of 66 days. When they arrived they were greeted by cheering crowds of up to 10,000, prompting one of the players  – William Mudie – to comment: “Well, we expected a good reception, but nothing like this!”

The team played their first game on New Year’s Day 1862, which, in deference to the 66 day voyage the English side had just completed, was made up of 18 players from Victoria (every other team on the tour was made up of 22 Australians). The English side won by an Innings and 96 runs.

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 on Voyage 24 in 1863.

Following the death of his wife and infant daughter, Charles moved to Lake Wallace, Victoria, and began to help train a team of Aboriginal Cricketers who toured Victoria during 1866-67. 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 Charles – was made up of Aboriginal players.

This 1868 tour played 47 matches in England – winning 14, drawing 19 and losing 14. However, they travelled by sailing ship, rather than steamer, and as such took three months to make the journey. Sadly, one of the team – Bripumyarrumin (known to Anglo-audiences as ‘King Cole’) – died during the tour, but the rest safely returned to Australia. Soon after their return, however, a new law was passed – the 1869 Aboriginal Protection Act – which barred foreign travel for Aboriginal people (and also gave the Victoria Aboriginal Protection Board power to separate Aboriginal children from their families). It wasn’t until 1996 that the next player from an Aboriginal background – Jason Gillespie – would play for Australia in England.

Charles Lawrence would go on to play cricket into his 70’s, and died aged 88 on the 20 December 1916, in Melbourne.

BRSGB-1997.006 – Bound copy of the newspaper The Cabinet – written on board the SS Great Britain by passengers to help pass the time.

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