Letter from Lord Harris on 11 February 1879

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Letter from Lord Harris on 11 February 1879  (1879) 
by Lord Harris

The Sydney Riot of 1879 was the first riot to occur at an international cricket match. It threatened the immediate future of England-Australia cricket tours. The problems were exacerbated by the appearance of a letter from Lord Harris in the London press, and a reply from the New South Wales Cricket Association.

On 11 February 1879 Lord Harris (1851-1932) wrote to his friend V. Edward Walker of Arno's Grove, Southgate.[1] Walker wrote to the Daily Telegraph on 31 March 1879 enclosing the letter with a request from Harris that it be published:

This is Lord Harris's letter:

Sydney, February 11.

My Dear E.,—I am not certain whether you will be astonished or not at what I have to tell you, but I know you will be distressed that your friends, a party of gentlemen travelling through these Colonies for the purpose of playing a few friendly games of cricket, should have been insulted and subjected to indignities it distresses us to look back upon. We began the return match with the NSW Eleven on Friday 7, scored 267, and got our opponents out for 177 by 3.30 on the Saturday afternoon. Murdoch, who had carried his bat out in the first, and A. Bannerman went to the wickets to commence the second innings. At 19 on the telegraph the former was run out. Before he got back to the pavilion I heard shouts of "not out", "go back", etc., arise from that quarter, and saw the occupants of it rise almost en masse. I at once saw what was the matter, and instead of waiting for D. Gregory (the captain) to come out to me, perhaps unwisely walked to the pavilion to meet him at the gate. He, I found, in the name of the NSW Eleven, objected to Coulthard, the umpire. I must here diverge to explain certain facts connected with the Colonies which are not known or understood at home. Contrary to our custom, it is here the exception to employ professional umpires. This I was not told until after the disturbance. As you know, we brought no umpire, and on arrival at Adelaide I asked the representatives of the Melbourne CC if they could recommend anyone to us whom we could take about with us throughout our tour. They mentioned this man Coulthard, a professional on their ground, whom they had constantly tried and found competent, and added that if we on trial also considered him competent, the MCC would be very glad to give him leave of absence so long as we wanted his services. I considered him on trial a good and trustworthy umpire, and arranged with the MCC that he should accompany us to NSW. Had we known on arrival that a feeling existed in these Colonies against the employment of professional umpires, it is possible we might have acted differently; but, understand, at the same time, that I have seen no reason as yet to change my opinion of Coulthard's qualities, or to regret his engagement, in which opinion I am joined by the whole team. To resume my account of the disturbance on the ground on the Saturday. I asked Gregory on what grounds the objection was raised, and he said at first general incompetence, but afterwards admitted that the objection was raised on account of the decision in Murdoch's case. I implored Gregory, as a friend, and for the sake of the NSW Cricket Association, which I warned him would be the sufferer by it, not to raise the objection, but he refused to take my view of the case. Looking back in the midst of this conversation, I found the ground had been rushed by the mob, and our team was being surrounded, I at once returned to the wickets, and in defending Coulthard from being attacked was struck by some 'larrikin' with a stick. Hornby immediately seized this fellow, and in taking him to the pavilion was struck in the face by a would-be deliverer of the 'larrikin', and had his shirt nearly torn off his back. He, however, conveyed his prisoner to the pavilion in triumph. For some thirty minutes or so I was surrounded by a howling mob, resisting the entreaties of partisans and friends to return to the pavilion until the field was cleared, on the grounds that if our side left the field the other eleven could claim the match. I don't suppose that they would have done so, but I determined to obey the laws of cricket, and may add that for one hour and a half I never left the ground, surrounded the whole time, with two short intervals, by some hundreds of people. At about five o'clock the crowd was cleared off somehow. I then took the opinion of the Eleven as to changing the umpire, and it was decided nem. con. that there were no grounds for the objection, and that we should decline to change him. I informed Gregory of the decision, whereupon he said, 'Then the game is at end'. On Coulthard appearing from the pavilion groans arose from the crowd. I turned to Mr Barton, the NSW Eleven umpire, and asked if I could not claim the match according to the laws of cricket. His answer was, 'I shall give it you in two minutes' time if the batsmen do not return'. I said to him, 'I won't claim it yet. I'll give the other side every chance of reconsidering a decision arrived at, I believe, unadvisedly, and in a moment of passion. Please ask Gregory what he means to do.' On returning Mr Barton informed me that Gregory would send two men to the wickets—a curiously sudden change of mind I think you will allow. However, before the batsmen could appear the crowd had covered the ground for the second time. After some twenty minutes it was cleared for the second time also. A. Bannerman and Thompson then took their places at the wickets, but before a ball could be bowled the crowd broke in for the third and last time. I remained on the ground until the time for drawing the stumps, surrounded as before. Beyond slyly kicking me once or twice the mob behaved very well, their one cry being, 'Change your umpire'. And now for the cause of this disturbance, not unexpected, I may say, by us—for we had heard accounts of former matches played by English teams. It was started at fomented by professional betting men in the pavilion, members of the association - one a member of the legislative assembly - aided and abetted the bookmakers in raising the cry. I blame the NSW Eleven for not objecting to Coulthard before the match began, if they had reason to suppose him incompetent to fulfil his duties. I blame the members of the association (many, of course, must be excepted) for their discourtesy and uncricket like behaviour to their guests; and I blame the committee and others of the association for ever permitting betting, but this last does not, of course, apply to our match only. I am bound to say they did all in their power to quell the disturbance. I don't think anything would have happened if A. Bannerman had been run out instead of Murdoch, but the latter, besides being a great favourite, deservedly I think, was the popular idol of the moment through having carried his bat out in the first innings. As a contrast to the reception the Australian Eleven met with after beating the MCC at Lord's, I may say that when we won the match on Monday, hardly a cheer was given us by the ring. The occupants of the pavilion barely acknowledged our victory. They are capital winners out here, but I am afraid I can't apply the same adjective to them as losers. To conclude, I cannot describe to you the horror we felt that such an insult should have been passed on us, and that the game we love so well, and wish to see honoured, supported, and played in an honest and manly way everywhere, should receive such desecration. I can use no milder word. The game was finished on Monday without interruption. Coulthard had made two mistakes in our first innings—one favouring us, the other the opposite. Murdoch's decision was considered by coverpoint and point to be a good one, and I repeat that the NSW Eleven had no grounds whatever for raising an objection. We never expect to see such a scene of disorder again—we can never forget this one.

I remain, Yours sincerely,


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.

The author died in 1932, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.