Reply from the New South Wales Cricket Association on 4 June 1879

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Reply from the New South Wales Cricket Association on 4 June 1879  (1879) 
by J. M. Gibson

The Sydney Riot of 1879 was the first riot to occur at an international cricket match. It occurred on Saturday 8 February 1879, the second day of a match between a visiting English team, and an eleven from New South Wales. 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 the subsequent reply from the New South Wales Cricket Association.

The Association held a special meeting at Tattersall's Hotel in Sydney on the evening of 4 June to consider their response to the Harris letter. President Richard Driver chaired the meeting which was also addressed by Sir George Innes, KCMG, MLC, and Mr MH Stephen, QC. This is the response letter dated 4 June written by by JM Gibson, the honorary secretary of the Association.

The full letter was published in the Sydney Echo on 5 June,[1] The Argus on 9 June,[2] and the Mercury on 17 June.[1]

To the Editor of the Daily Telegraph

Sir,—A few days ago a letter from Lord Harris, published in your issue of April 1, appeared in the Colonial Press. That letter dilated upon a lamentable disturbance which occurred at Moore Park, near this city, during a match played between his lordship's eleven and an eleven of New South Wales, on February 7, 8, and 10 last. Upon the appearance of the latter in our newspapers a feeling of indignation was generally expressed, and within a few hours a requisition influentially signed was presented, calling on me to convene a special general meeting of the New South Wales Cricket Association for the purpose of considering the letter and comments made upon it in some of the London papers. A meeting was accordingly convened, and took place this evening. The President, Mr Richard Driver, MP, occupied the chair, in the presence of an unusually large attendance of members. The letter referred to having been read, and the President, Sir George Innes, MLC, Mr M. H. Stephen, QC, Mr G. H. Reid, and Mr Richard Teece having addressed the meeting, it was unanimously resolved that I should ask you to publish the following statement, in correction of the account transmitted by Lord Harris, which, principally upon the following grounds, is universally regarded here as both inaccurate and ungenerous.

When Lord Harris prepared his letter of February 11, he was fully aware of the following facts:

1. That on the previous day a deputation from the association, consisting of our president, some of the vice-presidents, officers, and members waited upon him, and expressed profound sorrow and regret for the conduct of the unruly portion of the crowd, and Lord Harris was pleased to assure the deputation that he did not hold the association in any way responsible for what had occurred.

2. That immediately after the disorder on the cricket ground the public and the press were loud in their indignation at the occurrence, and assured our visitors of their utmost sympathy; and the team received similar marks of good feeling from all quarters.

3. That betting on cricket matches is strictly prohibited by the trustees of the ground, so far as it can be so prohibited, and large placards to that effect have always been kept posted throughout the pavilion and its enclosures.

Lord Harris, by what we feel to be a most ungenerous suppression of these facts and others, has led the British public to suppose that in New South Wales, to quote his own words, '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', whilst the press and inhabitants of Sydney neither showed surprise, indignation, nor regret. We cannot allow a libel upon the people of New South Wales so utterly unfounded as this to pass without challenge. The country upon which such a reproach could be fastened would be unworthy of a place among civilised communities, and in the imputation is especially odious to Australians, who claim to have maintained the manly, generous, and hospitable characteristics of the British race.

Having shown that for what actually occurred the fullest acknowledgements were made, it is now right to point out that the misconduct of those who took possession of the wickets has been exaggerated. So popular amongst our people is the game of cricket that multitudes of all ages and classes flock to a great match. They watch these contests with an interest as intense as any felt in England over a great political question. Lord Harris is, we believe, the first English cricketer who failed to observe that they applaud good cricket on either side, and, so far from our crowds being the bad losers he represents, the English Elevens who have visited New South Wales were never made more of than when they defeated the local team. That a large crowd, with nerves strung to the highest pitch, should break the bounds of moderation at a suspicion of foul play, is not, we believe, peculiar to a colonial assemblage. It is rather one of the disadvantages of an English love of fair play, animating minds which have not attained the dignity of complete self control. But a Sydney crowd is as orderly and good-humoured as any in the world, and since Lord Harris remarked that there were very few policemen on the ground at the time of the disturbance, it is as well to give the reason, which was, that the risk of disorder was never imagined. Previous decisions of the professional brought from Melbourne to act as umpire for the English Eleven had created real, though suppressed, dissatisfaction, and one, giving Lord Harris a second 'life', was openly admitted by his lordship to be a mistake; and when Mr Murdoch, the hero of the hour, who had carried his bat through in the first innings, was at the crisis of the game given 'run out' by what a large proportion of the spectators, both in the pavilion and round the enclosure, as well as the batsman himself, whether rightly or wrongly, took to be a most unfair decision, the excitement and indignation of a section of the spectators, led by the juvenile element, unhappily broke through restraint. Only once before in New South Wales was a cricket ground rushed, and then, as in the present instance, the crowd was seized with a conviction of foul play. But the present demonstration was entirely against the umpire, whom Lord Harris still considers competent, whilst admitting 'he had made two mistakes in our innings'. It certainly was not against our gallant visitors. The only cry was 'Change your umpire!' and the mob voluntarily left the ground more than once in the hope that that would be done. The betting men to whom Lord Harris alludes, and of whom only one or two were present, were not members of this association at all, and it is completely unjust to assign the demonstration to any such agency. Bad as it was, it sprang from no mercenary motive.

Certainly the conduct of Lord Harris did not tend to calm the general excitement. His lordship elbowed his way out through the crowd in a manner so violent as to invite assault. He kept his men 'exposed to the fury of the mob' for about an hour and a half upon the absurd and insulting plea that if he did not 'the other side would claim the match!'. But not one of the team received a scratch, and Mr. Hornby dragged a supposed offender of very diminutive stature through the mass to the pavilion, a hundred yards away, in triumph, and amidst general applause, with only a torn shirt as the penalty of his heroism.

At the same time, after every allowance is made, we confess that the disorderly proceedings of that lamentable afternoon deserved the severe reprobation they received at the time throughout this colony, and while showing, as we feel bound to do, that the disturbance has been exaggerated, for what really took place we cannot succinctly express our sorrow and humiliation.

The remarkable kindness with which the Australian Eleven were treated during their very successful tour in England keenly intensified the general regret at the painful event to which I have been compelled to refer at so great a length, and the association would take this opportunity of assuring the English public that their generous treatment of the Colonial Eleven made a deep impression in Australia, which, as it is well known, yields to no part of the empire in loyalty to the Queen and affection for the British people.

Sydney, June 4th.

This work is in the public domain in Australia because it was created in Australia and the term of copyright has expired.

See Australian Copyright Council - Duration of Copyright (August 2014).

This work is also in the public domain in the United States because it was in the public domain in Australia in 1996, and no copyright was registered in the U.S. (This is the combined effect of Australia having joining the Berne Convention in 1928, and of 17 USC 104A with its critical date of January 1, 1996.)