A brief look at the history of the Newcastle District Cricket Association
Future notables such as (Sir) Edmond Barton, Australia’s first Prime Minister, and (Sir) George Dibbs, a Premier of NSW, showed their liking for the game in matches on the old Newcastle Cricket Ground. Barton played for Sydney University against the original Newcastle club in 1872 and Dibbs was a member of the Newcastle club in the 1860’s.
Teams of the early English and Australian internationals showed their style against Northern Districts sides at a time when cricket still was an evolving game among most local enthusiasts.
Names that are revered by the game’s historians went down on scoresheets of the time. The first English team to play a Test series in Australia took on a Northern Districts combination from December 12 to 14, 1876. James Lillywhite led the English XI who, playing against 21 rivals, won outright by 75 runs.
Australia’s earliest record-makers were in the Xis who played Northern Districts 22s in 1877 and 1880. William Murdoch, Fred Spofforth, James Blackham, Charles Bannerman and George Bonnor were some of the “greats” of the time involved.
Spofforth, in fact, took 50 wickets in two matches, at Maitland and Newcastle, in 1877. But all the honours did not go the internationalists’ way in 1880. Bill Tracey, who became a noted figure in the development of Newcastle cricket, took eight wickets for 16 in the Australian second innings. A year later Tracey again was in action for the North against the Australians and this time bowled the home side to victory with a total of 13 wickets for 72.
The Newcastle club, with headquarters at the Newcastle Cricket Ground in Cooks Hill, was acclaimed as the largest in the State when it affiliated with the NSW Cricket Association in 1883. But other clubs were springing up in almost every suburb and outlying centres and Newcastle and Maitland became keen rivals.
The arrival of two Englishmen in the respective centres had a positive effect on the game’s development.
Charles Lawrence, formerly coach to the Albert Club in Sydney, had been a member of the first English team to tour Australia in 1862. As coach of the Albert Club he had been paid ₤300 ($600) per annum and he played in many matches for NSW against Victoria, Queensland and visiting English teams. Lawrence captained an Aboriginal team on a tour of England in 1867 and on his arrival back in Australia he accepted a position on the clerical staff of the Great Northern Railway and made his home in Newcastle.
Lawrence played with the Newcastle club and with the Great Northern Railway and Railway and Railway Clerical club. He was 40 when he came to Newcastle and after staying 20 years he took up a post as coach to the Melbourne Cricket Club.
Like Lawrence, another English player George Gilbert came north as an employee of the Railway Department and for a time was station master at High Street Station. Gilbert played then for Maitland but later joined the Newcastle club and had some phenomenal bowling figures. While based in Melbourne previously, Gilbert, a cousin of Dr. W. G. Grace, had the distinction of bowling the first ball in interstate matches between Victoria and NSW in Melbourne on March 26, 1856. Gilbert later moved to NSW and represented that State against Victoria.
Although Lawrence and Gilbert both were past their prime as players, they passed on invaluable advice and instruction to the rising generation of Hunter tyros.
Lawrence captained Northern Districts and Gilbert played in the team in the area’s first representative match, against Victoria, at the Newcastle Cricket Ground on March 14 and 15, 1871. The Victorian team, which had defeated NSW in Sydney, arrived in Newcastle by the steamer Florence Irving.
Victoria’s captain T. W. Wills was notorious for his doubtful delivery and a local scribe wrote: “Wills, as usual, deliberately threw the ball at the wickets with the idea that he was bowling.” With Bill Tracey taking five wickets and James Moore, of Maitland, four the Victorians were out for 50 and Northern Districts scored 84 in reply, pf which Gilbert made 27. Tracey took all four wickets to fall in Victoria’s second innings of 119.
The Newcastle club financed and controlled the visits of touring representative teams right up to international level and matches were played on the Newcastle Cricket Ground. This ground, where houses now stand in Corlette Street, was cricket’s headquarters in the district for more than 50 years.
In the early 60’s the Newcastle club’s matches were played on St. John’s Green, near St. John’s Church in Cooks Hill, but in 1864 negotiations took place with the Australian Agricultural Company for an area of land on which to form a cricket ground. The club was granted a 21-year lease of a block which it cleared and circled with a three-rail fence. A small portion on the centre was mown for the wicket but for some time the outfield remained long grass.
At a meeting of the club on Christmas Day, 1868, the secretary, Mr. Clarence Hannell, proposed to the members that he would enclose the ground with a six-foot paling fence at his own expense on condition that he have a lease of the ground for three years with the members to have free access at all times. The offer was accepted and, with the ground properly enclosed, a turf wicket was laid down and each year further improvements were made as funds allowed.
The ground was as good as any outside the metropolitan area, an outcome due in no small measure to the Newcastle club’s election, in 1863, of Mr. E. C. Merewether as President. Mr. Merewether, who was to hold the post for 28 years, was superintendent of the AA Co. and his guidance and support helped the Newcastle club to a position of prestige in the sporting world.
The Hon. Ivo Bligh, captain of the English team in 1882, said in an article published on his return home that the Newcastle ground was the best provincial ground in Australia.
In 1883 negotiations with Mr. Jesse Gregson, of the AA Co. resulted in the Newcastle club gaining a further 21-year lease of the ground. In the winter of that year football was played on the ground for the first time and Newcastle and New Zealand played for the first big rugby representative game on June 6, 1886. A member of the New Zealand team, Henry Braddon, remained in Newcastle and played football and cricket with local sides. Later he became Sir Henry Braddon, a leader of commerce and charity and Australia’s first Trade Commissioner to the United States.
Lawn bowls, professional foot running and cycling also were held on the ground and the district’s first public tennis court was laid down.
Bill Tracey was caretaker of the ground for 32 years from 1880 and he died, aged 74, a few years before the area was subdivided for building allotments.
But the Newcastle club itself had been split up during the 1890’s as a consequence of the new horizons created by the formation of Newcastle District Cricket Association. The club had set many proud landmarks since its birth at the Ship Inn, Hunter Street, in 1854. James Hanell was the inaugural president and members of the club were recruited from the colliery and shipping offices, the legal and medical professions and banks, etc.
Before its own ground was established the club played on the AA Co. paddock in front of the company’s offices on the waterfront and the Barrack Square in front of the old military barracks in Watt Street. Because there was no preparation of pitches bowlers had quite an edge and a double-figure individual score was considered very commendable.
In the first few seasons the club’s matches were between teams of its own members and they carried some quaint descriptions such as Married v Singles, Natives v Europeans (soon changed to Australians v Europeans), Law v Commerce and East of the Bridge v West of the Bridge (the AA Co. bridge crossing Hunter Street).
In the early 60’s the club took the game into outer districts such as Borehole ( Hamilton), Waratah and Wallsend while in the city area another club was formed named the Alberts, after the famous Sydney club. Other teams of young players took up the game and ensured that interest would continue to rise in the years to come.
At Easter, 1862, a Newcastle club team went by steamer to Morpeth for a two-day match against the local club. Both teams completed an innings on the first day but when play was resumed the match soon came to an untimely end when one of the Morpeth players given out by the Newcastle umpire, Mr. James Ellis, refused to go. The upshot was that the Newcastle team packed its bags and went home.
During the 70’s Newcastle and Maitland teams had some exciting clashes with the bowling of Lawrence and Tracey a feature of the Newcastle performances.
At the end of the 1871 season the Newcastle club received what was termed a “cocky” challenge from a Branxton XI “to play anything that Newcastle can produce!” As a result a match was played on the neutral Albion ground at Maitland. The Branxton team was organised by Mr. Guy Wyndham and included two of his brothers who specialised in fast bowling.
A report of the match said: “The Newcastle players were overwhelmed by the fast bowling of the Wyndams. R. Wyndham’s bowling was something in its velocity like the catapult and not only sent the stumps flying but also injured the batmen’s fingers and legs.” Newcastle scored only 11 in its first innings, yet won the match by eight wickets ironically through the slow bowling of Charles Lawrence.
If the players of the old enjoyed their cricket they certainly regarded the social side of their gatherings as very important. Newcastle club made regular holiday tours to Tamworth and Armidale in the north, Bathurst in the west and Kiama and Berry in the south. A large number of visitors would accompany the team and musicians and humourists were never lacking. The followings were not merely “cheer squads” but would provide harmony and entertainment during the tour.
On the Easter visit to Tamworth and Armidale in 1886 the party left on the night train with each member wearing a high white top-hat but not everyone brought them back. The musicians in the group struck up at each station en route, playing popular airs, and crowds gathered around the carriage. On arrival in Tamworth the visitors were driven to the Royal Hotel, where they were welcomed with toasts of champagne.
The Wickham Albions club, formed around 1873, wrote its share of early Newcastle cricket history. By 1878 it was fielding two elevens from its membership of 40. Through the 80’s there was keen rivalry between the Albions and Rising Stars, another Wickham club, with the teams playing on the Albions’ wicket behind the old fire station in Albert Street. The Rising Stars eventually threw in their lot with the Albions and considerably strengthened the club.
The Borehole ( Hamilton) club was founded during the early 60’s and had its headquarters at Tom Tudor’s Agricultural Hotel in Denison Street. One of the club’s most noted players was E. “Teddy” Lord, who headed the batting averages year after year. Lord made guest appearances with the Australian XI in Newcastle, Maitland and Tamworth.
Wallsend club also dates back to the early 60’s and made a distinct impact, particularly on its matting wicket at Wallsend. John Maddison was a devastating fast bowler with some remarkable figures to his credit, including 18 wickets for 37 runs in a match against Morpeth on March 3, 1885 and at once became its leading bowler.
Another famous cricket club born in pre-NDCA days was the Ironclads, known among their supporters as “the clads”. The club was formed towards the end of the 1869 season among residents in the vicinity of the Lake Road ( Darby Street). Early matches were played on Prosser’s Green, an area of land at the rear of the present Baptist Tabernacle in Laman Street. Later the club moved to St.John’s Green, which eventually became its permanent home ground.
The ‘Clads played a remarkable match against Clarencetown on the Newcastle Cricket Ground on February 24, 1872. Although they scored only 36, the ‘Clads won the match by an innings and six runs. Bill Tracey was assisting the ‘Clads and his bowling had much to do with the debacle of the “cockies” from Clarencetown. During the day 30 wickets fell for 66 runs, no batsman reached double figures and no less than 18 “ducks” recorded.
The Rodgers and Hogue families were predominately associated with the Ironclads for many years, both as players and officials. The Ironclads played one of their first matches against Newcastle on February 17, 1877, and although beaten by 17 runs showed they were quickly closing the gap in ability.
One of the Ironclad’s prominent players was G. W. Webb, a fine all-round cricketer and leading citizen. In 1887, when Mayor of the city, he had the unique distinction of captaining the Newcastle representative team against the English touring side.
St. John’s Green in 1888 became known as Centennial Park, a name that exists to the present time.
A unique match took place on the Newcastle Cricket Ground on May 8, 1880, when a combined team chosen from the Newcastle and Ironclads defeated a Northern Districts XI, including players from Maitland, Branxton, Singleton and Dungog.
The Ironclads set a milestone in the 1879-80 seasons after Mr. Richard Waddy, manager of the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney’s Morpeth branch, presented a fine trophy for competition among the leading clubs of the north. This caused great interest because it was the first club competition held in northern NSW.
All the senior clubs entered, including Newcastle, Morpeth, Maitland Albions, Singleton, Wallsend and Maitland and, to general surprise, the junior club, Ironclads. The competition was designated the R. A. Waddy Challenge Cup, with home and away matches to be played over two seasons. Ironclads won the competition with nine wins to Singleton’s six. At the presentation ceremony on March 29, 1881, Mr. Waddy advocated the formation of a cricket association to control the game. His idea bore fruit, although it was another eight years before the NDCA came into being.
Wally McGlinchy was an Ironclads product who earned a fine reputation as an all-rounder, being picked at 16 in the Newcastle team against England in 1882. McGlinchy built up a fine record in the club and representative matches and later toured New Zealand with a NSW team. Later he moved to Brisbane and represented Queensland against NSW as well as touring New Zealand and Tasmania. McGlinchy returned to the Hunter and hit possibly the highest individual score made in the northern districts, 251 not out, for Maitland Albions against Morpeth on January 29 and February 2, 1898.
On New Year’s Day, 1888, the Ironclads registered the lowest score made in senior cricket in the north. Set 131 by Maitland Pearls at Maitland Park, ‘Clads were routed for a mere five runs before making 77 in their second innings.
The Bramble family figure predominately in the annals of the Ironclads club. Walter Bramble gained his love for the game on the village greens around Hinton and brought it with him when he settled in Newcastle. Bramble was largely responsible for keeping the Ironclads together when municipal cricket sounded the death-knell for some of the older clubs. His sons, Walter, Alan and Milton, carried on the tradition until well into the 1900’s and starred in many fine wins.
As well as being a business leader and forward thinking cricket enthusiast, Richard Waddy was one of the first recognised wicketkeepers in Northern teams.
In the 60’s the unwelcome task of keeping wickets to bowling on uneven pitches had been anybody’s job, it frequently being a case of “it’s your turn today”. But the visits of early English teams revealed worth of a capable “keeper” and the position came to be regarded as important and responsible.
Waddy took the gloves in the North’s first representative match against Victoria and held four catches in helping to dismiss the visitors for 50.
C. L. Blair, also a bank official, was the Newcastle club’s first “keeper,” to be followed by Richard “Dicky” Bryant, who was actively associated with cricket for more than 25 years, playing also with Northern Districts representative teams. He took part in many of the annual matches against Maitland and Hunter District XIs. Bryant also made numerous appearances against English and Australian XIs and played for NSW against England and Victoria.
Richard Roberts, of Wallsend, and Thomas Simon, of the Ironclads, were other well-known glovemen of the 80’s and 90’s. But of Roberts scribe recorded: “Whilst giving Roberts the credit he certainly deserves, I cannot for a moment endorse his conduct of knocking off the bails with his hand. Cricket at all times should be played fairly and I for one will never give credit to anyone who would, by appeal to the umpire, endeavour to secure a wicket by this method.” He added that Roberts was not alone in this practice by any means.
The Waddy family, fathers and sons, placed their names indelibly in the records of the Hunter Valley cricket and some of them played in Newcastle. Richard Waddy’s sons, Percy, Ernest and Edgar, all performed notable feats in the Newcastle area after the formation of the NDCA.
The Moores of Maitland and the Hogues of Newcastle were other noted families who contributed much to the cause of cricket in the north.
R. B. Hogue, an early delegate for the Newcastle club to the NSW Cricket Association, was a fine athlete. He was a good all-round cricketer, captain of Newcastle’s early rugby teams and a smart moving sprinter. In addition to playing cricket in Newcastle, Hogue had the unique distinction of spending a season with the Alemeda Cricket Club in San Francisco.
A powerful swimmer, Hogue saved Judge Wilkinson from the undertow at Newcastle Beach and in recognition of such a gallantry His Honour, in his next appearance on the Newcastle Beach, publicly presented Hogue with a valuable gold ring, which he wore until his death. Others of the Hogue clan went on to play prominent parts in NDCA competitions.
W. J. “Jimmy” Wooden arrived from England in 1876, aged 20, and became a leader of the Newcastle club’s batting averages for many years. Wooden was a slow scorer, but very safe, and in 1886 the Sydney Press acclaimed him to be the “great rungetter of the North”. It was said he was “as difficult to shift (once he gets a start) as the stump of an old gum tree.”
Wooden was a perennial member of representative sides, playing in four matches against Australian XIs and five against English teams. On December 7, 1889, he captained the first team to represent the Newcastle association and fittingly made top score against Cumberland District. A successful building contractor, Wooden served as a council alderman in later life.
As can be gleaned from this summary of the pre-NDCA years cricket’s roots were put down firmly in the Northern area over a 30 year period. What has unfolded in the next 100 years has been a tableau rich in dedication, spectacle and achievement.
The NDCA looks with keen anticipation to a continuing strong involvement in Northern sport.