England in South Africa 1891-92

Tests 1 Result: England 1 South Africa 0

WW Read was a prize catch for the South Africans.

Edwin Ash, the man who had managed the first British Isles Rugby Union side to tour South Africa, managed to convince the Surrey stalwart to lead a side to the southern colony. The South Africans were adamant that a financially successful tour could take place only if Ash was able to bring back major players.

It was a rather busy time for English cricketers. WG Grace had taken the premier English team on the Test tour of Australia, a venture sponsored by Lord Sheffield. Lord Hawke had just completed a tour of America and Canada with a side comprised totally of amateurs.

Nevertheless, Read’s team contained some very decent cricketers. Two of them were no less than the former Australian greats, Billy Murdoch and JJ Ferris.

Among the others, there was Kent fast bowler Fred Martin, who had taken 12 wickets on his Test debut against Australia in 1890. There was also experience from the previous tour in the form of wicketkeeper Harry Wood. In fact, it was Wood who would decide the only Test with his willow.

There were also the professional stalwarts, the brothers George and Alec Hearne, and their cousin JT Hearne.

In his History of South African Cricket MW Luckin expressed the opinion that this was the strongest England team to visit the shores pre-Great War. However, that is perhaps an injudicious hyperbole, given that the 1913-14 MCC side had in their ranks Jack Hobbs, SF Barnes, Frank Woolley, Wilfred Rhodes, Phil Mead, Johnny Douglas, Herbert Strudwick and yet another Hearne in the form of JW. But, it cannot be denied that the 1891-92 Brigade was a strong side.

Strong enough not to be tested by either the local odds sides or the representative South African XI. Read’s team won 13 of the 20 matches on the tour and drew the other 7. Unlike the team of Major Warton, they did not suffer from sea legs and got going immediately on reaching the Cape.

The Test match and the Malays

Henry Wood. Image Courtesy: YOONIQ Images

The only representative match, played towards the end of the tour in Cape Town, was as one-sided as the rest of the matches. The local batsmen, although helped by Frank Hearne who had stayed back after the 1888-89 tour, had no clue about how to deal with the devilish bowling of Ferris. They surrendered for 97.

Following this, the South Africans did extremely well to reduce England to 144 for 6. But then Henry Wood came out to essay a brilliant innings of unbeaten 134, and solid efforts from Read and JT Hearne pulled the England total up to 369. After that it was just way beyond the South African reach. Ferris captured 7 in the second, to go with his 6 in the first and the second time around the home side could get only 83.

The Test, although lacking in the contest quotient, was not without its curiosities. Of course, there was the oddity of two Australians turning out for England. And then for the first time in Test history brothers turned out for different sides — George and Alec, along with cousin JT, for England, and Frank for South Africa. Fourteen players made their debuts in the game, eight South Africans and six Englishmen. Of these 10 would never play Test cricket again. Only JT Hearne and Ernest Halliwell would emerge as cricketers of any significance from among these debutants.

Another notable fact was that six of the South African cricketers were born overseas. Hearne, Tom Routledge, Charlie Mills, Halliwell and captain William Milton in England, and Godfrey Cripps in India.

Finally, two days after the Newlands game, a different England side played Australia in another Test, at Adelaide Oval. For those looking for coincidences, the highest score in that Test was another 134, this time scored by young Drewey Stoddart.

After the Test had ended early, arrangements were made for a historic match to be played. A group of 18 local Malay cricketers faced the English team.

The Englishmen won by 10 wickets, but not before the Malays had put up some impressive individual performances. L Samoodien scored 55 and Armien Hendricks bowled fast and hostile spells to capture 4 for 50.

It was the same Hendricks who caused the first racial controversy in South African cricket, when he was not picked for the 1894 tour to England in spite of being, according to George Hearne, the fastest bowler the team had encountered in South Africa. Hearne, who had been at the wicket for a long while alongside cousin JT, later recalled, “The wicket was very bad and we did not like facing this man at all. The ball flew over our heads in all directions.”

The match remained the only one in which a touring side played a non-white team in South Africa before Derrick Robin’s XI met the South African African XI in October 1973 in Sweto.

The broken bed

There were other curiosities on the tour, not all of them pleasant.

The English side travelled on the Dunottar Castle, a 5500-ton luxury liner of the company owned by Sir Donald Currie. Beautifully and tastefully fitted out, there were dining rooms, music rooms, plush furnishings, spacious double staircases from the saloon to the upper deck, and a smoking room with an attached bar. There was also a library boasting 500 volumes. The staterooms had immensely comfortable beds and sofas. There was also a barber shop with rotary hair-brushing machine worked by electric motor.

However, that was the last bit of luxury in store for the tourists. There were a lot of social functions and hospitality on the tour, but the long stretches of travel, that had been the bane of the previous tour, continued as usual. The journey from Kimberley to Johannesburg was made on top of an open-deck coach in the pouring rain. When they arrived at the hotel they had booked, the team found that the establishment had been burnt down a few days ago.

Some of the coach journeys were for as long as five days. And the accommodation was far from ideal. Murdoch and Ferris once ended up in a room in a farmhouse with only one bed between them. With the bed looking anything but safe, Ferris asked Murdoch, the heavier of the two, to lie down first. The mattress collapsed under the big man’s weight, and the former Australian captain had his head stuck in the ironwork. On another occasion, Ferris, Murdoch and Read had to sleep on a narrow table while the rest had to make do with the floor. And once the hungry travellers were delighted to be served boiled lamb only to discover that there was only one pair of knife and fork for the whole team.

There was also the incident of getting stuck in the river and being carried on the backs of local porters.

The writs of arrest

James Logan. Image Courtesy: The Heritage Portal

And then there was the arrest.

Nine days before the first match of the tour, Ash and Read were met at the Royal Hotel Cape Town by the great financier James Logan. Also present was a Mr Bridgette, a man responsible for financing the team.

With the tour running into money problems from the start, Logan agreed to advance £1000 in the interests of cricket. Ash volunteered to repay Logan 30 percent of the tour’s profits, but Logan replied that he did not make money out of sport, and wanted only his money back with reasonable interest before the team left for England.

The businessman also entertained Read, Ash and the rest of the English cricketers when they arrived in Matjiesfontein before continuing their tour through the Eastern Cape, Transvaal and Natal.

The tour, however, was not a financial success. And when the Englishmen were about to leave for England, the money had not been paid back to Logan. Fearing he would not be paid back, Logan took out writs of arrest against Read and Ash. The captain and manager were liable to be arrested if they tried to leave the shores.

Read and Ash, coming to know of the situation, stayed in town after the rest of the men had boarded the ship before placing themselves at the disposal of the Sheriff. They were informed that they could be released from arrest and allowed to proceed to Dunottar Castle only if they paid the sufficient amount or provided securities pending an action. The securities were furnished and the two gentlemen were allowed to leave.

The case went on and on June 7, 1893, Logan was awarded full costs by the court. Murdoch had attempted to furnish evidence against Logan, saying he had agreed to a mutual partnership, but his claims had been dismissed.

The South African Sportsman brought out this verdict in the form of this sarcastic scorecard:

Played at Supreme Court, Cape Town, Tuesday, June 7th, 1893


WW Read c Sir H de Villiers b JD Logan  0

WL Murdoch run out                                     0

Daddy Ash  retired hurt                                0

Mr Bridgette, absent                                     0


Total                                                                 0



JD Logan not out                                            750

Extras                                                                107


Total                                                                  857

Innings declared closed

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