Abhishek Mukherjee, cricketsoccer’s prolific writer, brings to you the words, verbal or written, almost never intended to be pathbreaking quotes in the history of cricket in this fascinating series…….
“When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote return, return
The welkin will ring loud
The great crowd will feel proud
Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn
And the rest coming home with the urn.”
What is it?
The fourth of sixth stanzas of Who’s on the Cricket Field! Published in Melbourne Punch of February 1, 1883.
Can be seen on: The Ashes urn.
We have gone over the details of the historic 1882 Test at The Oval on these pages before. Four days after the Test got over, a mock obituary appeared in The Sporting Times on September 2. It ended on the lines of “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.”
The term ‘ashes’ subsequently came to be associated with Anglo-Australian Tests. Even before the tour, Ivo Bligh, the English captain, vowed to bring “The Ashes of English Cricket” back. Bligh would encounter the phrase several times on the tour, but seldom on a serious note. In response to one of these, Bligh would announce that he had come to “beard the kangaroo in his den and try and recover those ashes”.
England lost the first Test by 9 wickets, but Billy Bates took 7/28 and 7/74 to help them to pull off an innings win in the second. The sides now moved on from Melbourne to Sydney, where England won by 69 runs despite Fred Spofforth’s 4/73 and 7/44.
There was a fourth Test at Sydney, where a different pitch was used for each of the four innings. Australia won that by 4 wickets, but it had been decided that it would not be a part of The Ashes.
The term, meanwhile, had become ‘mainstream’ by the time the series got over. Consider this report from The Mercury (Hobart): “The Hon. Ivo Bligh has attained his wish – the ashes will go back to England.”
As per a report on The Argus (Melbourne), “It was his [Bligh’s] sincere conviction, and he was not afraid to express it, that their visitors being wrested those sacred relics from their previous predecessors, they could only be regained in the old country.”
Indeed, the coveted ashes had attained the status of the Holy Grail by then. How, then, did it come into being?
The story begins with the voyage aboard the SS Peshawar, where Bligh met one Florence Rose Morphy under the able supervision of Cupid. They would later get married at Sunbury in 1884, but this is not the time or space for delving into such gossip.
The legend goes that the Florence and her friends would burn the bails used during the third Test at Sydney and put inside an urn. The urn, presented in a velvet bag, had two labels across it: the first simply says THE ASHES, while with the other has the above six lines – from the Melbourne Punch issue mentioned above. Some sources suggest it originally contained perfume.
It was gifted to Bligh as a personal gift and not as an unofficial trophy for Anglo-Australian Tests.
Bligh subsequently went on to become the 8th Earl of Darnley, in 1900. He passed away in 1927. Florence presented a terracotta replica of the urn to MCC two years later, and it found a home at the Lord’s Museum.
This is the urn the entire cricket fraternity is familiar with.
Florence also elaborated on the gift, as reported by The Times: “Lady Clarke, wife of Sir W. J. Clarke, who entertained the English so lavishly, found a little wooden urn, burnt a bail, put the ashes in the urn, and wrapping it in a red velvet bag, put it into her husband’s (Bligh’s) hands. He had always regarded it as a great treasure.”
Brisbane Courier interviewed Bligh in 1926. Here is an excerpt: “The proudest possession of Lord Darnley is an earthenware urn containing the ashes which were presented to him by Melbourne residents when he captained the Englishmen in 1882. Though the team did not win, the urn containing the ashes was sent to him just before leaving Melbourne.”
Two things are to be noted here. First, the “just before leaving Melbourne” bit, which contradicts with the fact that it was gifted to Bligh in Sydney. We will return to that soon. Secondly, Bligh mentions an “earthenware urn” while his wife insisted it was “wooden”.
But was it really gifted in Melbourne and not immediately after the decider in Sydney? At least two reasons make us reconsider. First, the contradiction between Bligh’s interview and his wife’s; while one cannot be certain either way, there was no unanimity either. Secondly, obtaining bails of a Test match had obvious logistical problems.
In 1998, Bligh’s daughter-in-law claimed that Florence had used her veil – and not match bails – (was Florence into puns?) to obtain the ashes.
Not all went well aboard SS Peshawar, for the vessel met with a gruesome accident en route. She collided with the Glenroy (some sources use the spelling Glen Roy) shortly after leaving Ceylon and had to dock at Colombo Harbour for repair.
“The prow of the vessel crashed into our steamer, near the engine-room, tearing her plates and leaving an ugly gap large enough to drive a coach and pair through,” ‘Dick’ Barlow would later narrate the horrors of the night in Forty Seasons of First-Class Cricket.
“Speedy Fred” Morley of Nottinghamshire, at that point probably the fastest bowler in England, suffered a rib fractured and suffered from concussions. “I don’t know what is the matter with me, but there is something seriously wrong somewhere,” he admitted to Barlow.
Morley played infrequently and bowled poorly on the tour, but that was far from the worst he suffered. “The accident laid the seeds of a fatal illness,” Barlow correctly pointed out.
Morley died of congestion and dropsy within two years – at 33.