Gavin Harper
by Gavin Harper
The First Australian Tour of England, 1868

In 1868, a cricket team of Aboriginal Australians came to England for a tour between May and October of that year.  They have the honour of becoming the first organised group of Australian sportspeople to travel overseas. This was when sports was not about gambling and odds. This was when cricket was a colonial tool for educating the masses.

It would be another ten years before an Australian cricket team classed as representative would leave the country. Nevertheless, the tour paved the way for future cricket tours and marked the beginning of Australia's dominance in the sport.

The team was captained by Charles Lawrence, a former English cricketer who had emigrated to Australia in 1866. The Aboriginal Australian players were all from the western district of Victoria, and most of them had learned to play cricket at the cattle stations where they worked.

Here Is the Line-Up

The following 13 Aboriginal Australians played in the first Australian tour of England in 1868:

  • Charles Lawrence (captain)
  • Johnny Mullagh
  • Tom Wills
  • Billy Midwinter
  • Dicky Richards
  • Johnny Briggs
  • Billy Walker
  • Bullchanach
  • King Cole
  • Peter Jackson
  • Ben Allen
  • Joe Briggs
  • Dicky Mann
  • Bullfrog

The tour had mixed success, and the Aboriginal players helped to raise awareness of Aboriginal culture in England. It was 150 years too early to have a real impact on the white public.

Here are some specific examples of the public reaction to the 1868 Aboriginal Australians who played in the first Australian tour of England:

  • The Sporting Life, a British newspaper, wrote that the Aboriginal players were "a marvel of skill and dexterity".
  • The Daily Telegraph, another British newspaper, wrote that the Aboriginal players were "a credit to their race".
  • The Times, a British newspaper, wrote that the Aboriginal players were "a novelty" and "a curiosity".

The public reaction to the 1868 Aboriginal Australians who played in the first Australian tour of England was mixed. Some people were impressed by the players' skill and athleticism, while others were more interested in their appearance and culture. There was also some racism and discrimination, with some people believing that Aboriginal people were not capable of playing cricket.

Highlights of the Tour

  • The team won 14 of their 47 matches, losing 14 and drawing 19.
  • They were particularly successful against the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), winning two of their three matches against them.

Unfortunately, it was blighted by what we can only describe as racism and prejudice. The Tour was gruelling, and the players suffered from exhaustion. At the end of each game, the Australian team was expected to demonstrate 'traditional sports' such as boomerang and spear throwing.

Colonial Attitudes Spoil The Tour

The Aboriginal people did not make any money from the 1868 Australian tour of England. The tour was organized by a white man named Charles Lawrence, and he was the only one who profited from it. The Aboriginal players were promised a salary, but they never received any money. Instead, they were given food and accommodation.

The Aboriginal players were exploited by Lawrence, and they were denied the opportunity to earn a fair wage for their skills. This was a clear example of racism and discrimination, and it is a reminder of the challenges that Aboriginal people have faced in Australia.

Legacy Of The Tour

The year 1869 marked a crucial moment in the tragic history of the Aboriginals. It was when the Central Board for Aborigines finally declared that deporting any member of the Aboriginal community from Victoria without the express permission of a government minister was illegal. The resulting limitations to Aboriginal participation in various activities, including cricket, are an unfortunate and deeply negative legacy of colonialism.

It is a travesty that the legacy of the 1868 Indigenous touring team was only recognised by the Australian Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, such a long time after the tour. However, it is heartening to see progress being made in recent years, including the presentation of cap numbers by Cricket Australia in 2004, the opening of the Johnny Mullagh interpretative centre in Harrow, and the release of an Australia Post stamp marking the 150th anniversary of the historic tour. The smoking ceremony held by Cricket Australia at Johnny Mullagh’s water hole to celebrate the milestone was a particularly touching tribute to the team and their contribution to Australian sport.

Precursor To The Ashes Series

The tour is still remembered today as a significant moment in Australian cricket history. It was the first time that an Australian team had toured England, and it helped lay the foundations for the future success of Australian cricket.

The 1868 Australian tour of England was a precursor to the Ashes series. The tour helped to create a sense of rivalry between Australia and England, and it laid the foundations for the first Test match between the two countries, which was played in 1877. The Ashes series is now one of the most famous sporting rivalries in the world, and it is a testament to the success of the 1868 tour that it helped to spark this rivalry.  

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