Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Early Cricketers of the Whau

Thanks to the National Library’s Paper’s Past site, and the recent addition of searchability of their collection of the NZ Observer and Free Lance, a bit of trawling pulled up some hints of Avondale’s early cricketing history.

The first reports of a (Whau) Union Cricket Club appear in October 1880, with a Mr. A. Brett as captain, and Mr. Bollard (they never say which Mr. Bollard, but possibly it was Richard Francis) as vice-captain. Brett appears to have found fame over and above the sport of leather and willow the following month in walking championship challenges. He won a two mile match in Ellerslie in November 1880, then took on and defeated T. Fernandez in a £40 a side championship challenge of seven miles in February, winning by half-a-mile. The next month, he defeated a Canterbury champion over an 18-mile course from Auckland’s Choral Hall by three-quarters of a mile. By the end of December, he appears to have moved to the Wellington district, and fades from the record.

Meanwhile, the Whau Union Cricket Club won against Carlton Club in December 1880, but were defeated by the second eleven of the West End Cricket Club in February 1881, possibly in the absence of Brett. Later that month, a new vice-captain came onto the team, John Sinclair (known as an M.C. of local socials and functions, such as a ball held in a new building at the Riversdale Manufacturing Company in April 1882, and later in 1883 as the organising secretary of an Avondale sports day which was, according to the Observer, rather less than successful). Back in February 1881, however, the same paper describing his cricketing skills thus: “… an excellent long-stop, a good wicketkeep, and a first-class bowler. His action alone is enough to frighten twenty Australians.”

The Whau Club was reorganised in October 1881, possibly after a number of consecutive losses.
“The Whau Union Cricket Club has been reorganized under a new code of rules, and Mr. James Owen, an honorary member, has offered a complete set of cricketing requisites on condition that the club win not less than three matches during the season. There are two or three clubs who would like the same offer.” Owen’s offer worked, according to a report two months later. “The Whau Union has gained the prize of a set of cricketing material, offered to them by Mr. James Owen, on condition that they should win not less than three matches during the season. A match between the Union and United Cricket Clubs took place at the Whau on Saturday and resulted in a victory for the Union. The scores were, Union, 30, United, 21. The bowling was good on both sides, and accounted in a great manner for the smallness of the scores.”
The club were then defeated by the Alphas Club, but in turn downed the United second eleven later that month by seven runs.

January 1882: “The Alpha cricketers were badly beaten by the Whau Union last Saturday. Singularly enough, they have been very quiet this week …Wallace and Bollard bowled for Whau Union,, and scattered the Alpha's timbers. Finlay Hay made three splendid catches while fielding at long on in the … match.”

The Gordon Club defeated the Whau men in April 1882, but the (now) Avondale Union again defeated West End that December. The Avondale men went on to defeat Ponsonby. The following year, they fortunes seemed to change for the worse, and from 1885 until 1892, I could find no further mention.

There was a brief revival in 1892, with the entry of Loo Hoffman on the team. In October 1892:
“The Ramblers journeyed to Avondale last Saturday, and played a friendly game with that club. The ground is being worked up by the country players, and any club requiring a good afternoon's sport might do worse than communicate with them. The Ramblers were highly pleased, refreshments were provided, and a splendid day spent. One of the features of the Avondale-Rambler's match was the gallant efforts put forth by Loo Hoffman, and such attempts should have met with better success. I hope he won't get disheartened, but go in next time with even greater determination.”
Then, in January 1893:
“Loo Hoffman kept up his reputation last week at Avondale, and made things merry while he was at the wickets. The All Saints' team journeyed to Avondale on Saturday last, and defeated the local club by 15 runs on the first innings. Brookes and Mackie bowled so consistently against Avondale on Saturday last that they could only register 22 runs in their first venture.”
Cricket apparently was not Hoffman’s first love. He was a champion trick cyclist, and the Observer in 1894 described him as 6 foot 4 inches (whether this was comedic exaggeration on their part or not, I don’t know).

After this, there is no further mention.

The Avondale Cricket Club was founded again in the mid 20th century, although early teams were photographed between 1900 and 1920. Today, the club has their headquarters on the Avondale racecourse (possibly where the early at-home matches were held in the 19th century).

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