1888 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia

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1888 British Lions tour to New Zealand & Australia
British lions 1888.jpg
The British Isles touring squad
Date28 April – 3 October
Coach(es)England Alfred Shaw
England Arthur Shrewsbury
Tour captain(s)England Robert Seddon
England Andrew Stoddart
1888 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia
35 27 06 02
Test match
00 00 00 00

The 1888 British Isles tour to New Zealand and Australia was a tour by a British rugby union team, known at the time as the "English Footballers",[1] throughout New Zealand and Australia. Although a private venture not organised by any official body, this was the first major tour of the Southern Hemisphere undertaken by a European rugby team. It paved the way for future tours by teams which are now known as British and Irish Lions.

The team boarded the SS Kaikoura at Gravesend on 9 March 1888, returning to England on the same ship on 11 November.[2] While in Australia and New Zealand the team played a number of state, provincial, and invitation sides, but did not play any international teams. They played 35 rugby matches, winning 27, drawing 6, and losing 2. Only four of the touring party had played, or would play, for their country; Seddon, Andrew Stoddart and Tom Kent for England, and Willie Thomas for Wales.

They also played a smaller number of Victorian rules (Australian rules) football matches, but the side had no prior experience of this before arriving in Australia. The team's legacy was honoured in 2013 when the team, along with initial captain Robert Seddon, were inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.[1]

Tour background[edit]

The British Isles team. Taken on the Scotch Oval, close to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the East Melbourne Cricket Ground, on both of which the team played Australian Rules Football against local clubs

The 1888 tour was organised by three professional English cricketers, James Lillywhite, Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury,[3] but they could not obtain patronage from the Rugby Football Union who refused to patronise by the tour,[4] though the RFU was happy for the tour to go ahead, provided there was no infringement of the rules of amateurism.[5] The team was led by England's Robert L Seddon and took in 35 games, though no test matches against international opposition. Of the games played the tourists won twenty seven, drew six and lost two matches.

The tour was undertaken by Shaw and Shrewsbury as a purely financial exercise with little regard to producing a "British Isles" team, and the team itself is more often recorded as an English team. The two managers were not unfamiliar with touring sides, having organised cricket teams to Australia, and the rugby tour was a follow on from the financially disastrous England Cricket tour of 1887.

The team on board to Australia, from The Illustrated London News

The rugby tour was not an economic success either and lost both managers money. Worse was to occur when team captain Seddon, drowned on 15 August[6] in an accident while sculling on the Hunter River[7] in West Maitland. The captaincy was then passed to Andrew Stoddart a future England rugby captain and Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

A further economic issue that related to the tour was the burgeoning professional movement that was gathering momentum in England at the time. Rugby players and clubs in Britain were divided by the growing belief that players should be paid for their time playing their sport. The growing popularity of the now professional Association Football was causing many, especially in the North of England, to challenge the amateur standing of the union code.[8]

One of the catalysts to the split between amateur union code and the future league code, was when Jack P. Clowes, a member of the 1888 tour, was designated a 'professional' sportsman after he accepted £15 to buy equipment shortly before he left for Australia. The other players on the tour were then required to sign an affidavit to state they were not to be paid for playing rugby when in Australia and New Zealand.[9]

British Lions and South Melbourne in front of the grandstand at the South Melbourne Cricket Ground.

In addition to playing 35 game of rugby union, the Lions team also played 19 games of Victorian Rules Football (later known as Australian rules football). The Lions won 6 of the matches under the Australian rules, despite having no experience with the code prior to the tour.[10]

Team kit

The uniforms worn by the side on their first tour was a jersey displaying thick red, white and blue hoops, white shorts and dark socks.[11]

Touring party[edit]

Two-thirds of the touring party belonged to clubs that, within a few years, would defect to the Northern Rugby Football Union, founding the game of rugby league.[13]


Complete list of matches played by the British Isles in Australia and New Zealand:[14][15]

# Date Rival City Country Result Score
1 28 April Otago RU Dunedin New Zealand Won 8–3
2 2 May Otago RU Dunedin New Zealand Won 4–3
3 5 May Canterbury RU Christchurch New Zealand Won 14–6
4 9 May Canterbury RU Christchurch New Zealand Won 4–0
5 12 May Wellington RU Wellington New Zealand Drew 3–3
6 14 May Henry Roberts XV Wellington New Zealand Won 4–1
7 16 May Taranaki RU New Plymouth New Zealand Lost 0–1
8 19 May Auckland RU Auckland New Zealand Won 6–3
9 24 May Auckland RU Auckland New Zealand Lost 0–4
10 2 June NSW Waratahs Sydney Australia Won 18–2
11 7 June Bathurst Bathurst Australia Won 13–6
12 9 June NSW Waratahs Sydney Australia Won 18–6
13 11 June Sydney Juniors Sydney Australia Won 11–0
14 12 June The King's School Parramatta Australia Drew 10–10
15 16 July Adelaide Adelaide Australia Won 28–3
16 1 August Melbourne Melbourne Australia Won 15–5
17 4 August NSW Waratahs Sydney Australia Won 16–2
18 6 August Sydney Grammar School Sydney Australia Drew 3–3
19 8 August Bathurst Bathurst Australia Won 20–10
20 11 August University of Sydney Sydney Australia Won 8–4
21 18 August Queensland Reds Brisbane Australia Won 13–6
22 21 August Queensland Juniors Brisbane Australia Won 11–3
23 23 August Ipswich Ipswich Australia Won 12–1
24 25 August Queensland Reds Queensland Australia Won 7–0
25 29 August Newcastle Newcastle Australia Won 15–7
26 8 September Auckland RU Auckland New Zealand Won 3–0
27 12 September Auckland Auckland New Zealand Drew 1–1
28 15 September Hawke's Bay Napier New Zealand Won 3–2
29 17 September Wairarapa RU Masterton New Zealand Won 5–1
30 20 September Canterbury RU Christchurch New Zealand Won 8–0
31 22 September Otago RU Dunedin New Zealand Drew 0–0
32 27 September South Island Dunedin New Zealand Won 5–3
33 29 September South Island Christchurch New Zealand Won 6–0
34 2 October Taranaki RU Hawera New Zealand Won 7–1
35 3 October Wanganui RU Wanganui New Zealand Drew 1–1
Played in Pl W D L Ps Pc
New Zealand 19 13 4 2 82 33
Australia 16 14 2 0 218 68
Total 35 27 6 2 300 101


  • Godwin, Terry; Rhys, Chris (1981). The Guinness Book of Rugby Facts & Feats. London: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. ISBN 0-85112-214-0.
  • Griffiths, John (1990). British Lions. Swindon: Crowood Press. ISBN 1-85223-541-1.
  • Griffiths, John (1987). The Phoenix Book of International Rugby Records. London: Phoenix House. ISBN 0-460-07003-7.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b "IRB Hall of Fame 2013 Induction: "The British & Irish Lions and Australia"" (PDF) (Press release). International Rugby Board. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  2. ^ Fagan, Sean (2013) The First Lions of Rugby Victoria, Australia : Slattery. ISBN 9780987500274
  3. ^ Thomas, Clem (2013). 125 Years of the British and Irish Lions: The Official History. Random House. p. The Genesis of the Lions. ISBN 9781780577388.
  4. ^ Griffiths (1987), pg 9:3.
  5. ^ Griffiths (1990), pg 15.
  6. ^ Robert Seddon rugby statistics scrum.com. Accessed 7 March 2009. Archived 2009-05-03.
  7. ^ Seddon's last hurrah Lionsrugby.com. Accessed 7 March 2009. Archived 2009-05-03.
  8. ^ 1888 – The Touring tradition begins on Lions website
  9. ^ Smart, Ted The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Rugby: The Definitive Guide to World Rugby Union; Carlton Books (1997) ISBN 1-85868-076-X
  10. ^ "The forgotten story of ... the 1888 Lions tour". The Guardian. 27 June 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  11. ^ Lions change their stripes on Lions website, 17 April 2005
  12. ^ "Cricinfo – Players and Officials – Arthur Paul". Archived from the original on 7 November 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
  13. ^ Geoffrey Moorhouse (2013). At the George: And Other Essays on Rugby League. UK: Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571300082.
  14. ^ British & Irish Lions results on Rugby Football History
  15. ^ Early Lions: Squads and results (1888–1938) on BBC Sport, 18 May 2005