Australian Aboriginal cricket team in England in 1868

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The Aboriginal cricket team pictured with their captain and coach Tom Wills at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, December 1866

In 1868, a cricket team composed of Aboriginal Australians toured England between May and October of that year, being the first organised group of Australian sportspeople to travel overseas.[1] It would be another ten years before an Australian cricket team classed as representative left the country.

The concept of an Aboriginal cricket team can be traced to pastoral stations in the Western District of Victoria, where, in the mid-1860s, the European owners introduced Aboriginal station hands to the sport. An Aboriginal XI was created with the assistance of Tom Wills, the captain of the Victorian cricket team and founder of Australian rules football, who acted as the side's captain-coach in the lead-up to and during an 1866–67 tour of Victoria and New South Wales. Several members of the team joined what became the Aboriginal XI that toured England under the captaincy of Englishman Charles Lawrence.

International sporting contact was rare in that era. Previously, only three cricket teams had travelled abroad, all English, to the United States and Canada in 1859, and to Australia in 1861–62 and 1863–64.


Coach and captain Tom Wills, 1866
The Aboriginal team playing against Melbourne Cricket Club at the MCG, early 1867

In the Western District of Victoria, from the early 1860s onwards, cricket matches took place between Aboriginal Australians and European settlers at local pastoral properties, where many Aboriginal people were employed as station hands. The Aboriginal people were admired for their athletic skills and, in early 1866, a series of matches were staged with the intention of selecting the strongest possible Aboriginal XI.[citation needed] Thomas Gibson Hamilton of Bringalbert Station, near Edenhope, created a team which he coached. They played an exhibition match at Hamilton, which gained the attention of Tom Wills.[2][3]

The resulting team was initially coached by local pastoralist William Hayman. Coaching duties were later turned over to Wills, captain of the Victoria cricket team and founder of Australian rules football, who spoke to the team in the Djab Wurrung language he had learnt as a child growing up in the Western District among the Djab Wurrung people. Wills' decision to join and help the team has been something of a puzzle given that, only five years earlier, he had survived the Cullin-la-ringo massacre in Queensland, in which his father and 18 other European colonists were murdered by local Aboriginal people. "It was always a matter of wonder how Tom could be friendly with the blacks, considering that they murdered his father", one sportswriter noted.[4]

On Boxing Day 1866, in front of over 10,000 spectators, Wills captained the team against the Melbourne Cricket Club at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Bell's Life in Victoria reported: "Seldom has a match created more excitement in Melbourne than the one under notice, and never within our recollection has a match given rise to so much feeling on behalf of the spectators."[5] "The veteran Wills never captained an eleven who so thoroughly possessed the sympathies of the spectators," wrote a Melbourne correspondent for The Sydney Mail. "A dark skin suddenly became a passport to the good graces of Victorians."[6] Although they lost to the MCC, the Aboriginal players were commended for their performance, and showed marked improvement on a subsequent tour of country Victoria.

An entrepreneur, Captain Gurnett, persuaded the team to travel to Sydney to begin a planned tour of the colonies and England. However, after their arrival in Sydney in February 1867, Gurnett embezzled some of the funds raised to finance the enterprise, leaving the team stranded. They were looked after by Charles Lawrence at his Manly Hotel, and he organised a number of games, completing a tour of New South Wales before returning to Victoria in May. Four players succumbed to the effects of illness: "Sugar" and "Watty" died on tour, while "Jellico" and "Paddy" died shortly afterward.

Team members[edit]

Johnny Mullagh, the team's star all-rounder

In 1867, Charles Lawrence was contracted to captain-coach Australia's "First Eleven" that toured England in 1868. Lawrence played for Surrey in 1855, the all Ireland XI in 1862, and the all England XI in 1863. He was contracted to be the first professional cricket coach in New South Wales, and he first saw the indigenous team under the instructions of Tom Wills who played a match at the Albert Ground, Sydney. On this occasion there was some contract disagreement between the failed sponsor Gurnett and Wills, and the players were left in Sydney. Lawrence was instructed to look after the Aboriginal players. At this time Lawrence was a publican and billeted the players in his hotel in Manly until he could arrange some cricket matches to raise money to return the players to the Western District of Victoria. In 1867, he trained the players for two months at "Lake Wallace" in Edenhope in the Wimmera before selecting the below side to tour England in 1868.

The tour was financed by Sydney Lawyer George Graham. Along with his cousin George Smith (who had been Mayor of Sydney in 1859), and William Hayman, they all travelled to England for the tour.

  • Charles Lawrence – captain-coach
  • Johnny Mullagh – traditional name: Unaarrimin
  • Bullocky – traditional name: Bullchanach. A wicketkeeper, Bullocky was referred to as "at once the black Bannerman and Blackham of his team".[7]
  • Sundown – traditional name: Ballrin
  • Dick-a-Dick – traditional name: Jungunjinanuke
  • Johnny Cuzens – traditional name: Zellanach
  • King Cole – traditional name: Bripumyarrimin
  • Red Cap – traditional name: Brimbunyah
  • Twopenny – traditional name: Murrumgunarriman
  • Charley Dumas – traditional name: Pripumuarraman
  • Jimmy Mosquito – traditional name: Grougarrong, who "could walk upright under a bar and then jump it in a stander".[7]
  • Tiger – traditional name: Boninbarngeet
  • Peter – traditional name: Arrahmunijarrimun
  • Jim Crow – traditional name: Jallachniurrimin

During June, "King Cole" died from tuberculosis and was buried in Victoria Park Cemetery in what is now Tower Hamlets in London. Sundown and Jim Crow went home in August due to ill-health.[8]


Aboriginal cricket team in England 1868 with captain and coach Charles Lawrence.
The Sporting Life, London 16 May 1868: The arrival of the Australian Aboriginal cricket team in England.

The team arrived in London on 13 May 1868[9] and were met with a degree of fascination – being the period of the evolutionary controversies following publication of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species in 1859. Reaction was mixed. The Times described the tourists as, "a travestie upon cricketing at Lord's", and, "the conquered natives of a convict colony." The Daily Telegraph said of Australia that, "nothing of interest comes from there except gold nuggets and black cricketers."

The first match was played on 25 May at The Oval in London, and attracted 20,000 spectators. Presumably many of the spectators attended out of curiosity, rather than merely to savour a cricket contest. The Times reported:

"Their hair and beards are long and wiry, their skins vary in shades of blackness, and most of them have broadly expanded nostrils. Having been brought up in the bush to agricultural pursuits under European settlers, they are perfectly civilised and are quite familiar with the English language."

The Daily Telegraph wrote:

It is highly interesting and curious, to see mixed in a friendly game on the most historically Saxon part of our island, representatives of two races so far removed from each other as the modern Englishman and the Aboriginal Australian. Although several of them are native bushmen, and all are as black as night, these Indian fellows are to all intents and purposes, clothed and in their right minds.

In total, the Aboriginal team played 47 matches throughout England over a period of six months, winning 14, losing 14 and drawing 19, a good result that surprised many at the time. Their skills were said to range from individuals who were exceptional athletes down to two or three team members who hardly contributed at all. The outstanding player was Johnny Mullagh. He scored 1,698 runs and took 245 wickets. George Tarrant, an admired English fast bowler of the time, bowled to Mullagh during a lunch interval and later said, "I have never bowled to a better batsman."

In addition to playing cricket, the Aboriginal players frequently put on exhibitions of boomerang and spear throwing at the conclusion of a match. Dick-a-Dick would also hold a narrow parrying shield and invite people to throw cricket balls at him, which he warded off with the shield. The Aboriginal team were narrowly beaten in a cricket-ball-throwing competition by an emerging English all-rounder of star quality, the 20-year-old W. G. Grace, who threw 118 yards.[10]


The team arrived back in Sydney in February 1869. They played a match against a military team the following month, then split up. Twopenny later moved to New South Wales and played for the colony against Victoria in 1870. Cuzens died of dysentery the following year. Mullagh was employed as a professional by the Melbourne Cricket Club and represented Victoria against the touring English team in 1879, top-scoring in the second innings.

In 1869 the Central Board for Aborigines ruled that it would be illegal to remove any Aboriginal person from the colony of Victoria without the approval of the government minister. That effectively curtailed the involvement of Aboriginal players in the game.

When Mullagh died in August 1891, aged 50, he was generally believed to have been the last survivor of the team apart from Lawrence, who died in 1917.[11][12] However, Red Cap is now believed to have died between 1891 and 1894, and Tarpot died in April 1900.[13]


An Aboriginal weapon owned by Dick-a-Dick next to a cricket ball owned by Tom Wills, on display at the Melbourne Museum

In May 1988, a team of Aboriginal players, captained by John McGuire, toured England to mark the Australian Bicentenary, retracing the steps of the original tour.[14][15] Ngadjuri man, Vince Copley, helped to organise the commemorative tour.[16]

  • 2002 – The Australian Sports Hall of Fame recognised the 1868 Indigenous touring team for their contribution to sport.
  • 2004 – The 1868 team members were presented with cap numbers by Cricket Australia.
  • 2004 – The Johnny Mullagh interpretative centre opened in Harrow in the [Wimmera.
  • 2018 – Australia Post released a stamp celebrating 150 years since the 1868 tour.
  • 2018 – Cricket Australia held a smoking ceremony at Johnny Mullagh's sacred water hole in Harrow, celebrating 150 years since the tour.

In 2002, Charles Lawrence's great-great-grandson, Ian Friend, along with historians and cricketers, including former Test captain Ian Chappell, successfully campaigned to have the Aboriginal XI recognised in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Ian Friend and Jack Kennedy (descendant of Johnny Cuzens) both accepted the award on behalf of the team. Also that year, a documentary film about the team, titled A Fine Body of Gentlemen, was broadcast by the ABC.[17]

Australia sent men's and women's Aboriginal teams to England in June 2018, to mark the 150th anniversary of the tour.[18][19]

A play about the cricketers, Black Cockatoo, written by Geoffrey Atherden and employing an all-Aboriginal cast, was staged at the 2020 Sydney Festival.[20]

In January 2020, Len Pascoe encouraged singer/songwriter Matt Scullion to write a song about the tour, having been talking about it to Gamilaraay elder and retired cricketer Les Knox. Scullion wrote the song, "1868", and sang it at the second Twenty20 International at the Sydney Cricket Ground in early 2021, and planned to do so again at the Bradman Museum in April 2021.[21][22]


  1. ^ "Aboriginal cricket: The first Australian tour of England, 1868". BBC News. 9 July 2013. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  2. ^ Hamilton, J. C. (James Charles) (1914), Pioneering days in western Victoria: A narrative of early station life, Exchange Press
  3. ^ "Thomas Gibson HAMILTON, b. 10th May 1844, d. 2nd April 1875; USH00209 on eHive". eHive. 30 December 2017. Retrieved 1 June 2021. Thomas coached the Edenhope (Victoria) Aboriginal Cricket Team which toured England in 1868 under the administration of William Hayman and Charles Lawrence.
  4. ^ The Vagrant (15 March 1883). "Sporting Notes". The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser. Retrieved 25 January 2024 – via Trove.
  5. ^ Special Correspondent (29 December 1866). "M.C.C. v. Ten Aboriginals with T.W. Wills". Bell's Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle. Retrieved 26 January 2024 – via Trove.
  6. ^ Thersites (26 January 1867). "Matters in Melbourne". Sydney Mail. Retrieved 26 January 2024 – via Trove.
  7. ^ a b Old Un (2 April 1897). "An Old Time Team of Darkies". Euroa Advertiser. Retrieved 26 January 2024 – via Trove.
  8. ^ Ricketts, Olly (9 July 2013). "Aboriginal cricket: The first Australian tour of England, 1868". BBC News Magazine. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  9. ^ "The Home of CricketArchive". Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  10. ^ "Aboriginies – The first Australian cricket team". Retrieved 6 April 2014.
  11. ^ "Cricket". Australian Town and Country Journal: 40. 22 August 1891.
  12. ^ "Aboriginal Cricketer Dead". Telegraph: 2. 17 August 1891.
  13. ^ D. J. Mulvaney, Cricket Walkabout, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1967, pp. 69–85.
  14. ^ "Bats Test". The Glasgow Herald. 14 May 1988. Retrieved 25 June 2011.
  15. ^ "Ashes of Dark Past". Brisbane Times. 21 June 2009. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2011.
  16. ^ Silva, Nadine (13 January 2022). "Ngadjuri Elder and changemaker Vincent Copley passes away aged 85". NITV. Retrieved 23 November 2023.
  17. ^ "A Fine Body of Gentlemen". Film Illawarra. Archived from the original on 4 April 2005. Retrieved 22 May 2005.
  18. ^ "Christian, Gardner to lead squads in commemorative tour of England". International Cricket Council. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Aboriginal XI squads to commemorate 1868 pioneers with UK tour". Wisden India. Archived from the original on 10 April 2018. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  20. ^ Boland, Michaela (9 January 2020). "Black Cockatoo tells the story of Australia's all-Indigenous cricket team as Sydney Festival opens". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 January 2020.
  21. ^ Jackson, Russell (18 February 2021). "How Len Pascoe turned Australia's pioneering Indigenous cricket team into a chart-topping song". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  22. ^ 1868 Matt Scullion on YouTube

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Mallett, Ashley (2002). Lords' Dreaming: Cricket on the Run – The 1868 Aboriginal Tour of England. ISBN 0-285-63640-5.
  • Mallett, Ashley. The Black Lords of Summer: The Story of the 1868 Aboriginal Tour of England and Beyond, University of Queensland, 2002. ISBN 0-7022-3262-9
  • Whimpress, Bernard (1999). Passport To Nowhere: Aborigines In Australian Cricket 1850-1939. Walla Walla Press, Sydney. ISBN 1-876718-06-4.
  • Mulvaney, John; Harcourt, Rex (1988). Cricket Walkabout: The Australian Aborigines in England. Macmillan Australia. ISBN 0-333-43086-7.

External links[edit]