1859 October 31, 2009

Icebergs, snowstorms and 'the fair sex'

When 12 English professionals set out on the first major overseas tour of all
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In an era when cricketers spend as much time in airplanes as they do playing the game, travelling long distances has become an accepted part of the professionals' life. One hundred and fifty years ago this month the first major overseas trip by a team of professional cricketers took place, and for them the travel was not so much inconvenient as life-threatening.

By the 1850s cricket in England was emerging into the national institution it was to become by the end of the century, with the expansion of the railways meaning top teams could easily travel the country to play. The game was also taking root in North America, and in 1844, USA and Canada had played cricket's first international.

In 1856, William Pickering, who had played for Eton, Cambridge and Surrey before emigrating to Canada in 1852, sent an invitation to various contacts in England asking about the possibility of a tour by a professional side. Correspondence continued for three years, but in August 1859 a deal was finally agreed. Pickering, appreciating such players did not go anywhere unless paid handsomely, had obtained guarantees of around £1300 from local sponsors and arranged five fixtures in Canada and the USA. Twelve players would earn £50 each.

George Parr, John Wisden and Fred Lillywhite set about recruiting, and by early September they had their squad. While not the best possible, it was strong and included most of the leading professionals of the day. Four were from Surrey, three each from Nottinghamshire and Cambridgeshire and two from Sussex.

The 12 left Liverpool on September 7 and endured a gruelling 15-day crossing on a steamship - Nova Scotia - before landing in Quebec. While his team-mates suffered, John Wisden was reported to have "enjoyed both meals and tobacco". Parr, meanwhile, claimed to have found a cure for seasickness - gin and water - while Bob Carpenter sang the only song he knew, "The Sweet Cherub That Sits Up Aloft", incessantly.

From the port they travelled 180 miles on the newly opened Grand Trunk Railway to Montreal. They arrived late at night and the following day were due at their opening game, a three-dayer against XXII of Lower Canada.

Probably to the relief of the tourists, the first day was washed out. The rain, so Lillywhite, recorded, was startling, as "the drops were the size of quarter-dollar pieces, and half a dozen of them were sufficient to ensure a thorough wetting". Instead, the tourists visited the Victoria Bridge, opened the year before and spanning the St Lawrence River.

When the game got underway the next day, a good crowd of around 3000, including, so Lillywhite wrote, many "of the fair sex" watched the locals easily beaten by eight wickets. "The bowling of the Eleven was anything but good; the sea voyage seemed to have taken effect," he noted, but even so Parr took 16 for 27 and Foghorn Jackson 13 for 42. Such were the limitations of the era that a report of the first day did not appear in the Times in London until 12 days later, with that of the second day's play having to wait another five days.

The next game was a four-day match between the All England XI and the United England XI, the two leading professional sides in English cricket. The 12 tourists divided and were supplemented by locals. The contest was as one-sided as the first, United England XI winning by an innings.

From Montreal the side travelled to New York by rail. On the journey Lillywhite fell out with Parr. Lillywhite had brought with him what was described as a scoring booth on wheels, together with a small printing press to produce scorecards, which he boasted "were correct to the fall of the last wicket". Waiting for Lillywhite and his paraphernalia caused growing friction; it kept getting lost in transit, at one stage for three days. Parr finally snapped and "in plain language consigned both Lillywhite and his contraption to an unmentionable place".

More than 25,000 watched Parr's XI thrash XXII of the USA by an innings at Hoboken on a poor pitch. William Caffyn was all but unplayable, taking 16 for 25 in the second innings.

That night came what would now be an incident to delight the newspapers. Julius Caesar found an Irish bar and after a few drinks got into an argument with a local, culminating in the New Yorker pointing a revolver at Caesar and telling him it was his "calling card". The police were called but the incident was smoothed over, even though Caesar stormed down to breakfast the next day and announced he was returning to the bar with the intention of giving "the first American I see there a thorough good hiding". He was talked out of an unwise plan.

Another informal three-day exhibition match between T Lockyer's XI and HH Stephenson's XI followed, with Parr's tourists again split between the two sides.

From New York the side journeyed to Philadelphia, arriving to a raucous reception. "We found the proprietors most liberal, whose attention to us was all that could be needed," wrote Lillywhite. The locals turned out in force for the game with XXII Philadelphia beaten by seven wickets. "There was one grandstand of a thousand ladies seated by themselves," Lillywhite purred. "One of the most delightful pictures the eye of a man could rest upon, and if any additional incentive had been required to induce the English to exhibit their skill to the greatest advantage, it was afforded by the presence of so large and beautiful an assemblage of the fair sex."

The weather was on the turn by now and the game only took place because two wagon loads of sawdust were piled onto the field. That wasn't the only difficulty facing the English: local rules came into force, and Carpenter was bemused to be caught off a wide.

A third makeshift game, North v South, was arranged but heavy rain forced it to be abandoned after one miserable day. By now Parr was a virtual passenger, incapacitated after being struck on the elbow by Jackson in such a match.

The team travelled back to Canada, via a second drop-in at Niagara Falls, for the last official match against Hamilton. Despite rain and temperatures close to freezing, another large crowd turned out to witness Parr's XI win by 10 wickets, Wisden taking 14 second-innings wickets. Tom Lockyer's wicketkeeping was the star turn, however. His glovework was so slick that "some of the less experienced spectators could not be convinced the ball had been delivered at all".

An extra match was arranged in Rochester against a 22-man combined Canada and USA team. Parr's side eased to another straightforward win by an innings and 70 runs, Wisden once again shining with the ball, taking 29 wickets. Parr stood as umpire for a time before the cold became too much for him.

The second day's play was abandoned because of heavy snow, the teams playing an impromptu game of baseball instead. When the cricket did resume the Englishmen took to the field wearing greatcoats, mufflers and gloves. "The most agreeable innings of the day could only be obtained indoors with a hot dinner before you and a bottle of old port to follow."

From there the squad again returned to Canada to sail home. As they steamed down the St Lawrence River they passed the Nova Scotia, holding up a large board with "Won All Matches" chalked on it.

The ordeal was not quite over, as the crossing back to Liverpool was truly appalling, involving icebergs and some very rough seas. They finally reached home on November 12.

The trip was an undoubted financial success, so much so that each tourist was paid £90, as opposed to the promised £50. The significant interest in all the matches, especially those in the USA, underlined the growth in interest in cricket. As word spread, promoters travelled to try to persuade Parr and his men to visit their own regions.

But there was little doubt the gruelling schedule had taken its toll. "It is a very great question whether some of their number could be persuaded again to undergo suffering and inconveniences consequent upon such voyages," Lillywhite concluded.

Tentative plans were laid for a return trip in 1861, but by then the USA was sliding into civil war and so the professionals headed to Australia instead.

Squad George Parr (capt), James Grundy, John Jackson (all of Nottinghamshire); Robert Carpenter, Alfred Diver, Thomas Hayward (all of Cambridgeshire); Julius Caesar, William Caffyn, Tom Lockyer, HH Stephenson (all of Surrey); John Lillywhite, John Wisden (both of Sussex). In addition Fred Lillywhite travelled as the scorer.

  • Two contemporary accounts of the tour exist. The first is The English Cricketers' Trip To Canada And The United States In 1859 by Fred Lillywhite, the other 71 Not Out by William Caffyn. The former is workmanlike and gives some excellent insights into the life and times, while Caffyn's provides more flavour of the trip itself.

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