The third Editor of Wisden's Almanack to die in the course of less than ten years Sydney James Southerton passed away on March 12, 1935. His end came even more suddenly than that of each of his predecessors. Sydney H. Pardon collapsed in his office and died the next morning, November 20, 1925; Charles Stewart Caine, after fighting the trouble of a weak heart for many months, went to sleep in his chair at home and did not wake again; Southerton having proposed the toast of "Cricket" at the dinner of The Ferrets Club at the Oval, sank down and a few minutes later his life ebbed away.
He had just seen the fruits of his labours in bringing out the seventy-second issue of Wisden and died in circumstances such as he might have wished. Surrounded by cricketers, many of them close friends and leading players, he surrendered his innings when in the full glow of success. Though his health had shown signs of flagging, there did not seem any reason to suppose that he would succumb without any warning from serious illness. For only two years did he act as Editor of the Almanack but from 1894, when as statistician, he enjoyed the nick-name of "Figure Fiend" in the office of the Cricket Reporting Agency, he had assisted in the production of the book, except during the period of the War when he held a commission in the Royal West Kent Regiment.
Born at Mitcham, the younger son of James Southerton, the famous slow bowler, who played for England, Sussex, Hampshire and Surrey, Sydney was reared in cricket air, and the game became the idol of his life. Taken to the Oval on the occasion of his father's benefit match when a very small boy, he got to know at an early age all about the bat, the ball and the stumps. Until manhood his home was at The Cricketers overlooking the Green where many Surrey professionals grew proficient and young Southerton himself became a useful all-round player. He often found a place in a Mitcham eleven and he did the hat-trick for Press Club against Authors Club at Lord's in 1895.
Australian teams used to practice on Mitcham Green before the serious business of their tour and in 1893 Southerton, who was in service in the boat which brought over the side captained by J. McC. Blackham--one of the greatest wicket-keepers of all time--became scorer for the tour. In this way began the association with first class cricket, severed only by death in his sixty-second year--for Sydney Southerton was born on July 7, 1874.
His practical knowledge of cricket naturally gave him a close insight into the character and ability of players. He had sound judgment on real merit and was prompt to note errors in method or execution by either batsman or bowler. The acquaintance and even close friendship with many cricketers of all grades helped towards this general mastery of the intricacies in every phase of cricket. As instances of his keen observation it may be recalled that when Lord Tennyson declared in the 1921 Test Match at Old Trafford, Southerton was the first, if not the only, man in the Press Box to remember that such action could not be taken later than an hour and forty minutes before time if rain had reduced the fixture to two days. Again, during the Test Match at the Oval in 1926 he said, "Rhodes soon got Woodfull at Sheffield." Thought transference might have been at work, for A. P. F. Chapman promptly put on Rhodes with the same result. Used more in Australia's second innings Rhodes took a large share in gaining a victory by 289 runs and so winning the rubber for England.
Such perception made itself felt when discussing the game with leading authorities and, influenced by constant company with Pardon and Caine, Southerton was ripe for the work of special correspondent for the Press Association and Reuter's with the M.C.C. team that toured Australia under the captaincy of A. P. F. Chapman during the winter of 1928-29. His cables brought more life into the game than ever previously had appeared in reports of cricket played out of England. James Southerton went to Australia with Lillywhite's team in 1876 and played for England in the first representative matches. Consequently Sydney found special interest in retracing his father's footsteps under conditions very different from those that prevailed 52 years before; and he delighted in having seen England victorious at Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.
How he dealt with the direct attack episode in his second and last term as Editor of Wisden earned general commendation and brought one eulogistic remark from an old friend, a member of a County Club Committee, who in a letter of condolence on Southerton's death wrote--"just as Sydney Pardon helped to stamp out throwing, so did Southerton help to put an end to the unfair attack on the batsman by the bowler with the bumping ball."
Besides his ability to describe a game in graphic style Southerton enjoyed the confidence of all cricket officials and his great store of anecdotes of all kinds made him the best of company. Constantly in demand for dinners and social functions he made a large circle of friends with whom he was always welcome wherever called by his cricket or football duties--for he was known almost as well on our winter as on our summer playing fields. Of all the tales he told in most racy style one appealed specially, because it helped to portray Southerton's inherited instinct to adapt himself to any situation. His maternal grandfather, living at Merton--the home of Nelson at the beginning of the last century--went out to buy a leg of mutton for the Sunday dinner. The wife waited in vain for the husband to return; he had just vanished; no trace; no tidings. Some four years later a bronzed and bearded sailor walked into the house, dumped a leg of mutton on the table and said, "Here's tomorrow's dinner, my dear!" Sydney's ancestor, Pratt, had been the victim of a Press Gang and served in the Navy during the war that had for its climax Trafalgar.
An ardent Freemason, Sydney Southerton was a past master of the Somersetshire Lodge, a member of the Alfred Robbins Lodge and of the Temple Chapter. He succeeded Stewart Caine on the Newspaper Press Fund Council.
When unable to play much cricket Southerton took up golf with such success that he won Press Competitions from a low handicap. Quite good at billiards and snooker he held his own at most card games and in recent years Bridge and Gardening were his hobbies. At one time he was captain of the Press Rifle Club.
Following are a few of the many tributes received after Mr. Southerton's death:--
Mr. A. P. F. Chapman--
I was very fond of him. He was always trustworthy. You could tell him the facts of a matter and he never exaggerated. When he went out to Australia with us he never let us down once and was universally popular with the members of the England team and the Australians. He was made a member of the team and came into our dressing room. We knew he would use his discretion in his reports. We trusted him implicity. I thought he maintained the fine standard always associated with Wisden.
Mr. H. D. G. Leveson Gower--
The death of Mr. Southerton removed a great personality from the cricket world. I first knew him over forty years ago, and have always entertained a great friendship for him. While his criticisms were often severe, they never gave offence. His judgment was sound.
Mr. W. Findlay (Secretary, M.C.C.)--
When Mr. Southerton became Editor of Wisden's Cricketers' AImanack, on the death of Mr. Stewart Caine in 1933, it was felt that considerable responsibility rested with him, if the high traditions of the Almanack were to be maintained. Cricketers did not have to wait long for an assurance on this point. It was clear to all who read his articles in the Almanack that he kept uppermost in his mind all that was best for the game.
He was well-known to cricketers in this country and in Australia, and was always a welcome guest at any Cricket function, being of a bright personality and blessed with a sense of humour. As in the case of his predecessors, it was often expedient to confide in him--that confidence was never misplaced.
Mr. J. B. Hobbs--
The judgment of Mr. Southerton on cricket was absolutely sound. We always took notice of what he said. He was popular wherever he went.