A unique place in cricket history, 1971

The Midwinter file

Grahame Parker

Wisden overview
W.E. Midwinter has a unique place in cricket history. He was Gloucestershire's first full time professional, the only cricketer to have played for Australia and England in Test Matches against each other, eight for Australia and four for England, and the first of the inter-hemisphere cricket commuters.

This is a piece of research that grew out of a reference in Haygarth's Cricket scores and Biographies, Volume XIV, page 24:-"He (Midwinter) was born in the Forest of Dean, near Cirencester. Throughout the last months of 1968, and during 1969, this reference grew to a file of correspondance and information an inch thick. The primary qualification in the early days of County Cricket was by birth and I felt sure the geographical inaccuracy concealed another piece of Grace gamesmanship. I was wrong.

The cricket record books report that William Edward Midwinter was born on June 19, 1842. While England is on his death certificate, and Cirencester is on his marriage certificate, there is much confusion over the place of his birth. He himself told W.G. Grace that he was born in a small village near Cirencester, but claims have been as diverse as Yorkshire, Gloucester, Melbourne, Bendigo, as well as Haygarth's "Cirencester in the Forest of Dean." Perhaps we should not read too much into these nineteenth century inconsistencies. The details on his birth certificate are clear enough, "born June 19, at St. Briavels, Forest of Dean". His father William John Midwinter, Farm Bayliff, of Clays Lane End, near Coleford, and his mother, Rebecca Evans, a daughter of William Evans, a farmer of the Lower Meend, St. Briavels, were married at nearby St. Paul's church Parkend by the Rev. Henry Poole on October 13, 1849. His father was born at Chedworth, Near Cirencester and his mother at St. Briavels.

Cirencester in the Cotswolds, 50 miles to the East of the Forest of Dean, is Midwinter country. Perhaps there was an itinerant streak in this father that was later to be strongly exhibited by the son, for there is no reference to William John Midwinter in the Forest censuses of 1841, 1851 and 1861.

We next hear of the Midwinters through a cricket reference to young William. They were in Australia at Sandhurst, present day Eaglehawk, on the Bendigo goldfields. The middle years of the last century saw much unemployment among the Forest of Dean coal miners, and many emigrated to the Colonies or tried their luck in gold rushes. Father Midwinter was first a gold miner and later a butcher.

William John Midwinter (38), gamekeeper, Rebecca Midwinter (36) and sons William (9), John (5) and daughter Jane (7), sailed from Liverpool on February 2, 1861 as unassisted passengers in the Red Jacket -- 2,035 tons. Her Master was William Billing, she carried a crew of 65, 216 passengers and a cargo of sundries. She arrived at Melbourne on April 24.

William grew into a tall, rough, athletic boy at Sandhurst, and began a lifelong association with H. F. (Harry) Boyle, who at 15 was already showing the cricket skill and organising ability that was to make him famous as an Australian cricketer and administrator. He was playing for Sandhurst and young "Mid" for the California Gully School. Boyle formed a club of young cricketers at Sydney Flat, two miles from Sandhurst. There were only thirteen of them, but they cleared and levelled a patch of bush among the mine dumps, and it was here that Boyle, Midwinter and many other famous Victorians played their first cricket. The Midwinters lived five miles away at California Gully in a wooden, stone slab floored shack, separated from a piece of open ground by a stone wall. The boy helped his father on his butcher's rounds but they found time to practice together here and, as with the Graces in their Downend orchard, it was the dog who did most of the fielding! In the 1890's the area became a cricket ground, appropriately named Midwinter's Oval. The shack was still standing but had been demolished progressively for firewood. Even today some rough open ground still remains, much of it occupied by two tennis courts and bungalows.

There is an unverified report that when still quite young he made 256 in an innings. The first definite reference in his cricket career is the fact that during the 1864-65 season, young Midwinter left the Sydney Flat Cricket Club for Bendigo United and although only 13, held his place in the senior club. In 1870 the Carlton Cricket Club travelled the sixty miles to Bendigo and were so impressed with Midwinter and Boyle that they invited them to play in Melbourne. During the following season they both played in a single wicket match for Bendigo VI that surprisingly defeated Charles Bannerman's New South Wales IV. In 1873 Midwinter's name first appeared with the Melbourne C.C.

W.G. took a team to Australia for the 1873-74 season. Although the party included the recently married Mrs. Grace and three other Gloucestershire cricketers, G. F. Grace, J. A. Bush and W. R. Gilbert, it could not have been a happy tour. Towards the end the Englishmen were extremely unpopular with the Australians, who felt they were being fleeced, particularly in payment to W.G. It was almost twenty years before he could be enticed back. Midwinter played against them twice. Before Christmas 1873, in a game at Melbourne that drew 40,000 spectators in three days, he was caught Bush, bowled Grace, for 7. It was the second match the following March, when amid great excitement, he bowled both W. G. and G. F. Grace, that no doubt activated W.G.'s shrewd and fertile imagination.

Midwinter played his first of nine inter-state games in 1875. He was now 6 ft. 2½ in. and 14 stone, a hard hitting batsman, a medium-pace round-arm spin bowler, a fine outfielder with a strong arm, one of the best quarter milers in Victoria and a fine shot and billiards player, variously nicknamed the Sandhrust Infant or the Bendigo Giant. He played in the first All Australia v. All England game in Melbourne during the James Lillywhite tour of 1876-77. Spofforth, the great Australian fast bowler, refused to play in the game because his usual wicket-keeper, W. L. Murdoch, had not been selected. Surprisingly England were defeated for the first time in an even-handed game against Australia. Haygarth blamed the travelling and the high living to which the tourists were subjected, but Charles Bannerman's first innings, 165 not out, had set up the Australian victory. Midwinter's match analysis was 6 for 101. He had now proved he was an international cricketer and decided to try his luck in England.

There is some confusion over his first journey back to England. An article written in Cricket, January 27, 1891, just after his death, reports his arrival at Plymouth on Tuesday, May 5, 1877. The next day the ship disembarked at London and with a rough diamond friend, Denmark Jack, he was on his way to The Oval where W.G. was playing.

In fact he sailed from Melbourne on April 21, 1877 in the S.S. Durham, Master F. Anderson. She was one of a line of steam and sailing ships operated by Money Wigram & Sons of Blackwell Yard, London, and on this journey she carried 246 passengers, amongst whom is listed W. Midwinter, male, 25 years, cricketer, English.

W.G. was probably expecting him, for he soon had him playing in his United South of England XI at Birmingham, Holbeck and Barrow-in-Furness. The Gloucestershire minutes of 1877 make no reference to his arrival with the County, nor do they record his departure in 1882. He played in the combined Yorkshire/Gloucestershire team which drew with a Rest of England XI at Lord's on July 17, but his first full Gloucestershire appearance was in one of the most famous games in the County's history when England were beaten at The Oval by five wickets. Midwinter's contribution was a significant 7 for 35 and 4 for 46 in the two innings. W.G. took him in hand and added a defensive dimension to his aggressive batting. This was prominently evident during the Yorkshire match later in the season, where he saved the day with a four-hour 68. A collection was taken during his innings and Mrs. Grace presented him with £15. This happened to be another of those Grace testimonial games. With brotherly solicitude, E.M. raised the gate charge from 6d. to 1/- without informing his committee. Later in the season Gloucestershire beat Nottinghamshire in one of the Cheltenham Festival games early on the third day. The County then played a local XI. With broomsticks they made 299, E. M. Grace 104, Midwinter 58, to which Cheltenham, using bats, replied with 50 for 2 before time ran out. The County had been Champions in 1876 and also again -- for the last time since! -- in 1877.

1878 saw the first Australian tour of England. They arrived with eleven players and picked up Midwinter in this country. He had already played for the United South of England, an England XI and England v. M.C.C. before joining the Australians at Trent Bridge on May 20. They lost by an innings and 14 runs but he batted through their second innings for 16 not out in two and a half hours. The next game was the first Australian visit to Lord's. It was completed in 105 runs between 12 and 6.20 p.m. on the first day! M.C.C. 33 and 19, Australia 41 and 12 for 1. Midwinter was top scorer with 10.

The Australian press reports of a following game against the Gentlemen at Princes, record an interesting comment that the so-called Gentlemen Cricketers, Messrs. W. G. Grace and W. R. Gilbert received the sum of £60 for their services, and when Mr. Conway raised an objection to it, it was asserted that W. G. Grace, G. F. Grace and W.R. Gilbert were invariably paid for playing.

And so we come to a fateful day. On Monday, June 20 the Australians were playing at Lord's. They had lost the toss and had been put in to bat. Their opening pair, Bannerman and Midwinter, were padding up, unaware that a storm was approaching them through the cloudless summer sky. On the other side of London at The Oval, W. G. Grace had found his Gloucestershire team a man short. The Champion, 6ft. 2 in., wicketkeeper J. A. Bush, 6ft. 2½ in. and the Coroner, E. M. Grace, 5ft. 8in. -- top do the talking, no doubt -- burst into Lord's, persuaded Midwinter he should be playing for Gloucestershire, bundled him into the waiting carriage and were gone. Much later Midwinter regretted what had been done, but before they had reached the Edgware Road he must have wondered how fate had dropped him into that hot, uncomfortable seat. The dust had hardly settled in the St. John's Wood Road when an Australian posse set off in pursuit of the Gloucestershire hijackers. In the posse were the Australian Manager, John Conway, Midwinter's friend, Harry Boyle and David Gregory, the captain. An unhappy altercation took place at The Oval gates where W.G., in front of bystanders, called the Australians a damn lot of sneaks.

The Australians were deeply hurt. Letters of increasing acidity passed between them and the County during the following weeks. The first was despatched by John Conway on June 22 from the Horse Shoe Hotel, Tottenham Court Road, and was read at the Gloucestershire Committee meeting of July 1: Unless Mr. W. G. Grace apologises for his insulting behaviour... we shall be compelled to erase the Gloucestershire fixture from our programme. The Committee drafted a reply regretting this fact, but added Mr. W. G. Grace did not for a moment intend his remarks to apply to Mr. Conway and Mr. Boyle. This brought a stinging reply from David Gregory at the Albion Hotel, Manchester. They still refused to play at Bristol. I may state that he (W.G.) publicly insulted the whole of the Australian Eleven in most unmistakable language. He now introduced for the first time the initial cause of the storm "...moreover we are averse to meeting Midwinter, whose defection from us we regard as a breach of faith".

The long Gloucestershire reply tried to spread some oil on the disturbed waters, but set out their version of the Midwinter affair:-

Midwinter is a Gloucestershire man, he returned to England last year and played in all the matches which were played by Gloucestershire after his arrival in England. This year he has already played in the Colts match at Bedminster and had promised Mr. Grace to play in all our County matches. This engagement of his was well known all over England, and can hardly fail to have been known to you. Mr. Bush discussed this with Mr. Conway at Princes on Monday and Tuesday, the 17th and 18th of June. With the knowledge of Midwinter's engagement staring you in the face you attempted to induce him to break his promise, desert his County, and play for you by offering him a much larger sum than we could afford to pay him. Such proceedings are to say the least uncommon and go far, in our judgment, to palliate Mr. Grace's stormy language at The Oval.

The Australians would not leave it there. In a letter from Leicester dated July 15, David Gregory still refused to bring his team to Bristol, but was "willing to overlook Midwinter's defection though they consider they have first claim to him, as before he came to England he asked Mr. Conway to keep a place for him in the team. We started from Australia relying upon his joining us."

E. M. Grace, as Secretary, dutifully transcribed all those letters in the Minutes Book, but the page continuing W.G.'s eventual letter of apology contains only the heading "Mr. W. G. Grace wrote a letter apologising to David Gregory and the Australians"! After a long search the contents of this letter came to light in an Australian report of the tour:--

The Cottage,
Kingswood Hill, Bristol.
July 21st.

Dear Sir,

I am sorry that my former expression of regret to the Australian cricketers has not been considered satisfactory. Under the circumstances, and without going further into the matter, I wish to let by-gones be by-gones. I apologise again, and express my extreme regret to Conway, Boyle and yourself, and through you to the Australian cricketers, that in the excitement of the moment I should have made use of unparliamentary language to Mr. Conway. I can do no more but assure you that you will meet a hearty welcome and a good ground at Clifton.

Yours truly,

W. G. Grace.

The matter closed with W.G.'s apology. The Australians received the warmest hospitality at Bristol. Midwinter did not play against them, he had a split thumb. The Australians, with Spofforth full blast, thrashed the County. It was Gloucestershire's first ever defeat on a home ground.

Midwinter was paid £56 for his seven games in 1878. The Gloucestershire Minutes report that he was perfectly satisfied with this arrangement. He played in all the 1879 games at the same rate of £8 a match. He had the chance of the Middlesex or Lancashire game at Clifton for his benefit and unluckily chose the latter, which was ruined by rain. It was proposed he should received £100 as some compensation for his ruined benefit. An amendment was carried that he should receive a further £100 at the end of the 1883 season. He did not accept the bait. E.M.G. had to send this sharp reminder:--

Dear Sir,

The Committee are very much surprised and annoyed that you have taken no notice of may letter to you in which I said the Committee had passed the following resolution:--

That W. Midwinter be paid the sum of £100 at the end of the season and £100 at the end of 1883 provided he plays for Gloucestershire when required to do so.

I am, yours faithfully,

Edward Mills Grace.

The reply came two days later:--

Prince of Wales Hotel.
31st May 1880

To the Committee of the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club.


I beg to return you my sincere thanks for the very liberal sum of money you have kindly agreed to give me, and also to thank the Gentlemen of Gloucester C.C.C. for the very kind treatment I have received from them since I have had the honour of playing for them.

Your obedient servant,

W. Midwinter.

In 1880 he joined the M.C.C. staff of bowlers at Lord's. During this season he made his highest score, 103, and only century, for Gloucestershire against Surrey at Cheltenham. The Australians were again in this country and played against them at Clifton.

He commuted between England and Australia from 1880-82 to play six successive seasons of cricket. After completing the 1880 season for the County he returned to Australia. He sailed from London on September 29, in the Lusitania. The passenger list refers to him as W. Midwinter, 29 years. He travelled back to England in the same ship from Melbourne, April 26, 1881, now listed as W. Midwinter, Gent. He was in Shaw's 1881-82 England tour of Australia and played in four Tests. Back to England for 1882, he suddenly gave up his M.C.C. bowling appointment although he had recently taken part in a quite remarkable stand for the M.C.C. Club and Ground against Leicestershire. During his stay at the wicket the score rose from 19 for two to 472 for three in five and a half hours. He score 187 and Barnes 266 and it is reported that he never once lost count of their joint scores. At the end of 1882 he played his last game for Gloucestershire at Clifton against -- the Australians! He returned home with Murdoch's triumphant Ashes team and stood umpire for them in their games in the United States.

On his arrival home he claimed he had ceased to be a professional cricketer and "considered himself an Australian to the heart's core" and "objected to being called an Anglo Australian". These patriotic sentiments failed to impress the hard-hearted Australian critics and Censor in the Sydney Mail asked:-- "Are the cricketers of the Colony, and especially those of Victoria, to submit to another season of vagueness from this very slippery cricketer? One day he is an Australian and the next day an English player." All was quickly forgiven and he was soon in action for Australia against the Hon. Ivo Bligh's 1882-83 touring team. In March 1883 he was presented with a gold watch for his 92 not out for Victoria against England at Melbourne.

He returned to England with the Australians in 1884, played for them in three Tests and against Gloucestershire at Clifton and Cheltenham, on both occasions bowled out by his old friend, Woof. He was to play two more Tests for Australia against Arthur Shrewsbury's team in 1886-87. In all he played eight Tests for Australia against England and four for England against Australia.

After six years of association with the Gloucestershire amateurs it was a more refined Midwinter who finally returned to Australia than the one who had set out so hopefully in 1877.

He married Elizabeth Frances McLaughlan at St. Peter's Church, Melbourne, on June 4, 1883. Her father, a carrier from Paisley, Scotland, and her mother Mary Dowling of Kilkenny, Ireland, were married at Kyneton, Victoria, January 13, 1857.

After and unsuccessful attempt at stockbroking, he became landlord of the Clyde Hotel, which still stands at the corner of Elgin and Cadogan Streets in Melbourne. Mr. Christopher McCaffin, now 92, remembers as a boy being chased away from the horse drinking trough by the tall, fair-haired Billy Midwinter. He continued to take an active part in the affairs of the Carlton Club, setting a fine example to the Club's young cricketers.

His keen perception and his humorous entertaining conversation were held in high esteem. He was invited to tour England with the 1888 team, but declined on business grounds. He had moved to the Victoria, Bourke Street, but his eyesight was beginning to fail and he retired from active cricket.

The family bereavements that were to break his heart struck whilst they were living at the Victoria. Fist his ten month old daughter, Elsie, died of pneumonia on November 22, 1888; next, August 23, 1889, his wife Elizabeth, of apoplexy and, finally, on November 2, three year old Albert Ernest.

He loved his family dearly and these sudden domestic tragedies were more than he could bear. In June 1890, whilst staying with his sister and brother-in-law, Mrs. H. Hicks, at Sandhurst, he became so violent that he was removed to the Bendigo Hospital and, on August 14, to the Kew Asylum in Melbourne. He became paralysed from the waist down. Happily one of his brief periods of consciousness on November 21 coincided with a visit from his old friend Harry Boyle, on his return from the Australian 1890 tour of England. He recognised him and spoke admiringly of W.G., Arthur Shrewsbury and of Woof. He was delighted to hear that his old County had twice beaten Nottinghamshire. He died at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, December 3, 1890, aged 39. The funeral took place on Friday, December 5, attended by a great many cricketers and sportsmen among whom was a Gloucestershire representative, W. O. Tonge, who had played with Midwinter in two County matches at Clifton College during August 1880.

He was buried in the Roman Catholic compound of Melbourne General Cemetery beside his wife and children. The grave, No. L286, is difficult to find, it has no tombstone and the area surrounding it is untended.

The last word, as the first, belongs to Haygarth, in his biography of Midwinter, Vol. XIV:-- "May the death of no other cricketer who has taken part in great matches be like his!"

Much of this article would have been impossible without the considerable help that was readily available from Roger Selfe of Cheltenham, Stephen Green, M.C.C. Curator at Lord's, the Editors of the Gloucester Citizen, the Cheltenham Echo, the Dean Forest Guardian and the Glos. and Wilts. Standard for their assistance, and, in Australia, to numerous Victorian correspondents, particularly Alex Hicks of Kaniva, George Armstrong of Melbourne, Lionel Newell of West Brunswick, Don Moyes of Mt. Waverley, Philip Kendall, a Gloucestershire Life Member, then of Melbourne, Dr. A. T. Hunt of St. Briavels, the Editors of the Melbourne Age, Walkabout and The Bendigo Advertiser, the Victorian State Library and, finally, the Honorary Librarian of the Melbourne Cricket Club.

© John Wisden & Co