February 1976

Charles Llewellyn - An early D'Oliveira

A brief biography of Charles Bennett Llewellyn by Patrick Allen

A brief biography by Patrick Allen

Charles Bennett Llewellyn: the first coloured man to play Test cricket for South Africa? © Getty Images

At a time when there are increasing signs of South Africa returning to the fold in terms of international cricket it is perhaps significant to remember a man the centenary of whose birth falls in 1976 - Charles Bennett Llewellyn. He remains as far as is known the only coloured man to have played Test cricket for South Africa.

"Buck" Llewellyn was born at Maritzburg (now Pietermaritzburg) on September 29, 1876, and made his debut for Natal against Transvaal in March, 1895. Although not an instant success, batting low down the order and taking only four wickets, he was invited the following season to represent a Natal XV v Lord Hawke's England XI, and as a result of his steady bowling he was selected for the second Test, at Johannesburg. This must have proved a somewhat chastening experience, for England scored 482, with a century from Tom Hayward and half-centuries from Fry, Hill, Wright and Bromley-Davenport, the luckless Llewellyn finishing 14 overs with 0 for 71.

He was not retained for the third Test, although collectively South Africa put up a dismal performance. The 1897 Currie Cup featured a series of considerable successes for Llewellyn with 30 wickets at 12.13, including match figures of I1 for 123 v Eastern Province and 9 for 128 v Western Province, and with a further 16 wickets in the 1898 tournament he had, in the words of one observer, become a most destructive trundler, bowling at slow-medium. His consistency earned a recall in the 1898-99 series against Lord Hawke's touring side, but although taking five wickets, he was dropped for the second Test.

The end of the 1898-99 series saw Llewellyn turn his back on South Africa when, on the recommendation of Major RM Poore, the Hampshire batsman stationed in South Africa, he took a professional engagement with Hampshire. His qualification period for the County Championship during 1899 and 1900 was spent at CB Fry's training ship Mercury, and was not without its highlights. Appearing against the 1899 Australians at Southampton he scored 72 and 21 in addition to taking 8 for 132. As a result of this fine performance Ranjitsinhji invited him to tour America in 1899 and, although his team proved too powerful for the local opposition, the company of the calibre of Jessop, Sammy Woods, Ranji, Archie MacLaren, Stoddart, Bosanquet and Townsend must have broadened the cricketing horizons of the young Llewellyn. His only match of significance in 1900 also saw him in a starring role when against the first West Indian side to tour England he made 93 and took 13 wickets.

Llewellyn was basically a forcing left-hand bat who excelled in the drive and cut, while his bowling was of the orthodox slow to medium left-arm variety with a high arm action. He was one of the first bowlers in English cricket to bowl the chinaman regularly, an art that took several years to master, based on the advice of his fellow South African, the googly bowler Reggie Schwarz. These abilities were backed up by his outstanding fielding, particularly at mid-off. One interesting point that arises when discussing Llewellyn is the confusion as to his initials. "GCB" have often being attributed to him, a mistake that arose out of an error perpetrated by his first Hampshire captain, DA Steele, in his first match for the county against the 1899 Australians - an extra initial was interpolated when the batting order was written out.

On becoming eligible for the County Championship in 1901, Llewellyn came into a weak Hampshire side. Lacking bowling support in particular, he carried the attack with the only real assistance coming from Victor Barton, and as a result bowled four times as many overs as any other bowler. In dismissing 115 batsmen his figures were only surpassed in the entire country by George Hirst and JR Mason, and were up to that time the best performance by a Hampshire bowler since they entered the Championship. His ability to turn the ball on the best of wickets, allied to his skilled variation of pace and spin combined with a very consistent length, troubled the majority of batsmen. In all matches he succeeded in performing the double, and this together with the high-class batting of Capt JG Greig enabled Hampshire to finish a respectable seventh.

This same season saw two highlights of his career-his best bowling performance, 14 for 171 v Worcestershire at Southampton, and a scintillating innings of 216 against the second South African touring side. This was to prove the highest of his 18 centuries, scored in three hours and studded with 30 boundaries. As a result he was asked to assist the touring side in two matches: v London County, where he scored 88 and took 13 for 241, and Liverpool & District, where he again featured with 12 for 130 and an innings of 51, enough to enable him to head the touring team's averages for both batting and bowling in all matches. His only other three-figure score in 1901 was 153 v Somerset at Taunton scored in 100 minutes and supplemented by 10 for 183. However consistency as a batsman was to elude him almost throughout his career and in many ways he failed to fulfil his early promise.

1901 having brought him to prominence, great things were expected, and although scoring only one century, he took 170 wickets and received recognition from the England selectors by his inclusion in the England squad of 14 for the 1902 Edgbaston Test against Australia; it was a time when England fielded one of the greatest teams in her history. On the morning of the match, however, he was omitted along with Tom Hayward and JR Mason. With a batting order reading MacLaren, Fry, Ranjitsinhji, Jackson, JT Tyldesley, Lilley, Hirst, Jessop, Braund, Lockwood and Rhodes, his inclusion may perhaps have been difficult.

In the 1902-03 season Llewellyn returned to South Africa, and played in all three Tests against the touring Australians. The first Test, at Johannesburg, saw him seldom mastered by the Australians, finishing with 9 for 216 in the match, including SE Gregory and AJ Hopkins in both innings, and Victor Trumper and Joe Darling. He also played a magnificent innings of 90 batting first wicket down, a score he was not to surpass in Test cricket. In so doing, he put on 173 with Tancred for the second wicket, still a record for South Africa against Australia.

This superb achievement failed to secure a South African victory, and Australia, with convincing victories in the two ensuing Tests thwarted any further South African hopes. Llewellyn took 5 for 43 and 5 for 73 in the second Test and 6 for 97 in the final Test to top the bowling averages easily with 25 wickets at just under 18 apiece.

The two following seasons saw staleness creep not surprisingly into Llewellyn's play, particularly his bowling, the county still depending too much on him and the fast bowler Hesketh Pritchard. In 1904 he was recognised as a true South African by the touring team, and when county commitments permitted he was called upon in several matches, his performances easily eclipsing his modest county record of that season.

Success in the following seasons proved sporadic, although 1905 showed something of a renaissance with two centuries in the match against Derbyshire and a brilliant 186 for Players of the South v Gentlemen of the South at Bournemouth, but his bowling suffered a reaction to the tremendous burden he had shouldered. 1908 saw his benefit year and a sum of over £500, the largest figure in Hampshire history to that date, as well as improved allround form with centuries against Middlesex, Sussex and for MCC against Worcestershire, and 75 wickets. The following year brought increased consistency as a batsman with another four centuries, including two in a match against Sussex.

Further recognition came with his selection in 1910 as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year, ironically in what was to prove the final year of his association with Hampshire. This was in many ways to be his most rewarding season, for it saw his association with the rising star Jack Newman, and between them they took 299 of the 422 wickets that fell in county matches, Llewellyn's contribution being 133 backed by over a thousand runs. During one period in 1910 in the course of nine consecutive innings Llewellyn and Newman took all but one of their opponents' wickets. With two centuries during the season came another innings of 91 against Kent at Dover, termed by Wisden one of the most dazzling innings of the year, scored in an hour and including six tremendous drives for six, five of which were scored off Colin Blythe. Llewellyn left Hampshire at the end of the season following disagreement over the terms of his re-engagement, and it is interesting to conjecture on the strength of Hampshire had the abilities of Llewellyn been available simultaneously to those of Kennedy, Newman and Brown. Until their advent he was surely the best all-round player in Hampshire history with three doubles, 711 wickets and almost 9000 runs, plus 136 catches. If Llewellyn had played for a more fashionable county and had greater support he may well. have proved a real star.

The winter of 1910-11 saw selection for Percy Sherwell's South African team to tour Australia, but he failed to produce his former South African and English form, his bowling proving expensive particularly after Victor Trumper's onslaught in the second Test at Melbourne, and Llewellyn only experienced isolated success in other first-class matches. In 1911 he returned to England to take up a professional engagement with Accrington, and in so doing became the first Test player to sign for a Lancashire League club. While playing for Accrington in 1912, he was called on to represent South Africa in the Triangular Tournament, playing, in the first Test against England at Lord's, an innings of 75, having been given not out off his first ball when caught at the wicket on the leg side. He followed this with a further half-century against Australia at Lord's and thus wrote finis to his first-class career, turning his back on county cricket in favour of a league career that was to last until the age of 62.

In 1913 while still with Accrington he scored 188 not out against Bacup, which remained the highest score in the Lancashire League until beaten by Learie Constantine's 192 not out for Nelson v East Lancashire in 1939. He later played in the Bradford League for Undercliffe and even at the age of 55 he topped the bowling averages, in addition to being the only man to take 100 wickets in the Bolton League.

There are conflicting reports about his experience of prejudice as a result of the colour of his skin. Somewhat erratic selection procedures on the part of the South Africans in Llewellyn's early career may take some explaining. Prior to Llewellyn there had been a Malaysian fast bowler, Noor Hendricks, who as a result of good performances in 1891-92 against WW Read's English team had come close to selection for South Africa. Both Hendricks and L Samoodien had featured for a Malay XVIII at Cape Town against Read's side, the latter scoring a half-century and Hendricks taking four wickets. (This proved to be the only occasion until Derrick Robins' tour of 1973 that a black or coloured South African team has been on a tour itinerary.) Hendricks was the centre of much controversy when omitted from the South African team to tour England in 1894 at the insistence of the Cape Colony Government.

Further fuel is given to these particular flames in Llewellyn's case by the alleged ostracism practised by his fellow team members on the 1910-11 tour of Australia, particularly by the leading Transvaal batsman Jimmy Sinclair. Indeed, Rowland Bowen goes as far as to say that "Llewellyn was tormented by his white fellow tourists to such an extent that he took refuge in the WCs and locked himself in". One matter that is certain is that Charles Bennett Llewellyn chose to live in England, dying at Chertsey, Surrey, on June 7, 1964, aged 87.

Patrick Allen's assertion that Lllewellyn was South Africa's first coloured cricketer was hotly disputed. In the same year it was published (1976), Llewellyn's own daughter, then still alive and resident in England, in a letter published in The Cricketer, refuted all claims that her father had been coloured, pointing out that both her parents and grandparents had been of "pure British stock". This disclaimer was also featured in Brian Crowley's book Cricket's Exiles and in several articles published in The Cricketer and elsewhere down the years.