In 1868 an Australian Aborigine cricket team toured England which is now recognised as the first Australian side to have visited England. It was a commercial venture that derived inspiration from the first English team – an All-England XI – that had toured Australia in 1861/62. (That and a repeat tour by English cricketers in 1863/64 were both motivated entirely by commercial gain which set the example.)
Following the opening of Park Avenue in 1880, visits of Australian touring sides to Bradford became a routine occurrence with ten matches between 1880-99. However, it came to be forgotten that the first Australian cricketers were the same aborigine tourists of 1868 who played two games in the Bradford district, the first at Bradford on 10-11 July and the second at Keighley on 27-28 July.
The aborigine tourists had set sail from Sydney on 8th February, 1868 in a ship that was transporting wool to England and which no doubt also ended up in Bradford. Just over three months later they arrived in England and during the next five months played a total of 47 games. Of those, nine were played in Yorkshire and of the remainder: ten in London; seven in Lancashire; four from the Midlands; two in the North-East; one in Swansea; and the balance (fourteen) in the south-east.
The game at Bradford was played on a Friday / Saturday, the significance being that it was regarded as a premier fixture. Indeed, judged by mention in the Sporting Life of 16 May, 1868 it appears to have been one of first to be arranged and reflected the fact that Bradford was known as a centre of enthusiasm for cricket. (NB On this occasion textile industry links do not appear to have been decisive in securing the fixture.)
The same journal reported ‘Since the late George Martin brought Deerfoot from America to contest against English pedestrians no arrival has been anticipated with so much curiosity and interest as that of the Black Cricketers from Australia.’ (Deerfoot was a native America and during the course of his tour had visited the so-called City Sporting Grounds at Quarry Gap, Laisterdyke in August, 1862 where he competed alongside local athletes in competitions as diverse as sack racing, running and pole-vaulting which were the focus of gambling interest.)
The commercial nature of the cricket tour explains the busy schedule and it would seem that other fixtures were arranged at short notice that required adjustment to travel schedules. Thus the tourists travelled to Bradford from Rochdale via Swansea. After Bradford they went to York, Manchester, Bury and Norwich… then to Keighley. We can assume that they came to rely upon Bradshaw’s guide (published as a ‘Descriptive Railway Hand-Book of Great Britain and Ireland’) and the completion of the tour is testimony to the railway network of the era.
The cricket matches were combined with athletic competitions incorporating ‘native sports’ that allowed a display of boomerang throwing. Undoubtedly this added to the appeal of the event to attract spectators but it also gave the aborigine cricketers the opportunity to win prize money. Whilst they were provided with free travel and accommodation it seems unlikely that they were paid, a crucial factor for the viability of the tour. At Bradford there was a display of native sports but with the cricket over-running there was no time for athletic events to take place.
The Bradford fixture was staged at the town club’s Great Horton Road ground, adjacent to Laisteridge Lane. The Leeds Mercury of 13th July, 1868 provided detail of the game entitled ‘The Black Cricketers at Bradford’ and the circumspect reportage is notable: ‘…the match between the Australian cricketers and eleven gentlemen of Bradford was finished on the ground in Great Horton-road. The blacks played better than on the preceding day, Mullagh contributing 55 in admirable style. The stumps were drawn at half-past six, when the aborigines performed for a short time with the spear and boomerang. The attendance was very large…’ 
The Bradford Observer headlined ‘The Aboriginals at Bradford’: ‘We had the Australian Aboriginals here on Friday and Saturday, and though they did not show to great advantage on Friday they did much better on Saturday. In fact they kept possession of the wickets so long that there was not time for the gentlemen of Bradford to finish their second innings, and leave any time for the after sports of the blacks. These, it is scarcely necessary to add, were witnessed with great interest by a very full field.’
Fascination with aboriginal peoples may have been a factor that attracted people to the event to see for themselves an Australian native and the suggestion is that public interest in Britain about exotic races had been stimulated by the publication of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species in 1859. It was equally a form of imperial curiosity not dissimilar to the Savage Africa show at Valley Parade in 1901 involving Matabele warriors or the Somali village attraction that featured in the Bradford Exhibition at Lister Park in May, 1904.
According to the surviving ledger that documented the finances of the 1868 tour, the Bradford fixture generated a surplus of £65 for the visitors which was one of the highest in comparison to other games. The ledger records income of £115 at Bradford compared to £122 at Keighley where paying spectators were said to have numbered 3,500 (this probably excluded women who were typically admitted free of charge). On the face of it therefore the crowd at Bradford was slightly less despite the game being played over a weekend. In fact, the receipts at Bradford were well below the average of other games in the series.
The tourists yielded a surplus of £35 at Keighley and the differential with that at Bradford can be explained by the terms negotiated by the respective cricket clubs. It was the practice for the visitors to charge either a percentage of the receipts or a fixed fee. In the case of Bradford CC my guess is that the club had anticipated a bigger crowd and offered a generous fee to the visitors. There might even have been a degree of desperation to secure the event but whatever the explanation, the net outcome for the Bradford club is likely to have been disappointing even allowing for the fact that local newspapers had reported a good attendance.
Around this time Bradford CC was experiencing a decline in its fortunes and it was said that it lacked suitable leadership. Although it possessed the best ground in the town, clubs such as Manningham CC and Bradford Albion CC were regarded as stronger with better players. Bradford CC no longer had the profile it had enjoyed in the two preceding decades and the loss of public interest in its affairs may have had a big bearing on the attendance.
After incurring losses from the staging of a game with Notts CCC in June, 1866, Bradford CC did not host other county games or exhibition matches with prestige touring sides such as the All-England XI. The financial circumstances of the club made it distinctly risk averse and in 1867 it had dispensed with engaging a professional player. In fact, the Australian game was the highest profile cricket match promoted by Bradford CC in that period and from the following year it resorted to hosting athletic festivals to raise money.
There were 9 aborigine tour games in Yorkshire out of a total of 47 in the tour, as follows:
- 26 & 27 June, vs Halifax at Halifax (visitors won)
- 10 & 11 July, vs Bradford at Bradford (draw)
- 13 & 14 July, at York vs Yorkshire (Yorkshire won)
- 27 & 28 July, at Keighley v Keighley (draw)
- 10, 11 & 12 August, at Sheffield vs Sheffield (draw)
- 13, 14 & 15 August, at Dewsbury vs Saville (Saville won)
- 24 & 25 August, at Middlesbrough vs Middlesbrough (draw)
- 27, 28 & 29, at Scarborough vs Scarborough (visitors won)
- 31 & 01 September, at Leeds vs Hunslet (visitors won)
Of the total 47 games played, the visitors won 14 and lost 14. The high proportion of drawn games was attributed in large part to the weather. Games were typically played over two or three days from 11am to 7pm. Not surprisingly, towards the end of the tour newspaper reports alluded to the Australians being exhausted.
By John Dewhirst
 In 1874 Bradford CC lost the use of its Great Horton Road ground for housing and the club remained dormant until the opening of Park Avenue in July, 1880 which is the subject of a forthcoming feature on VINCIT.
 Links for further information about the aborigine tour of 1868:
From the BBC website, 9th July 2013
Daily Mail feature, 21st July 2015
John is the author of Room at the Top (Bantamspast 2016) which narrates the origins of cricket and sport in Bradford. He can be contacted through DM to the twitter address above.
Links to other features written by the author about the origins and history of Bradford sport
His blog Wool City Rivals includes content about Bradford City AFC as well as reviews of books on local sport.
More about the early connections between Bradford and Australian cricket on VINCIT next month (Jul-20)…
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