First tour of England | State Library of New South Wales

First tour of England

1868 saw 13 Aboriginal cricketers from Victoria's Western Districts sail from Sydney to become the first Australian team to tour England. Over six gruelling months they played 47 two-day games. At the completion of each game the team was required to give an exhibition of 'native sports', including boomerang and spear throwing.

The endurance shown by these young sportsmen far from home was extraordinary. On their departure from England, Sporting Life wrote: 'no eleven has in one season ever played so many matches so successfully - never playing less than two matches in each week, and frequently three, bearing an amount of fatigue that now seems incredible.'

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Under the captaincy of Charles Lawrence, the team produced one legendary player, a young man called Muarrinim. Known on tour as Johnny Mullagh, he scored 1698 runs and claimed 245 English wickets over 45 games. He went on to play for the Melbourne Cricket Club.

Johnny Cuzens       Twopenny       Johnny Mullagh

Left: Johnny Cuzens, Centre: Twopenny, Right: Johnny Mullagh
Detail from Australian aboriginal cricketers, 1867, by Patrick Dawsonm Photographs DL Pf 140

After the tour most of the players died in obscurity with only a few playing top class cricket again. Johnny Mullagh played for Victoria against Lord Harris' English team in 1879 top scoring in the second innings. He became a professional at the Melbourne Cricket Club and died in 1891. Johnny Cuzens also played for Melbourne as a professional before going bush in 1870. He is believed to have died the following year. The only other player to appear again in big cricket was Twopenny who played for NSW against Victoria in 1870.

From this first tour, a tradition was established which continues to this day. In 2001 the most recent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island squad, the 'Downunders', played nine one-day games, including four 're-enactment' games to commemorate the original 1868 tour.

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Made possible through a partnership with Sir Ron Brierley