Early tour of sideshows and insults

August 28, 2001 – The first Aboriginal team to play in England arrived in 1868, 10 years before the first white team to reach British shores.

They were led by the English entrepreneur Charles Lawrence, a former Surrey cricketer, who gathered his side from the sheep shearing stations of Victoria.

The team were smuggled out of the country against the Government’s wishes and boarded the Parramatta ship for the four-month voyage.

On their arrival they attracted crowds of up to 10,000 and developed a remarkable record for stamina, playing 47 matches between May and October and winning 14 of them.

The tour was intended as a money-making venture and the players, who were all stripped of their Aboriginal names and given degrading nicknames, were required to provide sideshows to the cricket matches including boomerang and spear throwing and high-jump. The Aboriginal side was narrowly beaten in a cricket ball throwing competition by a 20-year-old W G Grace, who threw 118 yards.

One player named “Dick-a-Dick” impressed large crowds by sprinting 100 yards in under 14 seconds – backwards.

On their tour of the country the team of 1868 encountered considerable racial prejudice. They were barred from a post-match function in York – an incident which prompted diplomatic difficulties and a subsequent apology. During a visit to Nottingham the players went after a match to a bathhouse where they were mistaken for miners and subjected to attempts to scrub their skin white.

In midsummer one of the players, King Cole, died in Guy’s hospital of tuberculosis amid false reports in the English press that he had been snubbed in death by his team-mates.

The current touring team will conduct a memorial service attended by the England captain Nasser Hussain at King Cole’s grave in Tower Hamlets next week.