Australian History, Historical Snippets

Knock Off & Bring Them Back

The 1896 Australian Eleven

The first test between Australia and England at Lord’s started off disastrously. On 22 June 1896 Australia won the toss and elected to bat. Henry Donnan and Joseph Darling were the opening batsmen and their partnership had barely gotten underway when Donnan was run out for one. George Giffen was next and on the first ball was caught out. Harry Trott (Captain) followed and he too made a duck.

The partnership of Sydney Gregory with Darling finally resulted in some runs on the board however they only made 26 before Gregory was bowled out. The Australians continued playing. More ducks followed and after an hour and fifteen minutes, the team was all out “for the miserable total of 53.

The response from the newspapers in Australia was one of disappointment. ‘Another Collapse‘, ‘A Rapid Downfall‘, ‘A Disastrous Beginning‘ and ‘Miserable Display of Batting by the Colonials‘ headlined the articles that reported the results of the first innings. Despite their poor performance, many were hopeful that the team would improve. For a small group of people in Kalgoorlie however, those feelings amounted to disgust and they decided to express them in a unique way.

On 23 June 1896 six cricket fans in Kalgoorlie pooled their money and sent a cablegram to London. They addressed it to the team’s manager, Henry Musgrove, and signed it on behalf of Australia.

To Musgrove, manager Australian Eleven, London. – For Australia’s sake knock off, and bring them back. – Australia

Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954); 24 June 1896; Page 2; Items of News

The Kalgoorlie Miner was first to report on the cablegram and declared that “the message was in very bad taste, and it was a gross piece of impertinence…” that should not have been sent on behalf of the country. The Daily News followed stating that the cablegram was the “most indiscreet and ungenerous message to send home.

If these half-dozen Kalgoorlie men were dissatisfied with the play of their countrymen, then let them cable in their own name, and not as the mouthpiece of Australia.

The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950); 24 June 1896; Page 2.

Despite their poor start, the Australian Eleven’s second innings improved and they increased their score to 347. Seeing this, and eager to repudiate the message sent by the few, residents of Kalgoorlie sent another cablegram, this time congratulating them. Kalgoorlie’s message was quickly followed by a cable from Geraldton which reassured, “Westralia with you.

The damage however was done. The cablegram quickly stirred up the outrage of many Australians. Criticism of the Australian Eleven was not to be tolerated! It soon resulted in several letters to the editor.

‘Cornstalk’ of St Georges Terrace denounced the cablegram as an “exhibition of wretchedly bad taste” that showed a “high degree of impertinence for the writers to adopt the nom de plume of ‘Australia’“. They were of the opinion that the Australian Eleven showed splendid form in the second innings and that perhaps the Kalgoorlie instigators were feeling a little foolish at having acted so hastily before the test had even finished.

‘Uno’ of Kalgoorlie colourfully declared that the senders of the cablegram were “miserable namby-pamby, good for nothing creatures…” They further stressed that the writers should have signed the cable as being from “Ass-tralia instead of Australia” so the public knew exactly what section of the community it had come from.

The indignation was not only felt in Western Australia. The cablegram crept across the country and eventually made its way into many eastern states newspapers. It soon came to the attention of Frank Allan (a well-known Australian bowler) who penned an opinion piece for the Melbourne Age. His disappointment and hurt was palpable.

What a pitiful spirit the cable shows – mean and paltry in the extreme. Would it not have shown a more manly, generous feeling, if the cable had been ‘Make it up next innings, boys,’ or some such wish.

Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954); 13 July 1896; Page 2; “For Australia’s sake knock off”

He believed that with some sections of society, followers of sports either considered the athletes incompetent or elevated them to the position of a god. There seemed to be no middle ground. He suggested that next time the Kalgoorlie men decided to send a cable they instead try to be a little more encouraging.

Even though the Australian Eleven gallantly fought back and redeemed themselves after the first innings, the English team nevertheless went on to win the first test. Australia however won the second.

Historically, the score of 53 made in June 1896 is the fifth lowest score by an Australian team. Two months later, in August 1896, the third test was played at The Oval in London. The Australian Eleven scored a paltry 44 (the third lowest score by an Australian team) during the second innings. Having witnessed the backlash against their cablegram sent during the first test, it seems in that instance, rather than stir the pot some more, the Kalgoorlie residents deemed it wise to remain silent.



2 thoughts on “Knock Off & Bring Them Back”

  1. How standards have changed over the years. A much more civilised and nuanced level of discourse back then. No filthy language, not even from the miner’s, haha


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