Australia in Great Britain and North America, 1878 (cricket)

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The 1878 Australians. Back row (standing): J. McC. Blackham, T. P. Horan, G. H. Bailey, J. Conway (manager), A. Bannerman, C. Bannerman, W. L. Murdoch. Centre (seated): D. W. Gregory (captain). Front row (on floor): F. R. Spofforth, F. E. Allan, W. E. Midwinter, T. W. Garrett, H. F. Boyle.

In the 1878 cricket season, Australia made the inaugural first-class tour of Great Britain by a representative overseas side. The tour followed one made by England to Australia and New Zealand in 1876–77, during which the first-ever (retrospective) Test matches were played. Although no Test matches were played in 1878, the tour proved to be such an outstanding financial and sporting success that the future of international cricket was assured.

The Australian team was managed by John Conway and captained by Dave Gregory. William Charles Valentine Gibbes acted as the team's assistant-manager. Conway was a canny journalist from Geelong while Gregory and Gibbes were both Sydney-based accountants with the New South Wales Public Service. These three cricket enthusiasts were the architects of the venture. They and the players each contributed the sum of 50 pounds to finance the expedition and later shared equally in the handsome profits that their enterprise generated, having carted the match takings around with them in a closely guarded strong-box all the time that they were away. Gregory demonstrated excellent leadership and tactical skills throughout the long tour, while Fred Spofforth, known as the "Demon Bowler", became the star performer of the team. Spofforth is widely recognised as one of the greatest fast bowlers in the history of the game.

Journey to England

The team sailed from Sydney on 29 March 1878 in the SS City of Sydney, reaching San Francisco, California on 27 April, having called at Auckland and Honolulu en route. They then travelled across America by train, a potentially hazardous undertaking in the era of the James-Younger Gang and others, though Frank and Jesse James were still in hiding after the abortive Northfield Raid in 1876. The Australians sailed from New York on 4 May in the SS City of Berlin, which docked at Liverpool on 13 May. They caught the train to Nottingham and arrived there at 12:15 on 14 May to a large reception. On 20 May, they began their first match at Trent Bridge against Nottinghamshire.

Touring party members

The Australian party was composed of: J. Conway (manager), W. C. V. Gibbes (assistant-manager), D. W. Gregory (captain), F. E. Allan, G. H. Bailey, Alec Bannerman, Charles Bannerman, J. McC. Blackham (wicket-keeper), H. F. Boyle, T. W. Garrett, T. P. Horan, W. E. Midwinter, W. L. Murdoch (along with Charles Bannerman, the side's best batsman) and F. R. Spofforth. Midwinter was already in England and, as described below, became embroiled in the shenanigans of the famous cricketing clan led by W. G. Grace. He joined the tourists in Nottingham and played against Nottinghamshire.

Matches and incidents

MCC v Australians

For more information, see: MCC v Australians at Lord's, 1878.

27 May: Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) versus the Australians at Lord's. The Australians established their reputation for all time by achieving a nine wicket victory inside five hours in one of the most sensational games in history. A very strong MCC team, led by W. G. Grace himself, was bowled out for 33 (Spofforth six wickets for four, including a hat trick) and, though they in turn dismissed the Australians for 41 (Shaw five for 10, Morley five for 31), MCC in their second innings were all out for just 19 (Boyle five for 3, Spofforth five for 16). The Australians needed 12 to win, which was a difficult target in the conditions, but they lost only Charles Bannerman in getting them. Spofforth's match analysis was 14.3 overs, five maidens, 20 runs, 11 wickets. The match inspired Punch to publish the following verse, a parody of The Destruction of Sennacherib by Lord Byron:

The Australians came down like a wolf on the fold,

The Marylebone cracks for a trifle were bowled;
Our Grace before dinner was very soon done,

And Grace after dinner did not get a run.[1]

The Midwinter incident

20–22 June: Middlesex versus the Australians at Lord's and Surrey versus Gloucestershire at the Oval. Shortly before play was due to begin at Lord's, WG and E. M. Grace turned up and effectively "nabbed" Billy Midwinter, taking him to the Oval to play for Gloucestershire. Midwinter had played for them in 1877 and the Graces argued that he was bound to continue if required. Since Gloucestershire had arrived at the Oval with only ten players, Midwinter most definitely was required.

A dispute ensued and all sorts of agreements and contractual arrangements were argued over. It seems that WG was at first rude and insulting, then tried to brazen it out before offering a guarded apology and eventually getting around to his favourite topic: money. Midwinter apparently did quite well out of it all despite being anything but an innocent party. The Australians had some satisfaction when they beat Middlesex by 98 runs without Midwinter while Gloucestershire, with Midwinter, lost by 16 runs to Surrey. But the real revenge came later.

Gloucestershire v Australians

5–6 September: Gloucestershire versus the Australians at Clifton College. The Australians won by 10 wickets. This was the champion county's only home defeat of the season. All three Graces were playing but not Midwinter. Australian revenge was complete thanks to a twelve for 90 match haul by the Demon, though he did not get WG's wicket.

Players v Australians

11–12 September: Players versus the Australians at Prince's Ground ended the Australian tour and was also the last time Prince's Ground (in Chelsea) was used as a first-class venue, Middlesex having moved to Lord's in 1877.

American leg of the tour

At the end of their tour, the Australians sailed from Liverpool on 18 September in the SS City of Richmond. They arrived in New York over a week later and went on to Philadelphia where they played the Philadelphians on 3–5 October at the Germantown Cricket Ground. This match was subjected to disputes and walk-offs before it ended in a draw. The Australians played some other games in America and then went by train back to San Francisco which they left on 28 October in the SS City of New York, arriving in Sydney on 25 November after being away for almost eight months.

Ancillary note: in San Francisco, the Australians played a California XXII who were all members of Occidental Cricket Club and Oakland Cricket Club. The Oakland club was the first cricket team established on the East Bay, which became home to several cricket teams between 1878 and 1913.[2]

Aftermath of the Midwinter incident

Meanwhile, back in England, the Graces endured months of controversy about the payments they received as supposed amateurs, much of which had come to light as a result of the Midwinter affair. Charges were brought against them at a stormy meeting of the Gloucestershire club's members and they were vilified in the press. In the end, little came of it. The Graces had too much influence. WG was simply too popular to be challenged and EM as a coroner was seen to be a "pillar of the community". So, although their ears burned, they escaped censure and nothing much changed.


  1. Altham, page 135.
  2. David Sentance, Cricket in America 1710–2006, MacFarland, 2006, ISBN 978-0786420407, page 139.


  • Altham, H. S.: A History of Cricket, Volume 1 (to 1914). George Allen & Unwin (1962).
  • Birley, Derek: A Social History of English Cricket. Aurum (1999).
  • Harte, Chris: A History of Australian Cricket. Andre Deutsch (1993).
  • Pollard, Jack: The Complete Illustrated History of Australian Cricket (revised edition). Viking (1995).
  • Robinson, Ray: On Top Down Under. Cassell (1975).