Cricket in Sydney 1876

An old cricket bat, stumps and red cricket ball

Basic equipment for playing cricket – bat, stumps and ball

When fossicking in the archives I have at times come across  fascinating and totally irrelevant material.  It seems to be a shame not to share this, so I have created the ‘Lucky Dip’ category.  ‘Lucky Dip’ contains what I regard as ephemera but what may be central to the interests of others.

What better time than the start of the current Ashes encounter to reflect on the English tour of Australia when the first test match was played between Australia and England.  For international readers not familiar with the game I have provided a list of sites which give basic explanations of this sport at the end of this post.

Work Stops for Cricket in 1876

I am currently researching the history of teaching reading in Australia, so I was quite surprised to come across a reference to the England vs New South Wales cricket match that was held between 7th and 11th December 1876.

In 1876, the NSW Council of Education had to consider the weighty issue of allowing Council employees to attend the international cricket match.  This is what I read in the Council’s minute book:

Read the Chief Clerk’s memorandum requesting that the office may be closed at noon on the 7th, 8th, and 9th December.

The Council resolved that the office be closed at 12 noon on Saturday (9th), and that one half of the clerks have leave on Thursday from the same hour, and the remainder on Friday.

Minute Book No. 9, Council of Education, 4 Dec. 1876, p. 332.  Held at the New South Wales State Archives, NRS 2646.

This match predates the first test match between Australia and England which was held during the same English tour in 1877.  Clearly the game held an important place in Sydney at this time.

Curious, I checked out newspaper articles about the match on the National Library of Australia’s wonderful Australian Newspapers website.  Did the game live up to everyone’s expectations?  How were businesses affected by this game?

The Game

The decision of the Council of Education to allow its employees to attend the match during work hours indicates that cricket was popular in Sydney at the time.  Newspaper commentary also testified to the popularity of the game:

From an early hour a perfect stampede of ‘buses, cabs, and pedestrians took place from the city, all having the one destination. The numbers on the ground swelled readily, and by 3 o’clock there could not have been less than 12,000 spectators. The grand stand, capable of accommodating 1000 sitters, was crowded to excess, and standing room was scarcely obtainable. The eastern terraces were densely packed, and an unbroken line of people several deep surrounded the white fences.

‘International Cricket Match’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8/12/1876, p. 5.

Considering that the population of Sydney in 1871 was 137, 586 (Spearritt 2000, p. 3) this would mean that 9% of the population saw the match on the first day according to the Sydney Morning Herald’s estimate of the numbers who attended.  This interest was sustained throughout the match:

ALTHOUGH popular estimates of the size of crowds are not always to be trusted, it will hardly be questioned that during last week some thirty or forty thousand people found their way to the cricket match, which is to be finished to-day.  Facts like this clearly show that the passion for cricket is as strong in the colonies as in England itself, and they are also a sufficient indication that the cricketing passion gets stronger rather than weaker as years go on. 

The Sydney Morning Herald, 11/12/1876, p. 4.

While NSW won by two wickets we need to keep in mind that they fielded fifteen players whereas England played with eleven.  This did not stop the Sydney Morning Herald from declaring that ‘[s]uch a victory deserves to be written in letters of living fire in the history of Australian cricket’ (‘International Cricket Match’, Sydney Morning Herald, 12/12/1876, p. 5.).  Hyperbole in sports journalism has a long history!

It seems that the organisers and the supporters wanted a close match and while some wanted to see the teams meet on equal terms the voices of those who wanted some handicap system prevailed:

…much difference of opinion exists as to the number of players necessary to give N. S. Wales a fair chance of victory. Enthusiastic admirers of the game of cricket, as played here, carried away probably by an exaggerated idea of our strength, desire to see a contest on equal terms, but such a proposition appears to meet with very little support. A suggestion has also been made that we should send eighteen to the wickets and only place eleven in the field, so that the public may have an opportunity of gauging the play of the English team against the ordinary number of fieldsmen. A third proposal, and one which finds considerable acceptance, is that the handicap should be reduced to sixteen, and if the Cricket Association reconsider their decision, the latter suggestion would not be a bad one to adopt : but to meet the eleven on equal terms would simply be throwing away any chance of a creditable victory.

Sydney Morning Herald, 18/11/1876, p. 5.

After all, the purpose of playing sport has always been to win!  In fact Sydney-siders were rather pleased at the final number that both sides agreed would represent  New South Wales:

It was regarded as a great compliment on tbe part of the English captain to limit our players to 15 in number, after just defeating 22 of Adelaide in one innings…

‘The Great Cricket Match – All-England Eleven v. New South Wales Fifteen’, Sydney Morning Herald, 15/12/1876, p. 8.

Business Stops

The effect of this match on businesses and other employers is testament to the depth of interest in cricket at the time:

For weeks and even months past the prospects of the All-England match have been to many a far more interesting and pressing topic than the condition of trade, the state of public education, or the possibility of a foreign invasion. There are serious men who shake their heads at this, and wonder what it will all come to. But there is evidently no help for it. The cricket fever gets worse rather than better.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 11/12/1876, p. 4.

The newspapers gave further details of the effect of the match on businesses:

In consequence of the All-England Cricket Match most of the wholesale houses closed at noon to-day. There were few transactions recorded in the morning, and none of character to affect materially the Import markets….

The Associated Brokers postponed their auction sales of wool aud sheepskins, on account of the cricket match, from this after-noon until to-morrow (Friday) morning, at 10 o’clock sharp, at the Chamber of Commerce as usual.

‘Mercantile and Money Article’, Sydney Morning Herald, 8/12/1876, p. 6.

Most of-the large wholesale houses closed to-day at noon, on account of the All-England cricket match…

‘Mercantile and Money Article’, Sydney Morning Herald, 9/12/1876, p. 6.

The affect on business was also reported in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser:

The competition at the sales of hides and tallow was not over brisk, owing doubtless to the interference with business caused by the cricket match….

Joseph Palmer’s Stock and Share Report in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 12/12/1876, p. 3.

I am not aware of this type of disruption to trade in Australia due to cricket in my lifetime and I have never heard of an employer granting their workers time off to watch the cricket, unless it was considered annual leave.  I wonder if cricket has this kind of effect in Pakistan and India?

Background and References

Websites that Explain Cricket

Cricket is one of those cultural things that children in cricket-playing nations are brought up with.  I learned about cricket by sitting next to my father and watching the first half hour or so of each day of the 1975 Ashes tests in England.  Playing copious amounts of backyard cricket, watching cricket on tv for years afterwards and playing outdoor cricket for my university were also important for my cricket education.

Bowling a ball with straight arm

Backyard cricket: Stu ‘bowling’ the ball – note the straight arm (photo by Tahirih).

Cricketer holding bat waiting to hit the ball.

Backyard cricket: Josh waiting for Stu to ‘bowl’ the ball.


  • Cricket Rules by akothari94: All the players on this video are wearing white because it is a test match (played over 5 days).  The men who are batting are on a different team to those who are bowling and fielding.

After scouring the internet for good explanatory videos of cricket I have concluded that there needs to be a lot more work done in this area.

Written explanations:

  • Explanation for Americans:  This uses baseball terms.  It is quite lengthy (because cricket takes a lot of explaining).  The only quibble I have with this explanation is that bowling underarm is totally unacceptable in cricket and is now outlawed.  For a brief overview of the ‘underarm bowling incident’ have a look at the Cricket Updates post and the MCG website.  Read the first three paragraphs of this article to see how one underarm bowling incident by Australia against New Zealand continues to rankle New Zealanders.
  • Cricinfo have another page explaining cricket:  This is quite long also.
  • Purdue University explanation

The best medium for explaining cricket would be video but given the poor standard of explanatory videos I suggest that you make friends with someone from a cricket playing nation and watch a match (20/20 or one day are best types of matches for novices to the game) and play a casual cricket match with them.

Please let me know if you have come across better explanations for cricket novices on the internet.

Further Reading – History of Cricket

Cricinfo has an interesting page that covers the 1876/7 English tour of Australia.  It largely concentrates on the first test match between Australia and England but it also gives interesting infromation about the circumstances of the tour.  It also has a good overview of the history of the Ashes.

Check out Trove for books in libraries which consider the centenary of test cricket between Australia and England.

Some general websites about cricket have pages on the history of cricket:

If you are looking for something deeper search the JSTOR database (available through many state libraries in Australia) using the word ‘cricket’ and you will come up with quite a few articles.

If you are in Melbourne you can check out the new exhibit at the National Sports Museum – ‘Ashes to Ashes:  Cricket’s Cracking Rivalry‘.

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