In 1920, the editor of a popular London sports magazine called on every English cricket enthusiast to select the best possible 11 players to represent England.
The ‘Best 11’ could be chosen from any past or present player of the sport in England.
WG Grace and his almost equally talented brother, EM Grace, were easy choices as batsmen but apparently, so too was the selection of the wicketkeeper - a man who had left England 53 years ago to take up sheep farming in Queensland - John William Haygarth.
In reporting this selection some time later, Australia’s Daily Mail newspaper noted: “This fine old English gentleman is now living in Boonah … When one considers the claims of many other brilliant performers behind the sticks, the compliment paid to Mr Haygarth is a very high one, indeed.”
In 1920, John Haygarth had been living in Boonah for 32 years following the sale of his freehold property known as Kooralbyn.
He had notched up numerous cricketing firsts on the local scene - founding President of the Beaudesert Cricket Club, long standing captain of the Boonah Cricket Club, founding and long standing President of the Fassifern Cricket Association to name a few.
And the respect for his prowess on the field was summed up by a sports reporter from the Queensland Times in 1892 when Boonah, captained by Haygarth, was to meet the Ipswich Eleven the following week: “Perhaps he is not as nimble as he once was, but, undoubtedly he was the most brilliant manipulator of the ball behind the sticks that ever donned the gauntlets in Ipswich,”
In 1919, another sports writer recalled a match from the past: “The first Bushies versus Townies match was held during the 1875 Ipswich Show Week.”
According to the writer, these matches would become a centrepiece of the final day of Ipswich Show Week. They were instigated by Haygarth.
“In that first match, the Townies were expecting a bit of light entertainment and planned to put up a dazzling display in front of the Show crowd.
“But on that first occasion, the Bushmen ‘went for’ the Ipswich ‘Townies’. What a surprise the latter cricketers received when John Haygarth and his brother, the late Graham Haygarth, captured all the Ipswich wickets between them.
“John Haygarth indulged in ‘lob’ (underarm) bowling and our ‘great Ipswichians’ fell victims to catches.
“The brothers completely paralysed the Ipswichites - each bowling and wicketkeeping in turn.”
A cricketing aura
When Haygarth emigrated to Australia in 1865, the game of cricket was already well established in the colony. The first ‘formal’ matches were held in Sydney as early as 1803 and the first of many inter-colonial matches was played in 1851.
But what Haygarth brought with him to Queensland was a reputation as a player of the first order.
Here was a man who had played first class cricket at Lords, the Home of Cricket; a man who had played for thefamous Oxford First Eleven; a man who was descended from an ‘English cricketing family’; a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game; and a man whose passion for the game was infectious.
In recalling Ipswich cricket in the 1870s, a writer with the Queensland Times gave readers an insight into the top guns of the time. Of John Haygarth he wrote: “John Haygarth, not long from England, where he had been captain of the Oxford Eleven, was the ideal all round cricketer of that period; an all round sport and the admiration of the young bloods.
“As a wicketkeeper he was unrivalled, and kept every batsman a prisoner in his crease. He was our first ‘googley’ bowler … at the bat he accounted for many big scores.”
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Haygarth, then 78-years-old, reminisced about his ‘life in cricket’.
He spoke of playing cricket with his father and two older brothers and staff of the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester where his father was the Principal. He played in matches with his father’s team when he was on vacation from boarding (primary) school.
“By the way, this was the country of the Graces and later on I played with Henry, Alf, EM and WG Grace.”
Recalling his first games playing with WG Grace for Lansdowne against the ‘All England’ side his remarks were not complimentary.
“At this time, WG could not bat a bit, and was in the team as a bowler, that is he was supposed to be a bowler. The fact that Jack Lillywhite made 100 runs against our team, did not speak highly of WGs bowling.”
[William Gilbert Grace went on to play his initial first class match when he was 16-years-old.
[He played first class cricket for 44 years and is considered to be one of the greatest-ever players.
[He was the first to claim a century of centuries in first class cricket.
[According to his numerous biographies, WG was right-handed as both batsman and bowler and dominated the sport during his career.
[His technical innovations and enormous influence left a lasting legacy. Although he was an outstanding all-rounder, his batting and larger than life personality was what gained him the greatest fame.
[He is credited with developing modern batsmanship.
[WG Grace played his last first class game in 1908, the year Don Bradman was born - the successor to the title of the greatest batsman of all time.]
Cricket & education
Haygarth was nine-years-old when he attended Dr GC Rowden’s private school.
“There I played cricket for the school eleven,” Haygarth said in the interview with the Daily Mail.
Yet it was not his ability on the field that won Haygarth a scholarship to the exclusive Winchester College. It was a school where academic performance was paramount, only the brightest scholars were accepted and only the best of the brightest were granted scholarships.
Those academics however were expected to hold to the college’s other great tradition - cricket.
Haygarth attended Winchester from age 16 to 19, was selected into the first eleven in his entry year and captained the team in his last two years.
Winchester’s big annual matches were against Harrow and Eton colleges.
Haygarth set his mark on cricket in his first match against Eton. He was fielding at cover point and claimed three wickets. At bat he was at the crease when the last man came in. The game at that point was tied. It became a cliffhanger with the last men standing holding on through another three overs before Haygarth scored the winning hit.
“The match ended there for as my father afterwards said: “All I could see was the crowd rushing the wicket and hoisting John shoulder high”.”
It was in this match that Haygarth met the man who would be later celebrated as one of the great cricketers of his time, RAH (Mike) Mitchell, who was playing his first game for Eton.
“Mitchell also became captain for his college before going to Oxford.
“Mitchell and I both went to Oxford in 1862 … that year we had a very good eleven … in that year, Cambridge defeated us.
“I was then keeping wickets for Oxford, in fact, I kept wickets all the time I was at Oxford.”
In the first match Haygarth played for Oxford he caught four men out at the wickets.
“The next year, 1863, we won very easily.
“We then had a fast bowler, J [John] Scott … his bowling was the fastest I have ever seen. In fact, in this game against Cambridge, played at Lords, the wicket was pretty lively, and Scott broke two stumps in about three overs. I thought it wise to retire to short slip.”
Mike Mitchell was captain of the Oxford first eleven that year and the next - both years, Oxford won the tournament by eight wickets against Cambridge at Lords.
“We also played annual matches against Surrey and the MCC [Marylebone Cricket Club] and many other matches against visiting teams,” Haygarth said.
“It was in these matches that I came into contact with many of the players whose names have become famous in the history of cricket.”
Haygarth showed the interviewer an old photograph (pictured above) on which was written the title ‘England’s Twelve Champion Cricketers’. It was taken on board the ship on the eve of their departure for America in 1859.
“I had the honour of playing against all these cricketers, except Wisden.”
An eye on the game
John Haygarth may have moved to Queensland ‘to go sheep farming’ but throughout his life he didn’t ever lose sight of the game of cricket.
Twice he returned to England and twice he, with his wife mary (nee McDonald), watched the famous University Match at Lords.
In Queensland he was selected to play in the inter-colonial matches - the equivalent of today’s inter-State matches.
The first was after he purchased the property he named Kooralbyn.
“These inter-colonial matches, as they were then termed, were played very irregularly. But living in the country, I was at a disadvantage.
“However, I played in the matches at Ipswich and at one time was a member of a number of Brisbane teams.”
At the time of the interview, Haygarth had been president of both the Dugandan and Boonah Cricket Clubs for 30 years and the Fassifern Cricket Association from the time it was formed.
“I think cricket is ‘the’ game.
“It is such an unselfish game; you must play for your side, not for yourself.
“I think its moral effect on youth is exceedingly good, for, apart from it’s teaching of unselfishness, there is the matter of discipline.
“It does not lend itself to gambling and roguery.
“There is the spirit of good fellowship engendered by the game, and all these things tend to make a young man the better for it.”
• Edward Brownlow Haygarth, John Haygarth’s brother, also played first class cricket. Edward played for the Winchester First Eleven and went on to play three first-class cricket matches, appearing once for Hampshire in 1875 and twice as a wicketkeeper with WG Grace’s Gloucestershire in 1883.
He was also selected into England’s national football team.
• Arthur Haygarth, John Haygarth’s cousin, began his first class cricketing career in 1844 and remained at that level for 17 years.
He played for many teams including the MCC, Sussex, Surrey and Middlesex.
He is considered one of the great cricket historians.