Monday 15 July 2019

Australian sport’s Mandela moment?

Pic 2 Commissioners Camp, Castlemaine lr

Australian sport’s Mandela moment?[1]

Roy Hay

Nelson Mandela, the recently deceased former president of the Republic of South Africa, was always conscious of the power of sport to symbolise, if not cause, social and political change. Hence his appearance in a Springbok jersey to present the rugby union World Cup to Francois Peinaar, the captain of the victorious team in 1995. What had been a symbol of the virtually whites-only sport embraced by the apartheid regime was now reconfigured as a contribution to the reconciliation Mandela sought between the majority of the population and their former oppressors.

In Australia in 1855 there was a sporting moment which has been almost completely forgotten but which also marked the coming together of opposing groups who had been killing each other only a few months before. What brought it back into focus was Peter FitzSimons mammoth 700-page blockbuster Eureka: The Unfinished Revolution, which also has no mention of the event or its participants.[2]

In December 1854 the combination of oppressive licence fees for the right to dig for gold, the miners’ lack of representation in the new Victorian parliament and what appeared to be corrupt use of the law provoked an uprising against the authorities on the Ballarat goldfield. The Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham, fearing loss of control of civil society, put down the ‘rebellion’ by force after sending a hastily assembled army of troops and police to the goldfield.[3] The miners’ defensive stockade was overrun in 20 minutes with around 22 miners and five soldiers killed and several more seriously injured on both sides. After a brief period of martial law and a more protracted and unsuccessful attempt to convict some of the participants of treason, the government ended the licence fees, introduced a limited form of manhood suffrage and removed some of the corrupt officials.[4] Some of the victims of collateral damage in Ballarat in 1854 were subsequently compensated.[5]

On 22 September 1855, only nine months after Eureka, some of the surviving miners and troops played a football match at the Commissioner’s Camp on the nearby Castlemaine goldfield.[6] The Mount Alexander Mail reported[7]:

Report on football match in Mount Alexander Mail

Lieutenant William Henry Paul led a detachment of the 12th (East Suffolk) Regiment of Foot into the stockade at Eureka but received a severe wound to his hip in the action. A pupil at Eton, the English public school, he joined the army and was gazetted as an Ensign in 1852 and promoted to Lieutenant in 1854.[8] He had arrived in Victoria with his comrades and was sent to Ballarat with a contingent of the 12th which was intercepted and upset by a group of miners on the way to the diggings. One of the wagons accompanying the troops was overturned and Paul was sent on ahead with the others to reinforce the camp.[9] After the battle Paul recovered from his injuries and almost certainly was one of the prime movers in the football match.[10]

His coadjutor was probably Thomas Beagley Naylor, the Receiver of Gold at the camp at the neighbouring goldfield of Castlemaine. Castlemaine is just under 80 kilometres from Ballarat and some of the Castlemaine diggers had been present at Eureka. Naylor was also secretary of the Castlemaine Hospital and it is possible that Paul spent some of his recuperation there. Naylor was also secretary of the Castlemaine Race Committee, so like many of his contemporaries had a finger in more than one sporting activity. A few weeks after the football match he organised a subscription to fund a scratch race meeting at Muckleford, near Castlemaine.[11]

The Commissoner’s Camp at Castlemaine in 1852.[12]

Castlemaine Court House in 2014, now the home of the Castlemaine Historical Society Inc. Compare with the building to the left of the 1852 picture.

The Camp Reserve today. Home ground of the Castlemaine Football and Netball Club.

Unfortunately we don’t know the names of any of the other participants or whether the second match mentioned in the newspaper report took place. Nor do we know in detail what kind of football was being played. Darren Lewis, the historian of the Castlemaine Football and Netball Club, and Sean Fagan who has written about the first tour by an English rugby union team to Australia in the 1880s, both see the game as a precursor of their respective codes.[13] One of the earliest clubs to play football on a regular basis was begun in Castlemaine in 1859.[14] But it is equally, if not more likely, that the game bore more similarity to Association football as it was codified in England in 1863 than either Australian football or rugby union.

It was not the first football match played in Castlemaine in 1855. The local correspondent for The Argus bemoaned the absence of public celebration of the Queen’s birthday that year but reported that a football match had taken place:

‘The Queen’s birthday has been kept here in a fashion, the public offices have generally been closed. Some of the officials and of the townsmen have kept up a game of football in the Camp. There have been no parade, no salutes, no grand dinner nor ball and supper – no money for ammunition to fire a salute’.[15]

When we say these games were more like football as it was codified in 1863 in England it does not mean that they looked like an English Premier League match today or Barcelona toying with its opposition with its tika taka. They were different from the mass melees in the villages, but they were not for the faint hearted. They were strongly physical contests in which weight and probably height counted for more than neat skills of ball control.[16] But the emphasis is on kicking not handling or running with the ball. When detailed descriptions of matches appear there are many references to charging, rushing and heavy collisions with bodies being upset and falls frequent. Injuries are mentioned regularly. So it was not a decorous business and there would have been quite enough physical contact to satisfy fit young players and spectators looking for some vicarious violence.

However, the historians of both Australian rules and rugby union tend to be both imperialistic and anachronistic in claiming that this match fits their image of a precursor of their varieties of football. The Castlemaine match was only one of a large number of small-sided predominantly kicking games played in Australia, often for monetary prizes, and hence certainly to agreed rules, long before the Melbourne club drew up its first set or union diverged from soccer over the issue of hacking. In an article in The International Journal of the History of Sport the evidence for the widespread existence of a football culture in Australia before codification is presented and this Mandela moment is at last put in its context.[17]


[1] My thanks to the staff of the Castlemaine Historical Society Inc. for their assistance and hospitality. Their infectious enthusiasm for making research a pleasure is wonderful.

[2] Peter FitzSimons, Eureka: The Unfinished Revolution, Random House, Sydney, 2013.

[3] For the role of British troops in Australia prior to 1870, see Peter Stanley, The Remote Garrison: the British Army in Australia 1788-1870. Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press, 1986.

[4] There was a mass meeting in Ballarat on 9 December 1854 which sought the end of the licence fee and the abolition of the Gold Commission. There was a similar meeting at Castlemaine which demanded the abolition of military rule. Justin Corfield, Dorothy Wickham & Clare Gervasoni, The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004, Timeline, p. xiv.

[5] A correspondent with the Herald, Frank Arthur Hasleham was shot in the shoulder when he came out of his tent to observe what was happening. He was paid £400 ‘for his wrong’. Mount Alexander Mail, Friday 14 September 1855, p.  3.

[6] The Castlemaine Camp had been the site of a protest meeting against the proposed doubling of the miners’ licence fee in 1852 led by Captain John Harrison, the father of Henry Colden Harrison, one of the early figures in the story of Melbourne and Geelong football. Gillian Hibbins, Sport and Racing in Colonial Melbourne, Lynedoch, Melbourne, 2007, pp. 36–7.

[7] ‘Foot Ball’, Mount Alexander Mail, Friday 28 September 1855, p.  3. Hard copy consulted at the Castlemaine Historical Society on 21 January 2014.

[8] Paul was posted to Launceston in 1856 and then took leave and returned to England. He later became Captain and Adjutant of the 36th Regiment in Belfast in the 1860s. H.E.C. Stapylton, Eton School Lists from 1791 to 1877, Simpkin Marshall, London, 1884, p. 208.  He reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and retired in 1877. He may have died in Liverpool in 1903. Ian McFarlane, Eureka from Official Records, Melbourne, Public Record Office Victoria, 1995, and Corfield et al, Eureka Encylopaedia, p. 421.

[9] Evidence of Assistant Surgeon George Arden, Dorothy Wickham, Deaths at Eureka, privately published, Ballarat, 1996.

[10] The Eton field game was a predominantly kicking and dribbling style of football. Ian Syson reminded me of this by email, 22 January 2014.

[11] ‘Racing’, Mount Alexander Mail, 19 October 1855, p. 3. Naylor had a chequered subsequent career. In 1860 it was reported in some newspapers that he had been imprisoned for defalcation but it turned out that a clerk in Gold Office named Graybourne was responsible and convicted. However, two years later Naylor was charged with systematically purloining small quantities of gold and sentenced to four years hard labour on the roads. Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday 25 April 1860, p. 2; The South Australian Advertiser, Monday 30 April 1860, p. 3; Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 23 May 1862, p. 5; The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, Thursday 31 July 1862, p. 2.

[12] Cuthbert Charles Clarke, The Commissioner’s Camp, Castlemaine in 1852, Alan McCulloch, Artists of the Australian Gold Rush, Lansdowne editions, Melbourne, 1977, p. 140.

[13] Darren Lewis, A Day at the Camp: 150 Years of the Castlemaine Football Netball Club. Castlemaine Football Netball Club, Castlemaine, Victoria, pp. 8–10; Sean Fagan, The First Lions of Rugby: The First British Lions and Their Dramatic 1888 Tour of Australia and New Zealand, Slattery Media Group, Richmond, Vic.: 2013, pp. 196–200.

[14] Lewis, A Day at the Camp, pp. 11–13.

[15] The Argus, 28 May 1855, p. 2.

[16] Gavin Kitching, ‘”The Origins of Football”: Ideology and the Making of “The People’s Game”’, Football 150 Conference, Manchester: National Football Museum, September 2–4, 2013.

[17] Roy Hay, ‘Football in Australia before codification’, International Journal of the History of Sport, Vol. 31, No. 9, 2014, pp. 1047–1061 (Online version published 3 March 2014, hard copy 30 May 2014).

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