SUMMER’s almost here and so is the cricket season.
And that’s why an historic Hunter Valley cricket photograph is so important. Taken by keen photographer Joseph Docker in the pre-1860s, it’s possibly the first photograph ever taken of the sport in Australia.
It soon led to a quest to trace the likely origins of cricket in the Hunter.
The faded, undated, but still recognisable photograph, shows a cricket match being played at Docker’s Upper Hunter property of Thornthwaite, near Scone.
The Docker family lived there between 1850 and 1860 and their stone mansion featured above the oval in the background.
Then, on the eve of a biannual charity cricket match, re-enacting the famous Docker game, being staged there mid last month (pictured), I was contacted by a descendant of a famous Hunter vigneron.
His name’s Don Seton Wilkinson, of Sydney, but originally from Pokolbin, who’s a great-great-great grandson of Hunter Valley wine pioneers George and Margaret Wyndham. I’d met him earlier years ago at Wyndham Estate, near Branxton, and discovered then he was also co-founder of the Dalwood Restoration Association which has worked to restore nearby Dalwood House (begun in 1829).
Dalwood was the home of George Wyndham and his brood. His Dalwood vineyards later became known as Wyndham Estate, arguably Australia’s most historic wine industry site.
Sadly, this showpiece Wyndham Estate, home to popular open-air concerts, was closed to the public by its French owners Pernod-Ricard Australia in 2014.
Earlier, with agriculture the backbone of colonial NSW, George Wyndham had extended his farming empire to five more properties. He experimented, even successfully growing Indian Hemp as a crop along the Hunter River. He’s also credited with being the first to introduce pure bred Hereford cattle to the Australian mainland in 1827.
But did he also play two other lesser-known roles, including possibly being one of the founders of modern cricket in England? And the other overlooked claim to fame?
“George Wyndham was no doubt one of a number of early settlers who laid the foundations for the Newcastle and Hunter Valley cricket success in later years,” Seton Wilkinson said.
“Wyndham (1801-1870) built up an extensive pastoral empire in northern NSW and one Hunter story told is that anyone who could play cricket, including Aborigines, would always get a job at Wyndham.
“That way, he could field teams from both Dalwood and his other property at Bukkulla, near Inverell.
“Originally, I was only identifying facts about George Wyndham’s playing cricket at Harrow and Cambridge, back in England, but following renewed interest in the 1850s photo of Joseph Docker’s team at Scone, I added a few more facts to introduce George’s interest in actively promoting the game via his teams and the coaching of his sons.
“The development of Newcastle and Hunter district cricket clubs during the second half of the 19th century has been well told by Maitland historian Lindsay Wood. However, the story of the origin of cricket in the Hunter Valley has yet to be told,” Seton Wilkinson said.
“It is not known when the first games of cricket began in the Hunter Valley. However, it is likely that they were informal social games played between the employees of the early rural properties, prior to the development of district cricket clubs.
“The recently publicised 1850s photo, possibly 1857, of Joseph Docker’s team at Thornthwaite, near Scone, is another piece of evidence of the rural-based beginnings of cricket in the Hunter. Town and village-based cricket teams developed later.
“No evidence has yet come to light that George Wyndham played in any teams following his arrival (in Australia) in 1827.
“He was probably too busy developing Dalwood. However, his five younger sons (Alexander, Guy, Charles, Reginald and Wadham) become prominent players from the 1850s onward,” he said.
“At various times they played for the Dalwood, Branxton, Albion (Maitland) and Singleton teams. Another son, John, was a patron of the Albion Cricket Club from 1872 to 1886,” Seton Wilkinson said.
One Hunter story told is that anyone who could play cricket, including Aborigines, would always get a job at Wyndham
“Family history has been consistently strong that George Wyndham loved cricket. He then taught all of his sons to play.
“The origin of George’s passion for cricket quite probably began by playing the game with his two elder brothers at home at Dinton, Wiltshire, England,” he said. “The first record of him playing was during his time at Harrow school where he played in the school’s First XI, principally as a bowler. Later, in Australia, some of his sons here became known as ‘demon bowlers’.”
Seton Wilkinson said George Wyndham’s sporting friend in England was one Charles Oxenden (1800-1874). Charles transferred from Eton school to Harrow and was on record as having initiated the first regular cricket match between Eton and Harrow First XI’s in 1818.
“Both Oxenden and Wyndham played in this match. This is now the oldest regular match played at Lord’s,” he said. “Oxenden and Wyndham both then went up to Cambridge, where they founded the Cambridge University Cricket Club in 1820 and played in the First XI in both 1820 and 1821.
“As Oxenden captained the team he has been given the credit for founding the club. However, given their friendship from school and that they both played in the initial match for the Cambridge University Cricket Club, it is reasonable to conclude that Wyndham’s strong support of Oxenden entitles him to be regarded as a co-founder.
“Oxenden is recorded as scoring a total of 91 runs in seven innings, with the highest score of 34 and an average score of 15.16 in four matches, while Wyndham is recorded as scoring 12 runs, with the highest score of six and taking seven wickets during two matches in 1820 and 1821.”
Seton Wilkinson said the Oxford University Cricket Club was not founded until 1827.
“While first class cricket (in England) wasn’t officially recognised until 1894, the Cricket Archive does recognise matches played by Cambridge, Oxford, Marylebone and country clubs as first class matches.
“The above information gives rise to a question. Who was the first person to arrive in Australia who had played first class cricket in England? George Wyndham would have to be a contender.”
Seton Wilkinson said a copy existed of another, undated photograph showing an older George Wyndham posing with his Dalwood Cricket Team in the 1860s. “It seems likely some of the six cricketers standing in the background were Wyndham’s sons. It’s known four or five of them were in his team.”