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Cricket on Board the SS Great Britain

Cricket on Board the SS Great Britain
Cricket on Board the SS Great Britain
©SS Great Britain

As hopes and expectations rise in the run up to the Ashes (1 Aug - 16 Sept), a special exhibition is being held on board Brunel's SS Great Britain - the ocean liner that transported the first ever All England eleven to Australia in 1861, for the inaugural tour which coined the term ‘test cricket.'

Safe passage was a far cry from the high-tech professional operation we know today. On board the SS Great Britain from Liverpool to Melbourne, the team were continually sick, and one of them injured a passenger with a cricket ball bowled on deck. However, the tour, which saw a momentous 10,000 strong cheering crowd greet them on arrival in Sydney, paved the way for the most enduring sporting rivalry in the world.

To mark the SS Great Britain's historic role in that first ever meeting between English and Australian cricket, the exhibition this summer includes the original diary by EM Grace, brother of WG Grace, who was on board and treated his team-mates to champagne whilst moaning about the promenading women who ‘made my head ache'. The diary is amongst a selection of artefacts on show which include a commemorative cricket ball presented to EM Grace during the tour and a newspaper written by the players to pass the time and stave off boredom.

This first ever England Vs Australia tour was originally conceived as a Victorian PR stunt and sponsorship opportunity by two entrepreneurial Melbourne-based businessmen, the wine merchants Felix William Spiers and Christopher Pond. Having failed to persuade Charles Dickens to conduct a lecture tour of Australia, the two Englishmen turned their attention to cricket. The sport's popularity was growing in Australia, so Spiers and Pond invited a team of leading English cricketers to tour the country. Twelve players signed up for the tour. Named ‘The Eleven of All England' or HH Stephenson's XI after the English Captain Heathfield Harman Stephenson, they each received £150 (worth about £7,000 today), first class passage (costing 70 guineas), plus all expenses.

To add to this amazing record of ‘firsts', it was on this tour that team captain Heathfield Harman Stephenson coined the term ‘hat trick' which was first used to describe him taking three wickets in three balls. To mark the event a collection was held and he was presented with a hat bought with the proceeds.

The voyage took 66 days and when they arrived in Melbourne they were greeted by a crowd of 10,000 and a quarter of the city's population watched the first game, plus, huge crowds watched during the entire tour.

All but one of the English team returned home in time for the 1862 English cricket season. Charles Lawrence chose to remain in Australia and went on to play for and coach the first Australian cricket team to tour in England in 1868, which- except for Lawrence - was made up of Aboriginal players.

Entrance to the exhibition is included in the price of admission to Brunel's SS Great Britain. The historic ocean liner is dry-docked at Bristol's harbourside.

About the SS Great Britain:

Brunel's SS Great Britain is the world's first great ocean liner and the most experimental steam ship of her time. Launched in 1843, this iron-hulled steamship revolutionised travel and set new standards in engineering, reliability and speed. Today, Brunel's SS Great Britain has won more than 20 national and international museum awards including UK Museum of the Year and Enjoy England Large Visitor Attraction of the Year. It is also home to the Brunel Institute, housing one of the world's finest maritime and Brunel collections.

About the exhibition:

Dates: from 25 May 25 - 8 September 2019

Where: Brunel's SS Great Britain, Great Western Dockyard, Gas Ferry Road, Bristol, BS1 6TY

© Cricket World 2019

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