1st Rugby Game in NZ
New Zealand’s First Game of Rugby
Driving toward our Richmond campsite we saw a sign that said ‘Centre of New Zealand’, intrigued we pulled over and could see an information board about this being the site of the first game of rugby held in the country. No sooner than the penny dropped, himself was adopting the pose of a champion.......
One side of the information board. What it said was as follows:-
Nelson Football Club – Town, versus Nelson College – played Saturday the 14th of May 1870. In 1963, after extensive research by historian Arthur Swan, the New Zealand Rugby Union formally recognised this match as the first game of rugby in New Zealand – almost a hundred years after the event. So how did Nelson’s Botanical Reserve become the site of the first match?
Charles Monro aged twenty three in March 1874.
The ‘Father of New Zealand Rugby’. Charles Monro was born at Waimea West in 1851. He attended Nelson College from the age of nine to sixteen and was the son of the then Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament, Sir David Monro. Charles played rugby as a student at Christ College, Finchley, England from 1867. While away in England, the Nelson Football Club had been formed in 1868. It probably played ‘hybrid football’, a mixture of soccer and Victorian rules. Its first game was against Nelson College in June 1869 and three further matches were played the same year.
Upon his return to Nelson, rugby balls brought back with him, Monro, aged nineteen, convinced the club to adopt the game of rugby and introduced the rules to the Nelson Football Club in January 1870. He suggested a match be played against Nelson College, whose headmaster, Rev. F.C. Simmons, was himself a former student of Rugby School, as were his two predecessor principals. This led to the historic match four months later.
Each team had eighteen players, a number agreed by the captains before the match, made up of ten forwards, three half-backs, three three-quarters and two fullbacks. The college team was decked out in tight-fitting shirts and blue caps, while the ‘town’ team sported street clothes, having no particular uniform.
Monro played in the Town team while refereeing the match.
Artist Paul Wilding’s impression of the first game.
The crowd of about two hundred Nelsonians gathered at The Botanics, including “a fair sprinkling of ladies and a goodly number of the opposite sex,” and had no idea that they were witnessing the birth of rugby. Neither of the local papers even made mention of the fact.
This first recognised game of rugby took place on Saturday the 14th of May 1870, Nelson Football Club – Town scored two, Nelson College side scored nil.
The term football was used to cover many versions of a team game in which a ball was kicked. The move into rugby is said to have come when a student of Rugby School in England first picked up the ball and ran with it in 1823. This crucial difference was adopted first by the school, and then universally, apparently because the school was the first to publish its rules, in 1845.
Nelson Club Team 1873. Probably the oldest rugby photograph in New Zealand.
Nelson College Team 1876.
The Colonist of the 17th of May reported the “football” match, describing attributes of the game that signaled its difference from the traditional versions of football. “Now some player runs with it (the ball, apparently oval) and a general scrimmage ensues: it is all shove, pull, rush and roll about in a confused mass till ‘down’ is cried, and away the ball goes again till perchance it gets in touch or caught.” Later in the report, readers were told “the ball is ‘touched down’ behind the goal.”
But, while the 1870 game is the first recognised game of rugby in the country, there are indications in the 1909 Nelson College Register of a rugby-like game being played as early as 1860. At this time the college was in temporary premises in Manuka Street, just four years after its establishment.
Students were taught the new game by two Anglican clergymen in Nelson at the time, Robert Codrington and Henry Turton, both Rugby School old boys. Records of the 1860 match, by a Nelson College old boy using the pen name “Scrum”, refer to “[players] down like ninepins” and “[the ball] over the bar”. This indicates a game like the one played at Rugby at the time. This sport did not become popular until a much later date, however.
Later in 1870, Monro organised a rugby game in Wellington between an augmented Nelson Club side and a Wellington team. Monro played for the Nelson Club and for combined Nelson Clubs until 1875. He faded from the rugby scene when he shifted to farm in Marlborough. In 1887 he established his own farm, ‘Graiglockhart’ in the Manawatu. A keen sportsman, he played golf and was considered a good boxer and fine horseman. Charles Monro died in 1933 at age eighty three. A phone card was issued in 1995 showing a similar pose as the one above taken in 1930.
Early Football Battles: The game of football evolved from early forms of Roman ball-carrying games. One medieval street game involved two teams trying to get a pig’s bladder to the opposite end of town – hundreds of towns folk would take part in this often brutal game of pushing and mauling. Various games of football evolved over a long period of time into today’s games of Rugby, Victorian Rules.
English beginnings: The game of rugby originated at Rugby School. It was legal mayhem with spectators often joining in the maul. The object was to drive the ball over the opponents line for a touchdown, which then gave the opportunity to ‘try’ to kick the ball from the mark. The game of rugby had been born.
William Webb Ellis whose statue as a young man at Rugby School graces the grounds. His plaque on the Doctors Wall reads:- Who with fine disregard for the rules of football as played at the time, first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game AD 1823. Later as a reverend.
Along with Charles Monro and the many Nelson men and boys who participated in the game, notable rugby pioneers:- Robert Collings Tennant, a local bank clerk who in 1868 initiated the formation of the Nelson Football Club. In 1871 he established the Patea Club in Taranaki.
Alfred Drew, a Nelson College old boy and first captain of the Nelson Football Club. In 1871 he established rugby at Wanganui and then New Plymouth, finishing his career as a referee in Manawatu.
J P Firth, ‘Mr. Rugby’ – a Nelson College boy who cemented rugby at Nelson, Christ’s and Wellington Colleges and was the patriachal figure of Secondary School Rugby.
As always I want to know more - What about the ball ??? Richard Lindon set up home and shop at 6/6a Lawrence Sheriff Street, Rugby, England, immediately opposite the front doors of the Quadrangle of the Rugby School. As a boot and shoemaker, Lindon supplied footwear to the townsfolk of Rugby including the teachers and pupils of the school. Balls in those days were not spherical, but more plum-shaped. This was because a pig's bladder was inflated by mouth through the snapped stem of a clay pipe then encased in panels of stitched leather. As such, the individual bladder dictated the shape of each ball. By 1849, Lindon, now aged thirty three, who naturally had regular supplies of boot leather delivered, found himself bombarded by the boys of Rugby School to manufacture footballs for them. Lindon and his wife worked flat-out producing more balls than shoes. Mrs. Lindon, besides being mother to seventeen children, was the official "green" pig's bladder inflator. Blowing pig's bladders was not without its hazards. If the pig was diseased, it was going into Mrs. Lindon's lungs. Eventually Mrs. Lindon blew on enough infected pig's bladders to fall ill and consequently die. Around 1862 Lindon sought a safer substitute to the pig's bladder and came up with the India rubber bladder as an alternative. India rubber was too tough to inflate by mouth and after seeing an ordinary air syringe he produced a larger brass version to blow up his footballs, which he demonstrated, and won medals for, at an exhibition in London. This allowed the production of the first round ball, though it still had a button at each end of the ball to hold the stitching together, at the point where the leather panels met. "Buttonless balls" became a prime selling point for suppliers and manufacturers by the 1880’s. The Rugby School boys still wanted an oval ball produced to distinguish their hand and foot game over the soccer football, so Lindon created a bladder design which allowed a more egg-shaped buttonless ball to be manufactured. This was the first specifically designed four-panel rugby ball and the start of size standardisation. By 1861 Richard Lindon was recognised as the principal Foot-Ball Maker to Rugby School, Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin Universities. Lindon's "Big-Side Match Ball" was recognised as the true rugby ball and was successfully manufactured by both Richard Lindon and subsequently, his son, Hughes John Lindon for fifty years.
Richard Lindon did not patent his ball, his bladder or his pump.
Bear well remembers these balls as heavy, hard, cold, and wet. Requiring inflation before every game and don’t forget to tuck the laces in.........
ALL IN ALL WHAT A FIND
HALLOWED GROUND INDEED