Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Blue Mountains and the Ashes

The Ashes urn and the 1883 embroidered bag

The cricket season now drawing to a close has marked for cricket fans the 100 year point since the legendary "Ashes" were created amid the excitement and enthusiasm of those "golden years" of cricket at the end of the nineteenth century.

It is perhaps of some interest for those of us who live in the Blue Mountains to know that our region has had some connection with a number of the people who helped shape the early contours of the story a century ago.

When, on that sultry and overcast August day, in 1882, players came onto The Oval at 12 noon, probably none of the 20,000 spectators expected the events they were about to witness.

The strong Australian bowling combination was not anticipated and, led by "The Demon" Spofforth, proceeded to wreak havoc on the English batsmen.

The colonials' victory by seven runs was the first Test win on English soil and the humiliation was widely felt.

The famous mock obituary appearing in print shortly after the match announced the death and cremation of English cricket with the imaginary ashes to be taken to Australia.

T. W. Garrett as a young man

Part of that famous bowling combination was a young right-arm medium pace bowler named Thomas William Garrett who, five years before, had played in the very first Test in Melbourne at the age of 18.

Garrett had a distinguished cricket career, touring England three times and playing in 19 Tests for Australia.

As well as bowling, he was a fine cover fieldsman and also had some success with the bat, scoring several first class centuries for NSW.

During the 1890s he was a successful cap­tain of NSW leading his team to victory in the Sheffield Shield on two occasions.

Off the field, he was a solicitor and civil servant and in the early years of this century, following his retirement from competitive cricket, Garrett and his family moved out of Sydney to the Blue Mountains where he became a resident of Springwood,

He lived comfortably in "Braemar" and was an active member of the Springwood Progress Association.

His continued contribution to the admin­istration of cricket and his encouragement of young players like Victor Trumper made him something of a legend in cricketing circles by the time of his death in 1943.

Cricketer T.W. Garrett, of Sydney, who played in the
first Test match between England and Australia.
SMH Picture by STAFF

Following the defeat of 1882 a team of English cricketers, captained by the aristo­crat Ivo Bligh (Lord Darnley), set out to retrieve the mythical "Ashes" so unceremon­iously transported by the upstart colonials.

It was nothing less than a crusade to "resurrect" the honour of English cricket.

It was during this Test series, played in the Australian summer of 1882-1883, that the real Ashes came into existence.

Again, persons at one time associated with the Mountains played a not insignificant part.

Australia won the first Test in Melbourne and it looked as if the currency lads were going to do a proper job of trampling on English pride.

Even the London "Times" could not bring itself to record the defeat and reversed the result in its report. But the England team rallied and won the next two matches and hence the series. Honour was restored.

Following the British victory and before the tourists returned home, their captain was presented with three things that have become sacred relics in the folklore of Anglo-Australian cricket and are protected with almost religious zeal by the MCC.

These were, some ashes supposedly of one of the Third Test bails, a small pottery urn and an embroidered red velvet bag.

Of the three it is the red velvet bag that is of interest to us for its story is linked with one of the prominent families of early Katoomba.

Anne Fletcher

The bag was the gift of Mrs. Ann Fletcher whose husband, John W. Fletcher, was man­aging a school in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra at the time of the Test series.

A year later, in 1884, the Fletchers were to move to Katoomba where they opened The Katoomba College, a boarding school for boys, in the building that was later to become the Royal Coffee Palace and then the headquarters of the Blue Mountains City Council.

John W. Fletcher

The Fletchers were active in Katoomba life and affairs throughout the 1880s until the depression of the early 1890s forced the school's closure in 1893.

The name of the building was changed to The Priory and Mrs. Fletcher ran it as a boarding house until 1896 when the family returned to Sydney.

The Royal Coffee Palace, Katoomba 

Sport was a strong interest in the Fletcher family.

Mr. Fletcher played most games well, and in the case of soccer and golf, was prominent in establishing these sports in Australia.

The Fletchers' eldest son, John William, played cricket for Paddington with Victor Trumper and later represented Queensland in 1909-10.

A close friend of the family was the Yorkshire born watercolourist William Blamire Young.

It is quite possible that he was the designer of the embroidery that decorates the velvet bag as he often created designs for Mrs. Fletcher to work upon. He, too, was a resident of Katoomba in the 1880s being appointed assistant master at The Katoomba College in 1885.

A letter from Ivo Bligh thanking Mrs. Fletcher for her gift is housed with the other relics at Lords.

Before the tourists set sail with their reco­vered treasure they played a further match against a full strength Australian team in Sydney during February 1883.

Tom Garrett, who had taken only three wickets and scored only 16 runs (three ducks) in the previous three Tests, was dropped and into the team came Edwin Evans, an accurate round arm spin bowler from NSW.

In 1877 he had starred for NSW taking 5 for 94 against James Lillywhite's English professionals.

He also had the reputation of being an above average tail-end batsmen and he later toured England with the Australians in 1886.

Evans is the final link between these events surrounding the creation of the Ashes and the Mountains.

His father, James Evans, was the first licensee of the Pilgrim Inn at Blaxland (1830).

After first leasing the property, he pur­chased it in 1833 and then re-sold it toward the end of the decade.

Moving into farming on the Nepean the large family became well known and respected in the district.

The Australians were successful in this last match but, with the Ashes safely in their keeping, Bligh's team set sail again for England.

Despite Australia's many victories since, the Ashes themselves have never returned. Such is life.

 *****

Author: John Low, first published Blue Mountains Gazette 16 Feb 1983

Editor: John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian  

Images from the Local Studies collection unless otherwise stated

 


 

 

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The Blue Mountains and the Ashes

The Ashes urn and the 1883 embroidered bag The cricket season now drawing to a close has marked for cricket fans the 100 year point since th...