This article originally appeared in the Age (Melbourne) 7-OCt-1933 p5. There has been changes to formatting.
No. 9— THE OLD EAST MELBOURNE GROUND, BY F.M.
This record is of a sports ground which is "with us no more," a ground which was the head quarters of many champion cricketers and footballers, but which is now a home for railway rolling stock. a great light was made for the retention of the East Melbourne cricket ground at Jolimont, but after its existence had been threatened for some years the area was closed to the public in 1921, and was merged into the Jolimont railway yards. Even now some of the old East Melbourne enthusiasts can scarcely recall the sad event without a sigh. And that is perhaps not to be wondered at. The ground had many great associations; Melbourne had not been very long, out of its teens when the area was reserved for a cricket ground, and until .the year of its "demise", it was the scene of many great games, and of carnivals of varying, descriptions.
The origin of this famous' ground is related in an interesting record of the East Melbourne Cricket Club; written in its jubilee year 1910, by the late Mr. A. E. Clarke (who was associated with the club for about fifty years, was its first secretary, and for many years was its president). "About the year 1857," he wrote, "Messrs. Tom and Charley Dight, J, O. Moody and Fred Moody; from the Scotch College, and all living at or near Abbotsford, used to meet for practice in Dight's Paddock, at Abbotsford. and on my joining, with a few others, we called ourselves the Abbotsford Cricket Club. Later on, when, others left the college, they joined their old school chums, and for a short period practised on a vacant piece of land on the south-east corner of Albert and Clarendon streets, East Melbourne, and, as members increased, we journeyed down to a pitch in the Richmond paddock, just outside the M.C.C. gates. A very fair team of boys was then playing, and it was necessary to look out for a larger piece of ground, and I have a great personal pleasure in the recollection that I suggested trying to obtain, the use of Captain Lonsdale's cow paddock, and changing our name to the East Melbourne Cricket Club."
"We, the undersigned residents in or near East Melbourne, many of whom have been affiliated with the Abbotsford Cricket Club, being desirous of promoting the manly game of cricket on ground convenient to our respective residences, solicit you, by authority or recommendation, to permit us the regular use of a suitable block of Crown land for the purpose of the game." – Old Boy- Exit East Melbourne Argus 29-Oct-1921 p15
Mr. Clarke and his associates were nothing if not enthusiastic and persistent. They organised a "bumper" petition, and with the kindly assistance of Mr W.C. Haines, a prominent politician of those times, who afterwards, became president of the club, the club received the following notification: — "The Board of Land and Works grant to the East Melbourne Cricket Club permission to play cricket on the ground in question. until further notice on the understanding that the club will have no exclusive right to the ground, that no trees be interfered with and no fence erected." This notification was dated 23rd October, 1860.
The ground was found to be "more of a cow paddock than expected." It. was a "very bog in winter, and cow holes knee deep almost covered the whole surface." However, the club was not without friends, and gradually difficulties, were surmounted. The playing area steadily improved, and proper facilities were provided, the permission of the Board of Land and Works for fencing, &c.. having to be obtained. It was a proud day indeed for the club, when the celebrated W.G. Grace declared he was so satisfied with the wicket that he would like to be able to carry it about with him !
The club was so successful that in a number of the early Victorian teams it had more than half the players. its most famous players were H. F. Boyle, a great bowler, who was a member of five Australian teams which visited England; T. Horan, G. Palmer (another great bowler), who was also secretary of the East Melbourne club for a time; W. Midwinter, who had. the distinction of representing Australia and England in Test matches; T. W. Groube, H. J. H. Scott, J. Worrall, A. E. Trott, F. Laver and P. Mc Alister, all of whom were Australian eleven men; S. McMichacl, D. Wilkie, who scored the first century for the club (124 against Bendigo in 1864), and who it was claimed was the best slow underhand bowler Australia ever had; J. Harry, a great all-rounder (who was unlucky not to be chosen for an English tour); H. Stuckey, J.A. Seitz, A. Christian, E.V. Carroll, W. Scott, F. Collins and many others. Boyle, by the way, was the first man in Australia to clean bowl W.G. Grace, and a chronicler states that the shouts that went up front the throats of 20,000 people when he did so might have been heard at the Post Office. It was in 1873, in the first game against Victoria. "His name was on every tongue, and that night at the Theatre Royal the vast audience rose en masse when he came in; and cheered him lustily ' for five minutes.” Much of this excitement was due to a story current at the time (but which was denied by the famous cricketer) that "W.G." had backed himself in £500 to £50 that he would not be bowled in Australia. Boyle stated to Mr Dave Scott that he had watched "W.G." carefully at practice, and said he had noticed he had a weak stroke on the leg, and if, he (Boyle) could get a ball in between leg and wicket he thought, he could get him. He did get that ball in and Grace went out ! Boyle's beard, by the way, was almost as extensive as that of "W.G." In his first match at Lord's (in 1878) Boyle obtained six wickets for three runs against Marylebone !
Well served by most of its players, the club was also fortunate in the choice of its officials. Mr. J. O. Moody was president of the Abbotsford club, from which the East Melbourne club was formed, but the first president of the E.M.C.C. was Mr. W. E. Parry-Oakden, Mr. A. E. Clarke (previously. referred to) being secretary. Its later presidents included Messrs. W. C. Haines, E. Cohen, H. J. Henty, Mr. Justice Williams, Sir Jas. McBain, Mr. A. E. Clarke (for sixteen years), Sir M. McEacharn, Sir T. Bent and Canon E. S. Hughes (elected in 1900-10), now president of the combined Hawthorn-East Melbourne club (since 1921) and president of the Victorian Cricket Association. Secretaries in addition to Mr. Clarke have included Messrs. H. H. Budd, E. B. Manning, S. McMichael, W. Nodrum and F. S. Hilcke. Messrs. H. H. Gooche R. Richardson, E. Fletcher and W. G. Hickford each served for some years as treasurer.
The East Melbourne ground was also the home of the Essendon Football Club for nearly forty years. This club had been, founded in 1873 by Mr. C. McCracken, who was captain, and Mr. A. McCracken, secretary. The last mentioned was afterwards president of the Victorian Football League for many years. The team played for some years on a paddock owned by the McCracken family at Essendon, and Canon Hughes has recollections of the club even before those days, when it played on ground obtained for it by Mr. George Lavater. Secretary for Railways, and Mr. Miller, father of George Miller, the champion goal kicker of his day. He (Canon Hughes) was then about ten years of age, and he had the responsible job of carrying the drinks to the players !
In 1882 the East Melbourne Cricket Club decided to invite the Essendon. team to play at East Melbourne. The invitation was accepted, and the team played. its first game there against Hotham (afterwards North Melbourne), it is a coincidence that when the ground was resumed nearly forty years afterwards the Essendon and North Melbourne teams merged. In 1882. the team comprised Messrs. Powell, (captain); W. Kent Hughes (sen.), F. G. Hughes (now Brigadier-General), McCuIloch, Carter, Adams, McShane, Griffiths, Watt, Martin, Bishop, Pitcher, Osborne, Alexander, Mansfield, Lethbridge, Francis, Prout, Rogers, Cairns, Walker, Nally, Miller, O'Brien, Feehan and Steel.
During its occupancy of the ground the club was particularly successful. It won more premierships than any other club and its record of four premierships in succession, from 1891 to 1894, has been equalled only by Collingwood. Its greatest player was Albert Thurgood, considered the best player of all time. In his first season lie kicked 56 goals, a record at the time for any player in Victoria, but he was a man who could play successfully in any part of the field, and, like players such as S. Coventry and I. Warne Smith, had the great attribute of giving his best when defeat for his team seemed almost certain. Other great Essendon players were Alex Dick, their champion captain, a most assuming player with an iron will;' "Bill" Fleming, "Tracker" Forbes, an admirable follower, and one of the outstanding personalities of the game; the; Hughes brothers, Charles Pearson (the finest high mark of the period). Two particularly clever players, G. Vautin and Colin Campbell, came from Tasmania. Dr. "Ned" Officer was a very reliable full back, and G. Stuckey a fine leader arid brainy player. Other outstanding players were "Joker'' Hall, "Tot" Collins, Gus Kearney, "Eddie" Kinnear (now an Essendon councillor), W. Crebbin, P. Watson and B. Grecian, H. Gavin, G. Martin, W. Busbridge, W. Stewart, D. Smith, "Dookie" McKenzie, "Ernie". Cameron, M. Madden, the Shea brothers, W. Griffiths and M. Londerigan. The names of those who played in the last game on the ground in 1921 were; P. Ogden (captain), Baring, Barker, Beckton, Donaldson, Farrell, Faulkner, Garden, Gardiner, Hardy, Irwin, Jenkins, Laing, Laidlaw, Maynard, Maher, Ross and Wardley.
Like other clubs, the Red and Black had several officials who gave many years of service. Apart from those mentioned, the late Mr. W. Raper, who was president for some years, was associated with the club for about half a century. Another enthusiast, the late Alderman Crichton, was also president for some years. Mr. S. Jones was timekeeper for 38 years, and. he missed only one game played by his club in all that time. He has in his possession several interesting relics of the early days of the club, including member ship cards and invitations. The present secretary, Mr. F. G. Reid, who has announced his retirement after 26 years of service, was secretary for fourteen years when Essendon was at the East Melbourne ground. He also has been a very prominent Football League official. Amongst his predecessors were Messrs. W. Crebbin and L. Dallas.
Editors noteThe famous Smokers v Non-Smokers match was held at the EMCG in 1887. see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smokers_v_Non-Smokers
The closure of the ground in 1921 caused a crisis in the VFA as the Essendon 'Same Old's' looked for a new home ground. North Melbourne, then in the VFA disbanded in a failed amalgamation attempt with Essendon (Assuming Essendon would move to the Arden Street Ground). But the Same Old's eventual move to Windy Hill left the Essendon VFA team (who had been playing at Windy Hill for 20 years) without a home ground, causing them too to disband. North Melbourne returned to the VFA the following year having lost many great players to Essendon, but many of the Essendon VFA players moved to North Melbourne.
EXIT EAST MELBOURNE. The Argus 29-Oct-1921 p. 15. - http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4627834
CRICKET GLORIES OF THE PAST. Sporting Globe 3-Jan-1942 p. 4 (Edition3). - http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178085706