Peril On The High Seas: When England First Toured Australia In 1861

Global travel by boat proved a sickening experience
16:25, 21 Aug 2019

Boats and the Ashes. Never a pleasant combination. Not if you’re Andrew Flintoff, anyway. 

Yet 150 years before Freddie’s ill-fated pedalo escapades in the Tasman sea, there were a whole generation of Englishmen who fell victim to the mercies of the high waves.  

If Australia had any concerns about their tour then they can take consolation in the knowledge that nothing will ever be quite as bad as the ordeals of the 1860s. 

They may have green pitches to contend with, designed to favour England’s seam attack – though if the hosts’ top order performances are anything to go by, that might well work in the visitors’ favour after all. Then there are the perils of the Duke ball.  

However, back in the nineteenth century, the trauma for the visiting side began long before a ball was bowled, travelling to and from the Ashes by boat. 

The ‘All England Cricket Eleven’ first boarded the SS Great Britain – the ship of Isambard Kingdom Brunel - on October 19, 1861. They did not arrive in Melbourne until December 23. 

Along the way, there had been serious cases of sea-sickness, while training resumed in the decks. Little wonder then, that many players – amateurs, at that – were unwilling to make the journey at all. 

From then on, when an Ashes series commenced, innings had to be scheduled around when the next boats were leaving. These were not private voyages, England’s XI mixing with other passengers. 

Some of the finest stories can be found in the pages of EM Grace’s diaries, brother of WG Grace. 

The positive side was that England’s tours helped to capture the public’s imagination in Australia and inspired a generation of new cricketers. It was also the first time the term ‘Test’ was used in cricket. 

By the end of the decade, an Aboriginal XI did the return journey in one of the first recorded visits of the indigenous people to England. Before any sport had even toyed with the idea of a World Cup, a new precedent had been set for international competition.

A far cry from the comfort in which Australia will have travelled this summer, but their record in England still needs improving. 

Justin Langer’s side haven’t won a series in the UK since 2001, losing their last four in England. Likewise, England have only triumphed once Down Under since 1987.

Regardless of the means of travel, there remains nothing quite as formidable as an Ashes tour.    

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