January 21, 2020
The team’s trip for a 1-1 draw with Australia involved an arduous trek across the globe and came with scandal and drama aplenty
The Spin | England’s first Test tour: death, brawling, betting and cross-dressing
England’s 500th Test match on foreign soil, which concluded in Port Elizabeth on Monday, prompted a lot of people to reminisce about tours past, but few could hope to match the tale of England’s voyage to their first ever away Test, played in Melbourne in March 1877. It is a tale of death, drama, donkeys and cross-dressing, and one that was thankfully diarised in sometimes excruciating detail by an unnamed player in a series of letters to the Sporting Life.
In all 255 days passed between the players setting sail from Southampton and their return to London’s Charing Cross station. The correspondent details every day of the outbound trip. Along the way they stopped at Gibraltar, Malta (“the beggars and guides are a perfect nuisance, pestering you the whole time”), Port Said and Suez at either end of the Suez Canal (“Suez is a wretched town. No pleasure can be got by a visit to the place, which is a tumble-down, narrow-streeted, stinking hole”), Yemen and Galle, before the players switched boats for the leg to King George’s Sound. Before they reached Malta one of their shipmates died. “About half-past 10 a death occurred on board, and at two the funeral took place. A very impressive ceremony – the ship stopping, and the knell tolling as the body was committed to the deep,” wrote the player. At Suez several players engaged in a donkey race, during which Allen Hill, the bowler who was to take the first ever Test wicket, fell off his ride and injured an elbow – the line of totally unnecessary injuries sustained by touring England cricketers engaged in completely unnecessary pursuits having started long before Rory Burns did his ankle playing football.
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