Andrew Stoddart may not be a household name in sporting circles these days, but just before the turn of the 19th century he was one of the biggest names around.
For not only did the son of a Durham colliery owner – he was born in South Shields – play rugby and cricket for England, he also played in 28 of the 35 games on what has been described as the ‘first’ British & Irish Lions tour in 1888.
The bare statistics of a man who captained England four times in 10 appearances at rugby, and eight times in 16 Tests at cricket, don’t tell half the story of how talented a sportsman he was.
And it was his captaincy skills on that first British tour to Australasia in 1888 that made it imperative to include him among our ‘Lions Remembered’ section. His 73 points from 28 games on that eight-month tour were good enough, but it was more the way in which he took charge of the 22-strong party after the tragic drowning of their captain Robert Seddon that marked him out as a cut above the rest.
The 1888 tour
The concept of the tour was the collective brainchild of cricketing entrepreneurs Alfred Shaw, Arthur Shrewsbury and Stoddart. They already had experience of arranging overseas trips to North America and Australia and were keen to move on to rugby.
Their approach to the RFU for official sanction fell on deaf ears and that meant a large number of the best players refused to make the trip. In the end, no Irishmen joined the party, there was one Welshman in Will Thomas and the rest were from the North of England and the Scottish Borders.
Stoddart was already in Australia playing cricket for George Vernon’s touring team when the rugby party left Liverpool on March 8. He was then to meet them on their arrival in New Zealand and figured in the first four matches.
Part of the RFU’s reasoning for not sanctioning the tour was they saw it as a way to make money for Shaw and Shrewsbury. The great split with the Northern Union was just around the corner and the RFU’s parting shot before the tour party left was to professionalise the Halifax forward J Clowes.
There were claims that Stoddart was paid £200 for playing on the tour. If that was so, it came directly out of Shaw and Shrewsbury’s pockets because their cricket tour to Australia in 1887/88 lost £2,400 and they then suffered a £600 loss on the rugby trip – despite throwing in 19 Aussie Rules games on top of the 35 rugby fixtures.
Stoddart on tour
‘Drewy’ set off for Australia in late September, 1887 as a member of Vernon’s touring cricket side. He finally made it back to the UK on November 11, 1888.
He played in the first of eight games for the cricket side at the Adelaide Oval on 28 October, 1887.
His last outing for them was on March 9, 1888. In between, he found time to make his Test debut for England in the only Ashes Test match of that year in Sydney.
England won with Stoddart opening the innings with Arthur Shrewsbury, one of the two managers of that first British Lions tour party, at the Association Ground. His final cricket game came the day after the 21 other rugby tourists set sail for New Zealand.
By the time they arrived they found Stoddart raring to go and he lined-up in the first game against Otago – and almost every game thereafter. By the time the tourists moved on to Australia, Stoddart must have been suffering from a sense of déjà vu.
The first of the 16 games played in Australia was against New South Wales at the same venue as Stoddart had helped the England XI retain the Ashes four months earlier.
Move on a month, and the remarkable Mr Stoddart was showing off his skills at Aussie Rules as the Lions played a sequence of 19 ‘exhibition’ matches. Among the nine British victories were wins over Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval, another venue at which he had played cricket earlier in the year, and a return to the Melbourne Cricket Ground to meet Carlton in front of a crowd of 20,000.
Tragedy struck the tour on 15 August when the skipper, Seddon, drowned on the Hunter River while sculling. The tourists were still due to return to New Zealand for a second stint of matches and Stoddart took over the captaincy duties.
He made a fine fist of it, too. He had to lead his side into action a mere three days after Seddon had died and they retained their unbeaten record in Australia over the next six games.
Stoddart featured in five of those and then played in all 10 on the return to New Zealand. The tourists immediately gained revenge over Auckland on their return with a 3-0 victory that avenged their 4-0 defeat in the final fixture of the nine they played on the first leg of their epic tour.
The final game was played in the North Island on October 3 and ended up as a 1-1 draw against Wanganui. The team finally arrived back in Britain on November 11 – eight months after they had departed.
Yet for Stoddart, the two tours, cricket and rugby, had kept him away from home for more than a year.
Stoddart the rugby player
Stoddart learned his rugby at the Reverend Oliver’s School, in St John’s Wood, London after his family moved south. It was a tough learning environment and it stood him in good stead because, after turning out for Harlequins, he moved on to Blackheath.
He made 114 appearances for Blackheath between 1883 and 1891 and captained the club between 1889 and 1891. The first of his 10 England caps came against Wales in Swansea in 1885, which was won by five tries to two, and he led his country for the first time against the Welsh at Dewsbury in 1890.
His final cap came in a defeat against the Scots at Leeds in 1893. He scored two tries, a conversion and a goal from a mark during his 10-cap career, winning seven and drawing one.
His 73 points on the 1888 Lions tour made him the top scorer and that tally included 20 tries. Equally at home anywhere in the back division, he was described as "the prettiest and most graceful three-quarter of the day" in the 1886 Football Annual.
The 1888 tour party ended with a record of having Played 35, Won 27, Drawn 6, Lost 2. Significantly, Stoddart missed both defeats in New Zealand and was absent from two of the six drawn games, leaving him with a tour record of having Played 28, Won 23, Drawn 5.
Quick of thought and deed, and blessed with excellent hands, Stoddart was also a great kicker. In fact, it was a memorable drop-kick of his against a gale of wind that, giving Middlesex victory over Yorkshire by a goal to four tries, led to the rules of the game being altered. At that time a goal counted more than any number of tries.
Stoddart the cricketer
Stoddart scored almost 17,000 runs in a first-class career that lasted from 1885-1900. He finished four short of 1,000 Test runs and had a highest score of 173 for England among two centuries.
Among his many batting feats was scoring a world record 485 runs in a day in 1886 and he notched an incredible 790 in three innings in the space of that week. He played 309 first-class matches for Hampstead and Middlesex, was one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1893.
He toured Australia four times and captained England on two occasions there, famously bringing back the Ashes in 1894/95. That led the satirical magazine Punch to celebrate the success with a poem which contained the lines –
Then wrote the queen of England
Whose hand is blessed by God
I must do something handsome
For my dear victorious Stod.
Unfortunately, despite his tremendous achievements in both sports, Stoddart’s life ended tragically when he committed suicide in 1915 at the age of 52.