The Lions Down Under: 1888

With the 2013 Lions tour to Australia next on the agenda for Britain and Ireland's elite, we'll be taking a look back at the eight previous occasions the Lions have travelled Down Under. [more]

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With the 2013 Lions tour to Australia next on the agenda for Britain and Ireland’s elite, we’ll be taking a look back at the eight previous occasions the Lions have travelled Down Under.

First up are the 1888 tourists, the men who started one of the greatest traditions in world sport.

Pioneering Lions

The Lions first toured Australia 12 years before the turn of the 20th century – the second country they visited on their first-ever tour.

The 21-man squad, along with tour managers Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury, were away for nine months in total, with a third of that time spent in transit.

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Shaw and Shrewsbury were sporting entrepreneurs who specialised in cricket before turning their hand to rugby but they failed to receive the official backing of the Rugby Football Union, meaning many of the game’s best players refused to take part.

JP Clowes was then banned from participating in matches prior to the team’s arrival in the southern hemisphere after he was classed as a professional by the RFU for accepting £15 in expenses from the tour management.

The Lions left England on March 8 and played their first tour game in New Zealand seven weeks later. They then moved on to Australia at the end of May before returning to New Zealand at the beginning of September.

They played 35 games in total across the two countries, winning 27, drawing six and losing just two, but none of those games were Test matches.

Having played nine games in New Zealand between late April and late May, the pioneers took part in their first match on Australian soil against New South Wales in Sydney on June 2.

The Lions won that match 18-2, the first of a long list of impressive victories in Australia over a 13-week period.

The tourists left Australia unbeaten after 14 wins and two draws in their 16 games, before heading back to New Zealand for a further 10 games in five weeks.

A little bit of history

In the year that they departed on the Lions’ maiden voyage, Queen Victoria was still on the throne; Benjamin Harrison was elected President of the United States, the comedian Harpo Marx and playwright and poet TS Elliot took their first breathes; the Lawn Tennis Association and the Football League were founded; the first recorded film was made in Leeds; Jack The Ripper began his notorious killing spree and John Boyd Dunlop patented the pneumatic bicycle tyre.

The Lions arrived in Australia 100 years after the establishment of the first penal colony; 59 years after the entire country was declared a British colony; eight years after the outlaw Ned Kelly was hanged; five years after the opening of the Sydney to Melbourne Railway and a year after the first Ashes cricket match took place.

Did you know?

Rugby wasn’t the only sport the Lions played in 1888.

In addition to the 35 official tour games, the Lions also took part in a further 18 exhibition matches played under Australian Rules.

These games all took place in the state of Victoria and would today be known as Australian Rules Football or AFL – a sport that is markedly different to rugby union.

Remarkably, the Lions won six and drew one of these fixtures – an incredible feat considering most of the squad had no concept of Australian Rules prior to their arrival Down Under.

Star performers

Harry Eagles, a forward from Swinton and Lancashire, played in every single match on tour.

That means Eagles featured in 35 games between April 28 and October 3, and that doesn’t include any Australian Rules games he may have been involved in.

JT Haslam was widely regarded as the first man to introduce the dummy pass on the 1888 tour.


The tour was hit by tragedy with the death of Robert Seddon on August 15.

The tour captain drowned in a sculling accident on the Hunter River when his boat capsized and his feet apparently became stuck in the foot strappings.

Andrew Stoddart, who had been on tour in Australia with the England cricket team since September 1887, took over the captaincy after Seddon’s death but he also died in tragic circumstances some 27 years later.

Stoddart enjoyed an impressive cricket career and was the first captain of the Barbarians but he committed suicide in 1915.

The squad

The first Lions tour to Australia wasn’t truly representative in the same way that modern-day tours have become, but it did feature players from all four Home Unions.

The vast majority of the tour party were from England but there were some notable exceptions.

WH Thomas was the first Welshman to tour Australia and New Zealand; Angus Stuart was of Scottish descent; H Brooks and DJ Smith both attended Edinburgh University; the Burnett brothers played for Hawick; Arthur Paul was the only Irish-born member of the party and AP Penketh was from the Isle of Man.

Only four members of the touring squad had been capped by their countries before playing for the Lions.

Full backs

JT Haslam Yorkshire and Batley
A Paul Lancashire and Swinton


J Anderton Lancashire and Salford
H Brooks Durham and Edinburgh University
HC Speakman Cheshire and Runcorn
A Stoddart England (already in Australia with the England cricket team)


W Bumby Lancashire and Swinton
W Burnett Roxburgh County and Hawick
J Nolan Rochdale Hornets


T Banks Lancashire and Swinton
P Burnett Roxburgh County and Hawick
JP Clowes Yorkshire and Halifax
H Eagles Lancashire and Swinton
T Kent Lancashire and Salford
C Mathers Yorkshire and Bramley
AP Penketh Douglas, Isle of Man
RL Seddon Lancashire and Swinton (captain)
DJ Smith Corinthians and Edinburgh University
AJ Stuart Yorkshire and Dewsbury
WH Thomas Cambridge University and Wales
S Williams Lancashire and Salford

To view the full list of fixtures and results from the 1888 tour, simply click here

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