Back to the start

As the Lions get set for their latest trip to Australia, we look back at the previous 11 tours Down Under, starting with the opening two adventures in the late 19th century. [more]

Back to the start

As the Lions get set for their latest trip to Australia, we look back at the previous 11 tours Down Under, starting with the opening two adventures in the late 19th century.

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.

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.

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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.

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 19 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.

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 in Oz.

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 Aussie 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 reportedly 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 also 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


The 1899 Lions may not have been the first to venture to Australia but they were pioneers in other ways.

The squad were the first to play a Test match against the Australians when they met in Sydney on June 24, their fourth game in 10 days at the start of their two-month tour.

They were also the first Lions squad to tour Australia on its own, with the 1888 Lions having visited Australia and New Zealand on one tour. It would be 90 years before another Lions squad would pay Australia the same compliment.

The Lions played 21 games on tour, including four Test matches, with the matches spread over nine-and-a-half weeks.

Australia came out on top in the first-ever Test between the two sides, comfortably winning 13-3, but the Lions hit back to claim a series victory.

The tourists won the next three Tests on the trot, comprehensively defeating their hosts in the second and fourth encounters in Brisbane and Sydney and winning the third by a single point.

They were, until Sir Ian McGeechan’s 1989 Lions, the only British and Irish tourists to win a Test series after losing the first rubber.

The biggest win of the tour came in the Lions’ final match before heading home, with the tourists beating Victoria 30-0 in Melbourne – just the second time the Lions had reached 30 points in 97 games.

A little bit of history

In the year that the Lions left for Australia, Queen Victoria was into her penultimate year on the throne; William McKinley was the President of the USA; the Second Boer War began; Alfred Hitchcock, Al Capone and Fred Astaire all entered the world; composer Edward Elgar published the Enigma Variations; the tape recorder, the lawn mower and Aspirin were all patented; the foundations for the Victoria and Albert Museum were laid; Robert Scott began his ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic and the cricketer WG Grace played his final Test match.

The Lions arrived in Australia eight years after the first attempt at an Australian federal constitution was drafted; five years after Waltzing Matilda was first sung in public and in the same year that the decision was made for the country’s capital to be in the state of New South Wales, but not within 100 miles of Sydney.

Did you know?

The Reverend Matthew Mullineux captained and managed the 1899 Lions but nobly stood down as skipper for the final three Tests following defeat in the first.

Mullineux remains the only Lions skipper not to have represented one of the four Home Unions.

A veteran of the 1896 tour to South Africa, Mullineux returned to that country after his second Lions adventure to act as a chaplain during the Second Boer War.

He would later win a Military Cross fighting the Germans in France while serving during the First World War.

Seeking publicity

Mullineux wrote to the leading newspapers in Australia detailing the make up of the Lions squad prior to the start of the tour in a bid to ensure the games were as well publicised as possible.

The tour manager gave brief descriptions of the capabilities and strengths of individual squad members in a move that seems completely alien to the modern-day game in which the players are world renowned stars.

Star performer

Gwyn Nicholls was the standout player on tour – a Gloucestershire native who played for Cardiff and Wales and was regarded by the Welsh as the finest three-quarter of his era.

Nicholls played in all bar two of the tour matches, scoring 11 tries and setting up many more.

The squad

Although still nowhere near the make up of recent Lions squads, the 1899 Lions included more capped internationals than the first side to visit Australia 11 years earlier.

There were a total of seven players who had already represented their countries in the party – two English, two Irish, two Scottish and one Welsh.

The squad was made up of 21 players – the same number as had toured Australia in 1888. But whereas the split on the first tour had been nine backs and 12 forwards, this time the party was made up of 10 backs and 11 forwards.

Full backs

E Martelli – Dublin University
CEK Thompson – Lancashire


AM Bucher – Edinburgh Academicals and Scotland
GP Doran – Landsdowne and Ireland
EG Nicholls – Cardiff and Wales
ET Nicholson – Birkenhead Park
AB Timms – Edinburgh University and Scotland


CY Adamson – Durham
G Cookson – Manchester
MM Mullineux  – Blackheath (captain)


A Ayre-Smith – Guy’s Hospital
FC Belson – Bath
GV Evers – Moseley
JS Francombe – Manchester
GR Gibson – Northern and England
HGS Gray – Scottish trialist
JW Jarman – Bristol
W Judkins – Coventry
TMW McGown – North of Ireland and Ireland
FM Stout – Gloucester and England
BI Swannell – Northampton

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