The British & Irish Lions reconnected their past with the present in a simple ceremony at the graveside of the original captain of the 1888 tourists, Robert Seddon, today.
A high profile Lions ensemble, including chairman Gerald Davies, tour manger Andy Irvine, CEO John Feehan and 2013 tour captain Sam Warburton, travelled from Newcastle to West Maitland to lay a wreath as a mark of respect to the unfortunate captain.
Seddon had led the Lions into their first game in Dunedin in April, 1888, and played in 21 rugby and 19 Victorian Rules matches, before tragically drowning on the River Hunter on 15 August in a sculling accident. He was buried the next day in his red, white and blue Lions jersey and has lain in West Maitland every since.
He was recently awarded a Lions number, No 11, and was visited by the 32nd Lions tour captain, Warburton, who gained Lions No 800 on his debut against Queensland Reds last weekend.
A public subscription raised money to erect a monument at his grave and for a tablet to be placed in the church in Maitland at which his funeral was staged. For the past 80 years the members at Maitland Rugby Club have tended the grave and their recent efforts have brought the site back to as good as new.
“This demonstrates the spirit of rugby. The lads from Maitland rugby club have done a wonderful job in maintaining this grave and it looks fantastic,” said Irvine
“From the Lions perspective we feel very humbled and honoured that they have done something like this for our first captain. Robert Seddon must be one of the most famous individuals of all time. We’ve had many glorious captains on tours since 1888, but to be the captain of the first Lions tour is very special indeed.”
Joining the Lins at the ceremony were the president of the Australian Rugby Union, David Crombie, the president of Maitland Rugby Club, Dan Lewer and the local MP, Tim Owen. Maitland is the second oldest rugby club in Australia, having been founded in 1877, and they had representatives at Seddon’s funeral and march to his burial 125 years ago..
“One of our ground keepers had done a lot of work with graves with his family, so he came in and gave it a good going over. It looks as good as new now,” said Matland rugby club president, Dan Lewer.
“He used a power hose to clean the monument, repainted all the lettering, painting the railings white and laid down new chippings. We do it every couple of years to make sure it is OK and whenever we get any visitors we make a bit of an effort.”
In an interview for a newspaper during the Australian leg of the tour Seddon rather shocked the locals by saying he didn’t feel the Aussie players were as tough as those the loins had met in New Zealand. That wasn’t, however, a view with which Warburton concurred.
“After the Queensland game last weekend I can’t agree with him there. It was one of the toughest games I’ve played in and exactly what we needed – it was a great game,” said the current Lions skipper, who was joined by England centre Manu Tuilagi on the visit.
“This is where it all started 125 years ago and we are all very grateful to have this opportunity to visit the grave of our first captain. I’m sure the next time the Lions come to Australia there will be other players who will visit him again.
“The grave is immaculate and looks like one of the best kept in the cemetery. As it belongs to the first Lions captain it is very nice of them to do that.”
The ARU president, David Crombie, was full of praise for the Maitland rugby community, who pulled out all the stops to prepare the grave for the Lions visit. They certainly did themselves, and their area, proud.
“For 125 years the Lions have shared a big connection with Australia. On that tour the Loins lost their leader. Our great game brings together people of all walks of life and there is no greater example of that than here today,” he said.
“The Maitland Rugby Club have helped to maintain this grave for 80 years. It is through the generosity of a country rugby club that they share a common bond with one of the greatest rugby institutions in the world.
“Rugby is all about looking after your mates. That’s exactly what the Maitland rugby club have been doing for the past 80 years – looking after a rugby mate.”