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Blackham, John McCarthy (1854–1932)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

John McCarthy Blackham (1854-1932), cricketer, was born on 11 May 1854 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, son of Frederick Kane Blackham, newsagent, and his wife Lucinda, née McCarthy. He became a clerk and worked in the Colonial Bank of Australasia for many years. At 15 he made his cricketing début in the second eleven of the Carlton Club where his elder brother Robert and later his younger brother Fred were members. Winning note as a batsman he joined the first eleven in 1870. In 1872 he played for the Victorian colts against the Melbourne Cricket Club and was discovered as a wicket-keeper by John Conway who persuaded him in 1874 to join the South Melbourne Club. From 1878 he played for the M.C.C. In 1874-95 he was keeper in the Victorian eleven in numerous intercolonial matches.

In the 'first' Test in Melbourne in March 1877 he was chosen as wicket-keeper but Frederick Spofforth refused to play because he claimed that only William Murdoch, who had not been included, could handle his bowling. However, Blackham caught three and stumped one of the English batsmen, and in a later match Spofforth relented when Blackham stood right up to the wickets and stumped the English batsman, Alfred Shaw, off the demon bowler. Altogether Blackham played in 35 of the first 39 Tests, 16 in England and 19 in Australia. In these matches he caught a total of 36 batsmen and stumped 24. He astonished players and crowds in England by dispensing with a long-stop and won 'universal admiration' for standing close to the stumps and taking every kind of ball with apparent ease. When W. G. Grace was asked to name the best wicket-keeper he had ever seen, he answered, 'Don't be silly, there has only been one—Jack Blackham'. Local enthusiasts proclaimed his wicket-keeping as 'simply perfection'. On occasions Blackham bowled and fielded at mid-off. He was also a reliable bat, unorthodox but stubborn and always well placed on the list of averages.

In 1893 Blackham was captain of the Australian eleven in England, but it was not his role; though 'coolness personified' at the wicket, he worried too much off the field. His hands were often damaged and after severe injury in February 1895 he withdrew from the Victorian eleven. Next season he played as wicket-keeper for the Melbourne Cricket Club, and topped its batting average in pennant matches, although critics claimed he was long past his prime. In February 1912 the Victorian Cricket Association arranged a benefit match and testimonial for Blackham. He regularly attended first-class matches in Melbourne and friends subscribed to send him to Tests in Sydney. To the last he was a fund of anecdote and reminiscence, always surrounded by friends and discussing cricket. When he died unmarried in Melbourne on 28 December 1932, his funeral service in St Paul's Cathedral was conducted by Canon Ernest Hughes, president of the Victorian Cricket Association; his obituary in the Argus was headed 'Prince of Wicket-Keepers'.

Select Bibliography

  • H. V. L. Stanton, The Australian Cricket Team of 1893 (Lond, 1894)
  • E. S. Bean, Test Cricket in England and Victoria (Melb, 1921)
  • H. S. Altham, A History of Cricket (Lond, 1926)
  • Australasian, 10, 24 Mar 1877, 22 Dec 1894, 2 Feb, 4, 11 May 1895
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Dec 1932.

Citation details

'Blackham, John McCarthy (1854–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blackham-john-mccarthy-3007/text4399, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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