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Marsh, Jack (1874–1916)

by Bernard Whimpress

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Jack Marsh (c.1874-1916), Aboriginal cricketer, was born at Yulgilbar, in the Clarence River district, New South Wales, one of the Bunjdalung people. He possibly derived his surname from Francis Henry Marsh, whose property, Camira, was separated from Yulgilbar by the Richmond Range. Jack first made his mark as a professional runner. Influenced by the example of Charlie Samuels, he followed his elder brother Larry to Sydney in 1893. A sprinter and hurdler, Jack had a number of important wins and competed in Victoria and Queensland. Like a number of Aboriginal runners, however, he was exploited by his trainer and was suspended for 'running stiff' in Sydney in 1895.

Marsh began playing cricket in the Moore Park competition, then with South Sydney in 1897-98 and (following a merger) with the Sydney District Club. A right-arm, fast bowler, he famously clean bowled Victor Trumper for one in a colonial trial match in November 1900. Marsh was strongly supported by the Sydney club's secretary Alf Dent and was a brilliant performer in grade cricket, topping the bowling aggregates from 1901 to 1904, but became the victim of the hysteria over throwing that was then raging in both Australia and England. In his only full first-class season in 1900-01 he was leading the Australian bowling averages, with 21 wickets at 17.38 from three games, when Victorian umpire Bob Crockett no-balled him seventeen times for throwing in the first innings of his fourth match, against Victoria, in Sydney. This cast a cloud of suspicion over Marsh's subsequent career and enabled the selector Monty Noble to ignore frequent calls to pick him for subsequent interstate games.

At the centre of a controversial incident involving the English captain Archie MacLaren, Marsh was forced to withdraw from a match at Bathurst in 1902. Two years later he played against (Sir) Pelham Warner's visiting English team at Bathurst and took 5 for 55, bowling a mixture of pace and medium-paced off-cutters, but again his action was considered suspect. In later years Marsh possibly experimented with the googly and commentators such as the journalist J. C. Davis and player-writer Leslie Poidevin rated him in the same class as Australian bowlers Charles Turner and Frederick Spofforth and England's Sydney Barnes. In six matches for New South Wales in 1901-03 Marsh took 34 wickets at 21.47. Warren Bardsley wrote in his recollections that the reason Marsh had been 'kept . . . out of big cricket was his color'.

Poidevin described Marsh as 'a well set-up, perfectly built . . . man, with an ebony-black, smooth, clear shining skin and twinkling black eyes' who 'is quite good looking'. He was 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall. Photographs of the fashionably moustached athlete, dressed in a suit, supported Davis's description: 'he loved to be decked out well, not gaudily, but neatly and stylishly'. Marsh's cricket ended in Sydney in 1905. Next year he ran against Arthur Postle at a carnival organized by John Wren in Melbourne. Marsh joined Alexander's Hippodrome Company, touring the country in a sideshow, and then probably became an itinerant worker.

Gaoled for assault in Melbourne in 1909, he blamed drink for his behaviour. He died on 26 May 1916 at Orange, New South Wales, from injuries received when he was attacked outside the billiards saloon of the Royal Hotel. His two assailants were charged with manslaughter but acquitted. A documentary film about Marsh was produced in 1987.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Tatz, Obstacle Race (Syd, 1995)
  • The Oxford Companion to Australian Cricket (Melb, 1996)
  • B. Whimpress, Passport to Nowhere (Syd, 1999)
  • M. Bonnell, How Many More are Coming? (Syd, 2003)
  • P. Derriman, ‘Death in Orange’, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Jan 1985, ‘Good Weekend’, p 23.

Citation details

Bernard Whimpress, 'Marsh, Jack (1874–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marsh-jack-13080/text23661, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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