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Spofforth, Frederick Robert (1853–1926)

by Christopher Morris

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Frederick Robert Spofforth (1853-1926), by Frederick S. D. Phillips, 1880

Frederick Robert Spofforth (1853-1926), by Frederick S. D. Phillips, 1880

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an21318255

Frederick Robert Spofforth (1853-1926), cricketer, was born on 9 September 1853 at Balmain, Sydney, son of Edward Spofforth, bank clerk, and his wife Anna, née McDonnell. After spending his childhood at Hokianga, New Zealand, he was educated in Sydney by Rev. John Pendrill and at Eglinton College; he then became a clerk in the Bank of New South Wales. Attracted to cricket as a boy in Glebe, at first he bowled fast under-arm but became a fast over-arm after watching G. Tarrant of the 1864 English touring team, and in 1873 he learned variations in pace from the English slow bowler J. Southerton. In 1871-72 he played for the Newtown Cricket Club, then for the Albert Cricket Club with W. L. Murdoch. In January 1874 he played for the New South Wales 18 against W. G. Grace's team; in December his performance in the intercolonial match in Melbourne gave New South Wales its first victory for seven years.

In 1877 Spofforth refused to play in the first Test against James Lillywhite's team because J. M. Blackham had been selected to keep wicket instead of Murdoch. He toured England with the Australian teams of 1878, 1880, 1882, 1884 and 1886, and sprang to fame when he took 10 wickets for 20 runs in Australia's one-day victory by nine wickets over a strong Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord's on 27 May 1878. In 1879 at Melbourne Spofforth took the first 'hat-trick' in a Test match and later twice obtained 3 wickets in 4 balls. In the Test at the Oval in 1882, England, needing 85 runs to win, reached 51 before the third wicket fell; but Spofforth declared 'This thing can be done', and Australia won by 7 runs: in a victory from which 'the Ashes' were derived, he had taken 14 wickets for 90 runs, 7 in each innings—a record that was not surpassed by an Australian in a Test match for ninety years.

In his eighteen Test matches Spofforth took 94 wickets at an average of 18.41 each, and in all first-class matches 1146 wickets for 13.55 apiece. On three of his five tours of England he took over 100 wickets and in 1884 he took 216, a feat only once surpassed by an Australian. Wiry-framed, he stood 6 ft 3 ins (191 cm) and weighed less than 12 stone (76 kg). He could make the ball whip from the pitch and possessed an uncanny control, not only of length, pace and direction but also over the amount of break. The 'demon' bowler's aquiline nose and 'Mephistophelian cast of countenance' combined with a right-handed 'catherine wheel' action, described as 'all legs, arms and nose', generated an intense air of hostility towards batsmen. He was almost unplayable on bad wickets. Although he once rode 400 miles (644 km) to play in a country match and clean bowled all 20 wickets, it was usually the great occasion which roused him to his greatest feats. Active and reliable in the field, he had a long throw and was capable of running 100 yards (91 m) in under 11 seconds. He could bat effectively and in 1885 going in last he top scored with 50 in a Test.

Spofforth played for New South Wales until 1885 when he went to Melbourne as manager of the Moonee Ponds branch of the National Bank of Australasia. On 23 September 1886 at the parish church of Breadsall, Derbyshire, England, he married Phillis Marsh Cadman, daughter of a wealthy tea merchant. They returned to Melbourne but in 1888 Spofforth settled in England as Midlands representative for the Star Tea Co., of which he later became managing director. In 1889 and 1890 he played occasionally for Derbyshire and thereafter for Hampstead Cricket Club for nearly a decade. He occasionally contributed to books and periodicals: some of his reminiscences appeared in Chats on the Cricket Field, edited by W. A. Bettesworth (London, 1910) and in The Memorial Biography of Dr. W. G. Grace, edited by Lord Hawke and others (London, 1919), and he wrote an introductory essay on bowling for Great Bowlers and Fielders: Their Methods at a Glance (London, 1906), by G. W. Beldam and C. B. Fry.

Hospitable, genial and an entertaining raconteur of 'tall stories', Spofforth acquired an intimate knowledge of horticulture and botany, competed in horticultural shows and planted Australian trees in his English grounds. He died on 4 June 1926 of chronic colitis at Ditton Hill Lodge, Long Ditton, Surrey, survived by two sons and two daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £164,000.

Select Bibliography

  • R. H. Lyttleton et al, Giants of the Game (Lond, 1899)
  • F. S. Ashley-Cooper, Cricket Highways and Byways (Lond, 1927)
  • N. Cardus, Days in the Sun (Lond, 1924)
  • G. F. McLeary, Cricket with the Kangaroo (Lond, 1950)
  • A. G. Moyes, A Century of Cricketers (Lond, 1950) and Australian Bowlers (Syd, 1953)
  • G. D. Martineau, They Made Cricket (Lond, 1956)
  • R. Barker, Ten Great Bowlers (Lond, 1967)
  • Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, 1927
  • Australasian, 8 Oct 1892
  • Punch (Melbourne), 5 Feb 1925.

Citation details

Christopher Morris, 'Spofforth, Frederick Robert (1853–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/spofforth-frederick-robert-4629/text7625, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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