This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990
Victor Thomas Trumper (1877-1915), cricketer, was born probably on 2 November 1877 in Sydney. He was probably a great-grandson of Charles Trumper, hatter, and his wife Jane, née Samson, who were married in London in 1834 and migrated to Sydney in the Resource in 1837. Victor's putative parents were Charles Thomas Trumper and his wife Louise, née Coghlan, who were married on 15 May 1883 at Ultimo with Primitive Methodist forms. Charles Thomas, a boot clicker, became a footwear manufacturer; he lived at Surry Hills and later at Paddington. He was sufficiently well-off to keep Victor at Crown Street Superior Public School until he passed the junior public examination in 1893. Victor became a junior clerk in the Treasury; in 1904, when a clerk in the Probate and Intestate Estates Office, he resigned from the public service.
Victor's juvenile cricket talent was happily cultivated in the streets of Surry Hills and, with the help of his father, in his backyard and the nearby Moore Park. Although described by Monty Noble, his schoolmate, as a 'short, spare, narrow-shouldered boy', Trumper excelled at batting, bowling and fielding. At 15 he played with the Carlton club and at 16 with the South Sydney club where he had the awe-inspiring advice and example of Syd Gregory. Playing for the New South Wales Juniors eighteen against Andrew Stoddart's England eleven on 22 December 1894, he disregarded a severe cold to score 67 runs, a final schoolboy triumph that led to selection for New South Wales against South Australia in January 1895. He scored 11 and 0, beginning inauspiciously a career with his home colony and State of 73 matches which produced 5823 runs at an average of 51.08, with 15 centuries and 29 half-centuries; a fast bowler, he took 33 wickets at 34.97: some highlights were 292 in a day against Tasmania, including a century before lunch, in 1898; 100 in 58 minutes against Victoria in 1906; and 201 against South Australia in 1913. He missed the 1908-09 season through illness. When Noble retired in December 1909, the New South Wales Cricket Association appointed Austin Diamond captain. Trumper favoured the previous practice of the captain being selected by the players and withdrew from the team for 1909-10. Appointed captain next season, he led the State 24 times for 15 wins, 4 draws and 5 losses.
Although he had won the Pattison Trophy with 674 runs in intercolonial games in 1898-99, Trumper was included late, as fourteenth man on reduced financial terms, in the 1899 team to tour England. Batting at number 6 in the second Test in June at Lord's, he made 135 not out. After becoming the first Australian to score 300 in England—against Sussex in July—he was admitted as a full member of the team. This tour began a Test career of 48 matches—including 8 against South Africa with 2 centuries—in which he totalled 3163 runs at 39.05: his figures against England were 2263 at 32.80, highest score 185 not out, with 6 centuries and 9 half-centuries. Scoring 11 centuries, he excelled in the 1902 tour when, described by Wisden as 'the best batsman in the world', he made 2570 at 48.49 in a season marked by such 'bad weather and wet wickets' that fires were needed in the dressing-rooms in the early months; opening in all matches, he became the first batsman to record a century before lunch in a Test—at Old Trafford on 24 July—and the first batsman to make two centuries in one match (of three days)—against Essex in July. On the way home in October he hit 218 against Transvaal in South Africa.
In the first Test against (Sir) Pelham Warner's England team in Sydney in December 1903 Trumper scored 185 not out in 230 minutes; next month in the second Test in Melbourne he opened on a sticky wicket and, with 74 out of a total of 122 in the first innings, was the last man out. In the 1903-04 Tests Trumper scored 574 runs at 63.78. During the 1905 tour of England he was handicapped by a torn back-muscle and was fifth in the averages. In the fourth Test against England in Melbourne in February 1908 he failed to score, his only 'pair' in any match. In his last tour in 1909 again he did not dominate the team, but contributed much to its success.
South Africa sent its first team to Australia for the 1910-11 season. Trumper conjured up his pristine form in the second Test in Melbourne, reaching 159 in 171 minutes; coming in at number 5 with the total at 111, he compiled 214 (not out) of a total of 465 in the Adelaide Test, won by the tourists: he headed the series averages with 661 at 94.43. Vice-captain, under Clem Hill, against the English tourists in 1911-12, Trumper became the first to score six centuries in Anglo-Australian Tests—in Sydney in December 1911; opening in what proved his final Test, he scored 50 in the second innings of the last Test in Sydney, 1912.
Together with Warwick Armstrong, Tibby Cotter, Vernon Ransford, Hanson Carter and Hill, Trumper resented the appointment of a manager by the new Australian Board of Control for International Cricket Matches and declined to join the 1912 Australian team to visit England. At the invitation of (Sir) Arthur Sims, a strong Australian side toured New Zealand in February-March 1914: batting at number 9 at Christchurch on 28 February, Trumper dazzled a large crowd with 293 runs in 178 minutes, and moved Viscount Cobham to write that his 'glory shone for one last moment with an unearthly brilliance'. Trumper's final game was for his club, Gordon, against Petersham at Chatswood Oval on 24 October 1914; tired and sick, he scored 4 runs.
Trumper's first-class batting figures are: 255 matches, 16,939 runs, highest score 300 not out, average 44.58; he made 42 centuries and 87 half-centuries; he took 172 catches, and 64 wickets at 31.73. Neville Cardus has tried to portray him: 'We can no more get an idea of Trumper's [winged] batmanship by looking at the averages and statistics than we can find the essential quality of a composition by Mozart by adding up the notes'. It is a sign of his unique place in a game which spawns statistics, assiduously audited, that he is above and beyond them.
Cricket was rooted in the cultural consciousness of the Australian nation as it was formed in the 1890s and established in 1901. Trumper starred at the Federation carnival in Sydney on 4 January that year in winning the ball-throwing contest with 120 yards 1 ft 6 ins (110.19 m): his fast, flat throw reflected his baseball skill and was a feature of his sweeping fielding. By then he was just under six feet (183 cm) tall, fair-complexioned, with grey-blue eyes, 'not too muscular and above all graceful and courtly'. His 335 in 180 minutes for Paddington at Redfern Oval on 31 January 1903 became part of the folk-lore of Sydney. Trumper was Australians' romantic figure in their belle époque, 1890-1914. He is cricket's supreme batting stylist, timeless and unassailable in his symmetry of artistry and elegance.
He played every stroke in the game with that peerless grace and timing that disguises power. Trumper perfected shots, such as leg drives off his pads and toes, that became part of the repertoire of all great batsmen after him. Some of his strokes have proved impossible for others, notably his leg glances with his left or right foot raised, and his 'yorker shot' which he forced square on either side, or, by rapid footwork, lofted over the bowler. C. B. Fry has tried to define his batting: 'He … played his strokes with a swing from the wrists which was not a flick, but rather, as it were a stroking effect'. Trumper's drives were similar to a master golfer's: high back lift, fluent arc and immaculate follow through. His square, back and late cuts, and leg deflections, were executed with precision and beauty of movement. A. A. Lilley, England's wicket-keeper, observed him closely many times and saw that 'his foot-work was perfection'. This gift was part of his computer-like ability to sight the direction, flight, length and pace of the ball quicker than any other batsman, and helps to explain his unrivalled skill on uneven, bumping, sticky and wet wickets. He played at a time when uncovered wickets restricted batsmen, as the contemporary statistics for both fast and slow bowlers show. Moreover, in England all first-class matches were of three days only. Thus, Trumper's triumph in the 1902 tour was sui generis; but, as Wisden observed in its obituary on him, he played that year as only a young man could. He never repeated that success, though he flashed golden glimpses of his prowess almost to the end.
Victor looked on life as one shining summer in which a man should score a quick century, then get out and give his mates a turn. A teetotaller, non-smoker, and an Anglican, on 7 June 1904 at St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Melbourne, he married Sarah Ann Briggs who was a sister-in-law of J. J. Kelly, Australia's wicket-keeper; she loved cricket, Victor was her beau idéal and she shared his happy-go-lucky disposition. Each enhanced the other's life. They lived with Victor's parents at Paddington, moving with them to Chatswood in 1909. Annie accompanied him on the 1905 tour of England. She did improve somewhat his chaotic way with clothes; but not with cricket bats which he treated cavalierly, discarding them often, disdaining rubber grips (and batting gloves), and scoring the binding of the handles with broken glass, the better to hold them high for his flowing strokemaking.
Business fitted into his dream of summer. In August 1904 he opened a sports store in Market Street with Carter; in 1909, with J. J. Giltinan and others, he formed a sports and mercery store in George Street (near Wynyard Station) and by 1912 turned it into Victor Trumper and Dodge Ltd. The restructuring matched Victor's precarious incompatibility with commerce. His repute, association with Giltinan and friendship with 'Dally' Messenger were important in the foundation of Rugby League in 1908; he was a fallible, and brief, treasurer of the league. Annie dabbled in business, too; her 1912-13 venture with Dudley King resulted in a debt of £1040 to E. C. Clifton being added to Victor's liabilities. His testimonial match, 7-11 February 1913, raised £2950 13s. 3d. which was wisely placed in a trust fund by the New South Wales Cricket Association. Thomas Houghton, an organizer of the event, sued for commission, alleging that Victor had told him, 'Don't worry; you'll get paid all right'; but he got no money and lost the case.
Trumper was generous and handsome, and, on the cricket field, often resplendent. But a delicate tinge always shadowed his grace. From at least 1908 the darkness gradually deepened. By late 1914 an insidious kidney disease began to take its final toll. By the first Anzac Day he was confined to bed. On 21 June he entered St Vincent's Hospital, to die there on 28 June 1915. Buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery, he was survived by his wife (d.1963), a 9-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son.
W. G. Grace, the 'Great Cricketer', died four months later. If, as K. S. Ranjitsinhji wrote, Grace turned cricket from 'an accomplishment into a science', then Trumper lifted it to a level of art beyond the reach of all but himself. And, in achieving this, he reworked the charter of cricket from a Victorian artefact into an Edwardian palimpsest, with spacious Australian flourishes all but replacing the English script.
In February 1917 administration of Trumper's intestate estate, valued at £5, was granted to E. C. Clifton. In January 1919, when interstate games recommenced after World War I, the Victorian team laid a wreath on Trumper's grave.
Bede Nairn, 'Trumper, Victor Thomas (1877–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trumper-victor-thomas-8862/text15557, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 6 December 2016.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990