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Alexander Chalmers (Alec) Bannerman (1854–1924)

by M. Z. Forbes

This article was published:

Alexander Chalmers (Alec) Bannerman is a minor entry in this article

Alec Bannerman, by Ane, 1878

Alec Bannerman, by Ane, 1878

State Library of Victoria, 49203275

Charles Bannerman (1851-1930), cricketer, was born on 3 July 1851 at Woolwich, Kent, England, son of William Bannerman and his wife Margaret, née Murphy. He became a professional player and member of the Warwick Cricket Club in Sydney and made his début for his colony in 1871 when he was in the team which played Victoria. William Caffyn, a former Surrey cricketer and then a New South Wales representative, coached the Warwick Club and succeeded in passing on some of his skill to young Charles. The rising star was later acknowledged by his coach to be 'the best bat I ever saw or coached in Australia', and James Lillywhite spoke of him as the best professional batsman in the world. With Nat Thompson, Bannerman opened the innings at Melbourne on 17 March 1877 when the Australian combined eleven met the English team captained by Lillywhite. This tour was the first to be played on level terms between the two countries and is regarded as the inauguration of the Test matches. To Bannerman went the honour of scoring the first century ever recorded in Test cricket. At the end of the first day he was not out 126 in a total of 166 for 6 wickets, and next day when he retired hurt his score of 165 was mainly responsible for Australia's victory by 45 runs. No one else on the side made more than 20 in either innings and Bannerman's performance firmly established his reputation. In appreciation a subscription was opened for a few of the outstanding players and Bannerman received nearly £100. He is also recorded as the first player in a Test to score a five, then conceded for hitting the ball over the pickets; this he did off Lillywhite in the second Test in 1877 at Melbourne. In 1878 he was in the first representative Australian side to visit England where he scored a total of 723 at an average of 24. His score of 133 at Leicester was the first century by an Australian in England. He made no other tours because of illness. He later coached in Melbourne, Sydney and New Zealand and also served as an efficient umpire.

The first of Australia's great batsmen, Charles Bannerman was a tall and brilliant right-hand attacking player, remarkably vigorous in forward play, and a master of most strokes on the off and the leg. According to a contemporary, he did not cut the ball very well and his batting was not pretty to watch. He never excelled as a bowler but was a great fieldsman. A few months before he died on 20 August 1930 he was at the Sydney Cricket Ground when Donald Bradman scored 452 not out in the Sheffield Shield match played against Queensland; the two great cricketers were photographed together, the one, as noted by Alban (Johnny) Moyes, being the scorer of Australia's first Test century and the other the player who made the most centuries. Bannerman was survived by his widow Mary Ann, née King, and two sons and three daughters. Three of the children were the issue of his first marriage to Ellen, née Neale.

Alexander Chalmers Bannerman (1854-1924), younger brother of Charles, was born on 21 March 1854 at Paddington, near Sydney. He became known as 'Little Alec', because he was so unlike his brother; he was 5 ft 5 ins (165 cm) in height and played in marked contrast to his brother's free style of batting. A splendid fieldsman, he was selected in 1878 for the first Australian tour. As a batsman he lacked aggression but excelled in defence and opened for New South Wales and Australia many times. He represented Australia in six tours of England and in all his Tests averaged 23.08 with 1108 runs in 50 innings. Wearisome to the spectators, he was a 'stonewaller' of extraordinary patience who wore out the bowlers. One example was at the second Test in 1891-92 in Sydney, when he helped J. J. Lyons, a pure hitter, to add 175 for the first wicket and after Lyons was dismissed for 134, proceeded to make a total of 91 in seven hours; this effort probably won the game for Australia.

In 1883 Alec made his highest Test score in Sydney when he compiled 94 runs. In his last visit to England in 1893 he scored 133 in the record total which his side made against Oxford and Cambridge Universities Past and Present. Although he made six centuries in first-class cricket, Bannerman was an alert and intensely serious player most noted for his defensive role; one such player in the side, it has been said, was enough. He was also a very fair medium round arm bowler. He followed the game almost until his death on 19 September 1924. He had married Mary Anne, née Merrifield; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • Conway's Australian Cricketers' Annual, 1876-77 (Melb, 1877)
  • New South Wales Cricket Assn, Year Book, 1924-25, 1930-31
  • P. C. Standing, Anglo-Australian Cricket 1862-1926 (Lond, 1926)
  • S. Smith, History of the Tests (Syd, 1946)
  • A. G. Moyes, Australian Batsmen (Syd, 1954)
  • A. G. Moyes, Australian Cricket: A History (Syd, 1959).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

M. Z. Forbes, 'Bannerman, Alexander Chalmers (Alec) (1854–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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