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George Giffen (1859–1927)

by Christopher Morris

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George Giffen (1859-1927), cricketer, was born on 27 March 1859 at Adelaide, son of Richard Giffen, carpenter, and his wife Elizabeth, née Challand. Coached as a boy by the Goodens, he played for the Norwood Club. In his first game for South Australia against East Melbourne in 1877 he made top score in each innings and for more than a decade virtually carried the South Australian side on his own shoulders. Against Victoria in 1891 he scored 237 and took 12 wickets for 192. In 1892 he made 271 (a score not surpassed for South Australia until Bradman did so in 1935) and took 16 for 166. For ten years against Victoria he averaged 138 with the bat and 11 wickets a match.

In Australia he made twelve centuries, including four over 200, and six times took eleven or more wickets in a match. In England he made another six centuries, coupling one of them with a hat-trick and another with 7 wickets for 11. In first-class cricket Giffen scored 12,501 runs at an average of 29 and took 1109 wickets at 21 runs each. He once took 17 wickets in a match and once 10 wickets in an innings; he also performed three hat-tricks. In his last match against Victoria in 1903 he made 81 and 97 not out and took 15 wickets for 185. He retired from first-class cricket in 1903 but in 1908 was induced to play once more for South Australia against the Fijians.

Giffen toured England in 1882, 1884, 1886, 1893 and 1896, declining the tours of 1888 and 1890. English conditions suited him a little less well than Australian but in 1886 he headed the side's averages both with bat and ball; in two weeks he captured 46 wickets at an average of 6.5 runs, almost certainly a record. In Tests he was the first to make over 1000 runs and to take over 100 wickets. As Australia's captain in 1894-95 he totalled 475 runs and 34 wickets. In 1898 his reminiscences, With bat and ball, were published in London. He worked in the Adelaide post office in 1882-1925, and died unmarried on 29 November 1927.

At his best Giffen had remarkable defensive powers. He scored mainly in front of the wicket since the fast Adelaide wicket encouraged driving. He bowled slow-medium off-breaks and his subtle changes of pace obtained many wickets caught-and-bowled through a slower dropping ball. His toll might have been higher if South Australia had played New South Wales a decade earlier and if in Test matches he had not coincided with such formidable bowlers as Frederick Spofforth, Charles Turner and Henry Boyle. With strong faith in his own bowling which sometimes proved expensive, Giffen could be cantankerous as a captain, but he was Australia's first great all-rounder.

A stand (now demolished) at the Adelaide Oval was named after him and a portrait of him is held in the pavilion.

Select Bibliography

  • R. H. Lyttleton et al, Giants of the Game (Lond, 1899)
  • H. S. Altham, A History of Cricket (Lond, 1926)
  • C. B. O'Reilly, South Australian Cricket 1880-1930 (Adel, 1930)
  • S. Smith, History of the Tests (Syd, 1946)
  • A. G. Moyes, A Century of Cricketers (Lond, 1950)
  • A. G. Moyes, Australian Bowlers (Syd, 1953)
  • A. G. Moyes, Australian Batsmen (Syd, 1954)
  • R. Binns, Cricket in Firelight (Lond, 1955).

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Citation details

Christopher Morris, 'Giffen, George (1859–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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