. . . of cricket and sailing: 1859

This 1859 Atlantic crossing sets the unusual scene for the first cricket tour to America. Following the cricketers’ experiences crossing the Atlantic, they vowed never to repeat such a tour due to the unpleasant passages caused by bad weather. So why is a cricket story published on ‘Sailing by’?

Many recreational sailors may also enjoy cricket, but the summer of 2020 was different. In July, we see the unusual spectacle of a cricket ground without spectators for the first test match, England vs. West Indies played in the UK under ‘Covid19 safe’ rules . . .

On their departure from Liverpool, we find 12 top English cricketers posing for photographer, TH Hennah on the ‘SS Nova Scotian’, 7 September 1859 as they embark on passage to America for their cricket tour. The team comprised Robert Carpenter, William Caffyn, Tom Lockyer, John Wisden (of Almanac fame), H. H. Stephenson, George Parr, James Grundy, Julius Caesar, Thomas Hayward, John Jackson, Alfred ‘Ducky’ Diver and John Lillywhite. The diligent historian Fred. Lillywhite kept the score and wrote the log.

England’s cricketers at Liverpool, prior to leaving for America, 1859 Photo: TH Hennah

The following extracts are from the ‘The English Cricketers’ Trip to Canada and the United States, 1859′ by Fred. Lillywhite and includes a detailed log of the outward and return passages as well as reports on the five successful games played. To find out more about the cricket, as well as the cricketers’ time at sea, browse the online version of the book.

After leaving Liverpool on Wednesday 7, September, the crew were all in fine spirits until a ‘heavy sea sprang up’:

At 4.15 the anchor was weighed, the sailors timing their labours to a popular and nautical ditty, and the good ship was then fairly on her way to Quebec. We soon arrived at the acknowledged starting point from England, where the firing of a gun announced the same. Passed the Isle of Man at 10.45, seventy-five miles distant from Liverpool, and all retired to rest ; the only one who had selected a spot for his future accommodation, in case it might be required, was John Lillywhite, and this was immediately behind the wheel. The morning of Thursday 8, September, was lovely. Most of the cricketers were on deck at six o’clock. The sea was calm with a fresh and favourable breeze. We were off the Irish coast, going at the rate of eleven knots an hour. At twelve o’clock we were distant from Liverpool 220 miles. At this period a heavy sea sprung up, with a head wind, which reduced our going from eleven to five knots. Stephenson, Caffyn, John Lillywhite and Jackson were not quite so comfortable as when on land, and were frequently evincing their arithmetical propensities, by casting up their accounts, the balancing of which they found to be a most troublesome and unpleasant operation.

Billy Caffryn, English cricketer

The weather did not improve and several of the cricketers were not a happy band of seafarers for several days, only five being unaffected by seasickness, until the winds abated and they were able to engage in deck games with the crew:

Among the Cricketers who could not get up at any time during the day, were John Lillywhite, Billy Caffyn, John ‘Foghorn’ Jackson, and HH Stephenson, and they were consequently visited, and the renowned fast bowler Jackson wished much for a ‘back door to Ollerton’ his residence in Nottinghamshire. Billy Caffyn “would not venture to leave England again, under any circumstances; if he did, he would forfeit £100; and could not understand however he was induced to ride over such waves, and see no land. Let me once get back to Reigate, (his residence), and no more water, in order to play Cricket Matches.” John Lillywhite was very ill but quiet in his berth, not being at all talkative; others were also bad, including James Grundy, John Lockyer and ‘Ducky’ Diver, who were seldom seen. Julius Caesar did not fancy himself so much in the capacity of a sailor as that of a cricketer.

Parr, Wisden, Hayward, Carpenter and Fred. Lillywhite were as being on shore. The latter was invariably on deck, from midnight till eight bells announced four o’clock, a.m. ; when, after partaking of a cup of coffee, either with the first or second mate, he retired to his berth until lunch time. The sea this night was breaking on the deck most fearfully, and for the first time one was reminded, “of a life on the ocean wave”. Diver played his part in his usual steady manner, “but was not quite at home,” expecting, and, in fact, rather wishing to be “bowled out.” Stephenson was “all abroad,” but, nevertheless, often paid a visit to “his bunk.” Wisden was a thorough sailor, enjoying both meals and his pipe of tobacco; he thought, even at his meals, that “the waves allowed too much for the break”. Singing was attempted but owing to the condition of the passengers, the concert was a failure. The chirping cricketers could neither lift up their heads nor their voices except in the most plaintive strain. All the worthy captain’s persuasion could not get a ditty, either from Grundy, Caffyn or Carpenter, who possessed the largest amount of vocal talent among the cricketers.

Saturday, 10 September was a fine morning, and many were visible that had not been seen since Thursday. Met this morning, one of the renowned party at half past eleven, a.m., who, for some unknown cause, had not been seen at the dinner table since Wednesday. We walked arm and arm by way of mutual support, for the ship was pitching most provokingly. In reply to my question, he said, ” he had not been at all poorly the evening before, but only went below for the purpose of arranging the contents of his chest.” Ah, you mean “stomach,” said I. He then remarked, that he thought I looked white, (my appearance resembling Lockyer’s colour in July,) but I expressed my fear that he was going to be ill again to which he replied, “do you think so?” and immediately retired to his berth, probably to complete the arrangements of the chest aforesaid.

We were this morning doing only six and a half knots, and up to this date Parr, Carpenter, Wisden, Caesar, and Fred. Liilywhite were always seated at the dinner table others nowhere to be found, only those who still occupied their unenviable seats on deck. Between one and two o’clock the gale abated, and some little time after the wind was more favourable, and the log found us going at nine knots, having done altogether 560 miles. During the day, all, with the exception of Stephenson, seemed pretty well recovered, so much so as to venture upon smoking. The captain, ever ready to serve or entertain us, introduced a game called ‘shuffle’ in which the captain, the engineer, the purser and co., played with us. The carpenter of the ship chalked the deck.

Cricket match between England and America, 1859
Fred Lillywhite, sports outfitter and cricketing entrepreneur

Unfortunately, following a most successful tour, the return passage was no better than the outward one and, in sight of the Mersey lights the ship ran aground. This led to the unanimous decision not to repeat a tour that involved an Atlantic crossing . . .

As we were in sight of the Liverpool lights we went aground, in attempting to come over the bar at the entrance of the Mersey, but fortunately that difficulty was soon surmounted by the energy of the captain, pilot, officers, and crew, and we landed on the wharf at Liverpool shortly before twelve o’clock, on Friday night, November 1, and three or four of the Cricketers were foremost in following the mailbags, and soon made their appearance at the George Hotel, after telegraphing to their respective families at home. Altogether, in round numbers, we travelled about 7,500 miles, from the 7th of September to November 1 – a little more than two months.

Although the whole of the Cricketers have abundant reason to be satisfied with their trip, both as regards the treatment they met with at the hands of their American brethren and the triumphant results of their several matches, not to mention their pecuniary remuneration, which was was “all they could expect”, it is a very great question whether some of their number could be persuaded again to undergo the suffering and inconvenience consequent upon such a voyage.