- Born 10 March 1851 Castle Dillon, Armagh
- Died 10 August 1929 Brislington House Somerset
- Educated Royal School, Armagh. Clifton College Bristol. Dublin University
- Occupation Army Officer
- Debut 4 September 1873 v I Zingari at Phoenix CC
- Cap Number 149
- Style Right hand bat. Occasional wicket keeper.
- Teams Armagh, Dublin University, NICC, Vice Regal Lodge, Gentlemen of the MCC, Gloucestershire
John Ker-Fox, he used the hyphenated version of his surname though not all of his family did, was a good upper order batsman, whose cricket career took second place to a distinguished military one. He was the second of three sons and third of the four children of William Edward Fox and Lady Emma Molyneux, widow of Sir George Molyneux , Sixth Baronet, of Castle Dillon, Armagh. Edward was a Quaker philanthropist, physician and surgeon who established a purpose built asylum for the insane at Brislington House near Bristol. The Foxes remained in control of the institution until they were forced to sell it in 1952, the various members of the family living in cottages on the estate.
John's father also became a doctor, he and Emma spending some time in Dublin where their eldest son, also William, was born. By the time of John's birth, the family lived at Castle Dillon, remaining there until Emma's son Sir Capel Molyneux came of age. They then moved to Bristol, where John and his brothers, who had briefly attended Armagh Royal School, were sent to Clifton College. Castle Dillon, however, had probably played a part in John's cricket education. It had an excellent wicket, visiting sides such as I Zingari often appearing there. William and John may well have played there, their half brother being a keen but moderate cricketer . The Fox brothers are, as we shall see, to be found playing in Armagh in what would have been the school holidays of 1868 and 1869. Their parents were, however residents in Bristol by the time of the 1871 census, Dr Fox being described as a non-practising physician.
William and John's team-mates included future England wicket keeper/ batsman EFS Tylecote, who captained the side in 1868, John's first year in the XI and JA Bush, later to keep wicket for Gloucestershire for many years. Bush, who was to become an England Rugby International, was also destined to be a close friend of WG, being indeed best man at the Doctor's wedding. Tylecote earlier in that season made 404 in an internal match for Modern v Classical, then the highest score made in any class of cricket. Clifton's wickets were clearly good, it was there also that the 13 year old AEJ Collins, in a junior House Match, made the still standing record 628* in 1899.
John's best score for the College in 1868 was 31* in the first innings of a two day match against Incogniti. However he made a duck in the second innings. In his second and final season he opened the batting without, it must be said, a great deal of success. He also played in the Rugby team alongside Bush. Photographs of both the XI and XY reveal a fresh faced, dark haired young man of around medium height. He and Bush later played Rugby together for the Clifton Club.
In the summer holidays of 1868 and 1869 John and William both played for Armagh, William making 23 in a win over Dungannon Royal School in the former year. In 1870, by which time he was regular member of the Dublin University 1st XI, having left Clifton in December 1869, John showed good form in two matches against NICC. In a two day match, at Ormeau, at the end of June, he opened the batting making 59 in the second innings, the game ending in a draw. The game was drawn but the hosts were not so lucky when they entertained NICC at The Mall at the end of the season. John led the way in a decent first innings score of 172, contributing a sound 45. NICC led by 32, but, with only 35 minutes batting time left, Armagh collapsed for 19 against the fast round arm of Charles Stelfox. Nevertheless John headed the batting with an average of 25.00, only one other batsman managing more than 15.
He played regularly for Dublin University from 1870 to 1873, apart from 1872, when he does not appear to have played for either the 1st or 2nd XIs. His achievements were not outstanding, a highest score of 42 in 1870 and a best average of 20.00 in 1873, but he was highly regarded, playing in the Past and Present sides against the English Professional XIs. However, in keeping with a number of his colleagues, he found the going hard in these matches, making 3 in each innings against the United South of England XI in 1870, falling to the wiles of Edgar Willsher in each innings.
In the summer holidays of 1872, he was back in Bristol, playing it would seem for the Clifton and West Gloucestershire clubs and doing enough to earn selection for the County for two matches on the Clifton College Close at the end of August. Unfortunately he did little in either match Against the powerful Nottinghamshire bowling attack, he came in at No 9 after EM and GF Grace had both scored hundreds, WG was terrorising bowlers elsewhere in the country. However John failed to capitalise on the brothers' work as did most of his team-mates, being stumped for 6. He did not bat in the second innings with the match finishing in a draw. Against Sussex, in a match which followed immediately on the Nottinghamshire game, he was not out 11 as the hosts collapsed and were forced to follow on. Promoted to No 3, he was dismissed for 0, though in a remarkable recovery, Gloucestershire won the match by 60 runs.
In 1873, he played several matches for NICC as he was also to do the following season. North had, in theory a strong batting side with Stelfox, William Vint and JS Russel, as well as John and FJ Fane, an Army officer and a good player, whose son FL Fane was to captain England 3 decades later. This array of talent was routed by the slow round arm of Oxford Blue Walter Hadow with only John (16) Fane (14) and A O'Rourke (10) reaching double figures. In the end the match was drawn and John found himself travelling south with the Zingaros to play against them for the Vice Regal side at the Vice Regal Ground. He kept wicket for the hosts who played 15 to the visitors' 12. Hadow was again to the fore with 9-15 in the first innings, including John for 0 as the XV collapsed for 30. He did rather better in the second innings, making 15 as the Vice Regal side totalled 124. However the visitors needed only 35 to win.
The Vice Regal match was followed immediately by one between Ireland and IZ which saw John play his one and only game for the country of his birth. It was a low scoring 12 a side encounter, which Ireland were very fortunate to win, owing almost everything to the round arm bowling of the Lord Lieutenant's chaplain, James Byrne who took 18 wickets in the match and a remarkable second innings 46 from Stelfox. Batting first Ireland were dismissed for 68., with Hadow taking 3-39 including the wicket of John, who opened the batting but was caught by the former Irish international Charles Coote for 9. The weakness of the hosts' batting is shown by the fact that this was the joint second top score - a distinction shared by the younger William Hone - to David Stokes' 18. The fast bowler William Law had 8-25. Thanks to Byrne the IZ lead was restricted to 45. At 3 this time, John failed again in the second innings, falling to Law for4, but Stelfox's hitting enabled Ireland to set the visitors107 to win. Byrne's excellence ensured that they finished 11 runs short.
John did not play for Ireland again, having embarked on a long and distinguished military career, as had William. Clearly Quakerism had, in this branch of the Fox family at least, run its course. John saw action in the Nile Campaign of 1884-85, taking part in the Battle of Tel-El - Kebir, when a much larger, and more heavily armed Egyptian force, was routed by a British and Indian army under Sir garnet Wolsey, John, a cavalry officer, being mentioned in despatches.
In both 1888 and 1889, back in England, he played a few matches for MCC without much success, his best score of which a record has been seen, being 18 run out against Northern Wanderers at Lord's in August 1888. He had opened the batting with the prolific John Russel. MCC won by an innings with the visitors no match for the bowling of the Australian born Jim Phillips, destined to be a highly regarded umpire- not afraid to call CB Fry for throwing- before emigrating to Canada to become a mining engineer. John also played against the Lyric Club in 1891, encountering another Australian, the great FR Spofforth. "The Demon" now living in England played some matches for Derbyshire. In this game be bowled John for 12.
The Boer War saw John back on active service, commanding the 15th Yeomanary Company. He became Sword Bearer to the City of London in 1907 but, when War broke out in 1914 did not let age prevent him again being on active service as a Major in the Royal Inniskillen Fusiliers.
He married Susanna Ramshay, the daughter of a Cumberland land agent in 1877, but several tragedies struck the union. They had five children, the first three of whom did not survive infancy.
John had returned to his ancestral home of Brislington House by the time of his death in 1929, Susanna having predeceased him. He left his estate of £956 to "The Public Good." Finally we may note that of the two great houses with which his life was associated, Brislington, now renamed Fox Manor has been converted into luxury flats but Castle Dillon currently lies vacant having been, among other uses, a retirement home. Sir Capel's cricket ground, where John Charles Ker- Fox may well have first seen and played cricket, has long since vanished.
NB: I am much obliged to the help received from the Royal School, Armagh and the Old Cheltonian Society. I am also indebted to Brian Weir's "Armagh Cricket Club.150 Not Out.
Edward Liddle, July 2013