- Born 24 May 1858 Forthill, Co Armagh
- Died 17 March 1912 Dublin
- Educated Rathmines School; Dublin University
- Occupation Farmer
- Debut 23 August 1875 I Zingari at Vice Regal Ground, Phoenix Park
- Cap Number 155
- Style Right-hand bat, slow right arm
- Teams Dublin University, Phoenix, North of England, Summerhill, Co Meath, Na Shuler
David Trotter was the first great Dublin University batsman, the start of a line that stretched from him through Lucius Gwynn and George McVeagh, to Ed Joyce in our own times. Trotter stood upright at the crease, in a manner strongly resembling WG Grace, who was greatly impressed by his play. Strong wristed, he employed this attribute in his 'business stroke,' an on the up slash over point. He was also a useful bowler, though never getting on for Ireland, but, according to some - if not all - accounts, an indifferent field. Yet after a remarkable career at University, he faded. "At his best," wrote Siggins and Fitzgerald, "he was the star Irish batsman of the nineteenth century, but he only rarely showed his teenage brilliance after he came of age."
He had a sound cricket background. His father, a dispensary doctor, had his own ground, at Summerhill, developing a strong club side, where from his earliest days, David played, his brother also being involved. He went from Co Meath to Dublin's Rathmines School, always a fine nursery for Irish cricketers, numbering JH Nunn, JH Brunskill, and, in their early years, the Lambert brothers, amongst its alumni. In 1870, when only just past his 12th bithday, he made what was described by The Irish Times as " a fine innings of 109" for Summerhill 2nd XI against a team of boys from nearby Trim. It may be of interest to note that this was the age, in a somewhat similar type of match, that a certain Donald George Bradman was to first pass three figures some 50 years later. David's innings was, however, overshadowed by one from the slightly older RH Fowler, who rampaged his way to 186. Summerhill went on to win by an innings and 259 runs. David was only just 14 when he entered University, and, had not reached 16, in 1874, when he had a regular place, under the captaincy of future Irish 'keeper and Sydney based academic JF Adair, and finished high in the averages. Captain in 1877, he was in the XI until he left University the following year, though he continued to play for Past and Present XIs for some time to come.
In 1875 he made his first hundred for the University, 116 v Leinster. He also showed his talents on a sterner field by making a half century against the United South of England XI, led by WG. All told he scored 405 runs that season at 27 besides being the leading wicket taker. The following season, he again impressed against the USE XI, scoring 109, again greatly impressing Grace, who eventually obtained him an invitation to play for North v South, one of the main matches of the English season, in 1877 at Princes Ground in Chelsea, in London. The ground has long since been built over, though painstaking detective work by historian / statistician Robert Brooke, has unearthed its exact whereabouts.
The North were overwhelmed in this match, with WG scoring 268 out of a total of 455 all out. Only three others reached double figures. David, arguably, saved his side from further slaughter by catching CF Buller off the slow round arm Yorkshireman David Eastwood for 1. Buller, brilliant batsman, was a frequent visitor to Ireland with IZ teams - and a heavy scorer - until scandal drove him from public life. He returned the favour in this match, twice catching Trotter of Grace. Having made only 9 in the first knock, David, played as an opener, did much better at his second attempt. His 33 was second top score, in a somewhat poor batting performance by the North. Back in Ireland, he had begun the season with 109 v Stoics, a wandering side composed of past members of University XIs. He then made the first double hundred for the Club, 234 v Phoenix. This was to be surpassed as the record by Jack Hynes' 244* v The Garrison in 1888, but the weakness of the military bowling suggests that Trotter's was the finer innings. It also was the lion's share of a record partnership, 362 for the second wicket with Frank Kempster, who made 128.
Leaving University after the 1878 season, in which he made another century, exactly 100, against the powerful Birkenhead Park side, he played on occasions for the Vice Regal XI and for Phoenix, for whom he hit a magnificent 207 against his former team mates. However his Irish performances never scaled these heights. In seventeen 11-a-side matches, spread over 13 years, he scored only 432 runs, with three fifties. He never made a century, and none of his 3 fifties were achieved after 188. In addition no fewer than 14 of his innings ended in single figure scores. The picture is bleaker if the 12-a-side cap match v MCC in Dublin in 1879, which will not be found in his statistics on this site, is considered. Here he was dismissed for 9 and 3.
The youngest player to appear for Ireland, until Eoin Morgan, whose record was then lost to Greg Thompson, 128 years later, Trotter began well enough. In only his third match, v I Zingari on the Phoenix Ground in 1878, he made an excellent first innings 63, at number 3, against a strong attack. This enabled Ireland to post a good total and win by 7 wickets.
The following season, he opened the batting, with his captain Nat Hone against MCC at Lord's. In many ways this match was somewhat farcical. MCC, neither for the first nor last time, badly underestimated Ireland's strength, for which The Times took them to task; further the weather conditions were atrocious, "Lord's," as Derek Scott's vivid account says, "was a quagmire." Taking advantage of a weak attack Hone and Trotter led off with a stand of 161, a record for Ireland until surpassed by Michael Rea and Stephen Warke putting on 224 v Wales in College Park in 1992.
Trotter made 77, The Times saying that he was "almost in the front rank" of batsmen. Ireland won by an innings even though Jack Nunn, 29* down the order, was the only other double figure scorer. Thereafter Trotter ran into a bad patch. He failed in the following match against Surrey, and, as we have seen, in the return match with MCC. He was a member of Nat Hone's team that toured North America at the end of the season, but failed with the bat in the cap matches v Philadelphia, something in which he was far from alone. He did score a century in an odds match in the USA and a fifty in Canada but did little else of note. His only respectable scores were in two non-cap odds matches. Against a Whitby XVI, he found his form, and had reached 50 before being run out. He was also at the wicket, on 21, when the stumps were pulled up in a draw with a Coburg XVIII. He did not play for Ireland again for four years.
He then, perhaps typically, reappeared in some style against IZ in Phoenix Park. This match was won fairly easily by the visitor's thanks mainly to a remarkable bowling performance by the England all rounder CT Studd. Operating at just over medium pace, he had 8-110 in the first innings and 6-66 in the second. David made a well-received 57 in the first knock, surviving a shaky start and a stumping chance. He drove Studd out of the ground, besides hitting two 4s and ten 3s but was unable to repeat this in the second innings. Studd was soon to leave England and spend his life as a missionary in The Congo and India, often working in terrible conditions and becoming very ill. However he never abandoned his cricket interest. His mission settlements had churches built exactly 22 yards long and he still had a few games of cricket. This writer's grandfather played against him in India in 1906, but wrote home, "He was bowled first ball and was very sad."
Trotter played only one more innings of note for Ireland: against the Philadelphian tourists in 1884. Batting at 6, he failed in the first innings, falling to the left armer WS Lowry, but in the second he made an undefeated 42, which was not free from fault, but, easily top score, was seen as "excellent."
He was not to play a major Ireland again though he continued to appear until 1890, and, as we have seen, was on form for the University Past and Present v Philadelphia in 1889. Why was he largely a failure at International level? It was certainly not from lack of ability or temperament, as his performances for the University against the Professional XIs show. He also was not exactly out of practice. His summers were full of cricket. If not playing for Phoenix, he was turning out for Na Shuler, Summerhill, Co Meath and a host of other sides, with runs flowing from his bat. His last recorded outing was on Lord Dunsany's ground in 1905. Perhaps the answer lies in the type of matches he was mostly playing in. He was seen less and less in Dublin cricket. In Meath and Shuler matches and the like, runs were easy to come by. He was also disinclined to practise. This fact, allied to a shortage of matches against top class bowling, was probably his undoing.
Patrick Hone recalled asking his father, "What did David do?" "Nothing," was the answer, "he was a Co Meath farmer."
Perhaps if he had at least done something in the way of playing more serious cricket, and organising good bowlers to practise against, he would be remembered as one of his country's truly great batsmen. As it is the claim in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica that he "was a batsman who would have found his place in any English County eleven," was probably true only in the 1870s when, as a marvellous young player, David North Trotter was in his pomp.
His obituary is in Wisden 1913 and his biography in Scores and Biographies Volume XIII*. He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats."
* The copy of S&B Vol XIII in the Library of Trinity College contains Trotter's own hand written corrections to the details contained therein. I am indebted to Gerard Siggins for bringing the Summerhill 2nd XI match of 1870 to my attention.
Edward Liddle, November 2007; updated October 2014