- Born 8 June 1862, Hobart, Tasmania
- Died 10 October 1892, Sand Islands, Pescadores, Formosa (Taiwan)
- Educated Harrow School; Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Berkshire
- Occupation Army Officer.
- Debut 14 July 1887 v Canada at Rathmines
- Cap Number 189
- Style Right-hand bat, right arm medium pace.
- Teams Surrey, MCC, I Zingari, Gentlemen of England, 8th King's Regiment, Cork County, Phoenix, Na Shuler, NICC, Military of Ireland, Scarborough Yorkshire, Gentlemen Hong Kong
John Dunn was an outstanding batsman, "the best bat in the army," according to his Wisden obituary. His feats in Irish cricket have attained almost legendary status. When added to his tragic and dramatic death, they make his story one of the most remarkable on this site. Every effort has been made to retain factual accuracy. Though this has meant questioning a long held 'record' attributed to him, his career remains one of the most outstanding in Ireland's cricket history. Born in Tasmania, he came to England with his parents to attend Harrow. Here he scored heavily, being in the XI in 1879 and 1880, though he did not achieve much in either year against Eton. Later in 1880 he entered Royal Military College Sandhurst, and began not only his, somewhat ordinary, military career but also his extraordinary cricket one. A heavily built man who hit the ball with immense power, he was, nevertheless a stylist, quick on his feet, whose play was greatly admired by his peers. Contemporary accounts also show him to have been a brilliant field.
His performances for Sandhurst gained him four matches for Surrey in 1881, but neither in these, nor in his other appearances at this level, did he do himself justice. It is tempting to dismiss him as a 'flat track bully,' but so dominant was he in other matches, that his low scores in the first class game can possibly be explained by ill luck, simply happening to come at this time. His best first class match was his debut, against Kent at Maidstone, when he made 38* at number 7 in the second innings, helping WW Read (160) set up a big win. Two matches later, v Sussex at Hove he made 17 at 5 in the first innings, putting on 58 for the third wicket with his captain J Shuter. That apart however, he did little, finishing his introduction to the first class game with two ducks for MCC the following summer.
By 1883, a Lieutenant in the 8th King's Regiment, he was in Ireland, based in Cork. Runs flowed from his bat, not only on the usually placid Mardyke wicket, but around the county, where the wickets were sometimes less than reliable. Records available that season show him as having hit 5 centuries, including a highest 199 for his regiment against Queen's College, forerunner of University College Cork. The season also began the beginning of his association with Cork County, for whom he scored a typically brilliant 124 v Irish College Rovers.
He had a remarkable week for Cork County the following summer. In July, the County toured Dublin and were heavily defeated by Leinster at Observatory Lane. The Rathmines men came to The Mardyke a fortnight later amidst general speculation that the County batsmen would be unable to make any sort of show against their bowling. Instead the hosts emerged victorious by an innings and 163 runs. This was, to quote the local journal 'The Sportsman,' "A result which is mainly due to the brilliant performance of Lieutenant Dunn, who, after five hours play put up 201 in brilliant style." He hit 1 six, three fives and eleven 4s. Dominic Cronin (50) also batted well enabling the County to total 338. Hugh Dawson, a left arm medium pacer, then bowled the visitors out twice to record an enjoyable revenge, Later in the week, Na Shuler were the visitors and Dunn was again in top form. This time the County, who won the toss and batted on a good wicket in fine weather, lost two early wickets before the Lieutenant came to the wicket, He began cautiously but then dominated the bowling. "He hit freely and put together the respectable total of 197." The next highest score was Cronin's 38! The hosts reached 312, and then bowled the Shulers out twice to win by an innings and 116 runs. Dawson was again the leading wicket taker, but Dunn, whose bowling was often under used, took 4 in the first innings.
1885 was the first of his two remarkable years. He totalled 2264 runs with 10 centuries, the highest being 225* for The Military of Ireland v The Civilians of Dublin. He also made a double for Na Shuler against W Hone's XI, and for good measure 188* for his own XI against one raised by a Captain Daniels, presumably an inter-military match.
These figures were to pale beside those achieved the following summer. That year he scored 2968 runs at 65.43, including 14 hundreds. Both of these remain records for an Irish season, and it is difficult to see how they can ever be surpassed. He also missed three weeks matches early and late in the season, due to military duties in Belfast, this being the year of the notorious Home Rule riots. It has to be said, however, that when the worst of the disturbances were taking place in early June, he was playing cricket in College Park, none too successfully, for once in that month. When he was not batting, he was bowling as he also took 81 wickets. His figures are all the more remarkable, when it is realised that he started the season slowly, playing only 5 matches in May, scoring only 121 runs in total. He twice hit two hundreds in successive matches, and came near to a hundred in each innings with 92 and 178 for The Dublin Garrison v LA Shuter's XI, according to the periodical Cricket. Leonard Shuter was a well known amateur cricketer in England, whose uncle had captained Surrey, when Dunnhad played for the County. Dunn seemingly played first against and then for, his side in successive matches: scores of these matches have not been seen, and it seems more likely to this writer that LA Shuter is a misprint for Na Shuler for whom Dunn did not otherwise play that season.
Clarification on this point would be welcome. He made two other scores of over 170: 173 for The Military of Ireland v Dublin University, and then, during a further spell in Belfast, when military duties cannot have been too arduous, 173* for the Belfast Garrison v NICC. The Ormeau side immediately enlisted him to play against arch rivals Ulster, but he 'failed' making a mere 44. He finished the season with 119 v Great Southern and Western Railway. He must have been disappointed that the 'shunters and tooters,' not exactly top class opposition, got him out only 32 short of his 3000 for the season. The missing matches probably cost him the chance of passing the 3067 runs scored by AE Stoddart that season: "Stoddy" against stronger opposition, of course, needed 60 innings. Dunn reeled off two further centuries of which this writer has seen record the following summer: 139 for Dublin Garrison v The Curragh, but he also hit 111 for the Military of Ireland v I Zingari, rather sterner opposition.
This season also saw his Irish debut v Gentlemen of Canada at Rathmines. Ireland put out what was seen as being possibly their best ever team. Dunn came in at 6, after Ireland had won the toss. He top scored with 67, starting cautiously, but making his runs out of 91 added while he was in, playing what Derek Scott has described as, "A hard hitting innings with only one chance." When he was out, Jack Hynes and Drummond Hamilton, arguably the best ever numbers 9 and 10, to play for Ireland took the score past 300, The pace of Dunn's fellow debutant David Emerson was then too much for the visitors. An additional, single innings was played which Canada won by 5 wickets. This time at 4, Dunn made a brisk 20, before the hosts collapsed.
One mystery about his time in Ireland remains. It has often been stated that he scored six centuries in a week. Jack Meldon explained to Pat Hone that this was done by hitting a hundred in the morning in Phoenix Park, on the Garrison ground, then getting a private soldier to field for him, nipping up the road to Phoenix to score another in the afternoon. There seem to be several problems with this account. Meldon would, depending on when the alleged feat took place, have been a schoolboy at either Tulabeg or Clongowes, so would only have been acting on hearsay, further other of his memories recounted by Hone do not stand the test of hard fact. For events to have occurred as he related would have required either a great deal of luck in matters of Dunn's teams winning the toss and either batting or fielding to suit his requirements; or complicity between him and the four captains involved. This seems rather unlikely.
The next problem arises as to when the events took place. He was not playing regularly in Dublin until 1885, his recorded hundreds that season, do not match the necessary six in one week. The chronology of 1886, which with other details follows this article, shows that no such event took place that year. It is, of course, possible, that some centuries went unrecorded but such a performance, unless the opposition was mediocre indeed, would surely have been noticed in 'Cricket' and 'Lillywhite'. Only two hundreds are to shown to his credit in 1887, but again six in a week would hardly have been missed. We would be most happy to receive any information which can establish, beyond doubt, that he did indeed score the six missing hundreds. He would certainly have been capable of it.
By the 1888 season he was back in England, seemingly stationed at Aldershot. In May and June this insatiable batsman knocked up a further six centuries, not the writer hastens to add, all scored in a week! The highest was 182 for Aldershot Division v The Staff College, though he also made 168 for them against the Royal Artillery. At the end of the summer he was given leave to join the Irish tour of North America. As is related elsewhere in these biographies, this team was composed mainly of recent Dublin University players, one of whom, Walter Johnston, was also a serving soldier. The most successful player, with both bat and ball, was Hynes who had organised the tour, though Cronin was elected captain on the outward voyage. Dunn, though not scoring the runs that Hynes did, was one of the successes of the tour. He did not have things all his own way in Canada, doing little in the two representative matches but he top scored with 77 in the second inning of the non cap match v XVI of Hamilton.
Crossing to the USA, facing sterner opposition, he found his true form. In the first Philadelphia match, which Ireland lost by 7 runs in a thrilling finish, he came in at 3 in the second innings. Ireland, needing 127, were 7-1. Wickets fell at the other end, but Dunn went for the bowling in brilliant fashion. He had reached 42, when Henry Brown, a leading US cricketer and administrator whose sons also played for their country, bowled him with a full toss to make the score 55-5. Despite heroic resistance, the task proved just too much after he was out.
The team then travelled to Staten Island to take on a powerful All New York side which included two English professionals, the Nottinghamshire born Henry Tyres and John Grundy of Warwickshire, son of the well known "Jemmy", who played for Ireland v MCC in 1862, as well as former Test cricketer Charles Absolom and Irishman JH Lambkin, for many years a stalwart of Cork County cricket. The wicket was the best of the tour, which Ireland took full advantage of by scoring 328, after winning the toss. This was largely due to Dunn who, after his usual cautious start hit powerfully, and, escaping being caught by Tyers off Grundy reached his hundred - the second for Ireland - in around 2 hours. He finished on 126, adding 162 for the 4th wicket with Daniel Gilman, which was to remain a record until surpassed by Ivan Anderson and Alec O'Riordan in 1976. Ireland went on to win by 9 wickets.
The second Philadelphia match ended in a 39 run win for the Americans, again in the dying minutes of the game. This match, as was the one with Longwood, was a 12-a-side affair, though caps were awarded. It will, therefore not be found in the player statistics on this site, but the scorecard and report can be accessed by clicking the link on the Stats Zone page. Dunn was again in great form with 61 - top score, in the second innings. Derek Scott, basing his account on research in contemporary newspapers, has written, "His hitting was splendid, and his batting was some of the best seen in Philadelphia." 1889 was Dunn's final season in English cricket. He marked it with 3 hundreds in Yorkshire cricket, now being stationed at Scarborough. His best score was 193*, his highest outside Ireland, of which record has been found. He also made a final first class appearance for MCC, failing again at this level and also played for the premier club against Cheshire and Glamorgan, the latter still over 30 years away from first class status. He failed in the Cheshire match but batting at 3 made 90 in the first innings against the Welshmen. There was only one other double figure score, 30 by the hosts' veteran captain, the Scotsman JS Russel, who had played once for Ireland, in an odds match, in 1869. Dunn made only 3 in the second knock, but his team was victorious by 103 runs. He must have been disappointed at missing a hundred at Lord's; he was never to have another chance. Promoted captain, and now in the Army Service Corps, he was transferred to Hong Kong.
He took Far Eastern cricket by storm, being far too good for most of the local opposition. According to Barclays World of Cricket he "scored nearly three thousand runs in a season." Runs certainly abounded and he quickly gained the sobriquet of "The Grace of The East, The most important matches were those in the interport tournament between Hong Kong and Shanghai, a mere 800 miles apart! The HK players also sailed to Singapore to play the Straits Settlements. In the latter fixture in February 1890, at The Padang, Singapore, a ground used for ODIs in 1996, Dunn was one of only two visiting batsmen to reach double figures in either innings. His second innings 40, out of a total of 75 being easily the HK top score of the match.
The first interport match of 1892, was played at Hong Kong in excessively hot February weather. HK won by an innings, hustling their opponents out for 163 and 134 in reply to their 429. That innings was dominated by Dunn's 107, during he was missed three times but, "batted brilliantly to score the first interport century." (Peter Hall 150 Years of Cricket in Hong Kong"). The return match was held in Shanghai in October. It was to be the last game of cricket that Dunn and eight of his team- mates would ever play. They travelled in the P&O steamer 'Bokhara' already somewhat notorious for having hit a rock off Hong Kong on her maiden voyage 19 years earlier. 'Bokhara' had also served on the England Australia route and, as such, had played a part in the developing romance between Hon Ivo Bligh and Florence Morphy, thus helping to create the Ashes legend. The match was won by Shanghai by 157 runs. Dunn failed twice, dropped a catch, and was generally unwell. He was later said to have been suffering from astigmatism.
Bokhara left Shanghai on 9 October. She was soon in heavy seas, which had been expected because of the North Eastern Monsoon. However, on the second day, the weather grew worse and a typhoon developed. The ship was driven towards the northern coast of Formosa (Taiwan). Waves smashed the lifeboats or swept them overboard. The ship was totally out of control, but the captain tried to calm the seas by ordering oil to be pumped out. However more massive waves flooded the engine room. Then around midnight on 10 October, the ship struck a reef, twice, on Sand Island, Pescadores Islands. The second strike ripped away the side, Bokhara sinking in two minutes, in 60 feet of water. 125 were drowned, including Dunn. There were only 23 survivors, 2 of whom were passengers. They were both cricketers, Dr JA Lowson and Lieutenant Markham of the Shropshire Light Infantry. The survivors were rescued by local fishermen. Lowson, whose account of the disaster has formed the basis for all subsequent ones, and Marham both testified to the great courage and exemplary behaviour of the captain and crew. Lowson's health suffered badly, he lost a lung, but remained in HK until 1898, still playing for the team when interport matches were resumed in 1897. With black humour, he was known as 'Wun Lung Lowson.' He later became a public health official in Scotland, where he died in 1935, Markham never fully recovered, dying in London in 1908. A memorial was erected on Sand Island, which still stands today, but cannot be visited as the island is a firing range for the Taiwanese Army. The Shanghai team paid for a stain glass window to the lost cricketers in St John's Cathedral, Hong Kong. It was removed to a secret hiding place just before the Japanese occupation in 1942. After liberation, those who had concealed it were no longer there to reveal its hiding place.
Thus one of the most prolific batsmen in Ireland's cricket history has no resting place but the storm tossed waters of the East China Sea and the Taiwan Straits. His memorials are lost or inaccessible. Hopefully, this article will do something to revive his memory. John Dunn's obituary, disgracefully short, is in Wisden 1893. His biography, where more justice is done, may be found in Scores and Biographies Vols XV and XVI. He is also profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald, 'Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats.'
Edward Liddle, December 2007