- Born 18 March 1849 Edinburgh, Scotland
- Died 12 September 1902 Blackhall Castle, Banchory, Kincardineshire, (Now Aberdeenshire) Scotland
- Educated Royal High School, Edinburgh
- Occupation Merchant
- Debut 2, 3, 4 September 1869 v United South of England XI at Rathmines
- Cap Number 136
- Style Right-hand bat; slow round arm bowler, occasional wicket keeper.
- Teams NICC, Gentlemen of Scotland, Scotland, Gentlemen of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Newcastle-Upon - Tyne, Northumberland, Gentlemen of Hampshire, Orleans Club, Gentlemen of England, South of England, MCC
John Russel was a good upper order batsman, who often opened the innings. His Wisden Obituary described his style of play thus: "He was an excellent batsman when at his best. His style was not attractive, but his on drives were hard and all along the ground, and his late cuts sharp and well timed." He was also described as having "excelled at point." Though he was educated at Edinburgh's famous Royal high School, then in its iconic building on Calton Hill overloooking much of the city, he first came to cricketing prominence in Ireland, appearing with some success for NICC between 1868 and 1873, often opening the batting.
Other evidence suggests that the family were living in Belfast at this time, a fact evidently lost on Wisden which, again in its obituary notice, when commenting on his appearance at Lord's for North against MCC in 1870, remarked, "what qualification he possessed to appear on the side of the former is hard to understand." The visitors won the match by 9 wickets with John, who had been dismissed for 9 in the first innings, batting at 3, making the winning hit, a single, in the second.
His one appearance for Ireland also came during his Ormeau sojourn, against the United South of England XI at Rathmines in September 1869. Fielding 22, Ireland were heavily outclassed by the visitors, being dismissed for 83 in the first innings, John, batting at 5 was bowled by James Southerton, later to become the oldest ever England Test debutant and the first Test cricketer to die, for a duck. At least he was in good company, with six other batsmen also failing to score. He did marginally better in the second innings, managing one run, but this was far from enough to help Ireland avoid a five wickets defeat.
After 1873, however, John's cricket was confined to England and Scotland though he did play twice for MCC against Ireland at Lord's without much success. He became a prolific batsman in minor cricket making almost 300 appearances in matches of which scores have been seen in a career which spanned four decades. By occupation he was a merchant in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but either he had some very able assistants or his business was sadly neglected for he was as likely to be found playing for the Gentlemen of Hampshire at Southampton or the Gentlemen of Scotland in Aberdeen, as sitting in his Tyneside office. Perhaps he had little need to work. In the 1891 Census, the only one, incidentally, in which it has been possible to locate him, he is describes as "living off his own means."
The vast majority of his cricket was spent playing in club matches for MCC, for whom he often scored prolifically. His highest traceable score was 168 made against Hampstead at Lord's in 1879 when, opening the batting, he led the way in a score of 413. Hampstead collapsed twice leaving their hosts victorious by an innings. In his next match, for MCC against Burghley Park, John, again going in first, made 88. The big hundred against Hampstead was by no means his only three figure score, for example the previous year, he had posted 108 for MCC against Highgate School, before being stumped.
Further in 1877 for MCC against Clapton CC at Clapton, he made 79 in the first innings and 113 in the second, being involved in his second effort in a big stand with Tom Hearne, nephew of Frank Hearne who played one match for Ireland in 1883 as well as appearing for both England and South Africa in Tests. He played several matches for Newcastle, including one against the 1880 Australians. The hosts found the bowling of the great Fred Spofforth too much for them in their first innings but in the second put up stiff resistance, totalling 202 and just managing to avoid defeat. Opening the batting John made 31, before being caught off Spofforth by the mighty hitter George Bonnoer, having shared in a first wicket stand of 61.
He also played a number of matches for Northumberland - in the days before the formation of the present county club. Most of these were against Cumberland, John's best score being 66 at Newcastle in 1875 when he shared in a second wicket stand of 124 with fellow Scot Alex Guild, setting up an innings victory. His Scottish cricket was mostly confined to matches for scratch sides such as the Gentlemen of Edinburgh against the English professional XIs. Neither he nor his team-mates had much success in these encounters though against the All England XI at Raeburn Place in 1876 he had 19 in each innings of a low scoring match. He did, however, play for Scotland against MCC at Lord's in 1880, but, making 7 and 0, did not live up to his reputation.
In many of his MCC matches and also in games for sides such as Free Foresters, he was accompanied by his younger brother Patrick (1857-1917), who was a useful batsman but not quite of John's standard. John also played in a number of first class matches over the years, making 7 fifties besides some other good scores, for example topscoring with 33 in MCC's first innings against the powerful Yorkshire attack at Lord's in 1884. His best match had, however, come two seasons earlier when he made 56 and 83 for MCC against Somerset, easily top scorer on both occasions.
He played his last match, of which we have a record, in 1897. He had been batting down the order in recent years but now, opening for MCC against Eastbourne at The Saffrons, defying the bowling among others of Arthur Conan Doyle, he made 46, helping set up an innings victory. We might mention here that both men had often played in the company of professionals Frank Shacklock and William Mycroft, whose names Doyle was to use - one slightly adapted - in other circumstances!
1897 also saw John almost become Secretary of MCC following the retirement of the long serving Henry Perkins. He was not he choice of the Committee but appears to have had considerable support. However he was prevailed upon to stand down before the need for an election arose. The post went instead to Frederick Lacey who held it for 28 years, retiring with a knighthood.
John Sommerville Russel died in his native Scotland in the now demolished Scottish baronial Blackhall Castle at Banochry in the North East of the country.
His obituary is in Wisden 1903