CricketEurope Irish Cricket History logo
Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Charles Lawrence
  • Born 16 December 1828, Hoxton, London
  • Died 20 December 1916, Canterbury, Melbourne, Victoria
  • Educated Village School in Merton, Surrey
  • Occupation Print Cutter, Professional Cricketer, Railway Employee, Hotelier
  • Debut 25 August 1856 Gentlemen of England at Phoenix CC, Phoenix Park
  • Cap Number 12
  • Style Right-hand bat; right arm fast round arm / slow medium / underarm; also reserve wicket keeper.
  • Teams Merton CC, Perth CC Scotland, Caledonian CC Glasgow, Phoenix Ireland, United Ireland XI, Players of Dublin Ireland, Middlesex, Surrey, HH Stephenson's England XI, Albert CC New South Wales, The World, Newcastle.

Charles Lawrence, a slightly built, bearded man of strong character, deserves to be remembered as one of the most remarkable and important figures in Cricket History. As a player he was very good, if not outstanding. His batting, often as an opener, but more suited to lower in the order, was sound but somewhat defensive. As a bowler, he had three styles. As a young man, he was a conspicuously successful fast round armer, with several spectacular feats to his credit, but could operate in a slower mode at around medium pace. In his later years, he returned to the accurate lobs he had bowled as a youth, which could wreak havoc amongst unwary batsmen.

He was also a capable reserve wicket keeper. His main contribution to the game, however, lay in his coaching and organisational skills. He, at the very least profoundly influenced the development of the game in both Ireland and Australia, and many historians would go farther than this. Thus former Australian off spinner, Ashley Mallett, in his book on the Aboriginal Tour of England in 1868, wrote, "He, more than any other person could claim the title of Father of Australian cricket." As Gerard Siggins and Jim Fitzgerald remark, "The same tribute could also be paid by Irish cricket".

In the fragmentary autobiography which Lawrence began in old age, but regrettably abandoned at the key part, he explains, without undue modesty, that he was a far superior cricketer to any of the boys whom he played with in Merton village, "I was regarded by my schoolmates as a wonderful cricketer." Local men often asked him to bowl to them. He idolised the great Fuller Pilch and, once, risking parental and educational retribution, walked over 12 miles to The Oval to see him bat. Alas, Pilch was out straight away. Later Lawrence played for Merton v Crayford, and with his friend Tom Sharman, who became a noted bowler for Surrey and coach at several public schools, bowled them out for about 70. A member of the opposition then got them drunk at the lunch interval, in an effort to lower Merton's colours.

Soon he found himself apprenticed to a print cutter, his father's trade, in Merton. Hating this, he absconded to join his parents in Scotland, where his father had become manager of a print works. Lawrence, who threatened to run away to sea if he was not allowed his way, was allowed to stay and play three months cricket in Perth, on the condition that in the winter, he returned south to complete his training.

He was to play for the Perth Club, when not undertaking hazardous journeys between there and London, for four years between 1847 and 1850, achieving particular success in their matches with the Grange CC at Edinburgh. In 6 matches up to 1850, he took 34 wickets, besides only once failing to reach a double figure score; he also kept wicket on occasions. He was also in demand for other clubs, and though Perth, who paid him travelling expenses, denied claims from The Grange that he was a professional, he decided that this, rather than printing or working as a railway, official, which was his main employment, was the career he wished to follow.

William Clarke's All England XI played several visits to Scotland, numbering XXII of Scotland amongst their opponents. Lawrence played against them in 1849 and 1850, the former occasion being the famous match in which he took 10-53 in the second innings to secure match figures of 13-112. Amongst his victims were Alfred Mynn, the greatest cricketer to appear in England until a baby, recently baptised as William Gilbert and then just under 9 months old, was to play on the cricket fields of Gloucestershire and elsewhere. Lawrence also bowled the schoolmaster Nicholas Wanostrocht, playing as usual as N Felix, the best batsman in England, with a shooter that knocked all three stumps out of the ground.

Lawrence married Anne Elizabeth Watts in 1850, and, after a sports shop/tobacconists, in Glasgow where he played for Caledonian CC, failed, by no means the last of his business ventures to come to grief, the young couple returned to England, where a chance meeting with William Clarke led to an appointment as professional at Phoenix in May 1851. He was not yet 23, but his strong but pleasant personality gained him immediate respect.

Here, besides developing the standard of cricket - and being partly responsible for bringing on the first two native Irish professionals, Peter Doyle and Michael Flanagan, he brought over good English club sides, such as Birkenhead Park, to play Phoenix. They were followed by the English Professional teams. The United XI were defeated in Phoenix Park in 1853 and 1854 by XXII of Phoenix. The home side were no match for the famous bowlers among the United men such as John Wisden and "Terrible Billy" Caffyn, but Lawrence equalled their achievements, taking 10 in the match on the former occasion and 12 on the latter, when his first innings figures were 11.2 -8-5-6.

He was also employed by the Lord Lieutenant, the cricket loving Earl of Carlisle, to lay out a ground at the Vice Regal Lodge. Though not always in use, it was to be the site of many matches until the last I Zingari game in 1906. Today it is a Presidential flowerbed. For Ireland, he began against The Gentlemen of England with a 50 and 10 wickets in the match in 1856. His bowling figures were phenomenal, even allowing for the uncertain wickets of the time. In 7 eleven a side matches he took 62 wickets, only once failing to return a "5 for" in a match, three of these going on to produce match figures of at least 10.

His best known game was that v MCC at Lord's in 1858, where on a rough wicket, in poor conditions, he and Joseph McCormick, later to become chaplain to three British monarchs, routed the hosts twice, to win by an innings. Lawrence had match analyses of 12/57, with 8/32 in the first innings. He also had 8 in the innings v I Zingari in 1860, but full bowling figure are not available. In all Ireland's matches, including 5 involving more than 11 a side he took 98 wickets, including 11 "5 fors" besides taking ten wickets in a match on five occasions, as well as scoring 254 runs.

His business ventures were not so successful. He acquired a rackets court, "which was not a success" and was soon sold. His benefit matches were destroyed by high winds and rain, and his attempt to initiate a Gentlemen v Players contest in Dublin, while it lasted well beyond his time in Ireland, never produced equal matches or financial rewards. There were not enough professionals in Ireland, soldiers of the Garrison having to join the promoter and Doyle, to make up the numbers. He also founded the United Ireland XI, and "rode the railways" between Dublin, Belfast and Cork, besides sailing to Scotland, in an attempt to imitate Clarke, Wisden and others in promoting rural cricket and making his fortune. In neither venture was he successful, though his form both in these matches, and in the Gentlemen v Players ones, continued to be outstanding.

All this time, he had retained his English - and Scottish - connections. He captained the Caledonian CC v All England in 1861, having also played v the United XI for XXII Nobles Gentlemen and Players of Scotland in 1858, top scoring. He played twice for Surrey in 1854 and 1857, before in 1861, appearing for Middlesex v MCC at Lord's he and VH Walker bowled unchanged through the match to gain a big victory, Lawrence having match figures of 10-86.

When he was asked to join HH Stephenson's XI, made up predominantly of Surrey players, on the first English tour of Australia that winter, sponsored by the caterers Spiers and Pond as a substitute for a literary visit by Charles Dickens, he accepted. He promised the Lord Lieutenant that he would return and had high hope of being appointed coach to the Prince of Wales, whom he deeply sorry having to give out for 0 in a match at the Vice Regal Ground, "I wished I had called 'No ball'." He was to regret that he never returned to try for the appointment. "I have always wished that I had returned home when the others did.....One can never tell what a broken promise can incur." In this case it was to make cricket history.

The full story of Stephenson's tour is told in David Frith's The Trail Blazers; here we may note that Lawrence achieved most success in extra games added on after scheduled matches had finished. He played a single wicket contest against one man in Bendigo, allowing him eleven fielders. Each man had 2 innings and failed to score, but the local bowled a wide so Lawrence was At Castlemaine, he together with Ben Grifith and Roger Iddison, the only northerner on tour, played single wicket v XI of the town and won with ease. He did, however, take 9-36 v XXII of NSW and Victoria.

The former Cambridge, Surrey and MCC player, WJ Hammersley, by then a leading Australian cricket writer, termed this a 'Test Match',' the first recorded use of the term. Lawrence also appeared in the first class match styled Surrey v The World, for the latter side which included the non Surrey team members and leading local men, but did not distinguish himself. At the end of the tour, Lawrence accepted a post with Sydney's Albert Club while his teammates returned home. He claimed that he tried to persuade them all to stay for a year convinced they would make their fortunes. He also was to write that he stayed because he was already interested in developing Aboriginal cricket, "If I could teach them to play and take them to England I should meet with success."

Like his Surrey team-mate William Caffyn, the only one of Stephenson's side to return with George Parr's two years later, who then stayed behind to coach on Melbourne, Lawrence encountered great problems in instilling fielding skills and batting techniques, to say nothing of the fact that most Australian bowling was underarm. It is a great tribute to him, and to Caffyn, who was, in his autobiography full of praise for Lawrence, that Australian cricket improved so dramatically, that Dave Gregory's 1878 side was able to shock the English establishment, and not just the cricket one, by defeating a powerful MCC team in a single day at Lord's in 1878.

Lawrence had many excellent performances for the Albert Club, often bowling in tandem with Birmingham born paceman Nat Thomson, later to be one of Australia's first Test team. For example, and there are many to choose from, he took 12-22 v XVIII of Bathurst in 1865 in 37.1 four ball overs. Later in the year, he took 8 of the 11 Toxheath XV wickets that fell before time ran out. He also played five times for New South Wales v Victoria, captaining them, and taking 25 wickets at 10.44 in the Sydney match, beginning on Boxing Day 1863.

He had match figures of 14-73, disposing of leading batsmen, Dick Wardill and Nottingham born wicket keeper George Marshall, regarded then as the best bat in Australia. Wardill, a popular and cheerful figure, was later to incur vast gambling debts and make unwise gold speculations. Facing prison for embezzlement, he threw himself into Melbourne's Yarra River. When George Parr's 1863/64 English side, stronger than Stephenson's, came to Sydney and played three games v XXII of NSW, Lawrence excelled. He top scored in the second match for the hosts, thus gaining a draw, then in the third when Parr's men chased 77, he took 6-48, giving him 10 in the match, as they got home by one wicket.

In 1868, he was the captain/manager of the Aborigine side on its tour of Britain. This was the brainchild of WR Hayman, who appears to have been much trusted by the Aborigines, and not to have been seeking to exploit them. He seems genuinely to have believed that they would benefit from big cricket in Melbourne, Sydney and in England. There is no space here to go into detail of the problems he encountered and how and why the authorities viewed his project with suspicion. Readers are referred to DJ Mulvaney and Rex Harcourt's "Cricket Walkabout," which covers the historical and sociological aspects in depth. Let us say that when the team reached Sydney, they were in need of a captain/manager as Hayman had decided that his first choice Tom Wills was unsuitable. Wills, the first man to teach the Aborigines cricket, and the founder of Australian Rules Football, was a Cambridge Blue and known to Lawrence from matches in Ireland. He was also an alcoholic depressive, and, himself, a survivor of an Aboriginal massacre.

It was his drinking that made Hayman abandon him. In 1880, he took his own life. It appears to have been during a match between the would be tourists and Albert CC, that Lawrence first became impressed by them, not earlier as he claimed. He was persuaded to take the team to England. It seems that he thought he would make money out of this; if so, he was to be sadly disappointed. He was, by this time, the owner of the Pier Hotel, Manly, where the team stayed and also proprietor of a sports shop in Sydney's George Street. Neither venture was to be greatly successful. He took a deep interest, albeit a paternalistic one, in his charges, and with Captain Williams of SS Paramatta which took them to England, tried to explain Christianity. He felt that he was successful.

1868 was a miserably cold and wet summer. They travelled the length and breadth of the country, perhaps surprisingly not visiting Ireland, playing on 99 of the possible 126 days that were available between April and October. They won 14 of the 47 matches were played of which the captain took part in 40, scoring 1156 runs at 20.16 and taking 250 wickets at 12.09. Johnny Mullagh, the first great Aborigine cricketer, later compared by historian David Frith to Sobers, scored 1698 at 23.65, besides dismissing 245 batsmen at 10.00. Lawrence's only concession to advancing years was to bowl underarm for part of each innings. He and Mullagh also appear to have alternated bowling and wicket keeping duties in most matches. As important as the cricket were the athletic sports and displays of boomerang throwing which preceded each match or took place in intervals. Lawrence joined in, balancing on the blade of his bat balls thrown at him in quick succession by his players. He rarely missed. The tour was not without tragedy. One player, King Cole died in hospital with Lawrence by his bedside. Two others became so ill that they had to return home.

On his return to Sydney, the tour having lost 2000, a large sum then, Lawrence sold the hotel, which fell into disrepute for some time, and moved up the coast to Newcastle where he worked for 24 years as an official for NSW Railways. Here aged 55, he played for XVIII of Newcastle v Ivo Bligh's 1882/83 tourists. His son also proved an able cricketer, appearing in local matches in Newcastle.

His life had not been without great sadness. By the time he sailed for Australia with Stephenson, he and Anne had a son and two daughters, all Dublin born. The family joined him Down Under, but Anne died at the hotel in November 1866, five days later, their Sydney born daughter also passed on. One of the elder girls may have accompanied the team to England in 1868, she is recorded as being with them on the return voyage. In 1871, he married again to Yorkshire born Emmaretta Denison. They had three daughters, two of whom died in infancy. Emmaretta was to die before her husband, in hospital, in December 1915.

Ill health caused Lawrence to retire from the railways in 1892. Instead he took a post as coach to the Melbourne Cricket Club, where several players, including Vernon Ransford destined to win 20 Test caps and hit a brilliant hundred at Lord's in 1909, before becoming a long serving Secretary of the Melbourne Cricket Club. Perhaps the last survivor to have played with Lawrence, he died in 1958.

Ill health or not, Lawrence not only coached but continued to play until he was 70. He remained in the public eye. In December 1911, he was invited to, but was too infirm to attend, a 'smoke concert' to celebrate 50 years of Anglo - Australian Cricket. The Governor-General, the Australian Prime Minister and both the teams engaged in " Fighting for The Ashes" attended. His apology for absence concluded, "I am in my eighty fourth year but my interest in the game remains as great as it was, when in May 1849, playing for Scotland in Edinburgh, I bowled out the whole of the England XI." The letter was rapturously received.

Charles Lawrence, perhaps not a truly great player but unquestionably a truly great man, died four day after his 88th birthday. Arguably his whole life is best summed up by the words with which he began his memories of his childhood, "I had a greater love for cricket than for any other amusement and from early morn till late at night I was to be seen with bat and ball."

His obituary is in Wisden 1918, where the date of his death is incorrect. His biography is in Scores and Biographies Volume VI. He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats." Finally his fragmentary autobiography was serialised in Wisden Cricket Monthly July to December 1990.