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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
John Henry Nunn
  • Born 28 November 1856 Dublin
  • Died 30 September 1920 Dublin
  • Educated Wesleyan Connexional College; Dublin University
  • Occupation Barrister
  • Debut 15 August 1878 v I Zingari at Phoenix CC, Phoenix Park
  • Cap Number 163
  • Style Right-hand batsman; right arm medium pace
  • Teams Dublin University, Phoenix, Vice Regal XI

Jack Nunn was a fine all round cricketer, an automatic choice, when available, for Ireland for fourteen summers. He was a strong driving batsman, usually in the upper order and a medium pace bowler, who was able to extract lift from any wicket that gave him even the slightest help. His school, which he must have attended because of its proximity to his home - being himself Church of Ireland, in those strictly denominational days - later became Wesley College.

Jack was thus the first of a long line of well known cricketing alumni it produced, later to include players such as "Sonny" Hool and Mike Halliday. The son of another John Henry Nunn, a Dublin solicitor, he entered Dublin University in November 1876 aged 16. What is not in dispute is that he gained a regular place in the University XI in 1875, being ever present until 1878, the year of his Irish debut, as a substitute for fast underarmer Tom Hanna. After this he played mostly for Phoenix, though, he remained in demand for University Past and Present and Long Vacation sides against English or Philadelphian teams sometimes, having been called to the Bar in 1880, adopting the nom de guerre JH Williams, in an attempt to conceal his whereabouts from those who sought him in chambers or elsewhere.

It was, however, under his own name that he played for XVIII of Dublin University Past and Present against Billy Murdoch's 1880 Australians, the first to visit Ireland. Together with paceman Horace Hamilton, he gave the Australians a fright in a drawn match. Hamilton had been the leading wicket taker in the first innings, in the second it was Jack with figures of 6-48. His haul included master stonewaller Alec Bannerman, Jack Blackham, prince of wicket keepers and no mean bat, as well as the mighty hitter George Bonnor, who once batted for Non Smokers v Smokers at Melbourne, a lit cigar between his lips! It was also under his own name that he made his career best 205 for Phoenix against the Dublin Garrison in 1886. Two years previously, he had struck a quick 128 for the University's Long Vacation XI - a team with somewhat minimal playing qualifications - against Pembroke.

Jack was also to the fore for Phoenix against I Zingari in August 1883, a match which the visitors won by 173 runs. In company with most of his colleagues, Jack failed with the bat, falling to the wiles of AG Steel and CT Studd for 0 and 13 respectively. However in the IZ second knock Jack had 6-113, his wickets included two Test men in GB Studd, brother of CT and like him, about to abandon cricket for a career in evangelism in which he underwent dreadful privations, and future cabinet minister, Arthur Lyttleton, a wicket keeper, who in the Third Test against Australia at The Oval the following year, handed his pads and gloves to WG, and, bowling lobs, took 4-19 including Blackham and all rounder Billy Midwinter, the only man to appear for both sides in Anglo- Australian Tests.

Lyttleton, in the IZ match was deceived by a slower ball from Nunn and caught by Anthony Hussey. It is, however unknown, if when asked what the ball had done, he second guessed his future great nephew and replied, "I'm sorry, I haven't a clue!" When his Irish career was over, and he was no longer playing regular serious cricket, Jack turned out for the Lord Chief Justice's XI v IZ in August 1896. The LCJ, Lord O'Brien, was no cricketer, his side being raised and captained by Joe Hynes. The match was rained ruined but not before Jack, batting down the order at 7, had topscored with 39 on a difficult wicket on which Hynes and the Gwynn brothers failed.

It must be said, that his batting and bowling figures for Ireland are disappointing for a cricketer of such obvious talent. In 15 matches, he only once passed 50 with the bat and had but one "5 for" with the ball. These figures are all the more regrettable, because, the occasions on which he showed his true form revealed just what Ireland missed.

He began well enough with 29* in his second match v MCC at Lord's on a nightmare wicket, in dreadful weather. Ireland, winning the toss had begun well, with Nat Hone and David Trotter taking full advantage of some poor MCC bowling to put on 161 for the first wicket. Thereafter, Ireland collapsed to 236 all out with Jack getting the only other double figure score. Coming in at 8, he made his 29 out of the last 40 scored, hitting two huge straight sixes to opposite ends of the ground, one into the Pavilion, the other to the Nursery. Ireland won by an innings with Jack claiming two wickets, the bowling honours going to Hanna and Arthur Exham. He failed to shine with either bat or ball on the American tour of that autumn, though Horace Hamilton and Exham left other bowlers little to do.

Jack's and Ireland's next visit to Lord's was in 1883. The hosts were much stronger this time and won by 4 wickets. However Jack had 9 wickets in the match, including a remarkable first innings return of 73-32-115-7. Even allowing for the fact that the 4 ball over was in vogue, this was a remarkable performance. The following summer against the touring Philadelphians, he had 4-56 in the first innings.

His figures should have been much better, seven catches were dropped in all, one by Jack off his own bowling, but the crucial one was JB Thayer, top scorer in the innings with 42, put down at short slip by Old Etonian John Bayley off Jack before he had scored. Thayer was a leading member of one of Philadelphia's best known cricket families. He was also a very rich man, but his life was to end on 15 April 1912, with the unwanted distinction of being the only first class cricketer to go down with the Titanic. Did he and former North Down and NICC man Tommy Andrews, the ill fated vessel's designer, discuss cricket on the voyage? That question will never be answered. Back with the Rathmines match, the Americans were victorious by 6 wickets, though Jack bowled unchanged in the second innings, taking a further two wickets, in an effort to stop them.

Jack had two more good matches as a batsman. Against Scotland at Raeburn Place in July 1890, he came into the side as captain, after no fewer than seven of the original selection called off. Ireland were outplayed with the Scots falling just short in a run chase. At number 5, Jack (33) added a first innings 76 for the 4th wicket with the youthful JM Meldon (59). Ireland had to follow on, whereupon the two Jacks opened the batting and stormed to 115 in an hour, before Nunn was caught for 60 going for a big hit. Meldon made 92, both men thus achieving their highest scores for Ireland, and the match was just saved.

Six weeks later in Phoenix Park, Jack Nunn helped Ireland to a three wicket win over I Zingari, in what was to prove to be his penultimate match in Irish colours. Oxford Blue George Berkeley, a high class left armer, bowled the visitors out for 79, then Jack topscored with another 33 to give Ireland a precious 30 run lead. Eventually they wanted 103 to win and lost 7 wickets alarmingly quickly. Then Berkeley defended well, while Jack sailed into the bowling, delighting a large crowd with a typically belligerent 36*, to see Ireland home.

John Henry Nunn was said to have been a good lawyer, but never to have had a very extensive practice. It is easy to imagine why. One can picture him, on a fine summer morning, echoing the words of his fictional contemporary, Dr John H Watson, and deciding, "I have nothing to do today. My practice is never absorbing." Then just as the Doctor would lay down his medical instruments, bid goodbye to his wife Mary, and head for fog filled Baker Street, Jack, who was married to Florence Sydney Pigott daughter of the founder of the well known McCullough Pigott music shop in Dublin, would cast aside his brief, wig and gown, and head for whichever of the Parks, Phoenix or College, required the services of Mr Williams.