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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Henry Robert Peel Despard
  • Born circ 1830
  • Died 6 May 1900 Donore, Queen's County (Laois)
  • Educated Mr James; Dublin University
  • Occupation Civil Servant
  • Debut 4 September 1856 for XVIII of Ireland v The United All England XI at Phoenix CC, Phoenix Park.
  • Cap Number 17
  • Style Right hand batsman; slow underarm and round arm (hand unknown)
  • Teams Dublin University, Dublin; Carlow; United Ireland XI

Henry Despard was a useful cricketer whose all round talents seem - at least in matches of which scores have been seen - to have been somewhat ignored by his captains, who appear to have treated him as either a batsman or bowler, and, indeed, in some cases just as someone to make up the side. This was surely a mistaken view as he had several good performances with bat and ball to his credit and was also more than once singled out for the brilliance of his fielding.

Having entered Dublin University in the summer of 1847, at a time when the potato famine was at its height, he was in the XI for three seasons from 1850. He was awarded his colours in each year but no averages have survived. In fact the XI played only six matches during this period. His contemporaries included other future Irish players in wicket keeper WH Johnston, RH Scott later a distinguished scientist and Leland Crosthwaite, a cousin of the Hone family.

Henry had clearly distinguished himself on the cricket field as he was selected to play for XXII of Dublin against Charles Lawrence's United Ireland XI at Phoenix CC in August 1856. Dublin batted first but were routed by Lawrence, in his fast round arm style, taking 13 wickets. They were out for 95. Henry, halfway down the order at 10, contributed a single before Lawrence bowled him. However Dublin struck back dismissing the United men for 54. Lawrence again carved through the Dublin batting with Henry going for 5 before the XI squeezed home by 2 wickets. They were troubled by leading "lobster" Arthur Samuels and a young army officer Frank Northey, who over twenty years later, was killed in a bloody battle in the Zulu War.

Despite his performance in this match Henry found himself in the Ireland side to play the United England XI in early September, his fortunes "in Irish colours" are described below. Meanwhile Lawrence, known as a very shrewd judge of a player, had him in the United XI for an excursion into Co Kildare at the end of the season to play XXII of the Curragh Camp. At The Curragh the wickets were invariably good, the bowling even more often, appalling. In this match the military batting also seems to have been suspect. The visitors batted first and rattled up a formidable 202, with Henry, high in the order top scoring with 44. Then, with the perceptive Lawrence making full use of his all round ability, he took 11 wickets as the hosts were dismissed for 75. He took only one second innings wicket as Lawrence and Northey, who seem to have alternated bowling and keeping wicket, shared the spoils.

In 1863, playing simply as a batsman Henry was in the South XI for a two day game v the North. Geography, even of Dublin, let alone the whole country, had little to do with the composition of the two sides, though the North XI did include the well-known NICC wicket keeper CK Cordner. Batting at 4, Henry did well enough with scores of 29 and 14, but saw his team go down by 6 wickets. Henry, a regular in Carlow sides for many seasons, represented the Club against I Zingari in both 1863 and 1865.

On the first occasion, when Carlow went down by an innings, his bowling was virtually ignored, but he topscored with 16 in his first knock, before being caught off the Lord Lieutenant's ADC, Oxford blue and paceman Henry Awkright. Two years later, Carlow scored a notable victory, defeating their famed visitors by 4 wickets. Henry had helped them build a useful first innings lead with a stalwart 21, but the hero was Carlow's English professional, William Gilby. William played only one first class match in his entire career, for Middlesex in 1872, but was more than a match for the Zingaros with both bat and ball.

Henry's Irish debut had come, as already mentioned, in September 1856 against the United England XI, the second of the professional travelling elevens to have been formed. They had split from the All England XI mainly for financial reasons and had in "The Little Wonder", John Wisden, one of the fastest and best bowlers of the day. His main contribution to cricket still lay eight years in the future. Batting at No 16 in an XVIII Henry was run out for 3 in the first innings and undefeated on 2 in the second. The Irish batsmen were no match for the speed of Wisden and the medium pace of William "Terrible Billy" Caffyn, but the wicket was terrible and the visitors needing 61 to win were bowled out for 55 in their second innings.

Three years later Henry was in the Irish side to play I Zingari, the first match in a series, which, with several breaks, was to last until 1906. The visitors were too strong on this occasion, winning by an innings despite some fine bowling by Samuels. Henry, however, did well with the bat. In the first innings he made a second top score 14, his innings bettered only by GF Barry's 29. In company with most of his team-mates Henry had problems with the pace of WTSW Fiennes, ancestor of the explorer Sir Ranulph, while in the second he was clear top scorer with a courageous 25.

The following season saw him in the Irish side for matches against the All England XI and I Zingari. Batting low in the XXII against the professionals, he did well in the second innings top scoring with 17, though few of the batsmen had any answer to the round arm pace of Edgar Willsher, one of the pioneers of actual overarm bowling, and RC Tinley who could deliver either slow lobs or fast round arm with equal felicity. In Ireland's second innings the next highest score was EA Berger with 7. Berger, an Army officer who later became a general, had topscored in the first innings with 21 and been awarded a specially decorated belt. No such prize found its way to Henry. The IZ match brought Henry and Ireland scant reward with the pace of Awkright too much for him and most of his team-mates in both innings.

His final matches came in 1861. The All England XI were too strong in bowling, the hosts batting being destroyed by Willsher and the terrifying pace of John "Foghorn " Jackson, at 28 probably the fastest bowler then playing. Injured later in his career, he was to sink into poverty and alcoholism and die in a workhouse. Willsher, however, disposed of Henry for 5 in each innings.

Henry's last match for Ireland came against IZ at Coburg Gardens, now submerged by the National Concert Hall. The visitors had little difficulty in winning. Henry was unable to finish his career in style. Batting at 10, he fell in each innings to RAH Mitchell, who was to become well known for running the cricket at Eton for many years, but was an all rounder of some talent.

NOTE: Despard's matches against the All and United England XIs will not be found in his statistics on this site as they involved more than eleven players on the Irish side. Reports and full scores may be found by following the links on the Matches Archive.