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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Francis Vernon Northey
  • Born 4 October 1836 Epsom, Surrey
  • Died 7 April 1879 Glingludolov South Africa
  • Educated Eton College Royal Military College, Sandhurst
  • Occupation Army Officer
  • Debut 4 September 1856 v United All England XI at Phoenix CC
  • Cap Number 21
  • Style Right-hand bat, slow right arm underarm
  • Teams Sevenoaks Vine Dublin United Ireland XI Officers of Ireland Phoenix NICC Lansdown Gentlemen of West Kent Aldershot Division Chatham Division North Kent Knickerbockers

Frank Northey, a good cricketer and excellent soldier, came from a land owning family well known in both his pastime and his profession. Originally from Essex, the Northeys had spent some time in Wiltshire, where their name is remembered in a hotel near Bath, before relocating at Epsom in Surrey. Frank was the third son and fourth surviving child of Edward Richard Northey, who born in 1795, fought as a very young man in the Napoleonic Wars including the Battle of Waterloo, where of course two participants in the first known cricket match in Ireland, the Dukes of Wellington and Richmond, were involved, and Charlotte Isabella Anson, first cousin of the Earl of Lichfield, and herself the daughter of a general and granddaughter of an admiral.

Frank's elder brothers Edward William and George Wilbraham were both cricketers, George playing one first class match, without much success. Edward William, who played good class club cricket for Sevenoaks Vine, became a clergyman and George was a regular army officer as was Edward William's son also Edward, a general who served with distinction in the First World War before becoming a colonial governor besides playing one first class match in 1923.

Frank was four years in the Eton XI 1851- 54, though he did not play against Harrow in his first year. Generally in the upper order he proved himself a useful batsman. A consistent, if not heavy, run maker, his scores stand up well against those of his contemporaries, being par for the uncertain batting conditions of his time. In his first match for Eton of which a score has been seen, he opened the batting with JB Storey, later a prominent all-rounder for Dublin University who was selected for Ireland but never played. Frank's batting brought him three scores of over 30 in matches of which cards have been seen, topscoring on each occasion.

All three were in his final season at Eton, when he was captain, showing his considerable talent for leadership which he was later to exhibit in far sterner conditions. Thus against I Zingari he made 32 out of a score of 137 then took 5 wickets to bowl IZ out for 67. Also in the Eton side was EB Fane whose younger brother Francis would, like Frank, go on to play for Ireland by virtue of military postings. The matches against both Harrow and Winchester, played at Lord's were lost but Frank with top scores in the second innings of each match, 42 v Harrow and 34 v Winchester, did his best for his side. He had several useful bowling performances to his name, including a "5 for" against Harrow in 1852 but his best bowling performance had come against Quidnuncs - a side composed mostly of former Cambridge Blues - when he took 6 wickets opening the bowling. Full analyses for these matches are not available but he clearly was not expensive.

Commissioned as an Ensign in the 60th Rifles in 1855, he soon found himself in Ireland where both he and another Old Etonian soldier, Fred Marshall, were among the best players on view. In mid-August he was one of the XXII of Dublin who took on Charles Lawrence's United Ireland XI with somewhat predictable results. Dublin were bowled out for 91 with Lawrence and Thomas Quinn doing the damage. Frank, however, impressed with a steady knock of 18 which, in an innings which included 7 ducks, was enough to make him second top scorer to George Kinahan who made 22. Only one other batsman managed to reach double figures. Frank then both bowled and kept wicket, making two stumpings in the latter role, one of them the key wicket of Lawrence. The United men were dismissed for 54 but Dublin then collapsed again, Frank falling to Quinn for 0. However he then led the attack as the XI struggled to reach their target. They did so, losing six wickets in the process, four of which fell to Frank.

This all round form brought him into the Irish XXII which played the United England XI at Phoenix CC three weeks later, Marshall being another debutant. Frank made little impact falling to "Terrible" Billy Cafyn in the first innings for 4 and making only 6 in the second. Thanks to excellent bowling by Lawrence and cricketing clergyman Joseph McCormick the hosts won by 6 runs. It was a sensational victory but the performances of Frank and Fred Marshall hardly made it a match "won on the playing fields of Eton." Frank was in better form late in the month when, his success in the Dublin match having clearly impressed Lawrence, he was a member of the United Ireland XI which travelled to Co Kildare to take on XXII of the Curragh Camp. He had 10 wickets in the match, sharing with Lawrence the distinction of taking 8 each in the hosts' second innings. The visitors won by an innings and 62 runs.

There now follows somewhat of a hiatus in Frank's cricket career as he did not appear in a major match again until 1863. Military duties intervened with the 60th Rifles despatched to India in 1857 to help quell what was then termed the Indian Mutiny but now tends to be referred to as the Indian Rebellion or First War of Independence. Lieutenant Northey, as he now was, took part in the Oudh Campaign which, including the relief of the beleaguered City of Lucknow, was a fierce and bitter one. Half a century previously a British commander General Napier, having taken the province of Sindh from a French and Indian force was said to have sent a message back in Latin "Peccavi" which translates as " I have sinned." Now Frank's commander Sir Colin Campbell was not to be undone. His signal to British HQ read "Vovi" which translates "I have vowed".

Captain Northey, as he became in 1860, was back playing cricket in both England and Ireland in 1863, though his return to our cricket was hardly a glorious one. Now based in Belfast he assisted NICC against a strong Na Shuler side but did little with bat or ball. Some scorecards show him as having also played in Canada that summer. The dates of the matches concerned make such an appearance impossible, even today globe trotters such as Chris Gale and Luke Wright would find it taxing. It is possible that the Northey in question was George though a cousin of about the same age was also a military cricketer at the time. Worth noticing, however, was his turning out for the Lansdown (Bath) Club against the all England XI. The Club's innings was dominated by a brilliant 121 from EM Grace then the most outstanding batsman in England. Frank made 18, while a beardless and nervous 17 year old contribute 11. He was EM's younger brother and his initials were WG. When he and Frank again met on a cricket field, things were to be rather different.

The demands of his profession made a further gap in Frank's cricket career in 1869 when the 60th were sent to Canada, Frank's brother officers including Nesbitt Wallace, another to owe his Irish cap to military posting. Together they took part in the Red River Campaign (1870) under Sir Garnet Wolsy, which was directed against a tribe of indigenous native Canadians who wished to be independent of British rule. Wallace was later to write and lecture about it, but the victory appears to have been almost bloodless. Revenge for the uprising was taken by the government some years later when the leader was hanged for treason.

For Frank, however, the most important part of his trans-Atlantic sojourn was his meeting with a young Toronto woman Charlotte Belinda Gzowski, whose father Casmir Gzowski, was Polish engineer turned lawyer. Later knighted and an ADC to Queen Victoria he was a man of great charm, Charlotte apparently shared his personality. She sailed for England in 1870 as Mrs Northey.

Frank was promoted Major in 1873 which did not stop him from catching up on lost time as far as cricket was concerned, though his successes were few. The last match he played of which we have a record was for North Kent against The United South of England XI, who won with some ease. Frank, batting down the order, fell for 0 and 1. In his first innings he was caught off WG, no longer a beardless teenager but, to borrow Brian Johnston's description of Bill Frindall a "Bearded Wonder.", by far the most formidable cricketer in the World. Frank's brief second innings was ended by James Southerton destined to become the first Test cricketer to die. In between the hosts two innings, Grace ran amok scoring a totally dominating and overpowering 152. Perhaps they both remembered the match at Bath and how Frank had once outscored "The Champion of Centuries.".

In 1879, following the disaster at Isandlwana the 60th were among the troops sent to South Africa to try to help Lord Chelmsford recover some of the face he had lost through his disastrous incursion into Zululand. Among them was Lieutenant - Colonel Northey commanding six companies of the 3rd Battalion of the 60th. In late March they were part of a force of over 4000 men, led by Chelmsford, who set off to relieve the fortress of Etshowe which was besieged by a large force of Zulus, this time practising attrition rather than Isandlwana or Rorke's Drift tactics. . On the night of 1 April Chelmsford made camp at Glingludov, within sight of the fort. They had no tents, instead the men plus several hundred animals were surrounded by circles of wagons. Violent thunderstorms then turned the ground to a quagmire.

At dawn the following morning some 11000 Zulus attacked. Some of the British ware terrified, not so Frank. He is reported to have acted with great courage, rallying his men, among whom he was very popular and greatly admired. He was standing by a machine gun, directing operations and rapidly firing his pistol at the Zulus who were, as he may have recognised, less than a cricket pitch's length away, when he was wounded in the shoulder. Retiring temporarily to have his wound dressed, he insisted on returning but the bullet had severed an artery. Accounts speak of him, leaning against a wagon, blood spurting from his shoulder, still in command, until he collapsed from pain and loss of blood. He had to be carried to a wagon. The battle was won with some ease, the Zulus retreated and the tide had turned in the war.

Unfortunately Frank did not live to see the ultimate victory. He died four days later and was buried on the spot. A rough grave marker was made from a packing case. A cross may still be seen on the site today, despite some vandalism, but Frank's body was brought back to England later in the year and reburied in Epsom where his grave remains. The packing case was made part of the memorial but has recently been removed to a local museum for safety reasons.

The Northeys had wanted a quiet family funeral but the town of Epsom closed down and hundreds of people lined the streets in silence, such was the respect that Frank was held in. He and Charlotte had no children, she moved to live in Dover where she died in 1891, well cared for by the Northey family, having been left just under 5000 in Frank's will.

Francis Vernon Northey may not have been a great cricketer but the opinions of those who knew him as a friend or served with him or under him, suggest that he was most certainly a remarkable man with a talent for leadership and a genuine concern for all those he was responsible for.