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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Clement Leckey Johnson
  • Born 31 March 1871, Carbury, Co Kildare
  • Died 31 May 1908, Maraisburg, Roodapoort, Transvaal, South Africa
  • Educated Royal Naval School, New Cross, London; Dublin University
  • Occupation
  • Debut 11 July 1890 v Scotland at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh
  • Cap Number 210
  • Style Right hand bat, right arm fast bowler.
  • Teams Dublin University, Transvaal, South Africa.

Clem Johnson, often known as "Boy," was a good all round cricketer. A tall, strongly built man, with an oval face and rather stooped shoulders, he was a forcing right hand batsman, strong off the back foot, typical of one who had benefited from the coaching of the ageless Jesse Richards, and a good field. He was, however, primarily a fast bowler, capable of generating genuine pace. At the Royal Naval School - a charitable foundation for the sons of RN or RM officers, which now houses Goldsmith's College, part of London University, - he was three years in the First XI.

He was then ever present in The Dublin University XI, from 1889, his first opportunity, until 1893, the season of his captaincy, after which, he left Ireland for South Africa. It should be stated here that, as shown above, he was Irish born, and that Pat Hone and the DUCC History, are in error in seeing him as having come from South Africa. Further, while his middle name suggests a connection with the great Irish historian of the 19th Century, WHH Leckey, research by this writer over twenty years ago, failed to establish any known link.

Clem was seen to good effect in his first season when he headed the University bowling averages with 36 wickets at 12.30. Here he joined his elder brother Charles, also a good cricketer who was to appear in four first class matches in India in the early 1890s, without much success. This was simply a taste of things to come for all told, in his five seasons, he was to take 207 wickets, besides making many useful runs. He was often seen at his best against major opposition, having a good match as a bowler v WG Grace's United South of England XI in 1890. Legend has it that the Doctor, having hoodwinked Jack Meldon, the University captain, at the toss, then complained about the wicket and the umpiring.

However he was always an encourager of young talent, and he must have been impressed by Johnson, who bowled with hostile accuracy in the first innings to return figures of 18-6-31-4. Not bad for a 19 year old, who again showed his accuracy in the second innings, when he failed to take a wicket but had figures of 12-5-19-0. He also impressed v Cambridge in 1892, the Light Blues including FS Jackson, later to lead England to an Ashes victory in 1905, almost as exciting as that gained 100 years later. The visitors won a well contested match by 6 wickets, but "Boy" made 49 and 56, falling in the second innings to the off spin of England Rugby half back, CM Wells (7-31), besides being the only bowler to trouble the Cambridge batsmen in their second innings run chase.

His best season in these matches was his last, 1893, when he captained the side on their 3 match tour of England where they played counties, "awaiting first class status." He took a leading part in a sensational victory over Warwickshire at Edgbaston. He made two useful scores opening the batting, but his bowling gave him match figures of 10 for 57, including a sensational second innings return of 9-7-3-4, as the County collapsed to 15 all out, having been 8/7!

At Leicester the County were defeated by 166 runs. The batting of Arthur Gwynn and Dan Comyn and the bowling of Archie Penny were principally responsible, but Johnson had 5 wickets in the match besides scoring 49 and 38. They then travelled to Leyton, where he, with 37 in the second innings, was, with Frank Browning and Arthur Gwynn, among the only visiting batsmen to show any confidence. Finally that summer the visiting Oxford side were defeated by 8 wickets. Batting at 3, the captain made a useful 27. His first innings bowling figures of 3-38, included the scalp of Lionel Palairet, seen by many critics of the time as the supreme stylist.

Clem played 12 times for Ireland between 1890 and his enforced retirement from Irish Cricket in 1893. With 330 runs at an average of just over 20 and 36 wickets at just under 15, he could not be classed a failure, yet the overall impression is one of unfulfilled talent. He was undoubtedly a player of high quality, and more might have forthcoming from him. He made his debut v Scotland at Raeburn Place, Edinburgh in a match in which Ireland just held on for a draw. The only lasting impression he made on the scorecard was to dismiss one of the Scots openers for 5, in an economical first spell of 15-12-6-1, five ball overs being bowled. It was, however an historically interesting wicket: MR Jardine, whose son Douglas would be born 12 years later. Back in Ireland Johnson helped in the defeat of IZ by three wickets, by claiming another cricketing father, to be made famous by his son, Captain RH Fowler, father of Bob of "Fowler's Match" fame.

1892 saw both his best performance for Ireland and his most disappointing sequence of matches. Against I Zingari at the Phoenix ground in late July, he took 5-23 to help Archie Penny, 4-15, bowl the visitors out for 76. He took the first two and last three wickets to fall, arguably doing the classic fast bowler's job. All 5 were bowled, the last three for 0. He then made 76, his highest score for Ireland, holding the innings together in a 150 minute knock, the last hour of which was dominating. Only Jack Meldon and "Bud" Hamilton joined him in reaching double figures. Hamilton and Penny took the second innings wickets, bar one from Meldon, but Clem again showed how difficult he was to score off in a short spell. An additional one day match was played, but despite a large crowd, no one took it too seriously on the home side, except possibly Clem who top scored with, "a good twenty." The visitors won by 5 wickets.

At the end of the season, he was a member of Jack Meldon's Irish XI which toured USA and Canada. As seems to have been inevitable in the 1890s, there was a selection dispute; also a number of players, including Tim O'Brien, not at that stage a baronet and Pascoe Stuart, both of whom would have bolstered the batting were unavailable. Meldon was much in demand on the voyage because of his musical performances, but for Clem, there was near disaster. He was almost swept overboard during a severe gale. He never fully recovered and was a shadow of himself through the tour. This begs the question as to why he was on deck at all in such conditions, unless he had heard enough of the skipper's banjo recitals.

Be that as it may, on the whole tour, including the three odds games, which were not cap matches, he totalled only 93 runs. Over half of these came in two of the odds encounters: 20* v XIV of Boston and Lowell and 31 v XV of Baltimore. Otherwise he made little impact though he returned impressive figures in the first innings of the drawn match with Canada, 15-10-15-3. He also contributed to the second Philadelphian match, having missed the first which Ireland had won. This time Meldon's party lost by 23 run but Clem with 6 in the match, including a second innings return of 4-31 had done what he could to pull off another victory.

The following summer, was as we have seen a successful one for him in University Cricket. He also bid his enforced farewell to the Irish side in some style. He captained the side v I Zingari and had the pleasure of leading them to a comfortable innings victory. The match is chiefly notable in Irish Cricket History for being the debut of Bob Lambert, but Clem, though he made only 15, skippered the team well, besides cleaning up the tail in the first innings with 2-11 and produced a most economical, if wicketless second innings analysis of 12-8-8-0.

He then joined Jack Meldon's Irish side on a short tour of England. Only the last match v WH Laverton's XI at Westbury, was won, the others finishing in draws, but Clem showed some consistency with the bat. He made 36, at 3, v Combined Services at Portsmouth, 0 and 46 v Surrey at The Oval and then signed off, though he was unaware of it at the time, with 71 v Laverton's XI at Westbury. The 0 at The Oval is worth mentioning. Frank Browning fell to the first ball of the match, Clem, in next, fell to the second. Jack Hynes avoided the hat trick but also failed to score This was effectively the County 2nd XI and the bowler TP Harvey never played in a first class match. Bowling, Clem claimed the wicket of future Test all rounder, Len Braund.

Clem's second innings 46, the top score, helped Ireland stave off a defeat. He was then in excellent form with the bat at Westbury, though the batting highlight was Lambert's first hundred for Ireland, batting with a runner throughout. Johnson's 71 was described as "faultless", which was more than could be said for Meldon who made the same score.

Later in the year, he became ill and, on medical advice, decided to leave Ireland and settle in South Africa. This suggests, and this writer has some supporting anecdotal evidence, that the illness was TB. His team mate Lucius Gwynn was to die of it nine years later, and the illness was no respecter of social class or status in late Victorian Ireland.

By March 1894, he was well enough to play for Transvaal in two Currie Cup Matches at Newlands. He made 58 in the second innings v Eastern Province, batting at 8, having been run out for 1 in the first knock. His two wickets were both those of players like him destined to play one Test v England in the 1895-96 series, RA Gleeson and the EP captain FJ Cook. He was able to make a contribution, therefore to his new side's victory. He was also in batting form in the next match v Natal, which was lost by 7 runs. Clem's first innings 35 was top score, but he failed to take a wicket, unfortunate in so close a match. However he had done enough to gain a place on the inaugural South African tour of Britain and Ireland later in the year. His selection was not universally popular, as he was a recent arrival in the country. The best and fastest bowler was the mixed race "Krom" Hendricks. Multi racial cricket was not unknown in parts of South Africa then but Cecil Rhodes, Prime Minister of Cape Colony was strongly opposed to the concept. His intervention prevented the selection of Hendricks and prepared the way for Clem's. He was, at least, the fastest bowler in the country if Hendricks was discounted. The South Africans were upset that they were not granted first class status, but when they came up against high quality opposition, they tended to do badly.

The tour was also a financial disaster, and Johnson, like Frank Hearne, did not make the contribution that his experience of English conditions might have warranted. He scored 508 runs at 14.32 and took 50 wickets at 17.27, but his large number of low scores and innings in which he took only one or two wickets, suggest that he may still not have been in full health. He made some useful runs against Oxford University and Derbyshire, and a brilliant 112, at number 6, against Liverpool and District, but, that apart, it was not until he returned to home territory, towards the end of the tour, that he showed his real form consistently. Against Ireland, art Rathmines, with the hosts batting first, he did not come on to bowl until 7 wickets were down and Drummond Hamilton, was staging a recovery. Clem quickly ended this by bowling Hamilton (68) and Tom Ross and Arthur Wallis for 0 apiece, to wrap things up with figures of 1.3 -1-0-3. He then made 79, "in brilliant style." He opened the bowling in the second innings, removing SC Smith for a duck as Ireland went down by 9 wickets.

On the familiar turf of College Park, against a University Past and Present XI he had match figures of 9-61, including 6-33 in the second innings when only Lucius Gwynn, with 26, reached double figures. At this stage of the tour dire financial straits hit the party, but South African diamond magnates in London managed to finance the remainder of the matches. In the very last one, the second played v Warwickshire, Johnson, back at Edgbaston, where he had humiliated the County batsmen the year before, did so again with figures of 6-44.

Back in South Africa, he played in what is now seen as a Test Match, the second of the series against an England side raised and captained by Lord Hawke. An interesting sideline on this match was that it included three past or future Irish Internationals in Johnson, Frank Hearne and TC O'Brien as well as the Dublin born army officer RM Poore. Clem had 0-57 in England's only innings as they piled up 482, with Tom Hayward making a century. George Lohman was too much for the home batsmen. Clem, at 6, was bowled by him for 3 in the first innings, but run out - a somewhat frequent method of dismissal for him - 7, in the second. That was the end of his Test career. He played against Lord Hawke's XI again, for Transvaal in 1898 - 98, but his farewell to major cricket was not a happy one. He took one wicket for 47, that of future Anglican clergyman, CEM Wilson, and, having been 5* in the first innings, was yorked for 0 in the second. He was at least out to a great bowler, Albert Trott.

He married and had a family. Though his death was unexpected, he was never quite able to shake off the illness which had sent him southwards in the first place.

His obituary is in Wisden 1909 and his biography in Scores and Biographies Vol 15. He is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald "Irelands 100 Cricket Greats."