Friday, November 15, 2013

Anonymous 1881 NZ cricket poem

19th century cricket poems emanating from New Zealand are nothing short of real mystery. We don’t know enough about our authors from that century to ascertain who could possibly have been their author.
One such example turned up in a Thames newspaper in Papers Past at the National Library of New Zealand, and it is not an isolated case.
All we know is that the editor of the paper prefaced it, and stated that the post mark indicates it is from “the Whau”.
I Googled “Whau” and note that it is in the North Island of New Zealand and that it is commonly known as the Whau River.
In the 19th century, at the time of writing the poem, European settlers had been using the Whau for marine transport, and a few local industries like a tannery were there. There was also a well known ‘lunatic asylum’. It is now an estuarial arm near the Waitemata Harbour and is within the Auckland metropolitan area.
The editor’s comment could be a joke on the part of the paper. Another anonymous poem ‘from the Whau’ called ‘Poor Old Shanghai’ and headed “A MAD POET” appeared in the Thames Star, 15 May 1880, obviously the same person/joke.
Clues given in the poem by the names: “…Lawless, Buttle, and Frater, / Burgess, Steedman, and Law,” indicate that these are local Thames cricket players. The poem seems to be from one of their players, but is it one of the XI that played? W W Robinson (who was known to compose verses) was an early Thames player before moving to Auckland around 1877 and could be another likely suspect, except that he was visiting England and didn’t return till early February 1881 (in Rowan Gibbs' W W Robinson on the Cricket Field, 2013). There were other Auckland cricketer-poets around like W F Buckland and William Outhwaite. Could they have sent in the poem? But it is surely someone who knew and played with the Thames cricketers.
For now, it all remains a mystery. Enjoy the poem.


The Deserted Cricket Field

The following has been forwarded to us by an embryo poet. From the post-mark it appears to have emanated from the Whau:—

Not a sound was heard, not a cricketer’s shout,
As forth to the field we proceeded;
No more was kicked up the devil’s own rout —
The requisites all lay unheeded.

Then spake an ancient cricket ball,
Who’d braved the willow’s strokes:
Said he, “Oh what’s become of all
Those jovial cricketing blokes?

“Time was when we were worked to death,
And driven from square-leg to long-off,
But now, alas! we idly draw breath,
And are sorely tried with the cough,

“For our owners they leave us unheeded,
And let us catch cold in wet grass
’Tis no use, howe’er much we pleaded,
Our master he is such an ass.”

And then the ring did sore lament,
And wailed with anguish sad,
And swore a judgment had been sent—
’Twas enough to drive em’ mad.

Then up and spake a stalwart stump
And loud did curse his fate,
Said he, “By Jove my swag I’ll hump
And clear before ’tis late.

For how can I, who’ve lived a score
Of innings through and through,
Remain content to work no more;
I’ll off for pastures new.”

And as he spake he left the ring,
Who chanted the “Dead March in Saul;”
And the tears they fell as they solemnly sing
Both the bail, the bat and the ball.

“Come Lawless, Buttle, and Frater,
Burgess, Steedman, and Law,
Come, for the season is late,
The time for cricket is o’er.”

With this chorus the dejected ones finished,
And lifted their heads up and wept,
Let us hope their prayers will be answered
That the cricketers have not all slept,

For if all their energy’s gone,
Whate’er will become of the game,
And the folks will cry out every one,
“No cricket, By Jove, what a shame.”

(Thames Star, 18 January 1881, page 3)

Article © Mark Pirie 2013

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