Sunday, November 24, 2013

Riccarton Russell’s 1896 NZ cricket song

In late 1896, an Australian cricket team visited New Zealand, and were greeted with a song composed by George Warren “Riccarton” Russell, M.H.R, (1854-1937). Parts of it appeared in The Bruce Herald (Otago) during the match between Australia and Otago in November.
Russell had published his sheet music with a photo of the Australian team on the cover.
Newspaper reports stated that there was a huge attendance of 4,000 persons for the match between Otago and the visitors in Dunedin on the first day. The Government had granted all civil servants a half-day to go to the cricket. Otago fielded 15 players to Australia’s 11.
“The Australians batted first, and totalled 130, Iredale (34), Hill (34), [Harry] Trott (31), being top scorers. Four members of the team failed to score. The bowling of Fisher and Downes for Otago was much admired. A number of members of the local club went down to see the match, and I noticed one Milton enthusiast hard at work before the match started bowling to Iredale, Darling and Co. Locally the game is rather quiet, every one being too busy with other things to play at present [Bruce Herald report].”
The visit of the Australians had coincided with election week in New Zealand.
The game was extremely close: Australia making 130 and 95 and Otago 144 and 64 to lose the game by 17 runs. There had been rain overnight for the final day’s play and with Otago requiring 70 runs to win, the dampness worked in the Australians favour. The Australian bowler McKibbin developed a tremendous “break” on both sides of the wicket and his partner Trumble took 9 of the Otago wickets to fall.
Russell was a well-known Christchurch politician, then representing Riccarton for the Independent Liberal Party. He was defeated in the 1896 election so his cricket song didn’t help him. At the time, he was an advocate for women’s rights introducing a woman’s disabilities bill into the House of Representatives, then was re-elected in 1899 but became controversial falling out of favour with local voters in 1902. He later became a Minister of Internal Affairs and Public Health in the Mackenzie Government. He represented Riccarton and Avon for 17 years. He died at Eastbourne, Wellington, in 1937 at age 82.
Russell’s cricket song was called ‘Hurrah for the Bat and Ball,’ and had “a good swinging melody as well as vigorous words”.
It’s odd that there’s no copy of the song in the National Library of New Zealand’s sheet music archive.
Here’s the text of Russell’s song, four verses, a semi-chorus and chorus:


Hurrah for the Bat and Ball

On England’s smiling sward,
Or ’neath Australian skies,
Where’er the British tongue is heard,
Or proud our standard flies,
There’s heard, with loud acclaim,
As sounds a trumpet call,
The glorious fame of the grandest game,
The Battle of the Ball.

Here’s to grand old Cricket,
Great England’s greatest game;
O’er the wide, wide world, where the Flag’s unfurled,
They sing its lasting fame.
We’ll fight for home and duty,
But let what may befall,
This song we’ll sing, while the echoes ring,
“Hurrah for the Bat and Ball !”

Hurrah for the Bat and Ball
For the grandest game of all
O’er the wide, wide world,
Where the flag’s unfurled,
“Hurrah for the Bat and Ball !”

With eye so clear and bright,
And strong and sinewy hand,
The Batsman to the wicket steps,
And boldly takes his stand.
No sickly youth is he,
No fears his mind appal,
He’s there to fight with skill and might
The Battle of the Ball.


And now the field outspreads,
The Bowler takes his aim,
A drive for four goes o’er their heads,
And cheers the runs proclaim.
With stroke, and cut, and slip,
And caution with it all,
He fights with skill and real good will
The Battle of the Ball.


But if you’re not in luck,
If down your wickets go,
If all your score is but a duck,
Why, take that duck and go.
And when you’re in the field,
Whatever may befall,
Be brave and fight with skill and might
The Battle of the Ball.

(Full text with sheet music is in the National Library of Australia collection and is online at:

An Obituary appeared for Russell in The Evening Post, 28 June 1937, page 11:


The death occurred at Eastbourne this morning of the Hon. G. W. Russell, a former Minister of the Crown, at the age of 82. Mr. Russell, who had been ill for some months, had been living in retirement at Eastbourne for the past seven or eight years.
The late Mr. Russell, who was born in London, was educated at the Launceston Grammar School, Tasmania, and privately in New Zealand. Selecting journalism as his profession, he served his apprenticeship with the “Evening Post,” Wellington. Afterwards, for three years, he was a probationer for the Wesleyan Ministry, but he resigned, and again decided to devote his energies to journalism. In 1878 he became sub-editor of the Wellington “Chronicle,” but retired to establish the Herald.” Subsequently he owned the “Manawatu Times,” and established the “Waikato News.”
During his residence in the North Island he took a lively interest in politics and municipal affairs, but his efforts to enter the House of Representatives were unsuccessful. In 1889 Mr. Russell removed to Christchurch, and for some time was a contributor to the “Lyttelton Times.” Later he established the firm of Russell and Willis, printers, and was publisher of the “Spectator.” In 1890 he was a candidate for the Heathcote seat in the Liberal interest. The Labour Party nominated Mr. W.W. Tanner, and the Conservative nominee was Mr. R. H. (later Sir Heaton) Rhodes. After conducting a vigorous campaign, Mr. Russell, in order that the Conservatives should not win the seat, withdrew in favour of Mr. Tanner, who was returned with a majority of 212 votes. Three years later Mr. Russell was Liberal candidate for Riccarton, his Conservative opponent being Mr. W. Boag. Mr. Russell won the seat with over a hundred votes to spare. In the House he quickly established a reputation as an incisive speaker and a keen critic. The Hon. William Rolleston opposed Mr. Russell in 1896, and defeated him by 391 votes. When another election came round Mr. Russell threw down a challenge to the ex-superintendent, whom he defeated by a single vote in one of the keenest contests ever fought. In the 1899-1902 Parliament Mr. Russell showed much independence in his criticism of the Government, and this caused dissatisfaction among his constituents, with the result that at the 1902 election the Liberals of the district brought out Mr. George Witty to oppose him, and Mr. Russell was defeated by 285 votes. Mr. Witty again defeated him in 1905. In 1908 Mr. Russell stood for Avon against Mr. Tanner, in whose interests he had retired from Heathcote eighteen years before. Two other candidates were also in the field. Mr. Russell won at the second ballot by 542 votes. At the 1911 election he defeated three other candidates, his principal opponent being Mr. James McCombs. It was then that he took Ministerial rank, in the Mackenzie Cabinet, and during the war he held the portfolios of Internal Affairs, Marine, and Health. He left the House of Representatives in 1919, when he was defeated by Mr. D. G. Sullivan. Though Mr. Russell is best known as a politician, particularly, in his administration of the Health Department, his most lasting work was probably done in other fields, education and authorship. As a member of the Board of Governors of Canterbury College he sacrificed his own private affairs to set those of the university in order, discovering forgotten endowments that meant much in money to the institution.
“A New Heaven,” which he wrote at the turn of the century, but did not publish till 1917, is a remarkable exposition of the ideal ethical life. His other published works are “A Manual of the Duties of Life,” “New Zealand Today” (1919), and “Citizenship” (1922).

(Sources: Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand; The Trove, National Library of Australia)

Article © Mark Pirie 2013


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