In rural Taranaki, between paddocks and alongside a railway line, a quaint white pavilion sits with its back to the iconic mountain. A small town hall and monument to locals lost in World Wars complete the typical New Zealand country scene.

This is Tariki Domain.

The settlement of Tariki was recorded as a small Maori kāinga when European surveyors passed through the area and, today, its status is no more grand.

The impact of people, beyond the cultivated fields, amounts to a couple of businesses, an abandoned butcher’s shop, and houses scattered along the main road, Mountain Road, and its peripheral road, Old Mountain Road.

However, as the 19th Century closed and the world moved in to the 1900s, this settlement and its cricket ground were fighting to become the heart of Taranaki cricket.

Then, a simple letter broke that heart.

Tariki c1880s. Frontier Life – Taranaki, New Zealand. Edwin Stanley Brookes lithograph via Te Ara.

A Taranaki representative side first took the field in 1877 when James Lillywhite’s English XI visited New Zealand on a break from their Australian tour. After the side’s Aotearoa detour, they returned to Australia and made history by playing the first ever Test.

The Taranaki twenty-two, a stacked side to try and even the odds, were no match for the experience English XI who won by an innings and one run. It was a low-scoring affair – the highest score was just 18 – but the stacked Taranaki side meant the English bowlers could stack up some remarkable figures. James Lilywhite himself took 13 wickets for 19 runs in the first innings alone. In the second Taranaki innings, James Southerton – a slow round arm bowler, took 13 for 25. Nine of his wickets were bowled.

 

After this, Taranaki made their First-Class debut in 1883 and played Hawke’s Bay three times in 1892. All of these games were arranged without a formalised cricket association.

That development came in 1894, when a meeting of local cricketers resulted in the formation of the Taranaki Cricket Association.

The new association didn’t immediately see a rush of representative fixtures appear on the calendar but it must’ve had some impact on cricket in the region: ahead of the 1896-97 season three new clubs joined the fray. This is where we first see the Tariki Cricket Club.

 

In 1896, Tariki was a growing settlement with the New Plymouth Sash and Door Company’s saw-mill a major employer. The census of April that year lists more than 500 residents as residing on the three roads that made up Tariki.

With the formation of the cricket club, Tariki was being celebrated as a sporting hub. Cricket joining the football club and the Caledonian sports as athletic pursuits defining the settlement. By 1900, the settlement was being celebrated for having, perhaps, Taranaki’s only concrete pitch.

 

Such was the strength of the new club, they went in to their first season with two sides: seniors and juniors. To ensure plenty of games, the Taranaki Cricket Association permitted senior and junior sides to play in the same competition. To ensure that competition was balanced, junior sides played with 15 men.

In their fourth year of existence, Tariki made the final of Taranaki’s northern district championship. Travelling to New Plymouth, the visitors won the day and the right to face Hawera in the Taranaki championship.

On the 28th of April, 1900, Tariki hosted Hawera in the championship match, and it was a farce.

Hawera had just eight players.

Play started three hours late due to a wet pitch.

The eleven-player-side beat the eight-player-side by 37 runs.

Using the Taranaki Herald’s match report as a guide, it seems the good folks of Tariki were accommodating enough to loan their players to Hawera as fielders – after making 3, Harkness caught his teammate Hunwick for a duck.

This perhaps led to the visiting side’s enjoyment of the day which was reported as:

“the visitors were very well pleased with their day’s outing, and spoke kindly of the kindness shown them” – Taranaki Herald, 2 May 1900

However, the farcical nature of Tariki’s first championship had only begun to blossom.

In mid-October, 1900, the Taranaki Cricket Association held their Annual General Meeting. The Carrington Road Cricket Club joined, points for wins and draws were determined, and the Tariki Cricket Club raised their hands to speak, twice.

The first motion proposed by the Club was to move the Cricket Association headquarters to their small settlement. The motion was lost but the champions had shown their ambition.

Knowing what was to come from Tariki may have influenced some of the votes, as a letter of August 4th was presented to the committee. The contents weren’t mentioned in reports of the meeting, only that the Tariki Club was asked to apologise for said letter.

When the Taranaki Cricket Association met a month later, they didn’t mix words, proposing:

Tariki Cricket Club, 1899-00. Auckland Weekly News 24 August 1900. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19000824-3-4

“That the Tariki Club and all members thereof be absolutely disqualified from playing with any club affiliated to the Association, they having refused to apologise for their letter of the 4th August last.” – Taranaki Herald, November 24 1900

Something touched a nerve.

 

By January 1901, the Tariki Club were investigating forming another association with a supporter already putting forward money for a trophy.

While nothing came of the proposal, Tariki continued to push their case. Such was the interest in their plight that a public meeting was held in March 1901. Representatives from several local clubs heard Tariki’s side of events and determined that, considering they had already missed a season, their disqualification should be removed.

No one from the Taranaki Cricket Association attended.

The disqualification remained.

At the start of the 1901-02 season, Tariki hosted Stratford and won easily. The means of their victory garnered much praise from the Taranaki Daily News correspondent covering the game. However, in the next sentence, the author questioned why Stratford would stoop to play a disqualified team.

In that correspondent’s view:

“Good cricket is desirable; still more desirable is respect and support of the duly constituted and elected authority for cricket in Taranaki.” – Taranaki Daily News, 27 November 1901

It’s unclear which committee member wrote for the Daily News.

 

For a few years after this there are scattered references to Tariki in newspaper reports – with the fact that other clubs were using their ground the most notable feature – and, then, Tariki returned.

A meeting in 1909 established a new Tariki Cricket Club, making reference to the very good side which had represented the settlement some years before. Then, the final line, gives the clue as to why Tariki Cricket Club had ever disappeared at all:

“Some of the members of the old Tariki eleven that won the Taranaki cup about a decade ago are still in the district and the “cap” incident is still well remembered” – Taranaki Herald, 6 October 1909

As far as we’re aware, the letter doesn’t exist today and no copy was ever published. In a history of the early years of the Taranaki Cricket Association, the assumption was made that the letter was in reference to Hawera only sending eight players to the final. However, the 1909 Taranaki Herald report identifies the letter’s main concern related to headwear.

So, what was the “cap incident” and why was it so inexorably offensive?

 

The answer lies in another copy of the Taranaki Herald, through a letter to the editor in October 1900. In that letter, the author, Henry Pote, notes:

“…from this the public are led to infer that the Tariki CC was responsible for having given utterances to something outrageous. It is a pity the letter in question was not also published…” – Taranaki Herald, 26 October 1900

Our thoughts exactly.

Pote, the scribe who penned the letter to the editor, may well have been the same who wrote the incriminating letter that started this situation. He certainly didn’t mix his words when referring to the mismanagement of the Taranaki Cricket Association, run by “a body of men who are utterly unfit to occupy such a position”.

The trouble began with Tariki winning the previous season’s title where, apparently, caps had been promised to the members of the victorious team. A gift from a “private gentleman”, these caps arrived late to Tariki, were delivered without a note of their origin or congratulations, no care had been taken to pack them or to have them made to fit, or even in the colours of the club.

So, with all this considered, the Tariki Cricket Club sent them back. With a letter.

 

Again, although that letter no longer exists, and may even have been ceremonially burned at an Association meeting, the letter to the editor gives a strong hint as to its tone. This is no clearer anywhere other than the closing remarks:

“In conclusion, let me state that the members of the Tariki CC, so far from apologising, only regret that they are unable to express more emphatically their utter contempt for the free and easy manner in which the Association is carried on, with a complete disregard of their own rules and all precedents.” – Taranaki Herald, 26 October 1900

With that, it was clear that no apology was forthcoming and, as we now know, the Taranaki Cricket Association would not back down either. The Tariki Cricket Club faded into a decade of obscurity immediately after being celebrated as the best club in the region.

The most recent reference to a cricket club residing at the Tariki Domain placed the Ratapiko Cricket Club there in the 2008-09 season. In the draws for 2016-17, there is no mention of Ratapiko as a team or Tariki Domain as a venue.

We wonder if, in that quaint white pavilion, in the ceiling or behind the bar, might be a box of caps. The wrong colour, the wrong size, and with a letter that uses all sorts of wrong words.

Tariki Hall, c2012 by Sue Page via Kete New Plymouth

Amidst the rise and fall of the local cricket club, the Tariki Domain was a constant for local community activities.

Among those who traversed the marked track around the boundary was a man who could put one foot in front of the other quicker than most from a young age.

Newspaper reports for Tariki’s annual sports day, from 1896 through the early years of the new century, almost all reference the name of Harry Kerr as one of the starters in the one mile walk.

There are few years where he isn’t the winner, and none where he isn’t the only man to start from scratch. That is, he gave everyone else a head start. Some men started over 200 yards ahead of Kerr.

Kerr was a fixture at his home sports event, but he was in hot demand elsewhere. Every season he would venture south to Dunedin’s Caledonian Sports until he took a mandatory stand down from prize events to qualify as an amateur.

Unlike today, amateur status was a necessity in order to chase glory in the biggest events. In 1908, at the biggest of events, Harry Kerr would make his mark on history and cement his place as Tariki’s most famous son.

On the other side of the world, at the 1908 London Olympic games, Harry Kerr’s strapping 6ft 4” frame walked to a bronze medal. The first such prize for a New Zealander.

Harry Kerr via Olympic.org.nz