It’s a striking image: two young women stand with bats and caps in hand, the bank at Whanganui’s Cook’s Gardens rising behind them in the summer of 1934.
The pair were posed to celebrate their achievement of each scoring a century for Canterbury in the annual Amalgamated Theatres Shield competition.
Both were stars on the rise.
Margaret Marks, her radiant smile beaming, had just turned 16 and would play in New Zealand’s first Test against England the following summer.
Sporting a wry smile with her sleeves cut off and her tall frame slightly hunched, probably a little shy and perhaps embarrassed by the spotlight, Blanche Te Rangi was arguably the brightest talent in New Zealand cricket.
Less than five months later, she was dead.
Blanche Te Rangi was born in 1916 or 1917, the child of James Hanueri Hohepa Te Rangi and Sarah Ann Madams. James was Ngāi Tahu, while Sarah was the daughter of an English-born farmer, noted as one of the Otago region’s early settlers. The pair had married in 1906 and likely moved around the Canterbury region for a few years before settling in Phillips Street in central Christchurch.
This is where Blanche would spend her teenage years, attending Avonside Girls High School where she was commended for her efforts in French and Arithmetic. It’s unclear whether the school had any great ambitions for its girls to play cricket, the fact that Blanche led the establishment of the Mai Moa Cricket Club in the early 1930s perhaps points to how much of a priority it was the for the school.
The first newspaper reference to Mai Moa playing is a brief report from a match at the start of the 1932-33 season. Fittingly, the only player whose score is noted is Blanche – she hit 22 of the team’s total of 48. The following week’s cricket draw features 16 teams in the Girls’ Association with three representing Mai Moa, highlighting the strength of women’s cricket in the city and the rapid rise of the new club.
Preceding Mai Moa’s introduction to senior cricket, however, Blanche was selected to make her Canterbury debut at just 15 years-old as the province hosted Otago at Hagley Park in March 1932.
While there are no reports of Blanche’s cricketing efforts before her selection, save one brief mention of playing for an unidentified club before Mai Moa originated, the Evening Star report on the game gave evidence that word of Blanche’s bowling feats had spread well beyond Canterbury,
Report [sic] concerning the bowling ability of Miss B. Te Rangi had preceded the Canterbury girl, and she certainly lived up to her reputation, taking six wickets for 17 runs. She bowled with plenty of devil, and few of the Otago girls were at home against her fast deliveries.
Evening Star, 28 March 1932
More understatement from the press, with Blanche bowling her opponents for five of her six wickets.
The match was seen as an excellent spectacle with several hundred spectators in attendance. It was also a close game, with Canterbury winning by just five runs. Blanche was the hero for Canterbury, coming back on to bowl at the end of the innings when Hazel Johnston was mounting her best effort to get the unheralded Otago side over the line. Johnston was the last out, caught off Blanche’s bowling.
With Mai Moa in their debut club season of 1932-33, Blanche is a constant in match reports: in November she claimed 5 wickets for 1 run with her “speedy leg break” in a game where Mai Moa’s opponents made a team score of just 3; December saw her take 7 for 9, a “praiseworthy” performance according to the understated newspaper reporter; February saw three wickets, all bowled, in four balls against High School Old Girls; while she closed off the season with 58* and 5 for 12 against Argyle House.
Off the back of Blanche’s incredible contributions – she scored 200 runs and claimed 44 wickets at an average of 3.3 in the 1932-33 season – Mai Moa won the senior championship at their first attempt.
At the start of the next season, international cricket almost came knocking for Blanche and the women’s cricketers of Aotearoa. As no women’s council had been establishing in New Zealand, it was the Christhucrch Girls’ Cricket Association who received a letter from the Australian Women’s Cricket Council suggesting an all-expenses paid trip to Australia in February 1934. The tour was to take in games against country and state teams before an Australia v New Zealand Test concluded the occasion.
Officials in Christchurch asked for advice from their colleagues around New Zealand but the immediate feeling was that the players in New Zealand were not quite ready for an arduous tour and the might of Australia. They would also only have three months to set their affairs in order so, in spite of much enthusiasm across the Tasman – where they were especially excited about the Test making history as the first women’s international – the idea was scuppered.
The New Zealand Herald’s report on the proposed tour closes with a statement which is hard to read without thinking of Blanche, who, as the star of Canterbury cricket, would’ve been among the first asked to tour,
New Zealand would have been represented at the hockey carnival in Africa in 1930 if the South Africans had not felt so strongly about the colour question. No such objection would be raised in Australia if the women cricketers brought some Maori players with them. Instead, their presence should prove a draw-card and be as attractive as the Maori Rugby Union footballers who find a place in the representative men’s teams.
New Zealand Herald, 29 November 1933
So, instead of travelling to Australia in February 1934, the Christchurch Girls’ Cricket Association instead played a trial match of Possibles v Probables. The game was to help confirm selections for the Canterbury team to travel to Whanganui and the Amalgamated Theatres Shield competition.
Captaining the Possibles was the woman who, the following season, would become the WHITE FERNS’ first captain, Ruth Symons.
Opposing her in charge of the Probables?
Blanche Te Rangi.
Unsurprisingly, the pair were both selected for the Amalgamated tournament, Symons as captain and Te Rangi as her deputy.
The opening game of the tournament saw Blanche and Margaret Marks hit their centuries as Canterbury amassed 369 against Whanganui B. The home side could only make 32 in reply. It could have been worse, however, if Symons had decided to throw the ball to Blanche at any point.
Canterbury went on to win the Amalgamated Theatres Shield by beating Wellington Technical College Old Girls comfortably in the final.
Back in Christchurch, at the end of season club awards in April 1934, the DG Sullivan Cup was presented to Blanche as captain of the Mai Moa team, back-to-back winners of the senior championship. The awards ceremony also gave her a chance to show off one of her off-field skills as she entertained the crowd with a number of songs played on her ukulele.
It was an exciting time for women’s cricket in in New Zealand, with the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council meeting for the first time following the Whanganui tournament, discussions starting regarding an English team visiting in 1935, and the creation of a true national competition being explored.
After standout performances with both bat and ball to her credit in provincial cricket, Blanche could easily have seen herself playing a major role in that exciting future.
Then, sometime in May 1934, Blanche fell ill with tuberculosis.
At the time, the preferred method of sending patients with TB to sanatoriums was on the wane, replaced instead with surgery. Neither approach was particularly successful and it wouldn’t be until 1942 that an effective anti-tuberculosis drug was discovered. Deaths from TB in New Zealand were also 10 times higher among the Maori population, further adding to the dire situation facing the Te Rangi family.
On July 15 1934, Blanche died at Cashmere’s Coronation Hospital at just 17 years-old.
The brightest star in New Zealand cricket would never get her chance to show the world her talent.
Tributes were published around New Zealand, with cricket clubs and provincial women’s cricket council’s noting the passing of the teenager who was “largely responsible” for Canterbury’s provincial success. In the obituary printed in Wellington’s Evening Post, the last line left a fitting, humble, tribute to her influence,
She set her teammates an example in every department of play.
Evening Post, 18 July 1934
The legacy of Blanche didn’t end with her death, however, as her exploits were shared through Christchurch cricket for years after her death. Blanche’s family also continued to shape the game, combining to ensure her legacy continued through them.
Elizabeth Tini (nee Te Rangi), Blanche’s sister, had a long involvement in cricket administration, including as Vice President of the New Zealand Women’s Cricket Council. Her involvement with Canterbury saw her manage a number of teams, becoming a life member of the association in 1969.
She was also an ardent supporter of her daughter, Mere Ana Tini, who represented Canterbury from 1949 to 1962. Although just four when Blanche died, Ana mentioned in an interview with Adrienne Simpson that her introduction to cricket came through the legacy left by her Aunt.
In 1957, Ana got the chance to do what Blanche missed out on: travelling to Australia with the New Zealand women’s side to play in the Australian Women’s Cricket Championship.
In that side she played alongside her sister-in-law, Mary Rouse, who would play Test cricket for New Zealand as well as for Canterbury alongside her sisters, Anne and Jean. Another sister-in-law, Ethna Rouse, completes the cricket dynasty, having also played for Canterbury and New Zealand.
Today, Ana Rouse (her married name) is remembered in Canterbury cricket through the Ana Rouse Cup for Services to Women’s Club Cricket.
Although there are no players left today who played with Blanche, Margaret Marks died in 2014, she was still talked about in Christchurch club cricket for many years after her death. Many of the older players who were around when Pat Quickenden – a two-Test WHITE FERN born in 1930 – was introduced to club cricket in the 1940s would still speak of Blanche Te Rangi,
When I first came in to it, her name was that she was a tremendous bowler. Fantastic.
If only we’d seen just how fantastic she could’ve been.