New Zealand was a divided nation in 1864; the New Zealand Wars were tearing apart the North Island, while gold miners from around the world flocked to the South Island in search of their fortunes. With migrants flooding in, the identity of the fledgling country was still seen to be very much tied to England. As newspaper editors pushed the message that England, and ‘Englishness’, was to be celebrated, the people of Dunedin turned to cricket to reaffirm those ties.
While most of the main centres had organised cricket clubs, the game was still in its infancy in New Zealand. Many matches were played between Married and Single teams, or featured the South side of the street taking on the North side of the street, but there was certainly an enthusiasm for the game which saw it fast becoming our national sport. Because of this, there was huge interest in the planned visit of George Parr’s All England XI to Australia in 1864.
At the time, George Parr was regarded as the “most celebrated batsman of the age” and the tour was just the second by an English side to the Southern Hemisphere, increasing interest throughout Australia and New Zealand. In promoting the team, George Marshall, their Melbourne agent, described it as “about the finest the world ever saw”, before going on to say that “not even England itself has ever brought so much talent on one side as the Eleven I am prepared to send.” The sales pitch worked on the Dunedin Cricket Club who sought to bring the side to the southern city for a festival of cricket. When the cost of the tour was set at £2000, the Club immediately dropped out but the idea had caught the imagination of the city and they had just the man with the means to fund the tour.
Shadrach Jones was a surgeon, auctioneer, politician, publican and, most of all, an entrepreneur. Born in England, Jones worked his way to New Zealand via the Bendigo goldfields in Australia. Settling in Dunedin, he quickly became prominent in the city, largely through heavy investing in hotels and his philanthropic deeds. When the idea was floated that Parr’s All England XI should visit Dunedin, it was Jones who stepped in and laid down the sum required to ensure the tour would go ahead. Through discussions with Marshall in Melbourne, what started out as negotiations for a single match soon turned into a three match engagement that required a down-payment payment of, at least, £3500. With a match in Christchurch now added, Jones negotiated with prominent citizens in that city to help support the tour. As the gate takings and other revenue was granted to the promoter, Jones and his investors paid the sum on expectation of a tidy return. From their dealings, Marshall congratulated New Zealand on “having such an ardent, enthusiastic and liberal representative as Mr Jones.”
While excitement for the tour was high, newspapers realised the weight that Jones had burdened himself with, urging the “few lukewarm-hearted of our colonists to subscribe liberally and at once” to the cricket matches. Unfortunately, no amount of urging from newspaper editors could overcome the issues caused by gale-force winds and grounds that proved hard to fence-off. The tour was a success with the public but was financially crippling for Jones, forcing him to sell his business interests and return to auctioneering. His wealth never returned and he left Dunedin in the years after the visit of Parr’s XI, travelling the world for over a decade before returning to the south in 1882.
Shadrach Jones was known as a man who had a love for the hunt and wasn’t afraid to take risks – in his obituary it was noted that his “ideas were magnificent, but … not always practicable”. In Dunedin, his unwavering support of a raft of causes and public events made him extremely popular within the city and sealed his place as one of New Zealand’s first entrepreneurs. But his legacy to cricket has been all but forgotten.
The visit of Parr’s XI was seen as boost a for the province of Otago, an assertion of English nobility, and a driver to increase interest in cricket. While it wasn’t financially successful, it did tick these boxes. Most notably, it led to New Zealand’s first, First Class match, played between Otago and Canterbury in the days leading up to the first match between the Otago XXII and Parr’s XI. Although Canterbury were instilled as 7-1 favourites, Otago were the historic winners, their side bolstered by five cricketers who had already experienced First Class cricket with Victoria in Australia.
In the years following Parr’s visit, Otago and Canterbury would continue to play an annual First Class fixture. At the same time, other centres began to play each other in non-First Class matches. Eventually, the 1873-74 season saw a sudden surge in the First Class cricket scene in New Zealand. But it was Dunedin’s 1864 festival of cricket, made possible by the support of the enigmatic Shadrach Jones, which proved to be ahead of its time and introduced New Zealand to its summer game.