Summer in New Zealand is in full-swing. Every summer, my siblings and I regularly head to the beach for a game of cricket, as do countless other New Zealanders. These games are usually not the traditional eleven-player sides and, with number restrictions, set fielding positions are not common. In my case, a sibling beach game consists of one batter, a bowler, a wicketkeeper, and one fielder, all of whom are rotated at the end of each over.

Playing cricket on the beach brings people together, and some matches involve far more people than the standard eleven per team. This was the case for the first recorded cricket match in New Zealand with teams consisting of 40 or 50 a side, where “fielders pleased themselves as to the position they took in fielding, and things were generally carried out in a very independent manner all round.”

Edwin Fairburn, Sketch map of CMS Mission Station Paihia – as in early times. Shows location of the first cricket match held in New Zealand. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library

December 20th 1832 marked the conclusion of exams for pupils at the Church Mission Society in Paihia, Bay of Islands. Prize-giving was held in the morning with the Reverend Henry Williams leaving the afternoon free for a rare day off. In celebration of the occasion, the whole settlement of Paihia and the surrounding area went to the northern end of Horotutu Beach for a game of cricket. Space for a cricket pitch in the area was difficult to find, but the northern wicket was placed roughly 20 metres from the steep hill and about 10 metres from the edge of the firm bank next to the sand (see map). 

According to Reverend Williams, the girls were “all fatigued” and therefore did not participate in the game. However, all the boys from the Church Mission School, both Māori and Pakeha, played alongside the townsfolk. A young five-year-old Edwin Fairburn was “allowed to join in” and later recounted his experience in his memoirs.

“I remember when my turn came (I had, had some practice at ‘round trap’ hitting balls) Mr. W. Williams who bowled to me saying we mustn’t be too hard on the youngsters – or something to that effect delivered me a very nice gentle ball which I hit over the bank (about 11 yards off) on to the beach where it rolled down some distance on the hard sand – and I got a run – at which our side applauded – while the other side grumbled and called out for short work to be made of me – The ball was thrown up to the opposite bowler who straightaway bowled me out – but I got a run in the first game of cricket played in NZ.”

Reverend Williams, in his journal, noted that the boys were “very expert, good bowlers” — and with the Reverend having imported the equipment himself, the boys most likely had experience playing the game prior to the first written recording. Or, as with the case of Edwin Fairburn, had some form of experience playing “round trap.”

In 1832, cricket was in its infancy — even in England. The game was not the highly organised matches that we see played at the Basin Reserve today, but, we can all relate to grabbing a bat and ball, a few friends and heading to the beach for a game.

Next time you’re at the sand drawn crease, know that you’re participating in a 185-year-old kiwi tradition, and remember to slip, slop, and slap one to cow corner.