In 1841, the Legislative Council of New Zealand was established as the upper house of the New Zealand Parliament. Originally consisting of just three high ranking officials, it’s structure changed in 1853 to allow a greater range of members to be appointed for life terms. The Legislative Council was tasked with reviewing and amending bills passed by the elected members of the House of Representatives, a service it maintained until it was disbanded in 1951.
The privileged Pakeha men who made up the Council had grown their numbers to be 44-strong in 1872 but, when five men left over the course of the year, new recruits were required. In a much-needed showing of diversity, the esteemed Mokena Kohere and Wi Tako Ngātata were added, albeit with five more Pakeha men. Among these five, was George Randall Johnson.
Born in Suffolk in 1833, George Randall Johnson was educated at Cambridge University where, outside his studies, he made twelve First-Class appearances for their cricket side. Later, he would play a further 14 First-Class games, including nine for the MCC, one appearance for the Gentleman of England, and twice playing in the infamous Gentleman v Players match. His selection in these sides highlights his standing in society more than his cricketing prowess – his career numbers are fairly middle-of-the-road. Randall Johnson moved to Poverty Bay in 1867 and, while there are no references to him playing in New Zealand, he maintained his links to the game through appearances for the famous I Zingari club on return visits to England. His cricketing lineage would also continue through his son, Peter Randall Johnson.
When Somerset selected Peter Randall Johnson in their County Championship side to play Middlesex on May 19 1902, he became the first New Zealander to feature in that competition
Peter was the last of George and Lucy Johnson’s five children, and the first boy. He spent the first 10 years of his life living in the upper echelons of New Zealand society between the family’s run near Gisborne and Wellington, before the family moved to England sometime around 1890. By 1900, Peter had followed in his father’s footsteps, studying at Cambridge and playing First-Class cricket.
Although his school captain described him as mixing up “wides and wickets like a right-handed Tom Emmett”¹, Randall Johnson’s performances for the University were enough to see him rewarded with a debut for Somerset against the touring 1901 South African side. Another highlight was a match against WG Grace’s London County side in 1901 where he claimed 4-99. Unfortunately, he could neither lay claim to having dismissed Grace or being dismissed by him – a repeat of his father’s appearance against Grace in 1873.
At the time of Randall Johnson’s debut, a player’s eligibility for a County was determined either through birth or residence. As he was born in New Zealand and studying at Cambridge, Peter Randall Johnson met neither of these conditions to play for Somerset. In an often repeated story, his selection came via a geographical quirk: when he was asked where he was born, he simply answered “Wellington”. Ignoring the fact that Wellington, New Zealand and Wellington, Somerset are over 18000km apart.
Randall Johnson returned to his country of birth immediately after his first County season, touring with Lord Hawke’s XI. Starting in North America and concluding in Australia, the middle portion of the lengthy tour saw the side play 18 matches around New Zealand. While many individuals produced notable performances – including Pelham Warner hitting the first double century in this country – Randall Johnson’s best effort came in the last game on New Zealand soil. In that match, at the Basin Reserve in his hometown of Wellington, he hit 88 as Hawke’s XI won by an innings and 22 runs.
In a career that spanned 27 years and 275 First-Class matches, Randall Johnson amassed nearly 12000 runs with 18 centuries. He was undoubtedly at his best in 1908 when he had a stretch of innings reading 164, 131, 117, 19, 31, 126. In spite of these achievements he was a divisive figure within cricket teams, known to prefer a game of poker on a Saturday night and Dickens on a Sunday afternoon to the company of his teammates. In keeping with his privileged upbringing, he would often turn up on match day elegantly dressed in a silk cravat, “top hat and spotless morning coat”².
¹ More Cricket Prints; Some Batsmen and Bowlers 1920-1945, RC Robertson-Glasgow, 1948. Tom Emmett was a particulary fast, particularly erratic English bowler who played from 1866 to 1888.
² Sunshine, Sixes and Cider: A History of Somerset Cricket, David Foot, 1986