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James Bevan


James Alfred Bevan became the first captain of Wales on 19th February 1881. The Welsh team selected was not fully representative of Wales . In fact, as well as the Australian Bevan, they comprised four Englishmen and two Irishmen.

Bevan was born on 15th April 1858 at St. Kilda in Victoria , Australia . The son of James Bevan and Elizabeth Fly, who tragically died on the SS London in 1866 when he was seven years old. The Melbourne bound, SS London sank in the Bay of Biscay on 11th January, 1866. It was a tragic disaster. The passengers were told by the captain some time before the ship sank that there was no hope for them and there were distressing scenes. The ship carried 270 passengers and there were only 19 survivors. An account of the last days of the Rev. Daniel Draper who died on the ship exists in the book "Understanding Our Christian Heritage Volume II" and says in part

"A day after they sailed the wind increased in violence. There was a very heavy sea. The following day (Monday) some of the passengers became very anxious. The wind was blowing with great violence. Monday night was a night of distress. Many of the passengers read their Bibles together and engaged in prayer. On Tuesday the large vessel was tossed about like a cork, and whole seas dashed over her. The lifeboat was torn away by the winds and the waves. The masts were broken and the ship dismantled. It seemed as though the raging elements were venting their fury upon what was a noble work of man."

"During the whole of Tuesday night some of the passengers read the Bible in turns."

"Early on Wednesday morning the captain tried to run back to Plymouth . The storm increased in fury. The sea ran mountains high. Both lifeboats were swept away. During Wednesday night one disaster after another overtook the ill-fated London . The engine-room was flooded with water. The vessel was now so damaged that it seemed impossible to keep out the sea. Various expedients were tried. Passengers and crew worked incessantly at the pumps. Still the water in the engine-room rose higher. The fires were put out. The engines ceased to work. In the midst of all these appalling disasters the noble-hearted Captain Martin remained perfectly calm and collected, never forsaking the post of duty. All that skillful seamanship could do had been done. He now ordered the maintop-sail to be set; but the wind tore it to shreds. "You may now say your prayers, boys," said he."

"Thursday morning came. The gale was as fierce as ever. The vessel rolled helplessly in the sea. A tremendous body of water stove in four windows of the upper or poop cabin. The passengers and crew had worked nobly at the pumps, but the vessel was now half-full of water. The remaining boats were got ready. The starboard pinnance was lowered, but was almost immediately swamped and sunk. Captain Martin went down into the saloon. "Ladies," said he, "there is no hope for us, I am afraid; nothing short of a miracle can save us." Said Mr. Draper, very calmly, "Let us pray." The vessel was now settling down."

The ship had 50 tons of coals on deck, which washed about and stopped the supper holes; she was also overloaded with 1,200 tons of iron.

Perhaps the most fateful decision the captain of the SS London made was on the 10th January he decided to head back to Plymouth . This only made the ship pass through the centre of the storm again and she didn't stand a chance.

After his parents death Bevan went to live with his uncle in Grosmont, Monmouthshire and was educated at Hereford Cathedral School  and St. Johns College , Cambridge . He gained rugby blues in 1877 and 1880 and played for Clifton in the 1878-1879 season.

Above 1877 Cambridge University XV with James Bevan. Back Row (L-R): C.M. Kennedy, P.H. Clifford, P.T. Wrigley, C.E. Jeffcock, J.A. Bevan. Middle Row: C.H. Coates, H.R. Clayton, S.R. James, W.L. Agnew, C. Gurdon. Front: G.S. Albright, R.T. Finch, D.Q. Steel, H.H. Browell. This Varsity match was played at The Oval, Kennington, London on 12th December 1877.

The 1877 Varsity rugby match was won by Oxford by two tries to nil. They would loose only one match all season against a United Hospitals side that included six internationals.  Cambridge had ten new players in their team.

Bevan did not play in the 1878 or 1879 varsity matches.

The 1880 Varsity match was played on 10th December. It was the first time the match had been played on Richardson ’s Field. Previously it had taken place at The Oval. The match was a draw with one try a piece. In all three varsity rugby matches were played at Richardson ’s Field. After then the varsity match was moved to Rectory Field when Blackheath had to move ground.

Above the Cambridge University XV of 1880. Back Row (L-R): R.M. Yetts, J.G. Tait, A.R. Don Wauchope, E. Rice, S. Pater, J.A. Bevan, E. Storey, W.M. MacLeod. Front Row: E.S. Chapman, H.G. Fuller, J.T. Steele, C.P. Wilson, P.T. Wrigley, H.Y.L. Smith, A.S. Taylor.

Bevan almost won the 1880 varsity match for Cambridge with a dropped goal, but the umpires disallowed it after a dispute and the match was drawn, each side scoring 1 try. This varsity match was played at Blackheath’s, Richardson ’s Field on 14th December 1880. 2 months later Bevan would lead out Wales on the same pitch.

Bevan is listed as playing for Newport when selected as captain of Wales . He only actually ever played once for them in the 1880-81 season. He had been selected to captain a side in a Wales Trial match at Swansea in December 1880 with R.L.Knight of Oxford University as the other captain. The match never took place and further attempts to stage this match were again disrupted by bad weather. What didn't help was that the RFU insisted that the England v Wales match be played on 19th February 1881. This was the same day that Swansea were playing Llanelli at Neath in a semi-final cup-tie thus depriving Wales of several players. Eventually the main force behind the Welsh side, Richard Mullock, selected the side himself.

Bevan was not the first choice captain. C. P. Lewis was originally asked but turned it down as he did not consider the team truly represented Wales .

England v Wales on 19th February 1881 at Blackheath was the first international between the countries. A game more noted for the chaotic organisation of the Welsh side than anything else. It was Wales first international. Organised before the Welsh RFU was set up. The players had never played together before. One player, Major Richard Summers was selected for Wales on his performances a couple of years earlier for his school, Cheltenham College , in matches against Cardiff and Newport . No formal invitations to play were sent out to the Welsh XV. Two of those expected to appear didn't turn up so bystanders, University undergraduates with tenuous Welsh links but who had traveled to London to see the match, had to be roped in to play for Wales. It also didn't help that the changing rooms were a local pub (The Princess of Wales which remains to this day). Both teams had to walk the half a mile across the common to play. Rumour has it that the Welsh team needed some Dutch courage before the match so had been drinking heavily. The game was a farce. The Welsh were hopelessly outplayed and under modern scoring values lost 82-0. Harry Vassall scored a hat-trick on this his debut for England . It is recorded that that the England captain Lennard Stokes threw a colossal pass to Hunt, giving him an easy try, but the umpires ordered it back, their decision that a long pass was not football.

Standing (L-R): W.D.Phillips ( Cardiff ), G.Harding ( Newport ), R.Mullock ( Newport ), F.Purdon ( Newport ), G.Darbishire ( Bangor ), E.Treharne (Ponypridd), R.G.D.Williams (Abercamlais). Sitting: T.A.Rees ( Oxford University and Llandovery), E.Peake ( Oxford University and Chepstow), J.A.Bevan (Captain) ( Cambridge University and Grosmont), B.E.Girling ( Cardiff ), B.B.Mann ( Cardiff ). On Ground: L.Watkins ( Oxford University and Llandaff), C.H.Newman ( Cambridge University and Newport ), E.J.Lewis ( Cambridge University and Llandovery), R.H.B Summers (Haverfordwest).

Above the first Welsh team of 1881 that lost heavily to England at Blackheath with ex Clifton RFC player James Bevan captaining Wales. 10 of these players, including Bevan, never played for Wales again. Richard Summers played in that match and said of their outfit: "We played in ordinary, light walking boots with a bar of leather across the sole to help us swerve. Jerseys were fitted high at the neck with serge blue knickers fastened below the knee with four or five buttons. We changed at the Princess of Wales public house nearby."

At the dinner following the match the England captain, Leonard Stokes, said “I’ve seen enough to know that you Welshmen will be hard to beat in a few years’ time when you get together”.

Following the heavy defeat the back stabbing started. The average age of this side was 23, 10 of these players, including Bevan, never played for Wales again. A month after the match the WRFU was founded at the Castle Hotel, Neath on 12th March 1881.

The London newspapers were naturally quite scathing at England’s ridiculously easy victory and collectively gave their readers the impression that Wales were lucky to get nil.

The backstabbing in Wales started almost straight away. An anonymous letter to the Western Mail wanted to know who had been responsible.


Above from the Western Mail on 28th February 1881.



The reply from Sam Clarke, the honorary secretary of the South Wales Football Union distanced himself and the union from any involvement in the team selection or the result.


I beg to inform your correspondent that the team which represented Wales was not elected by the committee of the South Wales Football Union; neither had they anything to do with it. As your correspondent assumes, Mr. Mullock was one of the committee who selected the Welsh team and will, no doubt, be pleased to give any information required.


Richard Mullock did not rely.


When everyone expected Mullock to be held responsible and excluded from any involvement from a Welsh International side he took control of the situation and organised a Welsh Rugby Football Union.


The RFU was not impressed by the course of events and the following season they refused to arrange a fixture. However they did sanction a North of England side playing Wales at Newport on 14th January 1882.

Bevan went home to Bristol and there is no record of him playing rugby again. Whilst working for Sibly & Dickinson, solicitors  in Bristol , he met Annie Woodall at Great Dinham Farm in Monmouthshire on the occasion of a shooting party. The Woodall family was apparently very religious and James was told that, if he wanted to marry Annie, he would have to give up smoking, drinking and hunting. This he did, to the extent that he became very involved in the church, gave up his legal studies and went to theological college in London , living in Hampstead. Annie apart, the catalyst for his conversion was an evangelist meeting in Bristol held by a William Clarke, who was also a well known athlete. Bevan would later name one of his sons William Clarke. Bevan and Annie had eleven children in all, and of their seven sons six entered the church.

He spent most of his life as Vicar at St. George's, The Park, Great Yarmouth from 1899-1936. The church was declared redundant in 1971, there were plans to Tarmac the site as a car park, but the borough council ploughed money into reviving the building when it became an arts centre, and the fine eighteenth century pulpit was moved to St Nicholas's church. It is now known as St. Georges Theatre .


James Bevan and his family in August 1907 at their home in Great Yarmouth. (L-R) Back Row: William Clarke, Dorothea, John, Edith, Eric. Seated: Hubert, Annie Susan (Winifred on knee), James Alfred, Ernest Guy. On the ground: Kenneth, Geoff.

Bevan retired in 1936 and went to live with his son, Ernest Guy Bevan's, house at 41 Forest Road East , Leytonstone, London . His wife died the following year.

Bevan was resident at St. Paul ’s Vicarage, Leytonstone in 1938, where he died on 3rd February of prostate cancer.  Coincidentally his son, William Clarke Bevan died the day before on February 2nd 1938.

On the day the newspapers announced his death Wales played Scotland at Murrayfield. They lost 8-6 to a penalty awarded to Scotland 2 minutes from time in front of 60,000 people. A minutes silence wasn't taken. Bevan's place in Welsh Rugby history had been completeley forgotten about.

His Memorial Service was held on the 8th February 1938 at St.Paul's at 1pm and the funeral took place at Hampstead Cemetry at 2.15pm. St. Paul 's church was pulled down a number of years ago and its parish was amalgamated with the neigbouring parish of St Catherines. A new building was erected, which is known as the "Cornerstone".


Above St. Paul 's Church, Leytonstone in 1952. Image courtesy of Vestry House Museum (London Borough of Walthan Forest). Next door is Leyton County High School for Boys where the actor Derek Jacobi was a pupil.

Bevan is buried in Grave No.79 Section K12 at Hampstead Cemetery along with his daughter Grace Elizabeth Bevan (died 26th November 1890), his wife Annie Susan Bevan (died 20th July 1937), and his daughter Dorethea Mary Bevan (died 12th February 1966).


Above the grave of James Alfred Bevan


The Rugby Unions of Wales and Australia celebrated the 100th year of Test rugby between the countries with the establishment of the “James Bevan Trophy”. To be played for each time the two sides meet, the James Bevan Trophy played for the first time in the Bundaberg Rum Rugby Series in Australia . Wales met the Qantas Wallabies at Telstra Stadium, Sydney, on May 26th 2007 and at Brisbane ’s Suncorp Stadium on June 2nd 2007.



© Patrick Casey, 2010
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