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Rosslyn Park's Antipodeans

As the NZ All Blacks and Australian Wallabies depart our shores, readers may be amused by letters unearthed during research into the ‘Rugby Remembers’ project to create a memorial to the WW1 fallen of Rosslyn Park.


Before the Great War, Park’s reputation and location, then in Old Deer Park, Richmond made it a magnet for sporting talent from what was still referred to as the Empire or Dominion, before Commonwealth became more acceptable. On our Roll of Honour are two prominent Aussies: ‘Syd’ Burdekin came from a noted political dynasty in Sydney, after which hotels, rivers and even battleships are named; George Eric Fairbairn won a silver rowing medal for Great Britain at the 1908 Olympics; Before the 1947 Nationality Act, Australians were still considered British citizens, which is why this Cambridge Blue rowed for us. (Matt Giteau, you were born too late, mate).


Then as now, these itinerant Antipodeans were completing their educations or professional training at Universities or hospitals in England, there presumably being little access to higher education in their native lands (arguably no longer the case, although London still seems a big draw for those on walkabout…). As ever the directness of their views on England is refreshing. The ‘Full Back’ column of the esteemed ‘Otago Witness’ of December 1908 carried this letter from Kiwi Alan A Adams, a London Hospital doctor, who also played for Park (back right in the 1912-13 team photo):


“I have been here ( London Hospital ) for a few months now and have seen a fair amount of English (rugby) football, but have not been greatly impressed. Things are very slack in the Rugby world, and the best matches get very few spectators. Matches are generally fixed to start at 3pm, but the majority of players turn up late, with the result that you very seldom get a start before 3.30 and then play spells of about 30 minutes each. Very little practice is indulged in and a scrum is never formed from one week’s end to another, so that a player unaccustomed to the formation here has to spend weeks trying to find a place to pack into.

The club football is very poor, and I have not seen a team here yet, county or club, which the Otago and Sydney Universities of 1906 or 1907 would not have beat quite easily. London Hospital have won all their matches to date and easily defeated Cambridge University by 29 points to 5. Neither team was at full strength, McLeod the University crack, being absent, as was MacPherson (late of Dunedin ) from the Hospital side. Cambridge are very weak. Chapman, the old Otago University forward is about their best, and although they seem to think a lot of him here, he is not up to interprovincial form by a long way. Mehaffey, another Otago man, is one of the best forwards here, and should get his English cap…

The Hospital team includes eight ex-Otago ‘Varsity players….Heale at outside half probably the best in London in the position…Palmer, the best back for London vs Australians.…amongst other New Zealanders here (at Guy’s) O’Kane played one match for Rosslyn Park , but has been laid up since.”

Their rugby talent cannot be denied: against Blackheath in 1909, five London Hospital Kiwis – Adams, Mehaffey, Macpherson, Macfarlane and Moore – all turned out for Rosslyn Park . Thankfully, they came to study and play, not to die, and none of their names appear on our Roll of Honour. (One RH O’Kane does appear in the War Graves list, although curiously he fought under the alias of Sloan – why, you ask, would a Kiwi need an alibi?)

© Stephen Cooper, 2009
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