There was only one silver medal awarded to the Cornish side that played
Australia in the 1908 Olympic rugby final. The team drew straws for who should
take it home and it was won by the St Ives scrum half Thomas Wedge. It resided
for some time at the St Ives Rugby club but is now held by his grand-daughter
The 1908 Olympics were originally to be held in Rome but Mount Vesuvius’s
eruption and devastation of the city of Naples on 7th April 1906
meant that the Italian Government diverting funds to the reconstruction of the
city and withdrawing from hosting the Olympics. The games were switched to
London and Cornwall were elected to represent Great Britain and play in the
finals after winning the previous County Championship against Durham.
Chicky Wedge in the Cornish side that beat Devon in 1908 during the South-West
Above Cornwall County Champions
1907-08. Standing (L to R): Gil Evans, W.D.Lawry(Hon Sec), B.B.Bennetts, Dr
R.C.Lawry, A.J.Wilson, J.H.Willaims, F.S.Jackson, C.F.Hopley, J.G.Milton,
J.Quick, N.Tregurtha, F.W.Thomas. Seated: A.Lawry, R Jackett, E.J.Jackett
(Captain), F.Dean, Bert Soloman. On Ground: R.Davey, J.Jose, T.G.Wedge, J.Davey
After the current Olympic Champions, France, withdrew there were only two
teams left so Great Britain played Australia in the Final on 26th
October 1908. As Twickenham was still being built the Olympic match was played
at the White City Stadium in an area alongside the Olympic Swimming Pool. A long line of netting stretched beside the
pool to catch flying balls. Large mattresses were spread along the rim of the
pool to prevent injuries to falling players. The match
was played during the last weeks of an Olympics that had taken place over six
months. Australia ran in six tries and won 32-3 in a misty and damp White City
in front of 5,00 spectators.
Above the White City Stadium in 1908
Cornwall side that played Australia. Back row (L to R): AJ Wilson; Barney
Solomon; A Willcocks ?; EJ Jones; Dick Jackett; Middle, F Dean; Bert Solomon; A
Lawry; EJ Jackett (captain); JT Jose; C Marshall ?; J Trevaskis; Front, Nick
Tregurtha; 'Chicky' Wedge; Maffer Davey.
Above the silver medal from the
1908 Olympics held by Wedge’s grand-daughter.
A mark of how much the occasion
meant to be men can be judged by the attitude of Wedge’s own father. When told
by his son that he had been selected to play for Great Britain, but wouldn’t be
able to afford to go to London, his father replied “You’ll play for your
country even if I have to sell the family fishing boat to get you there”
The newspapers accused Cornwall of a lack of preparation and reports of the
match the following day weren’t complimentary.
The Times observed that 'so little forethought had been bestowed on this
match yesterday, that no official programme of the lists of players was
forthcoming!' and, of the match itself: "Cornwall completely failed to
find their game; their forwards executed a few good rushes, but their backs,
without exception, were not only too slow but were continually failing in their
fielding... One expected better football from the champion county side. Late in
the game J Davey played quite well to enable B Solomon to score Cornwall's solitary
Some newspapers were surprised at the result. The Western Morning News commented: "Truly it was the
unexpected that happened when the Cornishmen suffered such unmistakable defeat
at the hands of the Australians. To account for the debacle – it was little
less – is no easy matter."
After 1908 Cornwall would not win
the County Championship again until 1991 and today it has a very different
structure to the pre WW1 days.
In recent years, a myth has grown
up that the Cornish side were in some way unprepared for the Olympic final,
having travelled by train the day before and been wined and dined in Plymouth
and London. This was started by The Daily Telegraph in 2008. The sports editor
Brendan Gallagher, wrote “Cornwall – perhaps confusing an Olympic final with an
all expenses jolly – were a long way from their best. With no realistic
prospect of victory and with such limited notice, they made the London trip a
gala occasion. Spirits were sky high when the party decided to adjourn to
Plymouth’s Royal Hotel for a not entirely teetotal lunch. The Cornish party
eventually pulled into Paddington and went off in search of wine, women and
It should also be remembered that
most of the team were Methodists and teetotal. So the chance of them getting drunk
before what was arguably the most important match of their careers is
inconceivable. Also many of the men, some who were already international
players, were representing Cornwall, a land that took its rugby seriously.
The sad fact is that Cornwall were playing, arguably, one of the greatest international
rugby side of the day. Perhaps it was arrogant of the RFU to select the County
Champions of England as being better than anything the world could through at
them. However the Australian side would have their own turmoil when they
returned home and 11 of the players deserted Rugby Union for Rugby League.
Chicky Wedge was born on 15th
August 1881 the son of John Jacobs Wedge, a fisherman, and Charlotte (nee
Hollow). Chicky would also become a fisherman. He debuted for Cornwall on 25th
April 1903, a season when Cornwall didn’t win a match. He played 29 times for
his county including every match in the Olympic season of 1908-09. Cornwall
went on to the County Championship final the following season as well but lost
the final to Durham. His last match for Cornwall was on 11th January
1911 against Devon. The following season his place in the Cornwall side was
taken by the welsh born Dai Gent who had played previously for the
Gloucestershire side that won its first County Championship earlier in the year.
Above a portrait of Chicky Wedge
painted by one of his daughters. He is wearing his England shirt and cap. He
played for England twice on 5th January 1907 against France at
Richmond and then against Wales on 16th January 1909 in Cardiff
Above the England side that played
France on 1st January 1907 at Richmond. This match was not part of
the Five Nations which France didn’t join until the following year. England won
31-13. Wedge is front left on the ground.
But how, you may be wondering, did he
come by that distinctive nickname? Chicky's grandson, Charles Nicholls, takes
up the story.
"They say Tommy had a ball in his
hand from as soon as he could walk and he and the other children loved to chase
about the beach," he said. "He would run and jink and throw the ball.
One day a local woman commented that Tommy ran 'like a little chicky' and the
Wedge during retirement
He emigrated to America for a few years and later served as
a coastguard during the Second World War. He died on 11th December
1964 at 12 Richmond Place, St. Ives, Cornwall.
As part of the centenary
celebrations in 2008, the British Olympic Association arranged a match between
the Barbarians and Australia at Wembley Stadium on 3rd December. The
Barbarians players who normally wear their club socks, all wore the yellow and
black of Cornwall. Australia won the match 18-11
Thank you to Simon Parker (Living Cornwall). Large
sections of this article first appeared in the Western Morning News on 24th July 2012.