St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Tournaments St George's Park - The Champion Bat
The Champion Bat

Port Elizabeth was the cradle of a cricket tradition when October 18, 1876, Mr HW Pearson, Mayor of Port Elizabeth, presented, on behalf of the Town Council, a prize of a cricket bat, known as the Champion Bat, instead of a cup, to the cricketers of the Cape of Good Hope.

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This ad was placed in Port Elizabeth's daily newspapersto advertise the first Champion Bat Tournment in January, 1876.
As it turned out, it could be said that it was the forerunner of the Currie Cup, and was widely regarded as the Championship of South Africa. It was to be competed for in open Tournament.

The Champion Bat was to be initially held by E J Byrne, the Captain of the Kaffrarian cricketers, who competed in all the tournaments, including the one held in Port Elizabeth in January, 1876.

Cricketers from Cape Town, Grahamstown, King William's Town, and Port Elizabeth competed in the tournament, which was won by the King William's Town team.

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The Champion Bat
Written instructions indicated that should Mr. Byrne cease to hold the Captaincy of any King William's Town Club, the care of the Champion Bat was to devolve upon the Captain of any cricket club at King William's Town, nominated by the Mayor of that place.

All questions having reference to the holding or competing for the prize shall be decided by the Mayor of Port Elizabeth, subject to a reference to the editor of the Field Newspaper, whose decision was to be binding and final.

The Bat was to be held by the first winners until defeated.

"At all tournaments or matches for the championship, the bat shall be surrendered to the Umpires, one of whom shall carry the Bat during the match and shall hand over the Bat, at the conclusion of the contest, to the captain of the victorious team."

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The Champion Bat Crest
The results of the match were to be sent to the Town Clerk as soon as possible.

The first tournament took place on the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club ground, the contestants being Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown, King William's Town and Cape Town. The first two tournaments, which were a continuous feast of cricket with one game starting when another finished, were won by King William's Town, where the Cape Mounted Rifles were stationed.

Each team at the Port Elizabeth competition played a double innings match against it's fellow contestants. King William's Town won all three of it's matches.

Critics afterwards said that the batting power was very strong and their bowling good, but the fielding of the King William's Town team was indifferent.

Grahamís Town and Cape Town both won a match, Port Elizabeth being the victim in each instance.

The Port Elizabeth Telegraph of January 14, 1876, reported:

"The arrangements made by the committee for the entertainment of the visitors was such as to give them unbounded satisfaction, and they are loud in their praises of the kindness and attention shown them.

"Mr J Chabaud was most active before and during the tournament, and deserves well of the community for the active interest and untiring industry he has shown throughout.

"The catering on the field was undertaken by Mr Peter Finlay, and combining as he does courtesy and attention with thoroughly business habits he left nothing to be desired in the provisioning department."

The second game was played in 1880 in King William's Town.

The First Pavilion

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The 1884 Pavilion
It was decided to hold the third Champion Bat Tournament in 1884 at St George's Park and obviously, with the keen interest in local cricket, improvements had to be made in order to accommodate the crowds likely to attend.

James Singleton, the Secretary of the Club, was informed that the Council would build a four-foot fence around the ground. A new pavilion was constructed, "a fine large building capable of holding 400 persons and erected at a cost of £260, subscribed for by the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club and built by Messrs. Small and Morgan. The ground has been enclosed by a neat wooden railing and seats have been erected for which charge of I/- (one shilling) is made".


Port Elizabeth Win Third Champion Bat Tournament -1884/85

In 1884 the third tournament for the Champion Bat was held in Port Elizabeth during the Christmas week. The opening match was between the old rivals, King and Port Elizabeth.

But this time the Bayonians took ample revenge for their three previous defeats. Renny-Tally our and P Heugh survived of the 1876 team and O R Dunell and J Singleton from 1880.

After the Cricket Match,
(Port Elizabeth vs Cape Town.)

Little Bess: "For those Westerns I don't care a drat. At any rate I have got the bat.
This cartoon was drawn after Port Elizabeth, known by locals as Little Beth, won the Champion Bat Tournament in 1884/5.
Cartoon by WH Schroder 1884.

Port Elizabeth knocked up 216. Dunell got 78 not out and seven others reached double figures. King replied with 131. E P Schermbrucker, who had rivalled Stewart in run-getting of late, was top scorer with 43.

"Without any style as a batsman, he had a sound defence and good punishing strokes. Winslow made 29 and Stewart 21. The rest failed.

Following on King did even worse. Stewart played a great innings of 66 not out, but nobody else did anything worthy of note, and the innings closed for 124. Port Elizabeth won by nine wickets.

The Port Elizabeth Captain was 0 R Dunell, who later lead South Africa in it's first ever Test Match. His team responded magnificently and became Champions, defeating Cape Town in the final match - "The Conqueror" - after a breathtaking, nail-biting finish.

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The 1884 Team which won the Champion Bat, shown in the hands of O.R. Dunell
Back Row: B. Wimble, W. Proudfoot
Centre Row: R.W. Stevens, Peter Heugh, O.R. Dunell, E. Renny-Tailyour, A. Geard
Front Row: H.H. Webster, J. Singleton, E. Budler, H.R. Giesen

The heroes were A Geard, a tremendous bowler, and H H Webster, the club's first professional groundsman. Between them they put Cape Town out for 35, Geard taking 6 for 6 and Webster 4 for 23.

The reporter described their bowling as "beyond anything we have yet seen".

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Although the original photograph was not captioned, by refering to known dates of buildings in the background we can establish that this photograph was taken in the mid 1880's. Because of the interest shown in the Champion Bat tournament, we assume that this photograph is of one of the tournament matches. Close inspection of the photograph will show that the picture is taken from an elevated position. The only elevated spot was the new grandstand which was specially constructed for the tournament. ie in 1884.

A great innings of 71 by Dunell, with able assistance from H R Giesen (47) and W Proudfoot (33), put Port Elizabeth in a strong position. On the next day, January 2nd, 1885, Cape Town hits back with 186, Geard and Webster bowling 87 overs between them. Set to make only 18 to win the game, Port Elizabeth had a bad half hour and lost six wickets for 15 before "Singleton got a tremendous drive for six right out of the ground".

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The Tournament Chronicle issued daily match reports

When all the excitement of the 1884 Tournament had died down, it was quite obvious to those in charge of the club, and indeed to the general public of Port Elizabeth, that the ground was now one of national importance and was destined in the future to be the scene of encounters on more than a mere club scale.

One of the features of the match in Port Elizabeth was a special daily souvenir pamplet-sized newspaper called The Tournament Chronicle. In it was a ball-by-ball report of the previous days's play.

The fourth Champion Bat game, played in 1887 in Kimberley, was won by Kimberley. The fifth and final tournament was won by Cape Town in 1890/91.

The competition continued until 1891, shortly after the first English cricket team tour of 1888/89, organised by Major Warton, and captained by Sir C Aubrey Smith (who later became a famous Hollywood actor) came to South Africa.

Commemorative Stamp
The first English team to tour South Africa sailed in the SS "Garth Castle" on which Sir Donald Currie, Chairman of the Castle Line (later to become the Union-Castle Line), gave a farewell banquet for them on board and presented a Challenge Cup to the team's organiser and Manager, Major R G Warton, with the request that it be given to the team which excelled most against the visitors.

He added "I think the cricketers out there would like to keep the Cup among themselves in recollection of your visit and as a gift from myself".

In 1890, the Currie Cup replaced the Champion Bat.

In 1976 the South African Post Office issued a special commemorative stamp to celebrate 100 years of the official first inter-town cricket competition.

The Champion Bat may still be seen among the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club's historic relics in St George's Park.

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