A History of Rugby in Victoria

researched & written by Ron Grainger

AT PLAY ON THE FIELDS OF THE LORD

Rev. John Hoatson – in his later years (image courtesy of of Westminster College, Cambridge / Congregational Year Book of 1911).

Rev. John Hoatson – in his later years
(image courtesy of of Westminster College, Cambridge / Congregational Year Book of 1911).

Victorian era rugby attracted its fair share of muscular Christians; amongst them were three Britons who briefly trod the Antipodean stage in the closing decades of the nineteenth century.

Charles Edward Chapman (1860-1901) was a teacher at Melbourne Grammar from 1885 and an active promoter of the Union game in the Australian colony of Victoria and it followed that he was one of the enthusiastic proponents of the match which was played in Melbourne on 1 August 1888 against the British team, now known as the First British Lions, then touring Australasia. Chapman had been a Rugby Blue at Cambridge 1881-1884 and had previously played for Oxford (though not awarded a Blue). He was capped for England in 1884, playing at centre against Wales; coincidentally in the same position and against the same opponent as Andrew Stoddart, who gained his first England cap almost exactly one year later (and who was to take over as Lions captain after the tragic death of Bob Seddon a fortnight after the Melbourne game in which they had both played). Chapman had been selected for Victoria and would have played opposite Stoddart in that match but unfortunately had to withdraw due to ill health. Several years later (1891) he returned to Britain and continued teaching before being ordained in 1894. Only seven years later, while Rector of a Lincolnshire parish, he died just three days short of his of forty-first birthday.

Eight years on, in 1899, the feisty half back Reverend Matthew Mullineux (1867–1945) had been appointed captain and manager of the British team to tour Australia.  Previously selected for Cambridge University (though not a Rugby Blue) he played a pivotal role in organising the venture. However, in early games his performance didn’t match that achieved on the 1896 British tour of South Africa and so, after playing in the first test, he gave up his place to others in the remaining  three. But that didn’t stop him playing in other tour games or, as manager, making outspoken comments at post-match dinners on the standard of local play and the shortcomings of the Victorian football code. He went on to serve as a chaplain in the Boer War, then as a ship-borne Royal Navy Chaplain and then again as a military chaplain in France during the First World War. After the war he was an active promoter and supporter of charities and from 1935 was Vicar of Marham in Norfolk, a post he held for ten years until his death at the age of seventy-eight.

The Reverend John Hoatson (1856-1910) a Congregational Minister, arrived in New Zealand in 1883, two years before Chapman had settled in Melbourne, but it was in that city that he was much later to connect with Mullineaux. The story of his influence on the game in the colonies of New Zealand and Victoria is well told by Sean Fagan in his article The First Rugby Pastor of Melbourne. In brief, that tells of his appointment as a Union official, a selector and referee both in Canterbury province and in Victoria from 1892, where he helped re-establish a Union of which he was Vice-President. He also played a leading role in restoring the Victorian Union so that the colony could compete against the British tourists, captained by Mullineux, in Melbourne on 19 August, 1899, a match which Hoatson refereed.

*This is an abridged version of an article available on the General Rugby History page of The Rugby History Society site:
– click here >>> At Play on the Fields of the Lord

Research & content Ron Grainger

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This entry was posted on October 10, 2014 by in History, RUGBY in VICTORIA.