Melbourne Cricket Ground - Flashback: September 23, 1853
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Flashback: September 23, 1853

How the Melbourne Cricket Club came to be at the MCG

Despite the setbacks caused by the economic depression of the early 1840’s, the settlers of Port Phillip District had done much by the start of the gold rush to transform the land they had occupied. Melbourne and Geelong were thriving centres.

By early 1853, work had begun on the Yan Yean scheme to bring the city a reliable water supply. The dreams of MCC member Redmond Barry for a public library and a university were coming to fruition. Williamstown and the city were about to be tethered by a telegraph. The city’s theatres were attracting stars of the calibre of Laura Keene and Edwin Booth, who made their Melbourne debut in Much Ado About Nothing.

The overwhelming impression presented by Melbourne was one of progress, with no project too big to tackle. The most innovative of the city’s projects was to have significant consequences for the Melbourne Cricket Club. From the late 1840’s the question of finding an improved means of transport over the 2 ½ miles between Hobson’s Bay and Melbourne had been a matter of public concern.

During 1852 and 1853, eight separate and distinct private railway ventures were submitted to the people of Victoria for financial backing. Of the eight companies, three gained Government approval to build railways. The first was the Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway, approved on January 20, 1853.

It proposed a line, 21/2 miles long from Flinders Street, Melbourne, to the Beach at Sandridge. The Melbourne & Hobson’s Bay Railway Company was to receive a grant of land 100 yards wide from the beginning of the line “at or near the South side of Flinders Street” to its terminus “in or on a certain wharf or jetty to be constructed by the company on the North side of Hobson’s Bay.”

Construction of the line commenced immediately and engines, rolling stock, rails and machinery were ordered from England.

It was enough to push the Melbourne Cricket Club into looking for another venue. Doubts exist as to whether the railway line was the sole consideration behind the MCC’s decision to move. Certainly, the club would not have been encouraged to stay by the fact that the ground was subject to flooding.

J.W. Miller recalled that the ground was once “swept by a flood while a match was in progress, so that the players had to decamp in haste, leaving the tops of their bell tents sticking above the water.”

The Police Paddock became the new home of the Melbourne Cricket Club on September 23, 1853. After Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe signed the grant, F.W. Marsden, the chief clerk in the finance Branch of the Colonial Secretary’s Office, celebrated by skipping into the office of a friend, waving the document “and gleefully singing a snatch of his favourite air, Widow Machree.”

(The committeeman and former Honorary Secretary of the MCC might have been more restrained had he known that, twelve months later, he would make the first duck on the new MCG.)

The grant permitted the MCC to enclose ten acres under permissive occupancy for five years, with approval to erect “such buildings as may be absolutely necessary.” The exact area enclosed was 9 acres, 1 rood, 37 perches and was to be used “for cricket and no other purpose.”

Credit for choosing the particular location of the ten acres within the Paddock was given to Committeeman Daniel Stodhart Campbell. Separated by a comfortable buffer from Richmond, the site was shielded from Melbourne by the twenty acres which La Trobe had purchased for his residence at the southern edge of the East Melbourne survey, and by the reserves set aside for government buildings, parks and churches.

First cricket match on the MCG

For the moment, though, the club’s patch of bushland was far from ready for cricket. It had to be cleared and a ground reconstructed. By September 30, 1854 the Melbourne Cricket Ground was ready for use. The Club Secretary, H.E.Stratford, placed a notice on the front page of The Melbourne Morning Herald:

MELBOURNE CRICKET CLUB
The first General Meeting will be held to-day, at half-past 1 o’clock, for business. Members are requested to attend on the new ground, in the Police Paddock, at that time.

When members arrived, they found “a very elegant structure, resembling a modern Gothic villa.”

The new pavilion measured thirty feet by fifteen, with “accommodation for dining sixty persons…a bar and two dressing rooms.” The building had not yet been completed, for a “handsome verandah” was still to be erected at the front.

During the meeting, various matches were announced and “it is the intention of the club to try their strength, not only with other local clubs, but with the elevens of Adelaide and Van Diemen’s Land.”

While such contests against other clubs were important in the activities of the MCC, they did not form the main reason for the club’s existence. Members still saw cricket as very much a social, rather than competitive activity, so matches against themselves were regular and frequent.

On this day, September 30 1854, Messrs Philpott and Cavenagh organised their teams once the day’s business was out of the way. To indicate that the game was the first for the new season, the Club scorer marked the next page in his book with “1854 No.1.”

In front of “three to four hundred” spectators, William Philpott and G.F. Gorton opened the batting, They scored 12 and 22 respectively. There was no equal division of time or overs – Philpott’s team batted until they were dismissed for 126. Then George Cavanagh and Thomas Wray began their team’s innings, but only had time to take the score to 1/23.

ABOUT LIEUTENANT-GOVERNOR CHARLES LA TROBE

In 1839 Charles Joseph La Trobe was appointed superintendent of the Port Phillip District of the new colony of Victoria which was proclaimed in 1851.

Charles Joseph La Trobe was born in 1801 in London and educated in England and Switzerland. As a young man he travelled widely. La Trobe arrived in Melbourne in 1839 and he bought with him timber for his cottage which he built in the small town of Melbourne. His cottage was rebuilt in 1940 on land near The Shrine and Botanical Gardens. La Trobe was Governor of Victoria until 1854.

La Trobe's cottage was the home of Charles Joseph La Trobe. It was originally located on five hectares of land at Jolimont, near where the Melbourne Cricket Ground now stands. La Trobe`s cottage is an historical landmark. Some important places in and around Melbourne are named after La Trobe. These include La Trobe Street and the La Trobe Valley where they get brown coal for the electricity in Melbourne.


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