FROM COLONY TO NATION
A new dominion
By 1907 just under a million people called New Zealand home, and the time was right to move from a colony to a dominion within the British Empire.
Although the change had little practical effect, politicians hoped it would remind the world that New Zealand was not part of Australia and boost our young nation’s growing self-confidence.
Telephones, cinemas, electricity and better roads and transport were changing the face of everyday life. Agriculture was booming, sparking a massive transformation of remote North Island hill country from bush to pasture…
Kicking off tradition – The Original All Blacks
Storytellers down through the ages have immortalised the New Zealand team that toured the Northern Hemisphere in 1905-06, later to become known as the ‘Originals’.
Winning 34 of the 35 matches they played, these Originals set the standard that every All Black team since has tried to emulate, they also popularised the haka and added the name ‘All Blacks’ to global rugby vocabulary.
This decade also saw the first-ever international ‘tests’, the start of Ranfurly Shield fever, and the establishment in the South Island of rugby jersey manufacturer Canterbury Clothing – later to become a global brand synonymous with rugby apparel.
It’s safe to say that rugby was by now well and truly our national game…
1902 – Lord Ranfurly’s Shield
The Ranfurly Shield (affectionately known as the ‘Log o’ Wood’), New Zealand’s most prized provincial rugby challenge trophy, is well over a century old.
Gifted by Lord Ranfurly, New Zealand’s Governor of the time, the shield was first awarded to Auckland in 1902 as the union with the best record of the season. With all Auckland’s 1903 matches being played away (the conditions of competition were that games had to be played on the ground of the holder), the shield was not put at stake until 1904, when the first-ever challenge was made by Wellington.
Wellington won 6-3 in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 9000, and defended the shield successfully four times before Auckland regained the trophy in 1905 – a reign that was not to be broken for a further 8 years until Taranaki took over the mantle.
The revered Ranfurly Shield.
Back in 1902 when the trophy arrived from its makers it was found to be a shield, rather than the cup Lord Ranfurly had promised, and had obviously been designed for a soccer competition. The picture in the centrepiece was a soccer one, and had to be modified by adding goal posts onto the goal, to create a rugby scene!
1903 – New Zealand’s First Test
The All Blacks played their first international test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 15 August 1903, scoring three tries to one in a 22-3 win.
Large crowds, up to 35 000, loved the Kiwis style whilst on tour and they may well have been treated to an interesting version of the haka (Māori war dance). The Wellington Evening Post reported that whilst the New Zealand players were assembling in Wellington to depart for their Australian tour:
A unique souvenir has been prepared for the New Zealand team by Mr C. Parata. It contains the following warcry:-
Tena koe, Kangaroo!
Tupoto koe, Kangaroo!
Niu Tireni tenei haere nei
Au Au Aue a!
Which being translated is:-
How are you, Kangaroo!
You look out, Kangaroo!
New Zealand is invading you
Woe woe woe to you!
Billy ‘Carbine’ Wallace was the tour’s leading try scorer. The 1903 team proved undefeated on their tour of Australia, leading some historians of the era to argue the team was the ‘greatest ever’, rather than the 1905 ‘Originals’.
Triumphant First Test on New Zealand Soil
In 1904, New Zealand played and won its first test on New Zealand soil, beating a touring Great Britain side 9–3 in Wellington.
“By crowded trains and steamers, onlookers had mustered from both ends of the colony…”
15 August 1904, Evening Post
A tremendous crowd of around 20,000 gathered for the game, providing some challenges for the transport systems of the day:
“There was a great crush in the train which was the longest I have seen in New Zealand and though I had a first class ticket, I could only get a second class seat.”
Charles Monro (founding father of New Zealand Rugby)
describing boarding the 4.20pm train to Wellington at Palmerston North
The special train had 25 carriages and an estimated 2,000 passengers, accommodation was stretched to its limit, and the Evening Post reported ticket scalping for the match was alive and well:
“The traffic in resale of reserved tickets is said to have brought as much as £1 and £1 10s for a 5s ticket”
Prior to arriving in New Zealand, the Great Britain side had played 13 matches in Australia, winning all three of the test matches. As the post-match souvenir cards allude to, there was much post-match celebration surrounding the ‘Maorilanders’ first major victory on home soil against the ‘Motherland’.
1905 – The ‘Original’ All Blacks
Captained by rugby pioneer Dave Gallaher, the legendary original All Blacks stormed a successful path through the United Kingdom, with stops on the way home in France and the United States during 1905 and 1906.
The team’s historic (and only) 3-0 defeat to Wales in Cardiff still rankles with New Zealand fans, due to a controversial disallowed try by the youngest member of the team – Cantabrian Bob Deans.
Crowd attendances were often huge, with the England International played at the Crystal Palace attracting 45,000 with a further 30,000 said to have jumped the fence. The All Blacks won 15-0, with commentators of the time noting “they beat us by organisation and tactics…”
Many of the Originals’ records are thought never likely to be beaten, with 976 points scored (59 against), and 243 tries, 205 of these by the backs!
The versatile Wellingtonian, Billy ‘Carbine’ Wallace, scored 246 points on the tour, which is a record which still stands today. Described variously as “the greatest ‘Original’” and “the all round utility back”, he obtained legendary status in later years:
“He was the complete footballer, not to be faulted in any aspect of the game. To me he remains the most wonderful back ever, whether as a centre, wing three-quarter or fullback.”
OL Owen, The Times, 1960
1907 ‘All Golds’ and Birth of Rugby League
1905 All Black George Smith and Albert Baskerville organised a ‘rebel’ league tour to Australia and Britain in 1907.
George and other All Blacks had been intrigued with the new “Northern Union” game they saw whilst in Britain, and even had offers to play. A Wellington postal clerk, Albert Baskerville, was already thinking of organising a team to go to Britain and play Northern Union, so he and Smith got together.
This did not go down well with the establishment, and those players who had gone over to the ‘dark side’ were expelled for life from rugby union. The 28-man team included a contingent of eight amateur All Blacks, four of them famed 1905-06 ‘Originals’, and sadly the stigma of the expulsion followed the men for the rest of their sporting careers.
Three games were arranged against New South Wales in Australia en-route to Britain. The New South Wales players were dubbed the “All Blues” thanks to their dark blue jumpers with a kangaroo emblem.
Because the rugby rebels were uncertain of the league rules as played in England, all three Australian games (and a later one in Ceylon) were played under rugby union rules! The players were in effect, professional rugby union players before becoming league players…
1908 Anglo-Welsh Tour to New Zealand
The third British tour to New Zealand is often referred to as the Anglo-Welsh tour, as only English and Welsh players were selected thanks to the Irish and Scottish Rugby Unions refusing to participate.
After the “All Golds” league tour the year before, English rugby officials saw the need for a rugby union tour back to the ‘colonies’ to help boost the ‘old game’ against the threat of the ‘new’ one.
Captained by Arthur Harding (Cardiff), the Anglo-Welsh lost two and drew one test against the All Blacks, and played a number of matches against provincial teams. One of the more memorable may have been their 12-3 win against Manawatū-Horowhenua:
“The members of the British Team arrived at Palmerston North travel worn and sea-blown after a prolonged and rough trip from Gisborne to Napier. It was a disjointed and seasick team that took to the field against the enemy.”
RA Barr in ‘British Team in Maoriland – True Story of the Tour’
Heavy rain on the morning of the game did not discourage the crowd, but pitch conditions must have been truly diabolical, for the same author notes:
“During the forenoon a vice president of the Manawatu Union went out with buckets and started baling some of the pools out…”