“All Blacks” – The Name.

The 1905/6 New Zealand team touring Britain were the first to be described as “All Blacks”, and there is no finality as to how they came by that title. Because we often get asked about the origin of the name we decided to do some research.


The 1905 All Blacks squad.

Back row: G.A. Gillett, S.T. Casey, D.McGregor, A. McDonald, F. Roberts. Third row: E.T. Harper, J.M. O’Sullivan, C.E. Seeling, R.G. Deans, W. Johnston, G.W. Nicholson, J. Corbett, W. Cunningham, F. Newton, J. Duncan (coach).  Second Row: H.L. Abbott, W.J. Wallace, G.A. Tyler, D. Gallaher (captain), G.H. Dixon (manager), J.W. Stead (vice-captain), W.H.C. Mackrell, F.T. Glasgow, W.S. Glenn.  Front row: J. Hunter, H.J. Mynott, G.W. Smith, E.E. Booth, H.D. Thomson.

Today the accepted view is the name “All Blacks” came about as a consequence of their uniform which was composed of black jersey, shorts and socks but that was not always the case.

Billy Wallace’s recollections

Wallace, one of the 1905/6 stars, speaking at the team’s 50th Jubilee in 1955, gave his version of how the name originated:
‘Now I’m just going to mention how we got the name of ‘All Blacks’. These coves don’t know, I was on the Committee and I know all about it. We played Hartlepool and we beat them 63-0, and the ‘Daily Mail’, an English paper, wrote up ‘New Zealand team all backs’ you see. So we were, all our forwards could pass as good as any back, and it was headed up ‘New Zealand All Backs’. And the next match we went on, I think it was Somerset. This ‘All Black’ was a printer’s error and we went on to Somerset and all around the town it said ‘Come and see the All Blacks play’, the printer had made a mistake and instead of ‘All Back’ he had got the l in somehow and made it ‘All Black’, and that’s how the name ………….of ‘All Blacks’ originated and it’s stuck ever since. The ‘Daily Mail’ took it up and we went to Ireland and we were on our way to have a bit of a practice and they announced the route in the papers and everybody was at the gate to see the ‘All Blacks’ go past and they all thought we were a lot of, you know, blacks and when they saw us go past ‘Bejasus, they are as white as ourselves, as white as ourselves’. Just the name, when they changed to ‘All Blacks’ they did think we were dinkum. you know, darkies.

How Winston McCarthy saw it.

In “HAKA! THE ALL BLACKS STORY” Winston presented a different view. He wrote “The 1905 team was the first to be dubbed ‘All Blacks’………… There are two versions of how the name originated. The first is that after one of the team’s big victories a certain newspaper had intended to have as its headline ‘ALL BACKS’, intimating that the forwards were playing like backs; but a typographical error actually gave the headline as ‘ALL BLACKS’.
The other, and the one to which I incline, is that the name originated with the London ‘Daily Mail’ Rugby writer, J.A. Buttery, who in a paper-back issued after the tour, ‘Why the All Blacks Triumphed’, said that he began referring to the team as All Blacks because of the colour of their uniform. The only colour not black was the Silver Fem on the left breast and the white of their boot laces.”

Note. McCarthy refers to “a certain newspaper” intending to run
the “ALL BACKS’ headline, then mentions the ‘Daily Mail’ in the
next paragraph. Did McCarthy know of a newspaper other than
the ‘Daily Mail’ being involved?

John Sinclair

John, co-founder of the New Zealand Rugby Museum, knew both Billy Wallace and Bunny Abbott, the last two survivors of the 1905/6 ‘Originals’, and recalls that both were in absolutely no doubt a printers error was the reason for the name.
Abbott in particular had every reason to remember the Hartlepool match, which was when the ‘all backs’ reference is stated to have been made. Bunny picked up an infection in that game which proved serious enough for there to be talk of the amputation of a leg, certainly a serious enough matter to focus the mind on that match.

Terry McLean

In “THE ALL BLACKS” (published 1991) Terry wrote about two newspapermen aboard the tender on which dignitaries greeted the 1905/6 New Zealand team. One of the reporters ‘bearded’ a player, questioning him as to the colour of the team’s jersey: its knickers; its stocking. To each question, the player answered with just one word – ‘Black.’ The conversation ended when the player, in a burst of eloquence, remarked ‘We are all black.’ But Terry does not go on to quote the newspaper concerned. In his book “N Z RUGBY LEGENDS” (1987) he tells the same story, but suggests the reporter must have been J.A. Buttery of the London Daily Mail.

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

In its 1966 edition the Encyclopedia recounts the ‘printer’s error’ theory but then goes on to remark ‘Printer’s error aside, one may assume that the 1905 team which wore “all black’ uniform-only recently adopted-would sooner or later receive such a name.’

Ron Palenski

He can’t find a reference to “all backs” in the Daily Mail account of the Hartlepool match either (that’s the match report purportedly stating ‘New Zealand team all backs’). Ron does however point out that 1905/6 All Black Manager George Dixon kept a tour diary in which, from the time the team left Wellington, he constantly refers to the team as “the Blacks”.


The difficulty with the theory about the printer’s error after the New Zealand team had been styled ‘all backs’ in a newspaper report is that despite extensive searches no such report has been found.

Now Ron Palenski, sports writer and Chief Executive of the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, has come up with what seems to be the last word on the subject. With Ron’s permission we reproduce from his excellent recently published book THE JERSEY his account of the origin of the term.
The Christening.

The enduring myth about how the New Zealand rugby team came to be known as the All Blacks was that it was a result of a printer’s interference, that a reporter wrote “all backs” because of the way they played but that the printer inserted an “l”. There is no evidence to support this often-told story but plenty to suggest that it’s just a myth. As a celebrated Prussian military strategist Helmuth Von Moltke once wrote, it was a duty of piety and patriotism not to destroy certain traditional accounts if they could be used for an inspirational end. But myths are not facts and while a contemporary and less educated population may have walked with a lighter step with pride pumping in their chest because of the manufacture of myths, it’s the duty of later recorders to cast a far more objective eye on the romantic fiction of the past. In other words, it’s well past time to spoil a good story with a few facts.
The story with which we grew up on our grandfathers’ knees was recorded by one of the Originals, Billy Wallace, and perhaps because he lived longer than any of them and continued to repeat his story it became accepted as fact. Where Wallace heard the story is not known — though there was one theory that the insertion of the “l” in “all backs” came not in a newspaper, but in a newspaper billboard before or after the game against Somerset, which was the 11th match of the tour. This came two games after the All Blacks’ 63-0 win against the Hartlepool Clubs, a match which was also said to have prompted the printer’s historic initiative. But the facts tell a different story. First, some background. It was evidently a trend in rugby in the 1890s and early in the 20th century to refer to a team by the colour of its jerseys. Otago were the Dark Blues, for example. The first official New Zealand team in 1893 played its first match against a team chosen from southern North Island unions — an early version of the Hurricanes. The combined team wore a variety of jerseys but mostly red and a newspaper report wrote of a try by centre “Tabby” Wynyard: “Wynyard … with a determined effort got through the Red backs. What’s more, the Wellington Rugby Football Union Annual of 1894, referring to that first historic match, said, “The Blacks (ie, the New Zealand representatives) won …” The parentheses were the Annual editor’s. Later in the same report, the writer said, “The Blacks now played up with great determination …” When referring to the multi-hued opponents, he talked about “the Colours”.
The manager of the Originals, George Dixon, kept a diary throughout the tour and at times he referred to the players as “the Blacks”, even while they were still on board ship and far from a keen printer’s eye. They played their first game against Devon at Exeter and walloped the locals 55-4. The next day, a local paper, The Express and Echo, recorded: “The All Blacks, as they are styled by reason of their sable and unrelieved costume, were under the guidance of their captain (Mr Gallaher) and their fine physiques favourably impressed the spectators.” So much for the free hand of a typographer or even the wit of a reporter coming up with a catchy phrase. By his reference, it was clear the team was known as the All Blacks before he happened along. Now back to Hartlepool. The name “The All Blacks” seems not to have appeared in print again until the night of the win against Hartlepool when the Northern Daily Mail, Football Edition, got in on the act. This was one of those newspapers, like the old sports editions in New Zealand, which were rushed onto the streets for sale as soon after a match as possible. Its report of the match traversed 14 paragraphs before this introduction to a listing of the players’ vital statistics: “A glance at the undermentioned weights of the invincible ‘all blacks’ will convey some idea of the calibre of the team.” The name didn’t recur in the paper’s coverage, which filled two pages. The next morning, the Northern Daily Mail’s parent paper, the London-based Daily Mail, took up the name. Its report recorded the score in the second paragraph and continued: “This is a record in the tour, which is yet barely a month old, exceeding as it does by eight points the 55 points the ‘All Blacks’, as the Colonials are dubbed, piled up against Devon.
The Daily Mail was represented throughout the tour by J A Buttery and it is a reasonable assumption that he wrote the previous day’s story in the Northern Mail.
The next paper to use the name was the Gloucester Citizen a week later and “All Blacks” first appeared in a heading in the Daily Mail on 19 October. The next national newspaper to use the name was the Daily Mirror, on 6 November 1905. After that, everyone was using it.
The industrious Buttery included the name in his book of the tour, Why the All Blacks Triumphed, thus using it in a book title for the first time.”