Friday 2 August 2019

The curious case of Thames Rugby's 150th.

Crowds in 1900 welcoming the Thames football teams on their arrival in Auckland by the steamer Wakatere for the annual inter union football match Auckland versus Thames at Potters Paddock, Auckland
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections AWNS-19000817-2-1


Did Thames Rugby really just celebrate it's 150th?

Well, yes.  And no.

When was the first recorded game of rugby in Thames and who did they play against?

The Thames Rugby club's website says -



The first recorded game of rugby in Thames was played in 1870 between a team from Auckland and a local team. The Auckland team of 13 named players arrived at the Tararu wharf in Thames on the ship the ‘Golden Crown’ and proceeded to Shortland, Western Thames, for the game.

But a check of Paper’s Past reveals no game of rugby – or football as it was more commonly known  then - was played in Thames in 1870 between Auckland and Thames.

The Golden Crown steamer could not have come to Thames as it was still being built in 1870, and the Auckland Football Club was not formed until 22 June 1871.

What appears to be the first recorded game of rugby at Thames was played in March 1871 at the Tararu sports day, between Thames and Coromandel.

Another game was played shortly after between the same teams at Easter 1871.

The Auckland v Thames game was not actually played until 23 September, 1871 and it was not played at Shortland, Western Thames, but at Tararu.

This appears to be the third game of rugby played at Thames, not the first.

Evidently the Thames team was made up of “two Irishmen, a Cornishman, a policeman off duty, and a bushman with a scarlet shirt, together with several bank and stock exchange men."

This information comes from a 1927 article which wrongly repeats that the first game of rugby was played in 1871 between Auckland and Thames, so although deliciously descriptive it may need to be taken with a grain of salt.  

The Thames Rugby Club website also says:

Early rugby in Thames was played very physically, with the second game played between Thames and Auckland in 1871 being a very rugged affair.

This appears to be wrong too. The second game between Thames and Auckland was played on Saturday 17 August 1872.

It was a rough and tumble and contentious game evidenced by outraged letters to the editors of the Auckland Star, the NZ Herald and the Daily Southern Cross.

The Thames Rugby club had to postpone their celebrations, originally to be held in 2020, due to Covid restrictions.

Serendipitously this has made 2021 the right date for the 150th celebrations of the first game of rugby played at the Thames, although the team was not from Auckland.   The first  recorded game of rugby played at Thames was against Coromandel at Tararu  in March 1870.

(Perhaps the earliest recorded mention of rugby being played at Thames is this
 tongue in cheek reminisce -

A Curious Challenge.

A rather curious challenge is related to have been issued by some enthusiastic miners in Auckland in the year 1869. A number of Irish miners working at the Thames despatched a challenge to Auckland to play a representative team, 100 players a-side. The goals were to be goldfields! One goal was to be at one goldfield and the other at another goldfield some distance away, and the match was to be played for £200 aside. It is probably unnecessary to say that this unique challenge was not accepted.

Otago Daily Times
9 May 1908 )

© Meghan Hawkes 2021

Please acknowledge and credit this blog with a source link if using any material from it.  Thank you. 





The launch of this fine steamer took place this morning, at 12 o’clock, from the yards of Messrs. Duthie and Ross, Smale’s Point. . . . The steamer is now lying at anchor on the western side of the wharf, and in a few days will haul alongside the Argyleshire to take on board the machinery.

Auckland Star 20 August 1870

Although launched she was not ready to sail, needing months of more work, and it wasn’t until December 1870 and January 1871 that she began making trial trips at Auckland. In mid-January 1871  she was put on the Thames run.

Auckland Star 16 January 1871




Thirty of the inhabitants of Coromandel have sent a challenge to the men of the Thames for a match of football, against an equal number of the inhabitants of this place for a sum of £100 a side. The challenge has been accepted, and the match was to take place on St. Patrick’s Day.

Nelson Evening Mail 18 March 1870, also Daily Southern Cross 8 March 1870

Thames v. Coromandel. —Football Match for £100 a side; two games out of three; thirty players on each side. The Coromandel players were captained by P. O’Donnell and E. O’Reilly; Thames, by Mullins and O’Brien. The first game was won by Coromandel. Time, fifteen minutes. The betting was in favour of the Coromandel players. The players met at the Minister Hotel, Shortland, each wearing a green sash. These were followed by the members of the St. Patrick Society, wearing the regalia of their society; the whole headed by a band, formed a procession and marched to Tararu.

Daily Southern Cross 18 March 1870


Gentlemen interested in the formation of a Football Club are requested to meet at Mr. F. J. Whitaker's office this evening.

DSC 21 June 1871 


A meeting was held last night, at half -past seven o'clock, in Roberton’s Buildings, of a number of gentlemen desirous of forming a football club in this city. Mr. T. Henderson, jun., was called to the chair. A draft copy of rules was read, and, after various amendments and additions had been made, the rules were adopted in their amended form. It was resolved that the club should date its existence from the 22nd June, 1871, and should be called the "Auckland Football Club." It was agreed that the distinguishing uniform of the club should be confined to the head-dress, which should be a light blue flannel cap. It was resolved that the committee of management consist of the captain, a secretary, and treasurer; and three of a committee to be elected annually. The following gentlemen were elected to the respective offices for the present year: — Captain, Mr. W. L. Rees ; secretary and treasurer, Mr, Boardman ; committee, Messrs. F. A. Whitaker, G. Dunnet, and T. Henderson, jun. After a number of gentlemen had paid their first subscription, arrangements was made for playing a game on Saturday next, at a quarter-past three o'clock, in the Albert Barracks. Teams were chosen, and the meeting separated.

DSC 22 June 1871



We understand that the Auckland Football Club have received a challenge from the Thames Football Club to play a friendly match for supper. The challenge has been promptly accepted, and the match has been fixed for the 6th September. (was actually held on 23 September)

Auckland Star 25 August 1871

Athletic games are just now in the ascendant, and the present fine weather has enabled out-of door sports to be resumed at an earlier period of the season than usual. Football is just now much in vogue, and the following members of the Auckland Football Club intend proceeding to the Thames tomorrow, to compete with the club at that place, viz. : G Dunnet, A. Boardman, H. H. Manning, J. Henderson, A. B. Whitaker, — Humphries, J. Marshall, B. Provo, H. W. Henderson, W. Brassey, L S. Dacre, —Woon, GN. Brassey. They will leave Auckland by the Golden Crown, which will leave for the Tararu Point at 10 in the morning.

Auckland Star 22 September 1871


The long talked of match between the Auckland Football Club and a Thames team was contested on Saturday at Tararu. The only ground available was very unfavourable for good play, being much cut up by cart traffic, making it impossible to calculate the run of the ball, and only a short space could be obtained from goal to goal. It had been previously agreed on that the game should be played according to the rules of the Auckland Club  but Sandes, the Thames captain, had, unfortunately, to recruit his team from among the spectators, and the consequence was that six or seven of his men played according to their own views on the subject, thus placing the Auckland team at a disadvantage. The sides fought under the respective colours of blue for Auckland and red for Thames. The ball was kicked off at 3 o'clock, and for some time seemed not to touch the ground, being beaten and tossed about in the air from hand to hand amid a dense cluster of the players. Soon, however, it was seen that a majority of the Thames side fully intended to break any rules which might stand in the way of their obtaining the victory, and a dispute occurred which was almost the cause of breaking off the match, until Dunnet, the Auckland captain, who had threatened to withdraw his men, gave up the point.

After this the game seemed to degenerate into a series of personal combats, and at one time at least twenty of the players were engaged in a lively scuffle, occasioned by one of the Thames team foully carrying the ball. When the time was about-half passed, the Thames men were beginning to show symptoms of being' " blown," their pace having been too fast and the Aucklanders kept the ball hovering about their opponents' goal, but to no purpose, for the red caps detailed a man for the special purpose of kicking it behind their bounds whenever the goal seemed in danger. This play of course was perfectly allowable, but still rather cowardly.

Owing to the numerous disputes, both sides had their blood thoroughly up, and the charging and spilling were of momentary occurrence, every fall being greeted with roars of laughter from the spectators, especially one which Whitaker, lightest of the blue caps, managed to inflict on the sixteen stone champion of the Thames. It had been agreed that the match should terminate at half past 5, but, in the general excitement the time slipped on, and it was nearly 6 before the game was stopped. Even then some of the roughs among the spectators made a rush at the ball, took possession of it, and were kicking it about the field, until Marshall and Boardman of the Auckland side, succeeded in getting hold of it, when a very lively fight ensued until reinforcements came to the rescue. The Aucklanders had undoubtedly the best of the game, but no legal goal was taken, though Manning, at the head of a determined charge, passed the ball between the Thames goal posts with a blow from his hand. It is difficult to specially praise anyone of either teams where most played well, but we may say that, of the blue caps, Williams and Manning seemed to be in every part of the field at once, while Dacre, who was most of the time, in charge of the Auckland goal, gave the ball some splendid drives ; and the goal keeping of Sandes, the Thames captain, was excellent, and Lewin contributed much to the support of the game on the part of the Thames. The following is the list of the teams, so far as the names are known : — Thames : Sandes (captain), Kidd, G_llan  , Robinson, Twohill, Fitzmorris, Walker, Lewin, Bull, Cook, and others, fifteen in all. Auckland : Dunnet (captain), T. Henderson, H. Henderson, Marshall, Boardman, Whitaker, Manning, Provo, Woon, Brassey, G. N. Dacre, Williams, and Wynyard,, thirteen in all.

Auckland Star

25 September 1871


To the Editor of the Herald.

Sir - ln both the Herald and Cross of the 25th, I read what purports to be an account of the football mulch played here on Saturday last, between the Auckland Football Club and a team of the Thames men. I hope that the article in question was not written by one of the players, as from beginning to end it is a series of mistakes (to use a very mild term). As far as regards the roughness of three (not six or seven) of our men, the writer is quite correct, but he forgot to say that they were well backed up by two or three of his own side, who seemed to be quite equal to our own rowdies. As to who had the best of the game, I leave the public to judge, just reminding them that one party was a trained team of football players, whilst the others met, many of them, for the first time in their lives, and with few exceptions played their only game of football for a whole season. Now about the last two statements made, I positively assert that the ball never went through the Thames goal posts, (though it did through the Auckland ones) even off Manning's hand, so that they did not even get an illegal game; and finally the numbers on either side were even, 14 each, (not Thames 15 and Auckland 13), and as your correspondent cannot give you a correct list of his own side, I refer him to the Thames Advertiser of Monday, where he will find correct lists of both sides published. I am very sorry that some of the Aucklanders were so bitterly disappointed at not having beaten us, as they thought they could do so easily, but upon my word we really could not help it. Trusting I am not asking too much by sending this letter for publication.

T. G-. Sandes, Captain Thames team. Grahamstown, September 26, 1871

NZ Herald 28 Sept 1871


Sir, - Seeing a most one sided report in your paper of the late football match, Auckland v. Thames, please allow me a small space to contradict some of the observations made by one who I should have imagined was not there or if he was there he knows very little about the game, much less about writing a report of it. I will allow the ground was rough, so was the play (when is it not ?), rather too much so for some of the players. As to the Thamians being "blown when half the time was past," so were the Aucklanders, or why did they not score a goal ? Then he says something about "detailing" a man to put the ball behind the goal. Surely he must have been very hard up for a technical word when he used that. This he imputes to cowardice; which is absurd, as it is no more than playing for safety at billiards or any other scientific game. Again, as for the Thames "roughs," as your would-be facetious correspondent calls them, making a rush at the ball, they simply amused themselves for five minutes (not more) by kicking the ball about after the match and when the Thames captain, Mr. Sandes (as he told me himself), went and asked for the ball they gave it up at once. One more mistake wants correcting, and I'm done, viz., fourteen played on each side: one of the Messrs. Brassey is omitted. As for the gentlemen who comprised the Auckland team, they are a jolly lot of fellows, who know the game and play it, and I hope for their sake that the writer of the report referred to was not one of them. — One who was there.

DSC 28 September 1871


To the Editor of the Herald.
(some of this letter illegible)

Sir,—l see in your issue of today a letter from Mr. Sandes contradicting in a rather warm manner some statements made in your account of the late football match at the Thames. I do not intend to combat all his return charges as it would only create an ill feeling between the teams, and would occupy nearly a column of your space. His insinuation that some of our side were rowdies is rather strong and not quite true; of course in the excitement of the game men will be rough but I distinctly hear (sic) Mr. Dunnet, our Captain tell our opponents that if they could _____ out one of our men who had played _______, he would send him off the ground. In all our disputes we never complained of the roughness of the Thames team (we were quite ready for anything of that sort) but of their persistent breaking of the rules previously made for playing the game. I admit the ball did go through our goal by a kick from a man who had evidently never seen football played before, for he first kicked the ball behind ____ _____ and then gradually brought it in rear of our goal, then watching his time, he kicked it through with a great “hurroosh” as if he had won a goal. I hardly see how we could be called a trained team of football players as four of our men had only played twice before, and three or four, only four times. As to our bitter disappointment at not beating the Thames, that is all humbug, and as to who had the best of the game, I know our side will gladly have another match, say in Auckland, and then perhaps fortune will decide.— One of the Auckland Team.

N Z Herald 30 September 1871




The members of the Football Club assembled on Saturday to the number of 18 or 20 for practice, and a rattling game ensued, no goal being won by either side, which was principally attributable to the goal-keepers being the right men in the right place, there being many near shaves. After the game was over a meeting was held, Mr Sandes in the chair. The Chairman stated that he had been informed that the Auckland Club would be willing to come down next Saturday and play a match with the Thames men. It was resolved to be ready for them, and a committee was appointed to select a team and make all preparations for receiving the Aucklanders properly should they come down. The colours of the Club were fixed to be black and white scull caps. It was resolved to have a practice every evening, if possible, and a scratch match on Wednesday, by which time an answer will have been received from Auckland, and then all arrangements will be completed. It was understood that the challenge to play any 15 men on the field issued last week still held good.

Thames Guardian & Mining Record 12 August 1872



On Saturday, the above match was played on the Club ground, at Shortland, and the players were favoured with magnificent weather for their sport. During the afternoon, there were several hundred spectators on the ground, whoever and anon gave cheers of encouragement to the kickers, the cheers being loudest when the falls were most numerous. We were also pleased to observe a large number of the fair sex present, who seemed to enjoy the fun very considerably. Shortly before three o’clock, the two teams appeared on the ground, the Aucklanders showing up in blue, and the Thames men being distinguished by black and white caps. Owing to the visitors not having been able to bring down the full complement, the match was played with eleven men on either side. The Auckland team was composed of the following :—Messrs Marshall, T. Henderson, Duder, Humphries, Clayton, Matthews, W.Cussen, E.T. Ellis, J. Graham, and Dunnet (captain). Our district was represented by Messrs Donovan. Woon, Gudgeon, Robinson, Jennings, Crawford, Williams, Bull, Dunlevie, Fitzmorris, and Sandes (captain). Sandes having won the toss, chose the southern goal, and just about 3 p.m. he kicked off, and for some time very hot play was going on, the forward players of the Auckland team working well, and bringing the hall near our men’s goal very frequently. It was, however, never left there very long, being met by the goal-keepers and sent back again with compliments. The first accident of the day happened about half an hour after play began, W Cussin receiving a very severe fall from Donovan, which stunned him for a short time and prevented his being able to play out for the remainder of the game. As time wore on the ball was kept much more near the Auckland goal, and there were several magnificent scrimmages round the posts, but the splendid goal-keeping of Dunnet and his backers prevented a goal being kicked. Things went on until about a quarter to five, without either side being able to do anything, though there were several near shaves in both goals, the ball at one time hitting the Thames goal post, but Bull was in the way and the game was saved. About the time mentioned, after a splendid reach, the ball was kicked well by Williams, and passed so close to the Auckland goal-post that a game was thought to have been won. Whether or not the ball went through the goal or outside seemed to be a matter of great uncertainty, many of the spectators saying it did go through and others the opposite. It was a matter of the utmost impossibility to decide the matter for a certainty either way, so the game was continued until 5 p.m., when time was called, and the match ended in a draw. Just as the last kick was given, Dunlevie, of the Thames, in a tussle with Cussen, received a very severe kick in the groin, which rendered him powerless. He had to be carried home, and the Dr was sent for, but fortunately there was no danger of serious consequences, and Dunlevie will be well in a week or so. Bull had one of his ribs broken and another player had a tooth knocked out, whilst bruises and cuts were too numerous to mention. The playing of Dunnet, as goal-keeper for Auckland was splendid, and we must also mention Duder, who worked very hard all day Henderson, Humphries, Ellis, and above all Matthews, a lad who is nimble as a kitten, and has a thorough knowledge of the game, and played beautifully all through. On the Thames side Robinson, Dunlevie, and Williams in the centre did an immense amount of work. Donovan, Gudgeon, and Woon also worked well in their position, and Sandes as outer-goal was all there. The game was certainly a hot one throughout. After the match the Thames men entertained the Aucklanders at dinner at the New Caledonian Hotel, where a capital spread was prepared by Host Rowe. After the repast the loyal toasts were drunk, followed by “Our Visitors,” “ The Thames Team,” “ Our Host,” and “ The Ladies,” after which the whole party were driven up to Grahamstown, and so ended the second drawn match at football between Auckland and the Thames.

Thames Guardian and Mining Record 19 August 1872


The second annual match of football between Auckland and the Thames was played at Shortland on Saturday afternoon, and was attended by first-rate sport, albeit neither side succeeded in kicking a goal. The game was favoured by beautiful weather, and the ground was in complete condition. There were eleven on a side, the Auckland team being composed of Messrs. Henderson, Duder, Marshall, Humphries, Clayton, Matthews, W. Cussin, L. Cussin, Ellis, Graham, and Dunnet (captain). On the Thames side were Messrs.Bull.Gudgeon.Crawford.Fitzmorris, Robinson, Donovan, Dunlevie, Woon, Jennings Williams, and T. Sandes (captain). The Thames men won the toss for goals, and, the field having been placed, play commenced at 3 o'clock, after it had been decided to call off at 5 o'clock. It very soon became apparent that the teams were evenly matched, that of the Thames having the advantage of weight, as was plain enough to be seen when the men came into collision, the Aucklanders, as a rule, going to grass They, however, had the advantage in point of activity, three or four of their number being lithe as panthers and nimble as deer. Time and again, a goal was nearly won by each side, and was only averted by the admirable play of the respective captains ; Dunnet, in particular, distinguishing himself. There were two very narrow shaves: once the ball struck the Thames goal post, and was diverted outside by the barest chance ; and again, towards the end of the game, it passed one of the Auckland goal posts, so close and rapidly that it was at first thought a goal had been kicked, and, for a few moments, quite a scene of jubilant congratulations ensued on the part of the Thames. That this was a misconception was, however, soon ascertained, and admitted as readily by the Thames as demanded by Auckland. Indeed the utmost good humour and fair play governed the game from first to last, notwithstanding that some of the lighter weights were tremendously knocked about. It is to be regretted that three of the players received hurts. W. Cussin of Auckland, sustained a heavy fall at the commencement of the game, and for a short time was insensible; and nearly at the same time Bull, of the Thames, met with a floorer which incapacitated him from doing little else than help keep to goal during the remainder of the game. But a more serious mishap befell Dunlevie, of the Thames side. Just as the game ended he received a violent blow from the knee of the player with whom he was contesting possession of the ball, and had to be carried off the field, evidently suffering great agony. He was removed to his residence close by, where his hurt was looked to by Dr. Fisher, and so far as the examination went it was thought he was not seriously injured. Dunlevie is a machinist at the Thames Guardian office, and is a very good football player. Later in the evening the rival teams sat down to an excellent dinner provided by mine host of the New Caledonian Hotel, and had a very pleasant time of it. It is probable that a return game will come off at Auckland in the course of a few weeks. I may remark, in conclusion, that the game was witnessed by a large number of spectators, including many ladies. - [Thames Correspondent ]

DSC 19 August 1872





Thames was Auckland's first Rugby rival, and today's match at Eden Park recalls the day, over fifty years ago, when the military-cum- maritime elect of Auckland town sought to give a lesson in this English game of Rugby to the bustling, roaring, mining camp of Thames, which had at that date—the early 'seventies— attracted adventurous spirits from all parts of the British Empire. That first game was the sensation of the province, and neither side could claim a victory, for there was no score. Since then the rivalry has been maintained, with varying fortunes, up to the present day. Despite the fact that Auckland has outgrown Thames, and has incorporated the goldfields in its Rugby area, the annual home-and-home matches continue to hold, in addition to their sentimental interests, the keen attention of followers of form, for the reason that Thames always gives Auckland a keen game, and many of the province's most notable players have come from the goldfields district. The members of the Thames team for to-day's game arrived in town just after noon and took up quarters at the Royal Hotel. They will return home by to-morrow's boat.


The annual fixture between the old rivals Thames and Auckland dates back well over half-a-century, and there is something apart from the ordinary interest attached to the game. On turning the pages of Rugby history, one finds that the first game was arranged between Quartzopolis and Auckland in the year 1870, by Mr. W. W. Robinson, of Wellingborough (Northampton, England) who practically introduced Rugbv football into the province of Auckland. In his reminiscences of the game in its beginning, in which he played, he makes mention of this first match in 1870. The game in question was a rough-and-tumble one and a dispute arose which nearly degenerated into a series of personal combats, because someone was carrying the ball. In the first match were two Irishmen, a Cornishman. a policeman off duty, and a bushman with a scarlet shirt, together with several bank and stock exchange men. The game resulted in a pointless draw.

Auckland Star 18 June 1927

© Meghan Hawkes 2021

Please acknowledge and credit this blog with a source link if using any material from it.  Thank you. 


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