1888 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia

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1888 British Lions Tour to New Zealand & Australia
British lions 1888.jpg
The British Isles touring squad
Date 28 April – 3 October
Coach(es) Alfred Shaw
England Arthur Shrewsbury
Tour captain(s) England Robert Seddon
England Andrew Stoddart
1888 British Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia
35 27 06 02
Test match
00 00 00 00

The 1888 British Isles tour to New Zealand and Australia was a tour by a British rugby union team, known at the time as the "English Footballers",[1] throughout New Zealand and Australia. Although a private venture not organised by any official body, this was the first major tour of the Southern Hemisphere undertaken by a European rugby team, it paved the way for future tours by teams which are now known as British and Irish Lions.

The team boarded the SS Kaikoura at Gravesend on 9 March 1888, returning to England on the same ship on 11 November.[2] While in Australia and New Zealand the team played a number of state, provincial, and invitation sides, but did not play any international teams, they played 35 rugby matches, winning 27, drawing 6, and losing 2. Only four of the touring party had played, or would play, for their country; Seddon, Andrew Stoddart and Tom Kent for England, and Willie Thomas for Wales.

They also played a smaller number of Victorian rules (Australian rules) football matches, but the side had no prior experience of this before arriving in Australia, the team's legacy was honoured in 2013 when the team, along with initial captain Robert Seddon, were inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.[1]

Tour background[edit]

The British Isles team. Taken on the Scotch Oval, close to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the East Melbourne Cricket Ground, on both of which the team played Australian Rules Football against local clubs

The 1888 tour was organised by three professional English cricketers, James Lillywhite, Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury,[3] but they could not obtain patronage from the Rugby Football Union who refused to patronise by the tour,[4] though the RFU was happy for the tour to go ahead, provided there was no infingement of the rules of amateurism.[5] The team was led by England's Robert L Seddon and took in 35 games, though no test matches against international opposition. Of the games played the tourists won twenty seven, drew six and lost two matches.

The tour was undertaken by Shaw and Shrewsbury as a purely financial exercise with little regard to producing a "British Isles" team, and the team itself is more often recorded as an English team, the two managers were not unfamiliar with touring sides, having organised cricket teams to Australia, and the rugby tour was a follow on from the financially disastrous England Cricket tour of 1887.

The team onboard to Australia, from The Illustrated London News

The rugby tour was not an economic success either and lost both managers money. Worse was to occur when team captain Seddon, drowned on 15 August[6] in an accident while sculling on the Hunter River[7] in West Maitland. The captaincy was then passed to Andrew Stoddart a future England rugby captain and Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

A further economic issue that related to the tour was the burgeoning professional movement that was gathering momentum in England at the time. Rugby players and clubs in Britain were divided by the growing belief that players should be paid for their time playing their sport, the growing popularity of the now professional Association Football was causing many, especially in the North of England, to challenge the amateur standing of the union code.

Team kit

One of the catalysts to the split between amateur union code and the future league code, was when Jack P. Clowes, a member of the 1888 tour, was designated a 'professional' sportsman after he accepted £15 to buy equipment shortly before he left for Australia. The other players on the tour were then required to sign an affidavit to state they were not to be paid for playing rugby when in Australia and New Zealand,[8] the tourists played in red, white and blue hooped jerseys and white shorts.[9]

In addition to playing 35 game of rugby union, the Lions team also played 19 games of Victorian Rules Football (later known as Australian rules football), the Lions won 6 of the matches under the Australian rules, despite having no experience with the code prior to the tour.[10]

The uniforms wore by the Lions in their first tour was made in striking thick red, white and blue hoops, white shorts and dark socks.[11]

Touring party[edit]

Full Backs[edit]


Half backs[edit]


Two-thirds of the touring party belonged to clubs that, within a few years, would defect to the Northern Rugby Football Union, founding the game of rugby league.[13]


# Date Rival Location Result Score
Match 1 28 April Otago Dunedin, New Zealand Won 8–3
Match 2 2 May Otago Dunedin, New Zealand Won 4–3
Match 3 5 May Canterbury Christchurch, New Zealand Won 14–6
Match 4 9 May Canterbury Christchurch, New Zealand Won 4–0
Match 5 12 May Wellington Wellington, New Zealand Drew 3–3
Match 6 14 May H Roberts XV Wellington, New Zealand Won 4–1
Match 7 16 May Taranaki clubs New Plymouth, New Zealand Lost 0–1
Match 8 19 May Auckland Auckland, New Zealand Won 6–3
Match 9 24 May Auckland Auckland, New Zealand Lost 0–4
Match 10 2 June New South Wales Sydney Won 18–2
Match 11 7 June Bathurst Bathurst, Australia Won 13–6
Match 12 9 June New South Wales Sydney Won 18–6
Match 13 11 June Sydney Juniors Sydney Won 11–0
Match 14 12 June The King's School Parramatta, Australia Drew 10–10
Match 15 16 July Adelaide XV Adelaide, Australia Won 28–3
Match 16 1 August Melbourne Melbourne, Australia Won 15–5
Match 17 4 August New South Wales Sydney Won 16–2
Match 18 6 August Sydney Grammar School Sydney Drew 3–3
Match 19 8 August Bathurst Bathurst, Australia Won 20–10
Match 20 11 August University of Sydney Sydney Won 8–4
Match 21 18 August Queensland Brisbane, Australia Won 13–6
Match 22 21 August Queensland Juniors Brisbane, Australia Won 11–3
Match 23 23 August Ipswich Ipswich, Australia Won 12–1
Match 24 25 August Queensland Queensland, Australia Won 7–0
Match 25 29 August Newcastle Newcastle, Australia Won 15–7
Match 26 8 September Auckland Auckland, New Zealand Won 3–0
Match 27 12 September Auckland Auckland, New Zealand Drew 1–1
Match 28 15 September Hawke's Bay Napier, New Zealand Won 3–2
Match 29 17 September Wairarapa Masterton, New Zealand Won 5–1
Match 30 20 September Canterbury Christchurch, New Zealand Won 8–0
Match 31 22 September Otago Dunedin, New Zealand Drew 0–0
Match 32 27 September South Island Dunedin, New Zealand Won 5–3
Match 33 29 September South Island Christchurch, New Zealand Won 6–0
Match 34 2 October Taranaki clubs Hawera, New Zealand Won 7–1
Match 35 3 October Wanganui Wanganui, New Zealand Drew 1–1


  • Godwin, Terry; Rhys, Chris (1981). The Guinness Book of Rugby Facts & Feats. London: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. ISBN 0-85112-214-0. 
  • Griffiths, John (1990). British Lions. Swindon: Crowood Press. ISBN 1-85223-541-1. 
  • Griffiths, John (1987). The Phoenix Book of International Rugby Records. London: Phoenix House. ISBN 0-460-07003-7. 


  1. ^ a b "IRB Hall of Fame 2013 Induction: "The British & Irish Lions and Australia"" (PDF) (Press release). International Rugby Board. Retrieved 5 December 2013. 
  2. ^ Fagan, Sean (2013) The First Lions of Rugby Victoria, Australia : Slattery. ISBN 9780987500274
  3. ^ Thomas, Clem (2013). 125 Years of the British and Irish Lions: The Official History. Random House. p. The Genesis of the Lions. ISBN 9781780577388. 
  4. ^ Griffiths (1987), pg 9:3.
  5. ^ Griffiths (1990), pg 15.
  6. ^ Robert Seddon rugby statistics scrum.com. Accessed 7 March 2009. Archived 2009-05-03.
  7. ^ Seddon's last hurrah Lionsrugby.com. Accessed 7 March 2009. Archived 2009-05-03.
  8. ^ Smart, Ted The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Rugby: The Definitive Guide to World Rugby Union; Carlton Books (1997) ISBN 1-85868-076-X
  9. ^ Lions name is a source of great pride The Times 19 June 2009
  10. ^ "The forgotten story of ... the 1888 Lions tour". The Guardian. 27 June 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2013. 
  11. ^ Lions change their stripes on Lions website, 17 Apr 2005
  12. ^ "Cricinfo – Players and Officials – Arthur Paul". Archived from the original on 4 May 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2009. 
  13. ^ Geoffrey Moorhouse (2013). At the George: And Other Essays on Rugby League. UK: Faber & Faber. 

External links[edit]