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David William (Dave) Gregory (1845–1919)

from Sydney Mail

 The death of David William Gregory, at Turramurra, Sydney, last week, removes from the world of sport an Australian who might be justly styled the father of our modern cricket. True, he was not a pioneer of the game in this country; but he came into it just at a time when it was beginning to raise its head out of the mediocrity that had characterised its progress for over half a century, and he exercised such a potent force in its ranks for a number of years that he, more than anyone else, brought it up to the level of the English standard. In some senses he was not one of our greatest cricketers — that is, judging him purely as a bowler and batsman — but he was undoubtedly one of the most capable captains that ever controlled the destinies of a team. He believed in cricket: he loved the game, and he had his own ideas of how it should be played. 'Matches are won by run getting,' he used to say, and he had no time for the bowler who piled up a record of maiden overs opposite his name; in fact, such a thing never occurred in any team under his direction. If a bowler could not get wickets or induce the batsmen to strike out he was immediately removed. When he took the first Australian eleven to England Gregory demonstrated in almost every match that his policy was the right one, both from a playing and a spectacular point of view. The rapidity with which he introduced changes and arranged his field to suit the play greatly disconcerted the Englishmen. He knew every man and his capabilities as few cricket captains have done, and his judgment in placing them was seldom at fault. As fielders it is questionable if that first eleven has ever had superiors. There again the credit was due to Gregory. He trained his men hard at catching, stopping, throwing in, and running, until he could depend upon every man performing his task with almost mechanical precision. He allowed no loafing on the field of play. If there was a moment to spare between batsmen going and coming he kept the ball flying round among the fielders, thus keeping every man constantly on the alert. The Englishmen in those days, during spells, used to lie down or gather together to discuss the progress of the play. They did not appreciate the apparently tireless energy of the Australians: but it was not long before every first-class team was emulating their example.

Cricket has been played in Australia for well over 100 years; but not until the late forties of last century was it taken really seriously, and Sydney, of course, was the nursery of the game, whilst Hyde Park and the Domain may be said to have been its cradle. In those days the principal clubs were the Australian — composed of native-born players — the Victoria, composed of military and commissariat officers — and the Currency Lass Club. Gregory was only a lad in the forties; but the game had a fascination for him from the very outset — his father played it before him — and among the names he remembered as stalwarts of those days were William Tunks, John Sly, Harry Hilliard, Ted Sadler, Tom Davis, Johnny Kinnear, G.and W. Still, and others. A few years later came the Albert, National, Warwick, Newtown, and other clubs, and by this time Dave and his brothers were old enough to take part in the play. Dave's first important club was the National, which played in the Domain. For a time they had no regular pitch; they had simply, like the boys of to-day, to look out for the most level spot they could find and make the best of it. But their supporters began to realise that the players had in them the groundwork of a really good club, so the Governor, Sir William Denison, Bill Tunks, and Al. Park each contributed £5 to lay out a proper wicket. In this club young Gregory and his brothers Ned, Walter, and Charles became associated with men whose names are writ large in the early history of the game. Among them were little Harry Newcombe. O. Lewis, W. McNish, J. Crampton, Ned Sadler, J. Cutter, Harry Hilliard, Tom Bennett, and the aforesaid Al. Park and Bill Tunks, two of the fine old school, whose devotion to the game was an inspiration to many of the younger players of that period. In addition to local matches, the Nationals occasionally journeyed into the country, and Dave Gregory used to tell some very interesting stories concerning those outback visits. There were, of course, no railways thenadays, and the long journeys by coach — which invariably started from O'Brien's Tattersall's Hotel, Pitt street — were always full of incident. One picture that remained vividly impressed on Dave's memory was the first visit to Windsor and Richmond. A good deal had been heard about the local clubs, and one can therefore well understand the amusement, and surprise of the visitors when, on arrival at the playing ground, they found the locals all ready for the fray with bare feet, trousers tucked up to their knees, and serious faces.

When the National Club broke up in September, 1867, Dave, Ned, Walter, and Charles Gregory all joined up with the Warwicks, which then became one of the strongest clubs in the colony. Among those who used to attend the club's meetings in O'Brien's Hotel, or otherwise to support it, were Messrs. J.R. (afterwards Sir James Fairfax, G. H. (afterwards Sir George) Reid, W. Hemming, Richard Driver, Al. Park, C. and J. Kellick, C. H. Hayes, Billy Caffyn, C. Oliver, Charlie Bannerman, Bill, Jim, Bob, and George Clark, J. Oatley, G. Yeomans, A. Sellars and J. Tooher. On glancing over the early records of the Warwick Club (which are among the treasured cricketing possessions of Dave's brother Albert) we find that in 1871 Dave won the trophy for bowling (his average being 3.35 runs per wicket), whilst Charlie Bannerman won the batting trophy with an average of 16 runs per innings. The following year Dave carried off both trophies with averages of 25 runs and 4.44 wickets per innings. In 1873 he again won the batting average with 20.2 runs per innings, and, although he did not qualify for the bowling trophy, his average was four runs per wicket.

It was while they were with the Warwicks that the three brothers Ned, Dave, and Charley Gregory played their now famous single-wicket match against a Victorian team, consisting of T. W. Wills, J. Conway, and S. Cosstick. The single-wicket game had been very popular prior to that, and the Victorian trio believed themselves to be unbeatable. So sure were they of their ability that they issued a challenge to play the best five South Australians, and defeated them. Then they challenged New South Wales, and twice defeated Lawrence, Nat Thompson, and Caffyn, who (including as they did two Surrey professionals) were believed to be the best the State could produce. One of these games was for £100. So jubilant were the Victorians over their success that many New South Wales cricketers felt sore at the defeat of their best men, and they urged the Gregorys to try conclusions with the victors. The brothers discussed the proposition, and concluded that, with practice, they could hold their own with all-comers. No sooner was the challenge issued than the Gregorys commenced to train for the event. Every morning they were up at 5.30, and spent an hour and a half at hard practice on the Alliance Ground (now No. 2, Sydney Cricket Ground), assisted by Charley Bannerman, Massie, and other enthusiastic members of the East Sydney Club. When the day for the match arrived — April 8, 1871 — there was intense excitement in Sydney sporting circles. Over 5000 people went out to the Albert Ground, Redfern, to see it and the game became the talk of the hour. So keen was the play that it took three days to finish the match, and when the Gregorys won by five runs they were hailed everywhere as heroes. At Paddington, where they lived, every hotel displayed three cornstalks with light blue ribbons flying (the N.S.W. colours), and the whole suburb was en fete.

Up to this time two English teams had visited Australia, the first, H. H. Stephenson's, in 1862, and the second, George Parr's, in 1864. Then, in 1873, Dr. W. G. Grace brought out a strong eleven, with which he expected to carry home the 'ashes,' which had previously been lost; but he had not reckoned on the immense improvement in local play, and there was great jubilation in the Australian cricketing world when 'W.G.'s' team was defeated first by a Victorian eighteen, then by a New South Wales eighteen, of which Dave Gregory was a member. Other notable players who were making good at that time were Charlie Bannerman, N. Thompson, J. Coates. R. Hewitt, F. R. Spofforth, T. Powell, M. Faithfull, and E. Tindall. Referring to this improvement in Australian cricket, Mr. Gregory always declared that it was due in great measure to Caffyn, who, having, with Lawrence, remained in Australia after the visit of the second English team, devoted much of his time to forwarding the game here. Caffyn became a member of the Sydney Nationals, and Mr. Gregory frequently stated that it was under his tuition that he 'really learned all he knew about cricket.'

In 1876 came Lillywhite's English team, and it was during their tour that the Australians first proved their ability to meet an All England combination on equal terms — eleven aside. The first game resulted in a draw, and the second in victory; and, as Dave Gregory was the man who selected and captained that victorious team, much of the credit of the sensational win was due to his masterly handling of his men. Contributing factors were the great innings played by Charlie Bannerman, who scored 165 before having to retire hurt, and the fine bowling of Hodges, of Victoria. The other members of the team were Thompson, Horan, Ned Gregory, Blackham, Cooper, Midwinter, Garrett, and Kendall. Spofforth, who just prior to this had performed some extraordinary bowling feats, was originally selected in the eleven; but he refused to play unless Murdoch was included in the place of Blackham. This change Gregory refused to make. Spofforth argued that Murdoch was the only wicket-keeper who could stop his bowling: Gregory replied that Blackham was the finest wicket-keeper in the world. And so he proved, not only in that match, but later, during the first tour of the Australians in England. However, in the return match with All England Gregory was so keen on including Spofforth that he sacrificed Blackham for Murdoch — and lost the match. He might have lost it anyway; but the fact stands out that his judgment in regard to Blackham was sound. It was in this year (1876) that Dave Gregory transferred from the National to the Albert Club, whose members at that time included F. H. Dangar, J. J. Calvert., J. M. Gibson, H. H. Massie, A. R. Docker,J. Coates, G. L. Lord, P. O. Curtis, W. C. Goddard, Nat Thompson, and Victor Cohen. With them he did some very good work, both as a bowler and a batsman.

No sooner was the Englishmen's tour over than the idea of sending an Australian eleven to the old country was suggested by Mr. J. Conway, and quickly gained support. Gregory's captaincy of the home team had so increased his prestige that it was to him Conway first went with the suggestion. Gregory at once took it up, on the understanding that he would select the New South Wales reps., whilst Mr. Conway selected the Victorians, and together they agreed to include G. H. Bailey, of Tasmania. Gregory, of course, was to be captain. It did not take him long to marshal his men, and to commence to train them in team work with a thoroughness that was typical of his methods. 'Constant practice' were his watchwords, and for four months he kept the team at work, touring them throughout the 'colonies,' and never missing a single day's play unless it was absolutely unavoidable. The result of this tour was to raise tremendous enthusiasm throughout Australia, and when the eleven ultimately left, it passed through Sydney Heads to the accompaniment of as much cheering and ceremony as would have been accorded a royal visitor.

Their arrival at Liverpool on May 14, 1878, did not create any more stir than the first appearance of New South Wales cricketers at Melbourne. English enthusiasts looked upon them as a plucky band of men who, having mastered the rudiments of the game, were now eager to extend their knowledge by practice with the leading county teams, for 'the British lion still slumbered in the blissful belief that nobody could play cricket properly but himself.' He was to be rudely awakened soon. The first match, at Nottingham, resulted in the defeat of the visitors: but it was followed soon afterwards by one of the most memorable matches in the annals of cricket — one that, according to Frank Allan, 'made the name of Australia a household word throughout Great Britain and caused all the cricket world to wonder.' It was played at Lords — the very home of cricket — and the Australians had as their opponents the renowned M.C.C., with Dr. Grace as captain. Never was a more remarkable game witnessed. It was one long sensation, lasting just five and a half hours, and ending in the victory of Gregory's team.

Gregory himself, like a dozen others, did not make a single run; but his handling of his side was so effective, his change of bowlers and his placing of the field so skilful, that the victory was in great measure due to his generalship. In their first innings the M.C.C. were dismissed for 33, Spofforth capturing six wickets for 4, and Boyle three for 14. Australia replied with 41. There was much perturbation among the Englishmen in the interval. Several of them confessed that they could make absolutely nothing of the bowling; others were more optimistic, and declared that, with a margin of only eight to wipe out, their prospects of winning were quite rosy. It was not long ere those latter were disillusioned, for when Spofforth and Boyle got to work again they captured the whole of the wickets between them for 19 runs — Spofforth taking four for 16 and Boyle six for 3. With only 12 to get to win, the Australians compiled this total with only one wicket down, and thus the match ended as sensationally as it had opened.

The English press of the time was greatly excited over the game, even the most, staid London journals devoting columns to a discussion of the play and the players. For weeks afterwards articles and letters appeared, and in glancing over these now it is interesting to read how generous most of them were in their appreciation of the visitors' ability. An analysis of the game showed some remarkable things. The famous 'W.G.' went out to his second ball in each innings. Seven men were bowled by their first balls, and four by their second. In the Englishmen's first innings, the last eight wickets fell for eight runs, and in the two innings they registered 13 'ducks.' The Australians bowled, in all, only 184 balls to get the Englishmen out. Not a single catch was missed or ball misfielded during the match. The London 'Standard' commented on the match thus: — 'From a purely cricketing point of view, the principal cause of the success of the Australian team was Mr. Gregory's captaincy. It has been truly said that England does not at present possess his equal. He has mastered the problem as to when to change the bowling. He makes his changes with promptitude and excellent judgment, and varies his field with a quick appreciation of the peculiarities of the different batsmen. As a batsman he hits with great power when he gets well set, but is somewhat uncertain, and does not keep the ball particularly well down. He is a marvellous catch.' In looking through the old English files one becomes greatly tempted to quote other opinions at length; but one more must suffice here. It is from the London 'Globe': —

'A victory won by the strangers against the crack club of this country would under any circumstances have been a notable, and even an extraordinary, event. But the peculiarity of the game yesterday was not, perhaps, so much the mere fact that the Australians won, but that they should have made such a pitiable example of their antagonists. Seldom in the annals of modern cricket has so small a score been made as by the Marylebone Club yesterday; and never was so severe a humiliation inflicted, individually and collectively, upon the members of the club. The eleven was as good a one as could be found to represent London and England, and probably nearly as good as the club has ever turned out. Yet its best batsmen were bowled out one after another as if they had been novices. The disasters of a first innings were far exceeded by the catastrophes of a second, and the strangers, in spite of every effort to turn the tables on their batsmen, were hailed the victors by nine wickets. The defeat of the home eleven was complete, and, looking only at the figures, easy. No pretence of luck or chance, even if it were made, could avail to explain away the unexpected result. The Australians have brought over with them bowlers who fairly puzzled the best men in this country, and it is not impossible that they will be found to have introduced a new system by which once more the scale will be turned in favour of the ball and against the bat. However that may be, and whatever may be the result of future matches, the reputation of the colonist eleven is made, and they will be welcomed with enthusiasm wherever they now appear.'

Subsequent to the now famous M.C.C. match the Australians met with several defeats; but the tour as a whole was eminently successful. Playing 37 first-class matches, they won I8, drew 12 (several of which were very much in their favour), and lost only 7. 'Their losses,' commented one snorting journal, 'would undoubtedly have been greater but for the admirable general shin of Mr. Gregory.' On the way back to Australia the travellers stopped for a time in America, where they played matches against picked teams in different States. But this part of the tour was not a great success. One incident at Philadelphia will serve to illustrate the cause. Mr. Gregory's side had scored something over 200 runs, and it looked as if they were to be victorious — as, indeed, they were in almost every match — when allegations of favouritism were made against the umpire. On three occasions when the Australians appealed for catches or l.b.w. the umpire refused to give the Americans out. So obvious was his bias that Mr. Gregory refused to proceed with the match, and withdrew his men to the pavilion. A heated discussion there took place, as a result, of which Mr. Gregory refused to continue play until the umpire was removed. The Australians had already received a cheque to pay 'expenses, etc.,' so they felt they could hold out: but when they learned that a message had just been sent to the bank ordering the stoppage of the cheque a few of the players began to waver. Mr. Gregory tried to induce them to stick to the 'honour of the game,' and think of nothing else; but when the Philadelphian manager told them that 10,000 people had already paid to see the match, and that thousands more were crowding into the ground, and pointed out how unfair it was to them to stop the game, a vote was taken, and as a result the Australians returned to the field. From then onwards the visitors found themselves up against a a good deal of ill-feeling, and on one occasion they had the bad luck to have many or their personal belongings stolen out of a pavilion during the progress of a match, so that they were by no means sorry when the American portion of the tour came to an end.

The triumphal return of Mr. Gregory's team to Australia is still fresh in the minds of many people whose interest in the game is yet keen. They were welcomed and feted like warriors returned from battle. Their deeds were the subject of discussion everywhere, and as a result local cricket received an impetus that sent it forward by leaps and bounds. Dave Gregory continued to play with the Alberts for some years. Soon after his return the records show that in three innings he scored 194, and was twice not out for 82 and 38 respectively. In 1880 he carried off the bowling and batting averages with almost 27 runs per innings, and just under 8½runs per wicket. The following year he, H. H. Massie, and H. Moses ran level for the fielding trophy, but on lots being cast it went to Massie. His batting average that season was up to over 31. At the close of the 1882 season he practically ceased to play club cricket. In that year, however, he had a batting average of over 25 and a bowling average of 14.8. Between 1866 and 1882 he averaged just over 17 runs per match and just under 19 runs per wicket — truly a fine record when one considers the kind of pitches played on in those days. In nearly every match in which he took part Gregory fielded short-slip, in which position he has had few, if any, superiors. As a cricketer no more genial player ever lived; as a captain he was certainly one of the best Australia has produced. For five years he acted as honorary secretary of the New South Wales Cricket Association, and was also the sole selector of teams. With J. H. Clayton, P. B. Walker, Victor Cohen, and Lindeman he worked very hard to place the association in the sound position to which it rose after many years of embarrassment.

The father of the Gregorys (E. W. Gregory) arrived in Sydney in 1805, and in 1826 was one of the comparatively few cricketers who then played the game on the old racecourse, now Hyde Park. Dave was born at Fairy Meadow, near Wollongong, in 1844. As a youngster he was always bright, both at school and in the playground, and he retained that cheery disposition right up to the day of his death. When at school in Sydney he won a silver medal presented by the State Governor, Sir William Denison. In handing it over the Governor told Dave that if he ever wanted a recommendation to come to him. Dave jumped at the opportunity, and next day was a visitor at Government House. He wanted a position in the Public Service, and thought Sir William could help him. As a result he entered the Auditor-General's Department in May, 1861, and gradually rose until, in 1880, he was appointed Assistant Inspector of Accounts. On the appointment of Mr. E. A. Rennie as Auditor-General in 1883 he was promoted Inspector of Public Accounts, which position he held till, on the introduction of the Public Service Act, he was transferred to the position of Paymaster of the Treasury in 1907. When he retired from the Public Service in 1908 Sir Joseph Carruthers, the then Premier, in presenting him with a silver tea and coffee service from his fellow-workers, mentioned that Mr. Gregory had served under ten Governors, and had enjoyed the goodwill of every Minister with whom he had been associated and every officer with whom he had worked.

At the funeral at Gore Hill Cemetery last week many old cricketers paid their last tribute of respect to Mr. Gregory. Among these were Messrs. Charles Bannerman. Alec Bannerman, Frank Iredale, Harry Donnan, J. Humphreys, W. Eury, John Tooher, L. Oatley, Charles Beale, J. Walsh (Melbourne), A. C. K. Mackenzie, J. O. Trimble, Victor Cohen, A. Hiddlestone, and J. Hiddlestone, Mr. Charles Oliver, C.M.G., represented the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust, and Mr. J. H. Clayton the New South Wales Cricket Association. The principal mourners were the widow, five sons (Sergt. Ronald Gregory, M.M., Herbert Gregory, Charles Gregory, Leslie Gregory, Albert Gregory), Mrs. F. E. Mitchell (daughter), Mesrrs. C. S. Gregory. G. S. Gregory, Albert Gregory (brother) Lieut. Stan. Gregory, M.C., Sergt. Reg Gregory, Messrs. Syd. Gregory, Harold Gregory, E. W. Gregory, Walter Gregory, and Gregory Gatland (nephews). One son of the deceased Eric D. Gregory, of the 103rd Howitzer Battery, A.I.F., is on his way home from France.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Gregory, David William (Dave) (1845–1919)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 April, 1845
Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia


4 August, 1919 (aged 74)
Turramurra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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