During the 1880s Maitland was to have three visits from touring English teams – an indication of its reputation as a strong country cricket centre. The first was by Alfred Shaw’s XI (1881-82); the second by the Hon Ivo Bligh’s XI (1882-83); and the third by Alfred Shaw’s and Arthur Shrewsbury’s XI (1884-85).

Prior to these visits the Maitland d istr ict had provided a number of players for a Northern 22 that played against James Lillywhite’s touring team of English professionals in Newcastle in 1876. In the scores appear the names (unfortunately without initials) of Waddy, Wyndham, Onus, Moore, Lawrie and Costello. The bat for the highest scorer in the Northern team was awarded to Mr (M) Costello of West Maitland who managed to make 12.

When it was announced that the opening match of Shaw’s 1881-82 tour of the Australian colonies would be played in November 1881 in Maitland there was considerable excitement in the town. Some of the older cricketers and supporters of the game still remembered the disappointment of the 1860s when the match against Parr’s English XI was abandoned and a further disappointment in 1873 when a match arranged against WG Grace’s team was cancelled because of serious floods in the area. Now they would have the chance to see an English Eleven playing against a Northern District Twenty-Two in a two day match on their home ground at Albion Park.

The Northern team was selected from players as far afield as Tamworth. There were no players from Newcastle as the tourists were to play another match there a few days later. The line-up to face the Englishmen included a number of well known Maitland district names: AG Lawrie, M Costello, R Waddy, J Bignell, C Wyndham, G I Sefton and J Sivyer. A silver mounted emu egg was offered as a trophy for the highest scorer in the combined team.

On arrival by train the English team was met at High Street station by local dignitaries and then driven in “Mr Miller’s bus, drawn by four greys, decked with ribbons” to Cohen’s Hotel which was decorated with flags and a balcony banner that read “West Maitland bids you welcome”. Most business houses in the town gave a half holiday to their employees so they would have a chance to see the match. The Mercury estimated that the crowd at the ground on the first day was 2000 “including a large number of ladies”.

After a lavish luncheon and the exchange of numerous toasts, the match got under way. At the end of the first day’s play the Northern 22 had been dismissed for 113 (Midwinter took 8 for 49) and the
English XI in reply was 2 for 65. The fielding of the 22 was reported as being “very indifferent, the ball being frequently fumbled”. On the second day the English Xl was all out for 157 after a remarkable bowling spell of 5 for 12 off 16 overs by P Howe, a Singleton player. In their second innings the Northern 22 scored 123, with T Fawcett, another Singleton player, making 43 when “time was called”.

The next match against the Hon Ivo Bligh’s touring party of eight amateurs and four professionals took place a year later, on December 6 and 7 1882. A local selection committee had the difficult task of choosing a Northern District 18 from nominations of 56 cricketers representing 12 different clubs. The following team was selected: GI Sefton (capt), McAlpine, Onus, A Bignell, J Bignell, J Smith, Lawrie, Sivyer, Mather, J Moore jnr, Falls, Watters, Howe, Cronin, Griffiths, Herrmann, Furners and Pullen.

Unfortunately for the organisers rain interfered with play on the first day. The crowd was estimated at less than 100 and business at the publicans’ booths was “very meagre”. The Mercury reported “the Maitland Town Band was in attendance … and they did much to enliven what would otherwise have been a dull afternoon”. The weather was more favourable on the second day and “during the afternoon the ground was visited by about 400, a fair proportion of which was ladies”.

The All-England XI had a convincing win in the match defeating the local 18 by 155 to 49 and 91. Top scorers for the locals were McAlpine (15) and Onus (20). An interesting aspect of the match was that after play had been under way for some time “a new wicket was selected” – an acceptable arrangement in those days.

In the third fixture against Shaw and Shrewsbury’s (1884-85) team the locals were to perform much more creditably. There were “howls of outrage” in Newcastle when Maitland and Singleton were announced as the two centres for matches against this team and Newcastle missed out. The Northern District team comprised 22 players among whom were the names of prominent Maitland district cricket identities W Moore, T Onus, G Brunker, P Waddy (capt) and A G Lawrie.

The locals batted first and made 98, with JK Wray, described by the Englishmen as “a gigantic cornstalk”, making 22 in five hits. Surprisingly, but much to the delight of the crowd of about 1200, the visitors were dismissed for 67. In their later account of the tour Shaw and Shrewsbury noted that this was the first time the team had “been got rid of under 100 runs” and that the Maitland people were “very proud of their champions”. HL Lovegrove (5 for 20) and C Lindeman (4 for 19) were the main wicket-takers for the locals and were backed up by excellent fielding. Batting again’ Northern were 14 for 100 when rain washed out play.

The match was played in the middle of February 1885 and the English tourists found the local summer weather conditions rather trying. On the Sunday (the “rest day” in the two day fixture) many of the English Eleven “spent half their time in the river” to get some relief from the sultry heat.