Unknown extension tag "indicator"
File:Tom Wills 1857.jpg|
Wills, c. 1857
Thomas Wentworth Wills|
19 August 1835
Molonglo Plain, New South Wales, Australia
2 May 1880 (aged 44)|
Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia
|Known for||Revolutionising cricket in Australia and co-inventing Australian rules football|
Thomas Wentworth "Tom" Wills (19 August 1835 – 2 May 1880) was a 19th-century sportsman who is credited with being Australia's first cricketer of significance and a pioneer of Australian rules football.
Born in the British colony of New South Wales to a wealthy family descended from convicts, Wills grew up on properties owned by his father, the pastoralist and nationalist Horatio Wills, in what is now the Australian state of Victoria. He befriended, and learned the language of, local Aborigines. At the age of 14, Wills was sent to England to attend Rugby School, where he became captain of its cricket team, and played an early version of rugby football. After Rugby, Wills represented the Cambridge University Cricket Club in the annual match against Oxford, and played in first-class matches for Kent and the Marylebone Cricket Club. An athletic all-rounder with devastating bowling analyses, he was regarded as one of the finest young cricketers in England.
Returning to Victoria in 1856, Wills achieved Australia-wide stardom as a cricketer, captaining the Victorian team to repeated victories in intercolonial matches. He played for many clubs, most prominently the Melbourne Cricket Club, for which he served as honorary secretary. In 1858 he called for the formation of a "foot-ball club" with a "code of laws" to keep cricketers fit during the off-season. After founding the Melbourne Football Club the following year, Wills and three other members codified the first laws of Australian rules football. He and his cousin H. C. A. Harrison spearheaded the sport as players and administrators.
In 1861, at the height of his fame, Wills joined his father on a trek to Queensland to establish a family property. Two weeks after their arrival, Wills' father and 18 others were murdered in the largest massacre of European settlers by Aborigines in Australian history. Wills survived and returned to Victoria in 1864. He continued to play football and cricket, and, in 1866–67, coached and captained an Aboriginal cricket team—the first Australian XI to tour England. In a career marked by controversy, Wills straddled the divide between amateur and professional cricketers, and was frequently accused of bending rules to the point of cheating. Called for throwing in 1872, he mounted a failed comeback four years later on the brink of the birth of Test cricket, by which time his sporting glory belonged to a colonial past that seemed "quaint and old fashioned". Psychological trauma from the massacre was worsened by his alcoholism. Now destitute, Wills was admitted to the Melbourne Hospital in 1880, suffering from delirium tremens, but shortly afterwards escaped and returned to his home in Heidelberg, where he committed suicide by stabbing a pair of scissors through his heart.
Wills fell into obscurity after his death, but since the 1990s, he has undergone a resurgence in Australian culture. He was an inaugural inductee into the Australian Football Hall of Fame, and is commemorated with a statue outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In modern times he is characterised as an archetype of the tragic sports hero, and as a symbol of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The claim of an Aboriginal influence on Wills' conception of Australian football has been the subject of heated debate. According to biographer Greg de Moore, Wills "stands alone in all his absurdity, his cracked egalitarian heroism and his fatal self-destructiveness—the finest cricketer and footballer of the age."
- 1 Family and early years
- 2 England
- 3 Colonial hero
- 4 "A game of our own"
- 5 Victoria's reign and football evolves
- 6 Queensland
- 7 Melbourne to Geelong
- 8 Aboriginal cricket team
- 9 Ambiguous professional
- 10 No-ball plot and downfall
- 11 Grace and resurrection
- 12 Drifting to the margins
- 13 Personality
- 14 Playing style
- 15 Legacy
- 16 See also
- 17 Footnotes
- 18 References
- 19 Bibliography
- 20 External links
Family and early years
Tom Wills was born on 19 August 1835 on the Molonglo Plain[a] near modern-day Canberra, in what was the British penal colony of New South Wales, as the elder child[b] of Horatio and Elizabeth (née McGuire) Wills. Tom was a third-generation Australian descended from convicts: his mother was born to convicts transported from Ireland, and his paternal grandfather was Surrey labourer Edward Wills, whose death sentence for highway robbery was commuted to transportation, arriving in Botany Bay aboard the "hell ship" Hillsborough in 1799. Edward received a conditional pardon in 1803 and amassed immense wealth through mercantile activity in Sydney with his free wife Sarah (née Harding). Horatio was born the youngest of six children in 1811, five months after his father's death, and Sarah remarried to convict George Howe, owner of Australia's first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette. During his tenure as the newspaper's editor, Horatio met Elizabeth, an orphan from Parramatta. They married in December 1833. Seventeen months after his birth, Tom was baptised Thomas Wentworth Wills in the parish of St Andrew's, Sydney, after statesman William Charles Wentworth. Influenced by Wentworth's pro-Currency writings and the emancipist cause, Horatio set forth a strident nationalist agenda in his 1832–33 journal The Currency Lad, the first publication to call for an Australian republic.
Seeking to translate his rhetoric into action, Horatio took up pastoral pursuits in the mid-1830s and moved with his family to the sheep run "Burra Burra" on the Molonglo River. Although athletic from an early age, Tom was prone to illness, and at one stage in 1839 his parents "almost despaired of his recovery". In November 1840, in light of Thomas Mitchell's discovery of "Australia Felix", they overlanded south to the Grampians in the colony's Port Phillip District (now the state of Victoria), and, after establishing a run on Mount William, settled a few miles north in the foothills of Mount Ararat, named so by Horatio because "like the Ark, we rested there". Horatio went through a period of intense religiosity while in the Grampians; at times his diary descends into incantation, "perhaps even madness". He implored himself and Tom to base their lives upon the New Testament.
Horatio built a homestead on a large property named "Lexington" (near present-day Moyston) in an area that served as a meeting place for Djab wurrung Aboriginal clans. Tom, as an only child, "was thrown much into the companionship of aborigines", and "became a thorough linguist in the native dialects". In an account of corroborees from childhood, H. C. A. Harrison[c] remembered his cousin Tom's ability to learn Aboriginal songs, mimic their voice and gestures, and "speak their language as fluently as they did themselves, much to their delight." It is speculated that Tom may have also played Aboriginal sports. Horatio wrote fondly of his son's kinship with Aborigines, and allowed local clans to live and hunt on Lexington. However, like many frontiersmen in the area, he was implicated in deadly conflict with the Djab wurrung.[d]
Tom's first sibling, Emily, was born on Christmas Day 1842. In 1846 Wills began attendance at William Brickwood's School in Melbourne. There he was looked after by Horatio's brother Thomas (Tom's namesake), a Victorian separatist and son-in-law of the Wills family's partner in the shipping trade, convict Mary Reibey. Tom played in his first cricket matches at school, and he came in contact with the Melbourne Cricket Club through Brickwood, the club's vice-president. Wills returned to Lexington in 1849 where the family had grown to include siblings Cedric, Horace and Egbert. Mainly self-educated, Horatio had ambitious plans for the education of his children, especially Tom:
I now deeply vainly deplore my want of a mathematical and classical education. Vain regret! ... But my son! May he prove worthy of my experience! May I be spared for him—that he may be useful to his country—I never knew a father's care.
Wills' father sent him to England in February 1850, aged fourteen, to attend Rugby School, the most prestigious school in the country. Horatio wanted Tom to study law and return to Australia as a "professional man of eminence". He arrived in London after a five-month voyage. There, during school holidays, he stayed with his paternal aunt Sarah, who moved from Sydney after the death of her first husband, convict William Redfern.
The reforms enacted by Thomas Arnold, famed headmaster, made Rugby the crucible of muscular Christianity, a "cult of athleticism" into which Wills was inculcated. Wills took up cricket within a week of entering Evans House. At first he bowled underhand, but it was considered outdated, so he tried roundarm bowling. He clean bowled a batsman with his first ball using this style and declared: "I felt I was a bowler." Wills soon topped all of his house's cricket statistics. At bat he was a "punisher" with a sound defence. However, in an age when style was key, he was deemed to have no style at all. In April 1852, when he was sixteen, Wills joined the Rugby School XI, and on his debut at Lord's a few months later, against the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), he took a match-high 12 wickets. That year he formed one half of a bowling attack that established Rugby as the greatest public school in English cricket. In a prelude to his colonial career, critics in the national media accused him of throwing. Rugby coach John Lillywhite rallied in defence of his protégé. Wills survived the scandal. He won fame for his performances and played with the leading cricketers of the age, as well as royalty. William Clarke, his hero, invited him to join the touring All-England Eleven, but he remained at Rugby. Then in 1855 he took over as Rugby XI captain, the most revered position within the school.
Rugby, like other English public schools, had evolved its own variant of football. The game in Wills' era—a rough and highly defensive struggle involving hundreds of boys—was confined to a competition amongst the houses. Spanning the years he played, Wills is pivotal to any of the brief match reports in Bell's Life in London. His creative play and "eel-like agility" baffled the opposition, and his penchant for theatrics endeared him to the crowds. One journalist noted his use of "slimy tricks", a possible reference to his gamesmanship. As a "dodger" in the forward line, he was a long and accurate shot at goal and served as his house's kicker. Wills also shone in the school's annual athletics carnival and his long-distance running ability in Hare and Hounds was unparalleled.
Wills cut a dashing figure with "impossibly wavy" hair and blue, almond-shaped eyes that "[burnt] with a pale light". By age 16 at 5'8" he was already taller than his father. In Lillywhite's Guide a few years later his height was recorded as 5'10" and it was written that "few athletes can boast of a more muscular and well-developed frame".
Consumed by sport, Wills failed to advance academically. It was said that he "could not bring himself to study for professional work" after "having led a sort of nomadic life when a youth in Australia". Wracked by homesickness, he decorated his study with objects to remind him of Lexington, including Aboriginal weapons. Horatio wrote to remind him of his childhood friends: "[the Djab wurrung] told me to send you up to them as soon as you came back."
|Bowling style||Right-arm slow|
|Domestic team information|
|1854||Gentlemen of Kent|
|1855||Gentlemen of Kent and Surrey|
|1855–56||Marylebone Cricket Club|
|1856||Kent and Sussex|
|1856||Gentlemen of Kent and Sussex|
|1864||G. Anderson's XI|
|“||He was buried on the hill top at Heidelberg, overlooking that green valley which, eight years later, Streeton and Roberts and the painters of the Heidelberg School would depict in summer colours. A third generation Australian—then a rarity—he had often expressed in football and cricket a version of the national feeling which these artists were to express in paint, and he had been quietly proud that the football game he did so much to shape was often called 'the national game'.||”|
Wills fell into relative obscurity in the decades following his death. Foremost a cricketer to his contemporaries, he is now mostly remembered as a pioneer of Australian football. His story has been called one of Australia's most powerful national narratives, commensurate with the Ned Kelly legend. The mythologising of Wills, in particular his upbringing with Aborigines, dates back to early twentieth century when the first attempt was made to write his biography. It wasn't until 2008 that a definitive biography was published, written by Sydney psychiatrist Greg de Moore.
His anonymous gravesite was restored in 1980 with a headstone erected by the Melbourne Cricket Club and by public subscription. The epitaph recognises Wills as the "Founder of Australian football and champion cricketer of his time". He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1989, and was made an inaugural member of the Australian Football Hall of Fame upon its creation in 1996. The International Cricket Hall of Fame in Bowral has an exhibit on Wills' life, in particular his role as captain-coach of the Aboriginal cricket team.
The Tom Wills Room in the Great Southern Stand of the MCG serves as a venue for corporate functions. A statue outside the MCG, sculptued by Louis Laumen and erected in 2001, depicts Wills umpiring the famous 1858 football match between Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College. The plaque reads that Wills:
... did more than any other person – as a footballer and umpire, co-writer of the rules and promoter of the game – to develop Australian football during its first decade.
Round 19 of the 2008 AFL Season was named Tom Wills Round to mark the 150th anniversary of the Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College match. The two schools played in a curtain raiser at the MCG ahead of the round's opening game between Melbourne and Geelong. That same year, Victoria's busiest freeway interchange, the Monash–EastLink interchange in Dandenong North, was named the Tom Wills Interchange. Tom Wills Oval, inaugurated in 2013 at Sydney Olympic Park, serves as the training base for the Greater Western Sydney Football Club of the AFL.
Wills has inspired numerous works in Australian popular culture, including musical pieces by singer-songwriters Mick Thomas and Neil Murray, as well as The Holy Sea. Martin Flanagan's 1998 historical novel The Call is a semi-fictional account of Wills' life. In it, Wills is cast as a tragic sporting genius, and the dingo is used to symbolise his identity as an "ambiguous creature" caught between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia. It was adapted into a stage play by Bruce Myles in 2004. Plans for a feature film on Wills were made in 1989 but later abandoned.
There is no evidence that Wills played Marngrook, an Aboriginal game that has superficial similarities with Australian rules football; however, the connection may have had some influence. In James Dawson's first-hand account of Aboriginal ball games, the Djab wurrung word for football is recorded as Min'gorm. Therefore, it is likely that Wills' childhood friends played a type of Aboriginal football, or at the very least knew of such a game. Since the 1980s, it has been suggested that Wills played the game growing up, and that this may have had an influence on his rules for Australian football. Lawton Wills Cooke, the grandson of Tom's brother Horace, reported that "Tom played some form of football with Aboriginal kids. We have no documents to prove this, but there is a family story that they kicked a possum skin sewn up in the shape of a ball." This claim was disputed by T. S. Wills Cooke in his published history of the Wills family.
Based on its connection to Wills, Moyston is the self-proclaimed birthplace of Australian football, and is home to a monument commemorating his upbringing in the area playing Marngrook. In 2008, the year of Australian football's 150th anniversary celebrations, Wills' link to Marngrook was hotly debated in the national media, amounting to a controversy dubbed "football's history wars". The AFL's official history of the game calls the theory a "seductive myth". In response, Flanagan wrote an essay addressed to Wills, arguing that he must have known Aboriginal games as it was in his nature to play: "There's two things about you everybody seems to have agreed on—you'd drink with anyone and you'd play with anyone."
- List of Australian rules footballers and cricketers
- List of cricketers called for throwing in major cricket matches in Australia
a. ^ Tom Wills' birthplace is a matter of some conjecture as there is a dearth of reliable archival information on the subject, and the precise whereabouts of his parents are difficult to pinpoint during the period around 1835. Molonglo is given as his birthplace in an 1869 biographical piece in which William Hammersley, the author, states that Wills had furnished him with notes. A common alternative is Parramatta. When Victorians claimed Wills as one of theirs, he liked to boast that he was a "Sydney man"—a reference to the colony of his birth.
b. ^ Tom had eight siblings: Emily Spencer Wills (1842–1925), Cedric Spencer Wills (1844–1914), Horace Spencer Wills (1847–1928), Egbert Spencer Wills (1849–1931), Elizabeth Spencer Wills (1852–1930), Eugenie Spencer Wills (1854–1937), Minna Spencer Wills (1856–1943) and Hortense Sarah Spencer Wills (1861–1907).
c. ^ Tom Wills and H. C. A. Harrison shared Sarah Howe as a grandmother. Harrison was born ten months after Wills in New South Wales and as a young boy overlanded to the Port Phillip District, where he often visited the Wills family at Lexington. They became brothers-in-law in 1864 when Harrison married Emily Wills.
d. ^ George Augustus Robinson, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in the Port Philip District, listed Horatio as having murdered several Aboriginal men and women. The closest Horatio came to admitting that he had killed Aborigines was in a letter to Governor Charles La Trobe: "... we shall be compelled in self defence to measures that may involve us in unpleasant consequences".
f. ^ This story was related in the following piece of Wills family oral history: "Elizabeth Wills refused to attend [the funeral] nor would she acknowledge Tom after his death as she was very religious and considered [suicide] a great sin. ... A reporter asked Elizabeth about her son. "Which son?" she asked. "Thomas" said the reporter. "I have no son called Thomas" was the old lady's reply".</dl>
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- Biographer Greg De Moore discusses Tom Wills on "Conversations" with Richard Fidler, ABC Local Radio
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