Almanac Book Review: ‘George Giffen – A Biography’: A sumptuous story of a cricketing life


A sumptuous story of a cricketing life: George Giffen – A Biography by Bernard Whimpress


Review by: Roy Hay


Bernard Whimpress, George Giffen: A Biography, Walla Walla Press for Bernard Whimpress, Petersham, New South Wales, 2020, ISBN Trade Edition 9781876718336, $69.00.



As we sat down to lunch and I opened Bernard Whimpress’s magnificent biography of George Giffen, my wife looking at the frontispiece upside down from across the table wondered what the Book of Kells was doing in a cricket biography. I had to turn it round to show her it was an illuminated address presented to the man who once had a stand named for him, and now has a statue at the Adelaide Oval. W. G. Grace, no mean judge of players, described him in mid-career in 1891 as ‘the best all-round cricketer that has yet visited England’. Though Giffen published a ghost-written autobiography, this is the first biography of the man who devoted his life to cricket—playing, writing about the game and coaching. He earned a crust working for the General Post Office in Adelaide. He never married. In his youth he was a promising footballer, described as the best in the colony at age 19 in 1878. But his life was about cricket where he was a relentless batsmen and a bowler with an action that often deceived those who faced him.


Though he did not come to the bowling crease with fixed plan, on one occasion he talked of how he would go about setting up a batsman. He would offer a series of similar if not identical deliveries before one which appeared to be similar but whose subtle variation often upset the receiver. That was the one for the wicket-keeper or the fielder.


As a batsman he would occupy the crease for ever given the chance. In his test debut in 1881 in Melbourne he did not score for three-quarters of an hour, but went on to share in a century stand. Some of his statistics were phenomenal. He was the first player to reach 1000 runs and 100 wickets in test cricket.


His club, Norwood, won the Adelaide premiership multiple times thanks to his contributions with bat and ball. He also played with Adelaide and West Adelaide, scoring 18 centuries over 22 years.


This is a book for the cricket purists—correcting errors in previous accounts, comprehensive in its coverage, enormously detailed. The author tracks down the name Giffen, finding that it is first used in the United Kingdom in Beith in North Ayrshire, Scotland. George Giffen’s parents were English and came to Australia in 1849. George was born ten years later.


The presentation is enhanced by numerous illustrations ranging in quality from the best of nineteenth century photography to material from newspapers. Many of these will not have been seen since they were first published. Good captions enable identification of most of those portrayed, so those interested in Giffen’s contemporaries or other aspects of late nineteenth century Adelaide life will find this a very useful quarry.


Having worked for the Post Office in the United Kingdom in my youth I can relate to Giffen’s off-field employment which doesn’t seem very different from what I encountered in the 1950s in Scotland. He seems to have been happy with a fairly menial role and I suspect because he was easily replaceable at work he could get time off for his cricket tours.



Bernard’s book is available as a hardback trade edition for $65 plus $15 postage by contacting him at [email protected] or 0447 003 654. A special limited edition of 50 with a RRP of $195 is chiefly available through Roger Page at [email protected]


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  1. Bernard Whimpress says

    Astonishing work, Roy. You sit down to lunch as the book arrives yesterday and this appreciation is already posted today. What a dynamo you are and a perceptive dynamo at that.

  2. We both owe a debt to John Harms and the wonderful team he has assembled at the Almanac. It is a little gem of sanity and enthusiasm in a world where these qualities are lacking. The range of contributions is mind-blowing. It would be sad day when you could not find something stimulating and/or hilarious in the offerings it now gives us.

    I hope the sales of George Giffen’s life story will be extraordinary. Gideon Haigh’s foreword is another bonus. I am finding more nuggets of knowledge each time I get back to the book.

  3. Bernard Whimpress says

    Ross Dillon (former All-Australian footballer) supported a wonderful launch at Norwood Oval last night by former ABC commentator and mad Cats and Norwood supporter Roger Wills. The small but appreciative audience included Ross’s former team-mates and club legends Roger Woodcock, Michael Coligan and members of the Norwood FC History group. Unfortunately sales were modest but I hope to get a kick along after an Andrew Faulkner feature will most likely appear in the Advertiser this weekend. You’re right about John’s inspiration. I said to him once it was like he had formed a congregation but while his father and other ancestors were Lutheran ministers his is a ministry of sport.

  4. Peter Crossing says

    Well done Bernard. I am thoroughly enjoying dipping into this story of one of the greats of Australian cricket. And in learning more about the early years of the game in Australia. Wonderful photographs and illustrations too.
    The new sculpture of George is larger than life but it remains a travesty that his name has disappeared from the Grandstand.

  5. Bernard Whimpress says

    Thanks Peter.
    Yes, a strong possibility that he was the first sportsman in the world with a grandstand named after him and now no longer.

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