Almanac (Cricket) Books: ‘George Giffen – A Biography’ by Bernard Whimpress

 

 

 

 

 

For 82 years the principal members’ pavilion at Adelaide Oval was known as the George Giffen Stand. When the South Australian Cricket Association honoured Giffen in this manner on May 19, 1928 he was possibly the first sportsman in the world to have a grandstand named after him.

 

 

I say ‘possibly’ because I have not checked all 215 countries on the planet (195 by another count) but I have searched documentary sources and corresponded with historians around Australia, the United Kingdom and United States across such sports as cricket, the various football codes, baseball, basketball and horse racing. Where names on grandstands preceded Giffen’s they were those of administrators rather than players. At Adelaide Oval itself the other three grandstands for most of the twentieth century were named men who were primarily administrators – John Creswell, Sir Edwin Smith and Mostyn Evan.

 

 

As a South Australian historian I have long been fascinated by the major contributions to Australian cricket made by four giants of the game in the years before the First World War. Hence I have written a short biography of fast bowler Ernie Jones; edited a memoir by Clem Hill; and co-written a biography of Joe Darling and members of the Darling family with Graeme Ryan; but the most important of these giants is the first, George Giffen.

 

 

George was born in 1859 and died in 1927, lived his entire life within the Adelaide CBD, and spent almost all his working life in the mail department of the Adelaide Post Office. These, of course, are hardly sufficient reasons for a major biographical study.

 

 

A man who early earned the moniker of being ‘Australia’s WG Grace’, George Giffen was the world’s greatest all-round cricketer in the late nineteenth century and his astonishing performances at first-class level merit his inclusion in any all-time Australian Test XI.

 

 

My approach to writing about George’s cricket is to cover his senior club cricket in Adelaide, for South Australia, and Australia, and include detailed statistics from all aspects of his career.

 

 

Club cricket was vital to a player’s career development because of the paucity of first-class matches and his performances were astonishing at club level from 1874 to 1911 and particularly so during his years with the Norwood club for whom he appeared in 14 premiership sides.

 

 

George made his first-class debut for South Australia at the age of eighteen in 1877 and his South Australian career lasted twenty-six years. More than any other figure George was responsible for South Australia’s success in intercolonial cricket, its admission as one of the three founding colonies to contest the Sheffield Shield in 1892-93, and particularly its victory in only the second season of that competition in 1893-94.

 

 

For Australia between 1882 and 1896, George toured England with five Australian teams, scoring more than 1,000 runs four times and took 100 wickets on three occasions. The first Test all-rounder to reach the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets, he was the first South Australian Test cricketer, a member of the Australian team that won the inaugural ‘Ashes’ match at The Oval in 1882, toured England with four other Australian sides, and was the first SA player to captain the national team.

 

 

A feisty and somewhat combative character, George (as selector) argued hard for the recognition of South Australian team-mates at the national level, although too hard for his brother Walter on the 1893 tour of England. George’s own playing career could also have been greater if he had not absented himself from the English tours of 1888 and 1890, the home series of 1897-98 over a money dispute, and been overlooked for selection when available for a final English tour in 1899.

 

 

It could well be suggested that George lived for cricket and the Spartan exercise regime he adopted throughout his playing days produced the enormous reserves of stamina that enabled him to achieve his many incredible performances with bat and ball. To give just two examples of this George produced the greatest single all-round performance in first-class cricket history when scoring 271 runs in a single innings before taking 16 wickets for 166 runs for SA against Victoria in 1891. And in the 1894-95 Test series he scored 475 runs and took 34 wickets, an unparalleled feat at the highest level of the game.

 

 

In retirement several published newspaper articles reveal him as an acute cricket analyst and he devoted much of his later years to coaching small boys in the rudiments of the game.

 

 

In his youth George was an adept Australian Rules footballer and I have devoted a chapter to this sport. For Norwood he kicked the first goal in a senior match on the Adelaide Oval and a newspaper summary of the 1878 South Australian Football Association season accorded him the honour (at age nineteen) of best player in the colony.

 

 

However, when a choice had to be made between sports, he subsequently put aside his football ambitions for service on English tours with early Australian Test teams.

 

 

George Giffen’s sporting greatness remains remarkable nearly 100 years after his death and my biography is a long overdue assessment of his career.

 

 

(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])

 

You can read more from Bernard HERE.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Bernard Whimpress says

    Thanks for posting, readers might think I’m biased but George makes my all-time best Australian Eleven.

  2. I’m looking forward very much to reading your book Bernard. I admit to liking your style of writing and educating the reader on great sportspeople. Hope the book sells well.

  3. It looks interesting Bernard.I notice you consider George in your all time best Australian XI.

    I wonder how you rate Walters selection during the 1893 tour of England ? Three tests, 11 runs @ 1.83 with a top score of 3 in his 6 innings. Not the figures you’d want.

    Then there was the fallout with Charles Turner one of the great Australian bowlers of the period.

    Certainly an interesting character.

    Glen!

  4. Bernard Whimpress says

    Thanks Fisho and Glen
    There’s plenty leading up to the 1893 tour about Walter’s selection and the aftermath and fallout with Charlie Turner. Walter was a very moderate performer at intercolonial level – average under 20. At first grade level he was able enough with several centuries and an average in the mid-30s.

  5. Was he as good an all rounder as Mitch Marsh?

  6. To all Adelaide almanacas, During this lockdown period due to the dreaded virus, now is a good time to catch up on your reading. Bernard’s book on George Giffen is a must for cricket lovers. Rulebook’s footy profiles are also well worth a read. His actual book is not yet available. And finally baseball lovers can get via email copies of any of my 11 baseball books. I assure you, all make great reading.

  7. Bernard Whimpress says

    Very droll, Phil
    Make sure you keep Roger Page in business by placing an order. Just had a call from Ross Perry yesterday to say he, Ann and Jeff weren’t coming over for the Test – that’s if we have a Test. Presume you’ll be giving it a miss given we’ve all got to go into a ballot. Best regards

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