Almanac Footy History: Sandhurst in the 1890s – Bendigo’s Cardinals of yesteryear

by Richard Jones


SANDHURST has an impressive history and rates as one of the most outstanding clubs in regional Victoria.
In this article I’m going to look back at the Hurst from just before the turn of the 20th century – the 1890s, to be exact.

Bill Cundy was the coach in 1890 and the Back Street Oval (known as the Harry Trott Oval today) was the home ground.
Interestingly, large contingents of women supporters used to pack the Back Creek hill to watch the Cardinals as they were then known.

After an undefeated 1889 season expectations were high as the new decade dawned although the club had lost top players Nosworthy and Hannan to rival power club Bendigo. Fox and Dooley had left the district while Hampson had taken up umpiring.

Sandhurst beat Eaglehawk in the season opener 2.6 to 0.2, and then accounted for North Bendigo.

All eyes were on the Rd. 3 game against Bendigo. As a lead-up the Cardinals played soon-to-be-VFL club St. Kilda at Back Creek on the 1890 Queen’s Birthday weekend, but in wet and miserable conditions which kept supporters at home the Saints won: 3.8 to 2.1.

The Cardinals showed they were the favourites for premiership honours. With Heine on top in defence Sandhurst defeated Bendigo 3.6 to 1.6.

The only defeat the Cardinals suffered that season was to North Bendigo, but even so at the end of the year they were on top of the ladder and celebrated back-to-back premierships as they’d also won in 1889.

There were no finals back in the day: indeed, well back in the day! The team finishing on top of the ladder ended up with the flag and the premiership cup.


THAT 1890 success was to morph into a hat-trick of premierships as Sandhurst again finished on top in 1891. They beat North Sandhurst 7.12 to 2.8 early in the season under the banner of the re-named Bendigo District Football Association.

The Cardinals also beat North Bendigo at the North Bendigo Cricket Ground although Bendigo reversed their round one defeat to down Sandhurst the second time around.

And when Sandhurst went into the final two rounds with weakened teams they lost both games.

But they remained on top of the table to win three premierships in a row.

Season 1892 wasn’t a good one for the Cardinals. They finished third with just eight wins from 16 matches as Bendigo and Eaglehawk dominated.

With North Sandhurst struggling, South Bendigo entered the competition in 1893.

The town of Bendigo now needed to find enough players for six clubs.

Frank Leaney was the Cardinals’ skipper and the Cardinals downed North Sandhurst at the Upper Reserve – or the QEO now – setting the scene for a big clash at Canterbury Park.

Only minutes from the final bell the teams were locked on three goals apiece. McDonough kicked the winning goal for the Cardinals as they beat Eaglehawk.

The strange thing about the 1893 season was the drop in patronage although Sandhurst-Eaglehawk matches still managed to attract good crowds.

The Cardinals were again crowned premiers: their fourth premiership in five seasons with 12 wins from 16 matches.


THE Upper Reserve was off limits for the 1894 season as the city decided the ground needed to be updated to become a notable footy and cricket arena.

[I don’t think it was the only update to the hallowed turf, until the summer of 2010-2011’s massive surface and drainage works. There must have been others. Just saying!]

The Cardinals based themselves for ’94 at Back Street, a privately owned oval where ground charges had to be negotiated with the owners.

The Bendigo United Cricket Club and the Cardinals had been at loggerheads over the use and conditions applicable to Back Creek for quite a few seasons.

The cricket club had agreements with both Sandhurst and Bendigo footy clubs and had to negotiate with the just formed BDFA to make the ground available to all clubs.

The Cardinals beat newbies South Bendigo 2.6 to 1.3 but went down to premiership contenders Eaglehawk, 5.6 to 2.7, in front of a huge crowd.

The gate receipts of £58/10/- were a Back Street Oval record, and close to an all-time Bendigo footy takings record for the period.

But the Cardinals could only draw the following week against Bendigo with a much, much smaller crowd in attendance. And then a loss to South made any hope of overtaking unbeaten Eaglehawk fade away.

To add insult to injury many Cardinals would not play at the Showgrounds (today’s Tom Flood Sports Centre) so with quite a few games fixtured there Sandhurst finished at the foot of the 1894 ladder with only the three wins.


THE next three seasons were disastrous for the Cardinals.

Even though they sneaked home in an early 1895 match against the Bloods when South kicked atrociously — 1.14 to Sandhurst’s 3.4 — and were far too good for reigning premiers Eaglehawk at the revamped Upper Reserve their season fell away.

The Cardinals won only two more games in ’95 despite the good form of ruckmen McCormick, Murphy, Roberts and McDonald.

In an ominous sign the two clubs in the cellar were the once power clubs: Sandhurst and Bendigo.

Season 1896 was a disaster. A drawn game against South Bendigo was followed by an ultimatum from the Bendigo District Footy Association.

Pay your debts or get out of footy. That was the BDFA ruling as officials stated Sandhurst had made no effort to set up financial arrangements to pay the league body the money owed.

After eight rounds Sandhurst’s season was over. The Cardinals withdrew from competitive footy.

And so with the 1897 season to be contested after a lengthy lay-off the Cardinals needed to get organised.

But lo and behold there weren’t enough club members at the AGM for the meeting to go ahead. It was adjourned.

Finally everything was sorted and without a host of top players the Cardinals could manage only three wins and finished second last.


THE young players who’d been the backbone of the 1897 side stayed on for the 1898 season.

North Bendigo had folded so the BDFA competition was made up of just four clubs.

And for the first time in local footy behinds would be tallied up with the goals to give final scorelines as we know them today.

Bendigo downed Sandhurst 7.4 (46) to the Cardinals 3.5 (23) in a less than ideal start for the young Hurst side.

They rallied the next week to beat South in a surprise result. The Cardinals took an early lead and then had to soak up South’s fightback.

They held on to record a thrilling 4.4 (28) to 3.8 (26) win.

But when Bendigo suddenly withdrew from the BDFA competition, the competition was down to three competing clubs.
The Cardinals did beat Eaglehawk by one point late in the 1898 season but it wasn’t enough to improve their ladder position.


BY 1899 the Cardinals were really struggling. The gap between the top and also-ran clubs had grown much wider.
Sandhurst had to wait until round 3 to snatch a victory and that win came against the re-formed Bendigo club.

Even though they were just seven years old South Bendigo (founded in 1893) was now the power club.

The Bloods dominated the 1899 season. Yet the Hurst supporters were ecstatic when they pushed South and went down by just a couple of goals.

The Cardinals lacked physical size, a handicap which was to put the clamps on their ’99 season.

They did push Eaglehawk to seven points as ‘Buller’ McDonald led the way for the Cardinals. They’d led until early in the last quarter but that was to be almost it for Sandhurst.

The Cardinals went into recess at the end of 1900. At a meeting this was re-confirmed in June 1901 where a £15 debt was announced, and the club wasn’t to see Bendigo footy action again until just after World War 1.

North Bendigo was part of the Bendigo footy scene from 1888-1897, North Sandhurst from 1887 to 1893 and Bendigo (a 19th century power club) from 1881 to 1906.

Coachbuilders lasted from 1881 to 1885 while two clubs were contestants in just two seasons each: Charing Cross 1883-84 and Ironbark 1882-83.

West Bendigo made it through three years – 1904 to 1907 – while Long Gully played seven: 1907-1913.

Understandably with the advent of the motorcar age, employment at Coachbuilders declined rapidly so there were few men left at work – let alone to play footy.

The Bendigo suburb of Ironbark gained immortality after ‘Banjo’ Paterson had penned his epic poem: The Man From Ironbark!

Although there is more substantial research which indicates that Ironbark was a mid-19th century name for a western NSW town, and not a suburb in gold mining town Bendigo.

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