H.C.A. Harrison: Whittlesea’s link to a founder of the Australian game.

Another footy season is upon us. The sound of the siren, the umpire bouncing the ball in the centre, accompanied by the roar of the crowd, then the game is underway. The area around Whittlesea has a direct link to one of the founders of our unique, domestic game.

Henry Colden Antil Harrison, 1836-1929, was born in Sydney, but spent a good part of his childhood in this area. His father, Captain John Harrison, a former sea captain, took the family from Sydney to Melbourne. The infant Harrison in the company of family members, friends, and thousands of head of cattle and sheep embarked in a southerly journey overland from Sydney. They settled in Yan Year taking up land along the Plenty. They spent the best part of a decade in the area prior to moving west to take land around St Arnaud.

Harrison was a man of his times.  Working as a public servant, he also developed a great interest and prowess in sports.   He was regarded as a great sprinter and hurdler, as well as being a handy footballer. Such was his footballing prowess he played for, and captained, the Richmond, Melbourne and Geelong football clubs. He subsequently became an administrator of note, being credited with devising the rules for this game of ours.  He played pivotal roles in setting up and overseeing various peak bodies including the Victorian Football Association, the Victorian Football League and the Australasian Football Council.

The original occupants of our region were the Wurundjeri people. In his writings Harrison mentions early encounters with the local Aborigines, the Wurundjeri people. It is quite likely Harrison could have seen them playing a game they called Marn Grook. Though he does not mention it in his writings, it is likely he would have been aware of it.

Marn Grook was a ball game played by the original inhabitants of Australia. Using a ball, hewn from possum skins, they kicked and passed the ball around amongst themselves aiming to ensure the ball did not hit the ground.  To many historians the game of Marn Grook inspired the game we now know as football.

The old headquarters of the VFL, Harrison House, was named after Harrison.  It was situated in Spring Street Melbourne for many years. The building is now gone, but the legacy, and influence of Harrison live on in our, Australia’s, unique game of football. So as the 2016 footy season commences, readers of the Town Crier, can take pride in our areas special link to the  game.



  1. Steve Hodder says

    Ahah! I see that’s the article you mentioned on the other post. And Wills? Do you know which particular Wills owned land up around the school?


  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Excellent Glen. The recent articles on Tom Wills have been great reads, and it’s fascinating to read about the other forefathers of the game.
    Captained Melbourne, Richmond & Geelong, the only person to do this?
    Was he a cricketer like Wills?

  3. G’day Steve. Yep that’s the article in question.Re Wills land ownership , sorry i’m stumped on that one.

    Speaking of stumped, sorry Luke but i have scant knowledge of Harrisons cricketing prowess. I know he spent a long period of time in an administrative role wit the Melbourne Cricket Club. He was however renowned for his running skills, including sprinting as well as going over the hurdle sand steeples. Re captainc pf those three clubs i’ say that’s unique. I don’t know a cahp who has played for those three clubs, let along any one who has captained three sides.

    If i find any more information re these questions i’ll happily post it.


  4. Judith Vimpani says

    It was not unusual in the early days for players to play for different teams at the same time. A match was organised and a group of players enlisted to play. Prominent players were asked to be the captain. Not as structured as today. Intersting reading the early newspaper reporst on Trove.
    Tom Wills and HCA Harrison were half-cousins. Harrison married Tom’s younger sister.

  5. Ta Judith.

    Trove is a great source of information. I wish it was around when i was doing my honours 25 years ago !!! It is so much easier having so much material accessible at the flick of a mouse.


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