In the latest in our occasional series on aspects of the Club's history, James Rodgers recalls the unusual career of an unusual man...

JW Fletcher followed Tom Garrett onto the Association Ground (the SCG) on 3 March 1894. He was resuming a career with the Sydney University Cricket Club that had begun and apparently ended 16 years previously.

How did a 46 year old come to play in a side, in this first season of ‘Electoral Cricket’,  that included  eight undergraduates half his age?

The depression of the 1890s forced Fletcher to close his school, Katoomba College, and to reinvent himself as a barrister now living in Sydney and once more available to answer Garrett’s call to play for his old Club.

Since arriving in Australia in 1875, Fletcher had been a schoolmaster at Oaklands in Mittagong,  Headmaster of Coreen College, firstly  at Bondi and then Katoomba, a cricketer with four clubs, University, the Alberts, IZingari and Paddington, and a passionate instigator of Football (Soccer) in Australia.

During his previous season with University, in 1877-78, he made runs regularly and reliably (128 at 21.3). On unpredictable wickets and with rough-hewn implements, he played patiently  with an admirably straight bat. He kept wickets and occasionally bowled his ‘underhand slows’, although the writer of the Club’s 13th Annual Report admonished him for bowling no balls at practice from 18 yards.

After this one season with University, Fletcher transferred to the Albert Club, batting low in the order and bowling occasionally. In November 1881, he scored 39 against his old club, and in University’s rapid innings of 328, he was given the ball as an afterthought. In 8 overs of varied bowling, he took 6 for 36 including the wickets of three Test players. Admittedly, Sam Jones and Reginald Allen  had put on 231 for the 1st wicket before Fletcher was summoned to the bowling crease  with his underarm lobs, but Jones hit a catch to mid off,  Allen was caught and bowled and then Garrett, Teece, Powell and Wright all succumbed to catches from Fletcher’s erratic offerings. There is record of him playing in Hobart in January 1881 for ‘EW Wallington’s XI’ against Hobart Town in a two day match when he made 23 and kept wickets. In December 1882, an unlikely selection placed him in the ‘NSW Squad’ for the Intercolonial game against Victoria in Melbourne. He was not selected in the eleven.  In January 1884, he was chosen to play for NSW against the Australian team that was about to leave for England; but he withdrew from the side before the match began, and did not come close to the NSW side again.             

During the 1880s, Fletcher continued to play intermittently for the Alberts but he was increasingly unavailable because of school commitments.

Forward to March 1894.

This was the first season of ‘Electoral Cricket’ but while other clubs’ players represented their electorates, University’s players were permitted to play for the University even though their connections with the institution may have been tenuous. So, when Tom Garrett called Fletcher into the team, he joined eight undergraduates and two other veterans. RC Allen, aged 35, was making his only appearance for the Club for the season. He had played one Test Match in 1886-87 and had been playing for University since 1876. Tom Garrett was also 35. He had played for University since 1873 when he was 15 years old and he had since  played 19 Test Matches. Fletcher, a graduate but not from Sydney University, was an elderly 46 years of age.

In this three day game played over three Saturdays, play was delayed by wet weather until 4pm on the first day. Paddington batted first ‘to the delight of the Varsity men.’ Harrie Wood took 5 cheap wickets. Garrett took 3. Fletcher took 2 catches and Paddington was dismissed for 62. When play continued on 10 March, University resumed  0 for 2  but was all out 54 as Sweetman(6-27) was irresistible. Fletcher, batting at eight, made just 3 but this was fifth highest score in a dismal innings. In conditions that favoured batting on the third Saturday, Paddington made 9-314. Garrett who bowled 39 productive overs (5-84) threw Fletcher the ball but his five overs cost 30 without success and he had played his first and last game in ‘Grade’ cricket.

In November 1893, Fletcher had been admitted to the NSW Bar after his Blue Mountains school was a victim of the depression of the 1890s. For one school term he returned to his original profession when he served as ‘locum tenens’ at the Shore School in North Sydney but for 16 years he was then a police magistrate in various NSW country towns until he retired in 1914 and lived in Neutral Bay where he died in 1918, seemingly forgotten and unrecorded by  his first and last cricket club, Sydney University.

If this was all that he ever did, JW Fletcher could be said to have led a full life. But that’s not all.

Firstly, he had been born in London on 11 May 1847 and christened John Walter Rolt Fletcher. But Fletcher was his mother’s surname (Harriett Amy Fletcher 1823-1904) and Rolt was his father’s surname (Sir John Rolt, 1804-1871, Member of Parliament and Attorney General for England). JWR Fletcher was born out of wedlock, product of a brief liason between the unmarried Harriett and John Rolt who was then married to Sarah Bosworth. At some stage, JWR Fletcher  dropped Rolt from his name and he seems to have had little to do with his father. His mother married James Bathurst. JW Fletcher was well educated firstly at Redhill School in Surrey and then Cheltenham Grammar School before he went up to Pembroke College Oxford University in 1865, aged 17. He majored in History and graduated with a class 2 degree, BA, in 1869 and MA (for which he paid rather than studied for) in 1871. In 1867, he was admitted to Inner Temple beginning pupillage as a barrister. At Oxford, he was a one-mile runner, earning his blue for Athletics, and he played cricket for ‘an Oxford XI’ (not the 1st XI) in minor matches.

Secondly, in 1877, soon after arriving in Australia, JW Fletcher married Anne Marian Clarke (1851-1936) who had been born in Dublin. She eventually managed her husband’s boarding school at Katoomba. They had six children. It was Anne Fletcher who, in 1883, embroidered a red velvet bag with a design created by the Yorkshire-born artist, William Blamire Young (who later taught at Katoomba College). This velvet bag contained the urn presented to Ivo Bligh’s English cricket team following their victor over Australia in 1882-83. The urn contained the ashes of a bail, presented to Bligh at ‘Rupertswood’, home of Sir Williamand Lady Janet Clarke. A letter from Ivo Bligh to Anne Fletcher is still at Lords along with the legendary ‘Ashes’.

One of John and Anne’s sons was john William Fletcher (1884-1965), who, like his grandfather Sir John Rolt, was a parliamentarian, member for Port Curtis in Queensland from 1920 to 1923. While the SUCC Report of 1878 had predicted incorrectly that John Walter Fletcher would be an intercolonial player, John William did represent his State. In 1909-10, he played three games for Queensland, twice against NSW and once against Victoria. In his second game, in Sydney, he made a stylish 47 but his other five innings produced only 50 runs and the game against Victoria in Brisbane in February 1910 was his last first class game (and Bert Ironmonger’s first, in a career that lasted until 1936 when he was aged 55). He was appointed OBE in 1941.

Of John and Anne’s daughters, one, Nora Kathleen, worked in England and France during World War 1 in charge of the first batch of Red Cross nurses, matron in chief of the British Red Cross. She was awarded the CBE in 1920. Another daughter, Anne Judith (1886-1971), was a well-known photographer with studios in George St in Sydney.

But, thirdly, John Walter Fletcher is known as ‘the father of Football in Australia’. Philip Mosely has written a significant history of ‘Soccer in Australia 1880-1980’ and a biographical sketch of John Walter Fletcher. Mosely reports that on 3 August 1880, Fletcher was elected honorary secretary of the committee set up to form an ‘Association Rules’ football club. He then arranged for the first match to take place eleven days later. Mosely writes:

‘Although others had been involved in the foundation years of soccer in Australia, Fletcher stands central to the key developments.’

On Saturday 14 August 1880, on Parramatta Common, the first organised game was played between a team representing The King's School Parramatta and ‘The Wanderers’. When the Western Sydney Club joined the A League in 2012, it was named ‘The Wanderers’. In 1999, John Walter Fletcher was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.

He’s cap number 25 among SUCC 1st Graders and the oldest 1st Grade debutant in Grade cricket for SUCC.

And in May this year, we mark 170 years since his birth.

James Rodgers