Lions History

Historical Events

1904: Australia and New Zealand

by David Walmsley - Genesis Publications | May 15, 2013 | May 16, 2013
By 1904, the bulk of the matches in a Lions tour were still scheduled for Australia; the greatest challenge, however, was being posed by New Zealand.
By 1904, the bulk of the matches in a Lions tour were still scheduled for Australia; the greatest challenge, however, was being posed by New Zealand.

The tourists went unbeaten through Australia, including three Test matches won by a combined margin of 10 tries to one. But they won only two of their five official games in New Zealand and were beaten in their first Test against the All Blacks.

Led by David ‘Darkie’ Bedell-Sivright, reputedly the toughest forward of his day and a former Scottish heavyweight boxing champion who once tackled a horse at an Edinburgh cab rank, the Lions stars were in the backs in Welsh duo Percy Bush and Rhys Gabe.

Bush, the maverick, uncapped Cardiff stand-off, accumulated a collection of hats and umbrellas from a succession of side-bets struck during the tour, but took exception to claims that he won a sovereign by backing himself to drop a goal inside the opening 10 minutes of the first Test against Australia.

“I am not in the habit of betting sovereigns on football matches,” he wrote to the newspaper that ran the story.

The other headline-grabber in Australia was England forward Denys Dobson, who became the first Lion to be sent off when he “made use of an expression which is not used in polite society” to the referee in the game against Northern Districts.

Excitement surrounding the Lions progress through New Zealand reached fever pitch ahead of the Test at Wellington, where Bush and Gabe were denied possession as the visitors succumbed to what joke memorial cards circulating in the city described as “an attack of the forwards”.

New Zealand won 9-3 and although the margin of victory could have been wider had tension not got to the home side’s goalkickers, the game could not have been more fiercely fought. 

The Wellington Evening Post reported: “One [British] forward who was twice ‘laid out’, but by no means seriously, is said to have invited New Zealand home to meet the Welsh miners, with the assurance that certain death is waiting in that quarter.”

Adapted from the forthcoming book The Lions: The Complete History of the British and Irish Rugby Union Team

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