Origins of the Sport

Here is a fascinating glimpse into the story of how lacrosse came to England. Recently found in an 1883 edition of The Boy’s Own Paper, is the following report on a three-month tour of Great Britain by a group of Canadians led by Dr. W.G. Beers of Montreal.

This and other tours introduced lacrosse to all parts of the British Isles and must have cost a considerable amount of money and required impressive organisation and logistics. The stamina of the players is also to be wondered at with over 40 games being played as well as traveling thousands of miles presumably mostly by train. Maybe any Canadian or Iroquois who reads this may know more about the men mentioned in the report and could let us know what became of them.

The Canadian Lacrossers

The visit of the Canadian Lacrossers was by no means the least important of the athletic events of the past year. From the beginning of May, when they arrived in the Sarnia, to the end of July, when they finished their programme in Ireland, their doings were chronicled with much detail, and evoked considerable interest. Britons are proverbially conservative in their pastimes, and it is not easy thing in this country to attract paying patronage to what is to most people a new and strange game.

This is, however, what the Canadians and their Redskin auxiliaries succeeded in doing; and their reception at Inverness, Manchester, Stamford Bridge, Canterbury, Catford Bridge, and Cambridge and notably at Lord’s, must have been very gratifying to them.
At Lord’s the Londoners had for the first time an opportunity of seeing what a thoroughly lively game of lacrosse was like; and the running of Aird and Bonnell, the passing of Fraser and Dominique, the goal-keeping of Cleghorn and White Eagle, and the terrific throwing of the stalwart Mackenzie, proved quite an awakening to those amongst them whose knowledge of the crosse had been gained from books and shop-windows.

The team are said to have been as good as could be got together, and their play was certainly first-class. The visit of 1876, unsuccessful though it was from a financial point of view, may be said to have started the game in the old country; that of 1883 has given it its ‘second wind.’ The existing clubs have received great accessions of members; five counties-Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Lancashire, Middlesex and Yorkshire-have representative teams; new clubs have been launched , bringing the number up to sixty or more, and the fixture list has reached quite a healthy length.

As in 1876, the visitors were captained by Dr. W. G. Beers of Montreal, the honorary president of the National Lacrosse Association of Canada. With him came Mr. W. K. Naught, of Toronto, the author of ‘Lacrosse, and how to play it.’  Mr. D. E. Bowie, of Montreal, one of the first team, and a well-known Canadian athlete; Mr. S. Struthers, of Toronto also over here in 1876; Mr. Ross Mackenzie, the vice-president of the National Lacrosse Association whose 422ft throw of the lacrosse ball is still unbeaten; Mr. W. C. Bonnell, of Toronto, another  thrower, long, strong and true; Mr. W. O. Griffin, of Montreal, a fine defence player; Mr. L. Dwight, of Toronto, great at checking; Mr. J. R. Craven, of Montreal, another active defender; Mr. E. Smith, from distant Winnipeg, one of the most brilliant of artful dodgers; Mr. D. Nicolson, of Montreal, a well-known crosse marksman; Mr. F. W. Garvin, of Toronto, swift and certain; Mr. W D Aird, of Montreal, another powerful and accurate thrower; Mr. J Fraser, of Montreal, whose passing was as excellent as passing could be; and last, though not least, Mr. J Cleghorn, of Montreal, the finest goal-keeper in the Dominion.

The Iroquois Indians

The Iroquois team of professional players engaged and brought out by the Canadians contained some of the most noted of the native players, and though they were not quite as good as the gentlemen, proved very worthy antagonists. Playing the game thoroughly and enthusiastically, their efforts were always appreciated.

The thirteen consisted of Sawatis Aintonnoi (Hole in the Sky), ‘Big John’ (Captain), Sawatis Kaknieni (‘White Eagle), Dominique Monique, Caen Aientonnoi, Wishe Lefebvre, ‘Strong Arm,’ Pierre Dicke, Anyus Beauvais, Sose Nartonie, Wishe Maurice, Sose Hamrocks, David Maten and Sose Laclair.
 
Then by way of Glasgow and Aberdeen they journeyed to Inverness, where they were warmly welcomed. Thence, with a day at Dundee, they came down to Edinburgh. At Hurlingham, on May 26, they made their first bow to the Londoners, but the weather was unfavourable to anything like form.

A round of visits to Reading, Cheltenham and Pontypool brought them back to the metropolis, and at the Lord’s match already alluded to, the Kanucks scored their first unequivocal success south of the Tweed.
 
The engagements in the London district followed, the series being broken by runs to Cambridge, Oxford and Portsmouth, and finishing up with the second Hurlingham match on June 16.

The Leicester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Coventry, Walsall, Sheffield, Harrogate, Leeds, Dewsbury, Bradford, Wakefield and the two Liverpool fixtures, with the Chester one between them, followed in due order, and then the lacrossers displayed their skill at Newcastle on Tyne, Middlesborough on Tees, Sunderland, Darlington and York and spending July 19 at Manchester and July 20 at Rochdale, in exhibition games, returned to Longsight to meet South Manchester on the 21st and Lancashire County on the 23rd.

The Scarborough festival followed, and then with the short Irish round the tour terminated, and with the good wishes of us all the popular colonials left for home.