Cricket discovery bowls over archivists

Malcolm Quekett

It is a small and simple drawing.

One of the figures appears to be dressed in a sailor's clothing and has just bowled a cricket ball, delivered underarm.

At the other end of the pitch, a batsman awaits, bat raised, in what could be the earliest known depiction of a game of cricket in Australia.

The drawing, in a WA surveyor's field book dated 1834, has come to light during work by the State Records Office to digitise colonial surveyors' field books held in the State archives.

The sketch appears in a field book used by Henry Mortlock Ommanney, an assistant to John Septimus Roe, the State's first surveyor-general.

Ommanney used the book while surveying in the Avon district, and the cricket sketch is one of several drawings of colonial life among the pages of detailed notes.

According to the book, 200 years of Australian Cricket 1804-2004, published by Pan Macmillan, the first account of a cricket match in Australia appeared in the Sydney Gazette & NSW Advertiser on January 8, 1804.

The State Library of NSW says the earliest known images of cricket in Australia are a series of three watercolours of Hyde Park painted in 1842 by John Rae.

This could mean the Ommanney cricket sketch is about eight years older than Rae's work.

The earliest reference to cricket in WA is believed to be an item in The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal of April 4, 1835, under the headline "Cricket Challenge".

"The mechanics engaged in building the Commissariat Store hereby challenge those employed in erecting the Government House to play them one or more games at cricket, on any terms which may be agreed upon," it read.

Anthony Barker's book, The WACA: An Australian Cricket Success Story, says that on April 11 that year, the challenge was accepted. Although there were no details of games in 1835, by 1839 there were clubs in both Perth and Guildford, Barker wrote.

State archivist Cathrin Cassarchis said that, through the generosity of the Friends of Battye Library, the records office had been digitising more than 200 colonial surveyors' field books, which meant the books were available online.

Ommanney's field books also included personal details, poems and descriptions of encounters with Aboriginal people.

The records office also had field books which had belonged to explorer John Forrest and to Roe, containing notes made as they created the first maps of WA.

"They are significant records of what the land was like pre- settlement, revealing highly- detailed surveying and environmental data from the first days of settlement in WA," Ms Cassarchis said.

One of the earliest depictions of cricket in Australia was found in a WA surveyor's field book.