One of world sport’s most famous trophies, cricket’s Ashes urn, was presented for the first time on 24 December 1882.

The term ‘ashes’ had come from a mock obituary published in London’s Sporting Times on 2 September 1882, which read:

In affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882, deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P.
N.B. — The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.’

The obituary had been written in response to Australia’s first victory over the English eleven in England. In this famous test match, England required only 85 runs in the second innings to win but was routed by Australian fast bowler Fred “The Demon” Spofforth. From then, cricketers started to use the term ‘ashes’ in relation to Australia versus England test matches.

Cover of a pamphlet showing caricatures of Australian and English cricketers.

Cover of Frank Lee’s The Ashes?

In 1882 English Captain Ivo Bligh brought his team to Australia on a leisurely tour that included both test matches and social matches. On 24 December, Bligh’s team was enjoying the hospitality of Melbourne Cricket Club President and philanthropist Sir William Clarke at his grand home, Rupertswood, at Sunbury.

After a social cricket match, in jest, several of the ladies staying at Rupertswood presented Bligh with a small terracotta urn containing ashes (of what exactly is disputed- possibly a cricket bail or wicket). Bligh was delighted with both the trophy and the company, and in fact he later married the governess of Rupertswood, Florence Morphy.

When Ivo died in 1927, Florence presented the ashes trophy to the Marylebone Cricket Club, where it remains at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The concept of the ‘ashes’ quickly took hold and the contest remains one of the most enduring and famous rivalries in sport. The little ashes urn, presented in jest at Christmas 1882, is its most potent symbol.

Photograph showing a packed crowd for an England versus Australia test match in Melbourne, 1925

England v Australia, January 1925, [Melbourne, Vic.], H2010.18/48

Written by Andrew McConville
Librarian, Digital Access Team

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *