The first rugby tour of the British Isles by an overseas team was undertaken by the New Zealand Natives side in 1888-1889. Originally to be called the Maoris, the team were named the Natives instead. Although several members were indeed Maori, several others were not and the majority were probably mixed race British-Maori.
From this tour we have some interesting items within the World Rugby Museum collection. In particular, the Museum is home to copies of the season ticket for this tour, a fixture card, as well as numerous photographs.
For the Natives tour of Britain, there were 74 games that took place between 3rd of October 1888 and 27th of March 1889. The New Zealanders brought 26 players with them for this intensive schedule. They were captained by Joe Warbrick, who was joined by no less than four Warbrick brothers. Warbrick is considered to be the founding father of the Natives team. He worked hard to create a team to play against England, personally travelling through New Zealand in search of suitable players for their international tour (Ryan 1993, 12-14).
Simultaneously, Thomas Eyton, an Englishman living in New Zealand, was considering the possibility of a strong contest
between New Zealand rugby players and the English, stating that ‘if a team from [New Zealand] – especially Maori… – could be taken to England…such a venture would prove a success in every respect’ (Eyton 1896, 5).
The team also included other notable figures, such as Thomas Ellison, who proved to be an invaluable member of the touring team as a strong forward. Ellison went on to become the first official New Zealand rugby team captain in 1893.
See Sean Fagan’s article for a more detailed account of the tour.
- Eyton, T. (2006), Rugby Football Past and Present and the tour of the Native Team, 1888, Caxton Printing Works, Palmerston North.
- Ryan, G. (1993), Forerunners of the All Blacks, Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.
About the Author – Jayne Linaker is from Melbourne and is an HLF Skills for the Future West London trainee in heritage learning, interpretation and participation. She submitted this article during a six-month traineeship at the World Rugby Museum.