This month we wanted to share with you this charming little dinner menu from the British Isles tour to Australia and New Zealand in 1904 – the first time a British team played both countries on the same tour. The dinner, held in honour of the visitors, was hosted by the Otago and Southland Rugby Union at the Coffee Palace, Dunedin on Wednesday 10th August, 1904.
Designed by Bob Hawkridge, the front of the menu depicts two rugby players stretching to shake hands over a globe. The word ‘Menu’ is written across the globe, whilst New Zealand and the British Isles are shaded red on the map. The player on the left is wearing a dark blue jersey, white shorts and blue socks. The British Isles jersey features thick hoops of blue interspersed with thinner bands of red and white; the team had worn variants of this tri-coloured, hooped jersey since 1888.
Captained by David Bedell-Sivright and managed by Arthur O’Brien, the 1904 British Isles’ schedule included three Test matches against Australia followed by one against New Zealand. The British Isles team arrived in New Zealand having had great success on the Australian leg of the tour: they had beaten Australia 17-0, 16-3 and 16-0. This success is referenced on the back of the menu with an image of a British Isles player dragging a dead kangaroo, while a moa – a now-extinct New Zealand bird – runs ahead looking understandably alarmed.
Three days after the meal at the Coffee Palace, the tourists played New Zealand in front of 20,000 spectators at Athletic Park, Wellington. Two tries scored by New Zealand’s Duncan McGregor gave the home side a winning margin of six points – the tourists were defeated, 9-3. Bedell-Sivright said that the tourists had been beaten by the better team, but also wondered whether lavish hospitality may have caused the poor result! Indeed, a quick glance at the Coffee Palace menu may provide evidence to support the theory. Delights on the menu included Mock Turtle Soup, Boiled Blue Cod, Jugged Hare and Wild Duck. The drinks list featured ale, whisky, port, sherry and claret – and alcohol infused the desserts too. Punch Jelly and Plum Pudding with brandy sauce were among the treats on offer.
Whilst excess hospitality may offer one explanation for the defeat, the quality of the opposition should not be overlooked. Many of the players who represented New Zealand on 13th August 1904 would subsequently travel to Britain for the famous 1905 tour, during which The Original All Blacks won 34 of the 35 games they played.
International travel, dinner parties and spectators at sporting events – now, more than ever, this menu seems to be a reminder of a bygone era. These things may be off the menu for the moment, but hopefully they will be served up again when circumstances allow.