NZ Maoris 1888

The Wigan Rugby Club has had many a grand day on the turf. Games that are remembered for generations and stories passed down to grandkids are told to this day. The games against Australia at Central Park, or the lucky few who witnessed Wigan win the World Club Challenge at the ANZ Stadium, Brisbane in 1994. One sunny day can leave an impression that will always be remembered by those who want to.

I wish to tell the story of when the first Touring side played at Wigan on the 17th December, 1888: The New Zealand Maoris. Will be paraphrasing quite a bit later on as the story can be told easier that way.

During the disappointment of losing out to Tyldesley in the West Lancashire and Border Towns Union Cup (itself a world record trophy name) semi final in March 1888, The Wigan Club immediately wanted to rebuild their team and rise to become to Premier club in Lancashire, not just West Lancashire. Firstly, to prove a point to the Lancashire Rugby Union that clubs such as Wigan, Warrington and Widnes are worthy of standing alongside the 'City' clubs of Swinton, Salford, Fairfield and Manchester. Secondly, to prove a point. Wigan wanted to be the best. Being the best meant greater gates meaning more money and progress.

Wigan started the 1888/89 season in record style. Crompton, Tyldesley, Manningham, Tottington, Kendal Hornets, Widnes, Oldham, Barrow, Warrington, Aspull, Morecambe and Oldham again all fell to the Wigan sword by the time December came. Wigan had never had such a fine start to a season before and by now had proved all critics wrong in that Wigan was by now certainly the Premier club in West Lancashire. The acquisition of Dick Seddon from Aspull, a fine wing three-quarter helped. So too did the signing of Ned Bullough in the forward and Pilkington at fullback. Wigan had a complete team.

The only issue, however, was that as the Maoris were now playing matches, no fixture had been set up with the Wigan club by the end of November. The local press were by now starting to ask why, given Wigans great form and stature that a game hasn't been arranged yet.

Behind the scenes, however, the Club were busy making arrangements with the powers that be to make sure the New Zealanders would make a trip to the ancient borough. The first of December came official word that the Maoris would be coming to the town and play the Wigan Football Club. A date had been fixed for the 17th of December - a Monday. It would have been quite impossible for the Maoris to visit on the Premier day of Saturday given their tight schedule, but not to worry, Monday had to do with a 2:30 pm kick-off.

What makes this game different is that the Wigan Club from the offset stated that they wish not to cash in on this venture. A large and curious crowd was guaranteed with admission being 1s 6d (double the normal cost). Why? The Wigan club wanted to simply give the public an opportunity of witnessing an exhibition of football as played by the first team ever sent over to England by our colonies. The Maoris would take 75% of the gate receipts and out of the remaining 25%, the Wigan club will pay the expenses of advertising the match and entertaining the colonials afterward. It was, as yet, to be arranged but there was to be a grand banquet at the Legs of Man Hotel, Wigan's headquarters after the match and a trip to the Royal Court Theatre on King Street to watch a performance afterward before the Maoris had to be on their way later that evening.

The Mayor had been asked to kick off the match, to enhance its spectacle. Cheap trains will run by both the London & North Western and Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Companies from Manchester, Liverpool, Tyldesley, Leigh, Bolton, Chorley, Preston, Warrington, Widnes, Runcorn, St. Helens and other intermediate stations so that there may be a large importation of outsiders into the town that day. Wigan were making an effort.

Wigan had by now acquired the services, briefly, of Jack Anderton, of Salford, who had just returned to the town after touring New Zealand himself with the first English Rugby Union touring side. He had offered his services for the game and several other matches around the festive period. Due to Wigans great form, Jim Slevin, Dick Seddon and Will Atkinson were asked to go to County Trial matches (East Lancs v West Lancs) at the beginning of November. William Atkinson became the first player playing for Wigan (and not joining Wigan like Alfred Le Peton) to gain a Lancashire County Cap! He made his debut against Cheshire with Dick Seddon on the reserves list. Jim Slevin, how great he was, never gained County honours, which puzzled commentators a decade later. Anyway... Wigan had by now acquired Pilkington as a star fullback at the end of November with he and Atkinson wearing the County jerseys in a match against Morecambe, much to the delight of the Wigan spectators. Atkinson and Seddon on the 8th of December gained more County honours with Lancashire as they faced the New Zealand Maori team themselves a week or so before they came to Wigan.

Whilst these men were facing the Maoris, the Wigan club were making final preparations for their visit to the town. They wanted their reception to compare with any that had been received in other parts of England. Mr W.H. Hewlett was approached seeing if he would allow the Maoris to visit the Wigan Coal and Iron Company works at Kirkless, but he declined. It was seen that, although it was quite an impressive set up for 1880s Wigan, the trip wouldn't have lasted long enough. Eyes now gazed North Westward to Haigh Hall. Mr Fair, the agent to the Earl of Crawford, was now approached to see if they could drive up to the Hall via the Plantation Gates on wagonettes. Once at the Hall they could inspect the hot houses and enjoy the Haigh Hall Estate. Dinner would be held at HQ, the Legs of Man Hotel.

The Maoris were due to arrive in Wigan at 1030, travelling by train from the Grosvenor Hotel, Manchester (their base), with the match starting at 1430. Evening festivities at the Legs of man after the match would be followed by an invitation from Mr Worswick and Mr Gee to visit the Royal Court Theatre to witness the drama "Man to man".

This Ancient and Loyal Borough was now ready for this grand occasion of the first Touring side to visit West Lancashire.

The New Zealanders by now had already played 30 matches, winning 19, losing 8 and drawing 3. Surrey, Northampton, Kent, Burton-on-Trent, Midlands, Dewsbury, Stockton, Tynemouth, Northumberland, Hartlepool Rovers, Maryport, Carlisle, Hawick, Carlisle, Kendal, Liverpool, Ireland, Belfast, Yorkshire and Broughton all had their colours lowered. Their defeats came against Mossley, Lord Sheffield's team, Wakefield Trinity, Hull, Halifax, Swinton and Lancashire. Given Wigans form, and newly acquired County Caps together with a cameo appearance from Jack Anderton, the locals thought the Wigan team would be impregnable.


The Maoris turned up at half past ten in the morning and were heartily greeted by crowds assembled along Wallgate all the way to the Legs of Man Hotel (Makinson Arcade). The President of the Wigan Club, Mr. C.A. Cronshaw (A Wigan Old Boy) welcomed the Maoris, along with Mr. J.W. Clegg, chairman of the committee; Mr. J. Saxon, Mr. J. Armstrong, Mr. W. millington, and Mr. J. Underwood, members of the committee; and Mr. Elli Wardle, secretary (and player). Permission, luckily, had been given in time form the Earl of Crawford (who I assume was in London doing noble or gentry things), for the visit to Haigh Hall. Mr Cronshaw acted as tour guide for the visitors where he gave some interesting facts about Wigan. He stated that Wigan was an ancient borough and was a fighting place. He talked of the remains of its defence, Cromwell's ditch, the Tyldesley monument, and the hiding place of Lord Derby. Once a walk around the Haigh gardens was done they returned back to the Legs of Man Hotel for lunch before battle commenced.

Although the prices for admission were doubled, there was a great crowd in the afternoon to witness the contest between Wigan and the Maoris. Shortly after 2:30pm James Slevin entered the ground followed by his men under huge applause. As the noise settled down and the Wigan men warmed up, cheering could be heard off in the distance which grew louder. The Maoris were on their way. When they arrived at the ground on Prescott Street, the crowd gave them a true British welcome, cheer after cheer being raised with that vigour which ever distinguishes Lancashire men (and women).

When the Maoris entered the field of play, Slevin gathered his men into the centre ground and, doffing their caps (caps which were bought by fans in the weeks previous if you're up to date on my twitter feed), gave the visitors three hearty cheers of welcome. The Maoris then advanced a little into the field, and formed a circle around their captain J. Warbrick, and gave vent to what the people believed to be responsive cheers to the greetings of the Wigan team. Not so. The Maoris raised their ancient war cry "Ake! Ake! Kia, Kaha!" ("For ever and ever be strong") - The Haka.

The New Zealand team in their black attire:

J Warbrick (captain) - fullback; E. McCausland, W. Wynyard, D. Gage - three-quarters; W. Elliot, P. Keogh and F. Warbrick - half-backs; Ellison, G. Wynyard, A. Webster, W. Anderson, D. Stewart Lee, A. Warbrick and Wi Karauria - forwards

Wigan team donning their now set Cherry and White jerseys:

J. Pilkington - fullback; Jim Slevin(captain), Dick Seddon, Jack Anderton - three-quarter; J. Hunter, W. Halliwell - halfbacks; Willy Atkinson, Ellis Wardle, J. Halton, J. Hatton, E. Dempsey, J. Lowe, E. Bullough, T. Brayshay, Telford - forwards

Wigan were at supreme full strength with Jack Anderton and Tommy Brayshay returning to have a crack at the Maoris. Sydney Swift missed out due to an injury so Brayshay stepped in, in many ways he was an upgrade. A Wigan stalwart who wanted Lancashire Caps he left Wigan to pursue that dream much like Jack Anderton.

The Maoris won the toss and elected to defend the railway end with the game being set at 35 minutes each half. It was common back then for captains to discuss length of halves due to times they arrived at grounds, especially if a train was waiting to go home. 35 minutes it was. The Mayor was due to have a ceremonial kick off but he was unable to attend, so Wigan kicker Halton ade it on his behalf. The ball was not returned and so began the scrimmages to test each others strengths. The opening of the game was quite even with the ball travelling up and down the field with mauls and scrimmages taking place as you'd see in any normal game of rugby football. I'm not going to describe the match but the main points, or else you'd be bored (if you're not already).

One thing was for sure, Warbrick, the NZ captain excited the Wigan crowd every time he had a chance to gather the ball and return the kicks. It was apparent from early in the match that the maoris were quite good at passing and dummying the ball. Wigan after about 20 minutes play were being pegged back on their line as a result of this type of play. Wigan calmed the storm by working their way back up field thanks to Slevin who "skipped away merrily" but was caught near the line. From this Wigan forward Halton got over the line but couldn't ground the ball. Wigan ended up with forcing the Maoris to touch down, and gaining a minor point. It seemed that the opening half would be filled with a couple of minor points but before half time was called Gage, the Maori three quarter back ran in a try which gained a massive applause. The goal was disallowed. It would have been a certain score but it was ruled out because as McCausland was setting himself up for the kick, F. Warbrick let the ball touch the floor. Half time: Maoris 1 try and 1 minor; Wigan 2 minors.

The Maoris started the second half fast. A scrimmage forced the ball towards the Wigan line and as Elliot kicked it over the line, W. Wynyard touched down to gain the second try for the visitors. McCauslands kick this time was a success and NZ gained the premier point (goals ranked better than tries). Wigan quickly responded and from the kick off gained the ball and made their way to the Maori line, who by now were defending the Canal end of the ground. Good defence made sure Wigan could only register a minor point.

Wigan however, kept pressing and a certain try went begging as the forwards advanced. Atkinson transferring the ball to Brayshay, who kicked on the Wardle. This play got away from the Maori defender J. Warbrick and a try seemed certain, until it was apparent that Wardles kick was too heavy and the ball rolled into the crowd beyond the try line. Wigan then went further behind as fullback Pilkingtons kick was charged down whilst trying to relieve pressure. F. Warbrick this time gaining the Maoris' third try, despite a pitiful attempt by Jack Anderton to tackle him. McCausland hit the upright during the conversion.

Captain Jim Slevin gained a try for Wigan after a rush upfield near the corner flag. The attempt at goal was difficult as Pilkington failed at his try. The Wigan supporters were full of joy that the Wiganers scored against this strong Maori outfit. Soon later the game ended in favour of the Maoris by 1 goal 2 tries (the third try is included with the goal) to 1 try. Before leaving the pitch, Slevin called for three cheers for the Maoris, which were heartily given, and the Maoris responded with their war cry again.

It was seen that Wigans fullback Pilkington played a grand game and that Robert "Dick" Seddon kept his reputation as the county's finest three quarter. The Maoris kept Jack Anderton at arms length all match. They had played against him when he toured their country during the summer so knew all what he was about.

Excluding members, there were around 7,000 persons present from all corners of Lancashire. The gate takings amounted to £191 11s 4d. This turned out to be the largest "gate" the Maoris have had with the exception of the Surrey match at Blackheath. Surrey only had half the amount of supporters at their match but the price was double Wigans! (They were rich posh Londoners and could afford it). In comparison, the Swinton game that the Maoris played took £184 in money.

Joe Warbrick


After the match the players ad committee members trundled their way to the Legs of Man Hotel, where in the evening the Maoris were entertained to a banquet by the Wigan club. Mr. Councillor Millington took charge of the catering which was thus:

Soup, hare; fish, turbot and lobster sauce; joints, roast beef, boiled mutton, roast mutton, roast goose, boiled turkey, roast chickens; sweets, plum pudding, mince pies, tarts, blancmange, jelly; cheese and celery; dessert. Yum! Roasted Goose in Wigan!

The banquet room was decorated with banners which read "Welcome to the Maoris" and "Success to the Wigan Club" draped around the two muttons at either ends of the large table. Mr. C.A. Cronshaw presided the dinner, and he was supported at the cross table by Mr. Councillor Percy, Mr. Councillor Gee and Mr. Councillor Richard Johnson, Dr. Bradbury, Dr. Parker, Mr. T. Morris and Mr. Joe Warbrick, while amongst the company, which comprised both the Wigan teams, the Maoris, and some friends, were Mr. Parry and Mr. Wilcock (secretary and treasurer of the West Lancashire Union). (note the West Lancashire Union and not Lancashire... bring on 1895!)

Mr Councillor Percy (I don't know his first name, probably Paul, rose and proposed the health of the Maori team, which was received with enthusiastic cheering. He said it had not fallen to his lot, in connection with football gatherings, to meet on a more suspicious occasion than that which had brought them together today (Cheers). A vast number of persons had assembled that day on the Wigan ground, and a better game had never been witnessed in the town (Cheers). Their friends from across the water had won the match. He believed they were entitled to win and they won because they were the better team (Cheers). He was quite sure the visitors were prepared to admit that so assembly of football sympathisers ever extended a more impartial feeling towards a game than they had shown by the crowd on the Wigan ground that day (Cheers). With regard to the Wigan footballers, they in their battles did not always win like himself (laughs) - but they had one feeling in common, and that was they never knew when they were beaten, and he could say on their behalf that if the Maori team would do them the honour of paying another visit to Wigan before they returned to their own land, the Wigan team would do their very best to lick (beat) them.

This day seemed more than a game of rugby. It was more than a local event. From time to time they heard a great deal of the union of the various parts of the British Empire, and he thought they in Wigan did something to bring out that union when they assembled on a football ground. They as subjects of her Majesty in the old country, and the Maoris as subjects of the Queen in the new country. He hoped that while the presence of the New Zealanders would make them feel that the British Empire was a very wide spreading one, the visitors would also feel that they were subjects and portions of the greatest Empire on which the sun ever shone (Cheers). He hoped that the visitors would remember that they, like them, had an interest in the British Empire, and as the old country weakened in the course of time that her sons and grandsons in other lands, New Zealand and elsewhere would step in and take its place to maintain its supremacy (Cheers). His wish was that all the battles between the mother country and her colonies would be like the contest of that day - battles of friendship and of peace (Loud cheers).

Aww. To this the Wigan players broke into the song "Sky Rocket". In responding, Mr. J. Warbrick thanked the company most cordially for the manner in which they had drunk to the health of the Maori team, and also for the kind remarks that had been made with reference to them. The Maoris then gave a toast to the Wigan team and gave out their war cry again.

Jim Slevin, our captain, responded on behalf of the Wigan team. He said they had been pleased to meet the Maoris that day, and nothing would have given the team greater pleasure than to meet them again (Cheers). Although the Wigan team had suffered defeat, he thought they had rendered a good account of themselves.

Mr Councillor R. Johnson, in responding, said as senior member of the junior ward in the borough he should do his best to promote any object which might be advantageous to the Wigan Rugby football team. He was the president of a gallant team at Ince (th'Ince) that had not yet been beaten this season (Cheers). He had got an idea with regard to Wigan, though some people may think it chimerical, that there was a place in the park which might be set aside for youthful people for recreational purposes, and he believed the day was not far distant when that ground would be let for that purpose. He had heard Mr. Percy say that the duty of the Corporation was not much to build sanatoriums as to provide for the health of the people, and his (Mr. Johnson's) idea was that they had not provided for their health when they had simply consulted their educational requirements, but that they ought to do something to promote physical education also. He hoped at no distant date some part of the park would be set aside for footballers, and if he did not remain in the Council long enough to see that come to pass, he expected to see it done all the same (Cheers).

Dr. Bradbury then rose and proposed "The Wigan Rugby Football Club", and said a jollier, heartier, and more straightforward set of fellows than the members it had never fallen to his lot to come across (Cheers. He applauded with the same toast that of C.A Cronshaw. Charlie Cronshaw said he was glad to see the Maoris amongst them that day. In them the Wigan team found their steel and that the Maoris would always be ready, when needed.

Songs were then sung, lead by William Atkinson, the Wigan forward, Duddle and Marsden of the second team and Wynyard of New Zealand before time was called at half past seven. The Maoris were then due at the Royal Court Theatre, and, in company with their newly-made Wigan friends, they made their way to King Street and spent the rest of the evening watching "Man to Man". The streets were still packed, still being a Monday evening, and the theatre was full. Before leaving at ten o'clock, the Maoris had one last war cry inside the theatre.

And that was that. Wigan were hell bent on making sure that the visit of the Maoris would be an unforgettable one. They had seen that earlier in their Tour, the Maoris had played in Liverpool and returned by train to their headquarters in Manchester after the match. Wigan wanted to make a statement and give them the best hospitality they could have had. I think the effort given was exemplary. The town talked about this day for weeks. They talked about it for months and years and yet, in 2020, it's being remembered now, by me anyway, as one of the Greatest days of sport the Wigan Borough had ever hosted.

A couple of weeks later into the new year, Wigan had tried hosting the Maoris yet again due to the success of this meeting. In correspondence with the New Zealand committee, the Maoris had requested another share of the gate at 75%, with Wigan taking 25%. The Wigan club decided that this could not happen. It was ok the first time around being host, spending their share of the gate on accommodating the visitors and dining them, but to do it again wasn't a viable option. Wigan could not understand the Maoris reasonings given the apparent success last time around. Maybe the Maoris knew that it would be another bumper gate meaning bumper profits. In the end, Wigan made the correct decision.

The Maoris game of 1888. a Classic Wigan Rugby match.