A Marist and Celtic Affiliated Club
Dunedin Rugby Football Club the First Club to play 'Rugby' Football in Dunedin and New Zealand
To say that Dunedin Rugby Football Club was not the first club in Dunedin to play rugby football is doing the club a disservice and far from the truth. I would suggest it was probably the first Club in New Zealand to play true 'Rugby' Football using 'The Laws of Football as played at Rugby School'. The following is evidence of this claim.
All early football clubs in Dunedin, New Zealand tried different rules from time to time - National Association Rules, The Laws of Football of Rugby School, Rugby Union Rules, Victorian Rules and their own Local Rules.
Playing football has been a long tradition in England and versions of football had probably been played at Rugby School for 200 years The games played at Rugby were organised by the pupils and not the masters, the rules being a matter of custom and not written down. They were frequently changed and modified with each new intake of students. There were no standard rules for football in William Webb Ellis's time at Rugby (1816–1825). Then on 28th August 1845 three Rugby School boys William Delafield Arnold ,WW Shirley and Frederick Hutchins published the first set of written rules 'The Laws of Football as played at Rugby School'. These rules were updated regulary both in 1846-7 and 1862. At should be noted that George Sale attended Rugby School from 1839 to 1850 during the time these Laws were formulated. Rugby football spread across to other English public schools during the 19th century. As a consequence, Rugby football gained popularity all over the British Empire as former pupils of the public schools continued to play Rugby football even after their graduations. However not all Schools or clubs used the Rugby School Rules.
Move forward to 1870 and a 'Football' match is played in Nelson, New Zealand under rules written by Charles Monro and not Rugby School Rules.
Move forward again to 1871 and in Dunedin,New Zealand the 'Dunedin Football Club' was established by William Begg (laterly known under the stage name Walter Bentley)and his small band of friends at an informal meeting at his house in Athol Place. Another meeting was held in March 1872.
From the Otago Daily Times 14th March 1872 “A well-attended meeting of gentlemen interested in football was held on Tuesday ''evening, when it was determined to form a Club for the ensuing season, to be called the,” Dunedin Football Club”. *Professor Sale was unanimously elected president, and the other office-bearers and: a committee were appointed. It was resolved to play the first match of the season on the first Saturday of April, due notice of which will be given to the public.
From the Evening Star 15th March 1872 “Football -Those interested in the noble old English game of football, will be glad to learn that a club has been formed called the Dunedin Football Club, and that it has been determined to play the opening match of. the season on the first Saturday in April, *Professor Sale, an old 'Rugby' player, has been elected president; and it has been decided to play in uniform. We are requested to inform all desirous of joining to communicate with the secretary (Mr W. Begg) as soon possible. The opening match will no doubt be played on the South Recreation Ground, but the public will be informed in good time of that fact and the names of the players.
So Professor George Sale was elected President of the Dunedin Football Club. Now about Professor Sale - He was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, England and entered Rugby School in 1839 where he would have had a good grounding in Rugby Football as the Laws were first published while he was at the school. Three months after his arrival in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1871 he arranged the first ever 'Rugby' match. Played between University Students and High School Students. It was believed that rugby football instilled in the “muscular Christian” gentleman the values of unselfishness, fearlessness, teamwork, and self-control. Professor Sale was in the unique position of been able to pass on his knowledge of 'Rugby' Football to members of the Dunedin Football Club as President.
So, there is no doubt that and the game Rugby Football using Rugby Rules and local rules would have been played by the Dunedin Football Club as early as 1872. Subsequently The Dunedin Football Club adopted different rules including Rugby Union Rules.
From the Otago Daily Times 12th July 1875 – The Rugby Union Rules were afterwards adopted, and some beautiful spills and scrimmages ensued, the competitors holding the ball occasionally measuring their length on the grass, and finding themselves encompassed by many other players. This afforded considerable amusement to the spectators, and at the same time evidenced the superiority of the Association over the Union Rules, the latter causing a rough and dangerous garnet The third goal was also secured for the Dunedin Club by a splendid running kick from Rose. Though the Engineers persistently attacked their opponents' fortress, they did not obtain a single goal, and this occasioned no surprise, aa they had not previously practised together. Complimentary cheers terminated a good day's sport.
While other Dunedin clubs were still playing Association Rules.
From the Otago Witness 10th July 1875 - About two dozen members of the Union Club were practising the Association Rules at the North Dunedin Grounds in order to play them in the return match with the Dunedin Club.
*Professor George Samuel Sale was born at Rugby, Warwickshire, England, probably in 1831, and baptised on 17 May that year. He was the third son of Mary Anne Hewitt and her husband, John Shaw Sale, writing master at Rugby School under Thomas Arnold. George entered Rugby School in 1839, and his education was firmly based on Arnold's ideals of moral principle, gentlemanly conduct and intellectual achievement. In 1850 Sale proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1854 (with first-class honours in Classics and second-class in mathematics) and MA in 1857. In 1856 he was elected a fellow of Trinity, and he remained at Cambridge for another four years, holding the positions of assistant tutor and sub-lecturer in the college. Professor George Sale was one of the first three professors appointed by the University of Otago council in 1870. As an old boy of Rugby Professor Sale was a keen sportsman, representing Canterbury at cricket in 1864 and 1865 and playing a major role in the development of both cricket and rugby at the University of Otago.
Dunedin RFC was formed in 1871, and over the years has had many home grounds before settling into it's current Ocean Beach clubroom and grounds. Today the club maintains a strong presence in Dunedin and Otago rugby. It is a Marist and Celtic-affiliated club, with a strong senior and junior clubs competing from Under-5s right through to Premier grade .
The following extract is are based on "Dunedin Rugby Football Club 1871 - 1996 '125 Years History of the Club' " - Peter Stumbles and Brother Graeme Donaldson
Many readers will no doubt have often heard, or thought, or even stated themselves, a phrase similar this one, "I wonder if William Webb Ellis realised what he was starting the day he decided to pick the soccer ball and run with it, thereby breaking the rules of the game and at the same time starting a new one, one which became known as Rugby Football, a game many people now regard as the greatest game of all." Could he possibly have imagined that by the year 1971 his example would lead to over 50 countries of the world playing the game, the rivalry amongst teams of different countries would mount to such a frenzy and excitement as is the case of a present-day international, the number of arguments he would cause, the great pleasure he would bring to so many, the lengths men would go to the sacrifices they would make just to play the game, and the wonderful life-long friendships his game would create. I doubt it. And it is also doubtful whether William Begg and his small band of friends would have imagined what they were starting when early in 1871, at an informal meeting at his house in Athol Place, the idea of forming a rugby club in Dunedin was first thought of. At this first meeting were Messrs Begg, G. M. Thompson, J. C. Thompson and G. L. Denniston and from it a decision was made to hold a further meeting with the intention of setting up a club. The meeting was called and took place in a hotel situated in High Street, a few yards up from the Exchange. A committee was set up with William Begg as secretary. And so was formed, the first Rugby Football Club in Otago and Southland.
Incidentally the William Begg spoken of, later won fame as an actor under the name of Williarn Bentley and it is recorded that he was known by the nicknames of "Gaspipes" and "Waterworks" Begg. However the significance of the names is not recorded but they no doubt gave his friends much enjoyment.
In the beginning, the Oval, then called the Southern Recreation Ground was the principal football ground used, but later on the headquarters were shifted to Montecillo, now the home of the ZingariRichmond Club. Later on still, the Dunedin Club secured the old Caledonian Ground for practice. In later years the club was granted the use for practice of the present Caledonian Ground which became its headquarters for many years until 1957 when the "Cale" was taken up for reconstruction. At this point the club shifted out to Kettle Park, near the beach, which is now its home ground. The club rooms were still located next to the "Cale" and it was until this year, 1971, that new club rooms were built at Kettle Park so setting up the Dunedin Club in permanent residence "on the beach".
Shortly after the formation of the Dunedin Club another rugby club was formed, the Union Club, and it is recorded that during the I870s some stirring matches were played between the two clubs and also with the Otago Boys' High School team. In those days the rules were far different from the present day. For example, the points from a try did not count unless the conversion attempt was successful. If no umpires were appointed, the captains often respective sides were the sole arbiters of all disputes, and on many occasions games were started one Saturday and continued the next, with the result that some startling scores were recorded.
In the I870s there was no regular competition, the few clubs in existence arranging matches among themselves. In 1875 a representative rugby match was played against Auckland. The Otago team included 13 Dunedin players and two Union players. The Dunedin members who took part were: T. McFarlane, G. H. Sampson, H. Rose, A. K. Smith, G. L. Denniston, D. K. Rhodes, W. G. Dixon, A. F. R. Smith, J. M. Thompson, G. H. McCan, R. Park, E. Johnson and J. C. Thompson. The Union members at that time were: J. R. Cleverdon and Quinton McKinnon (who also played for Dunedin at one stage). McKinnon was also an explorer of note and, in fact, the McKinnon Pass was named after him. The result of the match was a win to Otago by 91/2 points to 1/2 point.
Rugby was given a great fillip in Dunedin in 1877 by a successful tour of New Zealand by the Dunedin Club side. This team travelled as far north as Auckland and played matches against Auckland,Wellington, Canterbury, Temuka and Timaru. It won all its games except the Auckland game which was drawn and what was especially praiseworthy was that not a single point was scored against the team in any of its six matches. The team that went on tour comprised: W. G. Dixon, R. Allan, W. Cargill, A. Cargill, G. Fulton, J. Murray, W. Mills, Q. McKinnon, W. McLean, P. Nichol, L. Nevill, R. A. Rolland, H. Rose, S. E. Sleigh, W. M. Sweete, S. Turton. On its return rugby made great strides in the city and a number of other clubs were formed. Apart from the Union Club and the High School Club in 1871, the Balclutha Club was formed in 1876 and following Dunedin's successful tour the Zingari Club was formed in 1878 and in 1879 the Montecillo Club was formed.
One of the most notable members of the successful touring team was Mr S. E. Sleigh, who, after retiring from the game, became an active member of the committee culminating in 1884 with his being appointed manager of the first New Zealand team to tour overseas. This team toured New South Wales playing 8 games, winning all 8 and scoring 167 points for and 17 against. Three of the 8 matches played were against the New South Wales representative side, New Zealand winning all three by 11-0,21-2 and 16-0. Incidentally, this team played in dark blue jerseys the same colour as the Dunedin jerseys. Two Dunedin players were members of this team, G. S. Robertson and J. Taiaroa and in his report in the New Zealand Football Annual of 1885 Mr Sleigh had this to say of these two players. Of Taiaroa he said, "A brilliant player, one of the best half-backs in the colonies. His weight, speed and wriggling runs invariably enable him to score. An indifferent kick." Of Robertson, he said, " A first rate dribbler. His coolness and thorough knowledge of the rules won many a point. Unsurpassed at long chucking."
Mr Sleigh then went on to give some hints to the players of 1885. These hints make amusing reading. To the forwards he said, "Play together, seek to be continuously 'on the ball', and however distressed, persevere onward. When you secured an advantage, do not allow your opponents to retrieve their lost laurels by any diminution of effort on your part, but assiduously pay attention to all their tactics, and do not allow any strategy on their part to go unnoticed. Forward play has seen great alterations during the last year or two, the heavy powerful man being now nearly superseded by the active and fast player. Passing and dribbling have become the leading features, the ball is rarely at rest and consequently tight scrummages are out of date. In making a run and you find you are unable to pass to your opponent, do not retain the ball if a friend who can be relied upon is near, but throw him the leather and let him endeavour to continue your onward career. Stand up to and mark one of your opponents on the touch-line. Play unselfishly, without noise or dispute, striving not for individual glory, but for the success of your club or province." To the backs he said, "Half-backs should be active and smart men, able to judge at a moment their method of action, and one of their merits is to be quick at starting and able to get into their stride at once. Three-quarter backs must be fleet of foot, good collarers, able to drop-kick with either foot. A full-back should be a perfectly reliable man, having all his wits about him, quick to kick and quick to collar." In general he said, "Talking and squabbling on the field only brings the game into discredit. Picking up in the scrummage is grossly unfair, and offside play is contemptible. Players should make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the rules of the game."
Mr Sleigh also made mention of the fact that by 1885 rugby had grown in popularity to such an extent that it had become, without a doubt, the national game of the colony. Four unions had been formed, Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago and in Dunedin 7,000 spectators was not uncommon at an inter-provincial match. The spectators, he said, were thoroughly acquainted with the rules, and woe betide the wretched individual who happens to play off-side, for to him the small boys show scant courtesy.
In 1882, New South Wales toured New Zealand playing 7 games, winning 4, losing 3, one of the losses being to Otago by I goal and 2 tries to nil. The 1884 tour of New South Wales by New Zealand was a repayment of this visit by the Australians.
As a result of these two tours, rugby grew in leaps and bounds and by 1885 there were 102 clubs in New Zealand including 19 in Otago.
Getting back to the successful Dunedin touring team's members of 1877 another very notable tourist was Henry Rose, who not only served the Dunedin Club well, but is also remembered by Dunedin as one of the leading instigators in the formation of the Carisbrook ground and in fact one of the grandstands at Carisbrook is named after him. As stated previously, this touring team was unbeaten in six matches, but in fact had arranged to play Taranaki as well, but the Otago captain, W. G. Dixon, refused to take the field as the team was unwell after a very rough passage on the boat. His offer of a game to last for one hour only was rejected by the Taranaki captain. By 1881 the rugby code in Dunedin had made considerable advancement and was a memorable year in that it saw the formation of the Otago Rugby Football Union on March 26 at a meeting in 'Wain's' Hotel. Ninety-six footballers were present representing the Dunedin, Union, Montecillo, Zingari, Montrose and several school clubs. The original clubs affiliated to the O.R.F.U. were: Dunedin, Union, Otago Boys High School, Dunedin Normal School, Zingari, Montrose, Montecillo, Orokanui College, Oamaru and Invercargill.
The formation of the O.R.F.U. created a further stimulus to the game and a number of new clubs were formed over the next few years. Green Island, Taieri, Port Chalmers, Otago University, Pirates, Pioneer, Pacific, Alhambra and Kaikorai clubs were all formed between 1880-1885.
Prior to 1885 when the first official club championship was held all matches were arranged by invitation. In 1881, the Dunedin Club's itinerary was as follows: Second Fifteen v Union Second Fifteen, Second Fifteen v Tokomairiro Football Club, Captain's Fifteen v Deputy-Captain's Fifteen, First :Fifteen v Rest of Club, Second Fifteen v Montecillo, Second Fifteen v Oamaru, Third Fifteen v Orokanui College, First Fifteen v Invercargill, First Fifteen v Union, Home v Colonies and First Fifteen v High School (Past and Present).
The President of the club in 1881 was Mr J. P. Maitland, the Secretary was Mr A. H. Cooke, and the Captain was Mr Henry Rose. However, at a special meeting of the club on April 30, 1881, at Ogg's Hotel, Mr Rose tendered his resignation as captain owing to a badly sprained ankle. His resignation was accepted with regret and Mr J. R. Murray was elected captain in his place.
The 1882 season, it was reported, was in many respects an unfortunate one for the club. Chief among the unfavourable circumstances was the absence of a suitable ground. After much consideration, the committee chose a piece of ground at Musselburgh, and in the report thanked the owners for the permission freely accorded it. The report also mentioned that owing to the distance of the ground from town, the number of members was not as large as usual but it was hoped to improve again in the 1883 season as the Caledonian Ground was again available. For the first, and the committee hoped for the last time in the annals of the club the list of matches played showed an unbroken series of defeats. The First Fifteen were unsuccessful in both their matches against the Union Club, and the Second Fifteen also failed against Union, Zingari and the Montecillo sides. A mixed fifteen proceeded to Invercargill and met the same fate. With regard to the last match the committee recommended that in future more attention be paid to it, because in the past teams that had visited Invercargill had been undeniably weak. President in 1882 was Mr J. P. Maitland, Secretary was Mr Milne and Captain was Mr J. R. Murray.
At the Twelfth Annual Meeting held in Wain's Hotel on April 7, 1883, Mr J. P. Maitland was again elected President, Mr Murray was appointed Captain and Mr Percy Fulton, Secretary. Results for the year showed a remarkable improvement from the previous year. The club's First Fifteen played five matches, winning three, losing one and drawing one. The opening match was with Invercargill and after a very hard game, the result ended in a draw. Two days after the Invercargill match Union defeated Dunedin, but later in the season on three consecutive Saturdays the team retrieved its laurels by scoring wins over Taieri, Montecillo and Union teams. The Second Fifteen was not so successful, winning only 2 out of its 10 matches. In its report on the 1883 season the committee congratulated the club on its improved showing saying that "the securing of a good ground had the immediate effect of not only increasing the muster-roll, but also renewing the interest of members in the club matches. With the practice thus secured, the Club's First Fifteen regain the prestige of the Blues, which was decidedly on the wane last season. The club was well represented in the interprovincial matches with Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland." The report went on, "The club still continues to be a member of the English Rugby Union. Important alterations have been made in the rules of this body and it behoves members to make themselves acquainted with the revision as early as possible. Instead of 60 rules, as before, only 50 now exist."
Mr J. P. Maitland was again elected President in 1884, Mr Fulton was re-appointed Secretary and Mr W. G. Dixon was appointed Captain. Messrs Dixon, Fulton and H. Rose were appointed delegates to the Otago Rugby Union. At a special meeting of the club on June 4, 1884, however, Mr Dixon resigned as captain owing to a badly damaged knee. His resignation was accepted with regret and Mr J. R. Murray was elected captain for the remainder of the season. The Club's Fist Fifteen played nine matches, winning seven, losing one and drawing one. A mixed Fifteen visited Invercargill and suffered a defeat by one try to nil. A team also travelled to Oamaru, the game resulting in a draw, one try each.
The committee's report on the 1884 season congratulated the members on a most successful season despite the fact that for a time the club was deprived of two of its most prominent members - G. S. Robertson and J. K. Taiaroa - who had the honour of being chosen to play in the New Zealand team which visited New South Wales. The report went on to say: "The absence of Robertson and Taiaroa was no doubt a loss; but members will doubtless agree that their brilliant play in Australia added to the Club's prestige. The popularity of the game, and the advantages of possessing a good ground and grandstand were amply shown by the large attendance, especially of ladies, to witness the club matches - despite the fact that a charge for admission had to be made at the gates. On all occasions the spectators were most considerate in not encroaching on the field of play."
The club must have been particularly fortunate to have such facilities because the Otago Rugby Union reported in 1884 that first-class grounds were short in Dunedin. In its annual report it said, "The want of grounds is the great drawback to all manly sports in Dunedin. Our schoolboys are brought up to regard a small, stony yard as a playground. Six good football grounds could be made where the nurse girls perambulate their charges near the Southern Recreation Ground (now Oval), and many good grounds could be laid out on the Town Belt, but these places seem to be tapu. The apathy shown to physical recreation in Dunedin is appalling."
At the start of the 1885 season there were 18 clubs affiliated to the O.R.F.U., these clubs having a total of over 1,000 members, During the season, however, the number of clubs was reduced to 17 as Green Island amalgamated with the Taieri Club.
During the 1885 season the first official club championship was held and the honour of being the first champions was won by the Dunedin team who played 8 games, winning 5, drawing 2 and losing I to Union who won the match by 5-0. Dunedin scored 41 points for and only 8 against.
The year 1885 also saw the first of the Town v Country matches, Town running out comfortable winners, the annual report of the O.R.F.U. stating that the country players appeared to be over-awed by the occasion and it was expected that they would perform better in the future. The report went on to say that communication had been received from England stating that an English team would tour New Zealand in 1886. Mr S. E. Sleigh, a member of the O.R.F.U. and Vice-president of the Dunedin Club, made searching enquiries concerning this tour, but came to the conclusion that the whole thing was a hoax.
Mr J. P. Maitland had once again been appointed President, Mr Fulton was also re-appointed Secretary as was Mr J. Murray re-appointed Captain.
The Fifteenth Annual General Meeting of the club was held at Wain's Hotel on March 20, 1886. Mr Henry Rose chaired the meeting of 37 members. Mr J. P. Maitland was re-elected President. Mr Fulton was re-elected Secretary and Mr W. Mills was appointed Captain.
The 1886 season was far less successful than the previous one. The First Fifteen playing 11 matches, winning 3, 2 were drawn and 6 lost. Twenty-four points were scored for, while 48 were scored against. The committee felt that the reason for the poor effort was that there were eleven new players in the team and a good combination was lacking. The 1886 Senior Championship was won by Pirates. The Second Fifteen had a good season winning 5 out of9 matches. The Annual Report for the year said that the Third Fifteen played three matches, but the records had unfortunately (or fortunately) been mislaid.
An urgent meeting of the committee was called on September 9, 1886, at the shop premises of Mr Mills. The Secretary, Mr Fulton, reported that during his recent illness the club's cash box had been broken open and a sum of money amounting to £1 15s 3d extracted therefrom. The committee decided as there was no direct evidence to point to the thief the club would bear the loss. Seven new clubs became affiliated to the O.R.F.U. during the season making the total number of clubs 24 and the total membership over 1,500. This was not considered such a good thing by the O.R.F.U. who, in their Annual Report urged young players to join existing clubs rather than form further new ones. Also during the 1886 season the Southland Rugby Union came into existence and therefore separate from the Otago Rugby Union. It was considered to be a good move as there was an ever-increasing difficulty in arranging matches between Dunedin and Invercargill clubs.
The only representative match played was against Canterbury which ended in a scoreless draw. The Sixteenth Annual General Meeting of the club was held at Wain's Hotel on March 19, 1887. Once again Mr J. P. Maitland was elected President and Mr P. Fulton Secretary. For the first time in the History of the club more than one nomination was received for the position of Captain. Mr R. Martin, Mr M. Ross and Mr W. Mills were nominated and at the ensuing ballot Mr R. Martin won the election. There seems to have been a certain amount of dissatisfaction with the results of the senior team in 1886 and this may have been the reason for the three nominations. It must be remembered that this position of Captain was as playing captain and not as club captain as we know it today.
The Annual Report on the 1887 season congratulated members on a fairly successful season although the Senior Fifteen was again not up to the standard expected of it. Of 10 matches played, 2 were won, 2 were drawn and 6 lost. The Senior Championship was won by the Union Club. The Second Fifteen played 10 games, winning 3, drawing 6 and only losing 1, while the Thirds played 5, won 2, drew 2 and lost 1. Continuing its report the committee regretted the fact that the club had only one representative (Mr R. Martin) in the provincial team which made its northern tour. This was a startling contrast to the tour of 1877 when the club had 13 representatives in the team and never lost a match. The committee hoped that members would in future strive to represent the province and keep up the name of the club. Another member of the touring team was Clem Beck who was later to become a valued and famous member of the Dunedin Club, but at the time of the tour was a member of the Montecillo Club. The team played five matches defeating Hawkes Bay, drawing with Nelson, Wellington and Canterbury, and losing narrowly to Auckland by 5-0. Eighteen players made the trip which took four weeks. Apart from R. Martin from the Dunedin Club, three players came from Montecillo, four from Union (the champion club), five from Pirates, two from Kaikorai and one each from Zingari, Taieri and Alhambra. Prior to this tour the first of the Otago versus Southland matches was played, Otago winning 6-0
In concluding its report the committee hoped that members would do their best to attain top form for the next year stating "members ought to indulge in more evening practice. With a ground so convenient, there should not be much difficulty in getting down for a quarter or half-hour's play. This of itself once or twice a week would keep members in grand fettle."
There was a change of venue for the 1888 Annual Meeting, it being held in the City Hotel on March 10. Thirty-seven members were present with Mr R. Martin chairing the meeting. Mr J. P. Maitland was elected President, Mr R. Martin was appointed Captain and Mr J. Martin was appointed Secretary, thus replacing Mr Fulton who had very ably carried out the job of secretary for the previous six years. Mr Fulton was elected to the committee for the 1888 season.
The playing record of the club's First Fifteen showed a marked improvement on the results of the previous year. Although not being able to win the Senior Championship, which was won by a strong Kaikorai team, the seniors played 12 matches, won 8, drew I and lost 3. Points for 46, against 7. Only two teams managed to cross their line during the season - Kaikorai and Zingari-Richmond. The Second Fifteen played 7 matches, won 2, drew 3 and lost 2. No games could be arranged for the Third Fifteen owing to the shortage of a suitable ground.
The committee in its report congratulated the five players from the club who had represented Otago during the season, namely Hunter, Martin, Stephenson, Sonntag and Turnbull. The committee, however, expressed regret at the fact that of 11 games arranged for the Second Fifteen only seven were played due to the fact that the other four were cancelled because the opposition could not field a team. It was pleased to see that the O.R.F.U. had brought in a rule for the 1889 season to the effect that if a team could not be fielded by any club, for a game arranged by the Union, then the flag points were awarded to the other side. So it was that for the first time in New Zealand rugby history the default of a team was counted against it. This rule still applies today.
An English team visited New Zealand during the season playing the Otago team three times, winning the first two and drawing the third in a fiercely fought encounter.
The year 1889 saw another fairly successful season for the club. The First Fifteen played 12 matches , winning 7, losing 4 and drawing 1. The defeats were suffered at the hands of Union (twice), Taieri and Kaikorai, Kaikorai being the winners of the Senior Championship for the second year in succession. The Annual Report said that the main reason for the defeats was the old problem of want of condition and the committee hoped that all members would devote more time to training during the 1890 season.
Four club members represented Otago during the 1889 season, viz. Lynch, Turnbull, Sonntag and Stephenson, but the committee regretfully recorded the untimely death of Mr Stephenson during the year, stating that "Jack's well-known form and dashing play will be sadly missed by the dark blues during the coming season."
Mr J. P. Maitland was re-elected President, Mr R. Martin was again appointed Captain and Mr J.Martin was the Secretary.The 1890 Annual General Meeting saw the end of a long period of service to the club by Mr J. P.Maitland who had acted as President for many years. In his place as President was Mr J. H. Morrison. The Captain for the 1890 season was Mr I. W. W. Hunter and Mr J. G. Martin was re-elected Secretary.
The senior side did not win the Senior Championship during this period. The 1890 championship was won by Union and Alhambra won its first championship in 1891 thus starting a long period of dominance of Senior Championships by the Alhambra and Kaikorai Clubs. No other club was to win the Senior Championship until 1904 when the Southern Club won its first premiership.
A copy of the rules of the English Rugby Football Union published in 1890 was obtained by the club and it is interesting to note that a member of the committee of the English Union at this time was Mr S. E. Sleigh who had been a well-know member of the Dunedin Club in the early 1880s. Mr Sleigh was the Otago Union's representative on the English Rugby Union in 1890. The Patron of the Union at that time was His Highness the Prince of Wales. There were 355 clubs or unions affiliated to the English Union in 1890. Of these seven were from New Zealand. Only two of the seven were clubs, the Dunedin Club and the Wellington Club, the unions affiliated being the Auckland, Canterbury, Otago, Wellington and Wairarapa unions. The only other overseas clubs affiliated to the Union were the Calcutta Club (India) and the Southern Union Club from New South Wales. There were only 50 rules to the game, many of which still apply today. Players could "appeal" to the umpires but it was to the referee's discretion whether he allowed such appeals. It is also noted that it was illegal to wear boots with sprigs of any kind attached.
The Annual Report of the O.R.F.U. on the 1890 season expressed dismay at the big increase in the number of disputes which arose during the season, particularly in regard to non-fulfilment of engagements and playing of senior players in junior sides. The Union felt that some players and clubs were adopting a "win at all costs" attitude which was regarded as an undesirable attitude. The representative match between Otago and South land saw Southland gain its first win over Otago by 4-0.
Forty members attended the Twentieth Annual General Meeting which was held at the City Hotel on March 7, 1891. After the usual formalities it is reported that the Chairman spoke for some time on the urgent need for members to pay more attention to training. Several other members also spoke on the matter. (This indicates that the 1890 season had not been as successful as it should have been.) The Caledonian Ground was still the home ground of the club and it is recorded that a further lease of the ground for 1891 was to be arranged. Mr J. Morrison was re-appointed President, Mr G. Turton was appointed Captain with Mr J. Martin accepting the Secretaryship once again.
Numerous problems seemed to beset rugby in Otago during the 1890s and this had its effect on the clubs. The O.R.F.U. had previously expressed its concern at too many new clubs being formed instead of players joining existing clubs. This had resulted in too much duplication of effort by the individual clubs to foster and increase the popularity of the game, with the result that financial problems had arisen and also the problem of having sufficient numbers of players for each club.
A further problem arose in 1894 when the newly formed New Zealand Rugby Union banned all provinces from playing Otago and Southland who were the only two unions who had not affiliated to the New Zealand Union. To overcome this problem the two unions arranged to play home and away matches for the first time. This tradition has continued unbroken ever since except for the years 1901-14. Incidentally in 1894 the Invercargill match was won by Southland and Otago turned the tables in the return match in Dunedin.
Officer-bearers during 1892 were: President, Mr J. Morrison; Secretary, Mr R. Martin, and Captain was Mr R. D. Isaacs. This trio also held the same positions during the 1893 season. In 1894 for the first time in the history of the club no President was elected at the Annual General Meeting, a motion being put and carried that the appointment be left to the incoming committee who were to find some suitable gentleman who would be prepared to accept the position. Mr G. L Denniston was finally persuaded to accept the post and he was elected President for the 1894 season at a meeting held at the Caledonian Hotel on April 7, 1894. He continued to serve the club well and was also President during the 1895 and 1896 seasons. Captain in 1894 was Mr A. Sullivan and Mr G. Turton was elected Secretary.
At the Annual Meeting of 1895 a proposal was put forward that the appointment of the captain be made by those chosen to represent the First Fifteen. Up until 1895 the appointment had been made at the Annual Meeting by all those present at the meeting. The motion was lost, however, and two nominations were received for the captaincy, Mr J. Williams winning the vote from Mr Doull. It is also recorded that the delegates to the O.R.F.U. for the season, Mr Martin and Mr Isaacs, were instructed to vote in favour of affiliation with the New Zealand Rugby Union. Shortly after the Annual Meeting Mr J. Williams resigned as captain of the First Fifteen and a Special General Meeting was called for at Blaney's Caledonian Hotel in order to elect a new captain. At the ensuing meeting Mr G. Stephenson won the election at the expense of Mr Doull.
There appears to have arisen a number of disputes over various matters within the club over the 1894 and 1895 seasons and it was decided that the by-laws of the club be revised and rewritten and a special committee was set up to attend to this matter. A Special General Meeting was held on September 21, 1895, and the new rules were adopted. (The meeting was at the City Hotel.) There were 10 rules of the club, the most important being Rule 1 which stated that "the Club be called the Dunedin Football Club." Rule 2 stated that "all officers of the Club, with the exception of the Captain and Deputy Captain, be appointed at the Annual General Meeting." Rule 3 said that "the uniform of the Club shall be Dark Blue jersey." Rule 7 stipulated that the annual subscription for playing members be lOs ($1) payable on or before the 1st June and no member was eligible to play in any match until his subscription was paid. Honorary members' subscriptions were fixed at five shillings.
The Otago Rugby Union became affiliated to the N.Z.R.U. in 1895 with the result that matches with unions other than Southland resumed. The Otago Referees' Association had been formed in 1894 and the Annual Report of the O.R.F.U. reported that the new system was a big advance on the previous haphazard set up. The Dunedin Club has been fortunate in that many of its members have become referees when their playing days have ended and continued to serve their club and province in a worthwhile way. Of recent times, ex-players who have made the top five referees in the province have been Ray Brosnan, Allan Woodhouse and Paul Glass while our President for 1970 and 1971, Ray Marshall, gave long service as a senior referee a few years back, as did Bill Breese, Des Lowe, Bill Lowe and a number of others.
G. Stephenson was captain of the First Fifteen which met only moderate success despite the fact that four of the members represented the provincial side during the year. They were Stephenson, Mason, Williams and MacKenzie. 9 games were played, 6 won and 3 lost; 72 points were scored for and 34 against. The committee had this to say about the team's efforts. "The same old complaint that is brought forward at every annual meeting - viz. want of condition - was again in evidence. It is earnestly hoped that all members will devote more time to evening practice during the 1897 season."
Mr J. Dickson had acted as Secretary during the season and Mr G. L Denniston was President. There was in existence at this time an organisation called the Sports Protective Association which apparently aimed at advising and protecting any sporting body from getting into financial difficulties. It also acted as debt collectors for any sporting body and it is recorded at a meeting of the club's committee that the names of all those who had not paid their subs be handed over to the Sports Protective Association, who would be asked to take action to recover them.
The 1896 season brought to a close the first twenty-five years of the club's existence. Rugby had come a long way since the club's formation in 1871. Many provincial unions had been formed as well as the N.Z.R.F.U. and representative matches had been firmly established. Official club championships had been held in Dunedin since 1885 and many clubs had been formed throughout Otago and Southland.
The Dunedin Club had been very fortunate in that it had the use of the Caledonian Ground as its headquarters over the years, and as this was the only closed ground in the city, was a distinct advantage to the club. The biggest step forward for rugby seemed to be in the much improved organisation of the game in the province, although facilities for individual clubs still seemed to be sparse. This was due in part, to the fact that too many clubs had been formed each with too few resources available. Despite the problems at this time rugby was firmly established as the main winter sport in New Zealand.
Edited Extract from : Dunedin Rugby Football Club 1871 - 1996 '125 Years History of the Club' - Peter Stumbles and Brother Graeme Donaldson
Dunedin's oldest rugby club, established 1871. A Marist and Celtic-affiliated club