Played 1885/6 (1st Carlton CC Premiership)
Carlton Cap No. 98
Victorian Cap No. 152
Australian Cap No. 35
On June 22, 1855 Sam Morris was born in Hobart, or Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land as it was then, to West Indian parents who had travelled from Barbados to Tasmania at the time of the gold-rush, and in the hope of a better life. (Van Diemen’s Land was granted self-government and became Tasmania in 1856).
The Morris family moved to the Daylesford goldfields area in the mid-1850s, and it was this region of Victoria which was to hold a life-long affection for Sam Morris.
Morris became the first black Test cricketer, and the first coloured man to play cricket for Australia following his selection as an opening batsman for the 1884/5 2nd Test match against England at the MCG from January 1-5, 1885. Nine players made their Test debuts in this 2nd Test after the 1st Test XI was not considered for selection due to their demands for an increase in payment. Five of these newcomers, including Sam Morris, were never chosen again. However, Morris’s bowling figures of 2/73 included two of England’s top three batsmen. He also opened Australia’s first innings and made four. He was an outstanding fieldsman.
He remained a regular player for Victoria for the next eight years and, in an era when it was not unusual for cricketers to swap clubs, Sam may have created some sort of a record when he played for four different Melbourne clubs in four seasons - Richmond (1884/5), Carlton (1885/6), University (1886/7), and South Melbourne (1887/8).
Morris, was a talented all-rounder, who began his cricket in Tasmania gaining initial recognition as a wicket-keeper. He later moved into first-class cricket as a batsman and medium-paced bowler and was recruited to Carlton from Richmond (where he had registered a score of 280 in 1881/2) and played in the memorable season of 1885/6 when Carlton, under the captaincy of Billy Midwinter, went through the season without a defeat and thus were the premiers and champions of the first-class clubs. Sam Morris played a significant role in this fine club achievement by winning the bowling average. His best bowling performance was against St Kilda when he secured 8/5, rattling the wickets in every case.
Sam’s curatorial capabilities at Richmond had become well known and, after missing out on the Adelaide Oval curator position, he was lured to the University Cricket Club in 1884 where his role as their first groundsman/curator was to form and establish the oval in accordance with a prepared survey, and in time for the 1885/86 season. Because eligibility rules precluded Sam from playing for University, he was able to continue with Richmond until, in October 1885, Sam began that memorable season with the Carlton Cricket Club.
In 1886/7 he was permitted to transfer to the University club and then to the South Melbourne CC where he still shares in a record Club 5th wicket partnership of 181 against Melbourne in 1891/92 – Sam’s contribution was 84.
Sam’s many achievements included –
• playing in one Test for Australia;
• playing in 19 first-class games for Victoria (577 runs at 18.03 and 29 wickets at 25.38);
• being the first man of West Indian heritage to play Test cricket (43 years before the West Indies attained Test status);
• being the first black man of any nationality to play Test cricket;
• being the first Tasmanian-born Test cricketer;
• his amazing popularity which, as ‘Felix’, the columnist for The Australasian noted, “What a favourite he is – everyone likes Sam”;
• being a playing member in Carlton’s first premiership in 1885/86;
• being the winner of the Bowling Average in Carlton’s first premiership year of 1885/86;
• still holds the Highest Individual Score of 280 for the Richmond CC;
• still shares the 5th wicket batting partnership record of 238 for the Richmond CC;
• still shares the 5th wicket batting partnership record of 181 for the South Melbourne CC.
In 19 first-class appearances for Victoria between 1881 and 1892 Sam scored 577 runs (including five half-centuries) at an average of 18.03, and took 29 wickets for 736 runs for an average of 25.38. With the Test included his figures become 591 runs at 17.91, and 31 wickets for 809 runs at 26.1.
Failing eyesight (due to diabetes) led to his retirement as a player in 1898, and to his retirement from employment in 1910 after many years as a curator/groundsman. However, he maintained his interest and continued to follow the game he loved with great enthusiasm, thanks to the great kindness of his long-time friend and self-constituted guardian, Mr Alfred Ernest Clarke.
Sam Morris died at his residence, 29 Moubray Street, Albert Park on Sunday morning September 20, 1931. He was buried in the Church of England section of the Melbourne General Cemetery (Grave No. 704) together with his pre-deceased wives Julia and Jane.
After nearly thirty years of blindness and never a complaint, ‘he retired unbeaten by Life’s adversities, but only by time’.
Having developed his cricket in the Victorian gold-mining region of Daylesford, his memory is specially honoured in that area. Since 1922/23, teams in the Daylesford Cricket Association have competed annually for the Sam Morris Cup, and there is also the Sam Morris Museum at Cricket Willow in Shepherd’s Flat, which features local history and tributes to sporting identities.