Olympic Cricket – August 1900


An article written by the late Tony Stedall, once Curator of the Museum.

One hundred and twenty four years ago a party of cricket tourists from the West Country and a team of the best players from the handful of cricket clubs then existing in the Paris area met in the French capital for a two-day 12-a-side match grandly billed as ‘France contre Angleterre’. 

It was one of many sporting events arranged in Paris in 1900 as part of the great World Fair.

The match played in the Vincennes arena, attracted very little interest, but the few spectators were rewarded with an exciting finish. ‘England’ beat ‘France by 158 runs after dismissing the home side for only 26 in the second innings with just minutes to spare.

The second Olympic Games of the modern era were also being staged in Paris that summer. They were poorly organised, facilities were inadequate, only 22 countries took part, and in fact the games ended up as nothing more than an adjunct to the World Fair. But when 12 years later, the Olympic authorities finally compiled an official record of the 1900 Games they included the cricket match and a number of other World Fair events, to the surprise, no doubt, of those who had taken part.

Cricket has never figured in the Games before or since, so the West Country amateurs who played in Paris that summer have their own little niche in cricket history.

This curious story becomes even stranger when one looks at their opponents, for only three of the French team have French names. The rest were Englishmen resident in France.

The touring team, moreover, had little claim to represent England. They played as the Devon County Wanderers on this occasion, but retrospectively were renamed the Devon and Somerset Wanderers, for several came from Somerset and two in fact Alf Bowerman and Montague Toller each played a few first class games for the county around the turn of the century.

 The Wanderers owed their existence to W.S. Donne of the Castle Cary Club, who founded and led an annual tour for many years, (see additional notes below). Several of the players were former Blundells boys.

The 1900 tour, however, was not captained by Donne(although he took part), but by C.B.K.Beachcroft of Exeter.

The two who played for Somerset were heroes of the rain-affected match. The scores were; England 117 and 145 for 5 dec., France 78 and 26. Bowerman, who was born at Broomfield in the Quantocks, was top scorer of the game with a brisk 59 in the second innings. Toller, a Barnstaple man, then took 7 quick wickets (all bowled) when the French batted again. He conceded only 9, 10, or 14 runs according to which account one believes.

To sum up, England are the current Olympic Cricket gold medalists and champions.

Additional notes re W. S. Donne (contributed by Barry Philips)

William Stephens Donne was the driving force behind early Castle Cary CC tours. The first took place in 1894 to the Isle of Wight and in  subsequent years the tourists went to the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands and the Lake District. In June 1898, the touring cricketers and family left Harwich bound for Holland where William Donne had organised an ambitious 5th tour which featured seven matches. 

For whatever reason, William probably needed to broaden the representation, the tour to Paris in 1900 was made under the team name of the Devon County Wanderers, which would in later years adopt the broader title of the Devon and Somerset Wanderers. William was involved as secretary and organiser of each subsequent annual tour until his death in March 1934, aged 58.

The first image (below):is taken from the 1904 tour to the Channel Islands. The second image is from the 34th tour to Hampshire in August 1933. By the time of his death, he had already organised the 35th tour (again to Hampshire) which went ahead in August 1934 as a mark of respect. 

William was not much of a cricketer. He wasn’t a bowler and he usually batted in mid to late order. In the ‘Olympics’ match, going in as the 8th batsman, he was run out for 6 in his only innings. His running between wickets may well have been hampered by his ample girth as apparent from the images. He did captain the Castle Cary 1st X1 from 1912-1915, but he was happier playing for the 2nd X1 and it was his outstanding organising ability that counted more than his cricketing contribution. At various stages, he acted as secretary, chairman and president of the club. 

But, what he lacked in ability for cricket he made up for it with his rugby and his penchant for scrummaging. Firstly for Castle Cary RFC and then for Somerset. Elected to the latter’s committee in 1893, aged 18, he served as hon. secretary from 1896 to 1905 and was elected president in 1923, a position he held until his death. He was also president of the Rugby Football Union in 1924/25. Whilst president of the RFU he suffered a significant health scare, to the dismay of the King who sent him a get well message.  

A pupil of King’s School, Bruton, he and his brother Thomas were the directors of a twine and rope company at the Higher Flax Mills in Castle Cary. They were the 6th generation of the family to carry on the business. William was a pillar of the Castle Cary community. He was a Justice of the Peace, a parish, district and county councillor and he was the Chairman of various charities and boards which were the beneficiaries of his organisational and communication skills. The streets of the town were lined with mourners to pay their last respects at his funeral.