Albert Baskerville - Or Baskiville?

Sean Fagan of RL1908.com

Albert BaskervilleIt was not until the 1990s that there was any thought that Albert Baskerville's name had been spelt incorrectly for the past nine decades.

It was revealed that research had uncovered the true spelling of his surname was 'Baskiville', including on his grave's headstone.

Since that time it has been popular for journalists to use 'Baskiville' whenever referring to the chief organiser of New Zealand's first professional rugby team.

Many reported in 2002 that Great Britain and New Zealand were fighting for the 'Albert Baskiville Shield'. Yet the RFL had the trophy inscribed as the 'Albert Baskerville Trophy' and spelt it as such throughout the series.

Recent research for The Rugby Rebellion book suggests that 'Bert' Baskerville himself would have preferred the RFL's spelling of his surname.

Most newspaper reports spelt his name as 'Baskerville'. In Australian newspapers (1907/08) the use of 'Baskiville' could be found only once. Most tellingly, was a book Baskerville published in 1907: Modern Rugby Football - New Zealand Methods. On the cover, and inside the book, his surname is 'Baskerville'.

Final confirmation that he went by the name of 'Baskerville' was found in documents held in the NZRL Archives. I examined the New Zealand team's tour agreement from 1907, and found it twice lists the names of all the men to take part. Some names can be clearly seen to have spelling corrected. In the case of 'Bert', his name is typed as 'Albert Henry Baskerville' and has not been altered.

If it was not his preferred spelling, it would have finally shown up in his signature at the back of the agreement. It was spelt exactly the same: 'A.H. Baskerville'. Other autographs of Baskerville's held by the RFL Archives in England are the same.


Albert Baskerville's signature -
as it appears in the (so-called) '
All Golds' tour agreement of August 1907
Image courtesy of the NZRL Archives

It is also relevant to note that the spelling/inter-change of names was common-place a century ago. It seems almost every footballer preferred to have his first name replaced by a nickname - and they are remembered by that today. From 'Dally' Messenger (even 'Dally' should have been 'Dalley'), to 'Nimmo' Walsh, 'Pony' Halloway, 'Snowy' Baker, 'Boxer' Russell, 'Sandy' Pearce, and countless others.

Many also had their surnames spelt differently far more frequently than Baskerville - including 'Dinny' Lutge (a.k.a. Lutze), Albert 'Alby' Rosenfeld (a.k.a. Rosenfeldt), 'Pony' Halloway (a.k.a. Holloway) and Chris McKivat (a.k.a. McKivatt).

With Dally Messenger, no one is arguing today that we should be absolutely correct with his birth name. No one is going out of their way to ensure they always refer to him as Herbert Messenger or that the 'Dally M Medal' is incorrectly named. He preferred to be known as Dally Messenger and that is respected - to the point where his grandson's name is Dally Messenger III.

Many people have chosen to go by a different name to the one they were born with for all sorts of reasons. Few, if any, are subsequently written about under their birth-name once they are better known by their preferred name. No one writes about the deeds of Marion Morrison or Norma Jean Mortensen - they write about John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe (respectively).

It may well be indisputable that Baskerville's name was really 'Baskiville'. But it is clear from his own book, his own signature, the tour agreement, and the newspapers of the time, that his preference was to be known in the public arena as Albert Henry Baskerville.

Is it right for us to presume to correct him a century later?

References.
Sean Fagan,
Pioneers of Rugby League
Contemporary newspapers
NZRL Archives
Albert Baskerville, Modern Rugby Football - New Zealand Methods
John Haynes, From All Blacks to All Golds
Thanks also to Tony Collins at the RFL Archives for additional information

John Haynes (author of From All Blacks to All Golds) comments:

"Readers may be interested to know, why Baskiville used "er" rather than "i" as explained to me by his niece.

"Baskiville, the name he was given at birth, ie. spelt with an "i", is Irish, whereas "er' is English. Baskiville was also the spelling used by newspapers reporting on all his club rugby in Wellington when he played there for the Oriental Club.

"However religious allegiances (Catholic v Protestant) at the turn of the century meant that many business circles were closed to Irish Catholics ...especially the Masonic Lodge.

"Being what could be called upwardly mobile, Bert Baskiville wanted to distance himself from his Irish background. This desire was translated into the contract he signed and his book, both using "er".

"However his family at the time of his burial in Wellington had insisted that his name -"Baskiville'- be spelt correctly on the headstone. In other words they were saying for posterity that this man was their family.

"After thinking about all this, and having found the tour contract with the different spelling in it, I had to decide what best to do. I decided on balance to use the correct spelling; firstly to be historically accurate; secondly to keep faith with the family's wishes, and finally so other researchers who followed in my footsteps would know the correct family he belonged to.

" I can understand you choosing the spelling he used, but From All Blacks to All Golds, being the first book written about the NZ Professional Rugby Team, had to be historically accurate. I'm pleased it is."

 
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