The tourist who ended up in jail

Gambling addiction led to Pooley being marooned in Christchurch

Martin Williamson

October 16, 2004

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Ted Pooley: accused of wilfully and maliciously destroying property © The Cricketer

By right, Ted Pooley's place in cricket history should be as England's wicketkeeper in the first Test of all in March 1877. A long-serving Surrey professional, Pooley was widely respected as a player, but his reputation was tarnished by his quest to make money at every opportunity. That was far from rare in that era, but even by the standards of that time, Pooley was a heavy gambler. And it was chasing a quick buck that led to his being marooned in Christchurch, New Zealand as England and Australia met for the first time at Melbourne.

Pooley's career was anything but dull, and in 1873 he was suspended by Surrey after an incident at Bramall Lane, where it was widely rumoured that he took a bet. Pooley certainly won a bottle of champagne for a minor wager with a colleague, drank it for breakfast and consequently replaced as wicketkeeper after lunch. Surrey's minutes refer only to "insubordination and misconduct", but there were widespread reports that money had also changed hands.

In 1876 Pooley was named in James Lillywhite's side to tour Australia and New Zealand. The gruelling eight-month trip was punctuated by a visit to New Zealand, where most of the matches were odds games (playing XXII of Auckland, for example). Betting was a key feature of all these matches, with odds published in the local newspapers. Match reports often included descriptions of the wagers and purses on offer.

Nearing the end of the New Zealand segment, the England side undertook an arduous journey to the west coast, while Pooley, sidelined by a leg injury, went straight to Christchurch, the venue of the next major match against XVIII of Canterbury. While there Pooley struck up acquaintances with various locals, and hit upon what seemed to be a sure-fire way of making easy money. In those times it was the norm to predict the scores for each player in a side, with very good odds on offer.

Ralph Donkin, a surveyor who was staying in town, made such an offer, with odds of 20-1 on offer to anyone exactly predicting each batsman's individual total. In those days, especially in odds matches, low scores were common, and half a dozen opponents had already been bowled out for under 50 on the trip. Pooley, therefore, wagered a shilling per batsman that each of their scores would be 0. For every player registering a duck he stood to earn one pound.

To add to the odd situation, Pooley, who was still injured, stood in the match as one of the umpires, although there seems to be no question of his acting untowardly. Canterbury's innings produced 11 scores of 0, and so he stood to collect £9 15s. But when he realised he had been duped, Donkin cried foul and refused to pay up. A brawl ensued, with Pooley striking the protesting Donkin several times, threatening that he "would have him before morning".

Despite this, Lillywhite's side moved on to Dunedin to play Eighteen of Otago where a fit-again Pooley impressed with his performance behind the stumps. But as the team prepared to board the train to Invercargill for their next match, Pooley and Alfred Bramhall, the baggage man, were arrested. The remainder of Lillywhite's party went on ahead.

The next day, a Dunedin magistrate decided that Pooley had thrown the first blow and fined him £5 for assault. Pooley was still not in serious trouble, although out of pocket, but then Donkin laid another charge, accusing Pooley and Bramhall (by this time labeled as the team's money-handler by the local press) of wilfully and maliciously destroying his property. The magistrate committed the pair to trial, and although the hearing was scheduled for a week later, the case was adjourned when the defence requested a witness be brought from Melbourne.

By the time the case was heard in Christchurch's Supreme Court on April 6, Pooley and Bramhall had been on bail for four weeks, the Melbourne witness had not appeared, and the match at the MCG had been over for a fortnight. While the evidence against the pair was largely circumstantial, a waiter told the court that Pooley had instructed him to tell Donkin that "if he sleeps there [in his room] tonight he'll find himself half-dead in the morning."

But the jury was unconvinced, and returned a not-guilty verdict. Remarkably, Pooley has ingratiated himself with the residents of Christchurch during his enforced stay, and they organised a whip-round which raised £50 and a gold watch. Pooley eventually landed back in England on July 9, 1877, almost a month after the rest of his team-mates and two months after the birth of his second child.

By then he was 35 and past his best. He never did play for England, and only carried on representing Surrey for a few more years. There are those who say that it was the incident in New Zealand which started the slow decline which culminated with him dying broken and bankrupt in a London workhouse 30 years later.

Is there an incident from the past you would like to know more about? E-mail rewind@cricinfo.com with your comments and suggestions.

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.
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