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SIGNIFICANT CENTENNIAL RUGBY LEAGUE EVENTS AT KARORI CEMETERY

by Bernie Wood

Rugby League in New Zealand celebrated its centennial year in 2007, with a number of significant events culminating with a Kiwis tour of England last October/November. That tour, now well documented and dissected, was a disaster resulting in a three test series whitewash from Great Britain which followed a record defeat at the hands of the Kangaroos in Wellington. Newly appointed Kiwis coach Gary Kemble lost his job in a very public spat, with leading players, including Kiwis captain Roy Asotasi, stating that Kemble's coaching standards fell well short of what is required in the modern game.

The centennial year was focused on celebrating the pioneering tour of the very first Kiwis side affectionately known as the 'All Golds' and this included two commemoration services at the Karori cemetery. They were a group of 27 former All Blacks and top provincial rugby union players who left New Zealand in August 1907, adding Australia's star rugby union player Dally Messenger, to undertake a very long tour of England, Wales and Australia to play a game most of them had never seen, let alone play. The game was only played in England and Wales. They set out not familiar with the rules. At the end of their 49-match, 10-months tour they had test series wins over both Great Britain and Australia, the latter country commencing the new code in 1908, and earned the right to regard themselves as the first world champions in the fledging code then called Northern Union but later to become known as rugby league.

The 'Professional All Blacks' as they were officially called, turned a 50 deposit each member was required to make, in those days a half year's wage, into 350 each from the tour's profit. If the venture had failed all those involved faced the certainty of having their sporting careers ended in disgrace and vilification. As it was all of them were banned for life by a vengeful New Zealand Rugby Union, from ever participating again in rugby union at all levels and all went to their graves with that stigma attached.

Albert Baskerville

 

 

 

The tour was organised in great secrecy by Wellington's Oriental rugby club sportsman Albert Henry Baskerville and he had in his party nine other Wellington players, six of them from the Petone club including two All Blacks, Duncan McGregor and Tom Cross and the captain Hercules Wright. Wellington and Auckland players made up the bulk of the team with nine players from Auckland on the trip.

Unfortunately 25-year-old Baskerville who earned the title of 'father of the game' here in New Zealand and 'founder of international league' contracted pneumonia in Brisbane on the way home and died there in hospital on 20 May, 1907.

Six team members escorted Baskerville's body back to Wellington where he is buried at the Karori cemetery, along with five other members of the All Golds, Tom Cross, Hercules Wright, James Barber, Eric Watkins and Dan Gilchrist.

Among the special events in Wellington that included the centennial test against the Kangaroos, a pre-match Lunch, a Parliamentary reception for the teams and All Golds descendants hosted by the Prime Minister and a Mayoral reception hosted by Kerry Prendergast, were two commemoration wreath-laying services at the Karori cemetery.

The first on 17 August, a special commemoration service, was organized by Wellington businessman Gerry Morris as a tribute from Wellington City to the six All Golds buried there. Special dignitaries present and involved in the commemoration were the Governor-General Anand Satyanand, Minister of Veteran's Affairs Hon Ric Barker, Wellington and Upper Hutt Mayors Kerry Prendergast and Wayne Guppy, National President of the RSA John Campbell, the Chilton Saint James Seraphim Choir and many descendants of the All Golds.

The second wreath laying commemoration service on 10 October, just three days before the centennial test match, was organised by the New Zealand Rugby League with the entire Kiwis Rugby League team present and a contingent of Australians. A huge gathering of in excess of 60 All Golds' descendants from all over the country were present, including five daughters plus Miria Finny, niece of Albert Henry Baskerville, and two sons, all in their 80s.

If it was possible it would be fair to say that the six All Golds buried at the Karori cemetery would applaud the remembrance of their deeds 100 years on.

From Stockade Vol 40, 1997, Bernie Wood  "Significant Centennial Rugby  League Events at Karori Cemetery"

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From Stockade 37, 2004, 4-6 Karori Historical Society