Ted MacDonald Australian Test Cricketer, Lancashire County and Backpool Professional
On the early morning of 22 July 1937, Ted McDonald, licensee of the Raikes Hotel Blackpool, was killed when struck by a car on the Blackrod by-pass near Bolton, Lancashire. He was returning from playing in a charity cricket match the evening before at Broughton in Manchester and his car was in collision with another, forcing him off the road through a hedge and into a field. He was unhurt in the initial crash but, having climbed back onto the road and, while talking to a policeman in the road about the accident, he was struck by another car. He was 45 years old.
Before, and during, his time as licensee of the Raikes Hotel he had played amateur cricket as a fast bowler for Blackpool, and before that he had played for both the Lancashire County team and the Lancashire cricket League for both Nelson and Bacup as a professional. Before that even, a hundred years ago this year of 2021, as an Australian, born in Tasmania, he had ripped through the England batting line ups in the 1921 Australian test match Tour of England, and achieved fame in his lifetime that way. It was his only tour of England and his only year of Test Match cricket but his fame lived on in English County cricket and the Lancashire Leagues.
Ted Macdonald began his life in Launceston, Tasmania on Jan 6th 1891 as Edgar Arthur Macdonald. In an autobiographical newspaper article he informs us that cricket was a highly organised sport in Australian schools and everybody (only the boys I guess are given the chance to become proficient in the game, though, by the time of his death in England the women’s game was demanding more attention and physical fitness was a national concern). The pitch at his Charles Street School in his native Launceston, was a concrete one which, he claims was little different to the grassed pitches in England (there was a local concrete league played on Sunday in Blackpool and district, and there might still be) and ‘grass pitches in England are like concrete anyway’ in his own words.
But Edgar at first bucked the trend to fulfil himself in a cricketing role in his school days. He was a slow starter in the game, only really taking to cricket after leaving school when he began playing for West Launceston. In the beginning he was better as a batsman and it was in that respect he eventually started his career. He didn’t even like bowling at that time and when he went on to join the junior leagues his bowling was always as a last resort.
Becoming a household cricket name for his fierce yet elegant style of bowling action was yet quite a time off and when he first moved to Melbourne in 1910 his first job was not in cricket but in Australian rules football (which, he informs his English readership is not like the soccer in England) but, with the instinctive skills of his mentor, a Jimmy O’Halloran, who saw potential in his bowling, (as he also played for East Melbourne cricket second team), and who constantly reminded him that Australia was short of fast bowlers, he was encouraged into bowling and eventually achieved good enough performances to get a place in the first eleven.
After a season playing for East Melbourne he joined the Fitzroy team of Victoria and in the Pennant matches of the cricket competitions there, he began to show his talent. By 1911 his first action against the English was when the MCC visited Australia and he played for Victoria but only took 2 wickets for 125 runs. With the Australian team about to arrange a tour of England, the Australian newspapers bemoaned the fact that the team was hard pushed to find a fast bowler. Along with that fact and the fact that ‘every Australian wants to visit the ‘Mother country’ (as Australia as a self-governing country was only a few years old at the time), he put his mind and soul into his bowling, despite not being chosen for that tour.
In 1914 the War intervened and it is not sure how Edgar spent the war years, but after that, with much help and advice from his instructors and team mates and even those not involved with the club but who could see his evident talent, his game eventually developed and, playing for Victoria against New South Wales in 1919 he took 6 for 42 in adverse bowling conditions. The following season he was good enough to play against the MCC and then was picked for the tour of England at last and he eventually came good in the test matches against England in the ‘Mother’ country the following year. As a fast bowler he could sustain his speed throughout an innings longer than any other fast bowler. He and his bowling partner Jack Gregory could bowl through a whole innings without needing a change of bowlers, quite a feat of stamina for a fast bowler.
This tour of a civilian Australian cricket team to England (a series of matches were played which included those military personnel still in England as members of the Australian Imperial Force in 1919) in 1921 was the first after the War. Before this, in this respect during the war, many Australians, as soldiers, did see the ‘Mother’ country, many giving their lives far, far away from their homes as the conflict dragged on. Some only got as far as Egypt where they bided their time before being given something to do at Gallipoli where history records the tragedy of the spilling of their blood in great quantities.
When then the Australians eventually toured England again in 1921, Ted was included at first as a second string bowler, initially included as a possible replacement for Jack Gregory who was having trouble with his feet, but he impressed in a warm up match against Leicestershire taking 8 for 41. In these Test matches, when Australia won the first three matches, (the last two being drawn) he ripped through the England innings being unplayable sometimes on many a wicket and his name was subsequently immortalised. His performances were mirrored in the County matches too, in between Test Matches.
By March of 1922 after his successful tour, the Melbourne Herald was reporting that he was considering playing for a County team in England and was about to set off. There was a great controversy over Macdonald’s decision to play in England and, causing a great conflict within the sport, he became a kind of negative celebrity for doing so, being all over the news, some papers saying he was coming and others spitefully declaring that he wasn’t and would lose £200 for not doing so which gave the Nelson club and himself some free, advanced publicity. He did eventually join Nelson in the Lancashire League and was instrumental in creating a rare, comfortable working profit for the club in his first year there. In his professional contract at Nelson he would be the highest paid professional that England had ever known at a time when in England anyway, there was a controversy between sport for sport’s sake as ethically a pure expression of the human endeavour for excellence and achievement, and sport as a professional game in which money would rule. In some circles it was considered beneath the dignity of sport to get paid for doing it, the opposing argument being that a sportsperson, as an entertainer should be entitled to command a good enough wage in their metier.
In these established, English cricketing circles the editor of Wisden expresses that, ‘I object strongly to the importation of Australian players. Clubs with money to spend should encourage native talent, and not buy cricketers of established reputation,’ a sentiment that still persists in sports today. The Australian players on the previous tour of England on the other hand had received bonuses of £300 (and not the £200 as had previously declared) which infuriated the editor too. Professionalism in all sports continued to be looked down upon in some circles as far inferior to the purity of spirit of amateurism.
Ted arrived in England despite the trolls and by 1923 when playing for Nelson against Burnley on 3rd June he took 10 wickets for 18 runs and he is on their all-time list of bowlers who have taken ten wickets in an innings. The gates for the Ribblesdale League for which he played made a profit while players like Ted were involved.
Later on however, at the Blackpool festival in September of 1923 where it was Lancashire v the Rest of England, the Rest of England included Ted Macdonald but he only made a single run before being caught and had seemed to have lost some of his fire with the ball when bowling. These festivals were usually arranged by Albert ‘Alby’ (Sir Lindsay) Parkinson businessman, international building contractor and former mayor of Blackpool, ex footballer and cricketer too and along with his brother William (the ‘Colonel’) Parkinson who, as director of the Blackpool football club would collapse and die while attending a match at Bloomfield Road, they had financed the building of the cricket pavilion at Stanley Park. It was a ground that Harold Larwood when he came to play for Blackpool, could confidently claim that it was better than some County grounds he had played on.
After three years Ted left his role as Nelson professional, being succeeded by J M Branckenburg the South African, and he played for Lancashire between 1924 and 1931 helping them to win the County Championship four times, three of them successively, after which he would take up a contract at Bacup in the Lancashire League. Ted then came to Blackpool for the 1932 season after leaving his role as Bacup professional and he would be taking over the licensee of the Raikes Hotel, a fillip thrown into his contract to bring him to the town.
What Ted might not have known was that a former resident of Raikes Hall was a certain Albert Hornby who, as a young lad at the time, yet to become a cricketer and yet to be the captain of the England cricket team that lost the test match in 1882 resulting in the creation of the Ashes series of Test matches against Australia. In that cricket team, Albert Hornby had played alongside that other cricketer and Blackpool resident Richard (Dick) Barlow who was ‘bowled at last’ in an epitaph of his own composition in 1919 and now has an eternal place in Layton Cemetery in the town.
It seems that in the 1921 Ashes series in England, Ted and his bowling partner Jack Gregory had pre-empted the bodyline controversy of 1932, exemplified by Harold Larwood by ten years. Maybe by coincidence or irony the most renowned (or notorious) practitioner of bodyline bowling (where the hard, cork ball is bowled at speeds around ninety miles an hour directly at the batsman and not at the wicket or to one side of the batsman to make him play the ball and leave him open to a catch), Harold Larwood, a Nottinghamshire man, also settled in Blackpool a few years after Ted’s death.
The ‘Bodyline Ashes’ series occurred when England toured Australia in 1932-33. It was not stiff upper lip and gentlemanly conduct between the sides and the words ‘fuck’ and ‘bastard’ were used to describe each other’s spiritedly mutual dislike. In 1933, the MCC had backed up the captain Jardine and the manager P F Warner after receiving a complaint from the Australian Board of Control concerning the use of bodyline bowling though they probably didn’t use that cricketers’ language, formerly described, in public, anyway.
Cricket is a highly tactical game and with those corky balls flying down the wicket at 90 miles from the bowler’s arm sometimes, it can be a very dangerous game. Ted Macdonald had been urged on in his career and self-achievement by a proverb that had stuck in his mind from his school days as ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ and thus never gave up trying in the drive towards perfection but often within his personality it seems there wasn’t always a way to the will. In this respect, and always wanting to get the best out of himself, it seems on one occasion when he wasplaying for Lancashire he had suggested to the captain Jack Sharp (who was also an English footballer) that he should use a modified leg trap against Herbert Sutcliffe of Lancashire’s rivals Yorkshire, but Jack Sharp had refused to let him. Perhaps because Jack Sharp was not a Lancashire man by birth and did not possess that innate rivalry between the two counties. The modified leg trap was not the same as bodyline bowling but it would make for boringly unwatchable cricket, at least for aficionados of the game anyway.
As well as his game, his personal life was also set by problems which, in the blind drive for success and achievement, included gambling and the nature of his finances perhaps indicated in the re-sworn amounts of his published will, might indicate the failure of this ambition.
In 1933 while playing professional for Bacup, Ted Macdonald was once more invited by Lindsay Parkinson to play for his invitation team against the West Indies at Blackpool and in this game he took 5 for 38. In May of 1934 he took 5 wickets for six runs while playing for Blackpool against Ribblesdale Wanderers. In 1935 he played at Blackpool for a team put together once more by Sir Lindsay Parkinson against Leicestershire and took 5 for 21 runs after it looked like Leicestershire were about to accumulate a good score.
He had settled into life at Blackpool and no doubt there were many cricketing stories swapped over the bar of the hotel while he was associated with it. He was also a keen golfer and would perhaps rue the current demise (2021) and redevelopment of that part of the golf course he would have enjoyed playing on at Stanley Park as he observed the construction and opening of the Victoria hospital on the Whinney Heys land next to it.
But on that July morning of 1937 as he was returning home to Blackpool after playing a charity cricket match, he was in collision with that other car which sent him off the road, through a hedge and into a field. Though he wasn’t injured he managed to climb back onto the road, but was knocked down and killed by another motorist whose speed declared at the inquest was between 25 and 30 miles an hour only.
On July 26th 1937 at 2.45pm in the Manchester Test match against New Zealand a two minutes silence was observed, the match suspended for that couple of respectful moments as the scheduled time for his internment at Carleton cemetery, Blackpool. Similarly at Birmingham where Lancashire were playing Warwickshire, as well as the two minute silence by both players and crowd, the players, wearing black armbands, took off their caps and the pavilion bell tolled after the lapse of the two minutes.
He was survived by his wife Emily Myrtle, née Hamill, whom he had married on 10 April 1920 at Holy Trinity Church, East Melbourne, and their two sons. He had left £31 (£2,159.54) effects and £1006 (£70,080.63) resworn, to his wife. It’s possible that the will had to be resworn due to the amount of donations from interested parties that came in after his death and that increased the value of his testament. His funeral service took place at St John’s Church Blackpool before proceeding to the relatively new Blackpool crematorium at Carleton on 26/7/1937. After this date there is no evident trace of Emily or sons in the records even by 1939, so it could perhaps be understood that they returned very soon after to family and friends in their native Australia. Emily was born in Richmond in 1892. Her father was Joseph and her mother Mary Ann (nee Nixon).
A correspondent in the Nottingham Journal of July 1937 had regretted the shortage of great bowlers in the game, the tradition of great bowlers exemplified today by the speed and rhythm of Harold Larwood, and bemoans the destruction of the England batsmen in 1921, ‘But even this had its compensations in the lithe, willowy grace of Macdonald and the kangaroo leap of Gregory, for they brought genius and personality into the game and we can never do without either. These two things are cricket’s present lack.’
Though the driver of the car that caused the death of Ted was charged with manslaughter and was bailed, no charges were eventually brought upon him as careless or dangerous driving could not be proven. Ironically Harold Larwood, resident in his native Nottinghamshire at the time was involved in a car accident in Nottinghamshire on the same day as Ted Macdonald. Like Ted’s car, his went off the road, but his after doing a couple of somersaults and running down an embankment. He was able to get out and release the trapped passengers, but the event did not prove fatal for Harold. Other than the simultaneous road accidents there was another slightly ironical connection between Ted and Harold. Their careers had met up indirectly in usual circumstances in 1928 when it was Harold Larwood who had ended the test career of Jack Gregory, Ted’s bowling partner but, ironically, not with his uncompromising bowling but as a result of his batting. In an awkward attempt to take a return catch from Harold the batsman, probably over keen to get one over his rival bowler, Jack Gregory the bowler, twisted his knee and aggravated a longstanding injury which ended his career.
Tasmania district of Launceston 1891
According to the Nelson Leader of April 13 1922, Ted MacDonald’s averages in England of his test match year were (the first row being totals for the tour);-
The other cricketer of fame or notoriety, Harold Larwood, also settled in Blackpool where he remained for four years or so before emigrating to Australia with his wife, Lois and five daughters. He had honeymooned in the town in 1927 and so would have known the town well enough to want to come back. He had joined Blackpool in 1938 to follow several greats, ‘including E A Macdonald’. He had his first game in 1939 where he met up with his Nottinghamshire County groundsman Harry Marshall who had come to Blackpool as groundsman after being assistant at Nottingham. The ground at Blackpool, Harold claimed, was as good as and occasionally better than some county grounds he had played on in his fifteen years as a first class cricketer. He had been signed for the season to play the Saturday games but hoped he would be back for more than the current season if he was considered good enough, and if his knee injury didn’t impair him. He had a market garden business back home so there was no thought of a permanent move at the time. His knee did hold up in the game against Barnoldswick where he took 6 wickets for 18 runs. Here he chalked up a friendship with ‘Hurricane’ Harry Hewitt who, following his father, Charles, into cricket, and a regular in the team, scored an unbeaten 45 in that game for Blackpool. Charles Hewitt was a man of many talents. A monumental mason by trade, learning the art from his father and whose brother, Ethelred continued the family business when Charles moved to Blackpool, he also played played cricket for Cheshire from his native Dukinfield and his skills and interest in music were exemplified by playing the French horn for the Halle orchestra. He had encouraged Harry into cricket and moved to Ashton in Lancashire, becoming a notable member of the team. It also meant, deliberately or coincidentally, that Harry could play for a more successful County. In the June of 1939 Harry and Harold would make a good batting partnership against Clitheroe, but the younger Harry would soon join up as the war broke out and it wasn’t until after the war when Harry returned from active service that the two would resume the friendship and Harold Larwood, now a Blackpool resident would be a regular to tea at the Hewitt’s household. While Harold would survive his active service, his brother, Charles, wouldn’t, sunk by the ‘friendly’ fire of US submarine while on his way to build railroads for the Japanese in Indonesia as a pow. One of his sisters, Audrey, followed her mother Leah, along with her careful maternal advice, onto the stage and would meet and marry there, most probably the best ventriloquist of all time, Arthur Worsley, a Blackpool resident when he wasn’t touring.
Harold Larwood had suffered extreme negative criticism from his bodyline infamy and eventually retired from first class cricket in 1938. Even before, in 1936, Harold had decided to stay on his chicken farm rather than tour Australia, a fact that might have influenced Bill Ponsford, the renowned Australian batsman who didn’t like fast bowling, to re-emerge from retirement having retired soon after the bodyline series. Bill Ponsford had been offered a lucrative, four figure contract and a house thrown in if he joined Blackpool as a professional. So Blackpool, with the Parkinsons at the fore, liked its cricket. It was a tempting offer and one that the Australian would have been foolish to turn down but the Australians came up with a plan of their own and offered a £1 a run (about £73 in 2021) and, since he had contributed to a record 451 partnership with Don Bradman and had also achieved very high individual scores, it was an offer which made Blackpool’s offer ‘appear like an insult’. So the money that had brought Ted Macdonald to England had kept Bill Ponsford at home.
After Harold had first retired into his market gardening and his chicken farm which he continued with during the war years he came to settle in Blackpool in 1945. Here, he had a house address on Victory Road and moved onto retail with a sweet and tobacco shop round the corner on Caunce Street before eventually emigrating to Australia in April 1950, invited by his Australian cricketing friend, Jack Fingleton. Arriving there in May he vouched that he would have nothing to do with cricket apart from watching it occasionally. The last time he was in Australia had been during the Bodyline Test matches when Jack Fingleton, now a journalist but as an opening batsman had scored a century against Harolds’s bodyline bowling, there might have developed a mutual respect between the two. Harold also liked to follow football and had been a regular at Bloomfield Road.
Sources and Acknowledgements
Most of the story has been derived from contemporary newspaper reports via findmypast. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). Many thanks to Michael Worsley for sharing personal, family memories of Charles and Harry Hewitt. Thanks to Denys Barber for supplying a picture of Richard Barlow’s grave in order to determine the exact script of the epitaph. The Blackpool cricket club letters are family archive. (There is also Youtube video of Ted MacDonald in bowling action). Infill of some other, additional information via these links:-