1896 British Lions tour to South Africa

1896 British Lions Tour to South Africa
Date 1 July  – 5 September
Coach(es) Roger Walker
Tour captain(s) England Johnny Hammond
Test series winners British and Irish Lions (1–3)
Top test point scorer(s) England J.F. Byrne (12)
The British Isles team of 1896

1896 British Isles tour to South Africa was a rugby union tour undertaken by the British Isles, one of the first British and Irish Lions tours. The team toured South Africa for the second time in 1896. Between 11 July and 5 September, they played 21 games, including four tests against South Africa. The British Isles XV won the Test series 3–1 and completed the 17-game provincial program unbeaten, scoring 204 points and conceding just 45 in all matches.

Tour overview

The squad had experience on their side in the shape of two veterans of the 1891 campaign, the captain Johnny Hammond and fellow forward Froude Hancock.[1] For the first time the squad also included a notable Irish contingent. Nine Irishmen were included in the touring party of 21. These included Tom Crean, Larry Bulger, Jim Sealy, Andrew Clinch and Louis Magee, all of whom had just helped Ireland win the 1896 Home Nations Championship.[2] Robert Johnston had won two caps for Ireland in 1893. The other three – Arthur Meares, Cecil Boyd and James Magee, the brother of Louis – had not yet been capped by Ireland at the time of this tour. Crean and the Magee brothers were the only Catholics in the touring party and on the Sunday after they arrived, they begged to be excused from joining an excursion to Hout Bay. On being pressed for a reason for such a refusal, they shyly admitted that they had been three Sundays on board ship, without Mass, and they would like to attend church. The management committee replied that they could all go to their various churches if they pleased, and that the excursions would start afterwards.[3][4]

The South African team that won the Fourth Test, the very first international rugby victory for the country.

Hammond's squad was considered to have an outstanding pack but be comparatively weak in the three-quarter line. Louis Magee and England full-back Fred Byrne were the stars of the backline, but it was a forward eight inspired by Tom Crean that laid the foundations for the team's success.[1] Hammond, was injured early in the tour and it was Crean who took over the role in his absence. The team's only draw came in an early game against Western Province. Before the game, the new Prime Minister of the colony, Sir Gordon Sprigg, insisted on entertaining the tour party in the grand manner of his predecessor, Cecil Rhodes. Crean, captain for the day, sensing a ruse, sternly warned his players to limit their lunchtime consumption to just four tumblers of champagne, but it would appear some lost count. They escaped with a lucky 0–0 draw, but in a later game a much more sober team avenged the result 32–0, their biggest win of the tour.[5] Facing a South Africa side captained by Ferdie Aston, brother of Randolph Aston, a member of the 1891 British team, the tourists dominated at forward throughout but could only score two tries in an 8–0 win. South Africa scored their first tries in international rugby in the second Test but still went down 17–8. In the third, the hosts actually led but were overhauled to go down 9–3, with Byrne kicking a conversion and a drop goal to set a record. He remained the only player to score 100 points while on tour in South Africa until 1960 when Don Clarke of New Zealand beat his record. South Africa improved, however, and won the final test 5–0 at Newlands. It was the previously flawless Byrne who lost possession to spark the attack from which Alf Larard scored the game's only try.[6][7]

When the tour ended, both Crean and Johnston remained in South Africa. During the Second Boer War they both served with the Imperial Light Horse and were both subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross.[8] One member of the Lions squad, Cuth Mullins, was a South African who was studying at Oxford University. His brother, Charles Herbert Mullins, also won a VC during the same engagement as Johnston. The fly half, Rev. Matthew Mullineux, was awarded the Military Cross in the First World War while another member of squad Walter Carey became the Archbishop of Bloemfontein;[9] both men became Military Chaplains for the British Navy.

As on the previous tour in 1891, the tourists played in red and white hooped shirts and dark blue shorts.[10]

Touring party

Full Backs


Half backs



Date Opponent Location Result Score
Match 1 11 July Cape Town Clubs Cape Town Win 14–9
Match 2 13 July Suburban Clubs Cape Town Win 8–0
Match 3 15 July Western Province Cape Town Draw 0–0
Match 4 18 July Griqualand West Kimberley Win 11–9
Match 5 22 July Griqualand West Kimberley Win 16–0
Match 6 25 July Port Elizabeth Port Elizabeth Win 26–3
Match 7 28 July Eastern Province Port Elizabeth Win 18–0
Match 8 30 July South Africa Port Elizabeth Win 8–0
Match 9 1 August Grahamstown Grahamstown Win 20–0
Match 10 4 August King Williams Town King William's Town Win 25–0
Match 11 6 August East London East London Win 27–0
Match 12 8 August Queenstown Queenstown Win 25–0
Match 13 12 August Johannesburg-Country Johannesburg Win 7–0
Match 14 15 August Transvaal Johannesburg Win 16–3
Match 15 17 August Johannesburg-Town Johannesburg Win 18–0
Match 16 19 August Transvaal Johannesburg Win 16–5
Match 17 22 August South Africa Johannesburg Win 17–8
Match 18 26 August Cape Colony Kimberley Win 7–0
Match 19 29 August South Africa Kimberley Win 9–3
Match 20 3 September Western Province Cape Town Win 32–0
Match 21 5 September South Africa Cape Town Loss 0–5

The matches

First Test

30 July
South Africa 0–8 British Isles
Try: Bulger
Con: Byrne
Crusaders Ground, Port Elizabeth
Attendance: 7,500
Referee: HR Kemsley

British Isles: CA Boyd, LQ Bulger, JF Byrne, OG Mackie, R Johnston, M Mullineux, AM Magee, RC Mullins, AF Todd, W Mortimer, PF Hancock, WJ Carey, J Sealey, AD Clinch, TJ Crean capt.

South Africa: D Lyons, Percy Twentyman-Jones, Biddy Anderson, Ferdie Aston, E Olver, FR MyBurgh capt., Frank Guthrie, JJ Wessels, P Scott, PJ Meyer, M Bredenkamp, Frank Douglass, BH Heatlie, CG van Renen, HC Gorton

Second Test

22 August
South Africa 8–17 British Isles
Try: Samuels (2)
Con: Cope
Try: Crean
Con: Byrne (2)
Drop: Mackie
Wanderers Ground, Johannesburg
Attendance: 5,000
Referee: G Beves

British Isles: JT Magee, LQ Bulger, JF Byrne, OG Mackie, R Johnston, SP Bell, AM Magee, J Hammond capt., AF Todd, W Mortimer, PF Hancock, WJ Carey, J Sealey, AD Clinch, TJ Crean

South Africa: Davey Cope, Theo Samuels, HH Forbes, Ferdie Aston capt., Bill Taberer, A Larard, G St. L Devenish, JJ Wessels, P Scott, AM Beswick, Jim Crosby, Charlie Devenish, Tom Mellett, JB Andrew, CW Smith

Third Test

29 August
South Africa 3–9 British Isles
Try: Twentyman-Jones Try: Mackie
Con: Byrne
Drop: Byrne
Athletic Club, Kimberley
Attendance: 2,000
Referee: WM Bisset

British Isles: AWD Meares, LQ Bulger, JF Byrne, OG Mackie, R Johnston, SP Bell, AM Magee, RC Mullins, AF Todd, W Mortimer, PF Hancock, WJ Carey, J Sealey, AD Clinch, TJ Crean capt.

South Africa: Theo Samuels, Percy Twentyman-Jones, Biddy Anderson, Ferdie Aston capt., Albert Powell, Bill Cotty, Jackie Powell, JJ Wessels, P Scott, AM Beswick, M Bredenkamp, DJ Theunissen, EW Kelly, PJ Dormehl, CW Smith

Fourth Test

5 September
South Africa 5–0 British Isles
Try: Larard
Con: Hepburn
Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Attendance: 3,500
Referee: AR Richards

British Isles: AWD Meares, JT Magee, JF Byrne, OG Mackie, LQ Bulger, SP Bell, AM Magee, J Hammond, AF Todd, W Mortimer, PF Hancock, WJ Carey, J Sealey, AD Clinch, TJ Crean capt.

South Africa: Theo Samuels, Percy Twentyman-Jones, Biddy Anderson, Ferdie Aston, T Hepburn, A Larard, T Etlinger, HA Cloete, P Scott, AM Beswick, P De Waal, HD Van Brockhuizen, BH Heatlie capt., PJ Dormehl, CG Van Renen


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