Founding a football club in a country town in colonial times was difficult enough, finding another team to play against was often near impossible.

'Day boys' at Samuel Harborne Belcher's school for gentlemen's sons, Garroorigang, New South Wales, ca. 1875 [National Library of Australia]
‘Day boys’ at Samuel Harborne Belcher’s school for gentlemen’s sons, Garroorigang, Goulburn, ca. 1875 [National Library of Australia]
Former Sydney University FC captain Valentine Blomfield Riley moved to Goulburn in 1872, to start working with his father as land surveyors in the rapidly growing inland NSW town and surrounding sheep-grazing holds.

After Riley again captained the University in a match against Wallaroo in Sydney in June 1872, he returned to Goulburn set upon the idea of not going without his winter football fun. The Goulburn Herald wrote in 1874: “When he [Riley] came to Goulburn he felt determined to establish a club, and after much talk had done so.”

Others before Riley had tried but failed to get the game going. The Goulburn Herald (22 July 1865) stated “A foot-ball club is in the course of formation in Goulburn.” There is however no evidence this club of 1865 ever took to the playing field, nor any other in the years that followed until Riley’s arrival.

The Goulburn FC had been formed “by eight gentlemen” on 22 July 1872 at a meeting held over drinks at “Mr. Payten’s Hotel” (the Commercial Hotel that stood on corner of Sloane and Market Streets, overlooking the railway yards and Belmore Square). The energetic Riley took on the roles of club secretary, team captain and chief organiser.

With this all pre-dating the formation of the NSWRU (1874), and with Riley’s influence, it is no surprise that the Goulburn club adopted the football rules and all white strip of the Sydney University FC (“decided that the uniform should consist of a white jersey, white flannel trousers, blue cap, and a leather belt.)”

Within a week the club had increased to 20 members, goal posts were erected “on the Goulburn racetrack in Blackshaw’s paddock”, and the “opening game” held on 3 August 1872. The club’s May 1873 annual report though says of its first season: “While several meetings were held for practice, no matches were played.” 

As many football clubs in this era found, enthusiasm for in-house games, where the club members were divided into two teams, quickly became decidedly pallid. In readiness for the 1873 season, the Goulburn club began the hunt for an ‘outside’ opponent.   

While from 1874 onwards the Goulburnites made productive use of the new Sydney-Goulburn railway line to establish Rugby-fame on Moore Park and Parramatta Park, as particularly formidable foes to the best sides of the colony, including the University, Wallaroo and Balmain, the first entry in the club’s record of matches was a far more humble contest.

Held on 13th June 1873, the Goulburn club played a team from the nearby “Garroorigang school for gentlemen’s sons”. This contest remains the first known Rugby match in Australia between two clubs/schools outside of Sydney. (The Maitland ‘Albions’, also founded in 1872, did not play a game against external opponents until 1875. The other early clubs at Bathurst and Mudgee were not established until 1874.)

A former inn and homestead located just over 2kms from Goulburn, ‘Garroorigang‘ had been converted in 1868 into a boarding school (and day students) by Yorkshire-born Samuel Harborne Belcher. A graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, he had for some years held a mastership in Clifton College, Bristol, then migrated to Australia.

Fond of his sports, particularly cricket at which he had excelled in England and for NSW (he purportedly possessed a letter written by W.G. Grace, asking “Have you forgotten, that it was you who taught us all cricket?”), Belcher had been in attendance at the football club’s second meeting in late July 1872, where he “invited the members of the Goulburn Football Club to take part in the opening match of the Garroorigang Club,” to be played a few days later. How much earlier than 1872 the school-boys had been playing football games amongst themselves is not known, but it is clear Belcher was strongly encouraging, as at Clifton, the playing of cricket and Rugby.

The Garroorigang school class of 1871 - student ages range from small boys to young adults.
The Garroorigang school class of 1871 – student ages range from small boys to young adults. [Image courtesy Garroorigang Historic Home]
The school team for the June 1873 match against Goulburn was captained by W. Southey, who in all likelihood was a master or teacher, and a former player with Sydney’s Wallaroo club, including playing in their game against the Riley-led University team in 1872. Southey appears to have arrived at Garroorigang in early 1873, played in a cricket match in Sydney for the school against King’s School, and soon joined the Goulburn FC. In May 1873 he and Riley were opposing captains for an in-house club game played by the Goulburns at “Victoria Recreation Ground”.

11 June, 1873. The Goulburn Herald and Chronicle
To those in Goulburn who take an interest in athletics it will be well worth while to visit the recreation ground at four o’clock this afternoon to witness this — the first match in the southern district. As far as I am able to judge, the chances of victory are divided pretty equally between the two teams. The Goulburn [club], as a whole, is very fair; most of the players are good, strong, and active; they will feel somewhat the want of not having practised together, but whatever advantage superior weight gives will be theirs. The Garroorigang I should speak of as “light weights”; but whatever they lack in weight will be made up to them by their school training. From what I have seen of them, between their own goals, I should say they will be no mean foe, and under their present leader will take a good deal of beating. I understand that both gates at the ground will be opened; and it is to be hoped that a good number of visitors will avail themselves of this opportunity of witnessing the game, and of showing by their presence their support of football in Goulburn.

At the last minute the game was put off until two days later, and moved to the Garroorigang’s school grounds.

Garroorigang in the 19th century. [Image courtesy Garroorigang Historic Home]
Garroorigang in the 19th century. [Image courtesy Garroorigang Historic Home]
Though the field and goals were far more rustic, the playing numbers greatly reduced, and the background the dry Australian grasslands instead of green English fields, the setting and events of the football contest at Garroorigang (The Goulburn Herald, 20 June 1873) are not too different to that of the famous school-house match at Rugby School in Tom Brown’s Schooldays (Thomas Hughes, published 1857).

The match would be decided as “best of three goals”, tries didn’t count for points, the captains provided the officiating, and there was no whistle used or touch judges.

The afternoon was cloudy; but there was neither wind nor rain to in interfere with the play, which was commenced soon after 4.30 p.m. The Goulburn team was captained by Mr. V. B. Riley, and the Garroorigang by Mr. Southey. The toss for choice of goal having been won by the latter, he elected to defend the upper one, and thus gained for his side the advantage of the slope in the ground.

The Goulburn team played with short numbers throughout the games. At the commencement they numbered (together with three school juniors for goal-keepers [fullbacks]) eleven; and a little later two more players arrived. The school team numbered fifteen.

Kick-off was taken by Mr. A. Phillips. The Goulburn team took advantage of it and got well forward into the field; and by their greater weight and, we are bound to add, by their very excellent play managed to keep the ball hanging about the school goal. The boys are fighting hard and disputing the ground very well. Messrs. Southey, Rouse, Mansfield, and Rogers are doing good service for their side, and every now and then drop [-kick] the ball towards the Goulburn “half backs”. Here we see Mr. Dickson playing well and driving the ball well back whence it came.

Amongst the Goulburn “forwards” Messrs. Phillips, McKay. Massy, and Gillespie are working well, and a drop-kick from the latter is nearly being fatal; but the ball veers round and falls outside the goal. After “kick-out” [drop out] the school play well up; and Mr. Southey keeping the ball well under his feet, gets it down past the Goulburn line; but the youngsters promptly touch it down [in goal]. No time is lost, and the ball is sent away again. At this stage of the game we see a fine kick from Donaldson [Goulburn]; but the ball falls short of the bar by a few feet. Now Messrs. Cox and Gilchrist do good service and send it away again.

Shortly after this, Hudson, after some smart play and a struggle with the school goal-keeper, secures a touch-down [try] for his side [Goulburn]. The ball is carried out by Donaldson [for a conversion] and the kick taken by Riley; but the try results in a “poster” only [no goal].

After “kick-out” the school play up well and get the ball down to the Goulburn line; but the goal-keepers play it away to the sides [touchline]. Then comes a run from Riley, who is soon collared by Johnson; and while a maul is taking place, Stack takes the ball on; but the school are all there, and after a struggle calls it down [for a scrummage]. Next comes a good run from Terry; and so the game proceeds – at one time the school and at another Goulburn gaining an advantage. We notice a good lift [drop kick] from Mr. Southey down near the Goulburn line; but the ball falls a little away from the goal.

After the game had proceeded for about an hour it began to get too dark to proceed, and so the ball was held [game ended]. It is impossible for us to watch and chronicle every delicate stroke of play; but we consider that both sides played very well. The Goulburn team had slightly the best of it, and it is to be hoped that this match will lead to several more in Goulburn.

After the usual cheers for the teams and the captains, the players dispersed to their homes, and as they want, no doubt fought their battles o’er again. The principal spectators were the boys who were not chosen to play, and those amused themselves by cheering on their own companions or chaffing the Goulburn players.

Belcher closed Garroorigang as a school in 1883, though he continued to reside there with his family until passing away in 1920. Garroorigang is today included in the Register of the National Estate as a site of national significance, and open to visitors [link]. Photographs of several of the schoolboys who played in the 1873 football match can be seen in the schoolroom at Garroorigang. The boy “Massy” mentioned in the match description was Hugh Massie, who later played Test cricket for Australia against England.

The Goulburn Rugby Club celebrated 140 years anniversary in 2012. The Goulburn Post writing:

Admittedly rugby in Goulburn has faced its challenges. While the Dirty Reds tomorrow celebrate their 140th year in existence, the club has undergone its fair share of hiatuses. Two World Wars, plus lean years of interest, means, in a pure mathematical sense, rugby has been a feature in Goulburn for 110 – thereabouts – of those 140 years. But with every setback comes a rally…May the club be a pillar of the community for another 140 years to come.

© Sean Fagan