The First Lions of Rugby - visit publisher's page to purchase
The First Lions of Rugby – visit publisher’s page to purchase

The first British Lions & their barnstorming Rugby & Aussie rules playing tour of Australia of 1888.

“…a rare sporting story that holds interest for fans of rugby and fans of Australian football.”
The Age, Melbourne

“Superbly written and brilliantly researched, ‘The First Lions of Rugby’ is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of rugby, rugby league and AFL. It is simply the best book about a football tour ever-written.”
Tony Collins, rugby codes author & historian


THE captivating story of the first British Lions and their history-making tour of Australia and New Zealand. An epic eight month, 54-games expedition of high drama and adventure in the era of Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne and Jack the Ripper.

The First Lions of RugbyUnsanctioned, organised by private speculators, the team assembled in the face of draconian rules against professionalism and zealous officials determined to throttle the playing career of anyone preparing to take part (and, in one cruel case, doing exactly that).

The tour and the treatment of the players, many of whom were from clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire, was the trigger that opened a rift so wide, that it led to the founding of rugby league.

Travelling by steam-powered ships and trains, horse-drawn carriages accompanied by brass bands and vast crowds, feted and banqueted at every turn; they were 22 young footballers who knew how to enjoy life, and who could handle a horse and shoot a rifle as well as they played rugby.

In often torrid battles they met the best rugby teams of NSW, Queensland and New Zealand. Claims the team were involved in match-fixing and excessive drinking were raised in newspapers.

They then turned their prodigious football talents to Australian Rules, taking on the top clubs of Melbourne & Adelaide (including five now AFL clubs), and stepping into the middle of a ‘code war’ for national ascendancy. Could they master the Australian game?

Amidst it all the first Lions were to suffer personal torment and sorrow. Two of the party later committed suicide, another died alone, a victim of alcoholism; sad postscripts in the wake of a shocking tragedy during the tour – so cataclysmic and so heartbreaking, it is a wonder the men could go on at all.

But they did…and in time gained pride of place as having been both trail-blazers and visionaries, a stoic lot who overcame adversity to lay down the foundation of a wonderful sporting tradition – the rare but special event of a British Lions tour.



Renowned rugby codes historian Sean Fagan tells a thrilling story in these pages – one that is based on hundreds of hours of research of archives in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain, during which he meticulously uncovered the lost tale of a band of rugby missionaries of so long ago.

“Fagan’s book sheds light on a fascinating and controversial tour. It is entertaining, beautifully written & meticulously researched. You certainly won’t be disappointed.”
Lesley Smith, ‘The Yorker’ (Journal of the Melbourne Cricket Club Library)

“This new, enthralling and most complete account of the first rugby tour of Australia by a British team will entrance and enthrall … A rattling good yarn.”
Spiro Zavos, The Sydney Morning Herald


The First Lions of Rugby by Sean Fagan.
Paperback 304 pages plus 8 pages of glossy b&w photos/drawings; match results table, post tour timeline 1888-1914; 1888-written guides to playing rules of rugby & Aust rules.
Published by Slattery Media 2013. ISBN 978-0-9875002-7-4. Order from book shops/websites in Australia.
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