George Parr's Pioneers


If you’re a cricket nut – or a quiz fiend – you probably know already that the first ever international cricket match was staged in 1844…and was the USA v Canada!

What is possibly less well known is that fifteen years later, an England squad made the first overseas tour, and that, too, was to America and Canada.

When Jos Buttler leads his T20 team to this year’s World Cup, a landmark series with matches played in the West Indies and the USA – England are playing all their group games in the Caribbean – he will be following a path first opened up by a team lead by Nottinghamshire’s George Parr in 1859.

This year’s touring party will, we trust, have smooth and untroubled journeys and the best of accommodation and facilities – all a far cry from the rigours faced by Parr and his travel weary troop.

In the Wynne-Thomas Library we have a copy of Fred Lillywhite’s diary of that 1859 tour and it would make salutary reading for those modern players stressed by busy airports and crowded hotels.

Although impressed by some of the accommodation, Lillywhite describes a hazardous and uncomfortable trip by, at various times, steam ship, river boat, train, wagon and stagecoach - even on foot when the wagon  broke down!

His descriptions of the heavy seas on both the outward and return voyages and the ‘upset’ that it caused most of the touring party make unsettling reading...and life was not much easier when they entrusted themselves to local transport in Canada and the US.

At times the party had to walk behind the wagon that should have been carrying them because of the muddy and unmade roads, they slept in the lounge bar of one hotel because there were ‘no beds’ and had to regularly switch trains as each state had different gauges of railroad.

The major casualty of all this was not, in the end, one of Parr’s players but Fred Lillywhite’s printing press which he had supervised to each venue for the production of scorecards, pamphlets etc.  The device ‘went missing’ on the way to Buffalo and thus all the scorecards in our book are reproductions created back in England.

Those scorecards make interesting reading – particularly in the light of the spectacular start that the USA has made in the 2024 competition.  All the scheduled matches were between an England XI – made up of players from the All England XI and their rivals the United All-England XI – and the XXII of either America or Canada.

The visitors won all their game with some ease and on two occasions played ‘fill-up’ games in which the two English factions (AEE under Parr, UAEE under John Wisden) separated and were augmented by five or six players from the host countries.

Given that rains and winds have threatened the World Cup of the 21st C it is hardly surprising that much of Lillywhite’s diary notes are of the vagaries of the weather.  The risk of weather interruptions was greatly increased by the timing – the party did not leave Liverpool until the domestic cricket season was ended.

Thus they sailed out on 6 September and arrived with autumn in full force – they even had one game delayed by, and interrupted by, snow – leading George Parr to call for a ‘hot gin and water’!

In addition to Parr, Nottinghamshire cricket was well represented with John ‘Foghorn’ Jackson, Alfred ‘Ducky’ Diver, and Jemmy Grundy in the group. 

Lillywhite’s diary, in the edition we hold, has pen pictures of all the players (and of Fred himself) an introduction by Robin Marlar and a range of photographs and illustrations from the tour, as well as scorecards and details.

One cultural oddity (by today’s measures) is that Lillywhite takes as much space and as many words to describe the various official dinners and the attendant (and wearingly dull) toasts that were raised.  Given how many such toasts there were at each dinner, it’s a wonder the players could see to bat or bowl!

It will be interesting to look at the diaries and images from the 2024 venture and compare them to those of Fred Lillywhite, George Parr etc.


June 2024

A copy of The English Cricketers’ Trip to Canada and the United States in 1859 by Fred Lillywhite is in the Wynne-Thomas Library at Trent Bridge for researchers top study and for members to borrow.