Jack Marsh

Jack Marsh was born at Yulgilbar on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales around 1874. His initial sporting talent was in professional athletics. In 1894 it was reported that he ran the hundred yards in 9.8 seconds, equalling the world record and becoming the fastest man in Australia. Three years later a cricket official saw him throwing a boomerang at La Perouse and recruited him as a fast bowler.

Jach Marsh posed in cricket attireMarsh became a first-class cricketer who represented New South Wales in six Sheffield Shield matches from 1900–01 to 1902–03 and was considered one of the fastest bowlers of his time. When he played for a Colts XV against the New South Wales state team in a trial match in 1900, he took the wickets of Test players Victor Trumper (for one run), Frank Iredale, Monty Noble and Syd Gregory and of future Test player, Bert Hopkins on the first day. He made his first class debut in December 1900 when he was selected for the NSW team to play South Australia at Adelaide Oval. In a high scoring match, he took 5/181, all clean bowled.

However, almost from the beginning of his cricket career, his bowling action was a source of controversy. He was no-balled multiple times for throwing by some (but certainly not all) umpires. In Marsh’s fourth Sheffield Shield game on Australia Day 1901, Victoria’s Bob Crockett called Marsh 17 times for throwing in Victoria’s first innings – still a record for a single first class innings in Australia. Crockett was widely criticised by the then highly critical press, because umpire Sammy Jones, who officiated at the other end, did not once ‘call’ Marsh. Several press critics pointed out that Crockett was a full-time employee of the Melbourne Cricket Club, which organised English tours of Australia and may well have been bowing to strong English pressure to stamp out ‘chuckers’.

While there were calls for Marsh to be selected to play for Australia, Monty Noble, the New South Wales selector refused citing his controversial action. His first-class career amounted to just six matches in which he took 34 wickets for 21.47.

Historical research since the mid 1980s makes a strong case that his race was a significant factor in his exclusion from national and state representation. Les Poidevin, who batted for both NSW and Lancashire commented that he would not be picked for Australia ’because the absurd white Australia policy has touched or tainted the hearts of the rulers of cricket, as it has the political rulers’. The legendary batsman and Australian captain Warren Bardsley went on record as saying he rated Marsh the equal of great fast bowlers Fred Spofforth and Sydney Barnes, and demanded that he be quoted as saying the only reason Marsh was kept out of Test cricket….’was his colour.’

Marsh played out his cricketing days in the Sydney grade competition, topping the bowling averages from 1901 to 1904. His cricket career ended in 1905 and he returned to professional athletics. Well past his prime, he mainly competed in exhibitions and then travelled around Victoria and South Australia giving exhibitions of boomerang throwing and bowling under the Big Top. By this time he had become a heavy drinker and in 1909 was jailed for 14 days in Melbourne for assault.

 

Further information about Jack Marsh

Bonnell, M 2003, How Many More are Coming: The Short Life of Jack Marsh, Petersham: Walla Walla Press.

Derriman, P 1985, ‘Death in Orange', The Sydney Morning Herald: Good Weekend, 12 Jan 1985, p 23.

Tatz, C 1987, ‘Aborigines in Sport’, The Australian Society For Sports History, The ASSH Studies in Sport – Number 3, Flinders University.

Whimpress, B 1999, Passport to Nowhere, Petersham: Walla Walla Press.