How The Ashes Began As a Joke

Sunbury "Birthplace of the Ashes"
Sunbury “Birthplace of the Ashes”

The cricket season is on us again with the first international match being played tonight so although this is not an Ashes summer I wanted to write about a recent visit I paid to Sunbury, Victoria, “The Birthplace of the Ashes”. I know that some of the people who read this blog are not from cricket playing nations, or maybe are just not interested in cricket. I won’t judge them. I didn’t care for it myself until about 12 years ago. Anyway for those who already know all about it please bear with me while I attempt to explain how the Ashes began. It will be a lot easier than trying to explain the LBW rule which still baffles me. I mean, as far as I can see, LBW is a rule that says that a man is out because of something that might have happened had he not been standing where he was. But let’s not go there.

Ashes Urn 1921.jpg
Ashes Urn 1921” by Unknown – .Illustrated London News, January 29, 1921; page 132. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

It all began back in 1882. Queen Victoria was on the throne of England and the British Empire had spread to far distant parts of the world. This meant that England now had opponents to play cricket against.

The British Empire.png
The British Empire” by The Red Hat of Pat FerrickFile:BlankMap-World-large.png and own work by uploader. Composed from maps found in:
Brown, Judith (1998) The Twentieth Century, The Oxford History of the British Empire Volume IV, Oxford University Press ISBN: 0199246793.
Dalziel, Nigel (2006) The Penguin Historical Atlas of the British Empire, Penguin ISBN: 0141018445.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The match between England and Australia at The Oval in London was said to be one of the most exciting ever. After a poor start the tourists beat the home side by just 7 runs after fast bowler Fred Spofforth took 14 English wickets for 90 runs. The Australians had beaten one of the best English sides of the time and the hosts were demoralised. A few days later” The Sporting Times” published the following obituary.

In Affectionate Remembrance
E N G L I S H C R I C K E T,
which died at the Oval
29th A U G U S T, 1882
Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances
NB – The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.

Fast forward to a few months later when the English team under the same Captain, the Honourable Ivo Bligh, later Lord Darnley, paid a visit to Australia. Three official Test Matches were played in Melbourne and Sydney. As England won two of them pride was restored. The English side then went on to tour southern Australia while the Australian team went to England to play. After a match in Adelaide, which England won,  Bligh made a speech in which he said “I have come to retrieve the ashes of English cricket.” This was probably the first time the expression was used but it meant little at this stage.

The next match was against Victoria and was played on the grounds of Rupertswood, a fine mansion in Sunbury owned by Sir William Clarke (see, we are getting there) which is about 40km north-west of Melbourne.  During the team’s visit a group of women, including Florence Morphy who was Lady Clarke’s music teacher, jokingly presented Ivo Bligh with a small urn which was said to contain the ashes of the bails used in the match.

Rupertswood Mansion, Sunbury, Victoria
Rupertswood Mansion, Sunbury, Victoria

Florence Morphy married Ivo Bligh a year or so later and the small urn remained in the possession of the family until Lady Darnley donated it to the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London after her husband’s death.

I have included some links at the end of this post that go into a bit more detail.

Rupertswood  was sold in 1925 and again in 1926 eventually being bought by the Salesian Society for use as a boarding school in 1927. In recent times the mansion has been used as a function centre and it was possible to do a tour of it but recently the owners decided to use it as for administration offices and much of the historic furniture and fittings were sold at auction. I was disappointed to hear that as I would liked to have seen inside.

I did manage to see the outside of the mansion on my recent visit to Melbourne and as it happened a game of cricket was being played on the oval while we were there. My friend Bruce visited Rupertswood before the auction and took a lot of photos of the interior of the mansion. He has been kind enough to allow me to use some of them in this post. Thanks Bruce.

In the main part of Sunbury you can see some bronze busts of famous Test cricketers, W.G. Grace, Ivo Bligh, Donald Bradman and Dennis Lillee are all represented. At Melbourne’s MCC Museum which I will write more about in another post I talked to one of the old members who told me that until recent times touring English teams would often return to Rupertswood for a picnic match. The demands of modern cricket mean that his no longer happens. But at least I did see the birthplace of The Ashes.
Here are a selection of photos of Rupertswood by Bruce Laughton. The bronze busts in Sunbury town centre were photographed by me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rupertswood Oval
Rupertswood Oval

 References and Further Reading:


I was born in England in 1957 and lived there until our family came to Australia in 1966. I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia, where I met and married my husband, David. We came together over a mutual love of trains. Both of us worked for the railways for many years, his job was with Australian National Railways, while I spent 12 years working for the STA, later TransAdelaide the Adelaide city transit system. After leaving that job I worked in hospitality until 2008. We moved to Tasmania in 2002 to live in the beautiful Huon Valley. In 2015 David became ill and passed away in October of that year. I currently co-write two blogs on with my sister Naomi. Our doll blog "Dolls, Dolls, Dolls", and "Our Other Blog" which is about everything else but with a focus on photographs and places in Tasmania. In November 2019 I began a new life in the house that Naomi and I intend to make our retirement home at Sisters Beach in Tasmania's northwest. Currently we have five pets between us. Naomi's two dogs Toby and Teddy and cats, Tigerwoods and Panther and my cat Polly. My dog Cindy passed away aged 16 in April 2022.


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