Origins of Hockey in Sydney, and of our Club

Club archivist Brett Radcliffe and others have recently done a lot of work that sheds new light on the club’s history.

It shows that Sydney University hockey started in or before 1906. We had known the club existed in 1907 and suspected it played earlier, but now we know. This makes us the third oldest hockey club in Australia.

The report confirms that we are the only club (surviving or otherwise) that was involved in creating the first men’s and women’s hockey competitions in Sydney, and probably NSW.

Click here for the detailed report.

The highlights are:

  • the British Navy almost certainly brought the game here: the officers and sailors used to play hockey on ships at sea and in ports  (hockey, hurling and a Scottish game called Shinty were all pretty similar: the distinctive rules weren't set until 1886);
  • hockey was known in Sydney from at least 1880, but it was an entertainment or social game rather than an organised sport;
  • the first reported formal games in NSW were between crews of British navy ships, including one in Sydney in 1903;
  • the first reported formal game in Sydney outside the British Navy was also in 1903 by Cambridge School, a girl's school in Hunter's Hill;
  • the first ongoing clubs in Sydney were formed in 1905. Wandah Ladies Hockey Club was first, with a mixed team from Manly and a team called “Sydney Grammar School students (past and present)”;
  • the first men’s club was Corinthian, which played in 1906 but may have been formed in 1905;
  • Sydney University fielded  teams in 1906 as well, and the team may also have played in 1905;
  • the first known photo of a men's hockey game in Sydney is of Sydney Uni v Corinthian in 1906;
  • Sydney University was one of seven teams that formed the first men’s hockey association in Sydney in 1907;
  • Sydney University women were playing mixed hockey games in 1907;
  • Sydney University fielded a women’s team in 1908, and was involved in the creation of the first women’s hockey association in Sydney in 1908;
  • other than Sydney University, no club involved in the first years of the men’s or  women’s competitions in Sydney survived beyond the 1920s.

The 1905 Possibility

The team that was Sydney University in 1906 may have played in 1905, but called itself “Sydney Grammar School students (past and present)”. There may have been good reasons for this, but we need help to see if there is a link.The players recorded up to 1909 are listed below, along with other early teams linked to them. Does anyone have access to diaries or personal papers for these people?  Does anyone have old team lists?  Please send any information you might have to 

Sydney University AGP/Syd Univ teams+ Sydneians Sydney Grammar School
J Edwards 1907, 1908      
N Fitzhill 1908, 1909      
French 1907      
F Gaffney 1909      
Garnock 1907      
WE Giblin   1906    
G Hay 1907 1906    
PM Hinton 1908     Old boy
G Howatson 1907, 1908      
WK Inglis 1907, 1908,1909 1906 1907 1906 team
CH Kaeppel 1909   1907 Old boy
C Keith-Cohen 1909     Old boy
WAF Latimer 1909     Old boy
AS Lloyd 1908, 1909   1907 1906 team
C Manning 1907      
H Manning 1907, 1908 1906    
N Markwell 1907      
J McBryde 1908      
A Morrison 1907 1906    
JT Paton 1907, 1908,1909 1906    
NK Robertson 1907, 1908, 1909 1906 1907 1906 team
KMH Solomon 1909   1907 Old boy
LC Terry 1909*   1908  
ABS White 1908      

*Still playing in the 1912 Sydney University teams     + Uni and/or AG Purves teams

Hockey Starts in Sydney

An 1880 etching in the State Library confirms hockey was known in Sydney, but organised hockey was not played here until at least 1905. The attractions of Glebe Point on a Sunday morning in June 1904 were reported to be:

 “several football matches, a hockey match, and a fight, also service at the Chinese Joss House”.

Cambridge School in Hunters Hill played a hockey game in 1903, and the school continued to play for another 5 or 6 years.  Sydney’s first hockey club was the Wandah Ladies Hockey Club, which was organised in 1905. That year Wandah played matches (mixed) against a Navy team (the officers of HMS Euryalus), a mixed team from Manly and against students (past and present) of Sydney Grammar School (SGS). The girls’ team apparently had some advantages when playing men: boys complained they stopped the ball with their skirts.

Women’s hockey teams playing at Manly in 1905

A club called Corinthian is regarded as the first men’s team formed in Sydney. It was also formed in 1905. Based solely on a photo and caption from a 1905 newspaper Sydney may even have had a “Sydney team” that went to Melbourne, but there is no other  information to support this.

Sydney University Hockey Club Emerges

Sydney University’s hockey team started sometime between 1905, when Corinthian was formed, and May 1906, when it is first recorded as playing. The University team was identified in a range of ways around that time. It was called “Mr Purves’ team”, “an XI from the University” , “University” and “Mr Purves’ University team” Taken together, it was clearly a University team, and Mr AG Purves clearly organised it.

AG Purves (1874-1955) was a major figure in many Sydney University sports and in sports administration, as well as having long-standing family links to the University. Over the years he was also an office bearer and selector for the Sydney University Hockey Club as well as the Cricket Club.

The Sydney Mail of 20 June 1906 had a report on a Corinthians v University hockey match, as well as photo of the victors (Corinthians by 2-1) and a photo of the live action. This is likely to be the first photo of Sydney University Hockey Club - or any Sydney men’s hockey team – in action.

 The June 1906 newspaper action photo of a Sydney University hockey game

There are several reasons to think the team had been formed before the 1906 season. On Saturday 26 May 1906 the University XI beat the highly-rated Navy team, and this was the Navy team’s only loss for the year.  It also had an early-season draw with highly-rated Corinthians. Both results are highly unlikely for a team of beginners. In addition, in 1906 another previously unmentioned team was described as “new”, but not Sydney University. One possible explanation is that the team called the “SGS students (past and present)” in 1905 morphed into (or was really) the University team of 1906. We would welcome any information on this.

The First Men’s Hockey Association

In 1907 Sydney’s men’s hockey clubs joined to create the New South Wales Hockey Association. The clubs playing during 1907 were Balmain (did not play after 1907), Bandits (did not play after 1922), Barbarians (did not play after 1912), Corinthians (merged into Bohemians in 1922, who then folded before the 1923 season), Navy/Fleet (left town after the 1912 season), Hunters Hill (did not play after 1907), Sydneians (disbanded 1909: SGS Old Boys took the name in 1912 but disbanded in 1922), Pilgrims (last played in 1922, but had a 2nd grade cup named for them in 1929) and University (that’s us, still going strong).  A Corona Club began in 1908, and lasted a decade or so.

From 1908 to 1910 the grounds used included Rushcutters Bay Oval, Sydney Cricket Ground No. 2, Gladesville, Crescent Oval (Cook’s River, Marrickville), Luke’s Park (Burwood), Imperial Oval (also in Marrickville, we think), Hawkesbury Agricultural College Oval, Chatswood, Waverley Oval and Victoria Barracks. Issues mentioned in the match reports for the men’s hockey games through 1907 and 1908 included grounds, games starting late, too little stick skills, lack of umpires, potential need to pay umpires, lack of teamwork and the need for a dedicated hockey ground. In 1909 they also noted that a Veterans team would be formed because:

“(the game) is now played too strenuously for those men who are not as young as they were, and who through pressure of business and other reasons are unable to train regularly. It is expected that this club will afford such men an afternoon's amusement without about four days' stiffness and discomfort"

A century on, and so little has changed…

Sydney University’s First Women Players

Already in 1907 Sydney University students were playing a mixed match every week, but the university women (and no doubt others) still had some serious obstacles to deal with off the field. These games could not be held on the University grounds because it did not approve girls who:

 “played boys’ games in skirts that were shortened to six inches above the ground”. 

The University students were called “the Newtown tarts” for this; they lived in or near slummy Newtown, and had such short dresses. The fact that the Sydney University men and women players trained and played is supported by this 1908 photo that shows most of the Sydney University players from that year.

 Sydney University players in 1908. Jessie Lillingston (coach of the Women) is in the second row, on the left. Does anyone have other names?

Women’s hockey at Sydney University was catapulted forward from 1908 by Jessie Lillingston (1889-1970). Lillingston was the captain and coach of the first Sydney University Women’s team in 1908, and played until graduating in 1911.  She is often better recognised by her married name, Jessie Street. The “Newtown tarts” tag seems very harsh indeed when one considers that Jessie Street was to become a world-recognised peace activist and the wife, mother and even grandmother of a dynasty of  Chief Justices of New South Wales.

The First Women’s Hockey Association

Six women’s teams appear to have played in an informal competition in Sydney in 1907. They and others met to form a separate NSW Ladies Hockey Association on 26 March 1908. Jesse Lillingston attended the foundation meeting on behalf of Sydney University. The six teams from 1907 that were involved in forming the NSW Ladies Hockey Association were Cambridge School (played in 1908 and possibly 1909), Cooeyanna (played until 1915), Kumalong(played only in 1908), Manly (played until 1910), Valkyrie (ceased in 1921) and Wandah (folded in 1919). The four clubs joined them in forming the Association in 1908 were Bedford College (only played in 1908 and 1909), Fortians (presumably Fort Street Girls High School students, past and present) (played until 1915), Strathfield (played only in 1908 and 1909) and Sydney University – and we are still going over 100 years later.  We even won the top Sydney Women’s competition in 2012 and 2013.

Our role in the foundation of the NSW Ladies Hockey Association in 1908 means Sydney University was one the only club to field teams in the first organised hockey competitions men and for women in Sydney, and to be involved with both the men’s and the women’s associations in the first year of their inauguration.

When hockey competitions emerged in Sydney, Sydney University was the only club that was there in their inaugural years for both the men’s and the women’s competitions. Sadly, of all the clubs involved in the inauguration of either competition, only Sydney University Hockey Club has survived. Over a century later, Sydney University is still proudly fielding teams in Sydney’s Men’s and Women’s hockey competitions, as well as in Sydney’s more recent Juniors and Masters competitions.