Charles Ollivierre - West Indian Cricketer
PUBLISHED: 16:44 25 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:15 20 February 2013
Peter Seddon recounts how a Victorian-age 'experiment' secured a lasting place in cricket history for the Derbyshire player Charles Ollivierre.
One hundred and ten years ago, in the summer of 1900, English cricket played host to what a sceptical sporting press described as a novel experiment. For the first time a cricket team representing the West Indies journeyed to play the noble game in the land that invented it.
That such a tour should be considered a curiosity seems today strangely out of step. Yet the stance was a mere symptom of the age. Queen Victorias glorious reign had yet to close. The British Empire retained its pre-eminence. The remote colonies, then a long sea voyage away, were imbued in the public mind with a primitive exoticism that most ordinary Englishmen neither understood nor had ever experienced. One newspaper conjectured that the visitors may wear very spare attire and play barefooted. Naturally the myths were soon exploded.
Yet for all the doubts the experiment proved a great success. Some spirited cricket was witnessed, official bridges built, and new friendships forged. Indeed that first visit of the West Indies touring side ultimately changed the face of English cricket in a sense literally.
And at the heart of it all was Charles Ollivierre (1876-1949). As a direct result of the tour he joined Derbyshire. In so doing he became the first black West Indian to play English county cricket. That broke an important barrier in sporting history, one that had great resonance for the future. Yet today Charles Ollivierre is largely forgotten all the better reason to recall his life afresh.
Charles Augustus Ollivierre was born on 20th July 1876 in Kingstown, St Vincent. It being only a small island, his opportunities to play in big cricket matches in the West Indies were limited. He made his first-class debut playing for the larger island of Trinidad at Port of Spain in March 1895. On that occasion an English touring side captained by Slade Lucas was unexpectedly defeated, and the 18-year old Ollivierre returned eyecatching bowling figures.
He continued to progress, and when the first West Indian touring side to England arrived on the RMS Trent in 1900, Ollivierre was an important member of the team. He was described in a pre-tour penpicture: A fine all-round cricketer, best as a bat, clean and neat style, with a good eye.
It proved an accurate description, for Ollivierre finished top of thetourists batting averages and also performed as a useful bowler and fielder. He certainly caught the eye, for at that time very few black players had been seen on an English cricket field. Even within the West Indies camp he was in a minority of the 15 touring players only 5 were men of colour. The rest were white West Indians born in the Caribbean mostly from colonial stock.
The tourists played some good cricket, but were also roundly defeated on more than a few occasions. When the West Indian side played against Derbyshire at the County Ground in July 1900, Ollivierre had quite an indifferent game scores of 3 and 23 not out in a routine draw but his reputation had sufficiently impressed the Derbyshire committee that they took the unprecedented step of inviting him to join the county ranks. Ollivierre agreed to the arrangement and stayed on in England when his colleagues sailed for home.
In order to play County Cricket for Derbyshire he was obliged to qualify through a two year residency. He took lodgings with a family in Glossop and played some games for Glossop Cricket Club in the Central Lancashire League. That opportunity came courtesy of the Derbyshire captain and sports-loving cotton magnate Samuel Wood (1872-1949), also so instrumental in the success at that time of Glossop football club, and later Chairman of a rather larger one, the mighty Arsenal.
During his spell with Glossop, Ollivierre also appeared in six friendly matches for Derbyshire. He was eventually able to make his Championship debut on 24th July 1902 against Essex at the County Ground. His scores of 20 and 0 did not unduly worry the visitors, but Essex would encounter Ollivierre again at what would become his finest hour.
He had more success in the next match against Hampshire, scoring 58 and 25. Later the same year he scored an impressive 167 against Warwickshire and ended his debut season with 524 runs at an average of almost 35. So despite scepticism that scratch or that the climate would be at odds with his temperament, Ollivierre had staked a good claim to make his stay in English cricket a permanent one.
He continued to play for Derbyshire until 1907 and was a regular member of the side. His most successful campaign was undoubtedly the 1904 season, when he scored 1,268 runs including a career high 229 not out. This score came in a remarkable match against Essex at Queens Park, Chesterfield, in July 1904.
The match was played in unusually high temperatures which sapped the strength of the bowlers. And the fast outfield and small boundary certainly favoured the batsmen. Nevertheless the scoring was prolific by any standards. In their first innings Essex amassed 597, their number three bat Percy Perrin notching a remarkable 343 not out. Derbyshire replied with a resilient 548, Ollivierre making a highly impressive 229 in an innings of brilliant aggression before being finally bowled. He returned to the Queens Park pavilion to what a newspaper report described as one of the greatest ovations ever given to a Derbyshire batsman.
Derbyshire now had their tails up. In the second innings, fired by the pace of Arnold Warren and Billy Bestwick, they bowled out Essex for only 97. They then knocked off the 149 runs which secured a famous victory. Ollivierre was again at the centre of things, this time making 92 not out ... and on his birthday too!
Derbyshire had won by nine wickets. The triumph was described in Wisden as the most phenomenal performance ever recorded in firstclass cricket for never before had a side won a county match after such a high first-innings total had been posted against them. The performance remains one of the most remarkable in cricket history not surprisingly it has been dubbed Ollivierres Match. Had Essex prevailed it would certainly have been Perrins Match.
That spectacle also gave rise to an amusing anecdote concerning Ollivierre. After a night celebrating his first innings he complained at the ground the next day of feeling a little unwell, observing to his captain that even the church steeple seems to be falling in on me. He had never really noticed the famous Crooked Spire before.
Charles Ollivierre played 110 first class matches for Derbyshire, scoring 4,670 runs at an average of 23.71. As a bowler he was less successful only ten wickets for 414 runs, an average of 41.4. Although it is sometimes stated that he was a professional, he in fact remained an unpaid amateur during his time with Derbyshire he took employment as both a clerk and a commercial traveller.
The permanency of his relationship to his adopted county was starkly illustrated when the West Indian touring side again visited England in 1906. Charles Ollivierre was unavailable because of his commitments with Derbyshire.
He retired from first-class cricket in 1907, eye trouble being cited as a contributory factor. For a number of years afterwards he played club cricket in Yorkshire, and continued to be active in the game into his sixties. Each year from 1924 to 1939 he visited Holland to coach the young in the art of cricket.
Charles Augustus Ollivierre is not thought to have married. He died in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, on 25th March 1949, aged 72, but is buried overlooking the sea in North Yorkshire. His gravestone at St Stephens Church, Fylingdales, is inscribed only to a dear friend. No mention is made of his cricket prowess and his birthplace is wrongly recorded as Jamaica. If only for what it doesnt say, it is a poignant memorial to a talented pioneer and one of Derbyshire crickets most intriguing talents.