Natives' Rugby Tour, 1888-89

Page 5 – The 'Noble Maori' arrive

Arrival in Britain

After playing nine matches in New Zealand and two in Melbourne in the southern winter of 1888 (just two were lost), the Natives set off for Britain by steamer. Their efforts to retain their fitness during the six-week voyage by shovelling coal and exercising on deck were thwarted by the complaints of other passengers, but they did take part in the first recorded rugby match in Egypt en route.

After disembarking at Tilbury, near London, on 27 September they prepared themselves as best they could for an expected 50 or 60 matches over the northern winter. The ‘noble Maori’ had arrived ‘to play an English game against English players’.

On 3 October, after performing a haka and wearing black uniforms, this team which had caused much curiosity efficiently defeated a scratch Surrey XV 4–1. But these ‘aboriginals’ were not as black as they had been painted by their promoter; even the full-blooded Māori members of the team could ‘only be said to be badly sunburned’.

These Natives played a British game in a ‘fair orthodox’ style. The savage New Zealander surveying the ruins of London in Thomas Macaulay’s famous essay had turned out to be a dutiful imperial citizen who attracted little or no attention off the field – except for one occasion when several of the team donned black masks at a railway station as a joke.