Ranji Wilson Great War Story

'Ranji' Wilson was an All Black between 1908 and 1914. The only New Zealander of West Indian heritage to have played for the All Blacks, he was dropped from the New Zealand Army team's 1919 tour of South Africa on racial grounds.

'Ranji' Wilson

Nathaniel Arthur Wilson was born in Christchurch in 1886 to an English mother and Barbadian father. After moving to the capital he played senior club cricket for Wellington from the age of 16. He was nicknamed ‘Ranji’ after the greatest batsman of the era, Ranjitsinhji, an aristocratic Indian who played 15 tests for England.

New Zealand’s ‘Ranji’ continued to play cricket, but as he matured physically he won greater renown as a dynamic Athletic club loose forward. He was selected for Wellington B in 1906 and for the North Island the following year – before he had been picked for his province’s rep team. He played the first of his 10 tests against the Anglo-Welsh at Dunedin in 1908 and was to become the best New Zealand loose forward of his era.

Ranji Wilson was acquitted of breaking the jaw of a rival player in a club match in 1910 – he and his two brothers looked too much alike, according to confused eyewitnesss. He captained the Wellington team which won the Ranfurly Shield from Taranaki in September 1914.

Ranji Wilson served in France in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and was promoted to sergeant. He suffered from trench foot in 1917 and was wounded at the Battle of Havrincourt in September 1918. Despite these setbacks, he played regularly for New Zealand Division and NZEF (UK) teams in the later stages of the war, and starred in the New Zealand Army XV which won the 1919 King’s Cup tournament against other British and Empire representative teams.

Although Wilson had played against South African Forces in the King’s Cup, he was left out of the New Zealand Army team which toured South Africa in mid-1919 after the host union requested that no Māori be included. Injury forced him to hang up his boots in 1921, but he remained involved with rugby as coach and later president of the Athletic club. He also had stints as a Wellington and New Zealand selector. Ranji Wilson died in 1953. 

Primary Sources

  • 'It Is A Crime - Sequel To A Football Match Incident', Evening Post, 22 November 1910 (PapersPast)
  • 'Not Guilty - The Football Assault Case', Evening Post, 23 November 1910 (PapersPast)
  • 'Springboks' Tour - Decision of Maoris', New Zealand Herald, 2 September 1936 (PapersPast)

Further Information

Community contributions

3 comments have been posted about Ranji Wilson Great War Story

What do you know?

Kate Stalker

Posted: 03 Jul 2019

I was one generation too far removed in my last comment. He was my Mother's Grandfather

Kate Stalker

Posted: 03 Jul 2019

Interesting fact; Rangi is the Great Grandfather of NZ singer, Beaver. I am her daughter and Ranji's Great Great Granddaughter 😊