Story: Sport and society

Page 3. Growth, 1860s and 1870s

All images & media in this story

Gold and commercialisation

The dramatic increase in population following the gold discoveries of the 1860s and the immigration schemes of the 1870s improved the level and regularity of participation, the variety of sports on offer and the commercial opportunities.

Athletics, cricket and horse racing in particular took root in the new goldfields towns, and cricket thrived with financial backing from publicans eager to attract clientele to their establishments. In 1862 Dunedin publicans organised billiards matches with as much as £500 at stake. A network of managers, agents and trainers emerged on the goldfields willing to assist, or exploit talented athletes trying to supplement their gold earnings.

Hotels were a common venue for teams to gather before and after games and for sporting bodies to hold committee meetings.

Gendered prizes

Most sporting competitions in the 1860s offered prizes, and some were very large. A quoits match was played in Queenstown in 1862 for £100 a side. However, at the Arrowtown Christmas sports event two years later, prizes ranged from £5 for wrestling to only £2 for the wheelbarrow race. The one women’s competition was the ladies 50 yard flat race. First prize was a silk dress, second prize a crinoline and third prize – kid gloves. Perhaps the lack of financial incentive explained why no women entered.

New venues

In 1864 Dunedin entrepreneur Shadrach Jones brought George Parr’s All England cricket team from Australia for matches against Canterbury and Otago in January. It was the first international contact for New Zealand sport, and in New Zealand it pioneered the idea of an enclosed ground to which spectators could be charged admission.

At the same time the elite Canterbury Jockey Club, established in 1854, erected a stone grandstand with seating for 400 on its course at Riccarton. Its premier event, the Canterbury Cup, offered a stake of £1,000 by 1866.

The middle class takes over

In cricket and horse racing, and to a lesser extent in rowing, the leading clubs now had continuity, with good facilities and sometimes very strict rules regarding members’ dress and conduct. They began to exert an influence over New Zealand sport, in the main towns at least, that was consistent with the ideals of the English middle class and the public school sporting tradition. They were less tolerant of the working-class sporting culture that had dominated the early 1860s, with its elements of gambling and professionalism.

Football takes hold

The 1860s saw the emergence of various football codes and eventually rugby union, which became the dominant winter sport in New Zealand by the end of the 19th century.

The earliest reference to football of any kind seems to be an informal game among children after a dinner for military pensioners in Auckland in October 1847. Football of some sort was also part of the anniversary celebrations in Christchurch as early as 1854.

Properly organised games did not appear until the early 1860s, at the same time as the diverse local codes in Britain were being refined as rugby and association football (soccer). Organised football, based on the rules of Radley School, which were closer in structure to soccer, was played at Christ’s College, Christchurch, in 1862. The Christchurch Football Club was formed in 1863.

The recently developed Melbourne game of Victorian (later ‘Australian’) rules football was introduced to the Otago and Thames goldfields by miners crossing the Tasman. It continued to enjoy some popularity in mining communities until the early 20th century. However, from 1870 it was overshadowed by the introduction of rugby to Nelson, then Wellington, and eventually much further afield with the 1875 tour of the Auckland provincial team throughout the colony.

How to cite this page:

Greg Ryan, 'Sport and society - Growth, 1860s and 1870s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/sport-and-society/page-3 (accessed 7 August 2020)

Story by Greg Ryan, published 5 Sep 2013