Recollections of cricket, by P.J. Myer
A Review by David Liverman
Originally contributed to the Canadian Cricketer
For several years my cricket reading has been restricted to the “Canadian Cricketer”, and books borrowed from my father’s extensive library back in England. The local library for some years possessed a single book, Alan Ross’s anthology. Whilst searching Memorial University’s library catalogue recently (for other purposes) I decided to experiment and type in “cricket” as a search term in the database. Much to my astonishment, the library computer listed over fifty titles, including a single entry for cricket in Newfoundland, “Recollections of cricket”, by P.J. Myer, published in 1915. I recently had the opportunity to examine this small leather bound book in the Rare Book room at Memorial University.
Myer was active in cricket from the 1880’s onwards, both as a player, and later, after being struck by ill-health, an umpire and organizer. The book consists of reminiscences of the clubs and players involved in the game in its hey-day between 1880 and 1910, with some additional observations on cricket as whole, particularly W.G. Grace, obviously a hero of Myer’s. The main grounds were at Pleasantville, and the Parade Ground. The ground at Pleasantville is easy to locate now, likely on one of the few large flat areas in St. John’s, next to Quidi Vidi Lake. It is currently the site of several softball fields, and is some distance from the centre of St. John’s. Myer talks about the expense of having to hire a carter to take a tent out for the games, and suggested poor crowds were due to the distance that spectators had to walk to Pleasantville. The Parade Ground is harder to locate without more detailed research. It was close to town, and the lack of flat ground throughout St. John’s narrows the possibilities. I suspect that it lay close to Fort Townsend, where these days Parade Street is found. Myer recalls the difficulty of finding a spot to practice at The Parade Ground, as much of it sloped steeply.
The season ran from June through to August, and the games were played on turf wickets for the most part. Myer talks about a few games at St. George’s field where matting had to be used because of the poor condition of the field. Up to 1891, matches were played on a challenge basis between such teams as the Zulus, the Mechanics, the Shamrock Club, the Terra Novas and others. In 1891 Myers and other formed a league that took responsibility for arranging matches. At this point the boundary was introduced (against some opposition). Arguments for the boundary were that spectators had been interfering with the fielders, but the size of the playing grounds meant that some thought that the boundaries were unreasonably short (still true in the modern gamehow many boundaries would actually result in an all run four?). The league existed for probably about 10 years (Myers is a little vague about dates). In 1892, no champion was decided, due to the great fire that devastated St. John’s (and destroyed most earlier records of cricket; Myer lost WG’s autograph in the fire). At some point, the Feildians (former pupils of Bishop Feild school) came into the league. The Feildans Association still runs soccer and baseball teams, the only team that appears to have continued in some form. Around this time, J.S. Munn was playing in the city. Munn was likely Newfoundland’s only first class cricketer, winning his blue at Oxford as a stylish bat, and excellent bowler. Meyer recalls a few visiting teams, with regular matches against teams from Harbour Grace (across conception Bay) where several teams played, A Wanderers team from Halifax in 1898, the Zingara Club from Boston in 1900, and frequent games against teams formed from visiting Navy ships. In one of these games what appears to be the Newfoundland record score of 108 was made by a Lt. Rowe, playing for H.M.S. Pelican against the Nondescripts.
By the 20th century, the game was in serious decline. J.S. Munn chaired a committee to revive the game, and recommended that $4000 was required to secure a ground, and maintain it. Only $1200 was raised or promised, and nothing came of this. Myer speculates on the reasons for the game’s decline. He suggests the distance of the main Pleasantville ground meant that spectators came to prefer to watch soccer played near to the city. He also says that cricket “was not always played as it should have been”, referring to an increase in gamesmanship, and unfair play. He felt that this led to younger players not being brought into the game. Interestingly the climate is never looked upon as a problem, despite Newfoundland’s short and cool summers. However, the presence of soccer as a summer sport definitely had an effect, and soccer has survived to the present day as a major sport in St. John’s.
In his introduction Myer wrote
“For a long time I have felt as cricket seemed to be going on to a permanent decline, it would be a good thing before this generation would have passed to have a short history of local cricket collected in book form when it would the better stand a chance of being handed down to a future generation which some day may revive the game of games in St. John’s. ”
Myer was certainly correct in his belief. Cricket’s decline in Newfoundland has never been reversed, lingering in the schools to the 1930’s, and only sporadically revived through scratch teams of overseas students and recent immigrants subsequently.