1891 British Lions tour to South Africa
The British Isles team of 1891
Date9 July – 7 September
Coach(es)Edwin Ash
Tour captain(s)Scotland Bill Maclagan
Test series winnersBritish Isles (3–0)
Top test point scorer(s)England Arthur Rotherham (4)

The 1891 British Isles tour to South Africa was the first British Isles rugby union tour of South Africa and only the second overseas tour conducted by a joint British team. Between 9 July and 7 September, the team played 20 games, including three Tests against the South Africa national rugby union team. The British Isles not only won all three Test matches, but also won all 17 provincial games. Although not named as such at the time, the tour is retrospectively recognised as a British Lions tour.

Tour details

1891 British Lions tour to South Africa
20 20 00 00
 South Africa
3 3 0 0

After the South African Rugby Board was formed in 1889, the committee decided one of the best ways to promote the game was to invite a British side to visit, similar to the British Isles tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1888. In September 1890 the Rugby Football Union (RFU) discussed the proposed tour; in attendance was Mr J Richards of Cape Town, who, as an Old Leysian, had connections to the English game.[1] The tour was agreed, with Cecil Rhodes agreeing to guarantee any financial losses the tour may incur.[1]

The first overseas British tour of 1888, was not sanctioned by the RFU, and therefore is often not recognised as an official Lions tour, so the South African Tests were actually the first matches that allowed the British players to be awarded international caps.

Captained by Scottish international Bill Maclagan, the British team consisted of players from English and Scottish clubs with a heavy contingent of members from Cambridge University teams. Of the players roughly half were, or would win national caps, and the majority of those who did not were former Cambridge Blues.[2] Although containing four Scots, the fact that the tour was organised by the RFU, the team was initially recognised as an English team, but retrospectively gained its British Isles tag. The touring party had been selected by a committee composed of George Rowland Hill, the president of the RFU, R.S. Whalley, Harry Vassall, Arthur Budd and J.H.S. McArthur.[3]

The British team took in twenty matches, three of them tests against the South African team. The tourists won all twenty matches conceding just a single try, which was scored against them in the very first game. Although the Test top scorer for the tourists was Arthur Rotherham, mainly because a conversion at the time was worth twice as much as a try; the tour's outstanding scorer was Randolph Aston. At six-foot three, and weighing 15 stones, Aston played in all 20 matches and was the unstoppable try scorer of the tour. Out of the 89 tries scored by the British team, Aston scored 30 including the first try against the South African team in the first Test.[4]

The tourists played in red and white hooped shirts and dark blue shorts.[5][6]

Touring party


Complete list of matches played by the British Isles in South Africa:[7][8]

  Test matches

British Isles v Cape Colony, the first match of the tour
The South Africa team that played the second test v the British Isles
# Date Rival City Venue Score
1 9 Jul Cape Town Cape Town 15–1
2 11 Jul Western Province Cape Town 6–0
3 13 Jul Cape Colony Cape Town 14–0
4 18 Jul Kimberley Kimberley 7–0
5 20 Jul Griqualand West Kimberley 3–0
6 25 Jul Port Elizabeth Port Elizabeth 22–0
7 28 Jul Eastern Province Port Elizabeth 21–0
8 30 Jul  South Africa Port Elizabeth Crusaders Ground 4–0
9 1 Aug Grahamstown Grahamstown 9–0
10 4 Aug King William's Town King William's Town 18–0
11 6 Aug King William's Town & District King William's Town 16–0
12 11 Aug Pietermaritzburg Pietermaritzburg 25–0
13 15 Aug Transvaal Johannesburg 22–0
14 19 Aug Johannesburg Johannesburg 15–0
15 22 Aug Transvaal Johannesburg 9–0
16 26 Aug Cape Colony Kimberley 4–0
17 29 Aug  South Africa Kimberley Eclectic Cricket Ground 3–0
18 3 Sep Cape Colony Cape Town 7–0
19 5 Sep  South Africa Cape Town Newlands Stadium 4–0
20 7 Sep Stellenbosch Stellenbosch 2–0
Pl W D L Ps Pc
20 20 0 0 226 1

Match details

First test

30 July
South Africa 0–4United Kingdom British Isles
Try: Aston, Whittaker
Con: Rotherham
Crusaders Ground, Port Elizabeth
Attendance: 6,000
Referee: J Griffin

Second test

29 August
South Africa 0–3United Kingdom British Isles
Pen: Mitchell
Eclectic Cricket Ground, Kimberley
Attendance: 3,000
Referee: P Ross Frames

Third test

5 September
South Africa 0–4United Kingdom British Isles
Try: Aston, Maclagan
Con: Rotherham
Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Attendance: 3,000
Referee: HH Castens



  1. ^ a b Griffiths (1987), pg 6:3.
  2. ^ Griffiths (1987), pg 9:3.
  3. ^ Parker (1970) pp. 12–13
  4. ^ IRB Hall of Fame, 2009 Nominees Archived 24 July 2008 at the Wayback MachineIRB.com. Accessed 3 May 2009. 2009-05-05.
  5. ^ Lions name is a source of great pride The Times 19 June 2009
  6. ^ Lions change their stripes on Lions website, 17 Apr 2005
  7. ^ British & Irish Lions results on Rugby Football History
  8. ^ Early Lions: Squads and results (1888–1938) on BBC Sport, 18 May 2005