1896 British Lions tour
to South Africa
British Lions 1896.jpeg
The Touring team
Date1 July – 5 September
Coach(es)Roger Walker
Tour captain(s)England Johnny Hammond
Test series winnersBritish Lions (1–3)
Top test point scorer(s)England J.F. Byrne (12)

1896 British Isles tour to South Africa was a rugby union tour undertaken by the British Isles, one of the first British and Irish Lions tours. The team toured South Africa for the second time in 1896. Between 11 July and 5 September, they played 21 games, including four tests against South Africa. The British Isles XV won the Test series 3–1 and completed the 17-game provincial program unbeaten, scoring 204 points and conceding just 45 in all matches.

Tour overview

1896 British Lions tour to South Africa
21 20 00 01
 South Africa
4 3 0 1
Team kit

The squad had experience on their side in the shape of two veterans of the 1891 campaign, the captain Johnny Hammond and fellow forward Froude Hancock.[1] For the first time the squad also included a notable Irish contingent. Nine Irishmen were included in the touring party of 21. These included Thomas Crean, Larry Bulger, Jim Sealy, Andrew Clinch and Louis Magee, all of whom had just helped Ireland win the 1896 Home Nations Championship.[2]

Robert Johnston had won two caps for Ireland in 1893. The other three – Arthur Meares, Cecil Boyd and James Magee, the brother of Louis – had not yet been capped by Ireland at the time of this tour. Crean and the Magee brothers were amongst the few Catholics in the touring party and on the Sunday after they arrived, they begged to be excused from joining an excursion to Hout Bay. On being pressed for a reason for such a refusal, they shyly admitted that they had been three Sundays on board ship, without Mass, and they would like to attend church. The management committee replied that they could all go to their various churches if they pleased, and that the excursions would start afterwards.[3][4]

The South African team that won the Fourth Test, the very first international rugby victory for the country
The South African team that won the Fourth Test, the very first international rugby victory for the country

Hammond's squad was considered to have an outstanding pack but be comparatively weak in the three-quarter line. Louis Magee and England full-back Fred Byrne were the stars of the backline, but it was a forward eight inspired by Tom Crean that laid the foundations for the team's success.[1] Hammond, was injured early in the tour and it was Crean who took over the role in his absence. The team's only draw came in an early game against Western Province. Before the game, the new Prime Minister of the colony, Sir Gordon Sprigg, insisted on entertaining the tour party in the grand manner of his predecessor, Cecil Rhodes. Crean, captain for the day, sensing a ruse, sternly warned his players to limit their lunchtime consumption to just four tumblers of champagne, but it would appear some lost count. They escaped with a lucky 0–0 draw, but in a later game a much more sober team avenged the result 32–0, their biggest win of the tour.[5] Facing a South Africa side captained by Ferdie Aston, brother of Randolph Aston, a member of the 1891 British team, the tourists dominated at forward throughout but could only score two tries in an 8–0 win. South Africa scored their first tries in international rugby in the second Test but still went down 17–8. In the third, the hosts actually led but were overhauled to go down 9–3, with Byrne kicking a conversion and a drop goal to set a record. He remained the only player to score 100 points while on tour in South Africa until 1960 when Don Clarke of New Zealand beat his record. South Africa improved, however, and won the final test 5–0 at Newlands. It was the previously flawless Byrne who lost possession to spark the attack from which Alf Larard scored the game's only try.[1][6]

When the tour ended, both Crean and Johnston remained in South Africa. During the Second Boer War they both served with the Imperial Light Horse and were both subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross.[7] One member of the Lions squad, Cuth Mullins, was a South African who was studying at the University of Oxford. His brother, Charles Herbert Mullins, also won a VC during the same engagement as Johnston. The fly half, Rev. Matthew Mullineux, was awarded the Military Cross in the First World War while another member of squad Walter Carey became the Archbishop of Bloemfontein;[8] both men became Military Chaplains for the British Navy.

As on the previous tour in 1891, the tourists played in red and white hooped shirts and dark blue shorts.[9]

Touring party

Match summary

Complete list of matches played by the Lions in South Africa:[10]

  Test matches

# Date Rival City Score
1 11 Jul Cape Town Clubs Cape Town 14–9
2 13 Jul Suburban Clubs Cape Town 8–0
3 15 Jul Western Province Cape Town 0–0
4 18 Jul Griqualand West Kimberley 11–9
5 22 Jul Griqualand West Kimberley 16–0
6 25 Jul Port Elizabeth Port Elizabeth 26–3
7 28 Jul Eastern Province Port Elizabeth 18–0
8 30 July  South Africa Port Elizabeth 8–0
9 1 Aug Grahamstown Grahamstown 20–0
10 4 Aug King Williams Town King William's Town 25–0
11 6 Aug East London East London 27–0
12 8 Aug Queenstown Queenstown 25–0
13 12 Aug Johannesburg–Country Johannesburg 7–0
14 15 Aug Transvaal Johannesburg 16–3
15 17 Aug Johannesburg–Town Johannesburg 18–0
16 19 Aug Transvaal Johannesburg 16–5
17 22 Aug  South Africa Johannesburg 17–8
18 26 Aug Cape Colony Kimberley 7–0
19 29 Aug  South Africa Kimberley 9–3
20 3 Sep Western Province Cape Town 32–0
21 5 Sep  South Africa Cape Town 0–5
Pl W D L Ps Pc
21 19 1 1 320 45

The matches

First Test

30 July
South Africa 0–8United Kingdom British Isles
Try: Bulger
Con: Byrne
Crusaders Ground, Port Elizabeth
Attendance: 7,500
Referee: HR Kemsley

British Isles: CA Boyd, LQ Bulger, JF Byrne, OG Mackie, R Johnston, M Mullineux, AM Magee, RC Mullins, AF Todd, W Mortimer, PF Hancock, WJ Carey, J Sealy, AD Clinch, TJ Crean capt.

South Africa: D Lyons, Percy Twentyman-Jones, Biddy Anderson, Ferdie Aston, E Olver, FR MyBurgh capt., Frank Guthrie, JJ Wessels, P Scott, PJ Meyer, M Bredenkamp, Frank Douglass, BH Heatlie, CG van Renen, HC Gorton

Second Test

22 August
South Africa 8–17United Kingdom British Isles
Try: Samuels (2)
Con: Cope
Try: Crean
Con: Byrne (2)
Drop: Mackie
Wanderers Ground, Johannesburg
Attendance: 5,000
Referee: G Beves

British Isles: JT Magee, LQ Bulger, JF Byrne, OG Mackie, R Johnston, SP Bell, AM Magee, J Hammond capt., AF Todd, W Mortimer, PF Hancock, WJ Carey, J Sealy, AD Clinch, TJ Crean

South Africa: Davey Cope, Theo Samuels, HH Forbes, Ferdie Aston capt., Bill Taberer, A Larard, G St. L Devenish, JJ Wessels, P Scott, AM Beswick, Jim Crosby, Charlie Devenish, Tom Mellett, JB Andrew, CW Smith

Third Test

29 August
South Africa 3–9United Kingdom British Isles
Try: Twentyman-JonesTry: Mackie
Con: Byrne
Drop: Byrne
Athletic Club, Kimberley
Attendance: 2,000
Referee: WM Bisset

British Isles: AWD Meares, LQ Bulger, JF Byrne, OG Mackie, R Johnston, SP Bell, AM Magee, RC Mullins, AF Todd, W Mortimer, PF Hancock, WJ Carey, J Sealy, AD Clinch, TJ Crean capt.

South Africa: Theo Samuels, Percy Twentyman-Jones, Biddy Anderson, Ferdie Aston capt., Albert Powell, Bill Cotty, Jackie Powell, JJ Wessels, P Scott, AM Beswick, M Bredenkamp, DJ Theunissen, EW Kelly, PJ Dormehl, CW Smith

Fourth Test

5 September
South Africa 5–0United Kingdom British Isles
Try: Larard
Con: Hepburn
Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
Attendance: 3,500
Referee: AR Richards

British Isles: AWD Meares, JT Magee, JF Byrne, OG Mackie, LQ Bulger, SP Bell, AM Magee, J Hammond, AF Todd, W Mortimer, PF Hancock, WJ Carey, J Sealy, AD Clinch, TJ Crean capt.

South Africa: Theo Samuels, Percy Twentyman-Jones, Biddy Anderson, Ferdie Aston, T Hepburn, A Larard, T Etlinger, HA Cloete, P Scott, AM Beswick, P De Waal, HD Van Brockhuizen, BH Heatlie capt., PJ Dormehl, CG Van Renen


  1. ^ a b c 1888-1899 – Touring tradition begins on Lions website
  2. ^ Irish Rugby 1874–1999 — A History on Irisih Rugby
  3. ^ From The Archives on Irish Rugby, 9 August 2007
  4. ^ "Medal Society of Ireland". Archived from the original on 22 October 2009.
  5. ^ Lions in South Africa by Brendan Gallagher on The Telegraph, 12 December 2008
  6. ^ "J. F. BYRNE – An icon, a man of his generation". Archived from the original on 19 October 2009.
  7. ^ British Lions, Times online
  8. ^ The Fearless Opponent
  9. ^ Lions name is a source of great pride The Times 19 June 2009
  10. ^ British & Irish Lions - Tour to South Africa 1896