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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Baseball in Australia

In September 1853 the clipper ship the City of Norfolk arrived in Melbourne Victoria. The ship had sailed from New York on 17 March 1853.Two of the first class passengers were 21 year old Davis Calwell from Pennsylvania and his brother Dan Mcgrew Calwell, 22. He and Dan went to the gold fields to seek their fortunes but did not find very much. Instead they worked in the saw milling industry and Davis later became a farmer and 3x great grandfather to our children. 

Believed to be a photograph of Davis Calwell

      Postcard found online of the clipper ship "City of Norfolk" in port

 Amongst the other passengers aboard the City of Norfolk was one Sam Perkins Lord from New Hampshire, who was apparently the ship owner. Sam claimed to have introduced baseball to Australia, although the following passage casts doubt on this claim.

Extract  from Time and Game: The History of Australian Baseball By Joe Clark 

"The man who credits himself with bringing baseball to Australia was Samuel Perkins Lord (1819-1890), an American merchant who arrived in Melbourne on his own ship, The City of Norfolk on 4 September 1853. Lord was originally from Portsmouth, New Hampshire and probably played the New York Game and found numerous other Americans of like mind when he arrived in Melbourne at the age of 33 after the death of his first wife in 1852. It appears that Lord made numerous efforts to organise baseball in Melbourne but either his business interests or the lack of enthusiasm of Australians for the game kept baseball from succeeding until Spalding's visit.

Newly arrived Americans played an early form of baseball with English and Australian cricketers in Melbourne. Played on cricket grounds at the Exhibition Grounds in the old Carlton Gardens on Saturday afternoons in open parklands on cricket fields, at William and Latrobe Streets, the site is coincidentally the office of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria. ...They played in the shadow of the great Exhibition Hall, a replica of the original in London. The organised games were probably seen as a curiosity more than serious attempt to start a permanent competition. The first recorded Australian baseball match was here on 21 February 1857. The account tells of the 'Melbourne Base Ball Club' having a series of three matches between Collingwood and Richmond. The scores were astronomical - with Collingwood winning the ssecond match 350 - 230! These early Australian baseball players were probably playing a variation of rounders and the New York Game.

Australian baseball's official creation myth states that American miners played baseball on the goldfields of Ballarat on their rest days in 1857. This story was used as the basis for centenary celebrations of the Victorian Baseball Association in 1957. While it is possible such games took place, no original documentation has ever been found for a Ballarat game. The earliest reference linking Australian baseball with Victorian gold fields is from 1918 while many 19th century references place the first games in Melbourne. "

I have no idea whether or not ancestor Davis Calwell played baseball either in White Deer Pennsylvania or in Melbourne or on the gold fields, but he certainly would have known Sam P Lord by virtue of their having arrived in Victoria together. When our children started playing the game rather than cricket in the 1990s I wasn't into family history and was unaware that they had American ancestry on their father's side. It's an exciting game to watch, once you know the rules, but it has not been successful in becoming a major sport here in Australia.

   Our son at bat. Up in the attic is a box of trophies won over his playing career for Most Valuble Player. I know that at least one of his team mates went on to play in the American leagues. 

Baseball was included in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and we secured tickets to various events , including a baseball game between the USA and Korea. Below are a few shots of the play. Unfortunately a heavy thunderstorm interrupted the game and as it was already late at night we did not stay to see whether or not it would resume, which it eventually did in the early hours of the next morning.

Preparing to cover the mound in the wet, Sydney Olympics 2000

For more blogs inspired by Sepia Saturday #369, click Here


  1. I had no idea, baseball was played in Australia - a very interesting story.

  2. The only knowledge I have of Australia is PBS's series "Dr. Blake Mysteries," which I adore...I never see them playing baseball on that show, but then, they're all getting murdered...

    1. Love Doctor Blake! That show is set around Ballarat, which was at the centre of the gold fields back in the 1850s when Davis Calwell came to Australia and settled in the area. Of course its time period is about 100 years later than that. They are about to commence filming a 5th and final series. The actors, producers and fans are all disappointed that it is to be the last one. I have a friend who gets work as an extra and she has occasionally appeared in the show.

  3. The history of how sports are introduced to foreign lands is fascinating. In the olden days of clipper ships, sailors probably were responsible for a lot of it. Cricket never quite stuck in America, maybe because it was after the Revolution and before the age of the Special Relationship.

  4. Is that Little League your son is playing? It reminds me of Little League games I watched when I was that age.

  5. My top favorite sport to watch is (American) football, but baseball comes in a close second if a favorite team is playing! It interesting seeing which sports are tops in which countries.

  6. How neat to have an ancestor connected to an important (?) link of a sport coming into your country! The importance is relative to 1) kids interest in the sport and 2) supportive parents and 3) sponsorship of teams by businesses and 4) making some income through the sales of whatever might be sold to fans. One of my sons played on a team sponsored by the Post Office! I enjoyed reading this blog!

  7. I still haven't figure out Crickett, but I like the outfits. So clean. So very clean. No grass or dirts stains like baseball. Or, as in the case of a Giants came today in San Francisco, no blood.