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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mullagh, Johnny (c. 1841–1891)

by D. J. Mulvaney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Johnny Mullagh (1841-1891), by Patrick Dawson

Johnny Mullagh (1841-1891), by Patrick Dawson

State Library of New South Wales, Original : DL Pf 140

Johnny Mullagh (1841?-1891), Aboriginal cricketer, was born on Mullagh station, near Harrow, Victoria, and originally answered to 'Mullagh Johnny'. His Madimadi tribal name may have been Muarrinim; his romanticized portrait in the Harrow Mechanics' Institute suggests that he was part-European but neither surviving photographs nor contemporary testimony support this inference. He was a capable stockman and assisted with shearing, spending most of his life on J. B. Fitzgerald's Mullagh property or on David Edgar's Pine Hills station. He became a celebrity and local folk-lore is rich in anecdotes testifying to his popularity and undoubted strength of character. Since legends lack verification and either contain racist overtones or exude sentimental paternalism, they are best ignored.

About 1864 Mullagh and other Aboriginal station hands learned the rudiments of cricket from Edgar's schoolboy son and two young squatters, T. G. Hamilton and W. R. Hayman. In 1865 an Aboriginal team defeated a European one at Bringalbert station. The victors then challenged Western District clubs with much success, Mullagh emerging as the most versatile player. By September 1866 Hayman secured the coaching services of T. W. Wills, financed through the Edenhope Club. Wills led an Aboriginal team on to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Boxing Day and then with Hayman took the players on a financially disastrous tour to Sydney. Mullagh was one of the few successful players.

In 1867 Hayman, two financial backers and Charles Lawrence, a former Surrey all-rounder, regrouped the team, smuggled it out of the colony and conducted it efficiently on the first Australian cricket tour of England. Between 25 May and 17 October 1868 the thirteen Aborigines captained by Lawrence played 47 matches in 40 centres, winning fourteen and losing the same number. Mullagh and Lawrence carried the burden of the tour, Mullagh playing in 45 matches.

Few cricketers better merited the title of all-rounder. At his best against fast bowling, Mullagh batted high in the order and completed 71 forceful innings, averaging 23.65 from 1698 runs (94 highest score). Underarm bowling was then optional but he favoured the round-arm delivery, with a 'free wristy style'. His 1877 overs included 831 maidens and numbered twice those delivered by any other Aborigine. He is credited with 245 wickets for an average of 10, although he captured 257 wickets. In addition he often kept wickets. His performances won him a cup at Reading and sundry monetary presentations, but his great match was at Burton-upon-Trent: he top scored with 42, took 4 for 59, caught a fifth and as wicket-keeper stumped the other five. All matches were enlivened with athletics and displays of Aboriginal prowess; Mullagh was the star boomerang thrower. He also threw the cricket ball further than most challengers and cleared the high-jump bar at 5 ft 3 ins (160cm).

Mullagh never played intercolonial cricket but he represented Victoria in 1879 against the All England 11, scoring 36. Until the 1890 season he played regularly with the Harrow Club, a member of the Murray Cup competition. His prowess apparently overcame racial barriers and he was widely respected. He died unmarried on 14 August 1891 in his camp at 'Johnny's dam' on Pine Hills station. He was buried in the Harrow cemetery, and the Hamilton Spectator sponsored a district subscription for an obelisk to his memory at the 'Mullagh oval' in Harrow. He must be rated as a player of class at a time when cricketing standards were at a low ebb.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. Hamilton, Pioneering Days in Western Victoria (Melb, 1913)
  • D. J. Mulvaney, Cricket Walkabout (Melb, 1967)
  • Hamilton Spectator, 15, 20, 27 Aug, 1, 3 Sept 1891.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. J. Mulvaney, 'Mullagh, Johnny (c. 1841–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 25 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

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