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Hammersley, William Josiah (1826–1886)

by Gillian M. Hibbins

William Josiah Sumner Hammersley (1826-1886), sportsman and journalist, was born on 25 September 1826 at Ash, Surrey, England, son of William Josiah Hammersley, a descendant of the Spode pottery family who had changed his surname to Hammersley in 1820. An orphan on leaving school, Hammersley was sent to Rutland to the guardianship of the Rev. Anthony Atcheson. He matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge University, in 1845. Enjoying a hunting, shooting and horse-racing lifestyle, he left Cambridge with no degree but a blue in cricket and, as a round-arm bowler, played for the Surrey and Marylebone clubs.

In 1856 Hammersley sailed for Melbourne and prospected for gold in the Coliban River with little success. He was secretary of the Melbourne Cricket Club (1856–57), and played cricket for Victoria (1857–1861, as captain in 1857). Returning to Melbourne from the Coliban in 1859, he joined James Thompson, Thomas Smith and Thomas Wills in writing the first Rules of the Melbourne Football Club, which later became the Victorian Football Rules and then the Australian Football Rules. Hammersley had played football in England and was at Cambridge when a university football code was being framed.

Hammersley became a correspondent for the local sporting paper, Bell’s Life in Victoria, writing a column on cricket under the pseudonym ‘Longstop’. His knowledge of cricket and his lively and controversial writing soon attracted attention. When The Australasian began in 1864 he worked as its sporting editor for almost eighteen years, supporting the development of Victorian cricket, racing, athletics, football, aquatics, hunting, shooting, and coursing in its pages and becoming one of the best known sports writers in Australia. Continuing to write as ‘Longstop’ on cricket, he campaigned against the growing professionalism of the cricketers. Sometimes filling the columns with letters and articles written under other pseudonyms, he expanded the paper’s coverage. For many years he acted as starter at athletics meetings in Melbourne until he became disgusted by the corruption of professional running. He editorialised to encourage racing and hunting, urging improvement of colonial horse breeding. He fulminated against the crookedness of owners, bookmakers and jockeys who set out to rob the unsuspecting betting public. Over time many of his suggestions were adopted but he unsuccessfully argued for the introduction of the totalisator.

Hammersley believed strongly in English gentlemanly values. He regarded cricket primarily as a game that should be played by gentlemen for the love of it, and was an avid believer in the superiority of hunting as a sport. Although something of a snob, he had little tolerance for dishonesty and greed.

Hammersley married Jane Thirkettle in London in 1849. They had a son and three daughters, none of whom he apparently saw again after leaving England. He died at Fitzroy on 15 November 1886 and was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. He had lived with Maria Wilson (née Donaldson), who was later buried with him as Maria Hammersley.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Gillian M. Hibbins, 'Hammersley, William Josiah (1826–1886)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hammersley-william-josiah-25213/text33666, accessed 18 September 2019.

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