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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 1 (April 1, 1940)

All Honour to … — New Zealand's — Famous Athletes — Part II

page 23

All Honour to
New Zealand's
Famous Athletes
Part II.

The late Mr. R. O. Jarrett.

The late Mr. R. O. Jarrett.

All honour to the pioneers who built a new nation beneath the Southern Cross and founded the race which enabled the immortal name of “Anzac” to be born on the prccipitious cliffs that faced a little cove on Gallipoli's shores. But tribute, too, should be paid to the nation's athletes who have carried the Silver Fern to all parts of the world, in keen international competition, and have brought fame to New Zealand.

All things must have a beginning, and I propose to make a start by recalling some of the deeds of that great old-time all-rounder, R. O. (“Dick”) Jarrett, who passed away a year or two ago. Dick was known as “the New Zealand Sandow” and was offered a partnership by that great man—the man who made the world “muscle conscious.” Strong men were favourites in New Zealand when Dick was in his prime, but they could not match the genial Dick. He would duplicate all their feats… . and then go one better. I have claimed Dick Jarrett as a New Zealander, but he was born in England and came here when three or four years of age. Early in life he worked in a bakery and developed lung trouble. Doctors shook their heads and gave him but a short time to live.

Then emerged the real Dick Jarrett. He went into the open spaces; he worked hard and never watched the clock. Before long those hacking coughs had disappeared and Dick became a convert to sport as a means of improving the health of the nation. He originated a series of deep-breathing exercises, exercises that met with Sandow's approval when the strong man visited New Zealand. Dick introduced a sane physical development scheme into New Zealand schools, was the first sprinter to use the crouch start in New Zealand and introduced basketball into our country. Surely such a man deserves a place among our great sportsmen … apart from his undoubted skill as an all-round athlete. Dick was New Zealand's best all-rounder for many years and held his own at boxing, wrestling, running, walking or gymnastics. As a fireman he set New Zealand records at fire-contests that stood for many years.

It is a pity that a complete record has never been kept of the early days of New Zealand sport. I remember the task that confronted Mr. L. A. Tracy, at that time secretary-treasurer of the New Zealand Amateur Athletic Association, when he began to prepare a complete list of placed men in national track and field championships. I gave him a little assistance … but little as it was, it took me many days of search through musty files to gain just a little information.

But although it is well-nigh impossible to present a complete record, I have been fortunate in receiving from that grand veteran sportsman, “Dorrie” Leslie, many old programmes that reveal the early existence of established sports clubs in New Zealand.

One programme is that printed for the Caledonian Society of Otago for its 31st annual gathering. It bears the date, 2nd January, 1893. This society was established in 1862 … only 22 years after the first settlement in New Zealand. Joe Scott, whose exploits have been recorded in the “Railways Magazine” and whose photograph appeared in the February issue, made his debut at the thirteenth gathering organised by the Otago Caledonian Society.

Dorrie Leslie, who has long been recognised as New Zealand's premier starter of track events—he fired the first shot at the Olympic Games in 1932— was himself a great athlete. As was the case with Joe Scott, Dorrie Leslie put up a side-wager to race any man in Australia, without receiving any takers. I have a programme, dated 1894, for a “Grand Exhibition of Sprint and Long-Distance Running and Walking to be held on the Recreation Ground, Napier,” in which the stars were Dorrie Leslie. Matt Morrissey, A. Hall and A. Francis. They competed with pace-makers in their special events—competing against time— and Dorrie won the mile walk in 6 min. 33 1/5 sec., well outside his best performance. He once held the world record for the one-mile walk.

Walking seems to be a lost art …. unless the petrol restrictions bring a renaissance. From the time when Joe Scott started, as a walker, to make athletic history, New Zealand produced undoubted champions for many years. Scott, Leslie, Creamer, Wilson and Kerr all brought fame to New Zealand. F. H. Creamer, former holder of the one-mile world record, was a fortunate page 24 athlete; he once held two records made by another New Zealander.

Here is the story that deserves a place among Ripley's “Believe It or Not” series:

On 20th March, 1897, Creamer won a one-mile walk at Auckland in 6 min. 27 2/5 sec., a world record. At that time New Zealand worked under Australian athletic control and an application was made for this to be accepted as a record. In cabling the application reference, was made that the sectional times were 82 1/5 sec. for 440 yards and 3 min. for the first half-mile. Creamer was granted the record for the mile—and also for the intermediate distances. Thirty-three years later Dave Wilson, who had led for the first two laps, produced cuttings and proved that he was entitled to the intermediate records. By that time Creamer's record for the mile had been displaced and the intermediate distances were no longer recognised, but I wrote to Thomas Andrews, publisher of a leading American sporting annual, and he made the appropriate corrections in the chronological list of records.

It was but a few years ago that I learned that the blacksmith, outside whose forge I had spent many an hour as a small boy in Gisborne, was none other than Creamer, the great walker.

The names pass in review … Arthur Holder, who won four events at the New Zealand track and field championships at Auckland in 1897 and filled second place in a fifth event, and Batger, great hurdler who accompanied the Wood Brothers, Jack Hempton and L. H. Cuff as a member of the first New Zealand athletic team to England —away back in 1892. Batger once held the world record of 61 2/5 sec. for 440 yards hurdling, over the high hurdles. When the New Zealanders returned they spoke of a new style of starting …. “They put their hands on the line and crouch like a dog before springing out,” they said. But Dick Jarrett, mentioned earlier, had already used it in New Zealand before they had returned from the Old Country.

Remember Randolph Rose, winner over the American Lloyd Hahn, at Masterton, when he covered one mile in 4 min. 13 3/5 sec. to establish a world record for a grass track? As was the case with Joe Scott, many years earlier, public enthusiasm sent Rose abroad to show his wares and even to-day there is a fund stabilised at £1,000, the residue of that public subscription. So much money was donated that it was possible to send Rose and his manager, Jack McHolm (himself a star athlete) to England and Europe, and leave a balance exceeding £1,000. The interest on this amount is used to finance New Zealand athletic teams in overseas tours, but the principal remains as a trust account.

Randolph Rose has been described as a “freak athlete.” He was undoubtedly the heaviest mile runner seen in a generation and the manner in which he won important races without training was nothing short of amazing, but I venture to say that he could not do it against New Zealander milers of to-day. Rose did not train because he did not want to; he seldom had time to devote to fitting himself for competition, but worked on the farm until it was time to race. Had he been given the opportunities received by American athletes I am convinced that Randolph Rose would have beaten Jack Lovelock to the honour of being New Zealand's first holder of the coveted one-mile running record.

I have purposely not made reference to our greatest miler, Jack Lovelock. His deeds are too fresh to require recounting here. I will briefly recall the deeds of past champions.

Billy Savidan, Empire Games champion at six miles, New Zealand representative at the Olympic Games of 1932 —he finished well up in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre events—is one to whom I could devote much space. Rose was big, Billy was small. Moreover, the smiling Aucklander's merit was obscured for a time by the ill-luck that made him contemporaneous with Rose, but his day was to come. His name is written prominently among New Zealand athletic records.

Two great athletes were Billy Woodger and Lachie McLachlan. Old-time athletes are divided in their views as on whom should rest the mantle of New Zealand's greatest amateur sprinter, some declaring for Billy Woodger, others for Jack Hempton, but Dick Coombes, the “Grand Old Man of Australian Sport” classed Woodger, who recently retired from the New Zealand Railways, as the best sprinter produced in Australia or New Zealand for a generation. Hempton was the first New Zealander to cover the 100 yards in 9 4/5 sec., to equal the record that still stands unbroken despite the visits of such great sprinters as Scholz, Kirksey, Carr, Simpson, Best and Carlton.

Lachie McLachlan's professional world record of 21 2/5 sec., made at Napier in the closing years of the last century, still stands. He is generally acclaimed as the best cash athlete produced in New Zealand, although George Wareham has his supporters.

I could fill pages with the deeds of Arthur Halligan who represented Great Britain and Ireland at the Olympic Games in London, or H. St. A. Murray, New Zealand's first Olympic hurdler, George Davidson, who wore the Silver Fern at the Olympic Games in 1920 and defeated the great Charlie Paddock in one heat of the sprints and won through to the final of the 200 metres although only a few days off the boat after a long voyage from New Zealand to Antwerp, and of “Buz” Sutherland, the splendid all-rounder who won athletic titles in New Zealand, South Africa and Great Britain and represented South Africa at the Olympic Games in 1924, but space will not permit.

In my next article I will refer to other famous sportsmen who brought fame to New Zealand.