In the midst of winter, as we celebrate Christmas and New Year, thoughts of cricket may be far away. This year though, is an Ashes winter. Despite their already sad loss, many will still be anticipating the Boxing Day Test match, held at the famous Melbourne cricket ground, home of the Melbourne Cricket Club. Few will be aware however, that Frederick Powlett, a member of a well known Hampshire family was one of the founder members of the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1838.
Then and Now of Melbourne Cricket Club. Credit Melbourne Cricket Club library.
The Powlett family archive (72M92) consists of a fascinating collection of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century letters between Charles and Anne Powlett, parents of Fred and other members of their family, describing in detail their daily lives and relationships. The existence of these letters means we can build up a full and detailed picture of Fred’s life before he went to Australia.
Charles Powlett was the illegitimate grandson of the 3rd Duke of Bolton, and after the early death of his father, was brought up at Hackwood Park, the seat of the Bolton family. As an adult he had to make his own way in the world, becoming a clergyman. Growing up near Basingstoke, he was acquainted with Jane Austen, and once, before his marriage, was reputed to have wanted to give her a kiss.
Hackwood Park, ref TOP/19/2/33
Charles and Anne married in Nov 1796 and often moved around the country as Charles held various Bolton family livings, including Winslade. A number of children were born, but only four survived to adulthood, Fred, born in 1811 was the youngest. We first come across him aged 8 in 1819, writing this letter to his sister Caroline.
Letter from Fred Powlett, aged 8. Ref: 72M92/29/5
He is also mentioned in a letter from his father to his mother in Mar 1819, when Charles decides to take Fred away from school, ‘I prepare to take Fred under my own tuition, he is very well and happy but gains little or nothing at school’. Seven years later, Fred is at Rugby School, and his future a worry for his father. His elder brother Percy had been ordained, but this appears not to be a career path Fred wanted to take, and his father has other suggestions in this letter of 4 Oct 1826
‘When you write next I expect to hear what are your feelings and sentiments respecting your future destination in life as to the army, a solicitors office or anything which we may procure for you, recollect that whatever is chosen you can never expect any benefit without great diligence and much trouble’
Things did not appear to go to plan for Fred, for in 1831 his father was writing to Mr Baring
‘ I am grieved to say I have not only failed with respect to a Cadetship but in spite of every exertion through every possible channel I have not been able to procure permission for my son to purchase a Ensigney… if you could procure him a commission in one of those battalions it is the object he would most wish, but should that be impracticable I wish much that he should have a Ensigney in the Hampshire Militia. I am anxious he should have some employment in the profession which he has chosen, he has just completed his 20th year and it surely is full time for him to commence his military career, when he ought already to be advanced some way on the road in addition to the consideration of a young man of 20 being totally idle, my advanced age fills me with an earnest desire to see him launched in his profession’
Unfortunately for Fred, the Commission never materialized, and he spent time with his father in Brussels, until Charles’s death there in 1834. A letter to his sister Horatia on 27Aug 1835 relates a pleasant walking trip in Wales, but still no concrete future plans ‘this walking about the Country is all very pleasant but one gets no pay, what do you advise me to do?’.
Portrait of Frederick Powlett. Photograph provided by the Powlett family with the original painting held at Melbourne Cricket Club Library.
Fred finally comes to the conclusion that his future does not lie in England, declaring in a letter to Horatia of June 1836
‘As I stand at present without any chance of getting on in this country, I think I can do nothing better than go to one of the Australian Colonies’
Fred set sail in Aug 1836, and wrote many letters back home to his brother and sisters. He settled at Port Phillip and initially managed a sheep farm. His plan was always to make some money, then return home, and he did not initially like Australia, describing it as ‘these detestable Colonies’.
Part of a letter from Fred Powlett. Ref: 72M92/28/17
Things did improve and by 2 Nov 1838, he wrote ‘my affairs continue to prosper in this colony, if the population was of a better order I should be contented in passing a few years in this delightful country, as it is I hope I shall never feel satisfied in living amongst a set of people generally without principle’.
1838 was the year that he helped found Melbourne Cricket Club, and on the cricket field he is reputed to have taken the first hat trick in cricket in Victoria. Many more letters exist, continuing Fred’s story, and his career did progress, moving on from sheep farming to being Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Port Phillip District in 1838 and later Commissioner of Crown lands for the Western Port District. He did return to England for a few years in the 1850s, but returned to Australia and died there in 1865. The below entry, taken from the Australian Dictionary of Biography sums up his character and career, which despite the early problems was a successful one.
‘Powlett was a well known and much respected figure…He had the tastes of an English country gentleman, and as a keen sportsman, was a renowned cricketer, race-horse owner and huntsman. He had a high sense of honour…He was fair and impartial, both as a lands commissioner settling squatting disputes and as a magistrate’
Sarah Farley, Archivist