1870 - First Rugby Game



It is a coincidence that the three key men who first established the rugby game in New Zealand lie in cemeteries in Manawatu. The former Nelson footballers each made their own way in life in various parts of the country before settling in the Manawatu district. Monro has been credited as the founder of rugby in New Zealand, but it is more appropriate to credit him for introducing the game and as co-founder.

Being a team sport he could not start a game without support of other players. A ‘Football Club’ was formed in 1868 but there is no record of a game against opposition. In 1869 the club was reformed as ‘Nelson Football Club’ and played against Nelson College, the style of football being a hybrid mix of soccer and Victorian Rules.

Early in 1870 Monro returned from England where he played the rugby rules at Christ’s College. He became a member of the Nelson club and suggested to the players they try the rugby rules. Drew was the club’s chairman and captain and Tennent the secretary-treasurer and player. Monro would not have got the game started without the support of the players and in particular Drew and Tennent. Having gained the club’s support Monro approached the headmaster at Nelson College, Frank Simmons, a former pupil of Rugby School, offering to teach the pupils the rules and arrange a game against the club. The historic game took place at the Botanical Gardens on Saturday, May 14, 1870, exactly 150 years ago today.

Later in the year Monro was in Wellington when he received a letter from Tennent requesting he arrange a game against a Wellington team. Monro duly rounded up some local footballers, taught them the rugby rules and the Nelson team crossed Cook Strait to play Wellington at Petone on September 12. Monro, Drew and Tennent played in the Nelson team and won, the game being the first played between two districts, a forerunner to inter-provincial rugby.

As the following brief biographies indicate, each of the three young men continued to foster rugby during the 1870s and spread the game further afield. All three were respected gentlemen who made valuable contributions to sport, music and business in a pioneering period of New Zealand settlement.

Nelson Football Club 1873

Alfred Drew

Born: February 5, 1849, Isle of Wight. Died: February 13, 1925, Sanson, aged 76.

Drew was a son of a jeweller and watchmaker who arrived in New Zealand, from England, in 1861 after spending nine years in Australia. Settling in Nelson young Alfred attended Nelson College then joined the family business. He represented Nelson at cricket and in 1869 played football for the newly-formed Nelson Football Club, the club adopting rugby rules in 1870. Drew was not only the first to captain a rugby club, he was also the first point-scorer, he kicking a goal in the first game played in New Zealand. In the game against Wellington Drew was again the first point scorer.

In 1871 Drew joined his brother Samuel in Wanganui starting a jewellery and watchmaking business in the town. The following year he co-founded rugby in the town and captained the club team. The rugby game spread from Wanganui into Manawatu in 1876. In 1874 Alfred married Sarah Younger in Nelson and moved to New Plymouth, starting his own business, and a family which eventually increased to seven children. Before the 1874 winter had passed he had established rugby in the town and captained the Taranaki club. Within the period of five years he was instrumental in spreading the rugby game from Nelson, to Wellington, Wanganui and Taranaki.

In 1886 the Drew family arrived in Palmerston North where Alfred had his jewellery and watchmaking shop on the Square. He served local sport as a rugby referee and cricket umpire. He gained an interest in lawn bowls and taught his friends the game and in 1889 became a foundation member and first secretary of the Palmerston Bowling Club. He was the town’s leading player and was skip in many teams participating at tournaments throughout the North Island. Alfred was later made a life member of the club.

Alfred’s sporting achievements in spreading the rugby game and starting bowls in Palmerston North were never fully recognised during his lifetime. In New Plymouth and Palmerston North he was a member of the Masonic order and fire brigades. But it was his passion for music and song that gained him the greatest respect and admiration within the communities. As a young man he was organist at Nelson Cathedral and later at New Plymouth’s St Mary’s Church where he was also choirmaster and conductor of the Taranaki Philharmonic Society.

Alfred Drew arrived in Palmerston North to find no pipe-organ on which to continue playing at church services. Through his enthusiastic efforts and fundraising a pipe-organ was installed at All Saints’ Church in 1892 and he was organist there until 1911 when forced to retire due to increasing arthritis in his hands. He was the church’s choirmaster and often had his musical family involved. His contribution to music extended beyond the church, he conducting the local choral society and orchestra during many performances.

In 1921 Alfred moved to Whangarei to be cared for by his daughters Nellie and Gladys, his wife Sarah having died in 1903. But in 1925 failing health forced him to return to Palmerston North for treatment but his return was very brief before passing away at his son’s, King, home in Sanson.

Alfred Drew

Charles John Monro

Born: April 5, 1851, Waimea West, Nelson. Died: April 9, 1933, Palmerston North, aged 82.

Monro attended Nelson College 1863-65 before being sent to London for further education at Christ’s College where he was introduced to rugby. The 19-year-old returned home early in 1870 and joined the Nelson Football club, the players agreeing to his suggestion of playing the rugby rules. He played for Nelson teams through to 1875. A keen horseman, Monro, in 1871, played in the first-recorded game of polo in New Zealand. He worked on the family properties at Waimea and Marlborough and spent a period as a bank clerk. From about 1876 he suffered bad back pain and made a trip to Rotorua to bathe in the pools and at the Pink and White Terraces. He rode alone on horseback from Wanganui to Rotorua then to Napier. In 1881 he was in Europe and spent nine months in Italy, learning the language and receiving singing lessons for he had a love for opera.

Charles father, politician Sir David Monro, died in 1877 and his mother Dinah in 1882. Charles had four brothers but only one, Aleck, survived into adulthood. He also had two sisters, Connie marrying into the prominent Dillon family of which a descendant is married to All Black Dan Carter. Georgie married James Hector who was a leading scientist, naturalist and geologist and founder of the museum in Wellington which later became Te Papa. In 1885 Charles married Helena ‘Lena’ Macdonald in Nelson and the couple travelled about Europe for two years during which their first child, David, was born.

Back in New Zealand in 1887 Charles settled in Palmerston North and bought land across the river where he had his house built, the family moving into ‘Craiglockhart’ in 1890. The family increased with Jack (father of Rugby Museum treasurer Neil Monro) in 1888, Mary 1890, Linda 1894 and Peter 1895. Charles earned his income from the sale of the Nelson properties and became a land speculator buying and selling land and town sections, investing in businesses, and the sale of fruit from his large orchard. He invested heavily in the flax industry and was a director of the large Miranui Mill near Shannon.

His sporting passion became golf and in 1895 was a founding member and first president of the Manawatu Golf Club at Hokowhitu. Charles spent many weeks developing the course and his family spent many enjoyable years playing golf. He was also a keen follower of polo. Croquet was played on the lawn and with the Russell family at Wharerata. Charles occasionally watched club and rep rugby. In 1904 he took the train to Wellington and watched the first rugby international when New Zealand played Great Britain and in 1930, when aged 79, he returned to Athletic Park, as a guest of the NZ Rugby Union, to watch the All Blacks play Great Britain.

He was a keen singer at operatic shows, especially popular with his ability to sing arias in Italian. The family were regulars at services at All Saints’ Church and Charles would have had many conversations with his former Nelson team-mate Alfred Drew, the church organist for 20 years.

On the occasion of the centenary of rugby in New Zealand a memorial was unveiled in 1970 on Bourke Road at Massey University. In 2011 a statue of Charles was unveiled outside the NZ Rugby Museum. New Zealand Rugby has honoured Charles with the Charles Monro Memorial Trophy which the union award annually to the Volunteer of the Year.

For further reading refer MONRO – The Life and Times of the Man who gave New Zealand Rugby

Charles Monro

Robert Collings Tennent

Born: July 7, 1849, Rio de Janeiro. Died: April 14, 1939, Woodville, aged 89.

(note: the dates on Robert Tennent’s headstone are incorrect)

Robert Tennent arrived in Nelson in 1865, along with three brothers, two sisters and their mother Penelope Tennent whose husband had died ten years earlier when aged 45. A part-owner of a shipping line with ships sailing between Glasgow and Rio de Janeiro Robert Tennent snr had returned to England where young Robert was educated.

A keen sportsman Robert won 880yds and one mile races in Nelson and played club cricket, he being secretary-treasurer of Nelson Cricket Club. From 1870, when Nelson Football Club adopted rugby rules, through to 1874 he was a player and also secretary-treasurer. Robert was a regular in Nelson representative teams, he being captain 1872-73.

Having joined the Bank of NSW as a 16-year-old clerk in 1865 Robert gained promotion in 1874 to manage a new branch in Patea. The following year he married Emily Boor in Nelson and they raised a family of 11 children, however, one, a twin, died at 13 months. Robert was a founding member of Patea Football Club and played through to 1882. He also played cricket in Patea. From 1884 bank transfers and promotions meant the Tennent family moved to many towns – Wellington, Blenheim, Wanganui, Auckland, Dunedin, Timaru and Invercargill. At each locality he became involved in tennis and later golf and bowls, serving both as a player and administrator.

During 1913-14 Robert and Emily took a 10-month holiday visiting sons in South Africa before going on to Britain. He went to Wimbledon and witnessed Anthony Wilding winning the title and as a vice-president of the NZ Tennis Assn, took much pleasure in congratulating Wilding after the final on behalf of New Zealand.

Robert finally retired in 1918, after 53 years’ service to his bank, and moved to Napier where he was secretary of Kinross White Ltd for 10 years. Robert and Emily moved to Woodville in 1930 where a daughter lived and in 1935 they celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.

Five of Robert’s six sons served in wars and, remarkably, all survived. Leonard served in the Boer War as did Harold who also served in the Great War along with Hugh and Ken. Both Harold and Hugh were wounded on the Western Front. Hugh and Alan served in WWII. Robert was the only son not to do war service, he was following in the footsteps of his father as a bank manager and had not long been branch manager at Stratford when he became a victim of the 1918 ’flu pandemic.

Throughout his banking career Robert Tennent was a highly respected member of the business community of every town where he was stationed.

Robert Tennent