Charles Augustus Ollivierre: The Trail Blazer by James D. Coldham
Charles Augustus Ollivierre played for the West Indies before they were allowed to play test matches. The constellation of West Indian cricketers who play for numerous clubs is adding to the quality of cricket in England. It is most appropriate to pay tribute to the first black or colored West Indian to have qualified for an English first-class county, thus becoming the trailblazer for his fellows from the islands. Charles Augustus Ollivierre was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on July 20, 1876. He lived most of his formative years in St. Vincent and played for the Midland County of Derbyshire.
Although, at the outset, it must have been something of a culture shock for both Ollivierre and the insular, often rough-hewn Mid-landers long before the multi-racial era, both parties soon appeared to accept one another happily. The present writer is unaware of any significant trouble of a racial nature.
Remind Plum Warner of Ranji.
One hundred and fifty square miles in size, larger than St. Kitts-Nevis but smaller than St. Lucia. St. Vincent was at a considerable distance from the largest Caribbean centers of the game. However, as a venue for two of the earliest good amateur sides from England in the 1890’s—those led by R. S. Lucas and Lord Hawke, respectively. It witnessed much abounding enthusiasm for cricket, and it was in such a positive and healthy atmosphere that young Charles Ollivierre (and his brothers) learned the game.
Inter-island fixture lists flourished, though short, and the small island was not excluded from competitive matches, although the Barbadians tended to find St. Vincent a rather easy victim. Charles (and his brother Richard) proved themselves beyond doubt as the mainstays of the island’s team, and Charles was selected as a member of the first-ever West Indian team to tour England in 1900. (Brother Richard was to be a member of the second side six years later.).
Tall, lissome, and neat, an aggressive opening batsman, particularly strong in cutting and playing to the leg, Charles Augustus Ollivierre was far and away the best batsman on this experimental and disappointing tour. He relished the warm, dry summer and headed the averages with 32.70 for 883 runs. He batted beautifully in sharing an opening partnership of 208 with P. I. Cox against Surrey at The Oval, and when he scored a chanceless 159 against Leicestershire in three hours and ten minutes, putting up 238 for the first wicket with P. F. Warner (in his only match for the tourists), his fine natural talent was absorbing to watch.
Plum Warner was so impressed that he wrote in Wisden for 1901 that, considering Charles Augustus Ollivierre’s opportunities in St. Vincent must have been very limited, his performance was remarkable. He has the ability to play all strokes on all sides of the wicket and, in some way, reminds me of Ranji.”.
Qualified for Derbyshire
He remained in England, accepting a post as a clerk in the business at Glossop of the Derbyshire captain, Mr. S. H. Wood (later Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, Bart.), and qualifying as an amateur for Derbyshire. The country was in the doldrums; the old generation was passing or had passed, and the batting, despite the efforts of Dr. E. M. Ashcroft, L. G. Wright, and W. Storer, was developing weaknesses. It was an inspiration to engage such a brilliant and optimistic cricketer as Charles Augustus Ollivierre, and the county began to ascend the ladder of success.
He first appeared for Derbyshire in several matches outside the Championship during the dry season of 1901 and, duly qualified, made his debut in the Championship in late July 1902, a rather typical English season that was cold, wet, and fitfully sunny, when he made 524 runs, an average of 34.93. Prominent in the victory over Warwickshire at Derby by an innings and 250 runs, he hit a chanceless 167 in three hours, including three 6’s and twenty-seven 4’s. Such a knock as this earned him many new Derbyshire friends.
1903, alas, saw him unhappy on the prevailing slow and wet pitches, but the following year he consolidated himself as the opening partner of the veteran, Levi Wright. They enjoyed many splendid partnerships together—in May, they put up 173, a Derbyshire record, in little more than two hours at The Oval against Surrey after going in again 34 behind—but nothing could excel their wonderful performance at the expense of Essex at Chesterfield two months later. One of the most amazing county matches ever played, it marked the high watermark of Charles Augustus Ollivierre’s career.
229 Essex in 200 minutes
In very hot weather, Essex amassed 597 in less than six hours, with P. A. Perrin contributing 343 (which remains the highest score ever made against Derbyshire). In reply, Charles Augustus Ollivierre, in typical uninhibited West Indian style, launched a tremendous assault on the bowling of C. P. Buckenham, R. P. Keigwin, W. Reeves, and J. W. H. T. Douglas, while Wright remained steady at the other end. John Shawcroft, Derbyshire’s historian, tells us that 50 was on the board after half an hour and 100 after 55 minutes; that the West Indian completed his half-century in 45 minutes and his century after 95 minutes; and that, having passed their earlier record stand against Surrey, they eventually reached 191 in 100 minutes before Wright was out.
Charles Augustus Ollivierre continued to delight the crowd. Douglas missed him in the deep at 162. However, when he finally fell to Reeves after hitting him twice over the spectators’ heads, he had made 229 in little more than 200 minutes, an innings of brilliant aggression full of daring and unorthodox strokes. His hits included one 5, thirty-seven 4’s, and five 3’s, and it must be remembered that, until 1910, it was necessary in England to hit a ball out of the ground to get six runs. Therefore, under present-day conditions, Charles Augustus Ollivierre could well have added some 50 more runs! According to Shawcroft, it was one of the greatest innings in Derbyshire’s history.
Derbyshire’s reply was 548, and then A. R. Warren and W. Bestwick routed Essex for 97. Seeking 147 to win in just over two hours, Wright was soon out, but Charles Augustus Ollivierre, this time partnered by William Storer, resumed his massacre of the attack. Although he just missed his third 100 of the matches, he was in at the kill, Derbyshire winning by nine wickets in 80 minutes off 30 overs. Curiously, the game ended on July 20th, the birthday of both Ollivierre and the Derbyshire Secretary, W. Barclay Delacombe. Could either have wished for a more glorious cricketing day?
1904: Top County Batting Average
Heading the batting in the County Championship in 1904, Charles Augustus Ollivierre made 1,268 runs with an average of 34.27 in all matches. Never again would he know such fame or consistency. In 1905, he made a superb 157 off Leicestershire at Glossop, helping to pave the way to an innings victory.
Moreover, in 1906, Charles Augustus Ollivierre undefeated 64, enabled the West Indian tourists to be defeated at Derby after a hard fight, and he revealed other glimpses of his rare quality, but in 1907, his average sank to 12.56, and he retired from first-class cricket.
Thus, for three years, he had suffered from increasing eye trouble and decreasing success at the wicket. Thus, he was lost at 31 to first-class cricket, in which he had not quite realized his full potential. According to Frank Peach, Editor of the Derbyshire C.C.C. Year Book, he had scored 4,670 runs, an average of 23.70, in 110 matches for the county and held 108 catches; he was a fast mover and a safe catcher.
Happily, Charles Augustus Ollivierre did not retire to the shadows. He continued to play club cricket in Yorkshire for many years, and from 1924 to 1939, he went regularly to Holland to coach schoolboys, with much success. He died at Pontefract in the West Riding of Yorkshire on March 25th, 1949, aged 72. The West Indian historian, Christopher Nicole, considers that it is difficult to think of more brilliant batsmen than L.S. Constantine, father of Learie, and C. A. Ollivierre, the trailblazer, among the earliest tourists from the Caribbean.