During our research for players who represented NSW to update our Rep Game Database, we again came across the name Jim Tarbotton. This strange but not unique surname originates from Ayrshire in England, although the subject of this story came from Yorkshire.
We have written about this player before but are intrigued with the mystery that surrounds him. You will find the following most fascinating.
From the records we have searched, we found four different official years of birth for James and two spellings of his surname: Tarbotton (which is the correct one, and Tarbolton, the choice of some newspapers and those conducting the AFL Tables have selected). We have been told however that he changed his name to Tarbolton early in his time in Melbourne.
Jim was born in Bradford England and from our deductions, we believe it was in 1900.
Now we have not been able to identify when he came to Australia with father, also James and mother Mary but do have him attending the Gardeners Road Public School at Mascot. It was there he came under the care and direction of the sports master, a well recorded teacher in our writings, Rupert Browne.
Rupert, not a particular follower of the game (but soon became one), trained young Tarbotton in the game and obviously his natural skill brought him to notice.
He probably left school at 14, the normal age of those days which takes us to about 1914. In July 1916 he enlisted, falsifying his mother’s signature on the papers and informing the authorities he was eighteen years and one month. From there he was transferred to the Dubbo Depot for training, but by the middle of October he was on Milson Island, suffering from Gonorrhoea.
Milson Island is on the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney and at the time the state government used it as a hospital to treat soldiers from the First World War afflicted with venereal disease.
Eventually his mother found out he had signed up by forging her consent signature. She wrote to the War Office which saw him discharged in December.
In March the following year, Tarbotton, now a resident of Mascot, NSW, re-joined the 1st AIF. He listed his occupation as a driver this time with a birth year as 1896. This still was not correct; he was nevertheless under age but had grown a few centimetres and was a little heavier.
It took just six weeks before he was off to the Middle East where he was posted to the Camel Corps where he worked in the veterinary section.
Much of his time overseas in the army was spent in hospital. The gonorrhoea was never really cured, he contracted malaria, had an attack of appendicitis, sebaceous cysts and preauricular abscesses.
He returned to Australia in 1919 and was discharged in the October. Tarbotton told friends that he intended to play reserve grade for the Newtown club. However, he subsequently obtained work in the Loco Yard at Everleigh (a part of the NSW Railways repair and maintenance section at Redfern, well prior to it all being moved west to Chullora).
Then, only months later a new club, Railways, was accepted into the 1920 first grade competition in Sydney. Jim Tarbotton joined them.
This rough young rawbone footballer soon came to the attention of state selectors and was chosen in numerous NSW and Sydney representative teams between 1920-22.
There is a discrepancy in the records too for Jim’s size. The AFL Tables tell us he was 185cm & 86kgs, while his army records say whilst on both his enlistment papers, the discharged 1916 one and accepted enlistment that he is 5 foot 8 inches and 132lbs = 173cm & 60kg. A big difference.
Looking at him in a team photograph he was a fair size of a man, definitely taller than 173cm. However a minor reference to him playing cricket in January 1922 exposed the truth when it said: “The selection of Tarbotton is a surprise, he is a left-hander, 22 years of age, and standing 6ft 2in (188cm). ” This suggests perhaps his birth year was 1899.
We read further that in 1923 Jim had transferred from the Railways Club (Sydney) to Fitzroy FC. However a check of the VFL records found no such name. This was not so strange because over the years, a number of players were reported to have transferred to a club in Melbourne and their name did not appear in the club’s list of players. They have his name registered as Tarbolton.
Initially he was in Melbourne playing cricket prior to Christmas 1922 then moved on to football.
It is here that he starts to get referred to as Tarbolton, but not all the time. Sometimes as Tarbotton, other and on lesser occasions, as Tarbolton.
Only once, in 1922, was he referred to in the Sydney newspapers as Tarbolton. An easy mistake.
Jim made his mark in Melbourne football early. In the 1923 preliminary final with Fitzroy and before a crowd of 55,000, a far cry to the 500 who watched him play at Moore Park in Sydney, he was named as one of the best. Then again the following week in the grand final against Essendon he was again named in Fitzroy’s best players: Tarbotton (written as it is spelt) gave his best display of the season on the back lines. He was a strong, gallant defender.”
Also, he proved no wilting violet in the VFL, standing up for himself on several occasions where he was recorded in rough if not violent play. This led to his being reported at least twice. One was for attempting to strike his opponent, Essendon’s star CHF, Tom Fitzmaurice, a fellow 1921 NSW team mate of Jim’s.
His talent was recognized when he was chosen in the VFL squad for an interstate game around the same period.
Tarbotton went on to play 37 games for Fitzroy until 1926, then leg problems forced him out of the top side. The following year he was appointed coach of the club’s second eighteen. In 1928 he moved out to the Federal District League as coach of the Mentone Club, a role he had for several seasons.
In 1932 he turned his hand to umpiring and officiated in the same league until 1937. In fact, James is recorded as taking the book out to a few players during his time with the whistle, so he played it how he saw it.
But we haven’t finished with Jim. Eight months after the start of WWII he again enlisted in the army, this time with a birth date of 5 May 1901. He reached the rank of Warrant Officer.
Following the war he continued to reside in Melbourne, where he passed away in April 1997, aged 97.
So here is our forgotten Sydney footballer. A player with four birthdates who became a leading player and committed soldier and good all-round bloke.