Harrison Questioned as “Father of the Game”

   H.C.A. Harrison

Henry Harrison has long been recognized as ‘The Father of Australian Football’.  A term he earned after a long life spent as a player, administrator and umpire of the game.  He was born near Picton NSW in 1836 and his family moved to Melbourne in 1850.  He was an athlete who excelled at pedestrianism (athletics) then went on to play in the early games of Australian (then Victorian) Football in 1859. [1]

He played for three clubs, Richmond, Melbourne and Geelong and Melbourne again, at all of which he was captain but probably gained more notoriety as allegedly being solely responsible for drafting the second revision of the rules of the game in 1866. [2]  These changes were adopted unanimously.

The following paragraph written in 1908 by a journalist with the non de plume of ‘Cynic’ from the Referee Newspaper, quotes from page 363 of the Sydney Mail of 25 August 1883, which validates the suggestion that Harrison was not involved with the initial founding of those first rules (the game).  History credits Tom Wills as the man most instrumental in the introduction of ‘the game’, but as you can read, it says “Tom Wills suggested the Rugby rules, but nobody understood them except himself…”  This leads to the speculation that perhaps all four were ‘fathers of the game’ and possibility W.J. Hammersley, and Englishman, may well not have received the recognition due to him.

“In ‘The Referee’ (17/8/’08) I touched on the origin of the Australian Game of Football, and quoted evidence to show that the title, ‘The Father of the Game’, has been incorrectly conferred, by the Press of Melbourne upon Mr. H. C. A. Harrison. The evidence was from the writings of Messrs, T W Wills and J. B. Thompson, two of the committee of four which drafted the first set of rules just 50 years ago. I have received two letters on the subject from Melbourne footballers, but while agreeing with the statements I put forward, they throw no fresh light on the matter. As Mr. Harrison is still quoted on all sides, in the Press and at official functions, as ‘the father of the game’, further reference to the first code of rules for what is to-day known as the Australian Game having been drawn up by a committee consisting of Messrs. T. W. Wills, W.J. Hammersley, J. B. Thompson, and T Smith, is timely. The evidence of Messrs. Wills and Thompson is thoroughly borne out by the late Mr. Hammersley, who, for 18 years. was sporting editor of ‘The Australasian’. In 1883, after he had withdrawn from regular journalistic harness, Mr. Hammersley, in an article referring to football in Victoria, made the following statement :— When the game was first started in Victoria on anything like a sound footing (that was in 1857), it was a very rough game and no mistake. My shins now show honourable scars, and often I had the blood trickling down my legs. No wonder, for hacking was permitted and no objection was taken to spiked shoes. One day, however, after a severe fight in the old Richmond paddock, when blood had been drawn freely and some smart rape exchanged, and a leg broken, it occurred to some of us that if we had rules to play under it would be better. Tom Wills suggested the Rugby rules, but nobody understood them except himself and the result was – adjourn to the Parade Hotel close by and think the matter out. This we did, with the following result: Several drinks and the formation of a committee consisting of Tom Wills, myself, J.B. Thompson and Football Smith, as he was termed, a master in the Scotch College, a rattling fine player, and splendid kick, but of a very peppery temper. We decided to draw up a simple code of rules and as few as possible, so that anyone could quickly under-stand. We did so and the result was the rules then drawn up form the basis of the present code under which the game is universally played in Victoria and most other parts of Australia. I feel sure that neither Rugby nor the Association code will ever supplant them. In the light of this indisputable, corroboratory evidence, ”there cannot be any possible doubt that Mr. H. C. A. Harrison is not ‘the father of the game.’ In the article from which I have quoted, Mr. Hammersley made some reference to the early days of cricket in Victoria and to the ‘old Identities,’ and in this he paid a tribute to the good work done in the interests of that game and athletic sports by Mr, Harrison : There are not many left ; but amongst all the men I remember who have worked hard for the game in Australia, Mr. W. H. Handfield, Mr. T. F. Hamilton, and the late Mr. D.S. Campbell deserve the most credit for their disinterested labor in the game of cricket. And another name I may add to the list, I think, in the promotion of not cricket only, but of all athletic sports that of Mr. H. C. Harrison.” [3]

[1]  Australian Dictionary of Biography
[2]  Wilipedia – H.C.A. Harrison
[3]  Referee (Sydney, NSW : 1886 – 1939), Wednesday 9 September 1908, page 8