The bizarre tale of the 1st Lions captain and his tragic drowning in Oz

Robert Seddon drowned in the middle of the 1888 tour to Australia.

Lions tour manager Andy Irvine with tour captain Sam Warburton and Manu Tuilagi.
Lions tour manager Andy Irvine with tour captain Sam Warburton and Manu Tuilagi.
Image: David Davies/PA Wire

LIONS CAPTAIN SAM WARBURTON may be fretting over his Test spot in the upcoming series against Australia but, today, he was given a sobering glimpse of a tour that was met with genuine tragedy.

Warburton was joined by teammate Manu Tuilagi and tour manager Andy Irvine at Campbell’s Hill Cemetary, near Newcastle, at the grave of Robert Seddon, the first man to captain the Lions.

The Englishman captained his country three times in 1887 and, despite never having won a Test match in that brief period, was selected to lead a select British Isles side tour tour Australia (in 1888). The tour was a private venture undertaken by cricketers Alfred Shaw and Arthur Shrewsbury.

20 games into the 35-game tour, disaster struck as the forward was drowned in the River Hunter after a sculling accident. He had set out in the row-boat alone and, following a search later that day (15 August), his body was discovered by teammates Jack Anderton and Andrew Stoddart.

Stoddart, another Englishman and a cricketer of some repute with Middlesex, took over the captaincy on tour and led the team, retrospectively named the Lions, for the remainder of the tour. A memorial plaque was unveiled a year after the rugby tourists returned home. The memorial plaque was then placed on a headstone at a later date and has been cared for by Maitland RFC for the past 90 years.

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Speaking at the ceremony at Campbell’s Hill today, Irvine said, “This demonstrates the spirit of rugby. The lads from Maitland rugby club have done a wonderful job in maintaining this grave and it looks fantastic.”

From the Lions perspective we feel very humbled and honoured that they have done something like this for our first captain. Robert Seddon must be one of the most famous individuals of all time. We’ve had many glorious captains on tours since 1888, but to be the captain of the first Lions tour is very special indeed.”

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Patrick McCarry

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