Australian women’s cricket pioneers of the 1880s get fresh innings

Louisa (left) and Nellie Gregory. Images courtesy SCGT Museum and Trove. Source: SCGT Museum/Trove

The Gregory family is Australian cricket royalty - but until now, some members have been left out of the history books.

These days Ellyse Perry is almost a household name - but it hasn’t always been that way for female cricketers. Now, a new project is hoping to shine a light on the history of women’s cricket in NSW.

Australian cricket fans are already likely familiar with the Gregory family; Ned Gregory played in Australia’s first test against England in 1877 alongside his brother David, who was Australia’s first national cricket captain. Ned’s sons, Charles and Syd, were also cricketers - Syd played 58 Test matches for Australia between 1890 and 1912.

Louisa (left) and Nellie Gregory. Images courtesy SCGT Museum and Trove.
Louisa (left) and Nellie Gregory. Images courtesy SCGT Museum and Trove.
SCGT Museum/Trove

Lesser known, however, are Ned’s four daughters - Nellie, Louisa, Alice and Gertrude - who were among the first female cricket players in the state in the 1880s. 

“There was a lot of cricket in Australia at that time, but it was only for men - and if girls played it was only a bit of hit and giggle in the backyard with the boys,” Madeleine Lindsell from the SCG Museum told SBS News.

“But they were the first women to play an organised, formal game on the SCG and they [Nellie and Louisa] were the opposing captains in that game.”

The National Centre for Biography, based at the Australian National University (ANU), and the Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust (SCGT) have teamed up to author new entries for the Gregory sisters.

Those entries will be published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography - next to the existing entries for their male family members.

The Fernleas, one of the teams in NSW's first women’s cricket match, pictured in 1886.
The Fernleas, one of the teams in NSW's first women’s cricket match, pictured in 1886.
Illustrated Sydney News

“As well as being among the first women players in NSW, Nellie and Louisa Gregory actually drove the development of women’s cricket, with Nellie organising matches and teaching cricket to girls in schools. Yet we know very little about them,” Christine Fernon of the National Centre for Biography said.

Ms Lindsell has authored an obituary for Nellie and Louisa and has been tasked with writing the Australian Dictionary of Biography entries.

“They are part of our fabric really, they are a very important family to us,” she said.

“To me, they’re our royalty.

“They had a very deep involvement in women’s cricket, which at that time was unique. They were not only players, but they also organised teams, they were captains and Nellie ended up being the first president of the NSW Women's Cricket Association in 1927.”

The Siroccos, the opposing team in NSW's first women's cricket match. Pictured in 1886.
The Siroccos, the opposing team in NSW's first women's cricket match. Pictured in 1886.
Illustrated Sydney News

In terms of cricket stardom, the sisters had a bit of a head start - they spent their childhood living at the Sydney Cricket Ground, which was at that time known as the Military and Civil Ground. Ned was the first curator of the grounds and he brought his family up on the site.

"They had the SCG as their backyard,” she said.

But despite this - and despite giving their brothers a run for their money in terms of skill - at the time, women’s cricket was not taken seriously like it is today.

“There wasn’t a competition as such and there was a lot of social divide between people who felt that women didn't have any place on the cricket ground. So they had to combat that, which today’s players shouldn’t - I wouldn’t say don’t, but they shouldn’t,” Ms Lindsell said.

“The attitude was split between being encouraging and being a bit condescending and focusing on what they were wearing over what they could do on the pitch.”

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