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Andrew Stoddart's bat: The Ashes

Andrew Stoddart's bat: The Ashes

The Test cricket competition between England and Australia has been known as the Ashes since 1882 when an Australian XI beat the English team on English soil for the first time. In response to the defeat, the Sporting Times carried a mock obituary lamenting the 'death' of English cricket and suggesting that the 'body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia'. The English press took up the joke and dubbed the return tour to Australia in 1882 'the quest to regain the Ashes'.

The English team, captained by Ivo Bligh, won the return series, defeating Australia two matches to one. During the tour, a group of women from Melbourne, including his future wife Florence Murphy, presented Bligh with a small terracotta urn containing real ashes. This urn became the symbol of England and Australia's cricketing rivalry.

A mock obituary from a newspaper. The text says (from top to bottom) 'Sept. 2, 1882. The Sporting Times. In Affectionate Remembrance of English Cricket, Which Died At The Oval on 29th August, 1882, Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances. R.I.P. N.B. - The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.'


Nobody knows for sure what is contained in the Ashes urn. Tradition states that it contains a burnt stump, bail or the outer casing of a ball. Bligh's descendants have also suggested that it holds the remains of his wife's veil.

Left: The Sporting Times carried this mock obituary lamenting the 'death' of English cricket in 1882. The English press took up the joke and dubbed the return tour to Australia in 1882 'the quest to regain the Ashes'. Courtesy: The British Library.

 

Below: The Ashes urn is not itself presented as a trophy. The fragile urn remains with the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord's cricket ground in England. Since 1998 a Waterford crystal trophy, commissioned by the Marylebone Cricket Club and modelled on the original urn, is presented to the winner of each series. Courtesy: Terry Murphy Media.

Two colour photographs of the urn used to hold the ashes played for by Australia and England. The left side photo shows the urn next to a large glass trophy version of it. The original urn is dark and sits on a light-coloured base. The trophy urn is ornately engraved and sits on a polished dark wood base. Both urns sit on a marble-topped table. A blue backdrop can be seen behind the urns. The left side photo shows a close up of the original urn. There is a plaque with writing on the urn and a cork stopper in the neck.