Sunday, May 6, 2012

J H Haslam’s 1926 cricket sonnet on Jack Hobbs

A very good cricket poem I came across recently is by Rev. J H (Harry) Haslam (1874-1969) of the Methodist Church in New Zealand, a completely forgotten poet in New Zealand.
Haslam is also the surname of former Black Caps spinner Mark Haslam. I don’t know whether they were related as Mark Haslam was born in England.
Harry Haslam was born in Christchurch on 13 July 1874. His father was Charles Haslam, an old Nelsonian. Early in his life, the family moved to Wellington where his father found work as a supervisor in the Hannah and Company’s boot factory. He was educated at Mt Cook Boys’ School and later Newtown School before beginning his training into the Wesleyan Church ministry. He became a member of the Wesleyan Literary and Debating Society in the early-mid 1890s, did acting for them and edited their journal, which also printed some of his early poems. He moved to Auckland to continue his training for the ministry and attended Auckland University College graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1900. He served out his probationary years in Wellington until stationed to Christchurch. In 1903, his poem ‘A Bike Race’ appeared in the Canterbury College Review while he was living there.
Haslam married Florence Elizabeth Hurlstone in 1904 and had two children: Eric Haslam and Gladys Hayman (née Haslam). He worked as a Methodist Church minister stationed in different areas of New Zealand (including Bunnythorpe 1913-17 and Waimate 1926-1929) rising to distinction in the Methodist Church as secretary and later president of Conference. Haslam was also a Methodist marriage celebrant.
He was also a member of the Savage Club and the Masonic Lodge and played music. His obituary notes: ‘He was for many years a member of the St Paul’s Choir and entertained at concerts with violin solos.’ He could play the piano in his later years for hymn singing.
One book of his poetry, Scenes in Southland, appeared in London in 1926 that includes his cricket sonnet ‘Ambition’. He must’ve been in Southland before moving to Waimate. He is chiefly a sonneteer working over spiritual themes and the universal subjects of love and death. Other topics include war, and literature, and there is a section of lighter verse possibly written in his younger years. Some poems certainly date back to his student years in Auckland. The strongest of his sonnets relate to the death of a close friend before 1926.
His other publications include contributing Westland Methodist Church history material by the Rev. G S Harper (1840-1911) to the Wesley Church History Society as well as editing Harper’s Gold Diggings and the Gospel: The Westland Diary of the Rev. G. S. Harper, 1865-66.
Haslam retired to Waimate in 1940 where he lived out the remaining years of his long life. His wife Florence died in 1958. Towards the end of his life, his eyesight went and his obituary notes: ‘it was his deep regret that he became divorced from his books’.
It’s certain that Haslam known as Harry to his friends played cricket as a young man for the Wesley Cricket Club in Wellington and enjoyed other sports such as tennis. He continued to play at cricket matches organised by delegates to Methodist conferences. One of these matches between a Wednesday Association and a Clergyman’s Eleven (that included Haslam) was played at the Basin Reserve (Evening Post, 15 February 1913). Newspaper match reports indicate that he could bat and bowl and obviously studied and kept up with the game. His cricket sonnet shows a sense of wide reading and knowledge.
It’s a very interesting piece as it discusses Sir Jack Hobbs whose batting ambition surpassed W G Grace’s records. For years W G known as The Champion and The Great Cricketer seemed an unsurpassable magician with his willow wand on uncovered pitches overshadowing his elder brother E M Grace, himself a significant English batsman. Hobbs became The Master.
A very good biography by Simon Rae discusses W G Grace’s life in depth, including his double-life as a doctor and cricketer and his awe-inspiring records made on poor pitch surfaces in 19th century England. Hobbs and others like the Australian Victor Trumper were also great players on uncovered pitches. Sir Don Bradman of course eclipsed them all but by the start of his era pitches were beginning to be covered and a majority of Bradman’s scoring records were on good pitches. This next leads to the question of how good and quick were the bowling attacks between the 19th and 20th centuries. I'd say bowlers like Larwood were faster in Bradman's era.
Here is Haslam’s sonnet; the opening line is from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, Act III, Scene 2:

J H HASLAM

Ambition

‘I charge thee, fling away Ambition.’ Thus
The puling Cardinal at Fortune’s end,
To Cromwell, daring still to be his friend,
Gave counsel futile. Nay, calamitous,
If men unwisely heeded. Dolorous
And flat this life of ours, could we not bend
Our energies with honour, and contend
For pride of place with those ahead of us.

Had Hobbs in mid career cried, ‘Hold enough;
The Doctor’s record cannot be o’erpassed,’
‘Ambition should be made of sterner stuff,’
Had well been said. Stand cricketers aghast
At this new record? Fie, I cry you, Shame!
Come, take your centre, bid for greater fame!

Poem © Rev. J H Haslam 1926

(From Scenes in Southland, The Epworth Press, London, 1926)

Sir Jack Hobbs at the end of his career amassed 61,760 runs to W G Grace’s 54,211 runs.

Article © Mark Pirie 2012

(Sources: Cricinfo; Obituary for Rev. J H Haslam in the Waimate Daily Advertiser, 20 October 1969; Births Deaths and Marriages (NZ) website; ancestry.com.au website; Email from Rowan Gibbs; Papers Past and the National Library of New Zealand catalogue; and Scenes in Southland by Rev. J H Haslam (London: The Epworth Press, 1926))

J H Haslam’s book Scenes in Southland is now available for download on Apple itunes:

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