You are here
Home > All Blacks > Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington: 010 Harry Roberts

Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington: 010 Harry Roberts

The 1884 New Zealand rugby team – Harry Roberts seated bottom right.

Henry “Harry” Roberts  was predominantly a halfback, who could also play most positions in the backline. He scored New Zealand’s first try in international rugby and his son Teddy was an All Black.

Small in stature, Harry Roberts was known as being a fierce competitor and gave it his all every time he stepped on to the field.

He played for the Wellington Football Club and for the Wellington representative team between 1883 and 1889 and also played for Canterbury in 1887 and 1888.

Harry Roberts.

He was one of five Wellington players selected in the New Zealand team for its first ever tour overseas, to New South Wales in 1884, the others being Edwin Davy, John Dumbell, Hart Udy and Peter Webb.

Davy was also a halfback who played for Athletic and by virtue of his surname was Wellington’s first All Black. Dumbell was listed as a halfback and played for Athletic as well and weighed 50kg. Udy was actually from Greytown but at that time Wairarapa club players played under the Wellington banner. Udy was also Wellington’s selector in 1884 and 1885, so presumably selected the Wellington team that played the New Zealand side in this first ever international match as noted in the paragraph below. Webb was a forward and played for the Wellington Football Club with Roberts.

Just before departure, the New Zealand team played a warm-up match against the balance of the Wellington provincial line-up. The match at Newtown Park on 22 May 1884 was played in inclement weather after already been delayed a day and Roberts scored the game’s first and only try just before halftime when he capitalised on a Wellington error. In scoring this try, Roberts has the distinction of being New Zealand’s first try-scorer in international rugby.

Roberts went on to score three more tries on tour and he played in seven of the eight matches.

In 1886, New South Wales toured New Zealand and Roberts played against them twice for Wellington, scoring a try in the 7-0 win in the first of these matches.

In 1888 Roberts played for Canterbury against the touring Great Britain team. He then organised his own team of players drawn from Wellington and Wairarapa when the Wellington union declined to have a return match against them. The team was called the H Roberts XV and lost to the tourists 4-1.

Roberts also spawned an impressive rugby family.

His son E J “Teddy” Roberts was an All Black in 1913-14 and 1920-21 – so Harry and Teddy were New Zealand’s first father-son internationals.

Like father, like son, Teddy was also a halfback and occasional first-five. He played 26 matches for the All Blacks, including five Tests.

The two Roberts had a strong association with the now defunct St James Club.

St James, known as the “Jimmies” was formed in 1900 and affiliated with the WRFU in 1901.

In 1908 St James entered the Senior Championship for the first time with Harry Roberts the team’s coach and son Teddy captain, together helping them finish fifth in their debut season.

In 1909 they finished third and in 1910 second, their best finish. World War One contributed the downfall of the club, eventually folding in 1921.

Teddy Roberts was selected for Wellington for the first time in 1910, later switching to Athletic where he made the All Blacks from in 1913.

Harry Also played cricket His first-class record for Wellington was 224 runs in 12 matches, average 10.18 and a highest score of 42 and 13 wickets at average cost of 13.15.

Like his father, Teddy played representative cricket and was Wellington’s wicketkeeper in the 1910-11 season.

Two other  of Harry’s sons, Harry Junior (1909) and Len (1920) also represented Wellington whilst a grandson, Bruce, appeared for a New Zealand XV 1944.

Harry Roberts lived to the ripe old age of 86. Following the death of James O’Donnell in 1942 he was New Zealand’s oldest living All Black. Roberts passed away on New Year’s Day in 1949.

Article References

  • All Blacks A-Z player profiles of Harry and Teddy Roberts – by Lindsay Knight.
  • The Evening Post, 22 May 1884 – Football report
  • Gordon Noble-Campbell, Stephen Cooper and Nigel Richardson. Ghost Rugby Clubs of Wellington. Glenbeigh Books, Wellington, 2019.
  • A. C. McMillan and Rod H. Chester. The Visitors: The History of International Rugby Teams in New Zealand. Moa Publications Auckland, 1990
  • Swan, A.C. History of New Zealand Rugby Football, Volume 1 1870-1945. Christchurch. Whitcombe and Tombs 1948.

Similar Articles

Leave a Reply