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Pioneers of rugby in Wellington 019: Paul Francis Kane (AKA) Markham

Profiling many of the people that built and helped shape the game in Wellington, from its inception in 1870 through to the WRFU’s 50th Jubilee year in 1929.

  • This week’s profile is from the book The ‘Rugby Patricians’ (more about the book HERE )and has been republished here with permission.

A Father of the game

By Ron Fama, Gordon Noble-Campbell, Nigel Richardson, Steve Cooper, Paul Donoghue, Brian Dive and Tim Donoghue.

Paul Kane was born on November 27, 1891. He was the son of Anthony Kane a railway foreman and Mary Markham, of Craigie Avenue, Timaru. He attended the Marist Brothers School in Timaru, before becoming a boarder at the old St Patrick’s College, Cambridge Terrace, Wellington from 1908-10. He was selected for the First XV in his three years at St Pat’s and captained the side in 1909-10.

Leaving school, Paul Kane entered the Marist Seminary, Greenmeadows and was ordained as a deacon in 1916.

Father Kane was drafted to the join the army in 1917 for a role in the Medical Corps, but his ordination to the priesthood exempted him from conscription.

In 1919 one of his early appointments was to the Marist Parish in Reefton where he joined the Waitahu Football Club. He was selected to represent Inangahua and then West Coast, playing under his mother’s maiden name of Markham.

The following year he joined the Cronadun Club (situated on the east bank of the Inangahua River) and was selected as a late call up to the South Island team due to the unavailability of A E Valentine from Otago.

He also captained the West Coast team.

He was appointed to the staff of St Patrick’s College, Cambridge Terrace Wellington as a resident master in 1921 for a five year term.

In Ron Fama’s 1985 history on the centenary of St Patrick’s College Maurice Kitching – a pupil at the college from 1921-26 – recalled what it was like to have an All Black for a teacher.

‘Another who had a powerful influence on us, possibly because he was big in personality as well as in physique, was Father Paul Kane.

‘The boys held him in awe because he was an All Black, playing for New Zealand, under the name of Paul Markham.

‘Not surprisingly he was a marvellous judge of time and distance when throwing anything and he could drop a heavy wooden blackboard eraser onto the desk of some stargazing boy, restoring instant attention.

‘On one occasion a boy in front of me reached out at the eraser as it flew through the air, diverting it on to my head.

‘The resulting cut, with much blood but little hurt, was a welcome diversion for the class,’ Kitching recalled.

Away from the classroom Father Kane joined the Marist Brothers Old Boys Club which played in Wellington’s senior competition for the first time in 1921.

His outstanding form for the Marist Club saw him selected for Wellington in the 1921 match against the touring Springboks.

He captained the Wellington team which won the Ranfurly Shield off Southland that year.

While he was not originally selected for the All Blacks in 1921, he was called up at late notice to take the place of Auckland’s M Grierson in the test match against New South Wales, which was lost 0-17.

In 1922 he played 15 games for the Marist Senior team which finished third in the Wellington senior competition, scoring one try in the season.

A report in the Evening Post of June 10, 1922 (100 years ago) summed up Kane’s on field commitment to the game. It read:

‘Markham is playing in great form this season and on his showing to date he was well worth considering for representative honours. His defensive work is of a high order and he is ever on the alert to create openings. Marist are an attractive and promising side, but without the services of Markham they would often have a hard row to hoe. Against Oriental last Saturday he did excellently and the way in which he frequently turned a defensive situation into a counterattack was good to watch.’

Fr Kane coached the St Pat’s Town First XV from 1921-24 before being transferred by the Marist order to Queensland.

He was a member of the Wellington Rugby Football Union’s management committee from 1924-25 and was the originator of the first Wellington Secondary Schools rugby competition.

His proposal, approved by the WRFU in 1925 was to start a competition comprising five grades. One of the main reasons for forming the competition was that the age of players opposing students in the 1924 WRFU competitions ranged from 17 to 46.

His plan was eventually implemented in 1928.

Before Fr Kane died in 1953 he was often asked what his proudest moment was in the cause of Marist rugby.

His answer surprised many.

It related to an off-field stoush in 1923 involving Christchurch Marist and the Canterbury Rugby Union.

In that year Christchurch Marist, as Canterbury’s champion club, were down to play Dunedin’s champion side, University in the key South Island intercity Payne Trophy champion of champions South Island club match.

Naturally Christchurch Marist wanted to win the game.

The scrap involved, among other issues, the eligibility for the fixture of a then recently transferred Wellington Marist player Bill Devine for the South Island club final.

The Canterbury Rugby Union ruled Devine and another man Harry Mullins ineligible for the fixture as they had not completed 14-day residency qualifications in the garden city.

All hell broke loose and Christchurch Marist refused to play the match.

This was viewed as a strike by the Canterbury Rugby Union.

There were harsh and ugly words spoken from both sides and what now appears to be a matter of little consequence became at that time a serious quarrel between Freemasonry and Catholicism.

The result was no rugby players took the field under the Marist banner in Christchurch for 22 years.

There is no doubt in Marist minds even to this day that the former Wellington Marist player Devine was an innocent spark who unwittingly set off an explosion already well on the way through a festering undercurrent between the Canterbury Union and the Christchurch Marist club.

Marist Clubs in many centres throughout New Zealand were weakened considerably through members forsaking the rugby union code out of sympathy for the Christchurch Marist club.

Many members of the old Wellington Marist club at the time also wanted to turn their efforts to the pursuit of rugby league.

Looking back on his life Father Kane considered his greatest contribution to rugby occurred when in 1923, assisted by Jim Troy, he persuaded the Wellington Marist Rugby Club not to give up rugby for league at a time when Marist clubs throughout the country were contemplating and indeed took that action.

Fittingly Father Kane’s life is commemorated in the Fr Paul Kane SM Challenge Cup (contested by all Catholic secondary schools throughout New Zealand).

Father Paul Kane was the first of the Marist-St Pat’s 12 All Blacks.

The others were Ray O’Callaghan (1949), Des O’Donnell (1949), Ivan Vodanovich (1955), Grant Batty  (1972-77), Joe Karam (1972-75), John Fleming (1978-80), Tutekawa Wyllie (1980), Brian McGrattan (1983-86), John Schuster (1987-89), Victor Vito (2010-15) and Jeffery To’omaga-Allen (2013).

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