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Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington 035: Albert de Clifton

The Wellington representative team in 1919, with Albert de Clifton circled. 

Then, as now, several well-known players stayed in the game post-retirement and became referees.

In the early years, people like J.P. Firth and Peter Webb were prominent officials as well as players (in a couple of instances doing both at the same time) and later Eric Tindill was the most famous example of all, being both a double All Black player and an international rugby referee and cricket umpire.

Another is Albert de Clifton, who was involved in rugby at Senior Championship and representative level as a player and referee for almost three decades, up until his final game on the whistle in the late 1930s.

De Clifton was a Wellington representative player, briefly in 1914 and again between 1919-21, and a top-level club rugby and representative referee throughout much of the 1920s and 1930s.

Born in Woodville in 1892, de Clifton was a ‘forward’ who played club rugby in Wellington for the long-defunct Slewyn Rugby Football Club.

Selwyn were a noted ‘Junior Championship’ club in the pre-World War One years but joined the Senior Championship post war.

In 1919, the club made the ‘semi-finals’ of the Senior Championship, losing to Poneke (the eventual Champions). In 1923 the club fielded a team in every Wellington grade. De Clifton was Club Captain in 1922. However, in 1925, the senior side lost every game in the season and was relegated to the B division, which was to eventually lead to a merger in 1932 with Melrose. De Clifton was President of Melrose-Selwyn in 1935 and again in early 1936 when the merged club renamed itself the United Rugby Football Club, which disbanded a year later.

De Clifton played some games for Wellington B in 1914 and perhaps one or two A games (records are ambiguous on this fact). He was one of 100 Selwyn club members to serve in the first world war, returning to Wellington to resume his playing career in 1919.

De Clifton made 5 Wellington A team appearances in 1919 and was listed as a try scorer in two of Wellington’s Ranfurly Shield defences that season: in the 18-10 win over Taranaki and the 24-3 win over Auckland. He made a further three appearances in 1920 and five in 1921.

There was a healthy refereeing corps in Wellington in the 1930s administrating the growing game and de Clifton joined their ranks.

As well as de Clifton, other top referees spanning the 1920s and 1930s included T. Jones, A.E. Neilson, J.L. Simpson, J.S. King, J. Gilchrist, D. Calcinai, R.J. Paton, R.E. Wilkinson, T.A. Fletcher, H.S. Leith, A.C. Kitto, E. Perry and J. Moffitt.

Some big matches in the early 1930s that de Clifton controlled were Wellington v the All Blacks in 1932 (won 36-23 by Wellington), Wellington v Auckland and Wellington v Taranaki in 1932, Hawke’s Bay v Taranaki for the Ranfurly Shield in 1934 (won by Hawke’s Bay 23-8) and Wellington v Hawke’s Bay in both 1934 and 1936.

Albert de Clifton awarding a try, Image credit: Evening Post 28 July 1934.

In 1936, the WRFU, for the first time, awarded blazers to those referees who controlled seven or more “A” representative matches, with the official union monogram and the word “Referee” inscribed on it. De Clifton, Moffitt and King were the three referees awarded this.

Joe Moffitt was the brother of Jim Moffitt, who was a 1920-21 All Black out of the Oriental club.

Also in 1936, Moffitt refereed the test match at Athletic Park between the All Blacks and Australia, which the All Blacks won 11-6.

The following year, King (later Captain King in the war) controlled two tests of the All Blacks – South Africa series, as well as Canterbury v South Africa.

R.J. Paton was also a Wellington representative player between 1912-20 out of the Athletic club and later a leading club and representative referee. He controlled the 1931 match between Australia and New Zealand Māori. Local referee Dave Calcinai was part of the famous Poneke family and he had played matches for Wellington between 1906-08.

De Clifton refereed the match between Taranaki and South Africa in New Plymouth on 31 July 1937, won 17-3 by South Africa and involving a spectacular length of the field try to South Africa from a turnover on their own line. This was the only international fixture he controlled.

He was also an executive member of the NZRRA in the 1930s.

In 1939 it was recorded that there were 104 referees in Wellington who were appointed to 1275 matches throughout the season. De Clifton was elected President of the WRRA in 1940.

De Clifton passed away in 1983. He was 91.


  • Evening Post newspaper various reports 1930s.
  • Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016.
  • Chester R.H. & McMillan N.A.C. The Visitors. The History of Rugby Teams in New Zealand. Moa Pubications, Auckland 1990.
  • Noble-Campbell, Gordon, Cooper, Stephen, Richardson, Nigel. Ghost Rugby Clubs of Wellington. Glenbeigh Books, Wellington 2019.
  • Swan, Arthur C.; Jackson, Gordon F. W. (1952). Wellington’s Rugby History 1870 – 1950. Wellington, New Zealand: A. H. & A. W. Reed.
  • Wellington Rugby Referees’ Association. Thirty-first man: one hundred years of the Wellington Rugby Referees’ Association. Wellington. 1994.

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