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Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington 036: Charlie Gillespie and Alexander Pringle

Gillespie left and Pringle right, Oriental club All Blacks 1913 and 1923.

Two Oriental clubmen who played a decade apart but had much in common.

Both Gillespie and Pringle were hard-nosed forwards who both gave unwavering commitment to Oriental in Wellington club rugby over several seasons, both played a similar number of games for Wellington and both had in common playing a solitary match each for the All Blacks.

Charles Theodore Gillespie MC was born in Masterton in 1883 and started his representative career for Wellington out of the Oriental club in 1905 and would have got his first taste of big-time rugby on 19 August that year when he took the field as a loose forward beside William Hardham in the match between Wellington-Wairarapa-Horowhenua and the Australians. This was the first tour by Australia and Gillespie’s home team won 23-7.

Gillespie didn’t play for Wellington in 1906, then moved to Whanganui for two years and played for them or at least was affiliated to them in 1907 and 1908 (no playing record). He then had three years away from representative football but was back in Wellington to play for 1910 Senior Championship winners Oriental and the province for three seasons between 1911-13.

His busiest season in Wellington colours was 1912 when he played in nine of 14 matches for the province. In all he played 24 times for Wellington and scored one try, that being in a 26-9 win over Canterbury in Christchurch in 1911.

On 13 September 1913 Gillespie received his sole international cap when he was called up to the All Blacks as a popular replacement to play the touring Australians in Dunedin. This was also a ‘second-string’ All Blacks team, with the leading selected players having departed by for their tour to North America. Gillespie played at lock in the 25-13 win.

That appears to have been the last or one of the last (Wellington played three more matches that season) games in Gillespie’s career. But he was to make an impact on the battlefield during World War One.

He served at Gallipoli in 1915 as a farrier-sergeant. He rose to the rank of lieutenant and was gassed and wounded at Passchendale in 1917 and he was awarded the Military Cross.

Gillespie was made a Life Member of Oriental in 1931 and coined the phrase “Once and Orie, always an Orie.”

He passed away in Masterton in 1964.

Alexander “Nugget” Pringle was born in Wellington in 1899, making him 16 years younger than Gillespie.

His Wellington career out of the Oriental club spanned five continuous seasons between 1922-27, playing 23 games for Wellington (one fewer than Gillespie).

He too was a loose forward or lock in the era of the 2-3-2 seven-man scrum formation.

Throughout most of Pringle’s career, Poneke and Petone were the dominant teams in club rugby, but Oriental was one of several sides in the chasing pack and there or thereabouts most seasons. Pringle was a mainstay in Oriental’s forwards and is often mentioned in match reports describing his team’s efforts.

Pringle was a tall man for the times, standing 1.96m or 6 foot 5 inches.

This profiler couldn’t find any online record of Pringle playing club rugby prior to 1922, so the assumption is that he burst on to the scene in 1922 and is noted favourably  in several match reports playing for Oriental through that season, and he celebrated his selection in the Wellington team in August with a try in his side’s penultimate round 17-0 win over Selwyn which cemented a solid fifth placed finish out of 10 teams that season.

Pringle made five appearances for Wellington in 1922 – but his first-class debut was an inauspicious one as it was against Hawke’s Bay in a Ranfurly Shield-losing 9-22 outcome. Happier days that year were ahead, with wins over Auckland (19-11) and Canterbury (25-9).

He was again a leading player for Oriental in 1923 and on 18 August of that year he was selected at lock in the combined Wellington-Manawatu-Horowhenua side that beat New South Wales 29-16 at Athletic Park. He was subsequently picked in the second of three tests against the same opposition a fortnight later and scored a try in the 34-6 win. This proved to be his only international.

He was included in the trial process in 1924 for the All Blacks ‘Invincibles’ tour and he would also trial unsuccessfully for the South African tour four years later.

He continued to play for Oriental and Wellington until his retirement in 1927, playing in several big matches. In club rugby, Pringle was a try-scorer in his final club match,  16-0 win for Oriental over Berhampore in the last round of the 1927 Senior Championship.

Pringle played 34 first-class games in total, scoring eight tries.

The player they called Nugget passed away in Christchurch in 1973.


  • Akers, Clive. New Zealand Rugby Register 1870-2015. New Zealand Rugby Museum, 2016.
  • All Blacks A-Z profiles Charlie Gillespie and Nugget Pringle, by Lindsay Knight.
  • Dominion/Evening Post 1910s-1920s – various reports
  • Swan, Arthur C.; Jackson, Gordon F. W. (1952). Wellington’s Rugby History 1870 – 1950. Wellington, New Zealand: A. H. & A. W. Reed.
  • 75th Jubilee 1888-1963 of the Oriental Football Club. Wellington : Standard Press, 1963

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