Western Suburbs DRLFC First Grade 1908

Standing (L to R): Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Ernie McFadyen?
Middle (L to R): Unknown, Jim Abercrombie, Jim Stack (C), Unknown, Ted Mead
Front (L to R): Tom Phelan?, Claude McFayden, William “Bill” Elliott, Unknown

Western Suburbs DRLFC First Grade 1908
Source: Australian Star newspaper 21 July 1908

The above 1908 team photos are actually the same but with a different background. It is not known why this was the case, but the lower photo was one of a set of four that was printed by the Australian Star newspaper. Interestingly, the players are in the same position and have the same pose which could suggest that the background was altered by the photographer in the studio. The photographs with different backgrounds makes identification confusing, particularly in trying to compare the Wests photos against other team photos that might have been taken at the same venue.

Rugby League player and match records in the early years were often inaccurate and could be unreliable. Lower grades often had no match or team selection reports, so it is difficult to have a full understanding of all of the players that actually played for the Club in those times. On 17 April 1908 The Australian Star Newspaper printed First and Reserve Grade teams for Wests for the final trial match before the competition commenced three days later. This is one of the few occasions when a full playing roster was recorded and therefore has been reproduced below;

Western Suburbs First Grade (Trials 17 April 1908):

Fullback: G Duffin; Three-quarters: L Byleveld, H Duggan, T Phelan, P Franks; Halves: T Watkins, R Gormley; Forwards: W Elliott, R Ellis, E Mead, A Mount, J Stack (C), J Abercrombie; Reserves: A Brown, C McFayden

Western Suburbs Reserve Grade (Trials 17 April 1908):

Fullback: W Medcalf; Three-quarters: A Blake, Dale, Mawson, E Gormley; Halves: James, H Boyle; Forwards: L Duncan, Putt, H Herrington, Crawford, Harris, Rudman

The First-Grade team that played in the first competition game against Balmain was similar to the First-Grade team that played in the trial match on 17 April, but included Arthur Blake, Arthur Brown and Edward Gormley.

The First-Grade team in the opening competition round on 20 April 1908 was:  George Duffin; Arthur Blake, Arthur Brown, Herbert Duggan, Percy Franks; Edward Lucien Gormley, Raymond Gormley; Jim Abercrombie, Jim Stack (c), T. Alfred Mount, Thomas Phelan, William “Bill” Elliott, Ted Mead.

The enduring question that remains is who were the players in the 1908 Wests team photo? A number of observations have been made, including the following;

  • The 1908 photo is not of the very first team that played in Round 1 against Balmain on 20 April 1908. Claude McFayden is in the photograph, but he was not in the run-on team that played Balmain that day.
  • Given the publication date in the Australian Star newspaper of the 1908 team photo, it could not have been a team from Round nine forward.
  • The identified players are slightly different to those in the book “Clouds of Dust, Buckets of Blood.”
  • There were 27 players listed as playing First Grade in 1908/ However, that should be adjusted to 26 as there is no record of player N. Booth ever taking the field in First Grade. Player Boyleau is most likely the player H. Boyle who also played First Grade in 1909.

The 1908 team photo appears to be the run-on side for one of the Round matches in 1908. The game day referee appears to be in the white jersey standing rear centre. It is hoped to build up confirming information to further identify these players. Each Round has been reviewed and a list of players and the Rounds that they played is shown in the table below.

Western Suburbs Rugby League Teams 1908


Rd 1Rd 2Rd3Rd 4Rd 5Rd 6Rd 7Rd 8Rd 9Rd 10
Abercrombie J.XXXXXByeXXXX
Blake A.XBye
Boyle H.XBye
Byleveld L.XBye
Duffin G.XXByeXX
Duggan B.XXXXBye
Elliott C.ByeX
Elliott W.XXXXByeXXX
Frost F.XByeXXXX
Gilbert G.ByeXX
Gormley E. L.XBye
Herington H.ByeXX
Holloway E.ByeXX
Hodgson J.XByeXXXX
Luhr C.XBye
Mount A.XXXXXBye
Phelan T.XXXXBye
Watkins T.XBye

Team photo identification can be assisted by knowing in what Rounds the identified players in the photo did not play. It is known that Jim Abercrombie and Ted Mead played every Round. However, Claude McFayden missed Rounds 1 and 2, Bill Elliott missed rounds 2 and 9 and Jim Stack missed Round 9. From this information it is not likely that the photo was taken in Rounds 1,2 and 9. This would then eliminate the following players from the photograph who only played in those rounds;

  • Arthur Blake,
  • Les Byleveld,
  • Charlie Elliott,
  • Ted Gormley,
  • Charles Luhr and
  • Tom Watkins.

If Tom Phelan was confirmed to be in this photo, then the following players would be eliminated from the photo;

  • Jim Hodgson,
  • Ernest Holloway,
  • Horace Herington,
  • Granville Gilbert,
  • Frank Frost

There are some further possible considerations in resolving the identification of these players. First is the person in the white jersey. This would appear to be the game day referee. It was not unusual for these photographs to contain players, club officials, ancillary staff and sometimes match officials. It appears that the person in the white jersey is the referee officiating at the game on the day the photograph was taken, but who is he?

There were only a handful of referees in 1908 and there are very few photos that identify these officials. Searching past records, it can be confirmed that the referee was not E J Hooper. There is a photograph of Eddie Hooper below, alongside the photo of the referee that appeared in the Wests photo. Eddie Hooper was an older man and of a different build. Any games where Wests had Eddie Hooper as a referee can also be reasonably excluded. This would then eliminate Rounds 3 and leaving only Rounds 4, 5, 7 and 8 as possibilities given that Round 6 was a bye and Wests did not play. Eddie Hooper was a great uncle of Wests Bill Owens.


E.J. Hooper in Referee’s uniform     Referee in Wests photo

The second clue could be in the photograph itself. It needs to be remembered that in 1908 the population was not that mobile, and technology was limited compared to what we are used to now. Footballers often worked long hours and attending training could be difficult or not possible for those that had to travel significant distances from their home. Often, training would be conducted in diminished light or poor-quality artificial light. These conditions are not conducive to taking photographs.

The only real opportunity to have all players together in conditions that were suitable for a photograph would be on game day. Given the clean state of the players in all team photographs this was most likely done before the game commenced.

The other thing to acknowledge is that photography was not available to the masses unlike it is today. To produce quality photographs, the right equipment would be needed, and the setting staged. This would require some coordination and effort to align teams, conditions and skills.

It appears that all 1908 rugby league teams had photographs taken. The striking feature of the 1908 Western Suburbs team photo is the background. It appears that the photo was taken outdoors, and the background is a blank or relatively blank wall. There appears to be some mottled lines on the wall which could be cracking or some form of vegetative growth such as moss.

The photo that appeared in the Australian Star newspaper confirms that the photo was taken outdoors with a timber structure forming the backdrop, but the photo was subsequently altered to change the background with the more subdued tones described above.

The other point to note is that four of the 1908 rugby league team photographs have the same or similar background. These teams are Western Suburbs, Cumberland, Newcastle and Eastern Suburbs. Putting Eastern Suburbs aside, the other three teams are all “outer” Sydney teams.

It would not be easy to go to the “outer” districts and set up a photo session. It is also noted that all rugby league matches in Sydney were played at three venues, ie Sydney Agricultural Showground, Birchgrove Oval and Wentworth Park, so one of these three venues is most likely where team photographs were taken. Bringing the “outer” district teams to one of these venues for a photographic session would appear to be quite logical and efficient. It would be even more efficient if the photo session was set up on a particular day when all of the “outer” district teams were at the same ground.

This situation occurred twice in 1908, being Rounds three and eight of the Competition. Wests, Cumberland and Newcastle were all at the same ground on these days. In 1908 it was common to have double header Rounds as there were only a limited number of grounds available and the Rugby Union would not give up any of its territory. Eastern Suburbs was never at the same venue, at the same time, as the other three teams. It may have been just opportunistic for Easts to have had their team photo taken at the same location but on a different day.

If the theory of the Referee is correct, then the photo would not have been taken in Round three as the Referee on that day was Edward J Hooper. However, the Referee, Charlie Hutchison was at the ground on that day, and he had control of the earlier match between Newcastle and Cumberland.

Charlie Hutchison did have control of the Wests v Cumberland match in Round eight and it is quite possible that the Wests team photo was taken on this day. The issue that arises here is that Tom Phelan did not play in Round eight.

Further work needs to be done on this and as more information comes to light it is hoped that at the very least the game day team can be identified. An approach has been made to the NSW Rugby League to determine what they might know about team photos from 1908.

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