Cassie Mercer embarks on a quest to understand more about a famous cricketer in the family tree.
The Aussie cricket season is here! Just like thongs and singlets, melting ice-cream and mossies, cricket represents an Australian summer.
The game became all the more interesting to me when I discovered that an ancestor of mine was a legendary batsman who played for Australia. Warren Bardsley, who played 30 Ashes matches and 41 Tests between 1909 and 1926, was my second cousin twice removed on my maternal side. Okay, I had to use the handy app cousincalc to work out that relationship, but still – there you go. A famous cricketer in the family. Howzat!
Bardsley’s parents were William Bardsley and Rachel Hannah Readford. Rachel was related to my maternal great grandmother, Kesia Florence Readford. Warren Bardsley was noted as a serious man, a teetotaller and a vegetarian. He also took his cricket very seriously. He was often training from 6am to 6pm, and his only reprimand in his career was a fine for wanting to play too many matches. Bardsley’s father was a steady character – he worked as a school teacher for 40 years in Glebe, in Sydney’s inner west – which I assume helped develop Bardsley’s own unwavering determination to excel at his sport. He didn’t marry until he was 62.
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the opening left-hander was the first player to score a century in each innings of a Test match. His cricketing ability garnered much interest in England, where he had a successful career as a first class batsman. He made four tours of England representing Australia, and captained two Ashes matches in 1926 (becoming the oldest player to ever captain Australia) before retiring at the age of 43.
Discovering Bardsley was on a branch of my family tree was a fascinating and rewarding journey. We’d been researching the Readford line for some time and finding out what we could through births, marriages and death records, the Australian Convict Collection, obituaries and cemetery records, and land records. Even though the link to Bardsley is relatively recent and almost in living memory, the connection was unknown to my family.
Bardsley was born in Warren, a town in western New South Wales with strong links to the Readford family. He’s descended from Irish and English convicts, who were transported – his great grandfather was a notorious highwayman in Dublin in the 1790s. Bardsley had another illustrious ancestor as well – the famous cattle duffer Harry Readford, aka Captain Starlight, was his uncle. It’s unlikely that Bardsley or his immediate family would have known of these links at the time though – it was the sort of thing that was very often covered up, rather than today where we consider a convict connection to be as good as a royal one.
I’m yet to research the Bardsley line so who knows what light that will shed on the lineage of one of Australia’s great cricketing greats but I’m ready for the challenge!
Cassie Mercer is an editor based in Sydney. She founded the award-winning magazine Inside History in 2010, creating a following of 60,000+ readers and working with Australia’s key cultural institutions to bring the nation’s history to life across Inside History’s multi-channel platforms. The history bug struck her when she discovered the story of her 5x great grandparents – in the late 1700s, one was a highwayman in Dublin and the other was the madam of a brothel, of the Lower Sort.