Trove kicks premiership goal
Mystery football trophy returned to its rightful home
30 May 2017
What was an 1896 premiership trophy doing in the Fitzroy Football Club Museum in Melbourne when the then VFA club had finished fifth that year?
That was the puzzle facing Hobart-based football historian Adam Muyt when a member of the Fitzroy-Brisbane Lions Historical Society contacted him realising the trophy belonged to another club, albeit with the same name.
The fact that “someone in Tasmania’’ had donated the trophy to the Melbourne-based Fitzroy and that it carried the name of a sponsor, The Daily Telegraph, provided clues.
Mr Muyt turned to Trove and a lost piece of football history found its rightful home and the memory of a successful if short-lived club was retrieved.
After only an hour’s research in the digitised newspaper collection, Mr Muyt traced the trophy to Launceston’s forgotten Fitzroy Football Club, which ran from 1892-98 and won the premiership in 1896.
To his surprise, the Historical Society gave him the trophy to take back to Tasmania, and in February he handed it over to the Queen Victoria Museum and Gallery in Launceston.
History Centre Research Officer at QVMAG, Ross Smith, said the digitised pages of The Examiner, The Daily Telegraph and The Tasmanian Democrat on Trove were almost the sole source of club history as there were no football administration documents from that era in the QVMAG collections.
“The history of the Fitzroy (Launceston) club appears lost in the mists of time,’’ he said.
“It’s because of Trove helping with that research into football history that you pick up the quite short time span of that local Fitzroy club.’’
It first appears as a NTFA junior association club in 1892. By 1895 it had become a member of the senior association, wearing the red and blue. However, before the start of the 1898 season, the Fitzroy secretary told the controlling body that the club would not be able to field a side that year—like other clubs before it a victim of the economic depression of the time.
Mr Smith said football was in a parlous state in the region with only three teams competing in 1896 – Fitzroy, Railways and Launceston.
The Daily Telegraph report of the premiership-deciding match, laments a spoiling wind that hampered the players, with Fitzroy prevailing 6 goals 17 behinds to Launceston’s 3 goals 11 behinds.
In a later report of the official presentation at the Workman’s Club, Mr A.W. Whitaker, proprietor of The Daily Telegraph and also club patron, presented the trophy, saying the team had played “a fair, manly and honest game’’, and also noting his pleasure at the increase in the number of ladies present at the season’s matches.
There are no later references to Fitzroy beyond 1898, nor any clues as to why it was so named, as there is no locality of that name in Launceston.
“Around that era, Melbourne suburban names do appear in the football pages or notes. There was a little club called Hawthorn that played in the Beaconsfield Association on West Tamar a few years later,’’ Mr Smith said.
Mr Muyt said there was also an Essendon playing in Launceston around the time of Fitzroy, going on to become the North Launceston Football Club and wearing red and black to this day.
Launceston jewellers F & W Stewart designed the “Daily Telegraph Trophy’’, which Mr Whitaker donated for the 1896 premiership season.
“And because of Trove it was so wonderful to have the detailed description of it in the Press at the time confirming that it was made by a local jewellery shop, and that business still operates from the same building,’’ Mr Smith said.
The trophy consists of a partially velvet-covered dark wooden base, holding a silver stem supporting a mounted emu egg, to represent a football. On top of the egg is a gold-plated cast metal figure of a footballer with an Australian Rules football at his feet.
“Attached to the trophy are twenty-five silver shield-shaped scarf pins, one for each player,’’ reports the Daily Telegraph from the official presentation.
The trophy is also an example of well-made, locally designed and constructed silverware, including an unusual adaptation of the technique of mounting emu eggs.
“It’s a beautiful trophy, and unusual for the emu egg to be placed the way it is,’’ Mr Smith said. “Normally the egg is north-south, up and down, this one is horizontal.’’
It is yet to be displayed at QVMAG, because a gold figurine footballer that broke off in transit needs to be refixed.
“It is a fine example of the value placed on trophies during the late 1800s, in contrast to the gradual lessening of value of sporting trophies up to the present day,’’ Mr Smith said.
“It is also an example of how inadvertent mistakes can be made in the writing and display of history, with the item being associated with the wrong football club for many years.’’
And how Trove can put things to right.
The Trove Roadshow rolls into Launceston on Thursday, when you can learn how your collection can join millions of others in the treasure that is Trove.
Find out where the Roadshow is heading here – and book in to join in if we are coming to a town or city near you.