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The Cricketing Brothers- Charlie, Richard and Helon Ollivierre

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A few years ago ‘Reds’ Perreria, while doing a commentary on a One Day International Game played here, mentioned that ‘Charlie’ (Charles) Ollivierre was the first Vincentian to have played in a West Indian team, that of 1900 that went on a tour to England. The games were not considered official ones since the West Indies team did not have official recognition. ‘Reds’, however, wrongly attributed Charlie’s birth place to Bequia, no doubt associating any Ollivierre with Bequia.{{more}} Although mention is often made of Charlie, his other brothers, Richard and Helon were also exceptional players, Richard following in his footsteps in 1906. The Ollivierres were born on Back Street, residing in a house located somewhere between Victoria Park and the Cemetery. Their father was Helon Ollivierre, the same name as the youngest son. He was considered ‘one of the most popular and respected coloured gentlemen’ in the country. He was a nominated member of the Kingstown Board, belonged to a number of benefit societies, was Treasurer of the Mechanic Association and Chief Ranger of the local Court of the Ancient Order of Forresters.

Although St.Vincent was not a participant in the inter-territorial games played at that time, visiting teams, particularly from England, included it as part of their tour itinerary. This happened from as early as 1896 when an English team led by Slade Lucas won 10 of their 16 matches played in the region, losing only four. On that tour they beat Barbados but were defeated by St.Vincent.

Charlie Ollivierre’s selection on the 1900 West Indian team to tour England was no surprise. C.L.R James, writing in the 1930s had this to say about Charlie, “Up to a few years ago there were experienced West Indian cricketers who believed that Ollivierre was the best batsman the West Indies had ever produced. He was a big powerful man who at school threw 126 yards and cut one-handed for 6. He made most of the strokes with a few of his own, chiefly a glorious lofting drive over extra-cover’s head”. He was clearly the leading local batsman; in fact, he was an outstanding all-rounder and dominated the cricket scene.

At a time when centuries were still hard to come by for Vincentian and even West Indian batsmen he scored 141 in a practice game to select a team for a tour of St.Lucia. That score was then the highest individual score by a local batsman. According to a report on the game, his innings included “11 hits clean out of the ground and the same number of boundaries for 4” His brother Richard scored 49. On the opposing team was the youngest of the brothers, Helon who scored 30 and about whom there was quite a lot of talk suggesting that he was following in the footsteps of his other brothers. After his selection on the team to tour England he scored 130 runs in what one of the newspapers described as ‘faultless style’. It noted that he gave not a single chance but played almost a perfect innings.

The Vincentian public went out of its way to contribute to a fund set up to meet the expenses of the team and at a meeting of the Local Cricket committee a decision was taken to raise ‘a special purse’ for Ollivierre. He left the colony on May 25 to join the team in Barbados. The St.Vincent Handbook had captured the moment, “The jetty was thronged with spectators to wish him ‘bon voyage’. He was presented with a purse, contents of which were contributed by his many friends and well-wishers, also with a congratulatory and encouraging letter. From Barbados he communicated his thanks with the assurance that nothing on his part would be wanting to make his selection satisfactory.”

When the West Indian team arrived in England sometime in June of 1900 his reputation as an all-round cricketer was already well established. The team, however, lost its first four games. In a game in early July the team defeated Leicestershire by an innings and 87 runs with Charlie making 159 the highest score then by any of the batsmen in matches on the tour. Words of congratulations were sent to him by telegram, followed by a cheque of £5.5. Later the team defeated Surrey by an innings with Cox and Ollivierre putting on a record first wicket partnership, Cox scoring 142 and Ollivierre 94. St.Vincent sent a telegram congratulating Barbados on Cox’s fine display. Barbados in reply stated “Thanks well played. Barbados cordially congratulates St.Vincent on Ollivierre’s consistent brilliant success.”

All was however not well and one of the English newspapers summed up its impression of the visitors: “They field fairly well, but their bowling is weak and their batting crude…Few of them score freely on the off side but one and all are good at the old fashioned leg stroke and time the ball admirably.” The fact, however, that Charlie Ollivierre stayed on to play for Derbyshire must have said something about the impression he made in England. The local newspapers in the West Indies and particularly in St.Vincent followed closely his performance in County Cricket there. The Times newspaper carried an item from the Manchester Guardian in its September 1, 1902 edition. His English team had scored 455 for 7 against Warwickshire. The Manchester Guardian wrote, “The hero of the day was C.A Ollivierre, the West Indian, who was batting three hours for a most brilliant and faultless innings of 167 and who thus early proved what a valuable acquisition he is to Derbyshire cricket…his magnificent innings being quite faultless and full of brilliantly executed strokes on either side of the wicket. Three times he hit the ball over the people’s heads, and on twenty seven other occasions he sent it to the boundary, his other hits being five threes and nine twos. Except Humphries, all the other batsmen took their time from this great example…”

Charlie Ollivierre remained in England and played the rest of his cricket there. While mention is made of Charles as the first among Vincentian cricketers, it should be noted that his brother Richard took up where he left off and made the West Indian team to England in 1906. (To be continued)

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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