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Saluting Charlie Ollivierre: One of our cricketing heroes

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“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”. (Written by CLR James, for The Cricketer, 6 May – 24 June 1933).{{more}}

In this month, when we salute our Vincentian heroes, I am using this column to highlight the name of Charlie Ollivierre. Charlie was the first Vincentian to have made a West Indian cricket team, even though at that time the tests were unofficial. English teams visited the West Indies from 1895-1897 and the first West Indian side to tour to England was in 1900. It was not until 1928 that tests between the two countries became official.

Charlie Ollivierre, it appears, lived on the Back Street on the road to Edinboro. His father, Helon Ollivierre was a nominated member of the Kingstown Board and “a respected coloured gentleman” who was said to have belonged to “almost every Benefit Society, including the Mechanics Association,” serving at one time as its secretary.

Charlie was an outstanding batsman and all rounder and had established his reputation against all comers. He made his mark, not only locally but also regionally. In 1896 for instance, there were exchange visits between Vincentian and Barbadian teams. In 1897 in a practice game between a team due to visit St Lucia and a picked team, Ollivierre scored 141 which was at that time the highest individual score by a local batsman. A report of the game states that his innings included “11 hits out of the ground and the same number of boundaries for 4”. After his selection on the team to tour England he continued to stamp his class on local cricket scoring in one game 130 “in faultless style”.

About his departure for England, the St Vincent Handbook stated, “Mr C. A Ollivierre the St Vincent representative left the Colony on 25th May to join the West Indian Cricket Team for England. 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.” After his arrival at Plymouth, the Sentry newspaper reported, “Ollivierre’s reputation as the best all-round cricketer on the side has spread throughout the country, being reproduced in several of the daily papers…”

In a match against Leicestershire, he scored 159, which at that time was “the largest individual score as yet in all matches on the tour.” A telegram was sent congratulating him and this was followed by a cheque of £5.5. The team defeated Surrey by an innings at the Oval with Barbadian Cox and Ollivierre scoring 142 and 94 respectively. Barbados and St Vincent exchanged congratulatory telegraphs. The telegraphs from Barbados read, “Barbados cordially congratulates St Vincent on Ollivierre’s consistent brilliant success.” Up to 17 August he was first in the batting averages. Although the West Indian teams had performed well against visiting English teams they were unaccustomed to English conditions and did not impress. In fact, they became the subject of a number of jokes. One newspaper published a cartoon, with “Dr. Grace, huge, towering bat in hand, while around him crouched six black men all shedding tears and saying to the doctor, “We have come to learn Sah.”

Ollivierre had however impressed and stayed in England to play for Derbyshire. The local newspaper the Sentry kept the public informed about his performances. In its May 31, 1901 edition it stated “Since the West Indies team returned home leaving their hero in the Mother Country, every item of news respecting his cricket in Glossop where he resides has been received with the greatest interest…Not long ago we had the pleasure of seeing him reported as saving his team from defeat by scoring heavily when his colleagues failed. . .” In a match against Warwickshire, the Manchester Guardian of August 15, 1902 reported, “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 …proved what a valuable acquisition he is to Derbyshire cricket. . . The West Indian himself was fourth out at 234, 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.”

Ollivierre was part of a cricketing family. His brother Helon was invited to Trinidad to play cricket. Richard, another brother was part of the West Indian team that toured England in 1906. In 1913 he was still a top player. He was invited to Trinidad to play in the match against an MCC team that was defeated by an innings. C.L R James writing about this noted that, “A welcome visitor from St Vincent was R Ollivierre of the 1906 team who scored 34 and in the first innings took 5 for 68”. He had taken 3 wickets in 4 balls and had broken the bail with one. In the second innings he had 2 wickets for 54 runs.

The quotation at the beginning from a 1933 article by CLR James, that doyen of Cricket writers is adequate testimony to the worth of Charlie Ollivierre, the first of that remarkable trio of cricketing brothers.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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