Burning the Bails


Several generations of Australian cricket fans have wondered why the Ashes, the supposed trophy for the Test Series between Australia and England, remain in London, having only visited Australia twice in over one hundred years, despite Australian victories. Burning the Bails recounts for the first time the true story behind the Ashes: that wooden bails were burnt by Lady Janet Clarke on Christmas Eve 1882 at her home, ‘Rupertswood’, in Sunbury, Victoria, after a social cricket match between some local lads and the visiting England team. Her son, Russell aged six, was witness to their burning. The ‘Rupertswood’ Ashes were presented to the Honorable Ivo Bligh, the England captain, by Lady Janet, as a personal memento of his victory that Christmas Eve – but also as a joke. That August in 1882, following Australia’s unexpected defeat of England on home turf at The Oval, an English journalist had written a fake death notice for English cricket! ‘The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia,’ it had declared factiously. The ‘Rupertswood’ Ashes that Lady Janet Clarke created that Christmas Eve in 1882 were kept by the England captain as his personal property until his death. They were never intended to be the actual trophy for the England/Australia Test Series, although an exact replica of the ‘Rupertswood’ ashes is today given to the winner of the Series. Burning the Bails is a fictionalised account of the story, told from the perspective of six-year-old Russell Clarke. The picture book story is supported by pages of historical facts gleaned from Clarke family documents, as well as rare, original family photographs, including one of Russell, his older brother Clive, stumps, bails and a cricket bat.

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