Treasure Chest Thursday: Was Your Old Man an All Black?

If he was – yay, you!  You’re one of a very select few who can make that claim because, according to the Bateman Rugby Facts book,  as recently  as ten years ago only 1037 men had ever worn the black jersey for New Zealand. Current estimates put the figure around 1130.

Lighter side of the All Blacks rugby tour of Great Britain.
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19351030-52-5 
Just as they are today, these gorgeous photos from the early years of All Black history show  the men in black were absolute superstars, with the folk back home getting a taste of their overseas tours via the Auckland Weekly News.

The first of the "All Blacks" leaving the mail steamer Sonoma.
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19060315-7-2 

The crowd round the ferry company's wharf waiting to welcome the "All Blacks." 1906
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19060315-6-2 

All Blacks entertained by famous London comedian.
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19250101-46-3

The King shakes hands with New Zealand's "All Blacks".
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19250129-48-5

Unfortunately, while it looks fun-and-games for the men, life back home for the wives in the pre-professional era was a struggle. With the man away for months at a time,  it  was a burden on the women running the household on her own – especially those women managing a farm and the children. The money often dried up when employers couldn't afford to pay their All Black while he toured, although there are stories of local rugby clubs getting collections together to help tide the family over until the breadwinner returned.

The effects weren't just financial, though. Lady Verna Meads recalled in The A-Z of Meads book that back in the day Sir Colin was on tour, players were allowed only one phone call a month, “and when they did come home, wives told heart-wrenching tales of children not recognising their fathers or screaming when dad went to pick them up.”

Bon voyage: 1934 "All Blacks" team departing for Australia.
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19340801-50-1
Whatever your interest in our men in black, we have a collection of all Black material in the library that includes biographies such as Richie McCaw’s “The Open Side” to histories of the games right back to the 1905 originals.  And for something a little lighthearted on All Black life, check out this newspaper article from August.


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