The Early Years

On 19 June 1875 the Green Point club played a match against SACS.  On 3 July the return match was played.  This time the Green Point club is called Hamilton Football Club.  The first match between Hamiltons and Villagers was played on Rondebosch Common on 1 July 1876.   The result was a draw as neither side scored.

For some twenty years the game at the Cape was Gog’s Game.  Then along came two men from Britain, one a Villager and the other a Hamiltonian – Joey Milton and Billy Simkins.  Joey Milton had played for England, as did two of his sons.  He later became Administrator of Southern Rhodesia and has a famous school in Bulawayo named after him.  Billy Simkins was a Cockney – born within the sound of Bow Bells.  Those two persuaded footballers at the Cape to adopt Rugby School’s rules.  Canon Ogilvie did not like the idea at all and Bishops lagged behind Villagers and Hamiltons in this regard.  Hamiltons adopted Rugby Rules in 1878.

The first rugby match between Hamiltons and Villagers was played in 1878.  At this time the number of clubs in and around Cape Town started increasing with the formation of Gardens, Woodstock, Stellenbosch, Malmesbury, Paarl, Worcester and Wellington.  In 1883 the Western Province Rugby Football Union was founded.  Its first duty was to standardise the laws and its second duty was to organise a competition.  This was an important change for South African rugby because from then on clubs played, not just “friendlies”, but for two points a match.  This happened a century before competitive games were introduced in England.  South African rugby was competitive at all levels.

The Western Province RFU was followed by other Unions – Griqualand West (1886), Eastern Province (1888) and Transvaal (1889).  This led to the formation of the S.A. Rugby Football Board in Kimberley in 1889, to co-ordinate the laws nationally and to develop a competition. Then came Natal (1890) and Border (1891), and in 1892 the Currie Cup was introduced as a competition for the first time.

It is worth recording that in 1886 another Western Province Rugby Union was founded – the Western Province Coloured Rugby Union, for rugby was a passion for many, especially those of the Moslem faith.  Then they lived in places like District Six, Bo-Kaap and Green Point – and they were ardent supporters of Hamiltons – as distinct from those “agter die tol”, down in Mowbray, Rondebosch, Newlands, Claremont and Harfield Village who supported Varsity (University of Cape Town) or Villagers.

For many years a Hamiltons AGM would have a packed gallery of supporters wearing their fezzes – knowledgeable men who knew their players and were especially fond of the likes of Gerry Brand, Bennie Osler and Jan Pickard.

Not only was the game competitive in the Western Province, but it also had no qualms about charging gate money.  Hamiltons were to play Villagers on Green Point Common in the late 1870s.  Jack Heyneman went to see the Mayor of Cape Town and told him he intended to rope off the field and charge entrance.  The Mayor warned him that this was not strictly legal as the ground was on a common.  Undeterred, Heyneman recruited some soldiers from The Castle at a shilling a head, pegged out and roped off the playing area, and stationed a policeman at the only entrance.  Entrance was a shilling for adults and 6d (6 pence) for children.  One man, Christoffel Brand, objected.  The policeman called Heyneman who told Brand to come in and keep quiet, which Brand did.  The gate money amounted to £25. The expenses were £10 and the balance was given to the WPRFU.

The WPRFU instituted the Grand Challenge in 1883 on a knock-out basis.  The first winners were Hamiltons.  Twelve teams entered – Hamiltons, Villagers, United Banks, Malmesbury, Civil Service, All Comers, Mother Country, Colonial Born, Stellenbosch, Woodstock, Rugby and SA College (SACS).

Hamiltons and Villagers met in the first round on 7 July 1883.  Hamiltons won one goal to nil and went on to beat Rugby (4-0), and Malmesbury (7-0) to win the Grand Challenge Cup which had cost the Union £25.  The teams for that historic Hamiltons-Villagers clash were:

Hamiltons:    JA Gibbs, J Biccard, AM McLeod, CWP Douglas de Fenzi, CL Versfeld, M Versfeld, CL Andersson, A Cassidy, CC Jones, J Cluper, E Rowe, JR Wiley, C Heath, H Butler, WV Simkins (captain)

Villagers:       TE Lawton, A Peterkin (captain), E Stanford, WA Philip, RC van Renen, RB Badnall, RH Tredgold, CG Shea, AF Mostert, ET Ashley, A Bowen, DF Gilfillan, J van Niekerk, A Clisser, A Philip.

In those days the referee was a gentleman who sat on the touch-line and was referred to if there was a dispute.  The captains would decide right and wrong.  If they could not agree they would refer to the umpires, of whom there were two, one attached to each side.  If the umpires could not agree they referred the matter to the referee.  The officials for this match were:

Referee:  HE Tindall (Stellenbosch)

Umpires:  A Goodyear, S Couper.

In 1884, at the WPRFU’s first annual general meeting, it was reported that despite the “considerable” expense of the previous year, a profit of £4 5s 11d had been made – a far cry from the multi-million rand business of today.  Ten clubs were represented at that first AGM.  Hamiltons had three representatives – WV Simkins, AH McLeod and L Miller.  The clubs represented were Hamiltons, Villagers, Stellenbosch, Gardens, Woodstock, Rugby, Diocesan College (Bishops), SA College (SACS), Garrison and Malmesbury.  Paarl was to join later that year.

In 1884 Kimberley came on tour, a combined team and the forerunner of provincial teams.  They played seven: won 3, lost 3 and drew 1.  They lost to Combined Cape Town by two tries and seven ‘touches-down’ to one try and two ‘touches-down’.  Their last match was against Hamiltons who beat them by a dropped goal and seven ‘touches-down’ to nil.  Touches-down?  Those were the days before the introduction of scoring.  A goal was what really counted.  Then there were tries – opportunities to attempt to improve (=convert) it into a goal.  Then sometimes minors were countered.  Minoring the ball was the act of touching it down on defence.  A minor was also called a rouge.  If you had a draw in your favour, rouges could win you the match.

Points were introduced in 1886 on the system used at Cheltenham College.  The following table shows the history of changes in scoring:


Year Goal Try Convert Penalty Drop Goal from a mark
1886 3 1 2 3 3
1889 4 2 2 3 3
1891 3 1 2 3 3 3
1893 5 3 2 3 4 4
1905 5 3 2 3 4 3
1948 5 3 2 3 3 3
1971 6 4 2 3 3 3
1977 6 4 2 3 3
1992 7 5 2 3 3


It was not a sissy game in those days.  The list of Kimberley injuries is recorded as one fractured collarbone, one injury to knee, one injury to neck, one injury to shoulder, one sprained ankle and two knocked insensible.