On Target
April 13, 2006
Ollivierre was first Vincentian to play for the West Indies

by Oscar Ramjeet

Did you know that a Vincentian was a member of the first West Indies cricket team?

Well a Guyanese professor of Caribbean History has unearthed some information about the important role that Caribbean blacks played in the summer game and in the field education.

Dr. Clement Seecharan in his publication “Muscular learning” Cricket and Education in making the British West Indies at the end of the 19th century”, explores the history of the Caribbean islands in order to comprehend the differential evolution of the game as an instrument of social change. In fact the brilliant Guyanese said that cricket and education have propelled the Caribbean people to the present way of life.{{more}}

The book stated that Charles A. Ollivierre of St. Vincent was one of the five black cricketers in the first ever West Indies team which toured England in 1900. The other blacks were: Lebrun Constantine and “Floats” Woods of Trinidad, W.J. “Tom” Burton of British Guiana and Fitz Hinds of Barbados.

Ollivierre was an opening batsman who topped the batting average in 1900 in England and stayed on in England to play county cricket for Derbyshire. In July 1900 Ollivierre had made a significant contribution to West Indies impressive victory over Leicestershire by an innings and 87 runs. He scored 159 in an opening partnership of 238 in 2 hours and 15 minutes with Plum Warner (113) who played that one game for the West Indies.

Warner acknowledged Ollivierre as a “brilliant player,” who ran between wickets like a “deer”. He also made 94 in an opening partnership of208 with Percy Cox 142 against Surrey in West Indies victory by an innings. Dr. Seecharan wrote that Vincentians were proud of the achievements of Ollivierre. They sent a congratulatory telegram to him after he had his century against Leicestershire, as well as a cheque for 5 pounds sterling and 5 shillings “as a mark of the countrymen’s appreciation of his fine batting.

It was clear that his batting reflected the black West Indian spirit, the flair and aggression. He was the best batsman who had strokes all round the wicket and it is said that his batting reminded fans of Ranjitsinhji, the Indian prince who had played for Cambridge University, Sussex and England. He was strong in cutting and playing to leg.

According to Dr. Seecharan’s book, Ollivierre, despite his outstanding performance only represented the West Indies once, but as the first West Indian who played county cricket, he established a tradition of West Indian excellence in the English leagues and the county game, which he has been enthralling since. He played 110 matches for Derbyshire between 1901 and 107 before eye problems forced a premature end to a distinguished career. He also played for some years as a club player in Yorkshire, and for 16 years, until the second World War, he coached schoolboys in Holland.

It is said that Ollivierre and Sydney Smith, a talented white Trinidadian all rounder put West Indian cricket on the international map at a time when Test matches were limited to Australia, England and South Africa.

Professor Seecharan who is the Head of Caribbean Studies at London Metropolitan University, in his work, said that Africans and Indians had the belief that mastery of cricket and education would hasten their mobility. He pointed out in his 367 page book “in these colonies where virtually everyone was an immigrant, cricket and education were invested with almost divine properties and added that despite slavery and indentureship, West Indians were more at ease with their colonial inheritance than most colonial peoples.

The Berbice born author has written several books. He won the prestigious Elsa Gouveia Prize which is awarded very two years by illustrious historians for his book “Sweetening Bitter Sugar – Jock Campbell, He is also the author of two other historical books”Tiger in the Stars, Beechu “Bound Coolie” Radical in British Guiana 1894-1901.

• Oscar Ramjeet is a well known attorney and journalist in the Caribbean. He once served as Solicitor General and acting Director of Public Prosecutions in SVG.

He now resides in Florida and writes for several United States and Caribbean publications.