James Carson

  • 1Caps
  • 2Wallaby Number
PositionHooker
Date Of Birth2 September 1870
Place Of BirthDunedin, New Zealand
ProvinceNSW
Died16 August 1903
Debut Test Match1899 Wallabies v Great Britain, 1st Test, Sydney

Biography

Jim Carson has a permanent place in Wallaby history, as he was one of the Originals – the first full Australian team that faced Great Britain in the first international of four in 1899. A New Zealander by birth, he was one of many who crossed the Tasman in the early 1890s as economic hardship was biting deep in the colonies and Australia offered more chances than the fledgling country across the sea. Carson had a relatively long career for the time – he represented New South Wales between 1893 and 1899, appearing in 22 matches for the State. He did not play against his countrymen in 1893 but was part of the New South Wales side that toured New Zealand in 1894, where it caused quite a sensation. Initially the tourists did not look much. There had been some difficulties getting all the best men to make the trip – a not uncommon feature of early touring teams – and the early matches were played against strong opposition on some heavy pitches. New South Wales came close to defeating Auckland in the opener, losing to a try in the final stages, but then staggered to some heavy defeats as they made their way south.

Carson was one of the hardest-worked players in the party – he was rested for only one of the 12 matches, the fifth against Hawkes Bay – but his sturdy 12st 4lb (78kg) frame stood up well to three matches a week. He showed ability as a goal-kicker in some matches, being the first choice marksman against Auckland and Nelson, and was often prominent for his dash in the loose. The touring forwards gave as good as they got in most matches – the Taranaki match was an exception – but the home backs were generally superior. By the time New South Wales lined up for the sole international, the eighth match on the card, they could only offset one victory, over South Canterbury, against seven defeats and were written off in all quarters. That was where the sensation came in. New South Wales was hardly daunted, the New Zealand team was dangerously over-confident and when star back Alf Bayly was hurt just after New South Wales had taken an 8-6 lead in the second spell, the home side was thrown into some disarray. The visitors, playing much above their previous form, held firm and recorded a notable victory that began the remarkable record enjoyed by New South Wales and Australian teams at Lancaster Park for more than half a century. Buoyed by the success, the 'Cornstalks' won two more matches against South Island unions before returning home with a four-win, eight-loss record. Carson remained one of the most prominent forwards in Sydney football and was one of the first chosen for the three-match series against New Zealand in 1897.

As had been the case in 1893, New Zealand won the first match, suffered a heavy defeat in the second (22-8) but recovered to win the rubber match. The home forwards completely dominated the second match, with all playing outstandingly well as they bustled the New Zealanders right out of the game; at one stage New South Wales led 19-0 before giving up a couple of tries as time ran out. There were no more international matches before 1899, when the first British team to tour Australia exclusively arrived. This was regarded as one of the sporting events of the year, on par with a cricket tour, and extensive preparations were made both by the players and those who wished to entertain the party. Although Carson did not win State selection for the first encounter he played a few days later for Metropolis, having an excellent match and scoring the only try for the locals in an 8-5 loss. On the back of the fine form he showed in this match he was chosen for the Australian team, which faced the tourists in the first Test four days later. Australia played a fine game to win by 13-3, scoring three tries in the process, but home momentum was broken when the tour moved into country Queensland for a couple of weeks.

The next Test, at Brisbane, saw a greatly changed Australian team featuring no fewer than nine Queenslanders (only five had been called to Sydney for the first match) defeated by the improving tourists and the series was eventually lost 1-3. Although Carson played twice more against the British, for New South Wales and Metropolis in the return matches, he was not called back to the Test arena and his career in big rugby ended soon afterwards. A fireman by profession, Carson died at the young age of 33 after contracting tuberculosis. A nephew, Bill, was one of New Zealand's foremost sportsmen in the 1930s, representing New Zealand at both rugby and cricket although he did not win a Test cap in either code. Bill Carson's greatest feat was his share in the world third-wicket record partnership of 445, established in 1936-37 and which lasted for 40 years, but he was killed in World War II at the time he would have been in his sporting prime.

James Carson