Thomas Lawton

  • 14Caps
  • 154Wallaby Number
PositionFly Half
Date Of BirthJanuary 16, 1899
Place of BirthCungumbogan, near Waterford, QLD
Other ClubUniversity (QLD), Western Suburbs (Sydney), Oxford University, Blackheath (ENG), Past Grammar (Brisbane), Valley (Brisbane)
SchoolBrisbane Grammar School
Other ProvinceQLD
Debut ClubUniversity (Sydney)
Debut Test Match1920 Wallabies v New Zealand, 1st Test Sydney
Final Test Match1932 Wallabies v New Zealand, 2nd Test Brisbane
DiedJune 28, 1978


In the Official Report to the NSWRU following the return of the 1927-28 Waratahs after nine months overseas, written by manager Gordon Shaw and captain Johnny Wallace, it was stated: “We understood... that with regard to the actual play a certain policy was to be followed – firstly, that the winning of matches was not to be our only consideration; secondly, that our type of play should be such that it indicated a desire on our part to make the game attractive to both player and spectator and an exhibition of a contest between friendly sportsmen, and thirdly, that each man was to be played as much as was reasonably possible in order to extend his experience.” ‘Running rugby’ was the credo of the Waratahs, and no one epitomised that philosophy more than the captain Wallace and arguably the Waratahs’ top player, Tom Lawton.

That Waratah style became central to an ‘Australian style’ which dominates Australian rugby to the present day. Tom Lawton is a near-mythical person. He was gifted, a legend in his own time and seemingly did it all. He is undoubtedly the greatest sportsman ever at Brisbane Grammar School. He entered Brisbane Grammar School (BGS), Brisbane’s most elite private school, in 1913. He represented BGS in cricket for four years, captaining the school in 1916 and 1917, was adjudged the best fieldsman in 1915 and 1916, and had the best batting average in 1917. His best scores included 176 not out at Armidale School and 137 against Toowong, both in 1917.

He rowed number two in the school crew for three years, and was a fine tennis player. Tom won the All Schools’ open high jump with a leap of 5 foot 6 inches and was second in the 120 yard hurdles. He also gained his swimming colours in 1916 and 1917, won the breastroke and backstroke race in 1917, and was school champion in that sport and school captain the same year. However it was at Rugby Union where he really made his mark, playing in the first team for three years and winning recognition as the best back in 1916 and 1917. Playing mainly in the centre, the school magazine said of him, in his last year at school: “His rapidity in taking advantage of any opening offside, his ingenuity in originating passing rushes, his clever ‘raking in’ of wild passes, and his sure foot, combine to warrant him the position of in-centre in any team.

Without in any way detracting from the merits of the other backs, he was undoubtedly superior to them all, and innumerable times he saved a dangerous situation so that in fact the others began to rely so much on his ability that far more than his portion of work was always thrust upon his willing shoulders. A splendid kick with both feet, he could find the line to a nicety.” He would play rugby for his home State in 1919, and later on in 1929, 1930 and 1932. Rugby was resumed in Queensland after a hiatus in 1929. During the First World War he was a Gunner in France with the 12th Field Artillery Brigade. On his return to Queensland after the war he entered the University of Queensland to do Science, passing first year. Only rugby league was played at the University, so he played that code, the University winning the competition that year.

However he did play for the Queensland AIF against the touring AIF team in 1919. Tom Lawton then went to Sydney to pursue a medical course at St. Andrew’s College, Sydney, where he was in 1920 and 1921. He played for Sydney University, and got his ‘Blue’ in 1920. That same year, 1920, he represented NSW in two matches against the All Blacks. These are now considered as Tests. There were no representative games in 1921, and in 1922 he began his studies at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, residing at New College. He, of all people, represented the scholar-athlete, and with his war-time service included, he was the perfect choice. While at Oxford he won three Blues, which is granted a player who plays for his University in the annual Oxford-Cambridge game. In 1922-23 he played 60 games, for Oxford, Blackheath, New College and the Barbarians.

The year 1923 was a highly emotional one, as after a challenge he and two other Australians were suspended because they had played rugby league. The underlying reason was that a ‘colonial’, Lawton, had been selected as captain at Oxford. There was much drama involved, but finally the three Aussies played in the 1923 fixture. Tom also won an Athletics Blue in the shot put and represented the University at swimming and water polo. He returned to Sydney in 1925 and after one game in an invitational XV against the All Blacks he accepted the captaincy of the NSW team on their tour of New Zealand. He was an immediate success, playing in nine of the 11 games, all as captain, and being the top scorer. He got 49 points, from three tries and 20 conversions. In The Visitors it is stated: “The outstanding personality was Tom Lawton... One of the greatest five-eighths of all time.”

His next representative fixtures were on the 1927-28 Waratah tour to the British Isles, France and North America. Known now as ‘the loping ghost’, he played in a remarkably relaxed manner. He was one of, if not thestar of the Waratahs, playing in 27 of the 31 games, the five Tests (Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England and France) and being the top scorer, with 124 points (one try, 48 conversions, seven penalty goals and one field goal). Peter Fenton, in For The Sake Of The Game, wrote of the 28-year-old Lawton: “The wonderful five-eighth certainly had no peers at the time of the tour. Though spotted continually by wing forwards and inside backs alike... he played magnificently.

His team mate Alex Ross insists to this day [now deceased] that Australia may have produced his equal, but not his superior.” In 1929 rugby re-commenced in Queensland, and Lawton was one of the inspirations. New Zealand visited Australia that year, and with Lawton at the helm, the All Blacks lost the series by 0-3. It had never before happened to an All Black team. In 1930 Britain came, and Lawton was captain of Australia in the first Test (won 6-5), and then for Queensland and an Australian XV. In 1932, now 33 years of age, the remarkable Lawton put on his boots once more, captained Australia to a 22-17 victory over them, captained Queensland, and the second Test, which was lost by 3-21. Thus ended the representative career of one of the true greats of Australian rugby. The Daily Express had this to say of him: “Lawton is a deceptive stand-off half.

With his long legs and his long stride, he seems slow to the casual spectator and at times he does not appear to be doing much in what we may call a formal attack – the ball heeled out and passed to Lawton, who runs on a few yards and gives it to someone else. “That is not all. But watch Lawton closely, and you will see, as likely as not, that in those few yards he draws an unwary opponent, and so times his pass that the attack is likely to prosper. He scores few tries himself; but helps his comrades to many. He is always in the right place. His defence is excellent, his kicking well judged, and as a ‘converter’ he runs up the goal score within a pitiless accuracy equalled only, in another place, but that of a taximeter”. The loping ghost. A rugby genius, who would captain his nation’s teams seven times. His grandsons, Tom Jr and Rob, would both become Wallabies. They certainly had the right genes. In 1919 Tommy Lawton’s long celebrated career started for Queensland against New South Wales with the resumption of the interstate series after the Great War. When the sport folded in Queensland the following year, Tommy debuted for New South Wales against the All Blacks. For that State he was to play in eight games that were retrospectively awarded Test status. Five of these were with the famous Waratahs on their 1927 tour. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University he captained the rugby team and won Blues in 1921-23. When the code was revived in Queensland in 1929 Tommy returned home from where he captained the fully restored Australian team to a unique, three- Test, clean sweep series against New Zealand.

As Australian captain in 1932 he made it four straight wins for himself against the old foe before his career ended later that year. His playing prowess is best left to Jack Pollard from his book “Australian Rugby Union: the Game and the Players.” He was a magnificent handler, gathering and passing faultlessly, blessed with a calm temperament, fast reflexes, and lovely balance. He did not appear to do things in a hurry, but always had time to spare. There have been few quicker or safer tactical kickers, and fewer still who got past good tacklers so effortlessly. Lawton was extremely difficult to tackle, although he did not appear to have a swerve or sidestep, weaving his way past would‑be tacklers with a combination of powerful hips and thighs, a long stride and deft body swing. The All Black captain, Cliff Porter, called Lawton ... “The Loping Ghost”. Could it be that Stephen Larkham is a “Son of Ghost”? LAWTON, THOMAS (1899-1978), footballer, was born on 16 January 1899 at Cungumbogan, near Waterford, Queensland, seventh child of James Thomas Lawton, sawmill manager, and his wife Ruth Herbert, nee Hall. Lawton was educated at Brisbane Grammar School, which he represented in Rugby, cricket, swimming and rowing. He enlisted on 12 January 1918 in the Australian Imperial Force, serving briefly in France as a gunner. In 1919 he entered the faculty of science at the University of Queensland, and represented the State at Rugby against New South Wales in an unsuccessful effort to revive the amateur code in the north after a wartime hiatus. While at the University of Sydney studying medicine in 1920, Lawton was elected Queensland Rhodes Scholar.

He entered New College, Oxford (B.A., rural economy, 1924), and represented the university at Rugby, swimming and athletics. The Rugby Union suspended Lawton as a suspected professional in 1923 on a charge of having played Rugby League in Queensland, but he was exonerated when it was shown that there was no Rugby Union available at the time. In 1924 he was a reserve for England against Ireland. He was widely popular at Oxford but according to London sports commentators was not always treated on his merits when university Rugby teams and club officers were selected. While in England he seems to have enjoyed an excellent living standard, kept souvenirs of fine clubs and hotels in England and Europe and compiled a remarkable collection of labels of exotic beverages.

In 1925 Tommy Lawton played in New Zealand as vice-captain of a New South Wales team. In 1927, as a member of the Sydney Western Suburbs club, he was selected in A.C.Wallace’s renowned ‘Waratahs’ for an eight-month tour of Britain, France and Canada and was outstanding in the five-eight[sic] position. Lawton settled in Brisbane, probably in 1929, and greatly assisted the revival of the Queensland Rugby Union organization. He was captain of the Australian team which defeated the New Zealand ‘All Blacks’ in all three Test matches that year- a feat still unsurpassed. In 1930 he led Australia to victory in the first Test against the British Isles. His last appearance was in a drawn series against New Zealand in 1932. A writer in the Sydney crowd of 28,000 pronounced him ‘ still the master at 33.’

Photographs of Lawton in his playing days portray a handsome, somewhat patrician figure, full-lipped, with high cheekbones. Lawton had worked for a time with Gibbs, Bright & Co. in Melbourne. On 24 March 1933 at Mosman, Sydney, he married a divorcee, Maud Howe Leeze Archibald, nee Rich. They soon retired to a small farm at Mount Nebo near Brisbane where Lawton lived frugally until a few years before his death on 28 June 1978 at Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital. His wife predeceased him and he was survived by two sons and a daughter. Lawton was one of the finest inside-backs produced by the Australian Rugby Union. For a five-eight [sic] he was exceptionally tall, being six feet (183cm) and over twelve stone (76 kg) in a period when international players were markedly slighter than their modern counterparts. His great ability to lead and to ‘steady’ a team lay in his straight running, his very sure handling and fine tactical kicking. He was also a noted goalkicker. A grandson, also named Thomas Lawton, represented Australia at Rugby from 1983.

Thomas Lawton
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