As far as is known the only club records of the very beginnings of the club are a few dates and names inscribed on the imposing honour boards hanging in the clubhouse and even they may not be wholly reliable as they were donated in 1910. However, a search through nineteenth century newspaper articles via the National Library of Australia’s Trove website does provide snippets of information from which a clearer picture can be developed.
1871: Before the Green was Laid
The date on which the club was first established would depend on what is meant by ‘established’. Some might prefer the date on which the club’s own green is inaugurated but presumably a bowling club can exist prior to that, with any bowling taking place on greens available elsewhere. On 19 Jan 1871 the Emerald Hill Record reports the Borough Council meeting of three days earlier:
From Mr. W. P. Buckhurst, asking the Council to receive, after the transaction of the ordinary business, a deputation appointed to wait upon the Council to ascertain upon what terms the Bowling-green and Croquet-lawn Clubs could take possession of the eastern portion of the public gardens at St. Vincent-place. The Mayor stated that he had arranged for the interview to take place as requested. Messrs. W. P. Buckhurst, J. Smith, G. B. Duins, J. M. Campbell, and H. Krone, attended, and explained the views of the club. It was proposed to prepare the ground at the cost of the club, the membership of which would be open to all. The matter was then remitted to the Committee of the whole Council.
This report refers to ‘the clubs’ and ‘the club’, implying that a Bowling Club did, at that time, exist, at least as a group of people interested in bowling and perhaps occasionally bowling elsewhere. The popular understanding is that the club was established in 1873 and we will see that a number of significant events did indeed occur in that year.
1873: The Bowling Green Approved and Laid
Approval to proceed with a bowling green was in fact postponed by the Council based on two concerns: firstly the young and fragile nature of recently planted trees and secondly the need for a fence around the club (a restriction that remains today). On 10th June 1873 those keen to get a club established met at the home of W P Buckhurst, who would be the first club president, and resolved to form a club called the “South Melbourne Bowling Club” and, among other things, to again seek permission from the Council to construct a green. At this time it was reported the “fifty gentlemen [had] already signified their intention of becoming members”. This might be reasonably regarded as the date on which this club was formed.
This time they were successful in their application. Apparently the trees had matured enough to bear the impact of extra visitors and with regard to a fence the club itself
did not in the present instance propose to fence in the ground, or in any way exclude the public, but rather to invite them, trusting to their good sense not to injure their green, which would bo an object of beauty and attraction to all who came into tha gardens
1873: The First Opening of the Green
On 6th December 1873 a small but significant notice in The Age, Melbourne, alerts us to the very first opening of the green. The text reads:
We have been requested to call attention to the fact that the South Melbourne Bowling Club will open their new green in the Public Gardens, St. Vincent’s-place, Emerald-hill, this afternoon, at three p.m. The club is open to every resident of the hill.
This date matches that inscribed on the large honour board at the club and represents the first official bowling on a green that had been approved back in June of that year, although we suspect some of those gentlemen will have had a little roll up prior to that.