Our earliest surviving Australian Rules football cup? by Norman Ashton

The cup

At the launch of my most recent book – Fremantle Football: The Origins 1885 to 1904 – held in the Griff John room at Fremantle Oval on the evening of Thursday 31 March this year, one of the attendees Bruce Snook showed me a family heirloom which he had brought along.

The heirloom in question is a well-preserved, beautifully-worked, silver cup, as shown here:

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The trophy cup has two ornate curved handles and features engraved floral patterns. Its overall height is 185mm to top of the handles or 165mm to the cup’s rim and its weight is 362g.

The following photographs detail the inscriptions on the cup’s front and back:

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Front: UNION FOOTBALL CLUB SEASON 1885 PREMIER JUNIORS

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Back: Presented To Capt F.H. Snook 14th Oct 1885

 

The historical context (i)

The Union Football Club had been formed (as a Rugby Union club) in Fremantle in 1884, two years after the Fremantle Football (Rugby Union) Club was founded.

In 1885, the Fremantle Football Club at its Annual General Meeting in April decided to switch from Rugby Union to the ‘bouncing’ or ‘Victorian’ game of football (eventually to be known as Australian Rules football). As a direct (and speedy) result of that decision, the West Australian Football Association (WAFA) was formed and the first formal competition of the ‘new’ football game in this state was instituted.

Fremantle played in the seniors (ie top level) competition, and Union  (the other Fremantle-based club) played in the first-rate juniors (ie the second level competition). At that time both clubs had blue and white as their colours.

The playing members of Unions were often referred to, collectively, as ‘The Boys’. Frank Herbert Snook was the captain of its team in 1885.

During the club’s annual dinner on 14 October 1885 at the Freemasons Hotel in Fremantle, a cup was presented to the Union Football Club by the secretary of the association for having finished top in the first-rate juniors. The cup was given to the captain, Frank Snook, in recognition and appreciation of his worth. The association secretary congratulated the club on the brilliant run of successes which had rewarded their efforts during the season, in which they had lost only one game. He urged them no longer to play as a junior club, but to play in the senior competition. That soon eventuated, as the Union Football Club was elevated to the WAFA seniors in the following season, 1886.

The family

The Snook family had a number of connections to early football in Fremantle. Frank Herbert Snook’s father was John Snook, who was born in 1818 in Somerset, England. He and his wife Elizabeth, together with their three daughters, arrived at Fremantle in April 1853 as passengers on the ship Palestine. John Snook, who became a Fremantle Town councillor, died an unfortunate death after being shot inside the Fremantle Town Hall around 1.30am on Friday 24 June 1887 by William Conroy. Snook had been attending a Children’s Fancy Dress Ball as part of the Jubilee Celebrations for Her Majesty Queen Victoria. Although initially only seriously wounded John Snook died after a lingering period of convalescence on Sunday 25 September 1887. His funeral was the next day, Monday 26 September 1887. Fremantle’s Town Hall and other venues’ flags were flown at half-mast. William Conroy, who was arrested by the police at the time of the shooting, was taken to prison. Conroy was convicted of murder, and the death sentence carried out on Friday 18 November 1887. He was the last person to be hanged at the old Perth gaol.

At the time of his death John Snook left a family of 11 children as, since arriving at Fremantle in 1853 he and his wife had a further eight children – five sons and three more daughters.

Of the five boys – William Septimus Snook (born 1856); James Snook (born 1858); George Snook (born 1863); Frank Herbert Snook (born 1866); John Joseph Snook (born 1870) – the two youngest played football with Fremantle-based clubs.

As noted above, Frank Herbert Snook was captain of the Union Football Club in 1885 when it competed in the first rate juniors competition. The club lost only one match and were rremiers during this inaugural season. In 1886, when Union was promoted to the WAFA senior competition, FH Snook was its vice-captain and is recorded as having played seven games(ii).

Frank’s younger brother John also played with Union in the senior competition from 1887 to 1889, with surviving records indicating he played 14 games. Then, when Union changed its name to Fremantle in 1890, JJ Snook played from 1890 to 1894 (with the exception of 1893). In that period he played a further 24 games. In all he totalled at least 36 games between 1887 and 1894 and kicked four goals.(iii)

The Fremantle football connection did not finish there, as one of the daughters of John and Elizabeth Snook, Anne Marie ‘Annie’ Snook, had married James Albert Herbert, who in 1887 built and owned the Federal Hotel in William Street, Fremantle(iv).  Their son Henry Albert ‘Harry’ Herbert, along with William Augustus ‘Bill’ Bateman, was instrumental in the converting of the Fremantle Football Club from playing under Rugby rules to the new ‘bouncing game’ or ‘Victorian rules’ in April 1885. James Snook – another of the sons of John and Elizabeth Snook – was licensee of the Federal Hotel in 1888(v).

Bruce Snook (the current holder/owner of the 1885 trophy cup), is the great grandson of Frank Herbert Snook, the original recipient of the cup.

The significance

A notice in The West Australian newspaper of Saturday 28 November 1885 informed readers that ‘Mr V E Nesbit is exhibiting in his shop-window a very handsome silver cup presented by Mr H R Dixson to the WA Football Association for competition amongst the clubs belonging to the association’. Hugh Robert Dixson was the inaugural honorary secretary and treasurer of the WAFA(vi), but before the end of June 1885 he returned to Adelaide, promising to send back a premiership trophy for competition. The cup, which was made in America to Dixson’s specifications, was to be known as the Dixson Challenge Cup. It arrived in WA early in the summer of 1885, and although that was after the end of the 1885 season’s fixtures, the Dixson Challenge Cup was first competed for in that year, and was awarded to the premier club of that year, Rovers. The Dixson Challenge Cup was to be awarded annually to the premier club in the WAFA senior competition, and it was stipulated that when a club had won it for three seasons (not necessarily in successive years) the cup would become the absolute property of that club. Almost certainly the Dixson Challenge Cup is the oldest extant Australian Rules football premiership named trophy cup(vii).

Although not a named premiership trophy cup, and not a cup to be competed for in successive seasons, the Union Football Club’s 1885 trophy cup, presented as it was on 14 October 1885, may well vie for the distinction of being earlier than the Dixson Challenge Cup. What is certain is that it was presented earlier.

Conclusion 

As a piece of Australian Rules football memorabilia in Western Australia, the 1885 premiership cup won by and presented to Fremantle’s Union Football Club is significant indeed. That it has been so well preserved and cherished by the Snook family is much to their credit.

 

(i) For greater detail see Ashton, Norman, Fremantle Football: The Origins 1885 to 1904 [Hub & Spoke Publishing, Perth: 2016] Chapter 7 ‘1885 – The First Year’.

 (ii) Frank Herbert Snook moved to the Goldfields in 1893. Ten years later he became proprietor of the Southern Cross Hotel, which he managed successfully for seven years. In 1910 he sold that hotel and purchased the old Exchange Hotel at Southern Cross. Then in 1911 he built and owned the Palace Hotel in Southern Cross. Snook also served in the Council Chamber, and on four separate occasions was elected to the mayoral chair. He died on 11 July 1923 aged 57 years and is buried at Karrakatta cemetery.

 (iii) John Joseph Snook was the youngest son of John and Elizabeth Snook. On finishing his schooling he entered the clerical division of the Railway Department, where he remained for 32 years. At the time of his death he occupied an important position in the Chief Mechanical Engineer’s office. He died on 20 July 1916 at his residence in Battle Street, Cottesloe and is buried at Karrakatta cemetery.

 (iv) Both the Herbert and the Snook families came out on the Palestine. The eldest Snook daughter would have met her future husband on the boat when they were children. Anne Marie ‘Annie’ Snook (Mrs. James A. Herbert) died in Fremantle on 18 May 1896, at the age of 49 years.

 (v) See Ashton, op .cit. Chapter 5 ‘Hotels and Hoteliers’.

 (vi) There is a feature on Dixson in Ashton, op. cit. pp.13-14.

 (vii) Ashton, op .cit. Chapter 6 ‘Trophies’

 

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