King Cole the Aboriginal Cricketer of Bethnal Green

in 1868 the first ever Australian sporting team to play overseas came to England. Comprising of 13 aboriginal cricketers they had planned a huge 47 match tour. One of the team however never returned home. Bripumyarramin, also known as King Cole and sometimes as Charlie Rose, died on the trip. He was buried in the Victoria Park Cemetery in Bethnal Green.

Now known as Meath Gardens, the cemetery is no longer. It was closed to burials in 1876. Transformed into a public park in 1894 it’s name was changed to Meath Gardens. This was after the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association’s Chairman, the Earl of Meath. A plaque marks where the grave of King Cole once was. A eucalyptus tree was planted in 1988 and marks the location. It replaces an earlier tree planted but neglected it was left to die. The old trunk of that tree, a rare bit of the Australian bush, still sits in East London.

During their tour, the team achieved a record of 14 wins, 19 draws and 14 losses. King Cole died midway through. He had contracted tuberculosis and pneumonia. It was a week after playing at Lords against the Marylebone Cricket Club. He passed away at Guys Hospital on 24 June 1868.

King Cole the Cricketer

King Cole came from the Wimmera in Victoria. This was a region of Australia known for its farming as well as it’s cattle and sheep rearing. It’s well known today for being the location of the Silo Art Trail. The Aboriginal men would have worked on the farms. Introduced to cricket by the wealthy land owners. Many of the cricketers had to adopt more anglasised names. King Cole being considered a lot easier for colonial audiences to understand than Bripumyarramin.

The voyage itself from Australia to England took 3 months. Once there the team played an exhausting schedule, playing or travelling every day apart from Sunday. A total of 99 playing days over a 21 week period. In total King Cole played 7 games, scoring 75 runs and taking 1 wicket. That was against a player called Boycott in a game against the ‘Gentlemen of Kent’.

The commemorative plaque for King Cole in Meath Gardens

Victoria Park Cemetery where King Cole was Buried

The Victoria Park Cemetery opened in 1845 but didn’t have the best of reputations. It was to all intents and purposes a paupers graveyard. This was where King Cole would end up. In 1856 the Times newspaper described the cemetery as ‘a loathsome place with revolting practices’. In 1876 the cemetery finally closed having never even been consecrated. In total it is estimated that 300,000 people were buried here. Often laid on top of one another it is unlikely that there would have been much ceremony or memorial for many of the people buried here.

It’s sad that so far from home it is unlikely that there would have been many people present at King Cole’s funeral. He had died of tuberculosis. It was a condition made worse by the onset of pneumonia. It is likely that at his graveside only the gravedigger and Charles Lawrence were present. Lawrence as a player who was also what might now be described as the team manager and coach. A key part in arranging the tour of England in the first place, he had gone with King Cole on his trip to Guys Hospital. It’s possible he might have been with him when he died. As for his teammates, it’s highly unlikely that they even knew he was that seriously ill. The tour would have gone on.

A Eucalyptus tree marks the site of King Cole’s burial in Meath Gardens

Fanny Wilkinson and Meath Gardens

In 1894 the old cemetery was opened as a park. This was part of a wider campaign to create open space in London’s poorest neighborhoods. It was Fanny Wilkinson who would be given the task of converting it. She has been described as England’s first female landscape gardener. She was also a suffragist. To Fanny was given the task of converting the space. She would order the clearing of the tombstones to the side which would lead to the opening up of the wide spaces seen today. It was a remarkable career. In total Fanny was responsible for the laying out of at least 75 public gardens for the Metropolitan Public Gardens, Boulevard and Playground Association (MPGA).

The trunk of the original eucalyptus tree. This was neglected and died prior to a new tree being planted in 1988.
The eucalyptus tree at dusk in Meath Gardens
Eucalyptus leaves in Bethnal Green remember King Cole the Aboriginal cricketer
The original gate to the entrance to the old Victoria Park Cemetery. It has since been substantially restored
A former cemetery there is only one gravestone left in Meath Gardens
A mural depicting King Cole on the side of a local youth centre in Meath Gardens

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