The Melbourne Rules

Oz Sports History

Pindar's first two predictions were to prove true, but his ideas on the teams proved remarkably wide of the mark.

The "GRAND EXHIBITION of the ELECTRIC LIGHT" as the historic event was billed was played between two "scratch" teams drawn from two of Melbourne's volunteer  groups, the East Melbourne Artillery Corps and the Collingwood Rifle Corps - both well-known in military circles, but virtually unheard of so far as football prowess was concerned.

Despite the obscurity of the teams, the match proved an irresistible curiosity for the football public

"The match by electric light was a great result in point of financial result and attendance, the latter numbering about 8,000 paying members, and another 10,000 outside on the free list, but from a light point of view, and football too, it was not so good, the illuminating being scarcely sufficient and its distribution hardly so judicious as it might have been - another light equal to 7,000 candles, we believe that used on the Gipps Land railway works, will increase the light by 50% for another match between Carlton and Melbourne on Tuesday evening next".   (Peter Pindar, The Australasian, August 9, 1879)

The military teams drew with three goals each and returned a profit to the M.C.C. of round £149 (although not revealed at the time, presumably the Volunteers received a similar amount with Draper's £100 covering the set-up costs of what must have been an extensive exercise in logistics).

The clash "under the Electric Light" between the great rivals of the time in Carlton and Melbourne match was heavily advertised, but the general public seems to have been somewhat less enthusiastic than Pindar and the match proved a major disappointment. Melbourne's weather seems to have changed little over the last hundred and twenty odd years and our modern appreciation of electricity at the flick of a switch may be a little premature.

On a cold and foggy night, Draper and his fellow "electricians" had to stoke a steam engine for an hour, the crowd being left to shiver in darkness until a somewhat feeble light finally penetrated the gloom at around 8.30 and "sixteen each of CarIton and Melbourne took the field and a motley crew they were, scarcely two of a side being similarly attired".

The players used a ball painted white which was moderately successful, but after about five minutes, it blew up and play continued with a tan-coloured ball that was difficult to see except when the ball passed under a bank of lights. Carlton's star George Coulthard kicked a goal with the coloured ball, and soon after, another white ball was produced to the relief of the players, spectators and undoubtedly the promoters. The Navy Blues adapted to the murky conditions scoring three goals (one with the tan ball and two with the replacement white) to Melbourne's solitary score.

After the windfall of the Volunteers match, the M.C.C suffered a small loss on the second match, despite matches between the two leading teams usually attracting between 7,000 and 10,000 at the time.

Perhaps significantly, none of the contemporary press reports included crowd estimates. Some histories of the two games have suggested that they hosted the first commercial use of electricity in Melbourne, but this is not correct - arc light electricity having been used for night work at, oddly enough, a candle factory in Footscray in 1877.

The question that has puzzled casual historians over the years is, of course, just how or why did two teams from the Volunteer Corps feature in such a ground-breaking match?

The missing link was Thomas Draper.

Draper led the Victorian Corps of Engineers, a volunteer brigade officially stationed at an orderly room in Lygon Street, Carlton, but for practical purposes operating out of barracks in Wellington Parade, Jolimont.

One of many volunteer forces that served in the defence of Melbourne from 1854 until the mid-1880s, the Engineer Corps under its unique rules was restricted to "architects, civil engineers, surveyors, their assistants and mechanics connected to those professions".

Undoubtedly Draper may well have had established experience with the uses of electricity, but just why was he selected and despite Pindar's pleas, why did two virtually unknown teams from the military take to the field?

The second missing link was the new M.C.C. Secretary, Benjamin Wardill. Wardill took up the M.C.C. position in May and in later years would by universally known as "the Major".

He had to officially wait until 1885 before he actually gained that commission, but in 1879 at the time of his appointment to the M.C.C. role, Wardill held the rank of Captain with the East Melbourne Artillery which shared the same barracks in East Melbourne as the Engineers.

As well his involvement with the M.C.C. on an administrative position, like many committeemen of his time Wardill was also active in several of the club's sporting activities, primarily cricket and rifle shooting.

His prowess in the latter sport earned him a place in a five-man Victorian  team invited in 1876 to compete in both the "world shooting championships" at Creedmoor in New York and in the British Championship, the Queen's Prize at Wimbleton (now Wimbledon).

Amongst his team-mates was "Captain T. T. Draper, of the Victorian Engineer Corps" (the senior rank of Captain seems unlikely given he was consistently Lieutenant Draper some three years later).

The team earned several prizes in a dozen competitions in England, but sadly finished third (and last) behind England and Scotland in the Victorian Prize, a special commemorative event held just before the team sailed for the United States, and fourth of fifth against national teams in the "world" championship.

The connection to the Collingwood Rifles is somewhat more obscure, but again may have been Thomas Draper.

In a somewhat less attractive earlier enterprise, Draper held the contract in the 1860s with the Collingwood Council for the collection and processing of night soil from several hundred houses in the Collingwood area, in turn deodorising and drying the contents and selling the end product as garden fertiliser - an operation that proved so profitable that several Collingwood councillors formed a private company that took over the contract when in come up for re-tender.   

Draper turned his hand instead to the design and manufacture of "earth closets", contraptions designed to sprinkle earth, lime or clay automatically into the toilet pan to absorb and at least partly deodorise the contents before removal by the "nightman".

Like many of the Volunteer Corps, the Collingwood Rifles regularly fielded cricket and football teams in arranged matches on days that did not clash with field exercise, parades or rifle drills. The brigade was one of the oldest in Melbourne and known to have existed in 1855, the first year of official volunteer forces and then known as the East Collingwood Rifles.

Oddly enough, their parade ground and rifle range were actually within the then boundaries of Northcote - the triangular wedge south of the Merri Creek and bordered by Queen's Parade, Heidelberg Road and Hoddle Street.

The Age's prediction of electricity having "some future potential" was, of course, an under-statement and Thomas Draper became one of the pioneers of the industry during Melbourne's boom times.

In 1881, Draper became a partner in the newly formed Union Electric Co.

The company imported arc light machines from England, initially supplying commercial buildings near their plant in Heffernan Lane (near the corner of Exhibition and Lonsdale Streets), and later expanding to provide lighting to such Melbourne landmarks as the Town Hall, Princes Bridge and Foy and Gibson's huge emporium in Smith Street, Collingwood.

1879  Footy Under Lights

The novelty of electricity was first sighted in Melbourne in 1867 when the incumbent Duke of Edinburgh visited Melbourne and five public buildings were lit for the occasion with the new medium.

The unsophisticated techniques of the time saw the carbon points of the apparatus rapidly burn out and heat and fumes of the combustion proven unpleasant - "We see little practical value in electricity yet - although it may have some future potential".  (The Age, November 12, 1867)

By 1878, the first rudimentary light bulbs had been invented, Credit is popularly given to the American inventor, Thomas Edison, but in fact Edison's work was predated by some 16 or 17 years by Joseph Swan in England.   Despite the creation of one of the most common household items of today, it was the availability of carbon arc lighting that saw the first faltering steps towards sporting events under lights.

Alf Batchelder's "Pavilions in the Park" suggests that in December of 1878, a member of the M.C.C. Committee, George Gibson, was given use of the Ground "for the purpose of playing a cricket match under the Electric Light" but there is no evidence that a match actually took place.

In June and July of the following the club, public interest in the new lighting medium was again stimulated, this time by a series of lectures "all packed to the doors" given by Mr. R. J. Ellery, the Government Astronomer where "... he illustrated his remarks with diagrams and experiments, the latter being arranged and conducted by Lieutenant Draper". (The Australasian, July 26, 1879)

Around the same time, the leading weekly journal reported the M.C.C. Committee had received an application from a Professor Pepper to play football "by electric light" after reports appeared in the Melbourne press of a night match played in New Zealand. The game was scheduled for August 5, when "a grand military football match will be played".

Whether "Professor Pepper" was really a "Professor" or even "Pepper" is not entirely certain. He claimed to be a member of the Royal Polytechnic Institute of London and while in Melbourne specialised in giving public lectures (admission from a shilling down to threepence for back stall seats) at which he gave "semi-scientific lectures in which amusement and instruction were happily blended". (The Argus, April 30, 1880)

For reasons unknown, Pepper was not able to make good on his plans.

Peter Pindar, Melbourne's leading football writer suggested before the cancellation the demonstration would "doubtless draw a big crowd" and "it would be better if football ore important part - say a match between the two leading metropolitan clubs” (then Melbourne and Carlton).

The following week, The Australasian announced that the keenly awaited demonstration of the new lighting would now be presented with "the considerable experience of Lieutenant Draper". Batchelder, with access to the M.C.C. Minute Books and other records, reveals the committee offered Draper a guarantee of £100 and "half the net proceeds of the gate and stands".


Of the


Under the Patronage of

The Commandant and Officers of the Local Forces,

The Hon. J. G. Francis, M.L.A., President of the M.C.C.,

The Hon. W. J. Clarke, M.L.C. Vice-President,

C. Croaker, Esq., do.,


The Committee of the M.C.C.


Between Members of the




On the



When the ground will be lighted up for the match by

at least five first class


And make the


that has ever been shown hitherto.

Two Military Bands will perform during the evening.

It is requested by authority that Members of the Local

Forces appear in uniform.

Admission, 1s., Grand Stand, 1s. extra.

Tickets may be obtained (and so prevent a crush at

the gates) at

Messrs Allan and Co.'s, music sellers, Collins-street,

Mr. G. Gibson, chemist, do.

Melbourne Omnibus Company, Bourke-street,

Gates open 7 o'clock.

Commence 8. Conclude 9.50.

The club has arranged with Mr. Simmons, the

caterer for the ground, for the supply of coffee,

besides other refreshments, in both stand bars and

booths during the evening.

N.B. - should weather prove unfavourable, tickets will

be available for following night.

(The Argus, 5 August, 1879)

The Grand Military Football Match

pictured in The Australian Sketcher With Pen and Pencil, 2 August, 1879