The hunt is on for relatives of an Australian test cricketer who lies in an unidentified grave in Western Australia’s Goldfields.
John Cottam was the 49th Australian to don the baggy green. He was one of five players drafted into the test team in Sydney in 1886-87 to replace players involved in a pay dispute.
Cottam was out for 1 and 3 on debut and never played for Australia again.
He died 10 years later in Coolgardie, aged 29. It’s assumed he made his way to the Goldfields in search of fortune, but, like so many other prospectors in that era, he succumbed to typhoid fever in 1897.
Kalgoorlie resident and keen cricket historian Clint Easton found Cottam’s lonely grave in the cemetery of once-prosperous mining town of Coolgardie. Clint was planning to self-fund the placement of a headstone to commemorate the cricketer and his achievements. Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia have since heard about Clint’s efforts and have now paid for a bronze plaque to be put on the grave. It will be unveiled on John Cottam’s birthdate, September 5.
Cricket NSW is now keen to find any living relatives of John Cottam.
Who was John Thomas Cottam?
Cricket NSW Honorary Librarian and Official Historian, Dr Colin Clowes said Cottam was 19 when he made his first-class debut for New South Wales against the touring English team in 1887.
“He did well enough – 29, second highest score, and 14 not out – to be chosen for the following test match after several players withdrew over a pay dispute,” said Dr Clowes.
“John toured New Zealand with the NSW team in 1890. He scored three half-centuries, a number equal to those scored by all the other players combined.
“John played no further first-class cricket and it is difficult to construct his career after that New Zealand tour. However after one Club match later that year The Referee wrote:
‘Cottam and Clarke showed splendid form and after recovering from his recent severe prostration, it would appear that the former has regained all his wonted brilliance as a batsman.
‘When in his best form we have not a better batsman in the colony than Cottam, whose style is well nigh faultless’.”
Liked a drink
Dr Clowes said John Cottam appeared for Redfern in the initial season of Electoral Cricket in 1893-94 “with little success”.
“The reason for his loss of form is unclear but a drinking problem is a probable cause as a John Cottam is mentioned in newspapers in several alcohol-related incidents. One of these placed him in Fremantle in February 1896 where he was robbed of a gold watch while drunk.
“Sometime after this he went to the Goldfields,” said Dr Clowes.
Cricket NSW applauds Clint’s “amazing” efforts
If you can help locate any relatives of John Cottam you can get in touch with NSW Cricket via firstname.lastname@example.org or 02 9029 2305.
Coolgardie, the original site of WA’s goldrush
While the current population is under 1,000, during the goldrush Coolgardie was WA’s third largest town, with a bustling street filled with grand hotels and even a stock exchange with 25 stock brokers! Coolgardie has a fascinating and large cemetery, telling the stories and struggles of the region’s mining pioneers and their families. There’s even an assassination tale of an Afhani cameleer who was shot in the back as he prayed.
All Black in Coolgardie Cemetery
John Cottam is not the only national sportsman buried in the cemetery there. One of the first All Blacks lies in a grave only marked by a number. Kalgoorlie historian Moya Sharp is working to have a headstone or plaque erected on his grave. George Maber died of Typhoid aged 25 in 1894, three months after making his debut for New Zealand. There’s more information about George Maber via Moya’s fantastic Outback Family History blog. On ABC radio, Clint Easton said he was hoping to work with Moya to have George Maber’s achievements and Coolgardie resting place recognised too.