George Fitz-Hardinge Berkeley

Born29 January 1870, Dublin
Died14 November 1955, Hanwell Castle, Banbury, Oxfordshire
EducatedWellington College, Oxford University
OccupationArmy Officer, Barrister, Author, Historian
Debut27 August 1890 v I Zingari at Phoenix Park
Cap Number212
StyleRight-hand bat, Slow Left-arm
TeamsCork County, Na Shuler, Oxford University, Oxford and Cambridge P&P, MCC, Gentlemen of England
HistoryGeorge Berkeley, a negligible batsman, was a very good bowler with a "beautiful action." He could lay claim not only to having helped change the Laws of Cricket but having been instrumental in changing the History of Ireland, and, arguably, in having been an unwitting cause of the Second World War. He was also a successful barrister and a varied author whose work included not only "My Recollections of Wellington College," a misnomer since it also contained descriptions of Oxford cricket, and a history of "The Irish Battalion in the Papal Army of 1860," to name but two. He was descended from the famous philosopher Bishop of Clone and thus related to the Earls of Berkeley about whose Gloucestershire Castle and its lurid associations with Edward II he also wrote.

His fame as a cricketer owed much to a fanatical prep schoolmaster who forced a left arm delivery upon him. He is remembered as one of Wellington's "excellent cricketers", leading the bowling averages for his last 3 years. Geoffrey Bolton, leading historian of Oxford cricket, thought him "rather more" than "very effective" as a bowler " who went nearer than anyone else to beating Cambridge," while the great Sammy Woods was in residence there. His most famous match for the University, however, was against Billy Murdoch's Australians in 1890, his first class debut. He took 8-70, including Murdoch, opener JJ Lyons and future captain Sid Gregory, whose Test career spanned three decades. The tourists still won with ease. Berkeley gained his blue and headed the averages. The following season he almost won the University match with a second innings 5-20 but the Light Blues scraped home by 2 wickets.

Most of his Irish cricket was limited to holiday matches in County Cork. In early August 1890, he turned out for Cork County v Na Shuler and took 11 wickets in the match including TC O'Brien twice. Three years later, he changed sides, and took 10 in the match. In 1890 and 1891 he made his only two appearances for Ireland, both v I Zingari. On debut he had match figures of 11-75. He followed this with a further 3 the following season: clearly Ireland missed him greatly in the years ahead. In 1892 he was Secretary/Vice Captain of Oxford and gained a place in the Oval Gentlemen v Players match. However he failed to take a wicket as Arthur Shrewsbury, rated by WG Grace as the next best batsman in England, made the Gentlemen suffer.

The 1893 University Match saw him involved in forcing a change to the then 100 lead compulsory follow on law. Oxford wanted to follow on as a bad wicket was easing; George managed to get caught without being obvious, however the last pair's efforts to be stumped were so transparent that Cambridge all rounder CM Wells sent down a "four wider" (Berkeley) and a no ball so that his side could bat again. MCC increased the deficit to 120 the following year and in 1900 abolished compulsion. 1893 was his last regular season though he continued to play spasmodically, his last match was HDG Leveson Gower's XI in 1906 at Oxford. He also played a few matches for Oxfordshire without much success. His last real success in a match of importance was in 1904, when he had match figures of 10-110 for MCC v The Netherlands, dismissing CJ Posthuma, the Dutch WG, in both innings.

A British officer in the Boer War, he became a strong supporter of Irish Home Rule and close friends with fellow Anglo- Irishman Erskine Childers and Nationalist Party leader John Redmond, also a cricketer but far less distinguished. The Larne gun running convinced Berkeley that the Irish Volunteers must also be armed. Like Redmond he never supported physical force or a republic and was to be entirely behind the war effort, serving with the Third Reserve Cavalry Regiment. However he felt that the Government might ignore the Home Rule cause if the North was armed and the Irish Volunteers were not. He thus financed Childers Howth gun running exploit, far less formidable than Crawford's at Larne, and later, incongruously mounted on a horse, and wearing his British uniform, organised the distribution of a handful of the antiquated German rifles in West Belfast. He was horrified by the Easter Rising and played no further part in Irish politics. It could be argued that had his money not been available there would have been no "Howth Guns", no Easter Rising and that the future history of Ireland would have been very different. In 1919, after the Treaty of Versailles, he was a member of the Reparations Commission, which decided the amount that Germany should be made pay for the War. The ridiculous sum fixed was a cause of great resentment and has been advanced as a reason for the wide support that Hitler later received. Berkeley must have agreed with it, thus made, unwittingly, his second contribution to history. The remainder of his life was spent in historical research.

His obituary in Wisden 1956 makes no mention of his Irish exploits, cricketing or political. He is also in Scores & Biographies Volt XV and is profiled in Siggins and Fitzgerald Ireland's 100 Cricket Greats.

Edward Liddle, April 2007

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