Reverend George “Gog” OGILVIE (born 1826 in Wiltshire, England) is credited with introducing rugby to South Africa, following his appointment as Headmaster of the Diocesan College at Rondebosch in 1861. This game was the Winchester football variety, which the Reverend had learnt during his school days at Hampshire School. The first games were often reported in the local newspapers and featured teams such as “Town versus Suburbs” and “Home versus Colonials”.
It was at a farewell reception for the British Isles rugby team, which was leaving for a tour of South Africa, that Sir Donald CURRIE (17 September 1825 – 13 April 1909), a British ship owner, handed over what was to become the Currie Cup. The reception was held at the Southampton Docks in June 1891. On the 7th July thanks to the sponsorship of Cecil RHODES, the first British Isles rugby team arrived in Cape Town aboard the Dunottar Castle. They were mainly Scottish and English players captained by the Scottish wing William Edward MACLAGAN (5 April 1858 – 10 October 1926). Their first match was against the club Hamiltons which they won 15-1. The only try by the home team was scored by Charles (Hasie) VERSVELD, brother of Loftus VERSVELD. The Cape Times carried reports.
|Sir Donald Currie|
|Herbert H. Castens|
Sir Donald wanted the cup to become a floating trophy for South African inter-provincial champions. Griqualand West later donated the trophy to the Rugby Board, who made it the prize for the Currie Cup competition. The cup was insured for £40 when it was put on display, shortly after its arrival, in a window shop in Adderley Street. The words “South African Football Challenge Cup” were engraved on the cup.
|Undated Currie Cup|
In the early rugby years there were no Cup finals. The team that finished at the top of the log was declared the champion. In the early 1900s, the Currie Cup was not competed for annually. The first Currie Cup final was played in 1939 at Newlands where Transvaal beat Western Province. The format varied and finals were held intermittently up until 1968. In its early days and until 1920, the tournament lasted a week and was played in one town. The competition was also interrupted by the two World Wars. The first annual Currie Cup final was held in 1968 when Northern Transvaal, featuring Frik DU PREEZ, beat Transvaal.
Politics was already casting its shadow over South African rugby way back then. In 1895, the 15 British soldiers representing Natal in the Currie Cup tournament had to get permission from Paul KRUGER to enter the ZAR in their uniforms. At this tournament’s official dinner, officials and players made toasts to KRUGER and Queen Victoria. During the 1899 tournament, Western Province, Transvaal and the Free State stayed away because of the Anglo-Boer War. The 1908 Currie Cup tournament, held in Port Elizabeth, was the last one held in Sir Donald’s lifetime.
In the 1898 tournament, the Transvaal team faced tragedy when their fullback David Gill (Davey) COPE was killed in a train accident at Mosterthoek on 16 August 1898 while on his way to the tournament in Cape Town. A week later another Transvaal player, Boy TAIT, died of injuries sustained in the same accident.
The Currie Cup is such a big part of South African rugby, that it is not well-known that there were other Currie Cups involving other sports. All the cups were donated by Sir Donald.
On the 5th January 1808, a cricket match between two teams of English officers took place in Cape Town. In 1862, an annual fixture “Mother Country versus Colonial Born” was staged in Cape Town. In March 1889, the English cricket team played in a Test match against South Africa at Port Elizabeth. Sir Donald sponsored the English team’s tour of South Africa. When the team left England, he gave them a cup to be presented to the best South African team that they faced. As with his request for the rugby cup, the trophy was then to be used in domestic competition. The cup was inscribed with “To the Cricket Clubs of South Africa, 1889?. In 1890 the Kimberley cricket team became the first team to be awarded cricket’s Currie Cup. Cricket’s Currie Cup tournament was later renamed the Castle Cup. When the Wanderers Clubhouse caught fire in 2004, the silver Currie Cup was lost in the fire.
In 1899 he donated a cup for water-polo tournaments. A year later, Western Province won the first water-polo Currie Cup at the first inter-provincial swimming and water-polo tournament.
Another Currie Cup was given by Sir Donald to the Cape Town Highlanders.