John Shannon Munn

An essay by David Liverman

John Shannon Munn holds a somewhat obscure place in the history of both cricket, and of Newfoundland. Being the best player Newfoundland has ever produced means little when only three first-class cricketers have ever been born on this island, playing a total of 17? first-class matches between them. Cricket perhaps formed but a small part of Jack Munn’s life -a prominent citizen of St. John’s in the early part of the 20th century, he is best remembered for the death of his daughter, and the statue built in the city’s favourite park in her memory.

Cricket is as unfamiliar to most Newfoundlanders as Newfoundland is to most cricket fans. Thus a brief introduction is required… JS Munn was born in the last part of the 19th century. Newfoundland at this time was a self-governing dominion of Britain, a system that operated until the country essentially went bankrupt in 1934, leading to a period of direct government from the UK, followed by confederation with Canada in 1949. Newfoundland has a harsh climate, a short summer, little soil and few flat areas; as such it is an inhospitable spot for cricket to flourish, yet flourish it did. When English fisherman, sailors and military personnel settled in St. John’s in the early part of the 19th century, they brought their favourite game with them. The St. John’s Cricket Club was founded in the 1820s, possibly the first cricket club to be established in North America. Cricket grew in the province over the next fifty years and was well established as a summer game with several clubs in the city. We know that Harbour Grace was, outside of St. John’s the major cricket centre in Newfoundland, with several teams in operation. Matches between Harbour Grace and St. John’s were followed with great interest. JP Howley was the 2nd director of the Geological Survey of Newfoundland, and his memoirs give us insight into how important cricket was in 1868.

“August 28, 1868: We camped at the old site. We heard all the latest news from Mr Blackadder. he told us of a great cricket match between St. John’s team and one from Harbour Grace in which the latter was badly defeated”.

Thus the only item of news he felt worth recording after 5 weeks in the wilderness was the result of the Harbour Grace – St. John’s match! Cricket reached its peak between 1880 and 1910. A St. John’s league was established in 1891, and frequent matches were arranged between local teams and those from visiting ships. This coincided with the golden age of English cricket, when WG Grace was the best known man in England, when the Ashes Tests became regular features, and international tours became commonplace; all these events were regularly reported in the Newfoundland Press. Munn was thus born into a Newfoundland society that unlike today, thought of cricket as a major part of sporting life in the province.

JS Munn came from the ruling class of the dominion, one of the Munn family of Harbour Grace. The rich and influential in the province were largely merchants, who ran the fish trade. John Munn, JS Munn’s grandfather came to Newfoundland from Scotland in 1825 and built a successful business empire in Harbour Grace, owning the main store, investing in the sealing and fishing fleets, running a ship building operation, and running the newspaper. He was also a prominent politician elected to the House of Assembly twice. JS Munn’s father, William was a partner in the firm, and he and his cousin Robert took over the running of the company when John retired and moved back to England in 1878. John Shannon was born in Harbour Grace two years later on June 6 1880. His father died in 1882, and the family firm later fell on hard times, losing much money in bank scandals and becoming bankrupt in 1894.

We do not know how the loss of his father affected John Shannon – presumably he and his mother came under the wing of his second cousin Robert Munn, principal of John Munn and co. John Shannon inherited a share in the firm to be held in trust until he came of age – later to prove worthless when the company went bankrupt. . If young John did grow up in Harbour Grace, there’s no doubt that he saw and played cricket in the summers. It is tempting to think of young John watching the great matches between St. John’s and Harbour Grace, playing with his friends on the rough fields and streets of the community, and learning his craft. We know that his mother re-married in 1888 to Edgar R Bowring, a member of another famed merchant family, this time of St. John’s. The Bowring family business was founded in 1811 and grew rich on the seal hunt, later diversifying into the cod fishery. They became one of the great merchant powers of Newfoundland, diversifying into shipping of all sorts, insurance and retailing. Edgar was prominent in the family business, becoming a director of Bowring Brothers in 1890. When John’s mother Flora died in 1898 he became a ward of Edgar Bowring, and later his protégé in the Bowring company. His step-father had moved from Bishop Field School to be educated in England at the age of 11 and perhaps the young John Shannon took the same long trans-atlantic voyage at a similar age .

His career in cricket

The next we hear of him he is indeed in England, and playing cricket for the Forest School. This school, established in north-east London in 1835, whilst not of the stature of famous institutions such as Eton, Harrow, Winchester or Westminster was well known, and has produced a number of distinguished sportsmen and scholars. Former England cricket captain Nasser Hussain, and Essex and England wicket-keeper Jamie Foster both attended the school. Other prominent old boys include Quinton Fortune (Manchester United and South African international footballer), Peter Greenway (controversial film director), two notorious murderers and Omar Saeed Sheikh, a terrorist convicted of the murder of American Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. The school has always been proud of its sporting traditions, and their averages regularly find a place in Wisden’s listing of public schools cricket. It is through the 1900 Wisden that we find JS Munn again, playing 12 matches for the school, having a poor season with the bat (108 runs at and average of 12), but an important part of the bowling attack, taking 55 wickets at an average of 13.96. Wisden also give the scorecard of a single Forest School match, in which they defeated Epsom College. Munn batted at 7, and made his highest score of the season, 61*. He then took 5 wickets to lead Forest School to a 220 run victory and earned from Wisden the comment “Munn also contributed in large degree to their success”.

School records show he attended the school from 1894 to 1899. According to the school magazines of the time, Munn’s main achievements at school were as a bowler. He always batted at No. 8 or 9. In 1898, the Magazine records that Munn was “a good left-hand bowler with a curl from the off, but should vary his pace and pitch. An improving bat.” In his last year at Forest School, Munn’s bowling statistics were: 1627 balls, 768 runs, 88 maidens, 55 wickets, 13.96 average. In 1899, he was also a School Monitor, and a member of the Games Committee

A year later he is at Oxford, and playing in the trial matches. The Freshman’s match is for those newly arrived at Oxford, and is their chance to make an impression on the University captain, and possibly win a place in the eleven to face Cambridge at Lord’s. Wisden stated that “”There was no great amount of talent among the Freshmen”. Munn was selected to play on the captain’s team, joining 10 others under RE Foster. He made the best possible start, chosen to open the bowling he bowled the highly regarded Harrow bat, Wyld for a duck, and followed with five more wickets, ruining the aspirations of young cricketers recently arrived from Winchester, Malvern, and Clifton. He took 6/22 from just 11 overs, and although he was less successful in the 2nd innings, must have made a strong impression on the captain. He was selected for the trial match a week later, again playing under Foster. He took a single wicket in the first innings, and 5/54 in eighteen overs in the second, being the most successful bowler on either side. Two of his second innings wickets were of batsmen who played at Lord’s that year, Pilkington and Marsham.

It is hard to know what else Munn could have done to earn a place in the eleven but he did not make his first-class debut for the University until the game against Somerset on 14 June 1900, the fourth first-class match of the year. To break into the university team in one’s first year, and coming from a relatively obscure public school suggests considerable talent. The University teams at that time were of high standard, and often beat the weaker counties. Oxford had already that season beaten London County (captained by WG Grace) by an innings, and bowled out Sussex side containing Ranji, Vine, Killick and Cox twice for under a hundred to win a thrilling match by 11 runs. His captain was RE Foster, who went to cap an illustrious career by captaining England, after setting the world record Test score for a batsman with 287 against Australia on his debut. Another team-mate was BJT Bosanquet, renowned as the inventor of the googly, and another who went on to success as a Test cricketer (Boasanquet had taken 9/31 in the Sussex 2nd innings).

Against Somerset, Munn made an immediate impact, opening the bowling and taking a wicket in his first over, having Robson caught by Martyn for just two. He took three further wickets in the innings, including that of the Somerset captain SMJ Woods – he bowled the former England and Australian Test all-rounder for just 2, and finished with an impressive 4/53. He batted last for Oxford, making just 2, but keeping his end up during a last wicket stand of 25. He was less successful in the second innings, bowling just four overs without taking a wicket, and in a rain affected draw did not bat in the second innings. His bowling however, kept him in the side for the next match against Worcestershire, where he bowled first-change in both innings, returning the excellent figures of 10-3-20-2 and 13-4-39-4. His second innings bowling played a large part in Oxford’s win, as Worcestershire collapsed from 140/4 to 201 all out. He made just 4* in his only innings but again showed sturdy defence; the last wicket partnership with JWA Crawfurd recorded 52.

His efforts against Somerset gained him recognition in the press at home. The Daily News of June 28 published a short article entitled “A Newfoundland Crcketer” as follows:-

“By last English mail we learn that Jack Munn is becoming prominent as a bowler in cricketing circles. He is playing with Oxford University and is the first Newfoundlander that ever secured a position with the Varsity Eleven. On the 18th inst. He played against a Somersetshire team at Oxford and succeeded in getting four wickets, one of which was the crack player SMJ Woods. Only 9 wickets of the Somersetshire team fell as owing to rain it was put off to the next day; their score was 218 runs. Several of the prominent English papers commented favourably on Munn’s bowling.”

A sterner test followed as the Oxford side travelled to London to meet the powerful Surrey side at the famous Kennington Oval. The Surrey line up included Bobby Abel, Billy Brockwell, Tom Hayward, VFS Crawford, and Tom Richardson but after the first day was lost to rain, the students had little trouble obtaining a draw. Munn bowled economically taking 2/73 from 30.4 overs as Surrey made 361/6 before declaring, Crawford making a sparkling century. Munn dismissed numbers 4 and 7 in the order, Barker and Jephson. Oxford replied with 344, led by Foster’s century, and Munn with 2* would have had the experience of facing the great Tom Richardson. Munn took Butcher’s wicket when Surrey batted again bowling 11 overs, conceding just 16 runs.

After solid performances, Munn was perhaps unlucky to be dropped for the next match, a return fixture with Sussex at Hove, where the University won by an innings. He however was picked for the next match – against the MCC at Lord’s. Surely this must have been the culmination of the young Newfoundlander’s dream – to play against the august MCC, captained by none other than WG Grace, at the headquarters of cricket – it must have seemed a long way indeed from the beaches of Harbour Grace. As it turned out the weather ruined the match and he had little chance to earn his place in the University match. He made 0* as Oxford fell to Hearne and Trott for just 106. WG captained the MCC in the first day, but had to leave due to a family bereavement and missed the second day. As the rains fell, Munn did not bowl, as only 8 balls were possible in the MCC innings

The big event in the Oxford cricket calendar was and is the Lord’s match against Cambridge, and Munn must have been disappointed not to have been picked. Wisden singled him out among the Freshmen saying “JS Munn, a left handed bowler from Forest School at one time had good prospects of getting into the eleven”. After Oxford had made 503, perhaps his bowling might have proved more effective than those on show, as Cambridge easily forced a draw. Munn finished the season with 13 wickets in four first-class matches, at an average of 16.76 (2nd best for the University), and was only dismissed once in his four innings. Crawfurd, whose bowling had impressed so much he was awarded his Blue for taking 3/45 against Surrey, took 3 less wickets at a cost of nearly 25 each, but was picked against Cambridge taking one wicket and scoring 26 runs.

Jack Munn chose to take the long boat trip back to Newfoundland for the rest of the summer – some of the better university players often turned out for a county, but Munn did not. He is soon back on the cricket field, although there was a world of difference between the great grounds of London and the field at Pleasantville, a mile’s walk out of the city centre of St. John’s. The City League started play with five teams in early July; conditions at Pleasantvile can be judged by the fact that any batsman who made double figures earned high praise, and a good total was over 50. One day matches usually easily had time for two innings per side. Jack Munn returned to his old school club the Feildians, and turned out for them in early August against the Terra Nova Club (who perpetually seemed to have to play with 10 men). He took ten wickets in the match as the Feildans won handily.

The big cricketing event of the summer was the visit of the Zingari Club of Boston. A crowd of over 1200 paid 10 cents each to watch the big match in late August. John Munn was of course in the team, but any expectations of special treatment for the returning star were soon dashed. He was not asked to open the bowling when the Bostonians batted first in the opening match and failed to take a wicket. He was then bowled for a duck when St. John’s took their turn at the wicket- a humbling experience indeed. The St John’s team lost the first match, but exacted revenge in the second; Munn came into his own, taking 8/17 in the Zingari 1st innings, and only two run outs prevented him taking all ten.

1901 season

The 1901 season again started with a series of trial matches. The side was much weaker than the 1900 team – .both Bosanquet and Foster had graduated along with 4 others who played at Lord’s and the team was captained by Frank Knox, who went on to play for Surrey. Munn, who surely only narrowly missed selection the previous year, must have had high hopes. The Senior’s match, for those who had not yet earned their blue, was played at the end of April, and Munn failed to capture a wicket in his first attempts, taking 0/45. He surprised by performing well with the bat, making 26 not out, and then took 2/27. In the trial match Munn bowled respectably (10-2-37-1 and 7-3-11-0), but was assigned to the “next fifteen” to play the “First Twelve” in the last trial game, He again bowled respectably taking the wicket of the promising RZH Voss in both innings (and likely costing him a place in the eleven) and also contributed a useful 16 with the bat. When the team for the opening first-class fixture was announced, he was not in it, the splendidly named Adolph Christian Ernest von Ernsthausen being preferred.

Oxford lost this match against Webbe’s XI, and lost again to the MCC. White, a Blue from 1900 had completely lost bowling form and so Munn had his chance against Surrey in late May. He got off to a bad start, being bowled by Jephson for a duck, and then under the new skipper did not bowl until third change. His figures were a little disappointing – 2/90 in 25 overs, but the batsman he dismissed were of the highest class – Tom Hayward caught for 25, and VFS Crawford bowled for 4. When Oxford batted again, Munn made his highest first-class score, an unbeaten 13 in his accustomed position at number 11, as part of a last wicket partnership of 23. Surrey were set 222 to win, and Munn opened the bowling. He did not take a wicket and conceded 54 runs from his 11 overs as Surrey raced to an easy 6 wicket victory.

He retained his place in another heavy loss to Somerset dismissing the Reverend Wickham in Somerset’s 1st innings for his solitary wicket, and Hill and Sammy Woods in the second. He batted eleven and was not out in both innings making 3 runs in the process. Then to the Oval and the match against Surrey. Oddly enough, von Ernsthausen, dropped from the Oxford team for his “poor and slovenly fielding”, played for Surrey against his former team-mates in this game. Munn got off to a fine start, bowling the great batsman Bobby Abel for a duck. Abel was in his last years of cricket at that point (although would play Test cricket in 1902), and was thought not to fancy the quicker bowlers much- maybe a hint that Munn could generate a bit of pace. He had no further luck as Surrey posted a total of nearly 500, and then in a surprising move was asked to open the batting- perhaps acknowledgement of his run of not out scores. He made just 11 and when Oxford followed on reverted to number 8, where he made 5.

In the next match against Sussex at Eastbourne, he was back at number 11, and was dismissed by Maurice Tate’s father, Fred for just 2. Knox made 198 and the University seemed to have Sussex in some trouble when they followed on. Munn apparently bowled well, taking 2/26 from 11 overs. His two wickets were ones to be treasured – few bowlers could boast dismissing the illustrious pair of CB Fry and KS Ranjitsinhji, Fry for a duck. Fry made the university bowlers pay in the second innings with an unbeaten double century as Sussex easily earned a draw. Munn bowled  just 10 overs for 38 runs – it is by no means clear why his captain did not use him more as Sussex batted 127 overs for their 414/6 declared.

The 1st of July saw Munn at Lord’s again, with the MCC again the opponents. No WG Grace this time, but the MCC side fielded a strong side. Oddly enough Munn recorded his only two first-class catches when the MCC batted – in his 9th first-class match. Whether he was a poor fielder and had been dropping catches or the chances just did not come his way is a subject for pure speculation! He caught EC Lee and the redoubtable Sir Timothy O’Brien as well as taking the wickets of Albert Trott and Henderson for 37 runs. He made 8 coming in at number 10, and bowled just a single over in the MCC second innings, possibly due to the captain’s own success with the ball. The match was drawn and Oxford went into the University match without having won a first-class match that season.

On the 4 July Oxford took on Cambridge at Lord’s. The University match in 1901 was tremendously popular, and was one of the more important cricket fixtures of the year. It played before huge crowds, and for Munn perhaps represented the peak of his cricketing career. It was his last first-class match.

Looking at the scorecard of the match it is easy to speculate that Munn’s captain did not rate his bowling highly. He certainly appears to have been under-bowled. In the first innings he had the excellent figures of 11-5-23-1, bowling the Cambridge captain for 5. Yet Cambridge made 325 in 115 overs, and others toiled with less reward whilst Munn watched from the field. His captain bowled 19 wicket-less overs, Kelly conceded 48 runs from 12 overs without taking a wicket, and although Dillon took three wickets, he conceded 75 runs from 18 overs. Oxford took a narrow lead thanks to a last wicket stand of 35 involving Munn back in his usual number 11 spot. When Cambridge batted again, Munn was once more virtually ignored, bowling just 6 overs for 13 runs. Williams bowled 20 overs without a wicket, More 36 overs (taking 3 wickets but conceding 109 runs) and Knox the captain 25 overs (but taking four wickets). Marsham made a splendid hundred as Oxford lost 7 wickets before securing a draw.

Munn did not play for Oxford again. His 1901 figures were 9 wickets at 38.66, and 47 runs at 9.4, and overall he had 24 wickets at an average of under 30, a very respectable figure. We know little about how he played the game. We know he bowled left-arm, and it is likely but by no means certain that he bowled fast-medium rather than spin. “Recollections of cricket”, by P.J. Myer, published in 1915, described Munn as “a stylish bat, and excellent bowler”.

For a young bowler, he had done well. Most impressive was his ability to dismiss batsmen of the highest class. Those 24 wickets included the scalps of Tom Hayward, Bobby Abel, Sammy Woods (twice), Albert Trott,, CB Fry, and KS Ranjitsinhji. Hayward, Fry, Abel and Ranji made a combined 344 first-class centuries, with Fry and Ranji both averaging over 50. Trott and Woods were lesser bats, but of Test class. As a twenty-one year old he had great potential, which was unrealised at the first-class level. He’d been at Oxford only two years, and might have been expected to feature in the team for at least another couple of years. Many of the University players later represented counties, and Munn certainly had the ability to do so. We do not know why his cricket and academic career was so abruptly terminated. Was he disillusioned at his treatment by Knox? Did family commitments mean that he had to return to St. John’s? Did his step-father require his presence in the family business?

All we know is that in the winter of 1901-02 Munn was not at Oxford, but in St. John’s. where in February he won Newfoundland’s first ping-pong tournament, impressing all with his skill, and being presented with a “silver ink wiper”. In 1902 cricket in Newfoundland was in serious trouble. The league met in May and seriously considered disbanding due to lack of interest. They determined to carry on but only three teams remained in the league, down from six only two seasons before.

In January 1908 John Shannon Munn married Miss Alice May McCowen, daughter of Inspector General McCowen, commanding officer of the Newfoundland Constabulary. He was by this time a director of Bowring Brothers, and the wedding was a most distinguished affair, involving the cream of Newfoundland society. They were married in the Anglican Cathedral by the Lord Bishop of Newfoundland, and the reception was in the Government House. A wedding photograph exists – Munn of average height and build, with fair hair and a moustache, a handsome man standing proudly by his new wife. They lived in Forest Road, where his house still stands, a splendid Victorian mansion.

When war broke out in 1914, a group of prominent St. John’s citizens set up a committee to fund a regiment to travel to France. John Munn at 34 was too old to fight himself but stood on the committee as treasurer – he had been elected President of the Board of Trade earlier in the year. In a fit of patriotic fervour the regiment was raised from volunteers, and despatched overseas in the SS Florizel. The Newfoundland Regiment served in Gallipoli and France. What would have JS Munn thought, one wonders when he learned the dreadful news of July 1 1916, when in less than two hours, the regiment’s impossible assault on the German lines at Beaumont Hamel led to it’s annihilation. With 700 casualties, over one-third fatal, only 68 soldiers were able to present themselves on parade the next morning.

The Florizel was the ship that took many of these soldiers to their deaths, and was owned by Bowring Brothers. They had built the 1018 ton steamer for the passenger and freight route to New York, as a coastal boat, and for use in the seal hunt – she was specially strengthened to deal with the ice. She had also been involved in the recovery of bodies from the Titanic disaster in 1912. In 1918 she had returned to the St. John’s – New York route. Mrs Alice May Munn was in New York, and on the evening of Saturday, 22 February, JS Munn, his 3 year old daughter Betty and her nurse embarked on the Florizel to meet her there. The story of her final voyage is superbly and movingly told by Cassie Brown in her book “A Winter’s Tale”. As a senior director in the company that owned the ship they were travelling first-class. The ship was carrying 78 passengers, 138 people in all. In the early morning the captain made a grave error. Believing the ship to be past Cape Race, the southernmost point of the Island of Newfoundland, he turned the ship and set full steam ahead for New York. The weather is dreadful, high winds and poor visibility in blowing snow. Too late it was realised that the ship has not travelled as far south as was thought, and she steamed onto the rocks at Cappahayden at full speed. The Florizel was wrecked 300 yards off the shore, but high winds and waves meant that rescuers could not reach the ship. Munn survived the initial wreck, but then suffered dreadfully for over 24 hours, first having his daughter torn from his arms by a wave, then had his bootless feet frozen. Offered a pair of boots by a crewman he refused them, saying “”I don’t much care what happens to me after losing Betty”. Suffering from hypothermia, he and fifteen others were washed overboard by a huge wave as the captain tried to rescue them.

Munn's grave

His body was recovered and he, his daughter and her nurse are buried together in the Anglican cemetery in St. John’s. The grave stands shaded by trees in the older part of the cemetery, no more than 100 yards from Munn’s house on Forest road, and looking out over Quidi Vidi Lake to the site of the Pleasantville cricket field. The inscription reads

In memory of John Shannon Munn aged 37 years and his little daughter Elizabeth Shannon Betty aged 3 1/2, also Constance Evelyn Trenchard, devoted friend and nurse aged 29 years. Died 24 February 1918.
“They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their deaths they were not divided”.

There are other memorials to this well liked and popular man, and his daughter. John Munn is commemorated by a stained glass window in St. Thomas’ church, dedicated in a special service in 1924. Bowring Bros donated property (known as the Shannon Munn Memorial) for a Church England Orphanage in St. John’s. The Munn family also gave land for a park “Shannon Park” to the citizens of Harbour Grace.

The best known of all, however, is the statue in Bowring Park. This is a replica of the Peter Pan statue in Kensington, London, and the inscription reads “to a dear little girl who loved the Park”. It was erected by Sir Edgar Bowring in the memory of his step-grand-daughter, and is much loved by children who are fascinated by the mice, and other animals sculpted around the main figure’s feet, which are polished by the touch of thousands of small hands. Few of those who know this statue are aware of the story that leads via the rocks of Capahayden to the great arena at Lord’s and then back to Harbour Grace.

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