The day was August 15, 1888. It was the year when the first British & Irish Lions tour took place, but back then, the squad did not have a collective name. They had arrived in Maitland the previous day and had already played 20 rugby matches and a fair number of "Victorian rules" games, the sport we now know as Australian rules. On the 14th, they had taken on a Northern Districts side and had lost four goals to nine.
The following day, with the majority of the squad already in Newcastle, captain of the tourists Robert Seddon and team-mates Jack Anderton and Andrew Stoddart hired some boats and opted to row along the Hunter River. They found a tranquil spot near Horseshoe Bend and according to an article in the Maitland Mercury from the time, Stoddart and Anderton were "lying in an old punt, smoking and taking it easy". Seddon chose to row ahead.
His body was pulled out of the river soon after, he had drowned. The town went into mourning with local players and the tourists turning out in force for his funeral. Donations came in from near and far for a suitable gravestone and 125 years on, Seddon still lies in Campbells Hill Cemetery in an immaculately kept grave.
The 2013 crop of the British & Irish Lions paid a visit to Seddon on Tuesday and alongside representatives from the Australian Rugby Union, the local MP Tim Owen and Maitland Rugby Club, a small ceremony took place in front of the watching locals and media. Wreaths were laid and words were said in commemoration of the original Lions skipper.
It was a poignant occasion. It is touching both that Maitland make a concerted effort to keep Seddon's grave pristine and that the graveyard overlooks a nearby rugby field, home of West Maitland Rugby League. Their maintenance of Seddon's final resting place sees the Lions and Maitland RFC hold a unique bond, as ARU president David Crombie said.
"Our great game brings people of all walks of life together. And there's no greater example of that here today. Rugby is all about looking after your mates and that is exactly what the Maitland Rugby Club have been doing for the last 80 years, looking after a mate. Long may this great connection last."
|It is a game that gives us great pleasure. I'd just like to say, on behalf of my touring team, it is a great honour to be here to commemorate our first captain|
Lions captain Sam Warburton was in attendance and he watched on as tour manager Andy Irvine laid a wreath at his predecessor's grave. While Warburton has taken up the honour for this tour, there is an element of stewardship to it with him merely holding the captaincy until the next skipper comes along, as Irvine highlighted when he spoke at Seddon's graveside.
"When Bob Seddon died, he had no idea of the incredible legacy that he had left. 125 years later, we are here as the 32nd team to have left Brittan and Ireland and we are incredibly proud to be able to represent the four countries. Rugby union is a sport that transcends all boundaries, whether it be race, creed politics or religion. It is a game that gives us great pleasure. I'd just like to say, on behalf of my touring team, it is a great honour to be here to commemorate our first captain."
It was an occasion which showed rugby in its best light, two sides of the world united. Maitland RFC said they were "acutely aware that this man was never going to go home". The inscription on his gravestone was testament to this.
"By kindly hands thy humble grave adorned. By strangers honoured and by strangers mourned."
Tom Hamilton was brought up underneath the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum