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Cup Match and Somers Day – a chronology of holidays

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Treasured tradition: Cup Match has a rich history

Did Cup Match originate with the emancipation of slaves on August 1, 1834? If so, why was the first Cup Match played on June 12, 1902 — a date that recently passed without mention? How did “Somers Day” come to be the second day of Cup Match?

New research reveals the existence of coloured cricket clubs more than 20 years before Friendly Society matches commenced in the early 1870s; and “Somers Day” preceded “Cup Match Day” as a statutory holiday by 11 years.

During and just after the Second World War, all sides of the community came together to solve the repeated clashing of Cup Match playing dates with the Somers Day holiday and came up with a solution: move Somers Day to coincide with Cup Match and create a two-day public holiday (1947) for all of Bermuda to enjoy the outstanding cricket.

The following chronology lays out how this happened:

1843: December 26: The Bermuda Royal Gazette reports on what might be the first East versus West cricket competition — “A grand match of this invigorating and manly game, came off at St George’s on the 26 [of December], between parties, chiefly military, from the East and West End of the Bermudas” — which, after a severe contest, resulted in the defeat of the latter.

1850: March 2: Town Cricket Club (all coloured men) played the Garrison Cricket Club at St George’s in a match “which excited considerable interest”. Several return matches are subsequently scheduled.

1866: May 26: In celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday, a cricket match was played between “Eleven of the Somerset Cricket Club” and “Eleven of the Union Club of Southampton and Warwick”, followed by a luncheon, “Loyal toasts” and “three hearty cheers for the Queen”. The captains of these two clubs were coloured men.

1871: The Bank Holidays Act 1871 was passed in Britain, and included the enactment of the first Monday in August as a British bank holiday.

1872: August 8: “Maiden” cricket match between Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, Victoria & Albert No 1027 (Somerset) and Alexandrina No 1026 (Hamilton) lodges, on the Royal Naval Cricket Field in Somerset.

1901: September 27: “Annual Cricket Match (and Picnic) between members of the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds, AU, and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity” on Royal Naval Cricket Field in Somerset.

1902: June 12: First Annual Cup Match played on the Royal Naval Cricket Field in Somerset between Somerset Cricket Club and St George’s Cricket Club for their newly purchased silver cup — followed by two return matches that year on July 10 and August 21. This was the first cricket match played for a cup in Bermuda and preceded the establishment of the segregated “Dewar Challenge Cup” by two years.

1903: July 23: Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Cricket Match between members of the Somers Pride of India No 899 (St George’s) and Alexandrina No 1026 (Hamilton) played on the field of the Pembroke Association.

1903: August 10: GUOOF Cricket Match held on Royal Naval Cricket Field in Somerset between Victoria & Albert (Somerset) and Alexandrina (Hamilton) lodges.

1903: August 20: Odd Fellows Cricket Match played in Somerset between the Loyal Irresistible Lodge (Somerset) and the Loyal Flower of the Day Lodge (Hamilton).

1903: December 14: The “Dewar Cricket Challenge Cup” is donated for competition between white cricket clubs in Bermuda. (A separate cup is to be donated for the “chief coloured cricket clubs of the colony”.) The first competition for this cup takes place in 1904 — two years after the first Cup Match is played.

1904: July 28: Third Annual Cup Match held in St George’s.

1905: July 20: Fourth Annual Cup Match held at Royal Naval Cricket Field in Somerset.

1907: August 8: Sixth Annual Cup Match held at St George’s. The advertisement reads: “... enjoy the pleasure of seeing the National Game of Old England played between two of the best teams that Bermuda possesses ... God Save the King.”

1909: July 10 (the year of Bermuda’s 300th anniversary): In a Letter to the Editor of The Royal Gazette, H.B. Small strongly suggests that Bermuda take steps to commemorate Sir George Somers’s landing in Bermuda on July 28, 1609 with an annual “Discovery Day”. The Editor suggests that such a day should be called “Somers Day” instead.

1912: August 1: The 11th Annual Cup Match held in St George’s. The Governor, Sir George Mackworth Bullock, presents the cup.

1912: August 5: “August bank holiday” (the first Monday in August) is observed throughout the British military in Bermuda.

1929: July 28: “Somers Day” is celebrated with a commemorative historical luncheon cosponsored by the St George’s Historical Society and the Bermuda Historical Society, held in the Town of St George.

1930: July 28: “Second annual celebration” of Somers Day in St George’s.

1931: July 23: The 30th Annual Cup Match held in St George’s.

1931: July 28: “Somers Day” observed for the first time as an official holiday by proclamation from the Governor, with a large pageant held in St George’s. The historical societies continue to commemorate the day, after this one-off holiday.

1931 (exact date unknown): An agreement is reached between Somerset Cricket Club, St George’s Cricket Club and the Admiralty that the dates for the annual Cup Match should be fixed for the Thursday and Friday preceding “August Bank Holiday”, which is the first Monday in August.

1932: July 28: The 31st Annual Cup Match falls on “Somers Day”.

1936: July 14: After much debate, the Legislative Council accedes to the House of Assembly decision to make “Somers Day” a statutory holiday, along with Boxing Day, Victoria Day, the King’s Birthday and Armistice Day.

1936: July 28: “Somers Day” is observed as a statutory public holiday for the first time and annually thereafter — as compared with the one-off holiday by proclamation in 1931. A “spectacular” pageant takes place in St George’s.

1937: July 28: The Somers Day holiday falls on the day before Cup Match.

1938: July 28: First day of the annual Cup Match falls on the Somers Day holiday.

1940-1944: During the war years, Cup Match is moved to Friday and Saturday at the request of His Majesty’s Dockyard on the basis that this was in the best interests of the war effort; and part proceeds from the Cup Match are donated to the War Fund.

1940: August 2: J.E. Lightbourn & Co, J.F. Burrows & Co, H. & W. Frith Ltd and Gosling Brothers Ltd close all day “in order to give our whole staff an opportunity to see the Cup Match”.

1941: August 2: The Royal Gazette closes half-day “on account of the Annual Cup Match”.

1943: July 24: It is reported in The Royal Gazette that “through the efforts of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, the annual Somers Day public holiday is to be moved ahead from Wednesday, July 28 to Friday, July 30 ... This will be very welcome news for cricket fans, in view of the fact that the two-day Cup Match is scheduled to be played on Friday and Saturday of next week. It will also be beneficial for business firms who, in many instances, find that absenteeism is particularly prominent on Cup Match days. Had the holiday occurred on Wednesday, business houses would have suffered to the extent that the following day [Thursday] was a half-holiday and the next two days were devoted to the Cup Match.”

1944: July 26: Cup Match cricket clubs petition the acting Governor to either postpone the Somers Day holiday (July 28) to coincide with the first day of Cup Match (August 4) or proclaim August 4 a holiday for this year. The request is ultimately turned down as too late in the day to change.

1945: January 23: A meeting is held between representatives of the Somerset and St George’s cricket clubs, and members of the Chamber of Commerce, to find a solution to “stabilise” the Somers Day holiday in combination with the Cup Match playing days.

1945: February 9: The Council of the Chamber of Commerce sends a recommendation to the Colonial Secretariat “that the Somers Day holiday be [moved to] the fixed date of the Friday preceding the August bank holiday with the purpose of having the day serve for Cup Match play”. This recommendation was made to address the reality that “every year there was confusion because the Cup Match usually came in the same week” as the Somers Day holiday.

1947: May 28:The Royal Gazette headline reads: “CUP MATCH DAY TO BE A STATUTORY HOLIDAY”. After approximately one year of public consultation and parliamentary debate, The Public Holidays Act 1947 passed in the Legislative Council five votes to three. “Cup Match Day”, the first day of a near half-century annual cricket match, was voted to be the Thursday before the first Monday in August; and “Somers Day” was moved permanently from July 28, to be the Friday before the first Monday in August — the second day of the Cup Match. The Act comes into force two days later.

Years later, on August 10, 1963, E.N. Hodgson, a columnist with the Bermuda Recorder who we know today to be Eva Hodgson, would summarise the Cup Match phenomenon as follows:

“[Cup Match] is, without fear of contradiction, the biggest local event, with a strictly local significance. It is the most widely supported and the most important sport and holiday event in the island’s programme. It is one of the very few Bermuda holiday events which is strictly British in its origin. The game is British and the holiday itself is reminiscent of the British bank holiday, and at the same time it is Bermudian in a way in which no other holiday can be ... [It is] a strictly Negro affair in sponsorship and active participation ...

“In view of the potential tourist attraction of the Cup Match, any suggestion of holding it at some other time of the year would be very ill-advised. On the contrary, it should be seen for what it is, and every attempt possible should be made to increase the already heavy flow of tourists at this time of the year.

“This is a British game, held originally on a British holiday, and it should be presented to our American visitors as such. There is another reason why this is a good time for a Negro-sponsored affair, a reason which few Negroes would remember or even be aware of. August 1 is Emancipation Day. Typical of Bermudians generally, and the Bermudian Negro, in particular, this date, like any other event in the history of the Negro, is ignored completely and assiduously. It is, perhaps, mere chance that this holiday frequently coincides with this date, yet, inasmuch as it does, it should be regarded as a reminder of Emancipation.”

LeYoni Junos is an independent, historical researcher and Bermuda’s own “history detective”. She has worked as an historical research consultant at the Bermuda Maritime Museum (2007), and a previously published article, “The Myth of Moresby and Cup Match”, was featured in The Royal Gazette in 2009. She is a Bermudian whose ancestry is traced to the pre-emancipation period. Comments or queries can be sent to: bermudahistorydetective@gmail.com

LeYoni Junos