The Case for Cavill
The Water Polo Victoria Office strongly considers Frederick Cavill to be the founding father of Australian water polo, having first introduced the game to Melburnians on Saturday 1 March 1879. But what if the so-called "Professor of Swimming" was also the founder of water polo itself?
On Wednesday 9 November 1910, an author by the name of "Natator" in the former Sydney newspaper Referee proclaimed to have received a letter from Frederick Cavill, who had settled in Sydney 30 years prior. The apparent letter states that Cavill himself was responsible for introducing the sport to the world in the late 1860s.
It is not an unreasonable claim, for Cavill was distinguished in aquatics. Among his many feats, Cavill was a professional swimmer, a swimming instructor, a Royal Naval serviceman who served in the Crimean War, a founder and acting paymaster of the New South Wales Naval Artillery Corps and a recipient of several awards from the Royal Humane Society for lifesaving. He toured around the colonies of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales with his aquatic exhibitions that featured a display of water polo, and established the foundations of the Sydney water polo scene. Cavill was also allegedly a good friend of William Wilson, who wrote the first known set of rules for water polo in 1877.
There is not enough sufficient evidence available to conclusively confirm Cavill's claim. However, we do think it is worthy of note and encourage water polo historians to start looking east, not west, to potentially find the answer here in Australia, if not in Europe.
You can read part of the article below. We remind readers that this is an early 20th century reflective piece, so please approach with a critical mind:
THE GAME OF WATER POLO.
HOW IT WAS STARTED.
(By Fred Cavill.)
As a good deal had been published in Sydney's papers lately regarding the game of water polo, now rapidly becoming as generally popular as it should be, the following communication from Mr. Fred. Cavill, the famous-long distance swimmer of a quarter of a century, or more, back, is timely, and provides very interesting reading:-
"In the month of June, 1868, I was a member of the Serpentine Swimming Club, which was at that time the oldest and most progressive club in the world. For the information of my readers I may state that this club met every morning on the bank of the Serpentine, an ornamental lake in Hyde Park, London, 1000 yards long and 200 yards wide. I have seen over 30,000 people bathing in it at one time. Sixty years ago people were allowed to bathe on either shore from 5 to 8 in the morning, and from 7 till 9 in the evening; but in 1860 bathers were restricted to the south bank. It was there that the first display of 'swim ball,' or water polo, as it is now called, took place. Sunday morning was the great muster time of the S.S.C., and one of its members found a large India-rubber ball in the park, and threw it into the water from the north shore, at a spot about 109 yards wide. Such a scene was never witnessed before or since. Some hundreds of good swimmers made for the ball and it gave real enjoyment for quite an hour to those who participated in the ducking and scrambling that took place.
It was from that scene that I concieved the idea of introducing the game of water polo. At the time I was engaged in organising swimming races and sports from off the West Pier of at Brighton, and in order to carry out my water polo scheme I collected over £100 in prizes, and invited the S.S.C. to visit Brighton and take part in my forthcoming gala. They came, and went back to London delighted with their outing, taking a good share of the valuable prizes that were given.
The sports were witnessed by over 15,000 people from the shore and pier, and proved a great success. From that time water polo became one of the principal attractions on the South Coast.
After my Chanel swim, I started a tour around the world with my wonderful aquatic children, and in every exhibition I introduced the game of water polo, the assistance of the local swimmers being obtained to play the game.
I visited every large town in England, Ireland, and Scotland, Capetown, San Francisco and Australia. In Australia, I met with great success, visiting most of the towns as far north as Port Augusta. On my arrival in Sydney the Port Jackson Club took to the game, and played several matches with the Lavender Bay Club. Mr. W.F. Corbett was captain of the Port Jackson Club, and your humble servant skippered the Lavender Bay Club.
It is now over 40 years since I first introduced the game, and it is very gratifying to read of the progress that it is still making all over the world."
I can endorse all the Mr. Cavill says regarding the first appearance of water polo in this portion of the globe. The veteran swimmer, now lying a victim to rheumatism in its most severe form, and who has been confined to his room for some years, introduced water polo as "swim ball," and we played several matches - club against club - under his direction. I captained the old Port Jackson Club team in opposition to the Lavender Bay cracks - all strong heavy-weights - led by Mr. Cavill, who had previously coached us in the fine points of the pastime. On a couple of occasions Mr. Watkin Wynne, the present manager of the Sydney "Daily Telegraph" had charge of the Port Jackson team...
Your can find the full article below or by visiting the Trove database.
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