All Blacks - who used the name first?

Tug-of-war team may have used name first

Last updated 09:05 10/05/2012

Pioneers: The New Zealand tug-of-war team, resplendent in black shirts with silver ferns.

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Were the first All Blacks who left New Zealand actually a tug-of- war team?

Brooklyn resident Joy Tiefenbacher has been doing some work on her family tree and is seeking more information about her grandfather, Robert Reid, the captain and anchorman of a pre- World War I New Zealand tug-of- war team.

"According to stories passed down in our family, the team that went to Australia was known as the All Blacks and they were said to be the first New Zealand sports team travelling overseas officially known by that name," she said.

"I don't know if that's true, but I'd like to find out."

The first New Zealand rugby team to be called the All Blacks was the 1905-06 Originals team that toured Britain and France. The tag was bestowed on the New Zealanders because of the colour of their uniforms.

However, it's unclear how long after that the name became an official or even semi-official name for the rugby team.

Mrs Tiefenbacher is unsure of the year her grandfather's tug-of- war team competed in Australia.

"We've always understood it was 1908, but it's possible that is a few years out."

A check of newspapers from a century ago at the Turnbull Library suggests the correct year was 1911, when a New Zealand team competed in an international tournament in Sydney in October.

It was obviously a major sports event. New Zealand pulled against at least Syria and Scotland, and other competing countries included Holland, Russia, Finland, Australia and Italy.

There were two tournaments, because simultaneously a "unionists" tug-of-war event was held and that included a team called New Zealand Drivers.

Mr Reid, a wharfie known for his strength, died in 1953.

Mrs Tiefenbacher has several tug-of-war photos of him, pulling at Athletic Park and other locations and for various teams including a company called Daltons.

Tug-of-war was an important sport 100 years ago.

Not only was it an Olympic sport from 1900 to 1920 but there were national and provincial championships in New Zealand.

In addition, every company Christmas Party, fete or festival seemed to include a tug-of-war.

Under strict tug-of-war rules there were eight people on each team. Some of the clashes wore on for more than two hours.

In the New Zealand team photo, there are 12 competitors, plus officials.

- If you have any information about the tug-of-war team, email

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