Born: 15 January, 1883 – Waiorongomai
Died: 20 May, 1908 – Brisbane, Australia
Test record: 1 Test (1908) – 1 try (3 points)
Tours: 1907-08 tour of Australia and Great Britain

The legacy of Albert Henry Baskerville (born Baskiville) extends far beyond his status as Kiwi #1 – due to being the first member alphabetically of the 1907-08 New Zealand All Golds squad – and his solitary Test appearance for his country. Baskerville was the chief organiser and driving force, along with All Blacks star George Smith, behind the trailblazing ‘professional’ rugby tour of Australia and Great Britain, which was instrumental to rugby league becoming established on both sides of the Tasman.

A Wellington postal clerk who played rugby union for the Wellington and Oriental clubs, Baskerville authored the book, Modern Rugby Football: New Zealand Methods; Points for the Beginner, the Player, the Spectator. But after reading about the Northern Union (as rugby league was then known in England), he hatched a plan to take a team of New Zealand rugby players abroad to play against British clubs in this new code.

Despite the threat of life bans from the NZRU (for the ‘crime’ of being financially compensated for working time lost while playing sport, thus surrendering their amateur status) and overwhelming opposition from the media, Baskerville and Smith managed to assemble a party of 28 players – including eight All Blacks representatives – for a tour that would ultimately last more than nine months. The trip began in August 1907 with three matches against New South Wales in Sydney, the NSWRL having formed earlier that month. The ‘All Golds’ (a moniker with derisive intentions given to the team by the Sydney Morning Herald destined to become a hallowed touchstone in rugby league’s lexicon) then set off for England via Ceylon.

The All Golds played 35 matches in England and Wales between October 1907 and February 1908, though Baskerville’s demanding managerial and secretarial roles with the team, as well as journalistic duties, meant he only played one match in the Old Dart. Baskerville featured in the forwards in New Zealand’s last fixture in England, scoring a try in the 21-10 win over St Helens.

The touring party stopped in Australia again enroute home and played a further 10 matches. Baskerville turned out against New South Wales, before scoring a try – a long-range effort from an intercept – as a winger in the maiden New Zealand-Australia Test match, won 11-10 by the tourists in Sydney.

But Baskerville tragically died just 11 days later, aged just 25. A chill caught on the sea voyage from Sydney to Brisbane developed into pneumonia and he deteriorated rapidly after watching a midweek match against Queensland from the grandstand. Grieving teammates dedicated the second Test against Australia to Baskerville’s memory, winning 24-12 at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground to seal the inaugural trans-Tasman series.

The first rugby league match on New Zealand soil, an exhibition clash at Wellington’s Athletic Park on June 13, 1908, was played to raise money for Baskerville’s widowed mother. Meanwhile, the success of the All Golds tour – in large part thanks to Baskerville’s foresight, determination and industriousness – helped establish the code in New Zealand.

Baskerville’s final resting place at Karori Cemetery was a regular visiting destination for touring teams from Britain and Australia, who paid their respects to a man regarded as ‘the father of international rugby league’.

The Courtney Goodwill Trophy, played for intermittently between New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain and France from 1936-88, depicted Baskerville, along with Dally Messenger, James Lomas and Jean Galia – pioneering rugby league giants of the four countries.

Baskerville was inducted into the NZRL Legends of League in 2001, while the following year the Baskerville Shield – the trophy awarded to the winner of Test series between New Zealand and Great Britain or England – was struck.