From The Vaults

07 March 2022
#FromTheVaults - 'The Springbok Girl' photographs

Our object of the month is this photograph of Kathleen Trick, 'The Springbok Girl', which was recently donated to the museum by one of Kathleen's nieces. When Kathleen wore this custom-made kit to a fancy-dress party in 1907, it was the start of a special relationship with South Africa's touring rugby teams.

Hoping to replicate the success of New Zealand's tour the previous year, the South African rugby team toured England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France between September 1906 and January 1907. They played 29 matches including five internationals - they won 26, losing only twice (to Scotland and to Cardiff) and drawing once (with England). During their time in Britain, the South African team acquired their famous nickname: The Springboks. But they also acquired an extra squad member.

Born in 1901, Kathleen was the oldest of seven children. At the time of the Springbok tour, her father, Walter Henry Trick was the secretary at London Welsh RFC. His cousin was the Mayor of Stoke Newington, who happened to be invited to a costume ball hosted by the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House in January 1907. He passed the invitations to Kathleen and her father. The family decided that Kathleen should attend in a Springbok outfit but at this time you could not simply buy a replica kit. After negotiations with the team manager, Cecil Carden, it was agreed that Kathleen would be allowed to wear a South Africa kit on two conditions: that the costume be made by the team's official outfitters, George Lewin of London, and that six-year-old Kathleen had to be enrolled as a member of the touring party. She thus received the title 'Springbok Elect' and the story was given coverage in the newspapers. Carden even sent a letter to Kathleen praising her costume and signed it: "Your manager". Playing along, Kathleen reportedly replied: "I am sorry that we lost in Cardiff, but I hope that we shall win next week." She was photographed wearing her kit at a studio on New Oxford Street, and the Welsh artist John Kelt Edwards also recorded the costume in a painting.

In 1909, the Trick family moved to Neath in Wales, where Kathleen's father had been born, but the connection with the Springboks continued. In 1931, 30-year-old Kathleen and her husband John were guests of the touring South African team at a dinner at the Esplanade Hotel in Porthcawl, and at their matches against Aberavon and Neath, and against Wales. On this occasion, Kathleen wore an adult-sized Springbok blazer. Again, Kathleen and her husband were invited to dinner with the 1961 Springboks but, unfortunately, they were both too ill to attend.

The South Africa kit was donated to London Welsh following Kathleen's death in 1978. The boots and the miniature rugby ball were lost by that time. The painting - which according to the family, Kathleen kept hidden behind a wardrobe - was acquired for the museum at Philips auctioneers in 1999, after being discovered in a house clearance. It is on display in our Rugby Championship gallery. Together with the recently acquired photographs, the painting tells the surprising story of the six-year-old Springbok.