From The Vaults

25 October 2021
Vernon and the World Rugby Museum

The mention of the word 'Vernon' in the World Rugby Museum office conjures up happy hours grappling with the intricacies of the Vernon Collection Management System, which heritage institutions around the world use to manage information about their collections. So when discussing ideas for future articles for this blog, our thoughts turned to Vernons in rugby…

There have been two players with the surname Vernon who have graced the international arena in the 150 years since the first international between England and Scotland in 1871.

The first of the two international rugby players was George Frederick Vernon of Blackheath and Middlesex. He was born in June 1856 and educated at Rugby School like so many of that generation of outstanding sportsmen. A founder member of the Middlesex county rugby side in November 1879, he played five times as a forward for England between 1878 and 1881, twice against Scotland and three times against Ireland.

George Vernon scored two tries for the South in a decisive away victory over the North in December 1877 which led to his England debut in a no-score draw against Scotland at The Oval in March 1878. He was retained a week later in a convincing win over Ireland at Lansdowne Road and played in two convincing victories during the 1880 international championship. He made his final appearance for England against Ireland at Whalley Range, Manchester in February 1881. This was the end of his rugby career at the highest level but his first-class cricket career would last for many more years with his final match for the Marylebone Cricket Club taking place in 1898.

He had captained Rugby School in their annual cricket match against Marlborough College at Lords in 1874 and he went on to play for Middlesex on more than 100 occasions, including many matches alongside his fellow dual international Andrew Stoddart. He played his only test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the first test of the 1882-83 tour of the MCC to Australia. Australia won by nine wickets and Vernon batted at number 11. He scored 14 runs in the two innings, but was not required to bowl and was not selected for the remaining three tests on the tour. He captained the first foreign team to visit India and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, in 1889-90.

George Vernon qualified as a barrister in 1880 and worked in the Colonial Service in the Gold Coast Colony, now Ghana, where he died of malaria at Elmina in August 1902.

It was to be almost 110 years later that a second player with the surname Vernon played international rugby. Richard John 'Richie' Vernon was born in July 1987 and educated at Dundee High School. He played for the Scotland Sevens team between 2005 and 2008 and made his debut for the Scotland XV as a replacement for Johnnie Beattie against Fiji in the back row in November 2009. A tall and rangy forward from the West of Scotland club who graduated to the Border Reivers and Glasgow Warriors squads, he went on to win 24 caps between 2009 and 2015 and become one of a select band of players to have played in both the backs and the forwards for their country.

His first twenty caps were won in the back row, largely but not exclusively at number 8. He played for Sale Sharks for two years while a regular in the Scotland squad and then returned to finish his career at Glasgow and London Scottish before retiring from the game in 2019. In the latter stages of his career, he moved into the backs as a centre three-quarter where his power, pace and sevens experience were a distinct asset. Selected as a centre by Scotland for the final four caps of his career in 2015, Richie Vernon's final appearance was as a replacement for Peter Horne in the infamous World Cup quarter-final against Australia at Twickenham which Scotland lost on a still keenly disputed penalty goal in the final minute of the match.

It is uncertain how long we will have to wait for a further Vernon to receive international rugby honours. Meanwhile, the database with the same name is used every day that the World Rugby Museum office is open.


  • Blackheath Rugby Football Club Records 1862-1898 (The Boy's Home, Southwark 1898)
  • The Book of English International Rugby - John Griffiths (Willow Books, London 1982)
  • Centenary History of the Rugby Football Union - UA Titley & Ross McWhirter (RFU 1970)
  • My Dear Victorious Stod - David Frith (Limited Private Edition 1970)
  • Scottish Rugby - Game by Game - Kenneth R Bogle (Luath Press Limited 2013)

About the Author - A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005 and is the co-author of the RFU's 150th anniversary book 'England Rugby 150 Years'.