Remembering Jonah: Australia's First Express Bowler

17 Jan 2019


So the famous story goes: During the 1896 Ashes tour of England, a short-pitched delivery from Australian fast-bowler Ernest Jones, playing his first game in England, split the beard of the great W.G. Grace.

Furious, the imposing Grace demanded of Australian captain Harry Trott: “Here, what’s all this then.”

“Steady, Jonah,” Trott said to his fast-bowler.

To which Jones, turning to Grace remarked the famous words: “Sorry, Doctor. She slipped.”

Thereafter, “Whar be Jones?” was echoed everywhere the Australians went. 

Tall, powerful and aggressive. The late Ernie Jones was regarded as one of the best and fastest bowlers of his generation.

Nicknamed ‘Jonah’, the charismatic South Australian played 19 Test matches for Australia from 1894 – 1902, including three tours of England (1896, 1899 and 1902) and played 144 First-Class games for South Australia and Western Australia.

Often erratic with the ball early in his career, Jones would perfect his action and control, taking 64 wickets at 29.01 from his 19 Tests.

England captain Stanley Jackson labelled Jones as the best travelling Australian bowler of his time, noting his misfortune to have stopped a short-pitched delivery from Jones with ribs, subsequently breaking them.

A fine athlete, Jones was also a professional runner and accomplished Australian Rules Footballer. He represented South Adelaide, winning four premierships, Port Adelaide and captained North Adelaide to its first-ever flag.

Jones passed away on 23 November 1943 aged 73 years old by his daughter and wife Eliza. He was predeceased by two sons and two daughters.

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Seventy-three years on, a passer-by at Adelaide’s West Terrace Cemetery recognised the name on Jones’ gravesite which had sadly sunk into a state of disrepair.

News of the condition of Jones’ final resting place eventually reached the South Australia Cricket Association (SACA)

“When it lobbed don my desk, I thought let’s find out a little bit more,” said Wayne Phillips, former Australian Cricketer and ACA and SACA Past Player Manager.

“I came down here and thought goodness me this is so very sad.”

“I started to do a bit more research and found out about him and who he was and what I thought would be a quick fix with a shovel, a wheel barrow and a bag of granite; well it wasn’t. It needed to be done in the right way and I think it has been done in the right way.

The refurbished gravesite included a new concrete slab, two new plaques to accompany the original marble head stone and a layer of decretive pebbles.

The Australian Cricketers’ Association, Cricket Australia, SACA, South and North Adelaide Football Clubs all contributed to the refurbishment of the gravesite.

“I made a few phone calls and spoke to a few people but we had wonderful support from the Australian Cricketers Association,” Phillips said.

“It’s acknowledged those wonderful achievements of Ernie’s but it’s also acknowledged those organisations that have been genuinely supportive of it.

“Just to find his gravesite in the condition it was in, knowing it was achievable that we could bring something to it and make it a bit more recognisable – he was entitled to that and I think it was important we did it.”

Phillips added:

“It’s vital that we acknowledge, recognise and if we can, we should.

He’d be smiling the great man, there’s no question of that.