SPOTLIGHT ON E. B. CLARKE – ONE FATHER OF RUGBY IN JAPAN

Edward Bramwell Clarke was born in Yokohama in January 1874 a few days more than eight years after the Yokohama Foot Ball Club was established nearby in 1866.  His descendants heard rumors that he might have been adopted. His father, Robert Flower Clarke, was born in Jamaica and my investigations found that there were a lot of Clarkes in Jamaica and many of these may have been born in slavery on sugar plantations and named after their owners.  Robert Clarke was one of the earliest settlers in Yokohama, arriving in around 1864. Regardless of his origins, Robert was not poor. He set up the Yokohama Kanagawa Bakery at No. 135 in 1866.  In 1869 he moved his bakery to No. 129, and bought No. 42 on the Bluff.

E. B. studied at the Victoria Public School alongside TANAKA Ginnosuke who helped him to introduce rugby in 1899 to the students of Keio University.  At the age of 15 he won nearly all the academic and sporting prizes in the school, except that for mathematics which was awarded to Tanaka, and had several inspirational meetings with the famous writer Lafcadio Hearn while Hearn was a guest in the headmaster’s house. 

In 1890 Robert Clarke took Edward and his brother Peter Bramwell (P.B.) to Jamaica and a local news newspaper recorded his arrival from New York in October, stating that he was a native of Jamaica, had left in 1853, and had returned with his two sons ‘to visit relatives.’  The two boys became boarders at York Castle School.  In E.B.’s book Stray Leaves there is an interesting account of how he supervised the meager fortnightly bathing arrangements of his dorm there.

In February 1891 Robert Clarke died but the two boys continued their schooling in Jamaica. In 1892 E.B. is recorded as playing in several cricket matches right up until May 1893.  At the end of July 1893 the two young brothers left Jamaica together for New York from where they traveled to Britain in style, sailing on the splendid RMS Umbria from New York to Liverpool.  Edward studied at Corpus Christi, Cambridge while Peter studied medicine at Edinburgh.  

There is plenty of evidence of E.B. participating in athletic meetings with performances good enough to get a mention in the newspapers of the day. For example, on November 28 1894 in the final Corpus Christi athletics meeting of the year E.B. was second in the ‘putting the weight’ event. In the same meeting in 1896, he was second in the quarter mile, losing by five yards. Earlier that year he finished third in the ‘200 yards Strangers Handicap’ in the Trinity Hall sports day on the University Ground – one wonders whether he participated as a result of  his friend Tanaka Ginnosuke’s suggestion – Tanaka studied at Trinity Hall.  EB’s  best performance appears to have been in the 100 yards Final Heat at the Corpus Christi athletics meeting  on November 11 1895 – he won the race by half a yard and the time was given as a yard inside 11 seconds.

Corpus Christi had a good rugby pitch which was often used by the University but so far no evidence has been discovered showing that he played rugby even for his college. The only sporting photograph surviving of him from his university days is an image of him extracted from a photo of his athletics team and he appears to be wearing running shoes.

 E. B. (later nicknamed ‘Encyclopedia Britannica’) returned to Yokohama before P.B., in 1897.

Within a few months, he had married Jessie Eyton with whom he had three daughters. In September 1899 the two brothers played in cricket match at the Yokohama Cricket and Athletic Club (YC&AC) which was located in what is now Yokohama Koen – P.B.  was soon starring in Interports.  It is said that E.B. obtained a YC&AC rugby ball to teach his Keio students rugby.  In 1900 E. B. is recorded as missing a conversion in a YC&AC rugby match.   In December 1901 E. B., playing together with Tanaka for Keio against the club, converted the first recorded try scored by a Japanese rugby player.  About a month later he played again at the club for the Born in Japan team against the Rest.

E. B. was also a keen tennis player and after playing tennis one day in 1902, he suffered from ‘water on the knee.’ This injury must have occurred  in the latter half of September 1902 or thereafter because E.B. Is recorded as playing in a doubles tournament with W. J. White and being knocked out in the first round.

Whenever it was, this injury was to change his life. His doctor somehow made the problem worse leading to him becoming crippled and unable to play sport again. He was overwhelmed with medical bills for the rest of his life.  1913 he moved to Kyoto to teach at Sanko School and in 1916 he became a professor at what is now Kyoto University. He died in 1934 and is buried in Kobe. His family donated his collection of 5,000 books to the university.

YC&AC HISTORY EVENT: E. B. Clarke’s grand-daughter Heather Humphries will visit the YC&AC on the afternoon of Sunday December 1st . Hopefully there will be a rugby match followed by a reception with speeches.  Fellow JLO Eyton descendant and 1960s pop star Emy Jackson has agreed to attend and perfom.  To attend register with the concierge  5,000 yen.

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