Tom Wills – Famous Resident

There is something sublime is Australia's favourite sports; whether it is the extraordinary pace and skill of Australian Rules football, or the sublime ritual that makes up cricket, these pastimes have a strange beauty.

One such person who was famous in both fields was Thomas Wentworth Wills, born on 19th August 1835 of convict stock near what would become Canberra. In his childhood he lived at Burra Burra near Gundagai until 1840, and then to near Arat. There is strong anecdotal evidence that he was exposed to a ball game called "marngrook" played by indigenous Australians, which several commentators have claimed was inspirational to what would become Australian Rules Football. Certainly he was fluent with the language of the Djab Wurrung and was friends with their children.

In 1850 Wills was sent to England where he attended Rugvy school, where he excelled at the name-sake game and cricket. Afterwards he attended Cambridge University where he played cricket for the university team. Wills played also played first-class matches for Victoria, Kent, and the Marylebone Cricket Club. Returning to Australia in 1856 he became one of the colony's best players, an all-rounder, and was elected secretary of the MCC in 1857-58 and Victoria captain in 1862.

Historian argue that Wills was also famous for promoting what would become Australian Rules football through a famous letter on July 10, 1858 to "Bell's Life in Victoria" and was one of the two umpires in the first ever game on August 7, 1858 between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar School at Richmond paddock. On 17 May 1859, Wills chaired the meeting at the Parade Hotel in East Melbourne which incorporated the Melbourne Football Club and wrote the first formal set of Australian Rules football. He did not cease playing football until 1874.

In 1866 Wills travelled inland to Wimmera where he coached the first Aboriginal cricket team, communicating with them without the use of English and captained the team against the MCC at the MCG until Boxing Day, 1866, in front of 10,000 specatators. The team, called the Australian Native XI, played throughout Victoria and New South Wales, and famously toured England in 1868. However Wills was accused of introducing the Aboriginal players to alcohol, which led to illnesses and even deaths. Disillusioned, he left the team before the English tour.

However, all was not well with Tom. Several years prior, in 1861, his father had been killed by a group of indigenous Australians in Cullin-La-Ringo, in far north Queensland. Tom developed a dependence on alcohol, along with a reputation for not paying debts, and spent time at the Kew Lunatic Asylum. Suffering night terrors of aboriginal people attacking his property (which obviously he did not suffer in his waking hours), was admitted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital for extreme alcoholism. Escaping from the hospital's psychiatric ward on 1 May 1880, he killed himself by stabbing himself in the heart with a pair of scissors.