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Can you imagine what it was like in 1883 when the Pirates Rugby Club held their first meeting to look at starting a Rugby Club. This year was a milestone in the history of Rugby in Southland because until then there was only one recognised senior club - Invercargill and it use to play against teams from all round the countryside, but mainly teams picked from its own members. March 1883 a band of about 30 of the vigorous youth of the community met and thus the Invercargill Pirates Football Club came to being.
There were many difficulties to be overcome by the footballers in those days. They did not have a splendidly appointed Rugby Park, with its practice strips, powerful electric lights, hot showers etc!. They had no recognised playing area excepting the Western reserve, although use was occasionally made of the Biggar Street reserve at the bottom of Nith Street, and the Eastern reserve, later to become the Star ground at the top of Spey Street.
Invercargill at that time enjoyed a reputation as the "City of Blazes". The fire-fighting appliances consisted of a hand pump engine, the supply of water being obtained mostly from the Puni Creek. Drainage was provided by open ditches alongside footpaths, which consisted of wooden gratings. Sawmills were flourishing almost right in the township, the closest being at the totally unfit for the safe transport of bullock wagons and other heavy wheeled traffic. At one stage the population of the town had been 10,000 but it was reduced within a few weeks to about 2000 by the great gold rush to Victoria, and was gradually recovering it population in 1883.
However, permission was secured to use the Western reserve for practice, and the Pirates Rugby Club kicked off full of confidence with the late Mr W. B. Scandrett as its president, a position he held until 1891. The first vice-presidents were the late Mr William Smith and Mr Robert Galbraith, of Stratford, whose name will live in Southland in the Galbraith Shield. Mr Joseph Wesney was the secretary from 1883 until 1890 and the value of his work was evident in the progress of the club. It was not long before Pirates were challenging Blues in real earnest, and they actually held the premiership in 1886, 1887, and 1889. The Southland Rugby Union came into being in 1887, and regular competitions were inaugurated in that year.
Pirates put up a fine performance of going through the season unbeaten and having their line crossed only once - a performance which eclipses even the unbeaten record of the Blacks of a few seasons ago. Blues, Pirates and Star were the only teams at that time, Star being a new club. The first Otago-Southland match was played in 1887, no few than eight Pirates players being in the Southland side.
Many a story can be told about those days and one memorable one is the bright idea by Joe Wesney thought it would be a good idea for members to have an indelible tatoo brand on their arms. Joe himself, was the artist and it is believed that some of his handiwork could still be seen in the 1950's.
Then there were the trips to Riverton , and Mr John Fisher, of Otautau, recalls one which was delayed when the stage became stuck in the quicksands of the Waimatuki river - no an uncommon occurrence from all accounts. Hughie Duddy was the Jehu and he was kicked on the chest and rendered insensible when cutting the horse loose. Duddy had to be carried to the Bridge Inn, the hostelry which stood on the bank of the Oreti, where a dray was borrowed. This conveyance reached town in time to connect with the old horse tram, which was making the first trip of the day to Gladstone.
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