The Great Britain tour to New Zealand was a five-game addition to a punishing 13-game undefeated tour of Australia.

There had been a tour by a British team in 1888 but that was a private venture with the purpose of making money for its promoters and, perhaps, educating the colonials. That team, visiting four years before the New Zealand Rugby Union was formed, did not play a national side.

The 1904 British side was said to have been strong in the backs with rather ordinary forwards, qualities that featured in future Lions teams.

The team was captained by David "Darkie" Bedell-Sivright, of Scotland and Cambridge.

He was hailed in the Evening Post as one of the finest forwards Great Britain could produce, an honest grafter who could also play "a dashing game" and who "occasionally gets in some fine footwork".

At any rate, the British team arrived in New Zealand with a little baggage, in the form of a dispute in the game played against Northern Districts in Newcastle. One of the team's forwards, Denys Dobson, was sent off for directing obscene language at the referee. According to an account published by the NZ Rugby Museum, Darkie "hyphen Sivright," as the Australian press called him, led his team from the field in umbrage.

Various negotiations continued for about 20 minutes after which the British team came back on without, at the referee's insistence, Dobson.

He was subsequently cleared of using indecent language but found to have used an improper expression, apparently inquiring "What the devil is that for?" The unfortunate Dobson died in 1916, killed by a charging rhinoceros while on colonial service in Nyasaland - now Malawi - an event which reportedly led his former headmaster to observe that Dobson "never had much of a handoff".

The tourists fielded a back division in the test that comprised five Welshmen and two Kiwis. New Zealand-born Pat McEvedy and Arthur O'Brien were both studying medicine at Guy's Hospital before they were selected for the tour.

O'Brien doubled as manager. Both returned home to New Zealand as doctors after the tour.

Even as the British team arrived in Wellington after a stormy Tasman passage aboard the Warrimoo, there were reports that interest in the international, nine days later, was so intense that tickets were changing hands at four times the original ticket price of five shillings - about $35 in today's terms.

A reported 20,000 people crammed into the-then primitive Athletic Park ground. The New Zealand team were not then known as the All Blacks but many in this team went on to what became the famous 1905 tour to Britain the next year.

Ground conditions were favourable to a "galloping, open back game" and there was a fresh, steady southerly wind "not sufficient to seriously interfere with passing".

New Zealand were captained by Southland fiveeighth Billy Stead. Teddy Morgan led Britain in the absence of Bedell-Sivright who missed the game through a leg injury. And New Zealand won 9-3, two tries to one, despite missing many shots at goal.

In Auckland, 2000 people waited outside the New Zealand Herald office in Queen St waiting for progress scores to come through on the wires.

History was made.

When the Lions were born


The Lions name was first used when a British team toured South Africa in 1924, in reference to an emblem on the players' jerseys and lapel badges.

The tag was not widely used in New Zealand until 1950.