Sussex’s leading all-rounder
In Gallery One, on the left side as you go in, is a cabinet with a number of items that belonged to Bert Relf. There is a watch he received for playing for Lord Londesborough’s XI against Australia at Scarborough in September 1912, a pouch with his initials, and a diary and photograph album from the 1903/04 MCC tour to Australia. Bert was Sussex’s leading all-rounder in the first twenty one years of the c20th. When he began his career with Sussex in 1900 he was already a seasoned player, having been coached by his father at Wellington College. He qualified for Norfolk before joining the Lord’s groundstaff and then in 1900 Sussex scoring 96 on debut against Worcestershire
1,000 runs in eight seasons
Although he lacked technical finesse, he made far more runs than other more elegant batsmen. Between 1902 and 1914 he exceeded 1,000 runs in eight seasons and had the unusual distinction of participating in century partnerships for every wicket down the order. He was an excellent slip fielder but was to make his mark as a bowler. By 1903 he was heading the bowling averages with 108 wickets in all matches. He achieved 100 wickets in a season on a further nine occasions, achieving the double of 100 wickets and 1,000 runs in six seasons between 1905 and 1913. He bowled at medium pace off a short run and was able to move the ball both ways. Having such a short run up he was able to bowl long spells.
Dismay and tragedy
Unfortunately, Bert’s career coincided with that of Sydney Barnes otherwise he would have played for England many more times than he did -twelve test in all. His only Test in England was in 1909 when he played against Australia in the Second Test, bowled 45 overs taking f5 for 85 and was then dropped. The diary on display shows his regret at only being picked for two Tests on his tour of Australia in 1903/4.
After WW1, Relf succeeded his father as coach at Wellington College so was not able to continue his playing career for Sussex beyond 1921. He was a successful coach in New Zealand with Auckland, and then worked for a time in India before he returned to Wellington College. He was devoted to his wife and when she became seriously ill in 1937, he became depressed and eventually this became mental illness. On Good Friday of the same year he was found in the pavilion at Wellington having shot himself through his heart. The tragic irony of this story is that his wife, Agnes, recovered from her operation.