- By Touchline
“Booze” and Rugby Union have long had a dependent and mutually beneficial relationship. In the early twentieth century, Wellington (and other regions) voted to prohibit the sale of alcohol, other than at licensed hotels, creating a unique opportunity for hoteliers to cash-in on the thirst of sportsmen and women. Hotels became the “the Rooms” for many local Rugby Clubs, (a relationship which still has echoes today on Cambridge Terrace).
A former Railway Guard, Joseph “Joe” Swindale (together with his brothers Albert and Frank) became expert exponents of alcohol marketing in the era before the Great War. A Wellingtonian by birth, who moved to the Wairarapa with the Railways Department, Joe was for a time based at Greytown (Woodside) station on the Wellington to Napier railway line in the late 1890s, establishing a reputation as a genial and reliable railway official. He married Isabella Donaldson in 1897 (one of seven daughters of a Nelson baker and pastry-cook), before being transferred to back to Wellington with the Railways Department in 1902.
Joe’s brothers (Albert and Frank) were also in Wellington at that time. Albert was employed by the Railways Department as a Plumber, while Frank (presumably also with the Railways Department) was the footballer of the family, formerly playing for the Athletic Club in Wellington before moving to Petone, where he became a member of the Petone Club’s Management Committee in 1906. Albert lived at Priests Avenue in Petone, while Joe lived in the City, initially in Hawkestone Street and then (before the Great War) at 97 Molesworth Street.
In 1907, perhaps following Joe’s family marital connections, both he and Albert moved to Nelson where Joe secured the license for the Central Hotel (on the corner of Trafalgar and Bridge Streets) and Albert the license for the Pier Hotel (on Haven Road). Joe swiftly became associated with nearly every sporting institution in Nelson, variously becoming a member of the Federal Hockey Club, Wanderers Soccer Club, Rivals Rugby Club, Albion Rugby Club, Kamura Cricket Club, (and quite possibly others). Many of these Clubs were very appreciative to Mr and Mrs Swindale for hosting club-related functions over the following two years.
Having proven the concept that booze and sport was good business, Joe and Albert perhaps sensed better opportunities in Wellington. In 1909 Joe sold his interests in the Central Hotel and moved to the Capital, where he became licensee of the New Palace Hotel on Willis Street in January the following year. Albert followed him. Joe joined the Melrose Football Club and in May 1910 he wrote to the Wellington Rugby Union offering a Shield (of “insurable value”) for competition among the Senior Clubs, (perhaps proposing that the New Palace Hotel could become the preferred establishment for Wellington Rugby Union events). The Union very quickly accepted his offer, “with thanks”, (which, although conjecture, suggests some form of commercial arrangement was agreed between the parties).
A few months later, a scuffle between two women on the morning of the 18th August at the New Palace Hotel resulted in the appearance of Isabella Swindale (Joe’s wife) before the Wellington Resident Magistrate, Mr W.G. Riddell S.M., charged with “assaulting and beating” Emma Esther Sheil. The complainant alleged that Mrs Swindale “struck her on the face, knocked her against the wall, tore her hat off and her hair down, and ripped her blouse”. The circumstances behind the assault remain something of mystery, with Mrs Swindale not wishing to disclose to the Court the full reasons for the assault. It would seem that the affair and subsequent public scandal curtailed Joe’s business aspirations in Wellington. Within six months of the court case, Joe relinquished the license to the New Palace Hotel and moved to Picton with his wife, where he became licensee of the Federal Hotel, on London Quay. Albert also left Wellington and secured the license of the Club Hotel, in Woodville in 1911. In 1912, Albert was adjudged bankrupt with debts exceeding 600 pounds. Frank left Wellington to become a Publican in Hamilton at about the same time.
Given the circumstances, it was perhaps fortuitous for the Wellington Rugby Union that the rules agreed for the Swindale Championship Shield in 1910 meant that if any team won the Senior Championship for three consecutive years, that team would keep the Shield in perpetuity. Athletic dutifully fulfilled that clause in 1913 and the Swindale Championship Shield was quietly retired to the Trophy Cabinet of the Athletic Football Club, (until 1969).
Of interest to Touchine, in their 36th Annual Report (published in 1914), the Athletic Football Club makes no mention of winning the Shield, only noting that as Athletic had won the senior premiership for the third successive year, “a unique record has been established”. No mention of the Swindale Championship Shield is made in Wellington Rugby’s Annual Report for 1914, with the competition that year simply referred to as “the Senior Championship”. In fact, no further mention was made of the Swindale Championship Shield for a further 55 years.
History has many interesting twists and turns.
Joe Swindale (who subsequently served in the Great War and died in 1939 without fanfare), was an entrepreneur (he even registered a patent for a “bread-cutter” in 1907), who with his brother Albert (perhaps more so than Frank), understood the business opportunity arising from community sport in the era of the Temperance Movement. His gift of a trophy to Wellington Rugby in 1910 was a salute to his business acumen rather than a celebration of his sporting prowess. There is no doubt that recent controversies concerning the trophy have renewed interest in its past, present and future.