|Rupert Upton by Alex Service, with additional material from Mike Latham and Mike Davage |
The Saints have had a long association with overseas players from Australasia over the years, yet the club’s first Australian signing, Rupert Henry Upton, is certainly an interesting character! Our first port of call tells us that in the 1911 census, Rupert was listed as a cricket professional, aged 23 and born in Sydney. He is a boarder at a house in Greenfield Road, belonging to the Fishwick family, which was close to where the cricketing Recs played at nearby Ruskin Drive.
The Upton family had origins in London in the 18th century, but are firmly rooted in New South Wales by the 1870s. Rupert, a tailor by profession, was born in the Sydney district of Parramatta, around 1891 and played rugby initially for the famous Glebe club in Sydney, where he partnered Jack Hickey, a famous dual international footballer of the time. Incidentally, the Glebe club were dubbed the Dirty Reds, a reference to their maroon jerseys. They were one of the pioneer clubs in the establishment of rugby League in Australia. Rupert came over to England and played Northern Union for Barrow as an amateur. He played just one game for the seniors, against Bramley on 8 October 1910 and scored a try. Several weeks later, he was in St. Helens and announced as the Saints’ latest capture. He was also described as the “New cricket professional for St. Helens Recs”.
He made his debut against Warrington on 29 October at Knowsley Road. Rupert played on the left wing and was partnered by Harry Greenwood in the centre. It should be noted that there were also three New Zealanders in the Saints’ team at the time: Jum Turtill [full-back], Arthur Kelly [scrum-half] and second-rower Archie Waddell. Rupert, who was initially down to play with the A team, apparently got his chance after the somewhat late withdrawal of a Yorkshire trialist.
The St. Helens Advertiser was reasonably supportive of the new debutant: “He scored a try in true Kangaroo fashion just before half-time but at times was wanting in initiative and doubled in rather than going for the line – but it was a satisfactory first appearance. He fields the ball safely and kicks long and possesses speed above the average”. Despite this somewhat encouraging report, it was to be Rupert’s one and only match for the seniors at Knowsley Road, although he did make a few appearances in the A team.
As for his cricket career, he signed as the Recs’ cricket professional for the summer of 1911 and replaced JC Gregory, a former player with Oxton, Huyton and Liverpool CC. Rupert impressed with the speed of his bowling in the nets and made an encouraging debut against Sutton. Yet there was a general feeling that he didn’t quite live up to expectations. He took 30 wickets and scored 103, with a highest score of 28. For the 1912 season, Recs employed Cheshire county representative Sidney Denton.
Rupert married a local girl, Alice Kelly in January 1912 and returned to Australia. There is a newspaper report which outlined a case whereby Rupert took a neighbour to court over an assault at his foul farm. Rupert was described as a prominent footballer so we may assume that his rugby days were active at that time. In the early 1930s Rupert relocated to the state of Victoria where he settled in the town of Preston Batman. His trade was described as a cutter so perhaps Rupert had taken up the cloth again as he had done in St Helens in 1911. He passed away in Preston Batman, Victoria on 10 September 1948 at the age of 57.