Jimmy Peters with his England cap
Making rugby history
Jimmy Peters was the first black player to represent England, when he won his cap in 1906.
In 1906, Plymouth and Devon rugby star Jimmy Peters made history when he became the first black player to play for England.
Peters (1879-1854) played in the stand-off position against Scotland. It was to be another 82 years before England fielded a black player again - Chris Oti in 1988.
Although he wasn't born in Devon, Peters settled in the county and had great rugby success here.
Born in Salford to a West Indian father and an English mother, he had a tough start to life. He spent his early childhood in the circus where he trained as a bare back rider.
But his circus career ended prematurely at the age of 11 when his father was killed by a lion.
Soon afterwards, he was abandoned by the circus after breaking his arm and he ended up in an orphanage in London. It was here that he learned carpentry, and discovered rugby by watching Blackheath.
Jimmy Peters was honoured in an RFU exhibition
He captained the orphanage's rugby team before moving to Bristol, where he played for the city's rugby club in 1900-1902.
He then moved to Plymouth to work in the dockyard and joined Plymouth Rugby Club. In 1903, he won his county cap when he was selected to play for Devon.
By 1906, the name of Jimmy Peters was becoming more widely known, and he famously made his debut for England.
Later that year, he was picked for the Devon team to face South Africa, who initially refused to play the game because Peters was black.
With 18,000 fans packed into the Plymouth stadium, it took the intervention of the South African High Commissioner - who was in the crowd - to save the day by persuading the Springboks to take to the field.
However, he was left out of the England team which faced South Africa later on in the tour - even though he was easily the best player in his position.
Peters won five England caps between 1906 and 1908 and he helped Devon win the County Championship in 1907-8.
He headed north again to play Rugby League, before returning to Plymouth to work as a carpenter until his death from bronchial pneumonia in 1954. His relatives still live in Devon.
In 2003, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) staged an exhibition in honour of Jimmy Peters at the home of English rugby, Twickenham. You can find out more about that past exhibition by using the web link on this page.
last updated: 29/01/2008 at 14:04
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