Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

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Hermann Reichmann, the Geelong Football Club and Geelong’s Public Schools.

See Also FOOTBALL (Sport)

For many years some College stalwarts have sponsored a teasingly irreverent, if tongue-in-cheek view, that the Geelong College was at least partly responsible for the colours of the Geelong Football Club. The Club adopted the colours in the early 1870s. Little did any of us know that a previously shadowy figure would emerge from history to give some credence to this suggestion, and in doing so, assume a newly acknowledged place among the influential leaders of Geelong College sport and the Geelong Football Club.

Gymnastics Medallion won by J Curle, 1874.

Gymnastics Medallion won by J Curle, 1874.

In February 2014, a Year 8 student at College, Ruby Pekin-Schlicht came to School to proudly display a medallion that her family had uncovered at 'Danedite' a family property at Weerite, Victoria. At the time, neither she, nor her family, was aware of the provenance, the history, or the implications of this medallion. This impeccably kept silver medallion was awarded to the Champion Geelong College Gymnast of 1874, Walter Curle. On the obverse was the name of the donor, simply engraved as ‘H. A. Reichmann, Pro. Gymn’.

It is that donor, H A Reichmann’s story, that links the fortunes of football at Geelong College, Geelong Grammar and the Geelong Football Club (GFC). It is his joint role between the Club and Schools during the early 1870s that suggests that the adoption of the blue and white colours by the Club was far more than coincidence.

The Geelong College’s colours were blue and white from its foundation in 1861 until 1909, when it introduced green to avoid confusion with Melbourne Grammar, after joining the Associated Public Schools (APS) group. Blue and White reflected the Scottish heritage of the School and that of the Morrison and Campbell families, founders of the School. The distinctive School cap up until 1909 was blue with a vertical white stripe. An alternate view of the colour adoption is that the GFC and the School chose these colours of St Andrew from a common source because of the strong Scottish influence in Geelong. In the early 1870s, the colours of the GFC were a raucous mix of a scarlet shirt topped with a red, blue and white cap or even, at times, a flamboyant mix of ‘come as you are’.

Recent research, assisted by AFL and GFC Historian, Col Hutchinson, together with this rather improbably timed donation, has revealed an alternate and more fascinating football history of the early Geelong Football Club, and Geelong’s Public Schools. It is a story that centres on the man responsible for much of the early development, training and tactics of Australian Rules Football in Geelong and its pivotal figure in the late 1870s, Hermann Andreas Reichmann.

Geelong College Football Team, circa 1878.

Geelong College Football Team, circa 1878.

The first known photograph of a College Football Team was taken in 1877/78 on the northern side of George Morrison’s imposing new School. It shows the College team members in the familiar blue and white banded guernseys. It is this graphic image that raises the question about the origins of the guernsey. A similar, first photo of the Geelong Football Club taken in about 1877 at the old Argyle Ground which lay behind the Argyle Hotel (now Irish Murphy’s) shows the players in the self-same guernseys. The origin of this guernsey will always remain conjectural but it seems very likely that Hermann Reichmann had some hand in its adoption for use by some of the teams he trained.

In Principal, George Morrison’s Annual Report at the end of 1872, he commented that: ‘A gymnasium, provided with the most approved apparatus has been erected.’ This simple statement however embraced a massive change in the priorities of the School which had been developing its reputation on academic prowess. Morrison had, at the start of 1871, opened his grand new edifice on the Newtown Hill and within one year had erected his second building - a gymnasium. It appears at the edge of a photo of the College taken in about 1872. By 1874, it had been shifted to adjoin the western side of the building. This significant building was probably at the behest of the visiting Gymnastics Master, the self-styled Professor of Gymnastics, Hermann Andreas Reichmann, whose presence at the College was first announced in 1871. George Morrison was later, in 1875 to describe this gymnasium further: ‘In the middle of the play-ground there is a large and lofty Gymnasium provided with all the most recent apparatus and appliances under the charge of an experienced scientific Professor of Gymnastics. No pupil is admitted into the Gymnasium, or allowed to use the apparatus unless under the charge of a teacher.’

By June 1872, Reichmann was also the gymnastics master at Geelong Grammar School and by mid-October 1873, Reichmann had established his own gymnasium in a classroom of the recently forsaken Geelong College buildings in Skene St. He remained the Gymnastics master at College until the early 1880s.

The Geelong of the 1870s was a small town with a growing, influential and thriving football presence. The Corio Club is often considered the first State Champions Club and it is the Geelong Club’s rules of the early 1860s that formed much of the core of the codification of Australian Rules. Tom Wills, a co-founder of Australian Rules Football and the co-referee of the first acknowledged Australian football match between Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar in 1858 lived in Geelong from about 1865 until 1876. He captained the Geelong team and was President of the GFC from 1873 until 1876 when his health deteriorated. He and Hermann Reichmann were colleagues and Reichmann’s association with the club probably owed much to Wills’ support. It was Hermann Reichmann who, in 1876 took over from Wills not only as President of the Geelong Football Club but also as President of the Corio Cricket Club. The next two years saw Reichmann’s training methods, his tactics and his fervour for physical fitness which had been honed on the students of College and Grammar take the Geelong Football Club to its first VFA Premiership of 1878, the second year of the Victorian Football Association’s existence.

The 1877 GFC photo is revealing, not only because it contains the only currently known image of Reichmann, but also because of the composition of the team. Of the nineteen players depicted five are known to be from Geelong College and five from Geelong Grammar. According to the Jubilee History, the Geelong College fielded its first Football XX in 1861, the foundation year of the School and games between boarders and day students were a regular, if tough, competition within the early School. So much so that one student of the 1860s suggested that 'though the more numerous day boys could beat the boarders they found it far more discreet to play a losing game’ . In 1868, Geelong College had joined Geelong Grammar in a match against the Geelong Football Club from which the schoolboy team emerged victorious, defeating the Geelong Football Club 2 goals to one. Given the preponderance of former students from Grammar and College in the GFC team one wonders whether this match should more accurately have been termed a match between the current school boys and the ‘old’ schoolboys of College and Grammar.

Life for Reichmann seemed prosperous and rewarding during the 1870s. He married a fellow emigrant in Geelong, Johanna Mathilda Schultz (c1852-1940) and from 1873 to 1884 the couple had 6 children. But his fortunes were to take a tumble in November of 1881 when he was declared insolvent with a deficiency of almost £208. His gymnastics business survived his financial difficulties and by July 1883, it was noted that the Geelong Football Team were ‘adopting a regular course in gymnastics training under H A Reichmann at the Exhibition Hall’ . Several months later the Geelong Advertiser reported that; ‘The excellent physique of the victorious team as displayed in the past six weeks is, no doubt, due to the training undergone at the gymnasium in connection with the Exhibition Hall, conducted by Mr Reichmann. The players of the Geelong team have been placed in good form and muscular development, and it is likely that the team will continue well organized.’
Geelong Football Club Team, circa 1877. Courtesy GFC).

Geelong Football Club Team, circa 1877. Courtesy GFC).

On the 10 December 1883 the Geelong Advertiser announced the formation, at the Barwon Bridge Hotel, of a social and literary club for the German citizens of the district with H A Reichmann as its president. All seemed well. Only eight days later however, the following item appeared in the Geelong Advertiser: ‘A well-known resident of this town named Hermann Andreas Reichmann, who has been for many years a teacher of gymnastic exercises to the youth of our public schools and the town was arrested yesterday afternoon on a charge of lunacy. … Dr Newman pronounced the case an aggravated one of ‘delirium tremens’.

Reichmann died in 1891 aged only 45 years. His affliction was a common one of the time and eerily familiar in this story. Tom Wills (1835-1880) had committed suicide after escaping from the Melbourne Hospital, age 44 years, where he too was being treated for ‘delirium tremens’, an extreme symptom caused by withdrawal from alcohol. Walter Curle also allegedly battled alcoholism through his later life.

Walter Curle (1857-1921), grazier, known as ‘Wattie’ was well known in the Western District of Victoria, where he lived the greater part of his life. He was born in Geelong on 25 December 1857 and attended the School as a day student from about 1866 until 1874. He was known as a good runner, a keen shooter, an excellent rider and ‘it took a good buck jumper to shift him’ . He was enrolled by a guardian, James Cowie and lived at ‘Meningoort’ and Camperdown before moving to Richmond, NSW. He never married and died in Sydney on 30 July 1921 in his sixty-fourth year.

Ruby’s great grandmother was Walter’s sister, Lillian Eva Curle. She married James Chester Manifold MHR. Their mother, Emma, was a survivor of the wreck of the ship, Schomberg at Peterborough while on its maiden voyage. The Family have very generously donated the Curle medallion to the College.

Sources: First published in Ad Astra July 2014 p41.
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