HARRISON, Henry Colden Antill (1836-1929)


HARRISON, Henry Colden Antill (1836-1929)
athlete and father of the Australian game of football
son of John Harrison, a sea-captain who became a grazier, was born at Picton, New South Wales on 16 October 1836. About the end of 1837 his father decided to go to the Port Phillip district, and took up land on the Plenty about 20 miles from Melbourne. Some years later a move was made to about the present site of St Arnaud. About the end of 1850 Harrison's father, being broken in health, removed to Melbourne. His son had already been sent at the beginning of the year to the Diocesan Grammar School, the forerunner of the Melbourne Grammar School. After a short experience on the gold-diggings, the boy entered the Victorian customs department at the end of 1853, and remained in it for 35 years. He was transferred to the titles office in 1888 and afterwards became registrar of titles. He retired on a pension in 1900 and died at Kew, a suburb of Melbourne, on 2 September 1929, having nearly reached the great age of 93. He married his cousin Emily Wills in 1864 and was survived by four daughters. His autobiography, The Story of an Athlete, was published in 1923.
Harrison did not discover he was a good runner until he was 22 years of age, but soon afterwards he became the finest amateur runner of his period, and his matches against L. L. Mount of Ballarat caused much public interest. He does not appear to have been a first-rate sprinter, his time in the hundred was usually about four yards over evens. His 440 yards, on a grass track of the period, in 50¼ seconds was, however, a fine performance. He had already been known for some time as a cricketer and footballer, with his cousin Tom Wills he had arranged a game of football in 1856. Some 10 years later he drafted a set of rules which were adopted at a meeting of delegates from the existing Melbourne football clubs held on 8 May 1866. These rules have since been modified and extended, but the essential difference between the Australian and the present Rugby and Association games was provided for from the beginning. Rule 8 read: "The ball may be taken in hand at any time, but not carried further than is necessary for a kick, and no player shall run with the ball unless he strikes it against the ground every five or six yards." Harrison was successively captain of the Richmond, Melbourne and Geelong clubs, and then of Melbourne again. He retired from football in 1872 at the age of 36. He once told the present writer that he considered that the reason of his being able to stay so long was that he did not begin his athletic career until he was over 20. He was elected a member of the committee of the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1871, and was a vice-president from 1892 until his death. When the Victorian Football Association was formed in 1877 he was elected vice-president, and in 1905 he was chairman of the first Australian Football Council. He was a handsome, well-built man of slightly under six feet, everywhere held in the highest esteem. He was always recognized as the "father of the Australian game of football" which has become the most popular game of its kind in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, but is only played to a limited extent in New South Wales and Queensland.
H. C. A. Harrison, The Story of an Athlete; The Argus, Melbourne, 3 September 1929; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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