The final resting place of once forgotten Australian Test cricketer and New South Wales player John Cottam was formally recognised on Wednesday after his grave remained unidentified for more than 100 years.
Funded jointly by Cricket NSW and Cricket Australia, a memorial plaque in his honour was unveiled at Coolgardie Cemetery in Western Australia to coincide with Cottam’s birthday on 5 September.
John Thomas Cottam was the 49th Test cricketer for Australia and has an incredible story to tell, but until very recently the details of his death were scant.
However, thanks to the efforts of cricket historian and Kalgoorlie resident, Clint Easton, and the tremendous research undertaken by Cricket NSW historian Dr. Colin Clowes, more has come to light. They were ably assisted by fellow historian and author John Terrell.
Mr. Easton and Dr. Clowes both attended the unveiling of the plaque on Wednesday.
Cottam tragically died at the age of 29 in Coolgardie – just over 550 kilometres east of Perth – and it is believed that after moving from Sydney to the Western Australian Goldfields, typhoid fever claimed his life on 30 January 1897.
He made his Test debut for Australia against England at the SCG in February 1887 and unfortunately never played for his country again.
With several players from other states unavailable for the Test match against the English, Cottam was initially named as 12th man for the match.
Cottam may never have gained the chance to play Test cricket for Australia, but for late arrival of team mate Sam Jones, who failed to get to the ground on time meaning Cottam was a last-minute replacement in the side. In difficult conditions, Cottam unfortunately missed out in both innings with bat in hand.
He was the 112th player to wear the Baggy Blue cap for NSW and starred for the Colonial team that toured New Zealand in early 1890.
During the five first class matches on that tour, Cottam scored three of the six half-centuries scored by NSW batsmen.
He was also an accomplished player for the Sydney Cricket Club. One observer commented after Cottam scored a vigorous 143 against the Carlton Club in January 1889 that he handled “the willow with a graceful wristy action … and he puts great power into every stroke he makes”.
In February 1896, The Referee in reporting his death said, “Cottam was one of the most talented cricketers New South Wales has ever produced.”
According to Dr. Clowes from 1890 onwards, little was heard of Cottam except for a few matches for Redfern in 1893-94 where he only made 32 runs from six innings.
Cottam shared his birthday with NSW legendary player Archie Jackson, and in a tragic twist of fate, both men died very young.
Jackson was 23 when he died of tuberculosis in February 1933. Both men are the youngest NSW players to die of natural causes.