Born on 12 February 1878 in Wellington and a pupil at Wellington School, Gamlin was, by the age of seventeen, already built like the proverbial barn door and an intimidating presence. He had also, by that age, already represented Somerset both at cricket and rugby, but it was as an England rugby international that he would find fame. He would represent his country fifteen times between 1899 and 1904.
Herbert Gamlin had not taken up the game until the age of fourteen. Association football was the code of choice at the time at Wellington School. Having not been coached in rugby, his methods were very unorthodox. When it came to his ‘long raking touch-finders’ his schooling had served him well, but when he caught the ball, he did so away from his body, rather than hugging it as was normally the case. His huge hands and superb hand-eye coordination meant that he rarely dropped the ball. As for his tackling, his is described as taking opponents early, by throwing himself towards them and ‘smothering’ both man and ball. Sam Woods said that Gamlin ‘not only brought down a man but shook him [in the sense of leaving him shaken]’. His tackling earned him the moniker ‘Octopus’. In Football: The Rugby Union Game (published in 1925), Rev F. Marshall states that ‘Somerset provided England with their best full-back in Gamlin’. A description in the Gloucester Echo of the twenty-year-old Gamlin, selected for the game against Wales in January 1900, tells us that:
He is half an inch over six feet and weighing a little more than fourteen stone, and he is a teetotaller and non-smoker … A prodigious left kick, with a cat-like tackle.
Even at the time of his death, people were still talking in awed tones of one particular performance against Scotland at Edinburgh, in 1902. The Scots had overrun England, but on upwards of a dozen occasions, Gamlin had tackled his man in one-on-one situations. With twenty-five minutes to go, England were somehow ahead, with two tries, to Scotland’s one. Scotland threw the kitchen sink at Gamlin but time and again he came to his side’s rescue. England won the game 6-3: two tries to one. Even the most begrudging of the Scottish crowd must have realised that they had witnessed greatness. Very probably because of his prowess as a rugby player, he was offered employment at Devonport as a clerk and turned out regularly for Devonport Albion.
Although the news that a seventeen-year-old giant of a man was destined for rugby glory would have been enough to persuade Sam Woods to give him a chance to play for Somerset at cricket, Herbert Gamlin came with some credentials. He had starred as a schoolboy bowler, with the high point being his 6 for 2 against Blundell’s School. The other wickets had fallen to F. C. Roberts, who would also play for Somerset. A right-arm off-spinner, Gamlin made his debut against Essex. In the following match, on 15 July 1895, he took the wicket of Lancashire’s Archie MacLaren on a placid track at the County Ground, Taunton. Regrettably, MacLaren already had a record-breaking 424 runs to his name. As for his batting, over his first two games, Gamlin managed two sets of pairs. The modes of dismissal had been run out, stumped, hit wicket and caught. In his third and final game, he did at least cobble together seven runs (although he took no more wickets).
Herbert’s work for the Admiralty would take him and his young family to Surrey. At the time of his death on 12 July 1937, in Pylford Bridge, Cheam, fifty-nine-year-old Herbert Gamlin was an ‘official in the department of the Directory of Dockyards to the Admiralty’. Unsurprisingly, his obituaries focus on his abilities as a rugby player, rather than as a civil servant or cricketer.
Stephen Edden was born and brought up in the Taunton area and began watching Somerset in 1963. After retiring from a career in business, he is now a writer. He has just completed a set of biographies of the 167 players who appeared for Somerset CCC in the County Championship up to 1914 and he hopes that the book will be published in 2016. He’s already started to repeat the exercise for the men who played first-class cricket for Somerset in the 1880s and is always on the look-out for early photographs or documents.