When Liverpool-born Jimmy Cumberbatch took to the field for the England Rugby League team against France at Halifax on 10th April 1937 he became the first black player to represent his country. He scored two tries in an England victory and went on to win another two caps, scoring tries in both matches.
James Hayward Cumberbatch was born on 9th February 1909 the son of Barbados-born Theodore Theophilus Cumberbatch, a ship’s steward, and his Manx-born wife Mary Ellen (née Kewin). Their family home was 25 Boundary Place L6, a street lost when the site for the Royal Hospital was cleared in the 1960s. It is not clear how long the family stayed in Liverpool but it was in Barrow-in-Furness that Jimmy and his brother Valentine (who also represented England) began playing rugby league.
Jimmy moved to Manchester to play for Swinton but they did not sign him and by the 1932-33 season he was playing for Broughton Rangers, based in Salford. Whilst with them he gained county honours with Lancashire, signing for Newcastle in 1937.
Jimmy Cumberbatch married Eva Ball in Manchester
in 1936 and in 1937 they had a son, James Theodore. He seems to have lived in
Newcastle-upon-Tyne from the late 1930’s onwards. Records show that in 1946 he
was a merchant seaman. He died on 6th January 1972 at North Shields
Jimmy Cumberbatch with ball in his first international appearance against France in 1937.
© Liverpool Footprints