Gallaher, David (Dave) (1873–1917), rugby player, was born on 30 October 1873 in Castle Street, Ramelton, Co. Donegal, son of James Henry Gallagher, a shopkeeper trading at Market Cross there, and (Anna) Maria Hardy Gallagher (née McCloskey), a schoolteacher originally from Belfast. James had two sons from his first marriage; Dave was James’s and Maria’s fourth child of seven surviving children born in Ireland. The family emigrated to New Zealand in May 1878, henceforth spelling their surname ‘Gallaher’. Eventually settling in Katikati, near Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, James struggled to farm, defaulting on his mortgage. Before dying from cancer in September 1887, Maria taught in Katakati, providing a £2 weekly wage and a ‘teacher’s house’, where the family resided and where she gave birth to four more children. Dave Gallaher left school around 1887 to work for the local stock agent.
The family moved to Auckland in 1889 where Dave Gallaher worked as a labourer with the Northern Roller Mills Company, playing on the company’s cricket team. After James died (30 November 1894), Dave lived with his eldest brother Joseph and his family. The hooker on the Parnell Rugby Club second fifteen, Dave joined the Ponsonby District Rugby Club in the winter of 1895 and played for the Auckland provincial side from 1896. Undertaking hard manual work as a labourer, later foreman, with the Auckland Farmers’ Freezing Company no doubt benefitted his fitness. Gallaher was known for wearing his distinctive black shin pads over his socks. Volunteering for service in the Boer War, he was a scout in the 16th (Auckland) Company of the Sixth New Zealand Contingent of Mounted Rifles. He participated in clearing the Northern Transvaal of Boers as part of the British ‘scorched earth’ policy and endured harsh conditions skirmishing across the veldt. Promoted to sergeant major, he returned to Auckland in August 1902. His war service, and the attendant weight loss, cost him two seasons of provincial rugby.
Gallaher, almost 6ft (1.8m) tall, weighing 13st (82.5kg) and known for his fitness and physicality, was selected as hooker for New Zealand’s 1903 tour of Australia. He first played as wing-forward for New Zealand in their 28–0 victory over Queensland (8 August), harrying the half-backs around the scrum and thriving in the space created by his skilful dribbling rushes. Making the position his own, he played wing-forward in New Zealand’s first international test (15 August), a 22–3 away win over Australia. In New Zealand’s 9–3 victory (13 August 1904) over a touring ‘Great Britain’ side in Wellington – their first home international test – Gallaher, again wing-forward, smothered the opposition’s half-backs. A week earlier, he had played for Auckland in the inaugural defence of the Ranfurly Shield, a 3–6 loss to Wellington
His appointment as captain for the seven-month tour ‘home’ to Great Britain and Ireland caused some disquiet amongst the twenty-four-man squad, as past All Black captains had been elected by players. He called a meeting at sea to address perceptions of partiality in favour of ‘North islanders’; stressing the importance of team unity, his offer to resign was rejected by a player vote. With his vice-captain Billy Stead, he drilled the squad daily at sea. After New Zealand’s 55–4 victory in their first match of the tour (16 September 1905), against Devon, a leading English side, newspapers in Britain and New Zealand initially assumed the score had been mistakenly inverted by telegraph operators. New Zealand held fourteen of their first eighteen opponents scoreless.
Their dominance emanated from their ‘wedge formation’ (2–3–2) scrum, intricate back line passing and agile movement, all based on exemplary fitness and handling skills. Scrum formation then varied greatly. In Britain the eight forwards, with no fixed position, formed the scrum in the order they arrived. As slower, larger forwards invariably arrived last, they joined the side and rear. In New Zealand forwards were assigned to seven (and not eight) specific scrum positions, leaving Gallaher as a roving ‘wing-forward’. Integral to rugby in New Zealand, the position was unknown in Britain and Ireland. The wing-forward position, as then conceived, was essentially an extra half-back. After feeding the ball into the scrum, the wing-forward stood in line with the scrum front rows, either shielding his own half-back (scrum-half) or pressurising the opposition, depending on who secured possession. Critics held that when New Zealand secured possession in the scrum Gallaher, in front of the ball, was in an offside position; adept positional play was required to stay onside. The position was effectively abolished in 1931.
New Zealand’s well-drilled forwards and dexterous backs dominated, engendering much soul searching in the British sporting press. The unmarked Gallaher, conspicuous in his distinctive shin pads, became the focal point for the ire of home spectators and of press commentary which emphasised the ‘illegality’ of his positional play. The London Chronicle noted Gallaher ‘may be described as a scrum-half who claims the privilege of a forward in the scrum. His part is that of a passive and active obstructionist’ (Elliott, 156). Such claims ignored his fitness, keen tactical awareness and footballing skills.
New Zealand were undefeated in nineteen games and had scored over 600 points as they prepared to face the four ‘home’ nations. Troubled by a leg injury sustained during the 12–7 victory over Scotland in icy conditions in Edinburgh (18 November), Gallaher missed New Zealand’s 15–0 victory over Ireland in Dublin (25 November) and had not recovered fully when he returned for the 15–0 defeat of England in London (2 December). The fatigued squad was subject to mounting injuries, forcing the New Zealand selection committee to ruminate for five hours on their team to face Wales, the 1905 Triple Crown and Home Championship winners.
In front of 40,000 spectators at Cardiff Arms Park (16 December), Wales were awarded repeated penalties, the referee adjudging Gallaher’s feeding of the ball into the scrum illegal. To prevent further penalties, Gallaher ordered his forwards to concede their own scrums, allowing New Zealand to defend aggressively. Wales won 3–0 with New Zealand having a try disallowed in highly contentious circumstances. Gallaher graciously congratulated the Welsh captain, publicly praising the Welsh performance. Suffering a bite to his finger in a 9–0 victory over Glamorgan, he missed one match before returning to cover as hooker in the 4–3 victory over Cardiff. After a 38–8 win over France in Paris (1 January 1906) – France’s inaugural test match – the New Zealand government funded an extension of the tour to the USA, where exhibition games were played in New York and San Francisco. On this tour, New Zealand played 35 games, scoring 976 points (243 tries) while conceding only 59 points.
Gallaher had played in twenty-six games and led the tour’s triumphant return to Auckland on 6 March 1906. Met by the New Zealand premier (prime minister) Richard Seddon, who praised their exhibition of sporting prowess in the ‘mother country’, the squad was widely fêted across the country. His captaincy of ‘the Originals’, as the squad rapidly became known, brought Gallaher universal acclaim. He played thirty-six games for the All Blacks, captaining them thirteen times. Of these appearances, six were in test matches, in four of which he was captain.
Emphasising how teamwork underpinned New Zealand’s success, he justified the legality of the wing-forward position in his contribution to Why the All Blacks triumphed (1906), compiled by J. A. Buttery of the Daily Mail. Gallaher also contributed to The complete rugby footballer on the New Zealand system (1906), which outlined the origins of rugby there and narrated the 1905–6 tour. Discussing tactics, preparation, training and set-piece play, it even extolled the calming virtues of pipe smoking.
Gallaher married Nellie (Ellen Ivy May) Francis (the sister of his Ponsonby and New Zealand teammate, Arthur Francis), on 10 October 1906 at All Saints Anglican church, Auckland. A daughter, Nora, was born in September 1908. He played his last ever game of rugby 4 September 1909, for Auckland versus Maniapoto, in Te Kuiti, a 16–0 victory; he represented Auckland twenty-six times in inter-provincial competition. He was sole selector and coach of Auckland (1906–15), successfully implementing agile backline play, as Auckland defended the Ranfurly Shield twenty-three times in a row between 1905 and 1913. His last game of coaching inter-provincial rugby was for Auckland against Wellington in August 1915. Gallaher’s record as Auckland sole selector was 48 wins, 11 losses and 6 draws. A New Zealand selector (1907–14), he also coached Auckland Grammar School for a time.
He again volunteered for military service, underwent an army medical (23 May 1916) and commenced training in July 1916. Commanding a platoon in 2nd Battalion, Auckland Regiment, he was promoted to sergeant. During an onslaught on Passchendaele Ridge, Flanders, at the third battle of Ypres, Gallaher was mortally wounded by a German artillery barrage on 4 October 1917. Of the five Gallaher brothers who served in the first world war, three were killed on active service in Europe.
Gallaher was buried in Nine Elms cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium. The New Zealand team who toured Britain in 1924 visited Gallaher’s grave, as have many subsequent touring New Zealand sides. The Gallaher Shield, inaugurated in 1922, is awarded annually to the leading club in Auckland. In 2000 the French and New Zealand rugby unions agreed to contest a cup named after Gallaher. When Letterkenny Rugby Football Club opened its Dave Gallaher Memorial Park in 2005, the ceremony was attended by that year’s touring All Black squad, who also visited Gallaher’s birthplace in Ramelton. A bronze statue of Gallaher was unveiled outside Eden Park, Auckland, in 2011. In 2015 the jersey he wore on the ‘Originals’ tour sold for £180,000 at auction.
Gallaher’s leadership by example, dominant on the pitch and gracious in infrequent defeat, was crucial to establishing rugby as New Zealand’s national sport. His successful leadership of the All Blacks ‘Originals’ 1905–6 tour, seen as embodying the spirit of fair-play and muscular competition, alongside his subsequent military sacrifice, rapidly conferred a sanctified aura that contributed to New Zealand national identity.