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Our first no. 19

Tommy Hughes

Career : 1911
Debut : Round 9, 1911 vs Melbourne
Carlton Player No. 258
Games : 6
Goals : 1
Last Game : Semi Final, 1911 vs Essendon
Guernsey No. 19
Height : 169 cm (5 ft. 6 in.)
Weight : 63 kg (9 stone, 12 lbs.)
DOB : December 25, 1886


Family folklore has it that Thomas Edward Hughes was born at sea - on a vessel about to dock at Launceston, Tasmania - in 1887. Tom’s parents; Robert and Elizabeth Hughes, had emigrated to Australia from Wales a few years beforehand, but sadly, their hopes of a better life in a new country were not to be fulfilled.

Tragically, his mother died less than four years after Tom’s birth, and when his father left the family home in Victoria to take up employment in Western Australia, young Tom was raised by a caring foster family in Port Melbourne. Yet despite those early difficult circumstances, Tom grew into a responsible young man who found steady employment on the Melbourne docks, and spent his weekends on the football field with Leopold in the Metropolitan Amateur Football Association. Based in South Melbourne, Leopold had a well-earned reputation for producing quality players, and Tom was a standout. Although a pint-sized 169 cm tall, and weighing in at only 63 kg, he was a dasher with plenty of courage, and the skills to make the most of his ball-gathering ability.

He was invited to Princes Park in 1911, making his senior debut for Carlton in a back pocket against Melbourne in the round 9 clash at the MCG in June. Although the Blues won easily, Tommy lost his place in the side the next week, and wasn’t recalled until the round 12 meeting with Fitzroy at Brunswick St. After three more appearances (against Richmond, St Kilda and Geelong) Hughes could boast that he had never tasted defeat in a Carlton guernsey, and looked forward with confidence when he was named on the Blues’ last line of defence for an eagerly-anticipated Semi-Final clash with ladder leaders Essendon.

That final was to be the first VFL match played in Victoria in which players wore individual guernsey numbers, so Tom earned his niche in club history when he wore number 19 out onto the MCG in front of 40,000 spectators on that fine Saturday afternoon. Carlton led the Same Old by two goals at the last change, but we couldn’t hold off the eventual Premiers’ last quarter onslaught, and they powered away to win by 21 points.

That memorable occasion was Tom’s last outing for the Old Dark Navy Blues. In 1912 he returned to Leopold as captain, enjoying three seasons at the helm - before Australia was drawn into the looming horror of World War 1. As an enthusiastic part of the British Empire, Australians volunteered in their thousands to defend Mother England, and Tommy was no exception.

In November 1915, Hughes enlisted for active service. He was trained as an artillery gunner, and within a year had sailed for France, where he took part in the decisive Allied offensives of 1917-18. Although he was caught in a gas attack and hospitalised in November 1917, Tommy survived the war.

He came home to Melbourne a few weeks before Christmas 1919, married, and soon resumed working on the docks. He fathered two daughters, and passed away in August 1981, at the age of 94.

Footnote

For more than 90 years, the Carlton Football Club mistakenly believed that Tommy Hughes had been killed in action while serving as an infantryman with the 23rd Battalion in October 1917.

This came about when the death of “a former Carlton footballer, Private Tom Hughes” was reported in the June 6, 1917 edition of “The Winner”- a popular broadsheet sporting newspaper. As a result of that report, it was assumed that Carlton’s Tommy Hughes - Thomas Edward Hughes - had paid the ultimate price. But the story (later corrected, although somehow overlooked) was wrong. In fact it was another Victorian digger - Albert Thomas Hughes, aged 25, from Bendigo – who had lost his life.

This unfortunate situation only came to light in June 2010, when family descendants of Tommy Hughes contacted the Blueseum. A fresh investigation was then undertaken by the AFL’s experts Stephen Rogers and Col Hutchinson, assisted by Carlton statistician Stephen Williamson, and the truth was uncovered.

Blueseum: Summary of playing statistics for Tommy Hughes | Hughes' Blueseum Image Gallery

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