Joseph Astbury Warbrick - All Black Legend

Born on 1 January 1862 in Rotorua to Englishman Abraham Warbrick and his Maori wife Nga Karauna Paerau, Joseph Astbury Warbrick was one of five children (four sons and a daughter). After his mother passed away, his father's second marriage to Harina, cousin of his deceased wife produced seven more half-brothers and sisters. Four of his brothers - Alfred, Arthur, Frederick and William - were also very good rugby players and played alongside Joe on the 1888 New Zealand Natives tour.

Joe was educated at St. Stephen's Native College in Auckland and played club rugby for Ponsonby, Tauranga, Wellington, Rotorua and Matata. He started playing rugby at school and became famous for his unusual ability to drop long distance goals, quite often barefooted. While still at school he appeared at full back for Auckland against Otago in his first match for the province in 1877 at the age of 15, though the match does not appear in the Auckland records, as the Union was officially formed in 1883. Joe was, and still is, the youngest player to ever play first grade rugby in NZ.

In 1884, he was selected for the first ever New Zealand team that toured New South Wales. He played in all seven tour matches, but no international caps were awarded. He is officially acknowledged as the 17th All Black (although this name was not applied to New Zealand representatives until 1905.In 1888/89 he coached, captained and played for the 1888 Native Team on their legendary overseas tour. The 26-member Natives team (also wrongly known as the 1888 Maoris as a few pakeha were included), played a record 107 rugby matches on the tour, the longest and most arduous rugby tour in history. They won 78 of them, lost 23 and drew six. They played 74 matches in the British Isles, 16 in Australia and 17 in New Zealand. They also played 10 Australian Rules matches for good measure.

Joe married Harriet Burt and had one daughter, Orini Rosa Warbrick (married name Anderson). He later became a tour guide in the geyser fields of Rotorua. Geyser tourism had been given a major boost in 1900 when the Waimangu (‘black water’) geyser burst into life. It was the largest geyser recorded anywhere in the world between 1900 and 1904. In August 1903 it exploded unexpectedly, killing Warbrick and a party of three tourists. After his tragic death his wife Harriet married William Lees and had three sons Sydney (Toss), Ronald and Maurice (Mo), all of them fine athletes. William Lees was the nephew of another member of the 1884 international rugby team, Timothy Behane O'Connor.

Joe Warbrick’s wider contribution to rugby was recognised in 2008 when he was inducted into the International Rugby Board’s Hall of Fame. Click here to view his IRB Hall of Fame profile.

Career Highlights

  • The youngest player (15) to represent Auckland and the youngest to have played first grade rugby in New Zealand history.
  • He had an unusually long playing career with 17 years between his first game for Auckland in 1877 and his last game in 1894. 
  • Played for Auckland against NSW in 1882, the first ever international tour in history.
  • Played for Wellington against the 1888 British Team, the first ever tour of the southern hemisphere. 
  • He was the inspiration, the captain and coach of the 1888 Natives Team. 
  • Played for New Zealand seven times, winning all seven and scoring three drop goals. 
  • Credited with the invention of the black jersey, silver fern and haka which were adopted by the New Zealand Union after its formation.

Joseph's career and achievements remain an inspiration to all Ngāti Rangitihi. E te tīpuna rongonui, moe mai rā i tō moengaroa.

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Joe Warbrick
Joe Warbrick
Joe Warbrick
Joe Warbrick
Joe Warbrick
Joe Warbrick
Joe Warbrick
Joe Warbrick
Joe Warbrick