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In the summer of 1886, the Sydney Cricket Ground hosted a match so unusual it quickly sparked concern.

The two sides were made up of players with the prestigious Gregory surname — but when Helen (known as Nellie), Louisa, Alice and Gertrude stepped out onto the pitch, the outrage was swift.

They were the first women to ever play at the SCG.

Their father was curator at the SCG, their uncle, David, was a former captain ofAustralia's first cricket test against England.

And Syd Gregory, the women's brother, was a celebrated fielder who played a record 58 test matches between 1890 and 1912.

But, not content with sitting on the sidelines, the Gregory sisters took the unusual step of turning their passion into an organised sport.

Though their famous family members did not make the advent of a women's match any less shocking.

"People wrote letters to the paper saying it was unacceptable," Madeleine Lindsell of the Sydney Cricket & Sports Ground Trust said.

"Some were concerned you might see a flash of women's legs in public."

'Not a woman's game'

Nellie Gregory poses with a cricket bat at the Sydney Cricket Ground, wearing a white outfit and cap.

Early criticism of women's cricket described it variously as "horrible" and "positively dangerous".

One writer to a local newspaper listed a number of reasons for banning women from the sport, including concern about the potential for injury.

"Even with men, playing with pads, the bruises they get on their shins, to say nothing of otherknooks [sic] on the body and fingers, are no child's play," one wrote.

"Of course the bowling is not so swift when women play, but it is quite fast enough to cause serious injury."

Despite the backlash, there were some men who were supportive of the Gregory sisters' determination to play cricket, including their father, Ned, who was integral in making those first matches possible.

But even when the public reaction veered towards the positive, it mostly focussed on what the players were wearing — a habit not unfamiliar to modern society.

"The lady cricketers were dressed in a becoming costume, but if the truth must be told they were not admired very greatly by their cousins in the ladies' pavilion," Frank Iredale wrote in The Australian Star in 1898, after the women beat a team of male actors in a charity match.

"I heard more than one lady remark that the ordinary skirt dress was far preferable to the dress which the lady cricketers wore.

"People hardly knew whether to take the game seriously or not."

Another author wrote in the Evening News:

"The costumes worn were very pretty indeed and appropriate. The dresses of the 'batsmen' appeared to be less 'in the way' of the ball than might be supposed."

Ms Lindsell said reviews from the time were yet another example of female sport being "an exhibition".

"But I don't think Nellie Gregory saw it that way … they were quite put out when the men didn't take it seriously," she said.

Gregory sisters written into official record

An illustration of the Fernleas cricket team poses in cricket outfits.

It is not clear whether that day in 1886, when Nellie Gregory led her team onto the pitch,sawthe very first organised match of female cricketers.

But what is known is that it took place at the dawn of women's cricket in Australia.

Lily Poulett-Harris is considered the sport's founding mother, but she did not create the Oyster Cove Ladies' Cricket Club until 1894 — six years after the first SCG match.

Though until now, references to the Gregory sisters described them as the wives, daughters and sisters of well-known cricketers, something Ms Lindsell wanted to change.

When the National Centre of Biography approached her, she had already collated enough information to right the wrongs of history.

The story of the Gregory sisters will now be included in the centre's dictionary.

"I've been particularly interested in the girls because a lot of the history of the SCG has been centred on the male players," Ms Lindsell said.

"I think it just balances the record a bit.

"There has never been, ever, a family that has played as state and international cricket players in Australia, and yet when the women are mentioned it's as 'oh, she married cricketer Harry Donnon'."

Ms Lindsell said she hoped to learn more by sharing her findings, among them photos and newspaper clippings, and called on members of the public to contact the SCG Trust with any information they might have.

In the family: Gregory descendants remain cricket 'tragics'

While Nellie continued to play and teach cricket for most of her life, Louisa Gregory's life was cut short by both mental illness and tuberculosis, and she died in an institution at age 38.

Louisa Varley, nee Gregory, holds up a cricket bat as if to bat a ball, in 1898.

Bruce Chapman, Louisa's great-grandson, said he was happy the role of his female ancestors played in founding women's cricket was being recognised.

"Not that much attention was given to their role — I think it's fabulous," he said.

"A lot was known about the male Gregorys, but I always thought that probably the most interesting story was about the Gregory sisters.

"It's always typical that men get all the attention, but women's cricket was alive and well then."

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