Walter Giffen was a prominent member of the Norwood Second Twenty in 1879. Whether he played for the senior team is debatable in the absence of firm evidence but he certainly would not have lacked the strong backing of his big brother George, a Norwood champion who famously kicked the club’s first goal. Both brothers had made their football debuts with South Adelaide in 1876*
In 1893 there was an outcry when Walter was chosen in the Australian Test cricket team to tour England. George, by then established as a great allrounder, denied that he had threatened not to tour without his brother. The critics were not appeased. The Bulletin published a poem ridiculing Walter and stating: “The big black spot on the selection of the Australian Eleven for England is Walter Giffen, whose proper place is in a second eleven. He is simply the brother of George Giffen and that is all.”
Walter had played three Tests in Australia for scores of 2, 0, 1, 3, 3 and 2. He was unlucky on debut against England in Sydney in February 1887 when he hit the ball back to the bowler, George Lohmann, who deflected it on the half volley to W. G. Grace at point. Grace claimed the catch and the unsighted umpire gave Giffen out. Still, Walter did not play in a Test in England and is rated by Wisden as one of the least successful Test batsmen of all time.
Walter overcame early setbacks to establish himself as a solid batsman for South Australia. He began with a duck against Victoria at the MCG in March 1883. Three years later he lost the tips of two fingers when his left hand was trapped between cog-wheels at the Brompton plant of the SA Gas Company, his employer for nearly 50 years. He nevertheless played in 47 first-class matches, making 1179 runs at 15.93 with a top score of 89. In 1891 he made 65 as SA amassed 562 against the touring English side but had to retire hurt with damaged fingers after brother George straight-drove a ball which hit his hand.
Playing against the touring English side in 1894-95, Clem Hill and Walter Giffen added 192 for the eighth wicket, which remained a SA record for the eighth wicket until Brad Young and Mick Miller compiled 222 against Queensland in February 2003. Walter was a fine outfielder and made many centuries in a long career in club cricket with Norwood and Adelaide.
Born at Norwood on 20 September 1861 to carpenter Richard Giffen and his wife Elizabeth, née Challand, Walter had four brothers and two sisters. He married Mary Blinman in 1904 and they had a daughter, Elmie, and sons Howard and Challand. Walter was the last survivor of the 1893 Test touring team before his death at the age of 87 at North Unley on 26 June 1949
P Robins Nov 2019
* We thank Peter Cochinos for his research into the Giffen brothers' debuts with South Adelaide in 1876