James Peters the 1st Black Rugby Player

James Peters was an English rugby union player and, later, a rugby league player. He is notable as the first black man to play rugby union for England. He was also known as "Darkie Peters".

James Peters (August 1879 – 26 March 1954) was an English rugby union player and, later, a rugby league player. He is notable as the first black man to play rugby union for England. He was also known as “Darkie Peters”.#


James Peters’s Jamaican father, George, had been mauled to death in a training cage by lions. His mother was Hannah Gough from Wem in Shropshire. He found himself in Fegan’s orphanage in Southwark and the Little Wanderers’ Home in Greenwich. Greenwich Admirals Rugby League Club now celebrate Peters’ life with an annual challenge game.

Peters worked in printing and his trade brought him to Bristol, where we played for Bristol Rugby Club. Peters then moved on to Plymouth.

He played rugby union for Devon, and in 1906 was to play the South Africans in front of 20,000 fans at the Plymouth County ground. However, tourists had belatedly noticed Peters’ colour and were seething at playing with a black man. Initially, they refused to play but eventually the South African High Commissioner , who feared a riot if the game was cancelled, persuaded the team to play.

In 1906, England played South Africa for the first time; James Peters was withdrawn from the England squad after the South Africans objected to playing against a black player.

On 17 March 1907, Peters played for England against Scotland. The Sportsman commented that the “dusky Plymouth man did many good things, especially in passing.” However, The Yorkshire Post pointed out, “his selection is by no means popular on racial grounds”.

He was to play a further game, against France, in which he scored a try. Six weeks after playing against South Africa, for Devon, he was not picked for the next game against South Africa on racial grounds and was not to play another game for England.

In 1910 Peters lost three fingers in a dockyard accident, but continued to play until 1912. It was not injury, but politics that forced James Peters out of rugby union.

Clubs in the South West of England attempted to join the Northern Union (later Rugby League), form a Western League of the Northern Union with competitive fixtures.

He was suspended for accepting payment from Devon Rugby Club, which was illegal according to the codes of rugby union. Many players including Peters and also RFC Plymouth were suspended by RFU. Plymouth Ground closed signalling the end of Plymouth RFC. The rules of professionalism often owed more to politics than finance.

Peters, by then 34 and disillusioned with rugby union, was accepted into rugby league. Returning to his native North West of England, Peters played for Barrow in 1913, and then transferred to James Peters the 1st Black Rugby PlayerSt. Helens in 1914 until his retirement from rugby


I absolutely LOVE learning about people like James Peters. A brother I had no idea even existed.

My great grandad and proud yo say the first black rugby player for England

my great grandad and also very very proud my great gran was as much a hero as anyone she was a lovely lady patient, kind and loving my mum is the only living relative who knew Jimmy and tells us as much as she can about him a true gentleman gentle being the operative word

Not an internationalist but James G Robertson was a very early Black rugby who played for Royal High School FP from 1871 to 1876 and represented Edinburgh in 3 or 4 matches against Glasgow during that time.

James G Robertson has a legitimate claim as the first black rugby player as he played for Royal High School FP in Edinburgh from 1871-76. He also played in intercity matches for Edinburgh v Glasgow. His history is well researched and recorded by Andy Mitchell in Scottishsporthistory.com

James Peters was my great uncle i am proud to say.

Could Janette Ward please contact me regarding her comments. Jimmy was my Great Uncle too, Would love to hear from her.

I’ve just started researching Jimmy Peters’ life story for hopefully a display or a talk at the Devonport Dockyard Heritage Centre, where I am a volunteer guide.
Jimmy had at least 2, maybe 3 stints working there as a carpenter between 1902 and 1921. it’s also where he lost his fingers !
I know very little about his working and family life after leaving the Dockyard. I believe he became a publican.
I’d love to hear from any descendants of his to hear more of his remarkable story.

My great great grandad, who I am very proud of.
My nan is still alive and is the only living relative who knew Jimmy.
I’m sure she would love to tell you more about him, Tony Saunders.

Jimmy Peters paved a lonely way for other black players to come through later. A real hero. I am doing some research on Jimmy and I would really like to hear from Tony Saunders, Leslie, Debra, Janette and Kim if that is at all possible. Thank you (tim.hale@orange.fr)

my great great grandad! super proud of every accomplishment and to hear all the story’s i didn’t get to live myself to see<3

Hi all, sorry I’ve been slow in seeing your recent posts.
Happy to hear from anyone who has an interest in Jimmy’s remarkable story.

Hello everyone, this is such an incredible story and I have loved reading this thread about James. I work for BT Sport Rugby and we would love to do a feature on his life and his rugby union career. Would you mind getting in touch with us to help us tell his story? My email is esmesimcox@hotmail.com. Many thanks, Esme

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