John Hulley - British Olympic Founder

By Ray Hulley


National Olympian Association

John Hulley always had a clear view of what constituted an Olympic Education. In 1864 he expressed this in a lecture at the Theatre-Royal Liverpool in which he said “The need for athletic institutes for public gymnastic exercises ….. for both sexes ….. in all our towns and cities for ‘the free use of the people, ……… an agreeable resort for the aged and a pastime for the young.’

On 7 November 1865  The Liverpool Mercury reported the formation of the National Olympian Association (NOA) with its inaugural meeting held at the Liverpool Gymnasium, Myrtle Street. The report reads as follows: -

1865 7 Nov. - Liverpool Mercury – A NATIONAL OLYMPIAN ASSOCIATION

The physical education movement is gaining in popularity every day  Gymnasia are fast multiplying, and many of the principal towns can boast of their athletic societies with members to be numbered by hundreds.  Some friends of the movement have thought it would be well to form a central association to systemise, as it were, and bring into one focus, all of these various efforts - to do, in short, for physical education, what the National Rifle Association has done for the volunteer movement. A meeting with this view was held yesterday at the Liverpool Gymnasium, Myrtle-street.  Mr John Hulley was called to the chair, and amongst those present were Mr.         William Mitchell, Fearness Hall, near Manchester, champion of the light weights of England; Dr. Brookes, Much Wenlock; Mr. Phillips, Shrewsbury; Mr. E.G. Ravenstein, president of the German Gymnastic Society, London; Mr Murray, London; Mr. Ambrose Lee, representing the Mechanics’ Institution, Manchester; Mr. Keeling, honorary secretary of the Athletic Society; Mr. J.B. Lee, member of the Athletic Society; Mons. Durbec, Paris,&c.

Dr. BROOKES explained that the object of the meeting was to consider how they could further the cause of physical education throughout the country, how to combat the prejudices which existed in the minds of some persons against this movement, and how to convert indifference into enthusiasm. It as also proposed to turn to useful account various popular assemblies held throughout the country under the name of wakes, fetes, &c., and to introduce into them a more athletic element than at present existed. These objects, he thought, could be best promoted and the cause of physical education generally best advanced by the formation of a national association, and therefore he had much pleasure in proposing That a National Olympian Association be established for the encouragement and reward of skill and strength in manly exercises by awarding medal or other prizes, money excepted, at general meetings of the association, to be held annually, and in rotation, in or near one of the principal towns or cities of Great Britain. That professional athletes should be excluded from competition.

Mr. J.B. LEE suggested that Athletic Association be the title of the society, but it was explained that the term Olympian had been advisedly chosen, because it was of somewhat wider scope than Athletic which would imply that the object of the association was to encourage simply excellence in gymnastic exercises. But, besides doing that, it will be the aim of the society to show the advantage of combining mental with physical culture. The resolution was then passed unanimously.

The following propositions were also agreed to neb. con, :-

That the National Olympian Association will also pay homage to mental excellence by electing from time to time, as honorary members, persons who have distinguished themselves in literature, art, or science or who have proved themselves benefactors to mankind;

That this association shall form a centre of union for different olympian, gymnastic, boating, swimming, cricket, or other similar societies enabling them, through the medium of a year-book, to assist one another by mutual suggestions, and to collect and defuse information on subjects of physical education, and affording to the more expert and other athletes an opportunity of contending and distinguishing themselves on a national arena;

That the competitions of the association be international and open to all comers;

That the annual income required for prizes, the publication of the year-book, and for incidental expenses, is estimated at £1,000 which it is proposed to raise by subscriptions of 5s., 10s., £1., and upwards; that members receive a transferable ticket for admission to all annual festivals for each amount of 5s. he shall subscribe; that a subscription of 10s. shall entitle a member to receive a copy of the year-book; that institutions in union with the National Association shall contribute each £1 annually, and 10s. additional for every 100 members beyond the first 100;

That each county joining the association shall send three delegates to an annual congress; that the duty of the congress shall be to elect a committee of management, to frame rules or alter the same as may be required, and to decide upon the place of the next annual meeting; 

That the annual meeting shall be held next July in London;

That the badge of the association consist of a wreath of oak, and its motto “Civium virius civitates tutmen.”- the virtue (or valour) of the citizens is the safety of the State.

The gentlemen present formed themselves into a provisional committee, and it was decided to put the association in working trim as soon as possible.It is intended that the opening meeting next July shall be a grand demonstration, and suggestions were made for sending a formal challenge to the athletes of France and other countries. A considerable number of subscriptions have already been received, and Dr.. Brookes read the following letter which he had received from Viscount Hill, lord-lieutenant of Shropshire:-

To W.P. BROOKES, ESQ. Halkstone, Shrewsbury.

Dear Sir, - I have receive your prospectus of a National Olympian Society; and I am convinced physical training is most desirable for all classes, I shall be happy to have my name placed on the list of subscribers for the annual sum of £5.

Believe me yours truly,

A vote of thanks to Mr. Hulley, both as chairman and as one who had rendered good service to the cause of physical education, was passed, and the proceedings terminated.

This meeting was the forerunner of the modern British Olympic Association and was formed mainly through the efforts of John Hulley, Dr. Brookes and Mr Ravenstein – the triumvirate of the 19th century Olympic movement.

The link between physical education and the Olympic idea was expressed nicely by John Hulley in 1867. He said ‘What I desire to impress upon you is that Olympic Festivals are not the end of physical education. Physical Education, or rather its dissemination, is the end. Olympian festivals are a means of securing that end.’

The NOA lasted until 1883 and its Olympian Games "were open to all comers". The NOA and its motto were inherited by the National Physical Recreation Society (NPRS) in 1885/1886 and the NPRS was a founder body of the British Olympic Association in 1905. Indeed the President and the Treasurer of the NPRS were members of Coubertin's "Comite Brittanique" in 1902. So there is a direct link between Hulley's views and aspirations in 1864 and the modern British Olympic movement.

Hulley was certainly a tour de force. He began to define Olympism long before the formation of the International Olympic Committee. Like Brookes and Ravenstein he influenced the thinking of the young Coubertin.

Return to Home Page


Copyright © 2000-2021 Ray Hulley. All rights reserved.