It's taken four years, but a public appeal to return a stolen watch once owned by 1868 indigenous cricketer Johnny Mullagh has been successful.
Mullagh, from western Victoria, was presented with the watch in recognition of his feats in England with the 1868 team, which is recognised as Australia's first national sporting team.
In more recent times, the watch was part of the private collection of Bellarine Peninsula cricket lover Ian Friend, but was lost when his office was burgled four years ago.
On Victoria Police advice, Cricket Australia widely publicised the theft to make it impossible to pawn or sell the watch to the only collectors who would value it, and appealed for its return.
Nothing was heard and it was feared the rare link with Australian cricket's first team had been lost forever.
However, Mr Friend, who has spent years promoting official recognition of the 1868 team, picked up the phone to an anonymous caller last week to be told the caller had just acquired Mullagh's watch and had come across CA's publicity when researching the item on Google. The caller simply organised its return.
“It’s just amazing. It’s a bit of a miracle that we got it back,” Mr Friend said. “We never knew where it was. Someone could have thrown it in a bush or in the rubbish for all we knew. It’s a miracle it fell into the right hands.”
Mr Friend, who inherited custodianship of the pocket watch from his great-great-great grandfather, said the theft had crushed him.
“It was soul-destroying when it was stolen. It’s been in my family for five generations,” he said.
“When it was stolen, we thought they’d taken it from our safe just for the money because it looked old. I only put it in the safe in case of a fire; I didn’t think someone would take it.”
Fortunately, after four anxious years, the ending’s a happy one.
First Posted 13 November, 2012 9:18AM AEST