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Revealed! Carlton’s first Captain

The Aitken family, circa 1920, place unknown. Standing from left to right is Nellie Aitken Rigby (Jimmy’s niece), John Aitken (Jimmy’s older brother and Ken Rigby’s grandfather), and Jimmy and Beatrice Aitken (Jimmy’s niece). Seated is Sarah Aitken (John’s wife) and ‘Katey’ Middlemiss (Jimmy’s wife).
The Aitken family, circa 1920, place unknown. Standing from left to right is Nellie Aitken Rigby (Jimmy’s niece), John Aitken (Jimmy’s older brother and Ken Rigby’s grandfather), and Jimmy and Beatrice Aitken (Jimmy’s niece). Seated is Sarah Aitken (John’s wife) and ‘Katey’ Middlemiss (Jimmy’s wife).

This is Jimmy Aitken – Carlton’s inaugural League captain and the man who led his players onto Brunswick Street Oval for the team’s historic opening round encounter with Fitzroy - Saturday, May 8, 1897.

Jimmy, resplendent in three-piece suit, collar and tie, appears in a small sepia photograph captured almost one hundred years ago.

It’s the first known verified image of Jimmy to be published. It was generously supplied by Jimmy’s great nephew, 78 year-old Ken Rigby, who recently responded to the football club’s request for any members of the Aitken clan to come forward.

The photograph is to be featured when the club acknowledges its 48 on-field leaders at next Thursday’s much-anticipated Spirit of Carlton's Lunch With The Carlton Captains at the Grand Hyatt.

Although this pic has been in the family’s keep for years, Ken, who lives in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, never knew Jimmy and could only draw on fleeting childhood memories to tell his story.

“My knowledge of Jimmy was from ‘Aunty Katey’, his wife, who when a widow used to come to stay on the family farm in Vervale near Bunyip from 1948 through,” Ken said.

“Aunty Katey would talk about what life was like when she was young and she was Jimmy’s wife. She’d talk about how she used to walk around The Block Arcade with her best dress on, arm-in-arm with the most famous footballer, and of how people used to look and sometimes even come to talk . . . she loved the glamour of it all and she lived on those memories as she got older.

“What else do I know? Well I know it was always in the family folklore that Jimmy was captain of Carlton. But it wasn’t really a big deal to us because we were Seventh Day Adventists and we were at church on the Sabbath.

“But this might be a crucial photograph for you. That’s him in his maturity.”

James Munroe (“Jimmy”) Aitken, son of John Aitken and Catherine Kerr, was born in Sebastopol on May 15, 1872. Details of Jimmy’s family life are all too few, but what is known is that in 1901 he married Catherine Middlemiss - who in turn gave birth to their son, Archibald James in 1904.

“Jimmy was born in Sebastopol, but we always connected the Aitkens with Bunninyong, which is nearby,” Ken said.

“There’s a Mt Aitken up there on the Calder Highway and we think there is a family connection, but we don’t really know all the details.”


Ken Rigby, with the image of his great uncle, Jimmy Aitken. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)

A vice-captain in the club’s final season in the VFA in 1896, Jimmy assumed the captaincy at 19 from Tom Blake when Carlton was admitted to the League as a foundation member the following year.

At Carlton it was said of Jimmy that he “formed the nucleus of a fine team in the club, and a player like him is not picked up every year”. But while he is unquestionably an important historical figure at Carlton, Jimmy’s League football career was all-too-brief.

Jimmy turned out for the Blues in just 15 matches between 1897 and 1898, before joining the establishment at Melbourne and managing just four senior appearances for the Fuschias towards the end of the 1898 season.

Jimmy died in North Caulfield on August 27, 1944. His wife died in Richmond eight years later.

As fate would have it, the Aitken link with the Melbourne Football Club endured, as Jimmy’s son Archibald served the club as its medical officer for many years.

More recently, Carlton has made contact with Archibald’s son Jamie, who has agreed to assist in building the profile of this club’s first League captain.

Lunch with the Carlton Captains – to be hosted by the Spirit of Carlton Past & Present – is to be held at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, 123 Collins Street, on Thursday, August 8, 2013.

Cost is $180, which covers the three-course meal, premium wines, beer and soft drinks, with all money raised at the event to be donated to players’ welfare both past and present.

Amongst the many incredible items of memorabilia to be auctioned at the Lunch is an original club locker carrying the names of the 18 living Carlton captains, with numbered and signed guernseys for all 18 inside.

More than 700 people have confirmed their attendance for the Lunch and tables are selling fast, so those wishing to booking are asked to urgently contact Membership Services on 1300 227 586.