William HarringtonATACK

William Harrington Atack was born in Southhampton, England in 1857, and emigrated to New Zealand as a two year old with his parents William (a painter) and Mahala. He was educated at Christ’s College, Christchurch. Joining the staff of the Lyttelton Times in 1875, he became sub-editor the following year. In 1886 he was appointed manager of the United Press Association and remained in that position until he retired in 1930.

He was a keen cricketer and rugby player in his youth, and represented Canterbury in both sports. He also took a keen interest in music, and was for many years a member of the Charity’s Aunt Club in Wellington. He married Ada MacKett in 1886, with whom he raised a son and two daughters.

He first became a rugby union "umpire" in the early 1880's in Canterbury, and he was the first referee in New Zealand, and perhaps in the world, to use a whistle for the control of the game.

Atack recalled that at the time he took up rugby refereeing there were two umpires and a referee, noting that “the umpires used to quarrel with each other and the referee”. While the referee was in charge of fixtures, he had to use his voice to stop the game, and often “the voice had to be exercised loudly”, which Atack “found exhausting”.

Thinking it over one day, his fingers strayed into his waistcoat pocket, where he encountered a dog whistle. The inspiration came to him that “it would be a fine thing” to use the whistle to stop the game.

The next time he refereed he called the teams together and they agreed to play to the whistle; It was a great success and was speedily adopted all over the country. This, he recalled, was about 1883.

“Playing to the whistle” has since become a rugby maxim.

William Harrington Atack died on 16 September 1945 at the age of 88.

Picture: William Atack, was first in the world, in 1883, to use a whistle for rugby.