In cricket, an exceptionally fast or skilful bowler is sometimes called a demon bowler. That epithet is now particularly associated with Frederick Spofforth (1853–1926), but it was originally used with reference to John Jackson (1833–1901).
English touring team c.1859, with John Jackson seated at far right (via Wikimedia Commons)
The earliest evidence found by our researchers identifies Jackson as the demon bowler, but it dates from midway through his career:
Jackson, ‘the demon bowler’, is another member of this powerful team.
1861 Birmingham Daily Post 5 Sept., p. 3
Some sources suggest that Jackson first earned this name in the 1850s; he began playing for Nottinghamshire in 1855, and belonged to the All-England Eleven from 1857–1867. A short story by Alfred Crowquill entitled The Demon Bowler, about a literally demonic cricketer appearing in a dream, was published in 1847, so it is possible that that might have influenced the name. Can you help us find earlier evidence of Jackson (or any other human cricket player) being described as a demon bowler?
Posted by OED_Editor on 28 March 2013 12.32