Kings of the Turf

A History of the AJC Derby From 1861 to 1984

1863- The Life & Times of Judge Alfred Cheeke!

It was on Tuesday morning, January 13, 1863, that the 56-ton schooner the Grafton landed in Sydney carrying valuable cargo. On board was a remarkably fine brown colt by the 1850 English 2000 Guineas winner Pitsford, out of that grand-producing broodmare Cassandra. Bred by Charles Tindal at his Ramornie estate on the banks of the Clarence River, the colt bore the most aristocratic of lineage and Tindal had already knocked back an offer of £500 on him. Pitsford, his sire, had not only won the English 2000 Guineas but had run as the favourite for the 1850 English Derby, ultimately finishing second – beaten a length by the great Voltigeur. Those two classic performances apart, Pitsford had also won the Racing Stakes at Goodwood and the Great Yorkshire Foal Stakes at York, as well as several other classic races.

Being the winner of more public money than any other horse imported into New South Wales up to that time, Pitsford had come to the colony at considerable cost back in 1857 but, alas, he had died at Ramornie only a matter of weeks earlier, after being seized by three obstinate attacks of colic attended with inflammation. Cassandra, the dam of this just-landed colt, we met in our 1861 chapter, and she had not only been the best race mare of her time at Homebush, Parramatta and other tracks but at Ramornie in the spring of 1858, she had dropped the first official A.J.C. Derby winner in Kyogle to the imported English stallion, William Tell. As far back as the time of the dispersal sale of the Camden House Stud, the faithful correspondent for Bell’s Life referring to Cassandra had observed: “We may safely speculate, of course barring misadventure, that the old mare will throw something of future notoriety to Pitsford, imported by Mr Tindal in January 1857.” It was safe speculation indeed, as this handsome brown colt aboard the Grafton was about to prove!

Cassandra’s newly-arrived son had come to Sydney to become acquainted with his new lessee, Justice Alfred Cheeke, one of the most prominent public men on the Colonial Turf of New South Wales at the time. Alfred Cheeke was born in the rural town of Evesham in Worcestershire, England, in 1810, the youngest of eight children of John Cheeke, the senior magistrate for the county of Worcester.  Young Alfred profited much from this accident of the cradle, for the family wealth enabled him to receive a sound education from private tutors and at the University of Cambridge.  Alfred’s years at Cambridge coincided with the era of the great Priam, owned and trained by William Chifney at nearby Newmarket and the English Derby hero of 1830.  Cheeke’s interest in the Turf had first been awakened during his boyhood when he used to ride about the delightful rural countryside around Evesham, which nestles in a horseshoe-shaped peninsula on the River Avon.

Evesham & the River Avon – Hampton Ferry (The Francis Frith Collection)

Having studied the law and been called to the Bar of the Middle Temple in January 1836, Cheeke joined the Oxford Circuit but discovered it overcrowded and brimming with legal talent far in excess of his own.  Better, then, to head for the colonies where the pickings for a young man with connections would be far easier. Ah! The vanity of human destiny! On July 1, 1837, he left England on board the 356-ton Eweretta bound directly for Botany Bay.  Among the other twelve passengers was a certain Mary Ann Critchley.  During the four-month voyage, Alfred Cheeke became rather friendly with the widowed 44-year-old Mrs Critchley.  Upon renting a house in Elizabeth-street three weeks after his arrival in Sydney, Cheeke asked the widow to come and act as his housekeeper.  She would remain in that role and be Alfred Cheeke’s closest confidante until his death some thirty-nine years later upon which she would inherit the bulk of his estate. But more of that controversial will anon.


Born on Norfolk Island in June 1793, Mary Ann Critchley had enjoyed a colourful and eventful life long before Cheeke came into her orbit. Mary already had two sons out of wedlock by the age of twenty-one, to Thomas Skottowe, a Lieutenant in the 73rd Regiment that accompanied Macquarie on his arrival in Australia. The pair never married and parted when Skottowe, together with their older son, went to Ceylon with his regiment in 1815. In 1818 Mary Ann allowed her younger son to accompany Lieutenant William Hicks to Calcutta, with the intention of reuniting him, too, with his father. Mary Ann followed in July 1819 presumably unaware that Skottowe, after succumbing to illness, had already returned to England where he would die in November 1820 at the age of just thirty-three.

Whether or not the couple themselves had intended to reunite is unclear. Mary stayed on in Calcutta, where, three years later, she married Henry Critchley, some ten years younger than herself. Critchley was a ship’s pilot for the East India Company but the childless marriage only lasted three years before Critchley himself died of cholera and was buried at Fort William, Calcutta. As the widow of a Mate in the Pilot Service, Mary succeeded to a yearly pension of £32/10/- although she supplemented that income by working in the Military Training School in Calcutta and eventually becoming its Matron of Nursing. In 1837 Mary had taken a leave of absence and travelled to England, with the intention of going back to India, but as we have seen, returned to Sydney with Alfred Cheeke instead.


When he arrived in New South Wales, Cheeke was in possession of £100 and a laudatory letter of recommendation from Lord Glenelg, the Secretary of State for the Colonies in the British administration of Lord Melbourne, to the newly appointed Governor of the colony, Sir George Gipps.  Gipps had not yet landed in Australia, but by the time he did so in February 1838, Cheeke had already been admitted to the Bar of New South Wales; he was quickly nominated as a magistrate by the Governor in July with a view to him starting as a candidate for the Chairmanship of the Quarter Sessions in the ensuing year.  With such friends in high places offering preferment, Cheeke’s climb up the legal ladder was both quick and assured.  In March 1841 he took over Roger Therry’s place as a Commissioner for examining and reporting on land grant claims while Therry was acting as Attorney-General.  Cheeke relinquished his role as Commissioner when he was appointed as a Crown Prosecutor in June before the Courts of General and Quarter Sessions.  Three years later he was made Chairman of the Court and in January 1845 he became a Commissioner of the Court of Requests for the County of Cumberland.

Alfred Cheeke (SLNSW)

Cheeke’s various court appointments afforded him the opportunity to attend country districts and to explore his newly adopted land – thereby indulging his passion for equestrian travel.  As early as 1845 Alfred Cheeke owned a station in partnership with his fellow barrister, Edward Broadhurst, on the Liverpool Plains and by 1847 they had extensive pastoral runs in the Gwydir district viz. Gragin (76,800 acres), on the Namoi River, Graman (46,080 acres), on the McIntyre, and later on Gournama (25,000 acres).  The two men had much in common, having been born in England in the same year – Broadhurst in Bath – and both having been accepted by the Middle Temple had taken passage to New South Wales in 1837 and been admitted to the Bar here in February 1838.

Almost immediately the pair began appearing both on the same and opposite sides wigged and gowned either before the Chief Justice or the Court of Quarter Sessions. Broadhurst was a man of the world with a passion for gambling.  While neither Cheeke nor Broadhurst was involved in the critical meetings that led to the formation of the Australian Jockey Club in January 1842, just three years later we find the names of both men appearing regularly on the subscription lists for the Homebush races.  Certainly, Cheeke was a leading citizen of Sydney by the mid-1840s and in August 1848 we find him standing as an unsuccessful candidate for the Legislative Council for the seat of Cook.

It was in 1855 that Alfred Cheeke put his bloodstock breeding ventures on a more comprehensive footing when he purchased the Mount Druitt Farm, on the Western Road between Parramatta and St Mary’s, South Creek.  Eventually expanding to cover some 335 acres Cheeke arranged for it to be enclosed and subdivided into paddocks complete with its comfortable cottage residence and garden.  At the time of purchase, Cheeke’s position as the Chairman of the Courts of General and Quarter Sessions precluded him from devoting the required energy to his bloodstock breeding and as a consequence, he entered into a partnership with John Tait, the coming man on the Australian Turf.  Tait had already completed his first era in overseeing a team of racehorses, initially at Bathurst and later in Sydney, and had only recently returned from England with some impressive imported English bloodstock when he and Cheeke combined forces in 1857. It was a genuine partnership and while Tait managed the stud the horses generally ran his name.


Alfred Cheeke was one of the very early members of the A.J.C. when he joined the club in February 1858, one of fifty-two members with the Governor-General Sir William Denison as the club’s patron. Cheeke also belonged to the struggling Liverpool Turf Club at the time. It is doubtful if ever on the Australian Turf, there was a more thoroughly blunt, straightforward Englishman of the type who blurted out whatever came into his head and often made a great mistake by so doing than Alfred Cheeke.  Nevertheless, in that same month, after a series of meetings at the Metropolitan Hotel in Pitt-street, Cheeke was one of five people proposed for the Stewardship of the A.J.C. along with the Hon. E. Deas Thomson, Hon. Richard Jones, Samuel Samuel and W. B. Dalley. Cheeke relished such social connections and prominence. He was a most clubbable man whose favourite position in life was being seated at the dining table with friends and until his death in 1876, he could be found regularly at Tattersall’s and the other fine dining establishments of mid-nineteenth century Sydney.

On Monday, June 21, 1858, we find him officiating as chairman at the complimentary dinner conducted at Hampton’s Metropolitan Hotel in honour of Messrs Henry Redwood and sons, for the successful and spirited enterprise they had shown in bringing from New Zealand to the colony of New South Wales the fine thoroughbreds Zingara, Zoe and Chevalier. Once in Sydney, the trio had attained ample notoriety through their triumphs at the Liverpool and Homebush Meetings. Zingara won the Ladies’ Purse and besides running neck and neck with Lauristina for the All-Aged Stakes, came out and won the Forced Handicap. At Homebush, Zingara won the Australian Plate while Zoe also won the Jockey Club Handicap. Zoe and Zingara were each subsequently bought jointly by Alfred Cheeke and John Tait for £1,000. As mentioned elsewhere in this chronicle, Zoe, running in John Tait’s name and colours, later won both the second and third Champion Races at Randwick and Ipswich in 1860 and 1861 respectively.


It was in July 1859 that Alfred Cheeke purchased the beautiful estate of Varroville, about four miles from Campbelltown on the Liverpool and Campbelltown Road, the property formerly owned by George Taylor Rowe, the Squire of Edensor Park and one-time Secretary of the A.J.C.  When Rowe died in May 1859 at the age of just thirty-six having suffered a lifetime of asthma attacks, Varroville came onto the market and Cheeke paid £4,750 to secure the fertile lands with the intention of making it the headquarters for his valuable breeding stock. The Varroville estate had quite a history even before its ownership by Rowe and its purchase by Cheeke. It was originally acquired by Dr Robert Townson in 1810 after Governor Macquarie had confirmed a grant of 1,000 acres to him in the Minto district. Townson, a scientist and friend of Sir Joseph Banks, called his estate Varro Ville after the Roman writer on agriculture, Marcus Terentius Varro.

Varroville Homestead – Alfred Cheeke’s Country Residence

Townson built a classic sandstone colonial mansion, which housed his enormous library and developed a famous terraced vineyard on the hills surrounding the house. After Townson’s death in 1827, the estate passed through a series of hands including the explorer Charles Sturt and the colony’s Postmaster-General, James Raymond, as well as George Taylor Rowe. During Rowe’s ownership, a new homestead was designed and built on the old site by the architects, Weaver and Kemp of Pitt-street, retaining an early stone chimneypiece and hearthstone from the original. It was in the early 1850s that the railway line from Sydney to Goulburn was completed and with a station opening in Campbelltown in 1858, Varroville’s location was no longer quite so isolated, an additional attraction for Justice Cheeke.


Varroville wasn’t Cheeke’s only real estate purchase in 1859. In October later that year, he acquired the Octagon and grounds at Darling Point as his city residence for £3,000. This was land that formed part of the original Glenrock estate, first settled by the Smith family in the 1830s. It was built on a ridge, the highest ground on Darling Point, and was next to St Mark’s Church. The Octagon, an unusual building, had been built by convict labour in 1832 and had originally served as a guardhouse or a signal station as it enjoyed uninterrupted views, east to South Head and west to the observatory above Dawes Point. The irony of a judge choosing to live in a former guardhouse was not lost on some, although by the time Alfred Cheeke bought the property, it had changed significantly. During the early 1850s, two wings had been added and the Octagon itself had been softened into a remarkably neat villa residence. The grounds which were approached by a carriage drive by the Darling Point Road, immediately at the entrance lodge to Greenoaks, comprised an area of one and a half acres with a beautiful sloping lawn, garden and shrubbery. Cheeke was to live there for the rest of his days, although he did sell off parcels of its adjoining land from time to time.

The Octagon with St. Mark’s Spire in the Background c. 1885 (Photographer Unknown)

Cheeke was a busy man at this juncture of his life. In May 1859 we find both him and John Tait elected by ballot to the A.J.C. race committee along with Brisco Rae, George Rowley, Sydney Burt, John Lackey, Robert Jamison, Archibald Cox, Buchan Thomson and William McQuade. These were all prominent and well-connected citizens of the colony. That same month, Cheeke was named as one of several Stewards as well as Vice-President of the Club, with Deas Thomson as President. He would soon be called on to chair meetings of the A.J.C. at the Club-rooms in Pitt-street to consider the propriety of the existing rules of racing and scale of weights. Exhausted from work and in a bid to recruit his constitution, in 1860 Cheeke took leave of absence from his judicial duties for a year and on 25 January, accompanied by his “housekeeper”, Mary Ann, departed for England on the appropriately named Wave of Life in a voyage that took 91 days. It afforded Justice Cheeke enough time to settle in Old Blighty before venturing to Epsom Down to witness James Merry’s Thormanby win the English Derby. During his time in England, Cheeke attended various race meetings and bloodstock sales, although his absence from Sydney denied him the pleasure of being present on the occasion of his greatest triumph on the Turf.

I refer to Zoe’s victory at Randwick in the Second Champion Race on September 1, 1860, although his partner John Tait was there to supervise proceedings and watch their champion relegate Wildrake and Veno into the minor placings. Tait collected the winner’s cheque for £1,675, the net amount of the Champion Sweepstakes on the following Monday evening at Tattersall’s and subsequently hosted a Champion Banquet at Tattersall’s on behalf of both he and Cheeke. The dinner was in honour of the stewards, the members of the race committee and the visitors from the sister colonies, numbering about fifty gentlemen, with Tait taking the chair. It returned the cordial reception metered out to him by his Victorian friends on the occasion of the First Champion Race. Alfred and Mary Ann didn’t arrive back in the colony until the Duncan Dunbar docked in Sydney on 10 December.

The Judge had returned to Sydney comfortably in time for the first sale of Messrs. Tait and Cheeke’s bloodstock from the Mt. Druitt Farm. On Wednesday, 30 January 1861, five two-year-olds from the stud were sold through the agency of Sydney Burt, four by Magus and one by William Tell, and their dams included the likes of Clove, Industry and Sultana. All were untried and Tait warranted that they hadn’t even had a canter and all were engaged for the Biennials. The prices paid ranged from a high of 305 guineas to a low of 135 guineas. The results were only average, which was hardly surprising as the condition of turf matters at the time both in Sydney and Melbourne offered little encouragement to either breeders or buyers alike. Nor did things really improve over the next season with some broodmares failing to get in foal and the resident stallions at Mt. Druitt, Magus and Whalebone, largely proving disappointing.

It was soon after the disheartening Varroville sale in January 1862, when, despite a comprehensive catalogue that included the stallions Whalebone and Magus and a mixed list of broodmares as well as youngsters, only one of the thoroughbreds offered found a purchaser, that Alfred Cheeke and John Tait started to go their separate ways. Their mutually exploitative relationship hadn’t quite produced the results that each had sought. With one or two exceptions, Tait was largely disillusioned at the quality of the broodmares and stallions acquired. The two men now began to indulge in a profoundly different approach to the sport of horseracing. Cheeke wasn’t really a horse trader and his heart lay in bloodstock breeding for his own racing. Tait, beginning to recognise his own burgeoning genius for both the training and placing of horses, was now more interested in betting. Zoe with her two successive Champion Races had convinced Tait to change direction. Yes, she had been expensive, but this full sister to Cossack had proven to be a sure bet. Henceforth, Tait resolved to buy rather than to breed, those quality thoroughbreds essential for his betting coups and, as he would demonstrate over the next fifteen years, he was prepared to pay big money to secure the right horse when it came along. Still, the breach with Cheeke was amicable enough.

It was at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting in 1862 that we first find Judge Cheeke running horses in his own name with the disappointing Teddington and Lady Jane, and later that year at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting with Prince, although none of the trio landed him a victory. In comparison, John Tait’s racing fortunes continued to soar. In the autumn while Cheeke’s representatives were floundering, Tait’s rising six-year-old chestnut gelding, Talleyrand, which he had bought for 500 guineas, went from strength to strength. This grandson of Zoe’s dam, Flora McIvor, won a second successive A.J.C. Grand Handicap before going on to Champion Race success when he relegated Barwon and Archer into the minor placings over the three-mile Geelong course in October 1862. That Champion Race in prize money alone returned a staggering £1,672 to Tait’s exchequer. But as the New Year celebrations of 1863 were becoming just a memory, the racing fortunes of Alfred Cheeke were about to change for the better and it was to be the newly-arrived son of Cassandra that would usher in the change!


Upon the arrival of Cassandra’s son in Sydney in January 1863, Cheeke lost no time in registering him as Ramornie, after the horse’s birthplace, and placing him in the charge of the jockey Johnny Driscoll at Randwick to be prepared for the Randwick Autumn Meeting. The handsome brown colt made his racecourse debut on the last day of April in the Third New South Wales Biennial Stakes. Although there were eighteen nominations for the race, Ramornie and Kelpie, both belonging to Alfred Cheeke, were the only two that came to the post. Kelpie, a stylish chestnut colt by the successful English importation of the same name and out of the expensive Zingara, partnered by Driscoll was the one with which Cheeke declared to win. The pair quietly cantered around the six-furlong course in a miserable farce of a race. It was Ramornie’s only appearance at two and he was quietly sent to the spelling paddock at Varroville to develop over the winter. Nonetheless, many of those who witnessed Ramornie’s racecourse debut realised that here was a colt of no common quality and one that time would do much to furnish.


In May 1863, just days after the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, the Varroville, Mount Druitt and Darling Point properties of Alfred Cheeke were all put up for public auction together with the Cheeke and Tait bloodstock. After being widely advertised, all of the properties were withdrawn on the scheduled day of auction purportedly for private sale. While the Mount Druitt Farm that Tait occupied was let go, Cheeke eventually retained both Varroville and the five acres of his Darling Point estate situated between the grand houses of Greenoaks and Glanworth. As we shall see, testing the market value of his assets was something that Cheeke did more than once in his life. As for the bloodstock, it was on Thursday, May 7 that the broodmares and foals, colts and fillies, all went under Sydney Burt’s hammer on the Varroville estate itself.

The highest price realised on the day was the 200 guineas paid for Zingara with a foal at foot by Magus and stinted to him again. While Walter McEvilly was the bidder, he wasn’t acting for himself. The second-highest priced lot was the 120 guineas paid by Richard Goldsbrough for the English-bred Clove, and like Zingara, with a foal at foot by Magus and stinted to him again. They were the only two lots to realise three-figure sums with the balance of the horses selling for between 10 and 94 guineas. John Tait did buy two daughters of the imported Clove viz. the four-year-old Lady Jane for 60 guineas and the yearling filly Brown Duchess for 67 guineas. History would show that Walter McEvilly and Richard Goldsbrough with their best of bids, also struck the best of bargains, albeit for other parties.


While the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting had been firmly established for a few years, by 1863 the A.J.C. Spring Meeting was beginning to achieve some traction of its own. The monster muster at Tattersall’s on the Wednesday and the two previous evenings prior to the first day’s racing, sufficiently indicated a more than ordinary interest in impending events while the presence of several Melbourne identities added not a little to the briskness of the business transacted. The favourite Calcutta Sweeps were the order of each evening upon the principal items in the programme, as also upon the Ballarat Champion Race and the Melbourne Cup, about which considerable sums were invested. The absence of the Sydney cracks Archer and Talleyrand from the A.J.C. Spring Meeting doubtless improved the number of entries. Some quite heavy rain swelling into storms fell on Wednesday night preceding the opening of the meeting. Yet on Thursday morning, the city was alive and abroad long before its wonted hour.

Tattersall’s Hotel, Pitt Street (Courtesy of Time Gents, Mick Roberts)

With the enchantment that time and distance lend to such scenes, perhaps we can appreciate them more now. Publicans made door-frame pictures of themselves. A string of carriages of every description that would not have been a discreditable sight at the corner house of Epsom in Surrey greeted everyone’s arrival at the turn into Bourke-street. Aristocratic carriages, four-in-hands, hackney coaches, hansom cabs, buggies and dog carts tore along with their living freight to witness the rare old English pastime of horseracing. On arrival at the course, the various booths boasted each its flaunting banner, and the general arrangements on the ground and in the saddling paddock were highly commendable. The confusion, so distracting in past years on the venerated mead of Homebush, gave place here at Randwick to a sense of comfort and freedom in every way desirable at a great metropolitan meeting.

All sorts of swindles were being perpetrated from hazard to thimblerig, whenever and wherever it could be done outside the view of the constables. Skittle and bowls, Old Aunt Sally, and “three shies for a tenner,” were among the classic amusements got up for the occasion. The track was somewhat harder than had been hoped for, but it would take a good deal more top-dressing and nursing before it could be expected to attain the springiness of the more established courses. The straight run was lined with equipage of every description, the inmates of which had apparently made preparations for standing at least a week’s siege before the supplies failed, judging by the heavily-laden hampers. Perhaps I should allow the correspondent for Bell’s Life to paint the canvas: “It was not until nearly 1 pm that the influx of bus passengers began to pour onto the course and it was several minutes after the scheduled 1.15 pm appointed for the interesting walkover feat of George the 1st for the Optional Selling Stakes, that the arrival of His Excellency Sir John Young was announced by the German Band striking up the National Anthem. Lady Young and party were doubtless deterred from honouring the course with their presence by the unsettled state of the weather; indeed, the paucity of crinoline was generally remarked upon, and detracted much from the usual brilliant aspect of the Grand Stand.”


John Lackey – A.J.C. Judge

The 1863 A.J.C. Spring Meeting extended over three successive days, opening on Thursday, September 3, continuing on Friday and ending on Saturday. Throughout the meeting, Alfred Cheeke served as one of the stewards, together with the Hon. E. Deas Thomson, the Hon. W. M. Arnold, Mr D. Bell and Alex Mackellar. This was an august body of gentlemen and clearly demonstrated the status of the A.J.C. within the colony of New South Wales. While Charles Martyn served as the Starter and W. G. Henfrey acted as the Clerk of the Course, John Lackey performed as the Judge, although given the ease of many of the winners throughout the meeting, the latter’s judgement was rarely called upon.

Ramornie made his seasonal reappearance on that first day in the Spring Metropolitan Maiden Plate, a race of £10 each with £150 added money and open to all horses that had never won an advertised prize at the time of entrance. As such, it pitted older horses against the three-year-old colt and despite starting the equal 2/1 favourite, Ramornie found two better on the day in the four-year-old Rioter (8st. 12lb) and the three-year-old Meteor (6st. 5lb) to whom Ramornie was conceding 3lb in weight. But it was just the sort of pipe-opener the colt required to bring him to his peak for the Randwick Derby Stakes some forty-eight hours later. On the Friday evening before the running of the Derby, the members of the A.J.C. held their annual race dinner at Tattersall’s Hotel and Alfred Cheeke was in the chair. During the proceedings, the amiable Judge announced that the club had made good progress during the year with membership up from 130 to 230 and as a result income closer to 600 than the budgeted 300 guineas.

The beautiful weather on Saturday had the natural effect of attracting a much more numerous attendance than on either of the two previous days, although the sport was traditionally superior on the third day and the betting brisk. The half-holiday in commercial establishments doubtless contributed to the increase in visitors. His Excellency accompanied by Lady Young, Lord and Lady John Taylour and their party arrived on the ground with their usual punctuality shortly before the hour announced for the first race and the Grand Stand was well filled for their arrival. The Randwick Derby Stakes was the second race on the five-race card with the feature event being the Metropolitan Cup, a two-mile handicap for all ages.


The field for the Derby is shown in the table below:

Seven horses mustered at the start for the third running of the A.J.C. Randwick Derby Stakes. The favourite for the race was Frank Doyle’s gelding, Meteor, on the strength of his running second in the Maiden Plate on the first day. A late November foal, he was prepared by his owner at Cedar Grove, West Maitland. Ramornie shared the second line of betting with Walter Hall’s filly, Miss Magus, who, on the second day of the meeting had surprised many by leading all the way in the mile Spring Bruie Stakes and upsetting the even money laid on Justice Cheeke’s colt, Kelpie.  As a result of that defeat, Kelpie had not been accepted for the classic.  William Town’s Loiterer was the next most fancied colt.  At the fall of the silk, Meteor jumped smartly away and led past the stand with Miss Magus second, Ramornie third and pulling hard, the remainder in close attendance.  During the next half-mile, several changes took place but it was along the back stretch that Ramornie went to the front from Miss Magus, with Meteor in third place.  Thereafter the leading order didn’t change and Ramornie passed the post two to three lengths in front of the filly and about the same distance separating her from the colt from Maitland.

Ramornie wasn’t produced again at the 1863 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. Handicapped on 7st. 5lb for the Forced Handicap, the last race on Derby Day, he was scratched and sent to the spelling paddocks at Varroville over the course of the summer. William Town’s disappointment with Loiterer’s Derby run was somewhat assuaged later in the afternoon when his son’s horse Regno, took out the Metropolitan Cup although it wasn’t without controversy. Andrew Town had declared to win with Tarragon and thus his stablemate Regno was comparatively disregarded. Regno gave the jockey Johnny Driscoll a memorable day when he ran out a relatively easy winner with Tarragon, partnered by John Higgerson struggling to run second in the nine-horse field. After the meeting, Regno was subsequently purchased for £700 by Samuel Jenner, while Toby Ryan’s Traveller also changed hands for £500, both horses destined for China.   All of the prizes relating to the meeting were paid over at 8 o’clock that evening in Tattersall’s Long Room with the general settling taking place afterwards and where every claim was cheerfully met with the customary reciprocal pledges in the “sparkling”.


Ramornie was jockey Johnny Driscoll’s second victory in the Derby following upon his first success on Ramornie’s half-brother, Kyogle, in the race’s first running. Driscoll also had much to do with Ramornie’s preparation for the race, acting as his part-time trainer.  E. S. Chapman, who wrote under the pseudonym of Augur for The Australasian newspaper, wrote at the time of Driscoll’s death that he was “one of the best jockeys that ever got into a saddle”.  The son of Timothy Driscoll, a horse-breaker and horse-trader who entered into business in Pitt-street, he was renowned for his ability to get his mounts away to good starts and when in his prime few could compete with him in a bitterly fought finish.  While Driscoll was best known among sportsmen as the rider of Etienne de Mestre’s Tim Whiffler, on whom he won the 1867 A.J.C. Great Metropolitan Stakes and the V.R.C. Melbourne Cup, he had actually commenced riding in races in New South Wales in the mid-1850s.

One of his first masters was Thomas Ivory, for whom he was afterwards very successful with a horse named Jonathan Wild.  Perhaps Driscoll’s most notable victories at Randwick apart from his two Derbies and Metropolitan were the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes on Fireworks and the City Handicap on Yattendon. Towards the end of his riding days, Driscoll transitioned to the role of trainer and supervised the preparation of Louis Uhde’s team. Uhde was a well-known butcher in Market-street and both he and Driscoll were associated with the 1869 Melbourne Cup winner, Warrior. Unfortunately for both men, Uhde sold Warrior to the Melbourne bookmaker Austin Saqui for 400 guineas shortly after the horse had finished third behind Circassian in the 1869 A.J.C. Metropolitan. The sale saw Warrior go into the stables of Robert Sevior and it was Joe Morrison rather than John Driscoll that steered the six-year-old son of New Warrior to his Cup victory.

In November 1870 we find Driscoll swapping the saddle to become the landlord of the Blind Beggar Hotel at the corner of Liverpool-street and South Head-road. Later during the 1870s, Driscoll took up residence in Wagga where he played the double part of racehorse trainer and host of ‘The Australian’ hotel. It was only when his son, John junior expressed a wish to follow in his father’s footsteps that Driscoll senior returned to training in Sydney taking stables in Bourke-street, Surry Hills. Driscoll died of cancer at his residence in Randwick in January 1888 at the age of fifty-six and was interred at Waverley Cemetery. Sad to say, his jockey son was buried next to him less than three years later when, at the age of nineteen, he died after his mount Tom Thumb fell on him at a meeting of the Sydney Driving Park Club at Moore Park. The cause of the fall was a dog running onto the track. Such were the hazards of jockeyship in the nineteenth century!


There was no thought of a southern campaign for the A.J.C. Derby winner and an attempt on either the Victoria Derby or the Melbourne Cup was impossible as Ramornie hadn’t been nominated for either race. Indeed, in 1863 the Victoria Racing Club had yet to come into being as the parlous state of Victorian racing was still plagued by mutual jealousies and antipathies, not to mention the debts of the two separate clubs then sharing Flemington racecourse viz. the Victoria Turf Club and the Victoria Jockey Club. However, it was the respective failures of each of the V.T.C. and V.J.C. Spring Meetings in 1863 as well as dissatisfaction with the state of Flemington racecourse that saw the demise of both clubs just a few months later. Phoenix-like from their ashes there arose a far more powerful and unified body in the Victoria Racing Club. Given that the V.R.C. inherited a legacy of important races from its two predecessor clubs, which set the pattern of its spring racing right up to the present day, it is perhaps worth examining those last two Spring Meetings of the V.J.C. and the V.T.C.

In 1863 the Victoria Jockey Club’s Spring Meeting was conducted over two successive days, Friday and Saturday, 23 and 24 October; whereas the Victoria Turf Club’s Spring Meeting was conducted over Friday and Saturday, 20 and 21 November. The feature races on the first day of the V.J.C. meeting were the Derby Stakes (12f) and the Victoria Jockey Club Great Handicap, while those on the second day were the Oaks Stakes (12f) and the Victoria Jockey Club Cup (2-mile w-f-a). The feature races on the first day of the V.T.C. meeting were the Ascot Vale Stakes (5f) and the Melbourne Cup (2-mile), while that of the second day was the Queen’s Plate (3-mile). Curiously enough, in one way or another, all of those races have lasted up to the present day with the exception of the V.J.C. Great Handicap.

Perusing the list of winners of those races back in 1863 makes for some interesting observations. The V.J.C. Derby Stakes, of £15 each and £1 entrance with £150 added money only attracted a field of seven. The most intriguing runner in the race was Rose Of Denmark, an English-bred filly, by Stockwell. She was giving away half a year in age, running as a three-year-old when she was, in fact, only two-and-a-half. It was presumed that the superior quality of the imported stock would compensate for the great advantage given to the other horses, and this, naturally enough, was a subject for the liveliest speculation. Rose Of Denmark’s appearance seemed to justify the high opinion which had been formed of her capabilities and she was heavily backed against the field going off as the 6/4 favourite. The result was a great disappointment as she was never in the race won by Oriflamme, a colt ridden to victory by his owner, William Lang. Lang also won the V.J.C. Oaks with Aruma although he didn’t ride her. Lang was a great Victorian horseman in his day and would go on to train the dream horse Nimblefoot to win the 1870 Melbourne Cup.

As Maurice Cavanough wrote in his book “Cup Day”: “The Melbourne Cup of 1863 is remembered for three equivocal features. It attracted no interstate runners; it was contested by the smallest field ever to line up for the big race; and the winner carried the lowest weight ever borne to victory in a Melbourne Cup. All three factors were symptoms of the unhealthy state of racing in Melbourne in 1863.” The three-year-old Banker won the race carrying just 5st. 4lb, beating Musidora, a four-year-old brown mare handicapped on 8st. 5lb having previously won the Victoria Jockey Club Cup. Owned by James Wilson, Musidora would go on to establish a dynasty besides Wilson’s fortune as the following chapters of this chronicle will demonstrate. Hurtle Fisher’s imported Rose Of Denmark finished third in that 1863 Melbourne Cup. Whatever the problems with Victorian racing in that spring of 1863, it proved a triumph for the imported English stallion Boiardo, for not only did he sire the V.T.C. Melbourne Cup winner but he got both the V.J.C. Derby and V.J.C. Oaks winners as well.

In 1863 the V.J.C. and the V.T.C. each boasted distinguished men who served as stewards of the sport. Richard Goldsbrough, Hurtle Fisher and William Yuille were among those who served as V.J.C. stewards while the likes of Rawdon Greene, Herbert Power and Captain F. C. Standish performed similar roles for the V.T.C. It was the willingness of these men to sink their differences and work together under the leadership of Henry Creswick that drove the creation of the Victoria Racing Club. It was on Wednesday, March 9, 1864, that the historic meeting took place at Scott’s Hotel that led to the dissolution of the Victoria Turf Club and the Victoria Jockey Club and the creation of a new racing body composed of the principal supporters of the Turf in Melbourne. Those present were Richard Goldsbrough, C. S. Ross, James Purves, Herbert and Robert Power, J, Ricards, J. F. Maguire, George Watson, Hurtle Fisher, C. L. Throckmorton, Philip Dowling, R. W. Garrick, J. Haimes, Henry Creswick, James Blackwood, J. M. Joshua, J. D. Dougherty, Captain Standish and Captain Purcell. Henry Creswick was appointed chairman and after some discussion, the following resolutions were proposed and carried unanimously:

First that the present financial position of the two metropolitan racing clubs is such that it has become absolutely necessary that they should give way, and make room for one racing club, to be formed at once, and to be managed, pro tem., by certain gentlemen to be elected by this meeting. Second that the gentlemen invited to attend the present meeting do constitute themselves into a club to be called the “Victoria Racing Club”. Third that the committee do consist of twelve (12) who shall make rules for the admission of members, and ballot for all new members and the following gentlemen do form the new committee: James Blackwood, E. Cohen, H. Creswick, J. Dougherty, H. Fisher, R. Goldsbrough, R. F. Greene, H. C. Jeffreys, J. F. Maguire, H. Power, Captain Standish, and G. Watson. Fourth that the committee be empowered to raise the sum of £2,500 bearing interest at the rate of 10% p.a. to pay off all outstanding liabilities of the Turf and Jockey Clubs, and to enable the new club to carry out all existing arrangements entered into by the said clubs. Fifth that the committee be instructed to communicate with the Turf and Jockey Clubs, requesting them to dissolve.

R. C. Bagot (T. A.)

The meeting of the members of the new club was then adjourned. Before it separated, however, a sum close to £1,000 was subscribed to settle urgent legacy debts. The first meeting under the auspices of the newly established Victoria Racing Club occurred over the two days of 20 and 21 May 1864. I might mention that at this inaugural V.R.C. Autumn Meeting, George Watson and James Henderson each served as Starter and Judge respectively, reprising roles that each man had previously performed at both of the moribund clubs. However, the most important appointment of the new club would be its first Secretary, R. C. Bagot at a salary of £150 per year. A native of Ireland who came to Victoria in 1848, his father had been a Church of England minister at Athy, County Kildare. Previously an architect and a surveyor, Bagot knew nothing about racing but for the next seventeen years until his death in April 1881, he would prove to be a first-class administrator and set the V.R.C. on very firm foundations.


In describing the revolutionary changes in the club structure and administration of Melbourne racing in 1863/64, I seem to have wandered off the subject of Justice Alfred Cheeke and Ramornie. So let us remove from Flemington and return to Randwick. Following his A.J.C. Derby success, Ramornie next sported silk at the 1864 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting where he raced on each of the three days. On the first day, Ramornie walked off with the Third New South Wales Biennial for three-year-olds, beating Midnight and Loiterer into the minor placings and running the mile and a half in 2 minutes 54 seconds. On the second day, the handsome son of Cassandra stepped out for the A.J.C. St Leger over one and three-quarter miles. There had only ever been seven original nominations for the race although one of them was Hurtle Fisher’s distinguished chestnut filly, Rose Of Denmark. In the end, Ramornie won the event hard held by Johnny Driscoll.

On the third day, Justice Cheeke’s flagbearer was asked to carry a good weight in the Forced Handicap, and although the favourite in the betting, he failed to run a place, being beaten by the winner Potentate (7st. 4lb), Volunteer (8st.), Kyogle (9st. 7lb) and two others. It was only after the A.J.C. autumn fixture had concluded that the delayed news came through from Ramornie station of the death of the wonder broodmare, Cassandra. In retrospect, it seemed entirely appropriate that her last three foals – Kyogle, by William Tell, Ramornie, by Pitsford, and Yattendon, by Sir Hercules, severally won the events (City Handicap, St Leger and Champagne Stakes respectively) for which they were engaged on the second day of the late Randwick Meeting and there were only four races on the card! Indeed, the only race they missed out on that day was the All-Aged Selling Stakes and Cassandra’s stock was far too valuable to ever risk in one of them.

Ratcliffe Pring Q. C.

Ramornie’s failure in the A.J.C. Forced Handicap didn’t deter the Tindal family from requesting that the horse campaign at the three-day Winter Meeting of the North Australian Jockey Club over Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the 7th, 8th, and 9th of June at Ipswich. Charles Tindal always enjoyed patronising the meetings at the Ipswich course and despite that gentleman’s absence from the colony, Alfred Cheeke respected his wishes. Cheeke’s judicial obligations precluded any such domestic travel and Ramornie was entrusted to trainer John Tait and jockey John Driscoll for the northern adventure. While in Queensland, Ramornie raced in the name of Ratcliffe Pring, the Queensland Attorney-General and M.L.A. for Ipswich, and a future president of the Q.T.C.

On the first day of the meeting, Ramornie failed in the Grand Handicap for which he started the favourite, the race being won by John Tait’s Volunteer. The prize was £150, with sweepstakes of £10 for each horse. On the second day, in a five-horse field, Ramornie and Johnny Driscoll combined to easily take out the North Australian St Leger of £100. On the third and last day, Tait and Driscoll enjoyed a rare double in the Queensland sunshine when Volunteer won the North Australian Plate and Ramornie annexed the Queensland Free Handicap. The settling in connection with the meeting took place at the Clarendon Hotel on the following Saturday. The value of prizes handed over by the stewards was £1,380/4/3d and of that sum, £588/3/- was won by John Tait’s pair.

Ramornie returned to Sydney and was laid out for the A.J.C. Metropolitan Cup, a handicap of £200 and a sweepstake of £20 each, run over two miles on the third day of the Randwick Spring Meeting. Although only four horses were accepted for the race, it was a crackerjack field with William Town’s six-year-old Tarragon, winner of the two previous A.J.C. Queen’s Plates, the 3/1 on favourite despite the steadier of 10st. 4lb in the saddle. Ramornie, handicapped on 7 st. 12lb and with Frank Martineer up, was the 2/1 second favourite just ahead of the gallant and aged Ben Bolt (9st.) in the market at 3/1, with the five-year-old mare Eva (7 st. 11lb) the longest-priced runner at 6/1. The race was the grand feature of the three-day meeting and it lived up to expectations. It proved an exciting contest with Ramornie making a game and desperate effort to reach the favourite down the length of the straight only to be beaten by a bare length. Both horses returned to the weighing yard amidst a rousing ovation, for Ramornie had pressed the winner far too closely for the nerves of his backers. Perhaps rather fittingly, it was Ramornie’s last race on colonial soil. Only days after the 1864 A.J.C. Spring Meeting it was announced that C. G. Tindal had sold the horse to S. C. Burt and Co. for £500 to do his future racing and breeding in China.


Upon reflection, the three placegetters in the 1863 A.J.C. Derby were the best three horses in the field. Although Miss Magus never won another important race after the A.J.C. Spring Buie Stakes, at stud she did drop two stakes’ winners in successive seasons to the stallion Maribyrnong. Her 1873 foal Eva won the 1877 A.J.C. Epsom Handicap while her 1874 foal Cap A Pie won the 1878 A.J.C. St Leger Stakes. Meteor who ran the minor placing in the Derby, won the A.J.C. Squatters’ Stakes the following season and proved a tough campaigner in the West Maitland district. As Justice Alfred Cheeke pondered the sale and departure of Ramornie to China during the spring of 1864, he may have wondered whether his crimson jacket and purple cap would ever be carried to victory in a Randwick Derby again. Indeed, the colours would be – and just one year later. Only then, they would be borne not by a colt but by a filly – and one of his very own breeding!


1862 – The Towns of Richmond


1864 – The Story of Yattendon !


  1. Ian,

    I was delighted to see this article appear in my inbox. Furthermore I was exhilarated by the background to Varroville, a property my late dear neighbour, Virginia Pearson-Smith owned some 20 years ago.

  2. Myriad thanks for yet another stirring and epic narrative Ian!

    Charles Grant Tindal (Paragraph 1) has a close early association with the Upper Hunter Valley. He was based at “Merton”, Denman in 1844 before extending to the Clarence River & ‘Ramornie’.

    I’ve also left a comment on your 1991 submission. I believe ‘Artilleryman’ is actually buried at ‘Petwyn Vale’, Wingen which Sir Samuel Hordern acquired in 1914? The current owner is a longtime friend.

    Kindest regards


  3. phil hartley

    Another cracker

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