In September 1861 the grand broodmare Cassandra, dropped a stylish colt foal to the champion stallion, Sir Hercules, in the paddocks of the Ramornie Stud. A few evenings after the foaling, a Ramornie employee noticed Cassandra in a state of agitation and walked over to investigate, only to discover her foal at the bottom of a deep hole into which he had fallen and been trapped for some time. It was a close brush with the wings of the angel of death. Surely if Cassandra’s excitement hadn’t attracted the man’s attention, the foal would have been dead by morning, and the chronicle of the Australian Turf denied one of its most illustrious chapters. As events transpired it was to be Cassandra’s last foal, the grand old broodmare being humanely destroyed by a bullet at Ramornie in May 1864. She had become a legend, and I might add that for many years a painting of Cassandra done in 1848 by the colonial sporting artist Edward Winstanley was on exhibition in the A.J.C. committee rooms.
It isn’t possible to furnish a complete and comprehensive record of Cassandra at stud, mainly because her days as a matron preceded the introduction of the Australian Stud Book. Given the importance of that publication to the subject at hand, pray, allow me to sketch in the background to its beginning. In 1859 Fowler Boyd Price did publish a Stud Book of New South Wales, and it was effectively the first ‘official’ attempt to document the pedigrees of the colony’s blood horses. A Victorian Stud Book was also published in two volumes to the year 1864 by William Levey while a further two volumes, three and four, were edited by William C. Yuille to the year 1874. It was Yuille, of course, who founded the firm of William C. Yuille and Company, which flourished as a bloodstock agency in Melbourne for almost 70 years. The Australian Stud Book per se only came into effect as late as 1878, as a private venture funded by A. and William C. Yuille, when the early work of Yuille and others was combined into Volume 1 of the first publication to carry that name. It was William’s son, Archie Yuille who published Volume II in due course and, indeed, it continued in his ownership up to and including Volume IX. It was only at that stage that the Australian Jockey Club and the Victoria Racing Club combined resources and bought the rights to the Book from the Yuille family.
Many bloodstock breeders in the early days of the colony neglected to make Stud returns regularly after each season. It was all too easy and free of charge, and the true value of a properly constituted Australian Stud Book wasn’t widely appreciated. It has been written that the Macarthur family were notoriously slack in documenting the foalings of their broodmares, but really no more so than many other major breeders. The reason for the perception that the Macarthurs were particularly aberrant in this regard had more to do with the quality of their early bloodstock and its seminal influence in Australia. Put simply, as certain strains of pedigree became dominant, there was more interest retrospectively taken in their antecedents. And Camden Park for a time was a veritable fountainhead. Nonetheless, early stud records and newspaper reports do enable us to note that Cassandra became the dam of at least, seven foals.
Such was the celebrity of Cassandra that news of her last foaling made it into the pages of Bell’s Life in Sydney. One man intrigued by the article and whose imagination was fired by the prospects of the colt was the 41-year-old parliamentary librarian for the colony of New South Wales, Walter McEvilly. An Irishman born in County Mayo – that region of ‘mountain, moorland and bogland’ in the north-west part of Ireland – McEvilly, back in 1840, had been transported for seven years to the penal colony of Sydney, having been tried at Tipperary and found guilty of forgery in March of that year. He reached Sydney town on 17 August aboard King William. McEvilly may only have been a labourer in Ireland, but he was an intelligent and literate one. As such, his skills brought him an opportunity in this convict settlement. Forgery, after all, was not the worst of crimes and those who practised it through economic necessity were rarely hardened criminals and quite often capable of rehabilitation. It is worth remembering that men such as Francis Greenway and Joseph Lycett were also transported to the colony for forgery. Moreover, McEvilly – like many Irishmen, had a real affinity with horses.
On 23 February 1841, McEvilly was transferred from the Hyde Park Barracks to the offices of the Legislative Council in Macquarie-street, to act as doorkeeper, receiving the usual stipend of one shilling and ninepence a day. Zealous and efficient in the discharge of his duties and gifted with that ubiquitous Irish charm, after almost three years of loyal service McEvilly petitioned for a ticket-of-leave. On 25 January 1844, it was granted. Primarily it was a document of parole issued to convicts who had shown that they could be trusted. Once given, a convict was able to seek employment within specified districts. Moreover, the convict was permitted to marry and acquire real property. McEvilly did both, although the property, including thoroughbreds, was to come later. In November 1847 by special licence at St Mary’s Cathedral, Walter McEvilly married Mary Anne Farrell, herself the youngest daughter of a ticket-of-leave man who was a hatter in Macquarie-street.
It was during his tenure as door-keeper at the Legislative Council that McEvilly formed a firm friendship with Richard O’Connor, a fellow Irish Catholic, from County Cork that was to change his life. McEvilly had always detested obscurity and harboured dreams of being welcomed on his own terms into Sydney society that as an outsider he privately scorned. At least in the colonies, he was living in a world that had broken with the past, a new world in which it seemed to him, anything might happen. O’Connor helped make it so. Ten years McEvilly’s senior, O’Connor was the Town Clerk of Sydney during the latter part of 1842 and organised the elections for the first city council. In 1843 the Legislative Council Library was established, and O’Connor became its first librarian; he was to be instrumental in securing the position of the assistant librarian for McEvilly in 1850 at a salary of £109 and at a time when the younger Irishman badly needed the jingle of coins in his pocket. Upon O’Connor gaining further promotion and becoming clerk of the new Legislative Assembly in May 1856, he relinquished the post of Librarian to his friend and colleague, Walter McEvilly.
The new position brought with it not just a considerable increase in salary but a residence in the parliamentary premises in Macquarie-street as well. In sectarian Sydney, McEvilly had arrived. He now basked in the sunlight of great men’s research and literary pleasures. The relative largesse and range of contacts that the official position of parliamentary librarian afforded enabled McEvilly to support generously those Roman Catholic causes close to his heart, as well as speculate in crown land sales. In 1857 we find him buying over 33 acres around Balgowlah and Manly Cove for £110. However, in 1860 and 1861, seeing the potential of the fertile pastoral lands on the Clarence River that were opening up, McEvilly’s speculations moved further afield when he bought over 430 acres around Grafton and Ulmarra. It was these latter speculations that saw him come into contact with Charles Tindal, owner of Cassandra and the Ramornie Stud, who bought land at the same sales. It was to be a rendezvous with destiny. Walter’s hour had come.
Ever since his childhood and his time in Tipperary as a young man, McEvilly had a passion for field sports and the Turf. McEvilly had already tried his hand with a few horses, but when he returned from the Clarence in 1861, he brought with him two thoroughbreds by Pitsford. One was a three-year-old filly out of Esperance – a half-sister to a future Brisbane Cup winner; the other, a yearling colt out of Amy Robsart, a full sister to the celebrated Cassandra. Much better bloodstock than he had hitherto owned, these equine aristocrats excited considerable interest when stabled at Messrs’ Burt and Company’s premises. However, rather than a yearling out of a sister to Cassandra, he desperately wanted the real thing – the last yearling dropped by Cassandra herself. And it was his Clarence River connections with Charles Grant Tindal that enabled him to get it.
In January 1862 Charles and Anne Tindal, together with their young family, departed the colonies on the ship La Hogue to settle firmly once again in England. In September of the following year, Anne Tindal gave birth to a daughter, Jane, at Yattendon House in Berkshire. The family’s connection with the Berkshire house and the tradition of naming Cassandra’s foals after properties had already suggested itself to Tindal. Yattendon seemed as suitable a name as any to follow in the grand tradition of Kyogle and Ramornie. It was Tindal’s removal to England that saw Yattendon come onto the market, although the price paid by McEvilly was never publicly revealed. The colt makes his second entry into the sporting pages of Bell’s Life when he is listed among the nominations in June 1863 for the Fourth N.S.W. Biennial, although his nominator is ‘Mr O’Malley’ the nom de course adopted by McEvilly for his affairs on the Turf. O’Malley had been his mother’s maiden name, and it was also the librarian’s middle name, a common enough custom at the time.
When Yattendon first came to Sydney, he was initially stabled in a slab shed at the back of Parliament House that opened up onto the Domain. While McEvilly oversaw the training of his small string, John Riley, a young man in his late twenties who originally hailed from Maitland, initially did the actual work on the ground. Riley had been a drover’s help from the age of eighteen before riding in races around Bathurst, Mudgee and Homebush; he had even ridden at Randwick on that famous occasion in September 1860 when Zoe won the Second Champion Sweepstakes. When Yattendon was being prepared for races, McEvilly arranged for boxes at the Baptist Garden Stables in Bourke-street, Surry Hills. Yattendon, even from an early age, suffered from light, shelly feet and was somewhat lazy in his gallops, but it wasn’t long before McEvilly realised that the colt had inherited all of the galloping ability and more of his famous family.
As it transpired, Yattendon’s only appearance as a two-year-old was delayed until April 1864 and the Champagne Stakes over a mile at the Randwick Autumn Meeting. Entrusted into the skilful hands of jockey Samuel Holmes, the colt moved over the course in a brisk, zealous fashion, winning easily. As one observer noted, it was almost like the flight of a meteor and those left in his wake did feel the force of the pull. The performance certainly nourished McEvilly’s belief that he was in possession of a clinking good colt. Although weighted on a feather, Yattendon did not accept for the A.J.C. Forced Handicap, the last race of the meeting, which was won by de Mestre’s five-year-old Potentate. I might mention that Randwick that day was subject to a very rare occurrence. Cassandra, the dam of Yattendon, was responsible for three individual winners on the card, for, in addition to Yattendon winning the Champagne Stakes, Kyogle won the City Handicap and Ramornie the A.J.C. St. Leger.
I can’t recall anything similar ever happening at Randwick in my lifetime, let alone in three significant races. The putative champion that was Yattendon then opened his three-year-old season in September in the Spring Maiden Stakes (1 ½ mile), open to both three and four-year-olds and the first race of the 1864 A.J.C. Spring Meeting, which started on Thursday, 8 September. The writer for Bell’s Life hailed Yattendon ‘as fine a colt as has ever been saddled at Randwick.’ A quality field started for the event, and Yattendon with Samuel Holmes again in the irons, won effortlessly by three lengths. On the following day, traditionally the quiet, middle day of the autumn gathering, the colt was backed up for the Bruie Stakes against three opponents over the mile and again won hard-held starting at the shutout price of 6/4 on. Yattendon’s next assignment was the Randwick Derby Stakes.
The 1864 Randwick Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
The Randwick Derby was run on the following day, Saturday, the third and final day of the meeting. It wasn’t even the feature race on the programme but rather the second of five races, with the Metropolitan Cup, a handicap to be run over two miles, attracting most of the attention. That the Derby concept wasn’t working as intended by the A.J.C. committee was betrayed by the fact that only two horses were declared for the event viz. Yattendon and Colleen Bawn, and each were running in the interest of Walter McEvilly, although Colleen Bawn had originally been nominated for the race in the name of Captain Mylne. A possible third starter, Ruby, prepared by Etienne de Mestre, was withdrawn on the day. Effectively it was a walkover with McEvilly, or rather, ‘Mr O’Malley’, declaring for Yattendon and both horses cantering over the course at their ease. Still, McEvilly could reflect on the historical resonance of yet a third son of Cassandra winning the Randwick Derby in the space of just four years while that history was actually happening. The prizes won at the meeting were paid over on the following Monday in the Long Room of Tattersall’s with Walter McEvilly receiving £426/10/- for Yattendon’s exertions.
Yattendon was the first of two winners of a Derby at Randwick sired by Sir Hercules, the other being The Barb; but given that it was Yattendon’s wonderful achievements at stud, which were largely responsible for the distinction of the Sir Hercules line in the Australian Stud Book, it seems fitting to discuss this quite remarkable stallion here. Bred by the leading studmaster of the day, Charles Smith of Bungarribee station, Sir Hercules was foaled in 1843 and was by the stallion Cap-a-Pie, a son of the 1828 English St. Leger winner The Colonel, by Whisker, and the dam of Sir Hercules was the imported mare Paraguay, whose sire was the English Sir Hercules, a son of Whalebone. Both the sire and dam of Sir Hercules accompanied the wealthy and well-connected Henry H. Kater when he arrived in Sydney in December 1839, aboard his own chartered bark, the 557-ton, Euphrates.
Kater intended to breed from the pair himself and had taken a lease on Bungarribee, Doonside, from Charles Smith for that purpose. Coincidentally, on that voyage, Kater not only imported the future sire and dam of Sir Hercules but Tros as well, and she was to become the sire of Cassandra. It was a remarkable contribution for one man to make to blood-stock and he deserved a better fate than falling victim to the 1841-45 economic recession when plunging wool and wheat prices saw many forced off the land. Charles Smith bred many good colonial racehorses in his day but he never lived long enough to appreciate Sir Hercules. When Smith died after a short illness in January 1845 in his mid-forties, the rising two-year-old colt was purchased by the Hon. Thomas Icely for £121 upon Smith’s deceased estate being sold at Clifton in February 1845.
Sir Hercules never raced and Thomas Icely wasted no time in putting him to stud duty at his vast Coombing Park estate at Carcoar, near Bathurst. Sir Hercules was an immediate success and in his first season got Cossack (1847) the winner of the A.J.C. Homebush St Leger Stakes and two Queen’s Plates. Two seasons later he got another Homebush St Leger Stakes winner in Surplice; and then in 1850 came that splendid racemare Zoe, with whom John Tait won two Australian Champion Sweepstakes. It was in 1852 that Henry Redwood, the ‘Father of the New Zealand Turf’, made Icely an offer for Sir Hercules and a collection of fine broodmares including Flora McIvor, that Icely couldn’t refuse; and in June of that year, the happy band was despatched across the Tasman.
Although Sir Hercules was only domiciled in the Shaky Isles for some five years before being brought back to Australia, he was the most dominant sire influence in that land until the coming of Traducer a decade or so later. Charles G. Tindal paid £375 to secure Sir Hercules for his Ramornie Stud when the horse returned to Australia in 1857. Standing on the banks of the Clarence River during the years 1858 to 1861, apart from the great Yattendon, Sir Hercules managed to sire few other quality performers during his time there. However, it was with his transfer to the Bylong station of John Lee that the stallion was to enjoy a new lease of life, rewarding the Lee family with the famous trio, The Barb, Barbelle, and Barbarian among others. Sir Hercules died at Bylong in 1866 – the year in which his most famous son won both the A.J.C. Derby and Melbourne Cup.
The Randwick Derby was Yattendon’s only start in that spring of 1864. The horse would mature into a commanding specimen, dark brown, nearly black, standing just over sixteen hands, albeit leggy and with a rather short barrel, but he boasted a strong muscular back with powerful hindquarters. Nonetheless, because of his chronic bad feet, he wasn’t capable of a long, sustained campaign during any part of his racing career. Yattendon next appeared in public at Randwick for the Randwick Grand Handicap run over two miles on the opening day of the 1865 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting in early May and suffered his first defeat. The colt, burdened with 7 st. 5 lb, was unplaced in the race won by Union Jack, an aged horse to whom Yattendon was conceding 2lb. Nonetheless, during the week he was more than able to hold his own with colts of like age by snaffling the A.J.C. St. Leger (14f) on the second day and the Biennial Stakes (1 mile) on the last day of the meeting. It was just after the fixture that Bell’s Life reported that Thomas Rutledge, the prominent grazier and politician of Carwoola on the Molonglo River, had purchased Yattendon outright. Some months before Rutledge had secured a half-share in the colt and, now, for £500 more he supposedly became the sole owner.
Yattendon’s troubled feet kept him off the scene for almost a year, and the horse’s next appearance on the sandy course of Randwick came in the inaugural Sydney Cup (2m) in 1866. The prize was a gold cup to the value of 150 sovereigns together with 200 sovereigns added plus sweepstakes. Yattendon’s handicap was 8st. 4lb and this time the horse was nominated in the name of Mr Merry, which was a nom de course for the well-known sportsman, Samuel Jenner, who stabled his four-horse team at Thurlow’s. Despite the variation in owner and trainer, the reins again reposed in the experienced hands of Samuel Holmes. Thirteen out of the original twenty-seven went to the post with Yattendon the 4/1 equal favourite with Andrew Town’s aged horse Tarragon, who was carrying the top weight of 10 st.10lb. Ridden a clever race by Holmes, Yattendon was always well placed and issued his challenge shortly after turning for home to win by a length from Tom Ivory’s Sultana and John Tait’s Falcon. All three placegetters were four-year-olds with Yattendon conceding 20lb to Sultana and 16lb to Falcon. Holmes had to survive a protest from Ivory for alleged jostling and striking his jockey, Fuller, over the head with his whip. Quite a few of the riders gave evidence against old Sam, who wasn’t too popular with his fellow hoops, but the stewards duly deemed the protest frivolous.
On the following day, Friday, Yattendon won the City Handicap with 9st. 6lb in a canter from his stable companion Safeguard. From the manner of those two wins, the public put a poultice on Yattendon for the Queen’s Plate to be run on the following Saturday. That evening, Calcutta sweeps were drawn at Tattersall’s. Yattendon was much sought after and purchased at a long figure; but after all the investments were made, he was scratched. Jenner had the horse engaged in the Randwick Handicap as well the following day, and with the horse’s withdrawal from the Plate, the public assumed both his owner and trainer, despite their dithering, thought his chance better in the mile-and-a-quarter event than for the three-miles. Accordingly, to assuage their losses, the public loaded it on for the Randwick Handicap in the morning and virtually all the double and treble bets included Yattendon for this event.
Imagine their consternation upon arriving at the course only to discover that he had been scratched from this race as well. Had anything been wrong with this less-than-robust racehorse surely the scratching pen should have been put across his name for both events at the same time. However, the fact that there was nothing wrong with the horse was demonstrated late that afternoon, when, with 9 st. 6lb he stepped out looking fresh and well for the Forced Handicap amidst jeers, hisses and catcalls. Sam Holmes seemed bewildered and hardly deserved the obloquy. Perhaps it affected Sam’s judgement as well, for instead of getting through his horses when gaps appeared, he preferred to ride a waiting race from behind and in the end, Warwick, carrying 18lb less, trumped him for a kick. It was John Tait’s sixth win of the meeting. Jenner referred the entire matter of Yattendon’s scratchings to the A.J.C. committee, but when the question was considered, there was nothing the club or committee could do. There the matter was terminated. It was certainly a sour end for Samuel Jenner on the racecourse. Already beginning to fail in health, he died in his Baulkham Hills residence in August of the following year after a long and painful illness.
Samuel Holmes never rode Yattendon again although perhaps losing the mount had more to do with the subsequent changes in ownership and training arrangements of the horse, rather than any failure on his part in the saddle. Certainly, he was as much a donor as a beneficiary, in his partnership with Yattendon. Born in England in 1814, Holmes was arguably at his best during the 1850s, that period just before authorities organised horse racing more formally and professionally in the colonies. Indeed, he himself was an early advocate for the Victorian Jockeys’ Association. It was this lack of organisation and structure of horse racing during Holmes’s best years that explains why he is largely a forgotten figure today.
Despite his distinguished association with Yattendon, Holmes always regarded his winning ride on Tomboy in the Sweepstakes on the last day of the Melbourne Jockey Club’s 1857 Spring Meeting at Melbourne Racecourse (later Flemington) as the highlight of his career. It came in the wake of the great match race run between Mr G. T. Rowe’s Veno and Mr Chirnside’s Alice Hawthorn representing New South Wales and Victoria respectively. Veno had effectively won that contest, much to the disappointment of Victorian sportsmen. The Sweepstakes was a weight-for-age event over three miles and Holmes upset the odds laid on Veno, to restore a measure of Victorian pride. In honour of his victory, Holmes was presented with a suitably inscribed gold watch which became his most treasured possession.
An Englishman who was renowned for his sartorial splendour, Holmes looked like he might have emerged from a Dickens’ portrait gallery. He was famous for riding gallops in a black bell topper and insisting on sporting a high old-fashioned stiff stand-up collar. Holmes’s superior manner alienated many of his fellow riders and his air of complacent self-congratulation after major victories grated. Age saw him announce his imminent retirement from the pigskin at the end of the 1870 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting after some 30 years on the Turf. A generous subscription list was opened at Tattersall’s on settling day, to which many of his friends liberally responded. Holmes later became the landlord of the Cottage Inn at Parramatta and the Horse and Jockey public house on Liverpool Road at Enfield. He was together with his contemporary John Higgerson, among the visitors to Randwick on A.J.C. Metropolitan Day, in September 1893, an occasion recognised by newspapers of the period. Holmes died at his Enfield residence in July 1896 at the ripe old age of eighty-two.
It was at the conclusion of the 1866 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting that the great Etienne de Mestre first took Yattendon in hand. Given the delicate nature of the horse and his inability to withstand a strenuous preparation, there was much speculation as to whether the softness of the Terrara training ground on the south coast, plus the genius of de Mestre with fragile thoroughbreds, might suit him better. W. C. Yuille, who wrote in The Australasian under the nom de plume of ‘Peeping Tom’ speculated that the change of trainer from Jenner to de Mestre was as good as raising Yattendon’s weight for the Melbourne Cup to 10 st. After a few weeks of rest, Yattendon was given a light preparation at Terrara before being shipped by steamer to Sydney, and arriving at Johnny Cutts’ Newmarket stables in the fourth week of July to be readied for the A.J.C. Spring Meeting to begin on Saturday, September 1. De Mestre campaigned six horses at that spring meeting and the durable four-year-old Tim Whiffler was one of them.
The five-year-old Yattendon’s first essay in that spring of 1866 came in the inaugural running of the Great Metropolitan Stakes, conducted on Thursday, the second day of the meeting. A handicap race over two miles, the Metropolitan’s conditions of entry were 20 sovereigns each, 8 sovereigns forfeit, and 250 sovereigns added. Yattendon was handicapped at 9 st. 8 lb and had been a firm favourite from the moment entries were declared. For the first time in the horse’s career, Samuel Holmes wasn’t warming the saddle, with that responsibility assumed by John Stone, a favourite jockey of Etienne de Mestre at the time. Only six horses were accepted for the race including Yattendon’s new stablemate, Tim Whiffler, a year younger in age and 32lb lighter in the saddle. After one false start, Yattendon was widely considered to be unlucky to lose the race owing to the cut-throat tactics adopted by Tim Whiffler’s jockey, Patrick McAlister, who insisted on forcing the pace down the back of the course.
It certainly made Yattendon carry his weight and although he managed to cut his stablemate down by the home turn, our champion – always a thoroughly generous racehorse – had little to give when the lightly-weighted three-year-old Bylong (5 st. 6lb) came again in the straight. The whalebone was laid on Yattendon without stint by Stone but it was to no avail. The winning time was 3 minutes 42 ½ seconds – the fastest ever made in the colony for two miles. Yattendon went under by two lengths after conceding 4 st. 2 lb to Bylong – yet another son of Sir Hercules, while holding a similar margin from Tim Whiffler in the minor placing. This courageous performance of Yattendon exacted a price, however. The stallion injured his hoof, and a sand crack was observed, which became inflamed and ultimately terminated his preparation without another appearance. At the time he was the first favourite for both the Melbourne Cup and the Champion Race.
Yattendon’s withdrawal from the Melbourne Cup brought forth yet more opprobrium on the head of Thomas Rutledge for allegedly misleading the public. The press launched a barrage of invective. The charge appeared to be this: “that Mr Rutledge entered Yattendon with the intention not of running him, but of selling him, and that having failed in this, his primary motive, but succeeded in his subsidiary motive – that of enhancing his value by his being made the first favourite – he has withdrawn him from the race to make capital out of him in another way.” This episode together with the series of scratchings at the previous A.J.C. Autumn Meeting meant that Yattendon had attained unenviable notoriety entirely unmerited.
The horse did suffer from an affliction of the feet that increasingly was rendering him a day-to-day proposition, although the fact that he was also now the property of a non-racing man exacerbated the issue. Etienne de Mestre had nothing to do with the scratching of Yattendon from the Melbourne Cup. The trainer was negotiating boxes for both Yattendon and Tim Whiffler at Mallet’s Botanical Hotel at South Yarra for their Cup campaign. On Tuesday, 18 September, he returned to Terrara to fetch back Tim Whiffler, preparatory to transporting him in company with Yattendon to Melbourne. As Keith W. Patterson in his book “The Master’s Touch” explains, de Mestre “left instructions to have any Melbourne telegram which might arrive in his absence opened. On Wednesday evening a telegram from Mr Mallet did arrive, asking how many boxes were required and whether he should lay in a stock of hay and corn, but the horse had been scratched by his owner.” It was on Thursday morning that Thomas Rutledge took Yattendon by rail to his property at Molonglo.
Yattendon returned to Randwick in the autumn for a tilt at the second running of the Sydney Cup with 9 st. 9lb. Fifteen horses were saddled for the race that year and many regarded it as the finest field that ever went to the post in Australia. The previous week’s St. Leger winner Fishhook (6 st. 10lb) at 5/2 was the race favourite ahead of the 5/1 on offer about Tim Whiffler. As much as 25/1 was available about Yattendon and Bylong. The impost proved too much for Yatt and he could only manage fifth in the race won by the three-year-old Fishhook. The race was marred only by the renowned jockey John Higgerson collapsing from exhaustion and falling off his mount Tarragon during the run home, after having reduced 19lb to make the weight. Thankfully, he wasn’t injured. Lest the public began to think that Yattendon was a light of other days, back to weight-for-age conditions the champion won the All-Aged Stakes on the third day in a canter, only to go down to Fishhook again on the last day in the three-mile Queen’s Plate with 10 st. up. It was in May 1867, immediately after the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting that Yattendon changed hands yet again, and this time Edward King Cox of the Fernhill Stud was the buyer.
The A.J.C. Spring Meeting of 1867 proved to be Yattendon’s last hurrah before retiring to Fernhill. How appropriate, then, that the champion came back into the hands of his former master, Walter McEvilly. Tracing the nuances of changing ownership during the early and mid-nineteenth century in colonial racing is an exercise fraught with difficulty. The possession of some racehorses changed regularly – often at the same race meeting. This might be the result of a gift, a loan or a sale; or perhaps the result of a lost wager. Yattendon’s ownership, as we have seen, changed more than once but it is so appropriate that the horse was to finish his career with the same man who started and sustained it. Certainly, McEvilly knew the horse better than anybody, and it would be an affectation of humility to pretend that his part in Yattendon’s successes was insignificant. With only a small team to supervise McEvilly could afford the time and patience that Yattendon’s troubled feet demanded.
Cox might have owned Yattendon for that last campaign but he was nominated for his races in the name of Mr O’Malley. Handicapped with 9 st. 10lb in the 1867 Metropolitan Yattendon was no match for his former stablemate Tim Whiffler carrying 16lb less, and could only manage fourth in a race run in record time for the colonies. Still, McEvilly didn’t go home entirely empty-handed that day as his good mare, Gunilda, won The Shorts. On the following day, Yattendon posted one of his best performances on the racecourse. The race was the inaugural running of the Craven Plate (10f) and the field of three included Tim Whiffler and the gallant mare, Rose of Australia, runner-up in the Metropolitan. Neither the infirmities of age nor the exertions of the day before had wearied Yattendon and in the most exciting race of the meeting, our champion beat Tim Whiffler a head in a time of 2 minutes 12 ½ seconds – a record for the colonies that was to stand for a few years. The scent of battle always did stir Yattendon’s blood and it was never shown to better effect than in that first running of the Craven Plate.
Yattendon’s last race came in the three-mile Randwick Plate on the final day of the 1867 A.J.C. Spring Meeting, which he won hard held by a half-length in a field of four having been sent out at long odds-on. Immediately after the race, McEvilly informed the public that the stallion had been kicked in the running by North Australian. Several horsemen were consulted as to how to prevent the injury from causing a complete breakdown. However, when the scratching pen went through Yattendon’s name for the Port Phillip Stakes, to be run at Flemington on New Year’s Day, the public knew the worst. Edward Cox had already declared his hand when Yattendon was one of the stallions he nominated for the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes of 1871.
Yattendon’s complete racing record was 17 starts for 11 wins, 3 seconds and 0 thirds and just three unplaced runs. In many respects Yattendon’s racing career was remarkable. He only ever started at Randwick; in three out of six handicaps, he carried top weight and was only once beaten in a weight-for-age race. Nine of his wins were at weight-for-age and two in handicaps. Some publications show Yattendon as having had 18 starts but the newspaper reports of him having run for the Forced Handicap on the last day of the 1865 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting were incorrect.
It was a curious coincidence that Yattendon’s racing life came to an end within a few weeks of the death of the man who had so successfully overseen his training for most of his career. Walter McEvilly died on 16 October 1867, indirectly as a result of a sporting challenge in rather unusual circumstances. The extension of the southern railway line to Bowral had finally been completed in October 1867. In order to celebrate the occasion the local member, John Morrice M.L.A. arranged a picnic at his country estate in Sutton Forest. A majority of the New South Wales Assembly and several members of the Upper House joined other distinguished citizens on a special train on one Saturday morning for the excursion. More than a hundred guests sat down to dinner at well-appointed tables, and wine was freely consumed.
Perhaps there was a mysterious power moving McEvilly to an appointed doom that day for it was a postprandial bit of skylarking that led to his demise. A challenge by him to a fellow guest for a race up and down the railway embankment upon returning to the train resulted in a broken left thigh bone for McEvilly when he fell and awkwardly twisted his leg under his body. It seemed fortunate that amongst the party was the naval surgeon from a French man-of-war then in Sydney Harbour and it was he who set the leg. McEvilly was then carried to the train and brought on to Sydney where the party arrived at about ten o’clock that night. McEvilly’s concerned friends summoned another doctor, and he recommended re-setting the leg. It was only on Sunday afternoon that there were indications of pressure at the base of McEvilly’s brain, seemingly as a result of his heavy fall. He died three days later as a result of a ruptured blood vessel at his residence in Parliament House. At the age of just forty-seven, he had been struck down in the prime of life and the fullest vigour of his faculties. Bell’s Life reflected on the indelicacy of the Parliament continuing its sittings on Wednesday “while the body of the late librarian lay scarcely cold within the precincts of the House. He had not been dead three hours when the Speaker took the chair.” McEvilly left a widow and seven children but, thanks to Yattendon and some astute property investments, adequate provision had been made.
We now come to the second man who was to loom large in the story of Yattendon and the man who did so much to ensure that the stallion’s reputation in the breeding barn matched – nay, eclipsed – his reputation on the racecourse. That man was Edward King Cox of Fernhill, near Penrith. Born at Mulgoa on 28 June 1829, he was the grandson of Lieutenant William Cox and the eldest son of Edward Cox M.L.C., who in 1842 built Fernhill, the imposing single-storey sandstone house in the Greek-revival style at Mulgoa. Receiving his basic education in the local parish school of the Reverend Thomas Makinson, in 1847 Edward began attendance at The King’s School, Parramatta in the company of his younger brother, James. After three years at that school, Edward gained his early work experience on his father’s sheep stations at Rawdon, Rylstone, in the Mudgee district, as well as on the family’s leased runs on the Namoi River.
It was in 1852 that he accompanied his brother James to Europe where he studied sheep breeding in general and the merino strain in particular, inspecting the best flocks in England and the continent. The 23-year-old Cox also used the opportunity to visit Newmarket and Doncaster while in England and gain a better understanding of English racing and the quality of its bloodstock. Oh, to be in England in the mid-nineteenth century when the classics were run! Few ever forget that first fine careless rapture on the English Turf. And 1852 just happened to be the year that Lord Exeter’s chestnut colt, Stockwell, won both the Two Thousand Guineas and St Leger. The experience captured the imagination of the young Cox, and he was never to forget it. It was to be a life-changing journey in a deeply personal sense too. In May 1855 at Tralee, County Kerry, Cox married his own particular rose, Millicent Ann, second daughter of wealthy Richard Standish of Glin Lodge, County Limerick, returning to Australia shortly thereafter to take charge of his 51-year-old politician father’s stations.
Edward King Cox was to emerge as one of Australia’s foremost breeders of Australian merino sheep. In April 1861 he imported five, choice rams on board the Centurion from the famous Silesian flock of Prince Lichnowsky, which were to improve the breed dramatically in New South Wales and ultimately catapult Cox to winning the champion wool prize at the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Cox also successfully bred Durham and Ayrshire cattle at Fernhill but as the sport of horse racing assumed a more organised and formal character in the colony during the decade of the 1860s, Cox decided to switch more of his resources to thoroughbred breeding.
In June 1866 he put his entire herd of thoroughbred Durham and Ayrshire cattle up for auction with G. M. Pitt and converted some of the Fernhill paddocks. Cox intended to apply the same judicious and fastidious principles to bloodstock breeding that had been so successful with his merino herds. When Cox went after something big, he invariably got it. Thomas Rutledge, already weary of press criticism over Yattendon’s series of scratchings, found it hard to ignore Cox’s blandishments – £1300 worth – and at the conclusion of the 1867 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, Yattendon became Cox’s property. Rutledge had, however, taken the precaution of putting half a dozen mares to the horse to secure some of the bloodlines before parting with him.
In October 1867 advertisements began to appear in the colonial press for Yattendon’s services as a sire to a limited number of approved mares at 15 guineas a service at the Fernhill Stud in the delightful Valley of Mulgoa. He let down into a magnificent stallion, a demonstrable fact every time he stepped into the show ring. I might mention that Yattendon won the blue ribbon for the best thoroughbred at the first Royal Agricultural Society Show in 1869. Judging was on the basis of the best sire present calculated to perpetuate the breed of sound and thoroughbred horses. Indeed, Yattendon was never beaten in the ring, his final appearance coming in 1874. Nonetheless, despite all his perceived advantages as a progenitor of quality bloodstock his first season’s foals were hardly a success. Much of the problem lay in Fernhill’s band of mostly colonial broodmares. Although there were some useful matrons such as Days of Old, Gazelle, Esperance, Vanity and Miss Pitsford in the Fernhill paddocks, and others, such as Quickstep that he acquired from John Lord of Tasmania, there were also quite a few ordinary mares descended from Arab stallions.
Edward Cox fully understood the importance of quality bloodlines and recognised that his broodmare collection was not likely to do justice to either Yattendon or his own ambitions. Accordingly in February 1871, in what was to prove a very rewarding odyssey of twelve months, Cox together with his wife, sailed from Sydney on the 1500-tonne Avoca destined initially for Brindisi, but ultimately England, to source superior broodmares. He soon acquainted himself with the best breeding studs in England and after repeated visits to Mr Blenkiron’s Middle Park Stud, Mr Naylor’s Merton Stud and the private studs of Lord Falmouth and others he was able to make his selection.
Cox had never forgotten the horse that had so dominated the English Turf back in 1852 on his first visit to England. In all the years since Stockwell had come to be known as the Emperor of Stallions and was to be leading sire seven times and produce no fewer than seventeen Classic winners between the years 1860 to 1873. Cox had his heart set on acquiring as much Stockwell blood as his purse could afford but soon discovered that his guineas didn’t extend as far as he hoped. Nonetheless, the happy band of broodmares that he did acquire – compromising on mere granddaughters of Stockwell, to supplement the small number of actual daughters he was able to purchase – was to change not only the bloodstock fortunes of Fernhill but the Australian Stud Book besides.
At the sale of the Middle Park Stud yearlings in June he bought two chestnut fillies by Blair Athol, a son of Stockwell; the dam of one being Habena (winner of the English One Thousand Guineas); and the dam of the second being Q.E.D. – the mother of Demonstration. Cox registered Habena’s daughter as Atholine, and when mated with Yattendon, she produced that impressive trio of two-year-olds viz. Habena (1874) and Narina (1880), each winner of the V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate; and Geraldine (1877) winner of the 1880 A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. From Lord Falmouth, Cox purchased the three-year-old filly London Pride, her dam having previously produced Isoline, winner of the 1863 Goodwood Cup. Honiton, the sire of London Pride, was himself a son of Stockwell. London Pride, when mated with Yattendon, dropped Calma, winner of the 1883 Caulfield Cup.
Cox bought other fillies at the 1871 Yearling Sales including from the Merton Stud a chestnut filly by Stockwell from Austrey. Registered as Lady Chester and matched with Yattendon, she would produce the mighty Chester as well as other good racehorses. Cox was not only lucky in his selections but also in their safe arrival at Fernhill without loss. Besides these importations, Cox also made some judicious purchases of broodmares in Australia including First Lady, an English-bred paternal granddaughter of Stockwell who would throw the brilliant and unbeaten Grand Flaneur.
However, what Cox or no one else could have known at the time he went to England was that the touch paper to Yattendon’s explosive stud career had been lit long before Cox had even acquired the stallion. Back in the spring of 1864 when Yattendon had won the Randwick Derby, his canny owner-trainer Walter McEvilly had mated the three-year-old colt with Kohinoor, a broodmare that he owned and the daughter of the 1855 A.J.C. Queen’s Plate winner, Vanguard. The happy result of the match was Yatterina, a filly later imported into New Zealand by William Walters that subsequently won more than fifty races there including the 1875 A.R.C. Easter Handicap as a nine-year-old. As impressive as her exploits on the racecourse were, those in the paddock proved even better. In her fourteen years at stud, Yatterina missed but once, lost one foal, and had quality offspring to no less than seven different stallions! The first of her foals, to Traducer, was Libeller, winner of the 1880 Great Northern Derby among other races, while her later progeny included Matchlock and Pinfire.
Moreover, in that very 1870-71 racing season when Edward Cox travelled to England in quest of better bloodstock, there was a pair of two-year-olds racing in New South Wales that over the next couple of seasons would do much to establish Yattendon’s reputation long before the British onslaught had its effect viz. Javelin and Dagworth. Javelin would win the 1871 A.J.C. Derby for Thomas Lee; while Dagworth would win the 1872 A.J.C. Great Metropolitan Stakes for Richard Bloomfield together with a host of quality weight-for-age events.
When Yattendon died at Fernhill in May 1880, his reputation was assured. The Australian Stud Book shows that he sired no less than 33 individual stakes winners of 87 stakes races. Arguably Chester, Dagworth and Grand Flaneur were the best of his sons while Yatterina, Geraldine and Lady Emma were the best of his daughters. Moreover, as a sire of broodmares, he was second to none, getting two taproot mares of the Australian and New Zealand Stud Books in Black Swan and Yatterina respectively, as well as a host of other wonderful matrons. As a sire of sires, his reputation rests with his two Derby and Melbourne Cup-winning sons, Chester and Grand Flaneur, although others such as Creswick and Fitz Hercules also proved useful. As far as the Australian Stud Book is concerned in the nineteenth century, Yattendon’s blood is only approached by that of Goldsbrough. However, whereas Goldsbrough came to be regarded mainly as a wonderful progenitor of broodmares, Yattendon bestowed his favours more widely on both his sons and his daughters. Indeed, his genes continue to ripple through the Australian thoroughbred gene pool even today.
Only six days before Yattendon’s death, Edward King Cox had departed on board the Hydaspes for Southampton, England, in the company of John Tait among others, in quest of a replacement sire for his Fernhill Stud. He had known that Yattendon was failing but had still hoped to get another season out of him. Cox wasn’t long in securing his replacement, Chandos, an 1870 foal and a chestnut son of the Birdcatcher horse, Oxford. Chandos had carried the colours of Lord Aylesford into fourth place in the 1873 English Derby behind Doncaster, although that was to be his high watermark on the Turf. The horse had later been put over timber and had even started the favourite for a Grand National at Aintree when trained by the famous Captain Machell. Perhaps it wasn’t the most dignified of pedigrees for a worthy successor to the great Yattendon. And so it proved. Chandos only managed to sire one stakes winner in Australia. A disappointed Edward Cox died at Fernhill in July 1883, bequeathing an estate valued at £95,572. Although Cox left five sons, none were particularly interested in thoroughbred breeding, given the declining post-Yattendon fortunes of Fernhill bloodstock. Accordingly, in 1885 the historic stud was dispersed. However, the famous old, six-bedroom homestead still stands commanding the Mulgoa Valley, a relic and witness to a golden epoch in the history of the Australian thoroughbred.
So much, then, for the legacy of both Yattendon and the studmaster who made him famous as a stallion. What of the legacy of Walter McEvilly, the shrewd Irishman who first brought the great racehorse before the public and trained him for most of his career? When Walter McEvilly died in such tragic circumstances in October 1867 he left a wife aged 46 and seven children. Mary Anne retired with her family to reside on her country property, Evilly Vale, at Robertson in the Southern Highlands of NSW even breeding the odd racehorse. She was to live there until her death in June 1907 at the ripe old age of 86. Three of her daughters resided with her at the time of her death. Two of her sons, Ulric and Augustus, founded the distinguished firm of solicitors, McEvilly and McEvilly, of Cathcart House in Castlereagh-street, Sydney. Not a bad legacy for a young Irishman transported to Australia for forgery all those years before.