Kings of the Turf

A History of the AJC Derby From 1861 to 1984

1865 – The Life and Times of ‘Honest’ John Tait!

Many and varied are the paths that men have trod towards greatness in their chosen professions.  None more so than John Tait, the man that pressmen hailed in the second half of the nineteenth century as the Father of the Australian Turf.  Tait was born in November 1815 in Melrose on the Scottish Borders, a town renowned for its beautiful abbey ruins in the middle reaches of the Tweed and overshadowed by the peaks of the Eildons.  This was land made famous by Sir Walter Scott and the dashing and romantic tale of Tait’s life would have been rich and worthy material for the pen of the Scottish bard.  Although there has been some suggestion that he may have been illegitimate and a foster child, he was reared the son of Robert Tait, a jeweller and engraver, and his wife, Margaret, the daughter of an Edinburgh shoemaker.

The Scottish Borders – the Eildon Hills and Country Around Melrose

Young John received a liberal education and was trained to follow in his father’s profession although there was also a family story that as a youth he worked in the stables of the Earl of Linlithgow.  In truth, little is known for certain about his early life although as a natural sportsman, strong and lithe, John won some renown as a boxer and horseman around the Scottish Borders during his years of early manhood.  It was in December 1832, at the age of just seventeen, he married his sweetheart, Janet (Jeannit) Buchanan, in Edinburgh and eleven months later a daughter, Robina, was born.  By the time of the birth, Tait kept a tavern and the young family was living in the High-street of Edinburgh.

Princes Street, Edinburgh c. 1850

Scotland in the 1830s was a grey, gloomy and austere landscape in which to start a family.  Apart from the forbidding climate, it was a time of rapid population growth, particularly in Edinburgh, with all the attendant consequences of inadequate housing and poor health, not to mention rampant unemployment and low wages.  Then there was the ever-present Calvinism, a sombre religion that seemed in lugubrious harmony with the climate itself.  Though raised in the Presbyterian faith, Tait was never a religious man.  A Puritan, Old Testament God was not one that he could believe in; and throughout his life, Tait’s appreciation of this world’s pleasures was in no way blighted by any fear of punishment in the next.  His idea of religion was if anything, founded on the notion that God helps those who help themselves. From an early age, possessed of a restless and combative energy that insisted on contention and self-assertion, Tait’s first momentous decision towards helping himself came when he elected, together with wife and child, to escape the unco guid of his homeland and set sail for the South Seas.  It was to be the making of his fortune and began a lifetime voyage, not merely geographical, but of genuine self-discovery.  And, as we shall see, it was a voyage never to be bound in shallows.

The Taits sailed for Australia on board the 310 tons vessel, Hindoo, leaving Liverpool on 18 July 1837 and arriving in Hobart Town on November 2nd.  Although the Bounty Immigration Scheme was then in place, essentially subsidising emigrants, Tait paid his own way.  True to his background, Tait proceeded to open a jewellery business on Liverpool-street.  In November 1838 he came across to Sydney on the barque Coromandel to canvas business opportunities on the mainland but returned to Hobart where in May 1839 – in what was to presage an important part of his future – we find him taking out the license on the Brunswick Wine Vaults, also located in Liverpool-street, Hobart.  Although he thrived in Hobart, Tait’s ambition was always too big to be contained by Van Diemen’s Land, particularly as the island’s economy slumped following the end of convict transportation and the cessation of assigning convicts to free settlers.  John and Janet Tait, together with their, now, two children, sailed steerage aboard the Glenswilly in January 1843 bound for New South Wales.

John Tait (ATCJ)

In June 1843 we find Tait as the licensee of the Albion Inn at Hartley in the picturesque Vale of Clwyd.  The hotel, on the Great Western Road, overlooked the bridge across the River Lett and was the social hub of Hartley.  Tait soon asserted himself in the town and in April 1845 he was instrumental as Secretary/Treasurer in organising a Hartley race programme with all entrances having to be paid the evening prior at the Albion Inn before closing at 7 o’clock. Tait spent three years at Hartley in what proved to be a prosperous business but by July 1846 he had moved even further west, to Bathurst, to become the landlord of the Black Bull Inn in Howick-street.  This ancient house overlooked Vale Creek, and from its windows could be seen the green rolling country known as the Bathurst Plains.  Bathurst was already a thriving town when Tait arrived although the depression of the 1840s had forestalled its development.  Tait immediately engaged to add to the available accommodation and stabling in the Black Bull.  Again, he set about becoming a leading figure in the community and extended his social contacts by joining the Bathurst Masonic Lodge.  It proved a timely reading of the potential for Bathurst, for in 1851 when Edward Hargraves delivered his payable gold sample from Ophir to the Colonial Secretary, none other than Deas Thomson, the scene was set for Australia’s first gold rush.

Blessed with Scottish serendipity in casting about for new licensed premises, Tait had chosen well.  The gold rush brought with it an excess of drinking and gambling, and Tait was singularly well-placed to take advantage of both.  There were more than seventy public houses in Bathurst by the early 1850s. Still, it was the Black Bull Inn that became the natural meeting place for the sporting fraternity of the West, and John and Janet Tait were renowned for keeping an establishment where man and horse were assured of comfortable lodgings.  All this might seem odd to the modern reader. Still, the innkeeper of the nineteenth century in providing the necessary stabling for travellers’ horses also often trained a few on the side for the local race meetings.  John Tait’s boxing skills weren’t wasted either, proving useful in disputes with unruly customers in his hotel and settling the odd betting dispute.

John Tait’s racing career may be said to comprise three quite distinct eras, and the first began in 1846 with his move to Bathurst and the Black Bull Inn and was to last until the sale of his racing stock in October 1854, in readiness for his departure for England on board the Kate in January 1855.  When taking over the new hostelry, Tait already owned a high-class two-year-old of purely English blood named Whalebone (Speculation-Paraguay). Paraguay was a broodmare to be reckoned with, for the season before Whalebone came along, she had dropped the future champion stallion, Sir Hercules, after mating with Cap A Pie. Whalebone had been bred by the former Shropshire pickpocket, Charles Smith; and at the 1846 Bathurst April meeting won the Ladies’ Purse of £30.  In the beginning, Tait’s enthusiasm for horseracing exceeded his practical knowledge of horsemanship, but soon after he settled at Bathurst two men came into his life who were to materially assist his transition to professional racing manager.  The first of these was Johnny ‘Cutts’ Dillon, who acted as the stable jockey before Jimmy Ashworth came upon the scene in around 1851; and the second was Noah Beale, some seven years Tait’s senior, and a man who had begun his turf career in the employ of Charles Roberts, of Castlereagh-street, Sydney, in premises facing the old racecourse.

Johnny Dillon had been born in Sydney around the year 1830, the son of Thomas Dillon, a clerk. It was his love of horses and his natural ability in the saddle that saw him at a young age gravitate to the Homebush stables of the trainer William Cutts. The name ‘Cutts’ stuck, and it was by this name and his association with Archer, the winner of the first two Melbourne Cups, that Johnny Cutts Dillon has come down to posterity. But long before Etienne de Mestre and Archer came along, Cutts had established himself as one of Sydney’s leading jockeys through his association with Tait. By contrast, Noah Beale had been born on one of the northern rivers of New South Wales in the 1820s. A spare, lightly-built man, Beale was all wire and whipcord. As a lad, he lived near Randwick but as a young man, he moved to Charles Smith’s Clifton Station, near Windsor, where Sir Hercules and Cap A Pie were foaled. When he did transfer his employment to John Tait at Bathurst, he remained with him for over twenty years.

Racing was big business on the Plains in those days, before, and particularly after, the discovery of gold.  The meetings were conducted on the old course of Poor Man’s Hollow and a three-day gathering in those roaring days meant a month’s spree with twenty or thirty drinking booths adorning the ground.  The place resembled Donnybrook Fair more than a race meeting – with sideshows, greasy poles to climb and slippery pigs to catch, Aunt Sally and her mysterious pipe and countless other games – effectively the means of transferring money from one pocket into another.   1847 was to be an important year in Tait’s life.  Not only did he consolidate his move to Bathurst, but he also won the A.J.C. St Leger at Homebush with Whalebone and Cutts up.

John Tait’s Whalebone

Breeders such as Thomas Icely and the Lee brothers were already beginning to make a name in Bathurst by the late 1840s and with stock acquired from them, John Tait’s stable of horses began to prosper. He won the Homebush St Leger three times in six years with Whalebone (Cutts, 1847), Cossack (Cutts, 1850) and Surplice (Healy, 1852). Both Cossack and Surplice were by Whalebone’s half-brother, Sir Hercules, Cossack being a full brother to the great Zoe while Surplice was believed to be out of a Sir John mare. Perhaps the race that more than any other marked Tait as the coming man on the Colonial Turf was the A.J.C. Queen’s Plate, first run in 1851 at Homebush. Never before had there been a race run at Homebush that created so much interest.

The last day of the Homebush Meeting had always been looked upon as the day of the races, but in 1851 it offered more than ordinary attraction, as the first Queen’s Plate voted by the Legislative Council and thrown open to public competition. It was worth £100, conducted at set weights, open to all ages and run over three miles. Cossack with Cutts in the saddle won the race and then the horse came back the following year and won it again. Having enjoyed such success with Surplice and Cossack from one of Sir Hercules’s earliest crops, Tait was sold on the stallion. Indeed, Cossack was a particular favourite of Tait’s and many years later when reflecting on his remarkable record as a trainer, Tait named Cossack as the second-best racehorse that he had ever trained. The best, of course, was yet another son of Sir Hercules, whom we will meet in our 1866 chapter.

Tait’s next great performer was Sportsman, a son of Waverley and Jessy, and with him as with Cossack, he won successive A.J.C. Queen’s Plates, in 1853 and 1854 thereby giving Tait the distinction of having won the first four runnings of the prestige event. It was with Sportsman that Tait gained the most satisfaction during this, his first era on the Australian Turf when in 1854 Sportsman made his debut in Tait’s colours and a winning one at that. The occasion was the celebrated match race on the Homebush course worth no less than a thousand sovereigns aside with the Hon. John Eales’s bay gelding, Cooramin. Tait had only recently bought Sportsman from Thomas Laycock for the rather large sum of £800. Shortly after twelve o’clock on Wednesday 7 June 1854, the two horses stepped onto the course in the presence of an immense concourse of spectators to run their race over the mile and a half.

While Sportsman was decidedly the favourite for the event, there was probably as much as £10,000 at stake upon the issue of the event. Contrary to general expectation, Sportsman jumped off with the lead, and after racing at a tremendous pace for about a quarter of a mile, it became apparent that he had it all his own way! During all this period, Noah Beale presided over the stable and the public had immense confidence in the ability of the trainer as well as the integrity of Tait’s black jacket and red cap. Now, there is an old Scottish saying that “a man’s mind is his kingdom”.  Certainly, Tait’s proved to be his in relation to the Turf, for as that match race demonstrated, he was one of the first in Australia to realise that a professional approach taken to the training of horses, placing them astutely in races, and then backing them when ready, could be turned into a very lucrative business. Nonetheless, racing would need to become better organised in Sydney and Melbourne and betting markets made more mature with institutions such as Tattersall’s and the Victorian Subscription Betting-rooms before Tait could fully exploit his talent.

It was in March 1850 that John Tait transferred his licence of the Black Bull Inn to Thomas Mockett to allow himself to concentrate more attention on his growing and profitable racing string.  By the time Sportsman had won his successive A.J.C. Queen’s Plates, Tait was already well established in Sydney, having taken over the licence of the Spread Eagle in George-street, and then in March 1853 trading up to the Commercial Hotel in Castlereagh-street although he was to hold that licence for only a year.  A jewellery store in Sydney followed and later the Overland Stores in Dubbo where he installed his son as the manager.  Soon after moving to Sydney, Tait became firm friends with Samuel Jenner, a bloodstock breeder and auctioneer of Petworth, Baulkham Hills, who was to be closely identified with the Tattersall’s Club and the auctioneering firm of Messrs Burt and Co., of which Jenner was to become a partner in October 1861.

The prosperity that Tait enjoyed during those heady days of the gold rush about Bathurst and from his racing adventures on courses as varied as Homebush, Parramatta, and Penrith, when he won races totalling around £2,500 in stakes during the period 1851-54, led him to embark on a voyage back to English shores.  It was in January 1855 that Tait’s first era on the Australian Turf ended, when, flushed with money and having disposed of his entire racing stock the previous October, he together with his wife and then three children, plus the faithful Ashworth, left for an extended tour of England and Scotland on board the 904 ton-vessel, Kate.  Convinced of the superiority of English bloodlines, Tait had come to an understanding with Samuel Jenner that the two men together would import a select number of English stallions along with one or two broodmares expressly to form a breeding stud in New South Wales.


Sledmere Stud & Stables in Yorkshire

Tait spent much time on his travels inspecting bloodstock in the north of England namely at the Sledmere Stud of Sir Tatton Sykes in Yorkshire, as well as attending the Doncaster sales.  The result of his searches included the stallions Magus, New Warrior and Warwick, while the mares included Clove, a daughter of Sweetmeat foaled in England in 1852 and a half-sister to Kettledrum who would win the 1861 English Derby.  Each of these purchases in their own way would make their mark in Australia; but New Warrior, in particular, was one of the most successful sires to stand here in the nineteenth century getting no less than three Melbourne Cup winners, including John Tait’s third.  It wasn’t until 11 January 1857 that Tait returned from abroad on the Alnwick Castle – a ship of 1038 tonnes, having sailed from Plymouth on 8 October.

Whatever the intentions of Tait and Jenner when the bloodstock was acquired, within a matter of months it was advertised that all of the horses would be offered for sale at Burt’s Horse Bazaar on Pitt and Castlereagh-streets, reputedly because Tait intended to return to the Old Country.  However, by the time the sale took place in May 1857, both Magus and Clove had been discreetly withdrawn – Magus because Tait had placed him in training; and Clove, already stinted to Warwick, because she was reportedly very low in condition.  The sale evinced considerable public interest and, given their significance to John Tait’s future career, it is worth pausing to reflect on the pedigrees and performance of both Warwick and New Warrior, who were sold that day.

Warwick, a bay son of Sir Isaac, was the winner of twelve races in England.  New Warrior, on the other hand, was a dark bay with black points, standing about sixteen hands high and bred by the famous John Bowes at Streatlam Castle, Durham; he was a son of the 1846 Epsom Derby winner, Pyrrhus the First.  Placed in the Chillingham Stakes at two, the following season New Warrior ran unplaced in the 1854 English Derby behind Andover.  Both Warwick and New Warrior were knocked down at Burt’s Bazaar to the same gentleman – James H. Atkinson, a prominent wool merchant, entrepreneur and future M.L.A., owner of the Collingwood estate near Liverpool, and the leading figure in the Liverpool Turf Club.  Curiously, Warwick sold for 580 guineas while New Warrior, considered by many the better horse, went for just 340 guineas.

J. H. Atkinson

Warwick proved somewhat disappointing in Australia, although when mated with the imported Clove, he did manage to sire John Tait’s 1861 A.J.C. St Leger winner, Alfred.  New Warrior, however, was to be something else altogether.  He stood his first two seasons at the Horse and Jockey Inn, Jerry’s Plains, before being sold as an eight-year-old in June 1859 for 700 guineas to Messrs Hassall and Roberts for the Exeter Farm, Braidwood.  After Volunteer emerged from New Warrior’s first crop and John Tait revealed his potential, Charles Reynolds stepped in and acquired the son of Pyrrhus the First for his Tocal Stud at Paterson where he remained until he suffered a sudden death in January 1871.  But by then New Warrior had established a splendid reputation throughout the colonies with such celebrated progeny as Tarragon, Tim Whiffler, and Warrior.  Among his many winners were three sons who each claimed a Melbourne Cup, including The Pearl in 1871, John Tait’s third triumph in Australia’s richest handicap.


However, I get ahead of myself in retailing the story of the life and times of John Tait.  I mentioned above that Tait’s training career neatly fits into three distinct eras.  The second era began with his return from England in January 1857 and shortly thereafter his linking up with Judge Alfred Cheeke in a bloodstock partnership.  This era lasted until the early 1862-63 season and it was from this time on that Tait began to actively oversee the training of his own horses with Jimmy Ashworth doing the hard labour on the training tracks as well as doubling as race jockey.  Whether or not Tait had already come to an understanding with Alfred Cheeke about a racing partnership before going to England in 1855 we can’t be sure, but if it had ever been his intention in 1857 to return to the Old Country again immediately – the advertised reason for the sale of Warwick and New Warrior – he never acted upon it.

Rather, Alfred Cheeke approached Tait to oversee his Mount Druitt Farm on the Western Road, a 330-acre property replete with a homestead and fenced paddocks that he had purchased in 1855.  The property, between Parramatta and St Mary’s, South Creek, had already been largely cleared and was ideal agricultural and grazing land.  While Tait retained his rented stables in Upper William-street, the Mount Druitt Stud served not just for the breeding and rearing of foals but also for agistment.  It was the intention for the stud to conduct an annual public sale of yearlings and offer the market a class of animal that hitherto had been unattainable here except in a rough unbroken state with greater risk of true pedigree.  Although the venture wasn’t to live up to its lofty ideals, it did hold its first such sale in January 1861.  Magus was one stallion that stood for a time at Mount Druitt Farm and Tait’s N.S.W. St Leger winner, Whalebone, was another stallion that stood service there.

It was in July 1859, that Justice Cheeke purchased Varroville, the property of the recently deceased G. T. Rowe for the not inconsiderable sum of £4,750 and thereafter it became the headquarters of his racing and breeding interests.  The Mount Druitt Farm was put on the market.  Varroville was a beautiful, superior country estate of more than a thousand acres about four miles from Campbelltown, consisting of a comfortable cottage residence situated on a beautiful elevation and approached by a noble carriage drive from the main road. Farm buildings proliferated together with about 150 acres under plough and watered by the Bunbury Curran Creek.  An orangery and vineyard supplemented the property.  The original land grant had been made in 1810 to Dr Robert Townson, Sydney’s first doctor of laws, a fact not lost on Justice Cheeke who was jealous of his own legal standing.  Other previous owners included the Postmaster-General James Raymond and the explorer Charles Sturt.

A measure of Tait’s growing stature on the Australian Turf may be assumed from his attendance at, and involvement in, two historic meetings that took place during 1858 at the Metropolitan Hotel in Pitt-street.  Mr Hampton’s famous establishment, very near where Rowe-street is today and opposite the eastern end of the General Post Office, was the popular venue for the Sydney Turf set during that era. It was on June 21 that a complimentary dinner had been held for Henry Redwood, the so-called ‘Father of the New Zealand Turf’.  Redwood and family, from Nelson, New Zealand, had enjoyed some remarkable success that autumn with their horses Zingara, Zoe and Chevalier at the Liverpool and Homebush meetings.

John Tait together with Justice Cheeke had then promptly bought both Zingara and Zoe for the handsome sum of a thousand guineas, and the two horses were to augment the racing and breeding fortunes of both men considerably in the years ahead.  The second and even more historic meeting at the Metropolitan Hotel came in September 1858 and was to be an altogether more serious affair than that earlier convivial dinner, for from it emerged the plans for the Jockey Club’s move to Randwick.  Tait was also drafted onto an embryonic committee along with Briscoe Ray, Richard Jones and George Rowley for the purpose of revising the rules of racing.  It was this meeting that likewise directed the honorary secretary (Rowley) to apply for a grant of the reserve of the old Sandy Racecourse in the names of Edward Deas Thomson, Alfred Cheeke and Richard Jones, who were all appointed trustees.  It was Tait who moved the vote of thanks to the secretary. The following year, 1859, saw Tait begin a brief but formal three-year stint as a committeeman of the Australian Jockey Club.


A significant event in the history of racing in New South Wales occurred on the last Wednesday evening in January 1860 when the inauguration dinner of Tattersall’s was conducted.  A handsome and spacious building had recently been erected in Pitt-street for the convenience and accommodation of the colony’s racing men generally, and more especially those that already belonged to the Tattersall’s Club.  About sixty gentlemen sat down with Captain Hare, the chairman of Tattersall’s presiding, ably assisted by John Tait as vice-chairman.  After dinner and the usual toasts had been drunk, Mr Burt proposed ‘The Turf of Australia’, and in doing so articulated that as a body the racing men of these colonies were fully equal to any corresponding class in England or elsewhere, and inferior to none in the ability and honesty with which they carried out their various sporting affairs.  In this orgy of self-indulgent congratulations, he was fully supported by John Tait, who responded to the toast.

The chairman then proposed ‘The Randwick Course’.  Captain Hare argued that as a body of men, they could hardly expect to make any great advance in racing if Homebush were to be their principal course; but with the Randwick course as a running ground, they would be able to compete with the horses of any other colony.  He trusted that funds would be forthcoming for its completion in time for a Champion Race in September.  Mr Burt, in returning thanks, highlighted the advantages the Randwick course possessed in the springing turf on a substratum of sandy soil, and the outlay necessary in the erection of a grandstand, weighing yard etc to complete it.  A conversation on the subject ensued during which Messrs Moffatt, Tait and Burt pledged £50 each to the funds.  Moreover, it was stated that the central part of the course would be cleared for a cricket ground when there were means enough for the purpose.  The party separated into the night at a late hour.


The very first Australian Champion Race had been conducted at Flemington and the second running of it duly occurred at Randwick on September 1, 1860. Fourteen horses in all were accepted for the race, each owner having paid £100 entrance money with only two of the original entries forfeiting their initial deposits of £50 each.  The total thus amounted to £1500, and, with an additional £500 subscribed by the Australian Jockey Club, a princely prize of £2,000 was there for the taking.  John Tait had run second with Zoe at the inaugural running at Flemington to the controversial Flying Buck but went one better at Randwick when the celebrated chestnut daughter of Sir Hercules, with Jimmy Ashworth in the saddle, claimed the prize.

It was the very first occasion that John Tait’s new colours, yellow jacket and black cap, were seen in public.  The colours were directly copied from those used on the English Turf by Tait’s famous racing compatriot, Sir James Merry, the Scottish iron master.  On the Friday evening following the race, Tait hosted a dinner at Tattersall’s for about fifty with himself taking the chair and guests including the stewards, race committee and eminent visitors from interstate.  Tait and Ashworth were to combine again and take out the Champion Race the following year with Zoe when it was run at Ipswich, Queensland.  Talleyrand, a gelded son of Cossack that Tait bought for the rather large sum of £500, was to afford them a hat-trick of successes in 1862 when the Champion Race was conducted at Geelong. Indeed the first half of the 1860s was to be an era of remarkable achievement for Tait as the dominant man on the Australian Turf.

However, it was against this background of success that Tait’s marriage began to unravel.  At the age of forty-five, he began what was to become a lifelong liaison with Annie Swannell, a 29-year-old widow.  Annie had been born in Perth, Scotland, but had migrated with her parents to South Australia in 1849.  In 1851 at the age of nineteen, Annie married George Swannell, an Adelaide publican and the couple later moved to Victoria where Swannell died in 1857 at the age of just thirty-one.  John Tait had met her while running his team of horses in the southern capital.  It was in April 1861 that a pregnant Annie sailed to Sydney by steamer with Louisa, her daughter from her first marriage.  Tait set her up in a residence in nearby Strawberry Hills and a few months later she gave birth to their son, Herbert.  Over the following fifteen years, Annie would give birth to a further five children with John Tait, including William, born in 1865, with the first four of those children all registered under the surname of her deceased husband.  All the while Annie and John continued to live in separate residences, John at Byron Lodge together with his lawful wife, Janet or Jessie, as she was more commonly known.  Whatever the distractions of John Tait’s private life, his public one as a man of the Turf was very much to the fore.


Our real interest in this particular chapter lies with those two imported thoroughbreds that Tait and Jenner withdrew from the sale at Burt’s Horse Bazaar back in May 1857 viz. Magus and Clove.  For it was from their mating at Justice Alfred Cheeke’s Varroville Stud that there came our 1865 A.J.C. Derby heroine.  But before exploring how the mating came about, first a word on the respective sire and dam.  Magus was a bay stallion bred by Sir Tatton Sykes, and, like New Warrior, was a son of Pyrrhus the First.  At the Warwick Spring Meeting in March 1856, he ran for the Trial Stakes and was the only horse placed beside Fisherman, Stork, and Jack Sheppard – three of the fastest horses in all of England.  On the second day of that meeting, he ran second in the Optional Sweepstakes.  By contrast, Clove, a brown mare foaled in 1852 by the all-conquering stallion Sweetmeat, was a full sister to the 1854 English Oaks winner, Mincemeat.  Moreover, Clove’s pedigree would come to look even more impressive in the fullness of time because her half-brother Kettledrum, by Rataplan, would later win the 1861 English Derby.  Clove had been sold when only a yearling for a thousand guineas and the cost of her entrances for two-year-old stakes alone amounted to upwards of £1,300.  She had been stinted to Warwick at the time of her presentation to Australian bloodstock breeders.

It was in the first week of May 1863, that Messrs Burt and Co conducted a purportedly unreserved sale of the Varroville bloodstock.  Twenty-five lots went under the hammer and the very first lot was the imported broodmare Clove, together with her foal at foot by Magus, and having been stinted to that stallion again.  The complete lot was knocked down for 120 guineas to Richard Goldsbrough, who was acting partly on behalf of Cheeke.  Tait, bidding in his own name, bought Clove’s two earlier daughters also by Magus, Brown Duchess, a yearling, and Lady Jane, a  four-year-old mare.  A two-year-old half-brother, Kettledrum, by Whalebone, was also sold but Tait didn’t buy him. Tait’s judgement in buying Brown Duchess was sound enough for she proved to be a remarkable broodmare, not only giving Tait the 1872 A.J.C. Epsom Handicap with her son The Count but also dropping Cinnamon, the future dam of the great Abercorn.


1865 was a watershed year in the history of the Australian Jockey Club and Sydney racing. Usually, there had only been three days of racing at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting but the introduction of ‘the first’ Australian Derby saw the gathering spill over to four days, commencing on Saturday, September 2, with the running of the Derby, with the second and third days coming on Thursday and Friday, before concluding with the Randwick Plate on Saturday, September 9. The increase in prize money and prestige brought in its wake some distinguished visitors and none more so than Hurtle Fisher and his team of Fisherman stock from Victoria. It was Fisher’s first visit to Randwick and an A.J.C. Spring Meeting, and the distinguished breeder was given the warmest of welcomes. Fisher’s team of four horses viz. Angler, Fisherman’s Daughter, Kerosene and The Sign arrived by sea in the City of Melbourne with their trainer William Filgate on Sunday, 23 July, and their owner a short time later. No time was lost by the distinguished men of the Turf in Sydney to provide a warm welcome.

Hurtle Fisher

On August 1, a dinner was given to Hurtle Fisher at Tattersall’s Hotel in recognition of his courage and energy in importing to the Australian colonies some of the best racing blood that England had produced. The chair was taken by Edward Lee and the vice-chair by John Tait. In proposing the health of their guest, Edward Lee alluded to the losses that Fisher had sustained in his quest to bring the best of English bloodstock to these shores. The first loss that Fisher had sustained was that of the fine and promising three-year-old colt New Holland, by Stockwell, who died shortly after his safe arrival in Melbourne and after Fisher had refused a firm offer of £2500 for him. Fisher’s next loss was of the celebrated Lantern, whose victories included the 1864 Victoria Derby and Melbourne Cup. Fisher had also refused a large sum for this horse but before many months had elapsed, Lantern had broken his leg at the Ballarat meeting and died shortly afterwards.

And, last of all, as if to crown his misfortunes, Fisher had to lament the death of the celebrated Fisherman, the winner of over sixty races on the English Turf and for whom Hurtle had given 3,000 guineas. However, this wonderful horse had lived long enough in the Antipodes to perpetuate his race and Fisher had arrived in Sydney with three of his progeny with which he was hoping to snag the Derby and the Sydney Cup as well. In toasting the health of Hurtle Fisher, Edward Lee wished him every happiness and success and hoped that his young stock would prove some compensation for the anxiety and expense he had incurred in trying to improve the breed of horses in the colonies. Hurtle Fisher responded in an appropriate manner and after one final toast was drunk to William Filgate and Edward Lee himself, the bibulous company separated into the night at the eleventh hour only to meet again on the field of conquest itself one month later.


The ‘walkover’ farce that had constituted the Randwick Derby of 1864 won by Yattendon from his stablemate, the only other runner in the race, was guaranteed never to occur again with the institution of a whole new approach by the A.J.C. even before that race had been run.  It was in June 1863 that the A.J.C. committee announced the introduction of the Australian Derby Stakes and the Australian St Leger Stakes to be run for at the Randwick Spring Meeting 1865 and the Randwick Autumn Meeting 1966 respectively.  Unlike the Randwick Derby Stakes that had been conducted since 1861, the new conditions were more closely aligned with their English counterparts run at Epsom and Doncaster respectively.  The new Derby conditions called for 30 sovereigns’ nomination of each horse, with forfeits, and provided there were more than 20 subscribers, the owner of the second horse was to receive 60 sovereigns out of the stakes.  Intending subscribers were required to give notice in writing to the Honorary Secretary of the A.J.C. not later than 4 pm of September 1st, 1863 accompanied by £1 per nomination; £4 for each on the day of naming, 1st March 1864; £5 1st September 1864; £5 1st September 1865; with the remaining half of the sweep (£15) to be paid the Secretary of the A.J.C. before 11 o’clock on the day of starting.

Nominations of yearlings, in writing and bearing address and signature of the subscriber, containing name, description, sire, and dam, of each nomination, were to be delivered, under cover, at the office of the Honorary Secretary of the A.J.C. in Sydney not later than 4 pm on the day of naming i.e. 1st March 1864.  If the sire happened to be unknown, it was sufficient to say so but in all cases, the dam had to be described.  The instalments of the forfeits, as paid, were to be funded in the names of the Hon. E. Deas Thomson C.B., Mr Judge Cheeke, and John Lackey Esq., M.P., the Trustees for these races.  These were an altogether more stringent and expensive set of instalments and forfeits than had hitherto applied to the Randwick Derby Stakes where the entrances and sweeps only had to be paid by the 14th of August before the running of the race.  The weight conditions, however, remained the same with colts carrying 8 st. 10lb and fillies 8 st. 5lb.


The first official Australian Derby Day dawned bright and sunny.  Something of the colour of the city and the journey out to Randwick on that day was captured by the pen of the Sydney Mail correspondent: “The shouting of the bus boys in every street of the city; the carriages and dogcarts, omnibuses and buggies, hansom and heavier traps – on the road to the course; the clouds of dust; the rush-in at the gates, and the 1101 ragged urchins who beset the visitors upon arrival, and insist upon providing them with a true and correct card, containing the names, weights, and colours of the riders.”  Moreover, upon arrival at the grounds, similar scenes: there is the inevitable ‘Aunt Sally’, the ‘under and over seven’ arrangement, an enormous placard announcing a certain fistic entertainment for the special delectation of those who admire the ‘science’ displayed by the physical regenerators of society.  There is the long line of refreshment booths with the varicoloured bunting floating overhead and on every side a joyous crowd of people, who seem as though they have never known care, and appear to be taking life as though the great end of it was to eat, drink, dress, and be merry.”

His Excellency, the Governor of NSW, Sir John Young, was in attendance together with influential members of the Legislative, the Bench and the Bar.  Despite the hot, sultry weather and the fierce westerly winds stirring up the inevitable red clouds of dust on the Randwick road, the crowd was estimated at between ten and twelve thousand people.  The course itself had undergone several improvements and the new Stand, which had been erected about halfway between the entrance gates to the course and the grandstand, and the same distance from the course as the grandstand, was giving additional accommodation to 400 people. Moreover, the extension of the enclosure for the use of the racehorses while training, and for the carriages of members of the Jockey Club during the meeting was now double its original size.  However, the want for a new telegraph was remarked upon.  There were just four events on the card with the Derby as the second race and a newly inaugurated mile handicap, The Epsom, as the last.

The entries had closed for the A.J.C. Derby more than a year before with thirty-eight original subscribers. However, from various causes, the number was reduced until the names of sixteen only remained to be placed on the race card, and of these, six were struck out at the last moment, leaving ten to go to the post. Andrew Loder’s colt, The Pitsford, had been the first favourite for the race from the time he defeated the filly Rose of Australia and some four or five others in the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes at the last autumn meeting, and, except for an hour or two at Tattersall’s on Thursday evening when he succumbed to Clove, he held that position up to the last. Bred by Charles Baldwin at the Durham Court Stud, Manilla, in the Tamworth district, The Pitsford was a half-brother to Talleyrand, with whom John Tait had won the 1862 Champion Race at Geelong.

On the second line of betting was the Victorian colt, Angler, one of two runners in the race by Fisherman owned by Hurtle Fisher, the other being Fisherman’s Daughter.  The celebrated Fisherman had died less than three months before from a throat inflammation and it was hoped that Angler would grant posthumous glory to the son of Heron.  The second foal of the imported 1855 English Oaks winner, Rose of Denmark, Angler had already been the subject of wagering for both the Melbourne Cup and Champion Race, the latter to be run at Flemington on New Year’s Day and so his support in the Derby came as no surprise.  Next in the market came the handsome Tim Whiffler, trained by Etienne de Mestre and racing in the same ‘all black’ colours made famous by the great Archer. A late November foal dropped in the Braidwood paddocks of Messrs Hassall and Roberts’ Exeter Farm, Tim Whiffler was by New Warrior, the stallion acquired by John Tait on his trip to the Old Country in 1855-56, out of the St John mare, Cinderella.

Tim Whiffler, with Patrick McAlister in the saddle, was making his racecourse debut on Derby Day and his price in the betting was both a reflection of the stable from which he hailed as well as his pedigree and appearance. On Thursday morning before the Derby, Clove took a gallop around the course in the presence of a considerable number of the cognoscenti, and she immediately saw her price halved. Although there was probably a larger number of people who pinned their faith on the colt rather than the filly, there is little doubt that in the actual amount of money invested on the day, Clove had the preference. As Angler emerged from the saddling paddock, and Hurtle Fisher’s colours became visible to the patrons in the stand, a unanimous cheer burst forth from the multitude.

The ground was in very good order, despite the long-continued drought.  The first shout of “They’re off!” proved to be a false alarm, and the all-white of Mr Richards was seen careering along by itself, while the others were all pulled up after going a few lengths.  At the second attempt, a good start was made by Mr Martyn, with The Pitsford being the first to show in front past the stand with Angler in close attendance on his quarter, with the ruck – headed by Clove and Cossack – about a length behind.  The pace was smart from the start and began to tell on the outsiders even before the Rocks’ turn was reached with Maritana and Tim Whiffler struggling.  Martineer was one never to flinch from imposing design upon chance and at the back of the course in a rush of suppressed energy he took Clove to the front and immediately opened a gap of several lengths which he maintained round Derby Corner.  It was at this stage that Angler, who had raced very ungenerously throughout, seemed more inclined to gallop, and emerging from the ruck claimed ground from the leaders but all too late.  Clove was victorious by some four lengths from The Pitsford with Angler three lengths away in the minor placing, a length ahead of Cossack and Tim Whiffler.


Clove – From a Painting of the Period (S. M.)

Clove, a fine, powerful filly with a splendid rein and magnificent hindquarters, was, as we have seen, bred by Alfred Cheeke and John Tait at Varroville. Magus, her sire, had been bred by Sir Tatton Sykes at his Sledmere Stud in Yorkshire and was by Pyrrhus the First, dam by Sleight of Hand by Young Phantom. Clove, the dam of her namesake was an imported mare by Sweetmeat out of Hybla and as such was a full sister to Mincemeat, who had not only won the 1854 English Oaks but at stud had already dropped the 1864 English One Thousand Guineas’ winner, Tomato, who was by King Tom. Moreover, Clove’s half-brother Kettledrum, by Rataplan, had won both the English Derby and Doncaster Cup in 1861.

Alas, the parents of our 1865 A.J.C. Derby heroine were long in this country before their qualities were properly recognised by buyers and breeders alike. And with regard to her dam, sadly she did not live to see the day of her daughter’s Randwick triumph. For some reason and self-evidently not a well-founded one, there was a prejudice against Magus. In August 1862 he was offered again for sale through Burt and Co. but with no eligible offer being made, he was bought in at £250. Eventually, he was sold to go to T. H. Smith’s Gordon Brook Stud on the Clarence River where he stood during the 1866 season before later going to Allan McLachlan’s Duntroon Stud in Queanbeyan and serving at five guineas a mare. In 1863 the imported Clove, then in foal to Magus, was sold to Richard Goldsbrough but unfortunately died on the steamer’s passage from Sydney to Melbourne.


The second of September 1865 was certainly the high watermark in the sporting life of Judge Alfred Cheeke. Not only did he win that inaugural Australian Derby but his other horses, Sir Patrick and Dundee, took out the last two races on the card as well, although, with Cheeke’s elevation as the fourth Judge to the N.S.W. Supreme Court in June 1865, the pair raced in the nominal ownership of Cheeke’s new trainer, Jack Chaafe. Just why Cheeke became more sensitive about his Turf connections upon his promotion to the Supreme Court than he ever was as a District Court judge, is a moot point. Sir Patrick, a five-year-old homebred bay horse, won the A.J.C. Inkeepers’ Stakes, while Dundee, the four-year-old chestnut son of Zingara, took out the inaugural A.J.C. Epsom Handicap. Each of Cheeke’s winners was ridden by different jockeys. While Fred Martineer took the irons on Clove, Sir Patrick was partnered by Johnny Driscoll and Dundee by George Thompson. Quite a celebration ensued – a gloriously bibulous evening, or rather, night, which borrowed something from the Sunday morning, followed. While Cheeke might have backed up afterwards, his horses didn’t. None of them won another race during the three remaining days of the meeting.


The 19-year-old Derby-winning jockey, Fred Martineer, the grandson of a convict, was born in Parramatta in 1846. He was noted as a most accomplished punisher, second to no jockey out for severity when needed. Apart from winning the A.J.C. Derby on Clove, Martineer was most famous for partnering with The Barb in his first racecourse victory in the Nursery Handicap on the final day of the 1866 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting. In those days, Martineer used to ride a lot for Charles Roberts who kept the Horse and Jockey Hotel at Homebush. Martineer also won a good many races on the old Parramatta racecourse on Orbell’s grey, Why Not. One of the exciting incidents in Martineer’s career was a pugilistic engagement he had with another noted jockey, Charlie Stanley, who also rode The Barb for John Tait.

The two riders had a disagreement at the Parramatta races and they settled it in an old-fashioned way by hammering at each other for half an hour. After retiring from the saddle, Martineer became the owner of some good racehorses, none better than Melton, the great steeplechaser who won sixteen races over the timbers and on the flat. The name of Melton lives on today in the name of the famous hotel at Auburn that stands at the corner of Station St and Parramatta Rd. It was in 1877 that Fred Martineer became the licensee of the hotel and later changed its name to that of his beloved steeplechaser of the early 1890s. The original Melton Hotel had to close in 1914 under the local option law but Martineer didn’t leave the old place and continued to reside there with his wife and family. It was there that he died at the age of seventy-two in March 1918.


Jack Chaafe, the winning trainer of Clove, was to enjoy a successful career on both sides of the Tasman. As a lad, he came over from England and commenced his colonial riding career in New South Wales. He first entered the employ of John Eales and rode his colt Eclipse in the first Liverpool Derby in April 1857 when the pair finished second to Lauristina. After serving time with Eales, Chaafe transferred his services to John Tait. It was after Tait’s partnership split with Justice Cheeke and when he began travelling his horses more, that Chaafe stayed on to train the Judge’s horses.  Indeed, Cheeke’s elevation to the Supreme Court saw his horses nominated in Chaafe’s name from the beginning of the 1865-66 racing season. Chaafe stayed with Cheeke for a number of years although, after their initial burst of success, victories proved hard to come by. During the mid-1870s when Cheeke began to wind down his team, Chaafe transferred his employment to Andrew Town.

In September 1878, Jack Chaafe boarded the Wakatipu and sailed for New Zealand to begin training for J. F. Kitching of Moa Flat, later moving on to Hawke’s Bay and thence Auckland. Chaafe was blessed to train some top gallopers during his first stint in the Dominion including the likes of Niagara, Bangle and Atlantic. But it was with St. Paul, a son of St. Leger that he really made his name. As a two-year-old in Auckland in 1895-96, St. Paul won the A.R.C. Welcome Stakes, the Great Northern Foal Stakes and the Great Northern Champagne Stakes. The following season he carried off the Great Northern Guineas, the Wanganui Derby and the Avondale Cup. He also won the Avondale Cup in the two following years, carrying 10 st. 8lb as a five-year-old and winning in heavy going. Moreover, St. Paul in practically all his races was ridden by Jack Chaafe Jr. Chaafe Sr also trained out of Queensland for a time, moving there in February 1889, largely for Joe Bennett and basing himself in the Fassifern Valley; his horses there included King William and Bustle.

In 1891 Chaafe brought Yowi, a rather weedy-looking mare to Randwick, stopping at the A.J.C. Hotel; with his son, Jack Jr, doing the steering, Yowi just lasted to win the Metropolitan. Chaafe eventually returned to New Zealand to see out his final years and he died there in August 1923. Jack was the brother of Warwick Chaafe, a popular and long-time Lower Randwick trainer, who previous to settling there had also trained for John Eales at Morpeth and later, for the Brown Bros at Motto Farm. Warwick never enjoyed the same success as Jack and perhaps his best win came with Brookong in the 1908 V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate, which he prepared for the Osborne family.


Ben Richards (A.P.R.)

The prizes won at the 1865 A.J.C Spring Meeting were paid over to the winners in the Long Room at Tattersall’s on Monday evening, September 11. Without including the Mayor’s Cup, the total prize money distributed by the club amounted to £3,196. After the cheques for the respective sums won had been paid over by Mr Martyn, the treasurer of the Jockey Club, champagne was brought in, and the Mayor of Sydney, in a few appropriate remarks, handed the cup presented by him to the Jockey Club to the winner, John Tait. He also proposed Tait’s health and in doing so adverted to the high and honourable position which he had always held as a racing man with the general public. Tait suitably returned thanks, acknowledging the kind compliments paid to him by the proposer of his health and assured his audience that ever since he had been an owner of racehorses, he had always raced to win. The Secretary to the A.J.C., Buchan Thomson, then handed the Ladies’ Cup to Robert Pitt, who, on behalf of Ben Richards, returned thanks and made a few humorous remarks.

W. B. Dalley (SLNSW)

The health of Mr Justice Cheeke, as the winner of the Australian Derby, was proposed by the Lord Mayor and enthusiastically received. Mr Cheeke responded, and in doing so spoke of the proud position that he occupied the previous Saturday week when declared the winner of the first Blue Riband of the Australian Turf. The Chairman of Tattersall’s, on behalf of a large number of jockeys, presented to G. W. Henfrey, the Clerk of the Course, a pair of silver spurs, and a silver mounted whip, as an expression of their respect and esteem. Henfrey, in a neat speech, acknowledged the compliment. William Dalley, then eloquently, proposed the health of Hurtle Fisher. In truth, it had been an ordinary four days of racing for Fisher, whose horses ran rather poorly. Kerosene wasn’t disposed to race generously at all, while Fisherman’s Daughter went amiss. The Sign did run second in the Ladies Cup while Angler easily annexed the Squatters’ Stakes, but it was cheap beer relative to the rich champagne on offer.

Dalley expressed a hope that, although not very successful on this occasion, Fisher would again visit Sydney with his splendid stud of horses for the spring meeting the following year. As we shall see, Hurtle Fisher did return, again and again. “The Stewards” were proposed by Mr Tait and suitably acknowledged by Buchan Thomson. The Calcutta Sweeps were then paid over, followed by the general settling. The following day, Justice Cheeke entertained Hurtle Fisher, together with the Governor Sir John Young, the Chief Justice Sir Alfred Stephen, the Premier Sir James Martin and the Colonial Secretary Charles Cowper to another magnificent dinner at Tattersall’s, before the Master of Maribyrnong returned to Victoria with his horses aboard the steamer, the City of Melbourne. The prestige of those officeholders was a reflection of the growing power of the Turf in the colonies.


John Tait must have felt a certain degree of ambivalence as to how that 1865 A.J.C. Spring Meeting had unfolded. Having enjoyed a shared responsibility for breeding the Derby winner, Clove, the breakdown of the partnership with Cheeke had seen Tait credited neither with the ownership nor with the training of the Derby winner. Although his horse Falcon had failed in the Epsom Handicap on the first day, Tait more than compensated on the second day when his aged horse Volunteer, with Charlie Stanley in the irons, won the Mayor’s Cup, a handicap sweepstakes over two miles of £20 each, £8 forfeit, and £200 supplemented by the club besides the £120 trophy. It was the richest prize on offer during all four days of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting. The race attracted a crowd comparable to the Derby on the first day and a crackerjack field to boot including Talleyrand, Tarragon and Canobie. On that same day, Tait also won the Members’ Cup with Warwick. While Tait (and Cheeke) drew a blank on the third day, the fourth day very nearly delivered a treble to Tait when Falcon (Martineer) won the Grand Stand Plate, Volunteer (Ashworth) the Waverley Handicap, and Volunteer (Ashworth) went under by a head to Tarragon in the A.J.C. Forced Handicap, the final race of the meeting.

Still, it was the absence of a high-class three-year-old in his stable that rankled Tait, particularly when he could so easily have been credited as the trainer of Clove. Although both he and Alfred Cheeke cooperated in the immediate aftermath of their partnership split, particularly in the travelling of their respective horses to intercolonial meetings, there remained a certain mutual jealousy in their dealings. Tait might have been denied the Australian Derby Stakes at Randwick in 1865, but he wouldn’t have very long to wait before that lacuna on his honour roll was addressed. Very soon after the Randwick meeting ended, a small black two-year-old colt came into his orbit that would not only give Tait his first Australian Derby Stakes but his first Melbourne and Sydney Cups as well and set Tait on his trajectory as arguably Australia’s most successful trainer of the nineteenth century. As The Bard tells us: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” The Bard might have written the words but for John Tait, it would be The Barb who would deliver on them, and begin that third and final era of Tait’s glorious career on the Australian Turf. By comparison, after 1865, no such current served Alfred Cheeke’s sporting life and he would spend the balance of it bound in shallows.


It was altogether fitting that the payment of prize money and the settlement of wagers from the A.J.C. Spring Meeting as well as celebratory banquets were conducted at the Tattersall’s Hotel, for no two institutions had reflected the burgeoning success of the A.J.C. and Randwick racecourse more than the Tattersall’s Hotel and the Tattersall’s Club itself. 1865 was the year in which the Tattersall’s Club Meeting on New Year’s Day at Randwick commenced, a tradition that continues to this very day. Given that the A.J.C. at that time was not disposed to celebrate the New Year’s holiday with any meeting upon the Randwick course, and Tattersall’s with both a flourishing exchequer and a proclivity the other way, nothing further was wanting than the mutual arrangement which led to the successful launch of the New Year’s Day fixture. Of course, the stakes were not so large to draw out the cracks of the highest class but at that first Tattersall’s race meeting about 5,000 people were on the course and about one-tenth of that number appeared in the grandstand. The catering for the bar and luncheon rooms, naturally enough, was in the hands of W. J. O’Brien, the proprietor of the Tattersall’s Hotel. While that first, Tattersall’s meeting consisted of seven events and a match race, the annual feature soon gathered prestige.

However, by the 1865-66 racing season, it was during the A.J.C. Spring and Autumn Meetings that Tattersall’s was to be seen in its full glory. Flags then waved over the building and Pitt-street was thronged with vehicles and hundreds of persons ready to set off to the racecourse with the members of the A.J.C. and the sporting notabilities from Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania who thronged the several rooms and discussed the events while partaking of breakfast. Then again at the racecourse, at the grandstand and the spacious refreshment rooms beneath it, by a supreme right conferred by the A.J.C., Tattersall’s was found supplying hundreds of thirsty souls with all kinds of choice beverages and at noon with the more substantial realities of life. Two or three times a year, the champagne flowed like water. At the New Year’s Day meeting in 1866, O’Brien himself donated a cup to the value of 65 sovereigns that inaugurated the tradition of the Tattersall’s Club Cup.


The 1865 A.J.C. Spring Meeting was now over and the action switched to Flemington. As was the case in 1864, the 1865 V.R.C. Spring Meeting was conducted over three successive days: Thursday, November 2, Friday, November 3, and Saturday, November 4. The Melbourne Cup was run on the first day; the Derby and the Oaks on the second day; and the V.R.C. Handicap, Steeplechase and Queen’s Plate on the third day. Cup Day that year was conducted under benign blue skies and attracted some 13,000 spectators. Twenty-three horses started for the Melbourne Cup, the largest field up to that time chasing a first prize of £1,014 – easily the richest sum in the brief history of the race. Five three-year-olds were accepted by their owners for the race but neither Clove nor The Pitsford was among them. Hurtle Fisher’s Angler (6 st.5lb) was the most fancied of the three-year-olds and went off as the 6/1 second favourite behind his stablemate, Rose Of Denmark (8 st. 5lb) at 5/1. P. J. Keighran acted as the starter that day and in dropping the silk, he acquitted himself remarkably well on his first appearance at Flemington acting in that capacity. In the end, the race was fought out by two aged gallopers, with the grey Toryboy winning by two lengths from the English-bred Panic.

Samuel Knight’s –  Toryboy (S.L.V.) Hurtle Fisher’s Pair are on the Left & Right

Whatever misfortune Hurtle Fisher may have experienced with his rose and black colours at Randwick a few weeks before, no such misfortune marred his Flemington experience apart from the Cup itself. Fisher and his team had returned by the steamer “City of Melbourne” arriving in Hobsons Bay on September 22, after a remarkably fine passage and thus affording him ample opportunity to ready his horses for the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. On the first day, his roan Fisherman filly Seagull won the Ascot Vale Stakes and on the second day, he claimed both the Derby and the Oaks. Only four horses were accepted for the V.R.C. Derby Stakes and neither Clove, The Pitsford nor Tim Whiffler was among them. The lack of interest was hardly surprising considering the paucity of the prize money on offer. It was merely a sweepstake of 15 sovereigns each with another 100 sovereigns added. The only horse to figure in the Derby finish at Randwick to contest the race was Hurtle Fisher’s Angler.

Unlike the A.J.C. Derby in which the weight concession to fillies was 5lb, the difference in the Victoria Derby was a mere 3lb, with the respective weights for colts and fillies being 8 st. 7lb and 8 st. 4lb. There might have only been four starters for the Victoria Derby but the race wasn’t without incident. The 6/4 favourite, Frolic, sporting Philip Downing’s maroon and gold colours, fell shortly after rounding the Abattoirs’ turn and was shot that evening. Angler won rather easily. Only four started for the Oaks too, in which the fillies were asked to carry 8-stone over the mile-and-a-half journey. Hurtle Fisher’s pair, Lady Heron and Kerosene came up against R. C. Wood’s Maidstone and Rawdon Greene’s Caress. Hurtle Fisher claimed the quinella with Lady Heron, yet another daughter of Fisherman, running out a most comfortable winner. Thanks to the progeny of Fisherman, Hurtle Fisher finished the 1865 V.R.C. Spring Meeting as the leading owner. While the settling took place at the Albion Hotel’s Turf Subscription room on Monday evening, the V.R.C. stakes totalling £3,565 were paid over to the winners that same day at the office of R. C. Bagot in William Street with Hurtle pocketing £1,136. All John Tait received from the meeting was £25 together with the value of the Queen’s Plate (£100), granted by the Legislative Assembly and won by Tait’s Volunteer, ridden by Jimmy Ashworth, on the last day.


After the 1865 A.J.C. Spring Meeting, Clove was sent to Melbourne for the Champion Race accompanied by her stablemate Sir Patrick, the pair joining John Tait’s string under the fostering care of Jimmy Ashworth. The trip wasn’t productive of much profit for Cheeke, for although ‘Paddy’ ran a good honest horse, he was not able to do very much; while Clove went amiss in her work sometime before the great race and put out her only chance which very many Melbourne sportsmen thought was no mean one. Clove ran in that V.R.C. Champion Race of 1866 in the nomination of John Tait, a race made memorable by the dead-heat between Tarragon and Volunteer. Tarragon won the run-off. Clove, ridden by Chifney, could only finish sixth. On her return from Melbourne, Clove was treated to a rest before getting into work for her autumn engagements. The filly was soon backed to win good stakes for the A.J.C. St. Leger. Alas, at Homebush, Clove was scratched from all her commitments due to a recurrence of the leg trouble that had plagued her preparation for the Champion Race. While Cheeke and Chaafe were denied the services of Clove at that 1866 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, they did enjoy success in the Doncaster Handicap with Dundee although it was their only triumph at the meeting. Put to the stud after only two formal race starts, Clove had difficulty getting in foal. However, in 1870, going to The Barb, she threw Hybla, named after her great granddam; and in 1872, to Millionaire, produced a bay colt, afterwards called Bullion. Neither horse amounted to much and Hybla was to die without issue.


Clove might have been hors de combat even before her three-year-old season was over, but there was one strong and sturdy galloper of almost champion status to emerge from that 1865 A.J.C. Derby field and I refer to Tim Whiffler. A late-maturing bay colt, Tim Whiffler ran some good races as a four-year-old such as his victory in the A.J.C. City Handicap and minor placings in both the 1866 A.J.C. Great Metropolitan Stakes and 1867 Sydney Cup, but it wasn’t until the spring of his five-year-old season that Etienne de Mestre, John Tait’s great rival, began to bring the best out of this son of New Warrior. At the 1867 A.J.C. Spring Meeting, Tim won the Metropolitan with 8 st. 8lb, running the two miles in the Australian record time of 3 minutes 38.6 seconds. The following day and again ridden by Johnny Driscoll, Tim Whiffler just went under by a half-length to the champion Yattendon in the inaugural A.J.C. Craven Plate in a time of 2 minutes 12½ seconds, the fastest ten furlongs ever run in the colonies up to that time.

It was then off to Melbourne for the Cup, run that year on Thursday, October 31. Originally handicapped on 8 st. 8lb, Tim Whiffler had incurred an additional 3lb penalty for having won the A.J.C. Metropolitan. Nonetheless, in a field of twenty-seven, including nine from colonies other than Victoria, Tim Whiffler went off as the 5/2 favourite with Driscoll maintaining the mount. The A.J.C. Derby winner Fireworks came next in the betting at 3/1. There were two Tim Whifflers in that 1867 Melbourne Cup field, the other Tim was also a five-year-old, who had won the Australian Cup the previous autumn. This Melbourne Tim was raced by the Ballarat publican, Walter Craig, owner of the famous Craig’s Hotel where Adam Lindsay Gordon conducted the stables. Sixteen thousand people attended Flemington that day to witness Etienne de Mestre land a fortune in bets on his Tim Whiffler, who won easily and ran the two miles in 3 minutes 39 seconds – the first time that any horse had gone under 3 minutes 40 seconds in Victoria.

Tim Whiffler then backed up on Saturday, Oaks Day, to win the three-mile V.R.C. Queen’s Plate worth 200 sovereigns, half in plate, half in specie. Kept in Melbourne for the special race meeting at Flemington in honour of H.R.H. Prince Alfred, on the last day of November, TimWhiffler won the feature race of the day, the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes. A remarkably durable galloper, Tim Whiffler raced on into his nine-year-old season, when he finally retired after finishing third in the 1872 A.J.C. Queen’s Plate. It was a race that he had won three times before – in 1868, 1870 and 1871.  Although a sentimental favourite with the public, it was to be no fairytale ending as, facing the onslaught of time, he could only finish third behind Hamlet and The Prophet. All told, Tim Whiffler raced 59 times, for 25 wins, 13 seconds and 7 thirds. His record would have been even more impressive had he not clashed so often with The Barb. At stud, he managed to get one first-class horse in his namesake Tim Whiffler who won the 1881 Great Northern Derby in New Zealand.

I might mention that there was a proliferation of Tim Whifflers in Australia during this period. The original Tim Whiffler was the English-bred stallion foaled in 1859 who, despite not winning a classic race, was widely regarded as the best three-year-old of his year in England. It was common practice in the colonies during this era to name Australian racehorses after famous English gallopers and Tim Whiffler is a case in point. The English Tim Whiffler was later imported to Australia where he sired the A.J.C. Derby heroine Nellie as well as two Melbourne Cup winners in Briseis and Darriwell; his story is explored in our 1879 chapter. English importations notwithstanding, it was the Melbourne Cup victory that made the name Tim Whiffler resonate in Australia and in the years that followed ships and coaches were named after Etienne de Mestre’s great stayer, not to mention Tim Whiffler Place in Richmond, New South Wales.


I shall continue to pursue the life and times of John Tait in my next chapter on The Barb. But for now, let me close out the life and times of Alfred Cheeke. In May 1868 Alfred Cheeke announced his intention to close his breeding and racing establishment and retire from the Turf, although the extent to which it was genuine, as opposed to a mere gambit for leveraging the maximum value from his dubious bloodstock holdings, can be debated.  It was in that month that S. C. Burt of the Horse Bazaar, 272 Pitt-street, Sydney, issued a circular announcing the Varroville Stud distribution by way of the issue of 1,400 tickets of £5 each with prizes to be drawn.  Cheeke’s determination had no doubt, been arrived upon in consequence of the great success attending the Maribyrnong Stud distribution, which had occurred about a month earlier.  Amongst the Varroville prizes were the celebrated Fireworks; Zoe – the winner of two Champion Races; Jessina, a daughter of Cossack foaled in 1855 and the winner of the fastest St Leger ever run on the old Homebush racecourse; and Clove, the 1865 Derby heroine herself.  All told the stud numbered thirty-four head of bloodstock (excluding foals, which were to go with the mares who had them at foot) and each horse would constitute one prize, although, in the event of the death of any thoroughbred before the sale, £250 would be substituted in its place.

The drawing was to take place in Sydney on the second of July in front of a distinguished committee that included Edward Lee, Alexander Mackellar, and the Hon. John Robertson.  Of course, the scheme was nothing more than a lottery although not called by that name and the £7,000 to be raised was well in excess of the collective value of the bloodstock.  Not surprisingly in June came the announcement from the Attorney-General that the so-called Varroville ‘distribution’ was in contravention of “The Act to Prevent Lotteries” passed in July 1852.  Initially Cheeke, by name and nature, resolved to sidestep the law by having the draw take place in Melbourne but the N.S.W. Attorney-General notified his intention of prosecuting the promoters were they to persist with their intention.

Rather belatedly – on 22 June – the promoters announced their intention to withdraw the affair altogether.  The irony that it was no less than a prominent judge of the Supreme Court that was in effect promoting an illegal scheme was not lost on the electorate, but then Cheeke’s reputation as a lawyer had never been great and his rise in the legal pecking order had more to do with his impeccable social contacts than any unique forensic abilities. The whole episode demonstrated that Cheeke was happy to cock a snook at conventions when it suited him, never mind the law. After the aborted stud distribution, Cheeke continued to breed and race thoroughbreds for the remaining years of his life although meeting with relatively little success and much bad luck, Sir John’s 1869 Tattersall’s Club Cup victory notwithstanding. In August 1871, Cheeke purchased from George Petty the stallion Boiardo, the sire of Florence, to serve his mares at Varroville only for the horse to die within a few days of reaching there.

Nothing demonstrates the decline in the quality of Justice Cheeke’s bloodstock more than the derisory prices received upon the sale of his thoroughbred horses in the first week of January 1875. Cheeke was clearing the decks as he was about to leave for a holiday in England. Held at Varroville in the height of summer, it attracted few visitors and even fewer bidders, despite George Kiss’s mellifluous supplications in wielding the gavel. There were, however, no reserves, except as regards the three Millionaire two-year-olds from Clove, Varroville and Gipsy, and after the last-named of these had been started at 100 guineas, and passed in at 120 guineas, the other two were withdrawn. Everything else was knocked down to whatever was bid and at figures that could not have been satisfactory to any breeders. All told, twenty-three lots were sold and the highest price was a mere 41 guineas with seven lots changing hands for less than double figures.


In February 1875, feeling fat and flatulent and sensing he was nearing the brink of eternity, Alfred Cheeke took leave of absence from the Supreme Court, and on the Somersetshire embarked for England one last time. The springs of ambition that once had driven him, had long since withered. Just days before he left, a deputation from the solicitors of the Supreme Court waited upon him to present an illuminated valedictory address. It was delivered by George Allen and was signed by himself, the Crown Solicitor and fifty-six other solicitors. Despite this exaggerated show of deference, Cheeke’s reputation as a student of jurisprudence in the legal profession was decidedly mixed. For example, when he was sworn in as a puisne judge of the Supreme Court in June 1865, his appointment was, to quote T. H. E. Holt in the National Dictionary of Biography: “against the wishes of the Bar and, although forty attorneys attended the swearing-in ceremony and the court was crowded with members of the general public, the barristers’ table remained empty.”

Nonetheless, Cheeke had a tact peculiar to himself, and with his genial disposition and worldly wisdom, he despatched the business of his Court expeditiously. Cheeke presided at many civil and criminal trials but undoubtedly his most celebrated case was that of Henry O’Farrell, whom he sentenced to death for seriously wounding the Duke of Edinburgh at Clontarf in 1868. When delivering any judgement, he was generally plain and outspoken, laying down the law fairly. Where he saw justice pointed in favour of a case, he would sometimes say: “My own personal feeling in this matter would be with the accused, if I had any power to decide, but I have not, I must lay down the law as I find it.” Cheeke was one of the few members of the A.J.C. committee who stood out against the alteration in the date of the 1872 Randwick Autumn Meeting, which afterwards gave so much employment to gentlemen of his own profession, owing to the lawsuit brought against the club by William Filgate and discussed in my 1876 chapter.

Given his imminent departure for the Old Dart, Cheeke lent his two colts by Millionaire from Clove and Varroville to W. E. Dakin, to be prepared in his absence on behalf of Samuel Gardiner. The Judge returned from England to his Darling Point home in January 1876, but there would be no active return to the Turf or the Bench. Cheeke reluctantly made his soul in his ebbing days and as that Australian summer drew towards a close, so too, did his life. Sciatica and then gout supervened and he found himself confined to his house. He expired at his residence on Darling Point Road at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 March. For a man with his marked propensity for abligurition, perhaps it came as no surprise that the official cause of Cheeke’s death was “suppressed gout”. It was generally believed that his nephew and associate, George Cheeke, would inherit his extensive estate but the old sporting judge had one last trick to play.

In January 1871 at Darlinghurst, young George had married Selina Long, the daughter of the wealthy ex-convict, wine and spirits merchant William Long and a younger sister of W. A. Long M.L.A., an opponent of Cheeke’s and the future owner of Grand Flaneur among other good racehorses. Indeed, W. A. Long had two other sisters who had both contracted prominent marriages in Isabella and Eleanor and Cheeke disliked their partners as well. Isabella had married James Martin, Cheeke’s bete noir on the only occasion he sought to enter politics in 1956 and a future Premier and Chief Justice of New South Wales; while Eleanor had married William Dalley, a future Attorney-General of New South Wales. Given the invariably narrow and internecine jealousies amongst distinguished legalists and ambitious politicians, it was hardly surprising that Cheeke eventually fell out with them too!

Judge Cheeke’s Grave (GC)

The funeral service was conducted next door at St. Mark’s Church on Thursday afternoon, 16 March. As a mark of respect, all the courts were closed at 1 o’clock to allow the members of the legal profession the privilege of attending the funeral. A half-holiday was also extended to all members of the Civil Service desirous of being present and consequently, there was a very large gathering of the highest judicial and civil functionaries among the mourners. As with any funeral service for a high-profile figure, the mourners at this, Cheeke’s last public engagement, represented an admixture, of hypocrisy and humbug as well as of love and respect. The Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson and the Chief Justice of N.S.W. Sir James Martin, together with the  Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, John Polding were present.  Sir Edward Deas Thomson, John Tait and E. K. Cox were in attendance, but so too were William Long and his son-in-law, George Cheeke.

The procession of carriages rendered the funeral cortege almost half a mile in length in its journey from St Mark’s by way of the Darlinghurst-road and Botany-street, to St Jude’s cemetery at Randwick. When Cheeke’s Will was read, to the great disappointment of George, it was discovered that Alfred had left the bulk of his estate to his long-time confidante and housekeeper – in every sense of the word – Mary Ann Critchley. Mary indeed kept the house, inheriting it and the property at Darling Point as well as £10,000 to boot! She lived elegantly for the remaining four years of her life, dying at the age of eighty-five in May 1879. It wasn’t a bad ending for someone who began life as the daughter, of a father who was a mere Private on the First Fleet and a young convict mother on the same voyage being transported to the colony for theft. While Alfred Cheeke’s last resting place was in the churchyard of St Jude’s, not far from his beloved Randwick racecourse, Mary Ann was buried in Waverley Cemetery.


For a man who spent a lifetime on the Turf, Alfred Cheeke enjoyed only moderate success, Zoe, Ramornie and Clove notwithstanding. Although a thorough sportsman and one who entered the game with his whole heart and soul, after his split with Tait somehow or other he seemed to get hold of indifferent horses to which he stuck rather than getting rid of them at the first opportunity. Unlike Tait, he was one of the old school, who ran his horses for love rather than the hope of gain. There was nothing of last-minute scratchings or public forestalling with his horses. Cheeke could often be seen briskly walking down the straight running at Randwick, imparting some last-minute instructions to jockey Johnny Driscoll for what the stable considered a prospective good thing. Although at the time of his death, Cheeke remained Vice-President of the A.J.C., he had not been racing on his own account for a few years but nevertheless had retained his extensive breeding establishment at Varroville.

Once Cheeke had severed his breeding partnership with John Tait, the quality of his homebreds declined even further. Part of the problem lay with the stallions that he retained at Varroville, former horses that he had raced such as Alfred, his 1861 A.J.C. St Leger Stakes winner, and Sir Patrick, each of whom proved failures in the breeding barn. Nor was his luck or judgement any better with the later stallions that he purchased such as the English importation Millionaire, a son of Pompey. One of the last horses Cheeke ever bred was Bullion, by Millionaire out of his old Derby-winning favourite, Clove. Cheeke held a high opinion of the colt but a leg interfered with the colt’s 1875 A.J.C. Derby preparation in which he ran in the nomination of William Dakin.


A Recent Photograph of Varroville House

It is hardly a surprise that few links remain now to the life of a man who died childless in Sydney almost 150 years ago. But two tenuous associations with Justice Alfred Cheeke do remain in the shape of both his city and country residences. The Octagon, the oldest building in Darling Point, remains and is now part of the Ascham School. With the help of funding from the Ascham Foundation, The Octagon was restored to its original tower and re-opened in 1979. It currently houses the school’s archives. Alfred Cheeke’s country residence of Varroville still stands, although it has undergone some structural changes since his days. Varroville was listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register in April 1999 because of its importance in demonstrating the course, or pattern, of cultural or natural history in the State. Apart from its connection with Australian bloodstock breeding, it was an important link in the development of the Australian wine industry, having once been known as “the finest orchard in the Colony and a vineyard second only to Gregory Blaxland’s”. However, while the house remains, the bucolic rolling green hills surrounding it are now giving way to the newly landscaped cemetery of Macquarie Memorial Park.



1864 – The Story of Yattendon !


1866 – The Story of the Black Demon!

1 Comment

  1. Thank you once again for another ‘epic’ Ian!

    Edinburgh, Melrose and the Eildon Hills rekindle the fondest memories for me from my student days. The latter were somewhat pruriently described as emulating the female human form in repose from the pectoral purview; but enough of that! Melrose, apart from Sir Walter Scott & the ‘Waverley Novels’, was renowned as the home of Sevens Rugby thanks to local butcher Ned Haig in 1883. More useless trivia; but it was a recent answer to an SMH quiz!

    I’m intrigued how much impact thoroughbred entrepreneurs like John Tait had on the social framework and rural fabric of the era? The Horse & Jockey Inn no longer exists in Jerry’s Plains (‘New Warrior’ late 1850s). However, there were three in the mid-1800s: “they would always find a good breakfast at the Robin Hood with superior wines spirits and liquors”. It’s a good job RBT did not apply for the Cobb & Co Coachmen! The giant Coolmore Stud now impacts directly on Jerry’s Plains and the Golden Highway to the West slices right through the middle of both. As far as I know there are no ‘stallions’ at the single local modern tavern in JP?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén