Kings of the Turf

A History of the AJC Derby From 1861 to 1984

1868 – The Duke & Bylong Stud: A Classic Debut!

On the morning of January 31st, 1866, the famous stallion, Sir Hercules, died at John Lee’s Bylong Stud near Mudgee at the patriarchal age of twenty-three.  The reported cause of death was an inflammation of the kidneys.  Few stallions in Australia had made a greater reputation at the stud than this son of the imported Cap-a-pie. At the time of his death his greatest son, The Barb, bred by the Lee brothers, was still some two months away from making his first public appearance on a racecourse.  Accordingly, as exceptional as the procreative exploits of Sir Hercules appeared at the very moment he drew his last breath, his posthumous reputation would soar even higher with the remarkable achievements of the black demon.

A Part of The Beautiful Bylong Valley

Eventually, Sir Hercules would be credited with eighteen individual stakes winners of no less than forty-five stakes races.  It was hardly surprising therefore that when two of the very last of the great stallion’s progeny were offered for sale as yearlings in the late autumn of 1867 at the Newmarket training stables of Edward Lee, some two hundred people were in attendance to witness Mr Burt wield the gavel. Included in the crowd, despite bitterly inclement weather, were all the principal breeders and racing men of New South Wales such as John Tait, Judge Cheeke and Walter Long Jr, together with a large share of Victorian sportsmen including Captain Standish and C. B. Fisher.  It was, after all, a historic occasion for it was the first time that a draft of yearlings had ever been sold at Newmarket and as such was to become the precursor of an annual autumn event held there that would last well into the 21st century.

James (John) Lee (D.N.B.)

The moving spirit behind this initial sale of yearlings was John Lee, the 41-year-old proprietor of the Bylong Stud. Born in 1824, John Lee was the second son of William and Mary Lee. At the age of eighteen, he had been entrusted by his father, with the charge of the celebrated Bylong estate, near Mudgee. At that time, Bylong was in a very isolated position without many improvements, and conditions of life there were not enviable. Young John committed himself to the task at hand and very soon Bylong was a byword for quality in both shorthorn cattle and thoroughbreds. No horses stood higher in the estimation of racing judges in the colonies in those days than those bearing the JL brand on their near shoulder. This high character had been very justly awarded to them, for not only throughout Australia but in India, the brand would also do wonders.

Very soon after it was established, the Bylong Stud began to make a name for itself through the immediate descendants of a Steeltrap mare, and one by the imported Camerton, from an imported English mare. The Steeltrap Mare (1834) became identified as the colonial taproot mare, C16. The second mare commonly referred to as The English Mare, whose pedigree papers had been lost, had originally been imported into New South Wales by Aspinall, Browne and Company and sheltered in their Wellington Valley paddocks until purchased by John Lee. At Bylong, she became the dam of the locally-bred colonial taproot broodmare, C9, so-called The Young English Mare (1845) by Bay Camerton.  However, unquestionably the most famous colonial taproot mare bred at Bylong was Sappho (1847) by the Australian-bred Marquis out of a Zohrab mare. Again, the distaff pedigree was lost in those mists of time before the advent of a proper New South Wales Stud Book, but it is commonly conjectured that the Zohrab mare hailed from the Macarthurs’ Camden Park Stud.

Sappho’s remarkable influence on the Australian Stud Book down through the years would derive principally from the achievements of one of her daughters named after her i.e. Sappho (1862) and we shall trace her life and those of some of her celebrated descendants later in our 1879 chapter. While the younger Sappho for much of her life was kept at Bylong, her ownership resided with young George rather than John Lee. Therefore, I shall leave aside Sappho for the moment and concentrate on the first two broodmares mentioned above owned by John Lee. Looking through the early volumes of the New South Wales Stud Book, we find that these two mares were the principal founders of the Bylong horse fame. The Steeltrap Mare when mated with the Lees’ fine stallion Marquis (1837), produced three excellent fillies in Beeswing (1848), Marchioness (1850) and Ladybird (1851). As we have already seen in a previous chapter, from Marchioness, the stud bred Bylong (1863), who finished runner-up to The Barb in the 1866 A.J.C. Derby and a couple of days later won the first running of the A.J.C. Great Metropolitan Stakes. The Young English Mare through her daughters, Black Bess (1856) and Governess (1858), also established running families. Going through many generations, in which the stallion names of Marquis, Little John, New Chum, Sir Hercules, Lambuscat, Sir Charles, Theorem, Emigrant, Ackbar and others figure prominently, we come to the days of Kingston and that first public sale of yearlings at Newmarket in the autumn of 1867.

The initial draft of eight yearling colts scheduled for the Wednesday afternoon of the first of May, three days before the expected start of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, was merely an experiment on the part of Messrs Lee to test the market, with a view, if the prices realised were remunerative, to make a sale of Bylong yearlings an annual institution in Sydney. Many sportsmen hoped the sale would prove so successful that it would induce other great breeders of bloodstock in the colony to do likewise. It is easy from our present vantage to underestimate the challenge of bringing eight unbroken yearling colts from Mudgee to Sydney in 1867.  It was a journey of some two hundred miles, part of which involved traversing the Blue Mountains, without the benefit of modern roads or transportation – and all for what could not be considered anything but doubtful speculation.  Such, however, was the spirit and enterprise of John Lee and his brothers.  Upon arrival in Sydney, the yearlings were quartered in the Newmarket stables of Edward Lee, John’s younger brother.  Then again, perhaps the venture wasn’t altogether surprising given the intrepid nature of John Lee himself. We made the introduction of the Lee family of Bathurst in our 1866 chapter on The Barb, and it was John Lee himself who, together with his youngest brother George, was responsible for breeding that champion.

As mentioned, while two of the yearlings to be sold were by the defunct champion sire Sir Hercules, who had spent the last five years of his life at Bylong, the other six were by a new young stallion, Kingston, a horse that John Lee had acquired as a yearling at William Blenkiron’s Middle Park Stud in Kent during a trip to England in 1860. It was the same sales at which Mr Fisher bought Stockowner. Kingston was named after his sire, the winner of the 1852 Goodwood Cup in England who had already produced winners of both the English Derby (1862 Caractacus) and the English Oaks (1863 Queen Bertha). There was quality on both sides of the pedigree of John Lee’s Kingston, for he was out of a Birdcatcher mare named England’s Beauty who, two seasons before dropping Kingston, had delivered a full sister named Silverhair who herself would foal the 1877 English Derby winner, Silvio. John Lee’s Kingston had only been represented by one runner in public prior to these inaugural Newmarket yearling sales, Lady Kingston, and she had won the Maiden Plate at the Randwick Tattersall’s Club meeting on New Year’s Day. So, while the glory of Kingston’s pedigree and promise couldn’t altogether be fully appreciated on May 1, 1867, enough was known to suggest that his progeny just might be able to run.

After a luncheon that was spread for all comers in the house adjoining Edward Lee’s Newmarket premises, Mr Burt mounted the rostrum, and a ring having been formed, the sale commenced at 2 p.m. Of the eight yearlings originally to be auctioned from the Bylong Stud, all colts, one of the two Sir Hercules yearlings and purportedly the pick of the batch had been sold privately to a gentleman in Sam Waldock’s stable before the auction even began. The remaining Sir Hercules colt, out of Beeswing by Marquis, out of the Steeltrap mare, thus became the first yearling publicly offered at Newmarket with thousands more to follow over the next 150 years. After some initial hesitation, the colt was knocked down to Tom Ivory for 225 guineas. It was to be the highest price brought on the day. All told the seven auctioned yearling colts resulted in a sales aggregate of 845 guineas and a very acceptable average of 126 pounds and fifteen shillings. When John Lee was apprised of the result, he pronounced himself satisfied and thus an institution was born.


One very interested observer and participant at Newmarket that day was thirty-three-year-old Archibald Thompson, a leading wine and spirit merchant with strong links to the Bathurst region and well-established premises at 196 Pitt-street, Sydney.  Born in England, Thompson was a self-made man who had first set himself up in business operating a snuff/tobacco manufactory with the Steam Snuff Mills in George Street in the late 1850s before turning his hand to the sale of spirits. Thompson was a member of the A.J.C. committee and had been one of the fringe players at those meetings in the Metropolitan Hotel in February 1858 that had helped place the Jockey Club on a sound financial footing. Moreover, he was one of that select group that included Edward Deas Thomson, Sydney Burt, Charles Martyn and Samuel Jenner who all accompanied Mr Surveyor Langley to the proposed site of the new racecourse at Randwick on Tuesday, 28 June 1859, to stake out the line of running over a distance of a mile and a quarter. After the course was established, Thompson would act as an auditor for both the club’s books and its training tracks.

At some of the early Randwick race meetings during the decade of the 1860s, Thompson had served variously as Starter, Clerk of the Course and Steward. Sadly, no public image of the young man in those pioneering days of the camera seems to have survived. Only the year before – on the fourth and last day of the annual Metropolitan Autumn Race Meeting – his horse, Cossack, a fine chestnut colt by Sir Hercules, had won both the Rous Handicap and the prestigious Queen’s Plate, even beating the renowned Tarragon in the latter event. Cossack had also been bred at Bylong by John Lee and Thompson’s attendance at this inaugural yearling offering in the metropolis suggested he was hoping to find another colt like him.  Lee and Thompson, who did a lot of business in the Western District, were friends: the former being the Patron of the Bathurst Turf Club; the latter a steward of the same organisation.  And Thompson also served on the A.J.C. committee with John’s brother Edward.

Although Thompson had been attracted to the flashy Sir Hercules colt that led off that first Newmarket auction of May 1867, he wasn’t prepared to bid as high as 225 guineas.  Rather, he kept his eye on the fifth colt to walk into the ring that day and so too did W. C. Yuille, the racing correspondent for The Australasian who wrote under the nom de course of ‘Peeping Tom’.  I’ll let him take up the story, as written in his newspaper just ten days later: “No 5 was next brought out, a bay colt, by Kingston out of Blue Bonnet by Little John; to my fancy the pick of the lot.  With splendid hindquarters, he had the Kingston grey hairs throughout his body, and like him was very handsome about the head and neck.  He was a grand mover, and the only fault I could detect in him was being a little tied below the knee.  He was started at 50, and, after a little competition, the hammer fell to Mr A. Thompson’s nod for 120 guineas – a real bargain.”  An August 22nd foal, the colt showed great strength and Thompson felt well pleased with his purchase.

Archibald Thompson was not only a successful merchant but a practical horseman and a genuine horse-lover.  It was Thompson who ensured that the celebrated racehorse, Jorrocks, enjoyed a happy retirement.  ‘The Iron Gelding’ as he was referred to in the newspapers and journals of the time had been foaled in 1833 and raced from the age of five through to nineteen.  It is not known just how many times Jorrocks faced the starter but he won 65 races from at least 95 starts.  Jorrocks had raced for what was supposed to be the last time at the May 1851 Homebush Meeting when he could only manage third.  The gelding then left the racecourse only to be raffled several times before he became the property of Archibald Thompson.  Thompson brought him to the post just once – for the Metropolitan Handicap at the October 1853 Homebush Drapers’ Meeting.  Jorrocks was beaten and thereafter Thompson used him as a hack and paid for his upkeep at Clifton, the renowned breeding establishment set up by Charles Smith.  Under Thompson’s fostering protection, Jorrocks lived a life of luxurious ease finally slipping the bridle in August 1860.  Thompson performed a similar service for that other celebrated old racehorse of colonial days, Veno, whom he bought for £10 in October 1862.  It was behaviour consistent with his services on the committee of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.


If that initial sale of select Bylong yearlings at Newmarket was the most important bloodstock event in Sydney in the autumn of 1867, then arguably the most important bloodstock event in Melbourne in the autumn of 1868, was the Maribyrnong Stud Art Union. Despite some success, the Maribyrnong Stud within just two short years had proved to be a drain on Charles Fisher’s fortunes at a time when both his money and his energy were more urgently required on his pastoral and squatting empire. Instead of selling the Maribyrnong stud and stock as one job lot, which would have limited his return, Fisher opted to invite the public to take so many shares, on the art union or lottery principle.

Mr Fisher named £20,000 as the value of the entire stud, comprising 35 horses, including entires, broodmares, horses in training, yearlings, and foals. Thrown in for good measure was Babbler, Fisher’s well-known steeplechaser. The drawing of the lottery took place at St George’s Hall, Bourke-street, on Monday 6 April 1868. The preliminary proceedings began at 8 o’clock in the morning although the first of the prizes wasn’t secured until the 66th draw at 9.25 a.m. The mechanical details consisted of two barrels, which were made to revolve on their axes. They were lettered respectively “Shareholders’ Numbers” and “Blanks and Prizes”. They were placed in front of the platform and behind them was erected a telegraph frame with two apertures, one for indicating the number of the marbles drawn and the other, whether a prize or a blank.

Two thousand tickets were issued at £10 each with 4,000 marbles in all, with 2,000 in each barrel. The shareholder’s number was first drawn, and afterwards, the blank or prize as the case might be. When the drawing commenced there were but few people present but as the day wore on greater interest was shown in the proceedings. At 6 p.m. the last prize was announced, Omen’s filly foal, the future dam of Tubal Cain. Among the prizes won that day was Fishhook, which fell to Messrs Wallace and Saqui, well-known bookmakers. Saqui was also fortunate in winning Marchioness, the dam of Angler and Fishhook. The imported Stockowner, a son of the great Stockwell, went to James Field of Tasmania, a great patron of the Turf in that colony.

Messrs Petty and Company, Melbourne butchers, were lucky in obtaining both Lady Heron and Gildermire’s filly foal, later registered as Keepsake. The mare Gildermire and Gildermire’s older yearling filly later registered appropriately enough as Art Union were each won by C. B. Fisher, who retained a number of unsold tickets in the lottery. However, both horses were very soon sold to George Petty. Hurtle Fisher together with his brother, William in Adelaide, obtained three prizes viz. Juliet, Omen and Sour Grapes as well as sharing with nine others in the prize of the champion two-year-old filly, Fenella. So well organised was the entire affair by Robert Bagot that the announcement of the termination of the drawing was greeted with cheers by the crowd.

For all of the glorious prizes among the older horses offered in Fisher’s lottery, the most interest from an immediate racing viewpoint surrounded the two fillies, Fenella and Ragpicker, each by Fisherman. Prior to the Maribyrnong Art Union and the forthcoming A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, on all indications, Fenella appeared to be the best two-year-old of the 1867-68 season, whether on the basis of races won or stakes earned. A handsome and compact bay standing about 15.2 hands, Fenella had been bred by Hurtle Fisher at Maribyrnong in 1865 and was out of Rose De Florence by The Flying Dutchman. As such, Fenella was a full sister to that grand horse Maribyrnong, who was then just beginning to establish himself as a stallion; she was also a full sister to Valentine Mogg’s unraced Ferryman whose first progeny were giving so much promise, as well as to Nathalie, the winner of the 1864 V.R.C. Australian Cup.

Fenella’s first appearance had come when she carried C. B. Fisher’s white and blue spots at the Spring Meeting of the V.R.C., in a field of eight in the Ascot Vale Stakes (5f). In the race, Fenella didn’t get away well but the game manner in which she answered Morrison’s repeated calls stamped her at once as first class and she came away to win by a half-length from Dr L. L. Smith’s Melancholy Jaques. On the third day of the meeting, Fenella confirmed her class when she narrowly defeated John Tait’s Fireworks, the best three-year-old in the colonies, in the V.R.C. All Aged Stakes. Fenella carried 5 stone, being 10lb overweight, while Fireworks carried 7 st. 5lb. After a battle royal down the Flemington straight in which she contested every inch with her formidable opponent all the way to the winning post, Fenella won by a head in a time of 1 minute 48 seconds. The victory was all the more glorious because Fireworks had hung shamefully on the filly. So egregious was the offence, that Greene, the rider of Tait’s colt, had been disqualified for the remainder of the season.

On a special day got up for H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh at Flemington on November 30, Fenella again put in an appearance in the Sapling Stakes, a handicap sweepstakes over six furlongs. Of course, she carried the dubious honour of equal topweight with 8 st. 7lb, sharing it with Melancholy Jaques, with Zouave on 8 st. and the others a couple of pounds less. The weights produced a fine race between the above three, ending in Dr L. L. Smith’s colt winning by a length, Zouave second, a neck in front of Fenella in a time of 1 minute 21 seconds which showed the correctness of the Ascot Vale running. Having got rid of her most formidable opponent, Melancholy Jacques, who was disabled by an accident, Fenella then had little trouble with the lot which met her in the V.R.C. Flemington Stakes on New Year’s Day.

Ragpicker made her first appearance in that same race on New Year’s Day, finishing third behind her stablemate in a time of 1 minute and 24 seconds. Ragpicker then easily won the Sapling Stakes at the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting. A big, tall daughter of Fisherman, Ragpicker was out of Juliet, who by this stage had already produced the South Australian St Leger winner Chrysolite as well as the most recent V.R.C. Oaks winner Sylvia, with much more to come. Whereas Ragpicker was a full sister to Sylvia, she was only a half-sister to Chrysolite, who was by the great English stallion, Stockwell. Was it any wonder then, that most of those who subscribed to the Maribyrnong lottery were hoping to snag one or other of these two fillies? As it transpired, Fenella fell to a company of ten of which Hurtle Fisher was one, and he quickly bought the other partners out. Ragpicker was won by a J. D. Fisher of Beechworth for a small party of gentlemen but within a day or two of the lottery draw, Hurtle had bought her as well for £500. Accordingly, the two fillies remained in the care of Joe Morrison who stabled them at the Cutts’ establishment at Randwick to await the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting.


Given the absence in those far-off days of two-year-old spring racing at Randwick, the quality of Sydney juveniles early in a season remained largely untested before the advent of the springtime A.J.C. Breeders’ Plate, or at least until more widespread travelling of Sydney horses to Melbourne for the Maribyrnong Plate became common. It was only with the running of the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and the Champagne Stakes at the Randwick autumn fixture that some measures of their abilities could be taken. Nonetheless, even in those days, rumours had a way of surfacing and long-range, pre-post betting by stable commissioners on the A.J.C. Derby often seemed to confirm such rumours. In the early weeks of 1868, a whole chestnut filly from Bathurst owned and bred by George Lee was backed for a good bit of money for the Derby at odds of 100 to 10 even before she joined Edward Lee’s string at Newmarket to be put into work.

Broken in at Bathurst in the spring of 1867, she had really taken the fancy of the brothers, George and John Lee, which was hardly surprising given that she was a full sister to The Barb who was just then taking the colonial Turf by storm. Unlike The Barb, Barbelle as she was called, was a chestnut with a long, light neck and a not-very-handsome head. Although she possessed good shoulders and the long barrel of a stayer, Barbelle lacked the strength of thighs and quarters for which The Barb was renowned. Nonetheless, James Kean had a good opinion of her the moment she came into his hands to be trained. Unfortunately, Barbelle’s preparation for her two-year-old engagements was to prove imperfect and unsatisfactory and when the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting finally did arrive, The Barb’s sister was not thought as much of, neither did she perform as well as, her two stable companions of the same age – Coquette and Avalanche.

Before racing at headquarters, Fenella, now sporting the colours of Hurtle Fisher, easily bowled over a field of nine in the Trial Stakes at Homebush, which readied her for Randwick. In a relatively large field of twelve for the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes that included Barbelle and Coquette, Fenella went to the post as the even-money favourite. True as steel, she capped all her former endeavours by cantering in to win by a couple of lengths from her fellow Victorian gallopers, Melancholy Jaques and Zouave. On the following Thursday, Fenella was then made a hot favourite for the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes over the mile, an honour which her previous performances quite justified. Nine started but she got badly away and working her way through the crowd of horses she threw her ears back and would not try a yard, in spite of Morrison’s persuaders. This was so contrary to her usual habits that Morrison believed that she must have had her temper soured at the number of false starts. Finding it useless, the jockey didn’t persevere. The race was won by another of John Lee’s fillies in Coquette, with Kaiser second and Zouave third in a time of 1 minute 51 seconds. After this disappointment, Hurtle Fisher scratched Fenella from her only other engagement, the Nursery Handicap, in which she was weighted to carry 8 st. 7lb. So ended her two-year-old season. Fenella had started seven times and won five races and £1,440 in stakes. The filly did not return to Victoria but remained at Randwick with Hurtle Fisher’s other horses until the A.J.C. Spring Meeting in which she was heavily engaged.


A.J.C. Derby Day, the first Saturday in September 1868, dawned bright and sunny, attracting a large attendance to Randwick, which filled the stands, congregated on the course, or witnessed the contests from their carriages. The road to Randwick was certainly far too dusty to be comfortable and the traffic for an hour or two in the morning and again in the afternoon on return was so great that the red dust rose and covered everything with its dingy hue. Upon arrival at the racecourse, it was evident that the principal improvements since the previous Derby was the widening of part of the racecourse, which had begun in 1867, and the lawn-like state of a large portion of the ground enclosed by the course and now laid down with couch grass, as well as the removal of all the bush which in two places formerly obstructed the view. Moreover, a new training paddock had been established in the northwest corner of the reserve.

One of the Earliest Photographs Taken of Randwick Racecourse, c.1868 (SLNSW)

The photograph reproduced above, and one of the earliest taken of the Randwick course shows the condition of the track and the state of the grandstands in 1868. The main stand in the centre of the photograph, capable of holding some 1500 people, is the one originally designed by the Sydney architect, John Hilly, and opened on 29 May 1860. Constructed in American timber, it was only intended as a short-term expedient but proved resilient enough to survive until it was replaced in 1875. The smaller stand to the right of the picture and on the northern side of the main grandstand is the Derby stand. A modest, inexpensive structure built in 1865, it only had a canvas roof. The first St Leger stand, constructed in 1867 at a cost of £1,000, is shown on the left of the photograph.

The Earl of Belmore (SLNSW)

The new Governor of New South Wales, the 32-year-old third Earl of Belmore, was present with his wife, Anne, and retinue. Somerset Richard Lowry-Corry had been educated at Eton and Cambridge and enjoyed a reputation as a rising Young Conservative. He had sat in the House of Lords from 1857 as an elected peer for Ireland. Despite this connection with Ireland, the new Governor was hardly a racing man, having only occasionally attended race meetings at Newmarket and Epsom in England and been present at just one English Derby. However, he accepted that his pre-eminent role in the colony involved attendance at important social and sporting gatherings and he had immediately agreed to become Patron to the A.J.C. Indeed, he had attended the previous A.J.C. Autumn Meeting only a few months after his arrival. The 26-year-old, Anne, Countess of Belmore, was a statuesque woman of striking appearance, but her painful shyness hobbled much of the social influence that she may otherwise have exerted.


Ten horses – six colts and four fillies – were accepted for the renewal of the A.J.C. Derby in 1868. The 6/4 favourite was Coquette, the well-bred daughter of Sir Hercules raced by John Lee that had won the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. Coquette boasted impressive maternal lines as well, given that her dam Vanity, by Marquis, was a daughter of Bessy Bedlam who would later go on to foal to Kingston a Queensland Derby winner in J. L., and a Doncaster Handicap and Sydney Cup winner in Speculation. As a two-year-old, Coquette was not brought out until the Homebush Meeting on Easter Monday. This little Vanity filly as she was best known in those early days, seemed an exquisitely beautiful creature rather than a great filly when she first appeared on the racecourse. In the Homebush Trial Stakes on debut, she got badly off and was nowhere to Fenella and the same may be said of her first start at Randwick in the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes. However, at the third time of asking as we have seen, she asserted her authority over the mile of the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes in no uncertain terms. On the Saturday following the Sires’ she was honoured with 8 st. 10lb for the Nursery Handicap over three-quarters of a mile, which she also won in gallant style. Indeed, rarely had the Randwick sportsmen seen an animal come with such determination when relegating Kaiser and Ragpicker to the minor placings. Coquette had then retired to her winter quarters and the Derby represented her seasonal reappearance.

Sharing the second line of A.J.C. Derby betting were Ragpicker and Kaiser. Ragpicker we have already met and she, too, was making her seasonal reappearance whereas Kaiser, like The Duke, was actually making his racecourse debut. Kaiser was bred at the Tocal Stud by Charles Reynolds and was raced by Enoch Cobcroft, a Hunter Valley pastoralist and one-time landlord of the Hunter River Hotel, East Maitland. Fenella shared the third line of betting along with Barbelle and Melancholy Jaques. A prepossessing Touchstone colt bred by William Lyall of Frogmore, Melancholy Jaques was sold at his first yearling sale to Dr L. L. Smith of Victoria. He had made his racecourse debut in the Ascot Vale Stakes at the V.R.C. Spring Meeting, and as we have seen, finished a game and close second to Fenella. His only win as a two-year-old came on November 30, the special day got up for the Duke of Edinburgh at Flemington when he took out the Sapling Stakes.

Few people paid any attention to The Duke as Archie Thompson saddled him alone. People took long shots about The Earl, Sir William and other outsiders – even about The Drone who never saw the post – but offers to lay a hundred to three against The Duke met with no response. Even Archie Thompson thought his chance of winning so exceedingly remote that he only backed him to win a hundred, and that, it might be said, was by accident. Thompson was walking across the saddling paddock after the horses had gone on to the course, and a friend offered him a hundred pounds to two against his horse, which he whimsically accepted. An interesting notification was posted in the press before both the A.J.C. autumn and spring fixtures by the committee of the Tattersall’s Club to the effect that it had applied to and been granted permission by the A.J.C. committee to erect a Black Board in the Saddling Paddock for the purpose of posting the names of defaulters.

The A.J.C. Derby was the third race on the card following upon the Trial Stakes and the Derby St Leger Handicap Sweepstakes, each of which had fallen to the trainer John Tait and his jockey Jimmy Ashworth. The same pair were now hoping that The Earl might give them a treble in the classic. It was at the third attempt that the flag fell to what appeared from the stand a very fair start to the Derby. Sir William was the first to show in front and he led the lot at a very smart pace between the rails to the post where he had a strong lead with Kaiser, pulling double, second. Fenella was third and Marksman fourth, then came Ragpicker, the Melancholy gentleman, Barbelle, and Coquette, The Earl being next and The Duke last of all. Indeed, in passing the Stand for the first time, The Duke was a long way behind everything else and the farther they went, the greater the gap appeared to be. There was scarcely any change in this order until the Rocks’ turn where Marksman deprived Kaiser of second place, and the favourite slightly improved her position.

Before reaching the two-mile post Kaiser showed that he had had enough of it, and he unmistakably shut up. Sir William had also got to the end of his tether, and retired, leaving Fenella and Marksman to go on together in front. In a few strides, Fenella had the lead, and before reaching the Denison turn Coquette came out, ran through her horses and joined Hurtle Fisher’s filly. The two then proceeded to cut each other’s throats. In each case, there was a dangerous stable companion waiting quietly in the rear, and both of these now began to show prominently in the race. Opposite the training stables Barbelle was running third, followed by Ragpicker, but as soon as they entered between the Rails, Coquette hung out signals of distress and retired, and almost immediately afterwards Fenella fell back. It was left to Ragpicker to dash to the front. At the distance-post Ragpicker seemed to have the race in hand. However, it was then that the early pell-mell speed told. About a dozen strides from the winning post, The Duke came with a rush and shot past Ragpicker to secure the prize by a length with a further two lengths to The Earl in the minor placing just ahead of Barbelle. The time for the race, considering the state of the track was an impressive 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

In 1868 sectional times weren’t the precise analytical tool which they became much later in racing, although the A.J.C. Derby of that year is an interesting case study. It was no accident that the two early leaders, Sir William and Kaiser, finished last and second last while the two horses that covered the first mile of the journey in the slowest time ultimately finished first and third. The Sydney Morning Herald correspondent reflecting on The Duke’s winning performance reported thus: “Seeing him far behind, and appearing thus early to be in difficulties, people laughed in derision and shouted: ‘Look at The Duke!’ It is questionable whether anyone, except, perhaps, his owner ever saw the horse after the first half mile had been traversed until he came with a rush a dozen lengths from home, and then people again shouted, ‘Look at The Duke!’ but with a very different tone and feeling to that with which they made the exclamation a minute and a half before. If the horse had suddenly dropped from the skies the spectators could hardly have been more astonished than they were.” At first, the crowd laughed at such an unexpected result while some stood and looked on in utter amazement. But then as the horse came through the lawn in front of the Grand Stand, they surveyed him more closely and asked the question as to why such a fine-looking colt had been so entirely overlooked.

After Mr Buchan Thompson had tied the blue riband around The Duke’s neck amidst three hearty cheers from the crowd, the colt was led away by a young stable lad who was assisting in the training of Archie Thompson’s small team. Few people would have taken much notice that day of The Duke’s attendant. The lad in question had been born in Sydney in 1848 to English parents and was still some weeks away from his twentieth birthday. He had taken to racing and a love of horses early in life. Prior to linking up with Archibald Thompson, he had done a fair bit of riding in country New South Wales, although he was never destined to make it into the top flight as a jockey. But as a trainer, it would be another story. Within a matter of months after The Duke’s victory, the lad would transfer his employment to study stable craft under John Tait. In the not-too-distant future lay Carbine, Newhaven and Trafalgar to name just a few of the horses with which his name would be associated. As you have already guessed, The Duke’s stable attendant on Derby Day at Randwick in 1868 was none other than Walter Hickenbotham.


The winning jockey, John Bishop, was known on the racecourse as ‘Starchy’ because of his fondness for sporting snow-white linen – shirt, collar and even tie. Good-natured but vulgar and possessed of a jejune wit, he might have stepped straight from the pages of Robert Smith Surtees. Like many of his turf compatriots who came out from England, he was clean-shaven and natty in his dress on or off the racecourse. Impulsive as Bishop could be with a few sherbets under his belt, when stone-cold sober in the saddle, he was patience personified as he had demonstrated on his Derby mount. We do know how Bishop celebrated his classic triumph that night. A new drama of colonial origin entitled “The Derby Day” was enjoying its opening night at the Prince of Wales Opera House near the corner of King and Castlereagh streets. It was founded on A. B. Reach’s novel, “Clement Lorimer”. Although it was based on the English Derby and Epsom Downs, an additional feature of that opening night was the promised appearance of the winning Derby jockey at Randwick that afternoon.

That night at the conclusion of the second Act and right on cue, ‘Starchy’ Bishop appeared on stage on a live horse, dressed in Archie Thompson’s colours. Bishop was presented with a handsomely mounted gold whip given by the lessee, on whose behalf the ubiquitous and oleaginous Dr L. L. Smith made the presentation and complimented the jockey on his race judgement.  For a time in the 1860s and early 1870s, John Bishop was at the forefront of Australian jockeys. He had partnered Prince, into the minor placing in the very first Melbourne Cup won by Archer in 1861.  Bishop was also associated with that good galloper, Warrior, owned by Mr A. Saqui.  Alas, the laidback and casual style that brought him triumphs when in the saddle, delivered disasters when out of it.  A gambler who was notoriously careless with money, Bishop died in March 1911, in the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum having been reduced to the old-age pension in his closing years.


On Thursday, the second day of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, while The Barb took out the Great Metropolitan Stakes, Ragpicker gave Hurtle Fisher some compensation for her Derby loss by annexing the Spring Metropolitan Maiden Plate. On the third day, Friday, The Barb’s younger sister, Barbelle, won the Mares’ Produce Stakes hard held for George Lee, after leading most of the journey and thereby confirming the immense promise that she had revealed on the training tracks, although it was to be her only win in five starts that season. The meeting was brought to a termination on the following Saturday when Ragpicker landed the Grand Stand Plate from Barbelle while The Barb ensured John Tait ended the meeting as the leading money winner when he beat his stablemate Warwick, the only other starter in the A.J.C. Randwick Plate.

The prizes for the A.J.C. Spring Meeting were paid over by the club treasurer, Buchan Thomson in Tattersall’s Long Room on Monday, 14 September. While the gross amount paid was £4,023, the principal winners were John Tait £1,280; Archie Thompson £720; and John Lee £587. The chairman of Tattersall’s Club announced that the amount paid in Calcutta Sweeps was £1,092. After prizes were paid, champagne was called for by the winners and the chairman proposed the health of the principal winners – Messrs Tait, Thompson and Lee. Archie Thompson in returning thanks, stated that he regarded it as a great honour to win a Derby, but to win it with a horse bred by a most intimate friend added considerably to the gratification. In conclusion, he gave them the health of John Lee! Edward Lee in the absence of his brother, returned thanks. Archie Thompson also proposed the health of Mr Hurtle Fisher, one of the most straightforward sportsmen in the colonies and the sentiment was very cordially received. The general settling then took place, and, with few exceptions, engagements were met.


If Archibald Thompson believed on Derby Day that his Kingston colt was destined for a grand career on the Australian Turf, he was to be a sadly disappointed man.  The Duke was never engaged later that season for either the Melbourne Cup or the great Victorian three-year-old events of New Year’s Day and the autumn. Indeed, the only three-year-old to contest the Melbourne Cup in 1868 was Ragpicker who went to the post with 6 st. 6lb and started as the 4/1 equal second favourite behind Tim Whiffler. Despite enjoying an inside run for much of the journey, Hurtle Fisher’s filly could only finish in the ruck in the race won by Glencoe. The Victoria Derby run for the second and last time on New Year’s Day, was won in a walk by yet another distinguished daughter of Fisherman in My Dream, a filly who had won the Victoria Oaks in the spring and was a half-sister to the 1864 Victoria Derby (and Melbourne Cup) winner in Lantern. The race was never in doubt from the moment the flag fell, with Antelope second and Fireworks’ half-sister Gasworks in the minor placing in a field of nine. Gasworks could have easily finished second but as she had to run in the next race she wasn’t pushed when her stable companion was beyond the need of help. After all, her trainer James Wilson had declared to win with My Dream. Gasworks proved her class later in the autumn when she won both the V.R.C. St Leger Stakes and the Australian Cup.


The Duke belatedly resumed racing only at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting and finished unplaced in all three of his appearances at headquarters including the Australian St Leger won by Coquette; and the Sydney Cup, won for the second time in succession by The Barb.  Kept off the scene throughout his four-year-old season The Duke made a comeback of sorts the following year to win the 1871 Tattersall’s Club Cup by six lengths from a nondescript field although there were many who were critical of the relatively low weight that he was asked to carry on that occasion. It helped, of course, that his owner was one of the three people who served as handicappers for the club and the conflict of interest was palpable. Thompson was unlucky not to score a double at that same Tattersall’s meeting, for, two races later, The Duke saddled up again in the New Year’s Gift and, despite a 7lb penalty, was only narrowly beaten.  Thompson continued to race The Duke until he was an aged horse but he was destined never to win another major race. Indeed, Archibald Thompson himself was never to win another major race on the Australian Turf either, although he was to own some useful gallopers in the decade remaining to him.

Seen out in the same season as The Duke, Archie Thompson also owned Rosebud, a daughter of Sir Hercules, but sold her in the autumn of 1871 to Andrew Town for £150, only to witness her win the A.J.C. Great Metropolitan Stakes at Randwick later that spring.  However, the incident with which Thompson’s name became most associated with racing in the years after The Duke’s Derby came when William Filgate issued a Supreme Court writ against him, in his capacity as Secretary of the A.J.C., claiming £2,000 damages in November 1873.  Thompson had posted Filgate as a defaulter for the Champagne Stakes at Randwick in April of that year.  This incident is explored more fully in the 1876 chapter of this chronicle.  Archibald Thompson was an active citizen of the colonial life of New South Wales. In 1869 he stood for the seat of Nepean.  For many years he was a Commissioner of the Peace, having been gazetted just a few months after The Duke’s Derby and he attended regularly to his magisterial duties in his place on the city bench.

Thompson also served long in the post of returning officer for East Sydney – the largest electorate in the colony; and even venturing further afield, he was appointed to the committee on arts, manufactures and miscellaneous products for both the 1875 Melbourne Exhibition and that held in Philadelphia in 1876. Although popular, Thompson could be hot-tempered at times and this side of his character was shown in his precipitous but unsuccessful action in taking Alexander B. Rae and the Western Independent newspaper to court for a libel published in that journal in June 1874 regarding Thompson’s duties as returning officer for East Sydney. The numbers of votes had been allowed to leak out before the official declaration of the poll. The newspaper fulminated: “Where was the returning officer? If he is responsible for this gross, scandalous outrage, this utterly shameless subversion of the rights of the people, he is not fit for his office. Mr Archie Thompson is a pattern returning officer: sleek, well-dressed, and wearing a self-satisfied smirk that would captivate a serving maid or awe a new-chum jockey.”

Portsea Place, Hobart – Archibald Thompson’s Last Resting Place

Archibald Thomas Thompson died in February 1879, at Portsea Place in Hobart, wither he had repaired in search of a cooler climate to relieve the wasting disease from which he was suffering. From the earliest days of racing at Homebush until his dying days, Thompson had never severed his connection with the Turf.  He was just 45 years old and left his pregnant widow, Ann Jane, who he had married in 1855, with eleven children of whom the oldest was twenty-four.  Within a fortnight of her father’s death, Georgina, the eldest daughter married in Hobart Town Cathedral. Despite Archibald’s premature death, the family was not left in penury.  There was big money to be had in wine and spirit imports and Thompson had been in the business for over 25 years.

Clopee, Potts Point

During the last decade of his life, Thompson had lived in the grand house ‘Clopee’ in Wylde-street at the northern extremity of Potts Point. Thompson’s tenure there is best remembered for his exchanging shots with a prowler who had broken into the harbourside mansion in the early hours of Sunday, March 8, 1878. Clearly, Thompson was a man of spirit as well as spirits, for at the time, he was seriously ill with consumption that would claim his life within a year. Thompson’s widow, later moving to Oatlands at Woollahra, survived him until 1917.  As late as 1937 the Chief Justice in the Equity Court was being asked to determine whether an infant great-granddaughter of Archibald Thompson was “the issue of a deceased child” within the meaning of his will.  It was a case worth arguing, for even then – 58 years after Thompson’s death – his trust estate was still worth some £150,000.


Time would show that there was quality in that 1868 A.J.C. Derby field both on the racecourse and beyond. Easily the best galloper to emerge from it was George Lee’s Barbelle although she needed her full maturity to do justice to her galloping ability. Disappointing at both two and three, it wasn’t until the autumn of her four-year-old season that Barbelle proved worthy of her family. At the 1870 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, Barbelle made her own running to win the Doncaster Handicap while carrying 2lb more than her weight-for-age, conceding 5lb to the runner-up Sir William and performing the mile in 1 minute 48.2 seconds. Then on the following Thursday, Barbelle repeated the dose by leading all the way in the Sydney Cup, winning by half a length after a splendid race from the dead-heaters, Bylong and The Earl. Besides beating this pair, the field of fourteen included Tim Whiffler, Circassian, Moselle, The Italian, Rosebud, Juanita and other great performers. In the Cup, Barbelle carried 7 st. 10lb, 3lb over her handicap and with Sam Davis in the saddle, she ran the two miles in 3 minutes 43.7 seconds. In winning that 1870 Sydney Cup, she gave her dam the unique distinction of being the only broodmare to drop three successive winners of the race as The Barb had won the two previous runnings. To this day, Barbelle remains the only horse to have won the Doncaster Handicap-Sydney Cup double in the same year although Wakeful as a four-year-old went very close to doing so in 1901.

The Sydney Cup was by no means the last important victory that Barbelle secured for in three successive V.R.C. Spring Meetings from 1870 to 1872, she won the V.R.C. Flying Stakes. On the same day that Barbelle completed that hat trick, she also carried 8 st. 6lb to win the Spring Handicap, which was to be her last success on a racecourse. Shortly afterwards, she was sent to Tim Whiffler but not proving in foal, she went in turn to St Albans, where she visited King of the Ring, to whom she had a dead foal. It was typical of the bad luck that George Lee suffered with Barbelle as a broodmare, for she died at the relatively young age of thirteen in August 1878. Barbelle presents an interesting contrast to Coquette, the other filly that the Lee brothers started in that 1868 A.J.C. Derby. Edward Lee had the very great pleasure of leading her in at Randwick after she won the St Leger the following year although it was her last important victory. Unlike Barbelle, Coquette proved a great success at stud where she produced both the Sydney Cup winner and weight-for-age horse, Progress, Grand Flaneur’s great rival, and Ironmaster, winner of the 1884 S.A.J.C. Goodwood Handicap.


And whatever became of John Lee and the famous Bylong Stud?  That first historic draft of Bylong yearlings that were sold at Newmarket on May 1, 1867, did kickstart an annual event but it didn’t immediately catch fire. The Bylong Stud had few yearlings that it wanted to sell in the autumn of 1868 but Charles Reynolds’ Tocal Stud, Edward King Cox’s Fernhill Stud, and the Macarthurs’ Camden Park Stud, all through the agency of Burt’s Horse Bazaar made up the shortfall. It wasn’t until the autumn of 1870 that the Bylong Stud really got back into the swing of offering a good draft of yearlings for sale at Randwick by which time Kingston was fully established as a stallion. As we shall see, during the decade of the 1870s, the Lee brothers would breed no less than four individual winners of the A.J.C. Derby between them. Such was their fraternal collaboration that it wasn’t always possible to attribute the responsibility as the breeder to one brother alone. I shall retail the balance of both John Lee’s life on the Australian Turf and the history of the Bylong Stud in my 1897 chapter.


1867 – Fireworks Explodes Upon the Scene!


1869 – Hurtle Fisher and the Maribyrnong Stud !


  1. Thank you for yet another coruscating tribute Ian. I’m thrilled with your early recognition of the Bylong Valley and ‘pioneer’ John Lee. When I arrived in the Upper Hunter in 1967 there were many thoroughbred enterprises at or near Bylong. These included Clarrie Messiter @ Sylvania Lodge (‘Faringdon’), Sue & Geoff Thompson @ Kincsem Stud, Alec Terry @ Tarwyn Park (‘Lower Road’ (imp) by Crepello), later Peter Andrews @ Tarwyn Park (‘Rain Lover’ & ‘Eleazar’), Tom Fleming @ Homeleigh (‘Our Cobber’), Dan Buffier @ Wingarra (‘Honeyline (GB)’, ‘Belgrave Square (GB)’, ‘Make Haste (GB)’, ‘Sovereign Ruler (GB)’, ‘Rebel God (GB)’. Later ‘Osmunda’ & ‘Oenjay Star’), Bob Crosbie @ Wigelmar & Tryalion (‘Welsh Border’, ‘Golden God’ & ‘Peruvian Silk’). Subsequent others included ‘Clearview Stud’ & Cam Nancarrow’s. Dan Buffier bred two (2) Golden Sipper Winners: ‘Birthday Card’ (1962) & ‘Sir Dapper’ (1987). Now I cannot recall ANY thoroughbred enterprises in the magnificent Bylong Valley? It’s still as pristine as ever it was but maybe recent ‘political’ skullduggery and coal mining controversy has frightened everyone off?

    • Ian Ibbett

      Hi Bill, Thanks again! Reading your comments and seeing the names of those studs and stallions was like a trip down memory lane. My, how the years roll by! Entre nous, I think it’s the coal mining that has cleared them all out of the Bylong Valley.

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