The names of some famous broodmares are scattered throughout the pages of the Australian Stud Book, but the name of one stands out as pre-eminent. It is that of Juliet. We first met her in our 1869 chapter when her son Charon won the Derby, but in the 1873 renewal of the classic, Juliet’s influence was to be even more profound for not only did another of her sons in Benvolio win the race but a grandson from her daughter, Sylvia, also ran the minor placing. At the time of Charon’s Derby victory, the greatness that lay in store for the several foals of Juliet could only be guessed at, but by the time Benvolio came along, it was already apparent that a most remarkable strain of bloodstock had burst upon the scene.
Pray, allow me to resume the thread of Juliet that was left hanging in our chronicle of 1869. Upon her arrival in Australia, this daughter of Touchstone had dropped a filly foal by Stockwell in the Maribyrnong paddocks, subsequently named Chrysolite. Juliet was not mated with a horse the season Chrysolite was born, and in 1862 she slipped her foal, while the next season she missed altogether. We can’t be sure, but it is more than likely that both services were by Fisherman. It was most certainly to Fisherman that she foaled successfully the very next season in 1864 and the lovely bay filly was subsequently registered as Sylvia.
Sylvia, who was bred by Hurtle Fisher, actually raced in the colours of his brother Charles, who by then had taken over the Maribyrnong Stud. Her two-year-old season was ruined because of an accident she suffered when being landed in Sydney aboard the City of Melbourne in late March 1867 – on the eve of the autumn meeting, which left her with some unsightly scars on her legs. Still, she recovered and although only lightly raced over the course of three seasons, did manage to win the 1867 V.R.C. Oaks. At the end of an unsuccessful four-year-old season, she was retired, and when Charles Fisher sold out of the Maribyrnong Stud the first time, George Petty acquired her along with all of the other breeding stock. As we have seen, it was Petty who was responsible for bringing Fireworks back to stand stallion duty at Maribyrnong, and it was in those famous paddocks in late August 1870 that Sylvia gave birth to a strapping bay colt by the triple Derby winner. A great deal of interest was aroused among sportsmen from the moment of the colt’s birth, and as he furnished into a fine specimen as a yearling, there was much speculation as to just how much he would realise in the auction ring and who would be the cashed-up buyer prepared to hazard the money.
Enter ‘Honest’ John Tait. During the decade that began with the victory of Fireworks in 1867, Tait sent forth a succession of high-class horses from the gates of Byron Lodge to challenge for the richest prizes on the Australian Turf, and it is fair to say, no man had ever enjoyed a greater measure of success. In the years since the champion filly Florence achieved the Derby treble, Tait’s lodestar had remained in the ascendant. In 1871 and 1872 he had taken out the Melbourne Cup for a third and fourth time with The Pearl and The Quack respectively, each of which raced in his name. Apart from the prize money, The Pearl’s victory hadn’t been particularly profitable as Pyrrhus had been the stable elect that year. Indeed, Tait was so dismissive of The Pearl’s chance that he declined bookmaker Austin Saqui’s challenge of £1,000 to £10 as the horses left the saddling paddock.
No such misjudgement marred the pleasure that attended The Quack’s triumph the following year. The six-year-old bay horse, despite a chequered passage, had run the minor placing in the A.J.C. Metropolitan won by Dagworth in race record time. It might not have been a coup landed with the meticulous finesse of the Druid’s Lodge Confederacy, but The Quack, a half-brother to the 1870 Melbourne Cup winner Nimblefoot, won some good bets for Tait and his associates. Nonetheless, after the stable commission secured double-figure odds in the days leading up to the race, only 5/1 was on offer on Cup Day itself. It was such rewards as these that enabled the Master of Byron Lodge to pay top sovereign for any well-bred yearling that took his fancy. But for all of the expensive bloodstock that Tait was to acquire during his lifetime, none had a more considerable influence on the Australian Turf than the stable’s representative in the 1873 A.J.C. Derby.
The story of this partnership begins in January 1872 just a couple of months after Tait won his third Melbourne Cup. The canny owner-trainer visited the Maribyrnong Stud for George Petty’s sale of yearlings, held after the Midsummer Meeting at Flemington. Eleven lots in all were auctioned that day, but it was just one in particular that interested Tait and that, of course, was Juliet’s grandson – the striking bay colt from Sylvia. It was a remarkable family that was already showing distinct signs of being a mother lode of gold on racecourses. As we have seen, Sylvia’s full sister, Ragpicker, had managed to run second in the Oaks at Flemington and the Derby at Randwick, while her three-quarter brother, Charon, had won the Derby there. A late August foal, the colt in question was a picture of size, symmetry and balance, and Tait was eventually forced to go to 650 guineas to secure possession – the second-highest price paid for any of the eleven lots, which aggregated a total of 3880 guineas. I might mention that the most expensive yearling sold that day – a colt from Rose de Florence that went for 700 guineas and raced as Dante, was a failure that Tait did well to leave alone. About a fortnight after the sales, the Master of Byron Lodge returned to Sydney by steamer with his latest yearling colt together with Pyrrhus and Titania, older horses that he had been campaigning in Victoria.
On Monday, 11th March 1872, some ten weeks after John Tait had paid 650 guineas to secure Juliet’s yearling grandson by Fireworks, Juliet’s yearling son by Peter Wilkins was put through the auction ring at Kirk’s Bazaar in Melbourne. A large congregation of sportsmen had assembled there to witness the sale of the annual draft of yearlings from A. G. Hunter’s Woodstock Stud and Henry Phillips’s Bryan O’Lynn Stud. W. P. Bowes was in the rostrum and while the crowd was large, the buyers were few. The sale was anything but a success and a far cry from the returns achieved by the Maribyrnong Stud. Except in a few instances, the prices realised would hardly have paid for the feed of the youngsters. Prior to the sale, Bowes had announced that Phillips had consented to join Messrs Petty and Hunter in the Maribyrnong Plate by giving £150 towards it, making the value of the added money £650, without counting the sweepstakes. One would have thought that this incentive would have materially increased the value of both lots of youngsters but such proved not to be the case.
Punctual to the advertised time of 2 p.m. Bowes clambered into the box and after a short oration, put up Lot No. 8 from Woodstock. A grand chestnut colt by Peter Wilkins out of Juliet, and in the words of the racing correspondent for the Weekly Times present at the sale: “…showing, all over, the make and shape of a first-class racehorse, and a credit to any of the great studs of England.” Bidding was started at 200 guineas, which was followed by a bid of 300, then 350, after which, in 10-guinea bids, he reached 510 guineas, at which price he was knocked down to T. J. Ryan of Adelaide, a relatively cheap price considering his bloodlines and the nature of his engagements. A few lots later and Ryan purchased the Peter Wilkins filly out of Rosemary for only 70 guineas. All told, the nine lots sold by A. G. Hunter realised just 1060 guineas – not very encouraging to breeders of first-class stock. Part of the reason was prejudice against Peter Wilkins as a stallion, but part of the reason also lay in the fact that bookmakers had lately obtained a ‘sickener’ of racing horses themselves. Not one member of that fraternity made a bid. Henry Phillips’s group of seven yearlings brought only a derisory £523. Ryan’s two yearlings by Peter Wilkins were sent to his stud at the Britannia Hotel, Norwood, in South Australia. Subsequently, he registered the chestnut colt as Benvolio and the bay filly as Rosalie.
But let us return to the machinations of John Tait and that colt from Sylvia. Tait gave more thought to the registration of that particular yearling than any that ever passed through his hands. For some time past, he had wanted to name a racehorse after one of his closest confidantes, and the canny Scotsman wasn’t a man to share his confidences lightly. The colleague in question was the Australian wool king, Richard Goldsbrough. A native of Shipley, Yorkshire, in the heart of the English woollen district, Goldsbrough came to Australia in 1847 at the age of twenty-six and proceeded to make his fortune by becoming Australia’s most prominent wool broker, after basing his operations in Melbourne. Few captains of industry in those roaring days remained aloof from the racecourse and Goldsbrough was no exception. He was one of the select few that attended the famous meeting at Scott’s Hotel on March 9, 1864, that saw the Victoria Racing Club come into existence, and he became one of the foundation stewards and ultimately a committeeman of the institution. Although his passion for the Turf was genuine, he guarded his privacy carefully and it wasn’t known for sure that he ever owned a racehorse. At no time did he ever register his own colours.
Nonetheless, Richard Goldsbrough’s relationship with Tait was such that there was more than a suspicion that the genial Yorkshire man shared an interest in many of John Tait’s triumphs. Such was their intimate friendship that Tait had longed to register a racehorse called in his friend’s honour, but it had to be a noble steed worthy of the name. Although the Sylvia colt was ultimately destined to bear the name – and I will use both descriptions alternately in this chapter – almost two years would pass before Tait felt assured that this son of Fireworks would do the name “Goldsbrough” justice. Just like the famous wool broker, the handsome brown colt possessed both a massive frame and a genial disposition. Very early in his gallops, the horse suggested he might uphold his aristocratic pedigree and Tait allowed him to carry silk for the first time at the 1872 V.R.C. Spring Meeting when he finished fourth in the Maribyrnong Plate behind Dagmar. It was his only appearance as a juvenile and Tait then despatched him to the paddock to afford him the opportunity to grow into his magnificent frame and mature into a genuine Derby candidate.
The running of the Maribyrnong Plate that year wasn’t entirely wasted on John Tait, despite the Sylvia colt’s failure. The canny trainer was very much taken with another juvenile by his old favourite, Fireworks, that had started in the same race and run a creditable second. The horse in question, My Leah, was a bonny filly out of Art Union, a daughter of Fisherman and the classically bred Gildermire – one of the merry harem that had accompanied that great stallion when he was brought out to these shores. My Leah raced that day in the nomination of prominent Melbourne bookmaker Austin Saqui, but very soon after the race, Tait made Saqui an offer he couldn’t refuse. Tait possessed both a fat wallet and an unerring eye for potential in two-year-olds as the acquisition of the likes of Fireworks and Glencoe already attested, and in securing this filly for Byron Lodge, the trainer’s insight was to be proven yet again.
The Sylvia colt might have been in the spelling paddock when the rich juvenile races were decided in the autumn of 1873, but in this Art Union filly, Tait had found the perfect substitute. Changing her name to Rose d’Amour, Tait almost pulled off the Ascot Vale Stakes when she was beaten less than a length by the future Victoria Derby winner, Lapidist, a son of Chrysolite, and thus a very near relation of Goldsbrough. It was a portent of things to come. Rose d’Amour came on in leaps and bounds when brought across to Sydney, and at the Randwick autumn fixture, she easily won the Champagne Stakes by five lengths before relegating the aforementioned Benvolio a length into second placing in the Sires’ Produce Stakes. Honest John Tait firmly believed that he had two genuine contenders for the A.J.C. Derby, come springtime.
Sydney’s winter spent itself in a succession of rainy days in 1873, and it rendered life difficult for those trainers preparing their charges for the Derby, run that year as early as the last Saturday in August. Moreover, the Hawkesbury Race Club altered its programme in 1873, the Hawkesbury Derby becoming the Hawkesbury Guineas, with the distance reduced to a mile. Although badly in need of some hard racing, Goldsbrough finished runner-up to Sterling in the Guineas; but he blotted his copybook badly when he couldn’t run a drum in the Maiden Plate on the second day. Both Goldsbrough and Rose d’Amour were big animals that failed to come to hand quickly, and while Tait reluctantly withdrew the filly from the A.J.C. Derby, he kept the Sylvia colt in the race more out of hope than expectation. The extraordinary series of wet Saturdays had suggested the prospect of a Derby Day bathed in sunshine most unlikely, but the gods were kind, and the great race was conducted under clear skies. There had been few changes to the course since the previous year, although Mr Clibborn had rewarded pressmen with a better reporting box, and perhaps more importantly, a writing room. A field of nine, including three fillies, was accepted for the classic; while no less than four of the starters were by Yattendon, who had already emerged as the colony’s pre-eminent stallion.
While bookmakers kept the Sylvia colt at a safe 5/1, the race wore an open aspect with Benvolio, Fitz-Yattendon and Sterling all preferred by the public. Benvolio owed his prominence mainly to having finished runner-up to Rose d’Amour in the A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes the previous autumn, and the Derby represented his first essay on the Turf in the new season. A remarkably kind-tempered, quiet little fellow, he was being prepared by the South Australian horseman, Harry Tothill. Fitz-Yattendon was the first of those classically-bred Yattendon colts that carried the colours of the Governor of N.S.W., Sir Hercules Robinson, in the Derby. Bred at Fernhill by the Hon. E. K. Cox, Fitz-Yattendon was out of a well-bred daughter of the great Birdcatcher and came into the race having started only once on a racecourse when he ran unplaced in the 1873 A.J.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes. He owed his market prominence both to the eminence of his owner, and some impressive gallops on the training grounds where he was prepared by Tom Lamond.
Next fancied in the betting was Thomas Ivory’s Sterling, yet another son of Yattendon, and out of Sultana, a half-sister to Bylong, winner of the 1866 A.J.C. Great Metropolitan Stakes. Sterling had made his racecourse debut at the Bathurst Annual Races in March when he easily won the Nursery Stakes (6f) by four lengths, but he had failed to place in either the Champagne Stakes or Sires’ Produce Stakes won by Rose d’Amour. Perhaps the most interesting outsider in the Derby field was Excelsior. Unplaced in the Champagne Stakes at his only start at two, he had been well-tried in the new season having appeared a half-dozen times already, including four wins in three days at the Goulburn spring fixture.
The 1873 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
A crowd estimated at somewhere between eight and ten thousand people witnessed Mr Gannon despatch the Derby field to a fine start after a minimal delay. The colours of Goldsbrough and Sterling showed most prominently and Hybla soon led by five lengths going past the stand, from Sterling and Goldsbrough, with Excelsior and Benvolio fourth and fifth respectively. Hybla, a daughter of Clove, cut out the work for the next half-mile until she died away and Jimmy Ashworth dashed the Sylvia colt to the front down the far side of the course. At the beginning of the hill, Sterling and FitzYattendon on the extreme outside joined him, and this trio raced up the hill and to the bend at a great rate. The pace soon told on them, however, and on the home turn, both Benvolio and Excelsior ran past them quite easily, with the South Australian colt going on to win the blue riband by six lengths. Ashworth coaxed another effort from the Sylvia colt, and he stayed on strongly in the straight to defeat the pair that had bested him in the Hawkesbury Guineas to be only beaten a half-length for second money behind Excelsior.
The winner, Benvolio, a nice wiry chestnut, was bred by Mr R. J. Hunter of Woodstock, Victoria and as we have seen was purchased as a yearling by T. J. Ryan for 510 guineas. His sire, Peter Wilkins, was an English stallion by The Flying Dutchman and was bred by Lord Stradbroke and foaled in 1853. Peter Wilkins was not particularly successful at stud in Australia, and apart from Benvolio, his only other notable progeny were the Melbourne Cup winner, The Quack, and Rosalie, who won The Shorts a few days after Benvolio’s Derby. Benvolio’s first appearance had come in the Maribyrnong Plate won by Dagmar, when he ran fifth, and later at that same meeting, he had run last in the Flying Stakes. Benvolio made a brief, unplaced appearance at the V.R.C. Midsummer Meeting before similar anonymity in Tasmania where he was taken in company with his stablemates, Leo and Adelina on that memorable visit that saw Thomas Ryan win both the Champion Race and the T.T.C. Launceston Cup with the ill-fated Leo. Benvolio returned for the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting but failed to win in his two races there. It wasn’t until he got to Randwick that he disclosed his true ability in his first season, with a gallant second behind Rose d’Amour in the Sires’ Produce Stakes, beating nearly all of Sydney’s best youngsters.
It was the second A.J.C. Derby in succession for jockey Tom Brown, who had scored on Loup Garou the year before. So long and favourably known as a jockey in connection with William Winch’s stable, Brown had enjoyed considerable success in the saddle at Randwick in distance races having won the A.J.C. Great Metropolitan Stakes in successive years in 1869 and 1870 on Circassian and Croydon respectively in Winch’s violet and white livery. Having won the A.J.C. St Leger on Commodore for William Winch in the autumn of 1873, Tom Brown could now boast of both A.J.C. red and blue ribands in the same calendar year. The 1870s was Brown’s decade in the saddle.; he was a contemporary of Billy Yeomans, Bricky Colley, Tom Hales, Paddy Piggott, Mick O’Brien and Joe Morrison but he more than held his own.
A cool rider, Brown could sometimes become overconfident on a horse, something that was borne out in the Spring Stakes, the race immediately following Benvolio’s Derby. Brown was again sporting the colours of T. J. Ryan on his horse, The Ace, and was just beaten on the post by Dagworth after trying to make too nice a thing of it. Tom Brown never won the A.J.C. Derby again as a jockey although he was twice runner-up: on George Hill’s Malta in 1875 and on Etienne de Mestre’s Vulcan in 1878. He also finished within a length of Woodlands and Chester when he rode the minor placegetter Cap-A-Pie for Andrew Town in that famous Derby finish of 1877. Tom Brown, however, did have one more claim to make on the A.J.C. Derby. As we shall see in our 1880 chapter, Brown would become the first man to not only ride a winner of the Randwick classic but to train one as well, when Tom Hales partnered the great Grand Flaneur in one of his nine unbeaten victories.
Thomas Joseph Ryan, the lucky owner of Benvolio, was to enjoy a short but merry career on the Australian Turf and has proven to be one of the more elusive sporting owners of the nineteenth century to pin down. It hasn’t helped that some journalists back in 1899 conflated his identity with that of James Tobias (Toby) Ryan upon the latter’s death, a mistake compounded in the latter’s entry into the Australian Dictionary of Biography first published in 1976. Both Ryans were racing men but Toby (1818-99) was a butcher, pastoralist and politician who sprung from pure emancipist stock and represented the Nepean electorate in the New South Wales Parliament for twelve years (1860-72) as a committed Free Trader and supporter of Sir Henry Parkes. Toby Ryan’s best racehorse was arguably Traveller, who in 1863 won the A.J.C. Grand Handicap.
Thomas J. Ryan, like Toby, might have had an undistinguished pedigree but in the few brief years that providence afforded him, he cut a far more distinguished figure on the Turf. Baptised at Kilcommon, Tipperary, in May 1850, Thomas had come over to South Australia with his parents and siblings on the ship Sir Edward Parry, which arrived in Port Adelaide in May 1854. It was Patrick Ryan, the father of Thomas, who, in 1861, while working as a shepherd on a pastoral lease of Captain W. W. Hughes, first discovered copper deposits at Moonta, traces of which were reputedly seen coming out of a wombat hole. Ryan as part of a rival group challenged Hughes’s claim to the deposits but was dead from alcoholic poisoning within nine months of his discovery. A later legal challenge in 1867 saw the matter settled out of court with the Ryan family benefiting, although Captain Hughes ultimately retained his claim. It was money from this out-of-court settlement that funded young Thomas Ryan’s assault on the Turf with his first major successes coming in the Adelaide Cup and the S.A.J.C. St Leger at the 1868 Meeting of the South Australian Jockey Club with Cupbearer and Regalia respectively, each horse being partnered by Harry Tothill. Tothill had previously won the S.A.J.C. Derby on Regalia when she ran in William Gerrard’s ownership.
South Australian racing was in a state of flux around this time. In 1869 the first incarnation of the South Australian Jockey Club went bankrupt amidst the unsuitability of the few racecourses available in Adelaide. In these circumstances, Ryan hesitated before elevating his racing interests onto an altogether more ambitious plane. It was only in 1871 and after he had come into his majority at the age of twenty-one that he was able to invest in better quality bloodstock and he recruited Harry Tothill to become both his private trainer and occasional jockey when weight permitted. Harry had become the lessee of the Britannia Hotel Stables which consisted of ten roomy and well-ventilated horse boxes and it was there that he prepared T. J. Ryan’s team for the 1871-72 and the 1872-73 racing seasons. And what an impressive little team it was! The stables were greatly favoured by their close proximity to the training grounds recently formed by Mr A. J. Baker.
The core of Ryan’s team had been sourced from Joseph Gilbert’s Pewsey Vale Stud and included The Ace, Kingfisher, Leo and Monk, supplemented by the two Peter Wilkins yearlings that Ryan had bought in Melbourne in the autumn of 1872, Benvolio and Rosalie. After being unlucky at the 1872 V.R.C. Midsummer and Autumn Meetings, the Annual Meeting of the S.A.J.C. in May served notice that in Ryan and Tothill, here, was a new force in South Australian racing. The Ace, partnered by Tothill, won the S.A.J.C. St Leger and Leo won the Town Plate on the First Day while Kingfisher won the Queen’s Hundred on the Second Day. While Benvolio and the A.J.C. Derby is the main focus of this chapter, it is easy to overlook the amount of success that Thomas Ryan and Harry Tothill enjoyed during this brief period.
In the spring of 1872, The Ace, having been stabled at the Pastoral Hotel, Flemington, went ever so close to giving the pair a Melbourne Cup when he was beaten into second placing behind The Quack, owned and trained by John Tait. A young Tom Hales enjoyed his first mount in the Melbourne Cup on The Ace. There was keen disappointment felt in the stable by that defeat of The Ace, in the event of whose success the three stable boys had been laid £600 to nothing by the horse’s owner. The following autumn brought across to Sydney, The Ace ran the minor placing as the topweight in the Sydney Cup behind Vixen and later won both the All-Aged Stakes and Cumberland Stakes. While The Ace might have been the star of the Ryan team, this impressive son of the imported Ace Of Clubs had plenty of support. Leo, the best son of the imported Irish stallion Leonidas, in a brilliant burst in late summer, yielded Ryan the 1873 Geelong Cup, The Champion Race (Launceston) and the T.T.C. Launceston Cup.
The 1873 A.J.C. Spring Meeting proved to be particularly profitable for T. J. Ryan and his South Australian contingent of horses. His six-year-old horse Kingfisher managed to dead-heat for first place in the Epsom Handicap under the guidance of Tom Hales. Mr Eccles, the owner of Atalanta, the other horse sharing the dead heat, agreed to divide the stake and Kingfisher then walked over the course. On the Second Day of the meeting, Ryan’s other three-year-old by Peter Wilkins, Rosalie, won The A.J.C. Shorts. Ryan finished the meeting as the leading owner, although in those days the prize for the Epsom wasn’t as large as now, with the club then only adding one hundred sovereigns. Still, T. J. Ryan pocketed over a thousand pounds in stakes alone from the meeting, not to mention a sizeable sum in bets. In doing so, Ryan relegated Etienne de Mestre and Sir Hercules Robinson to just the second and third most successful owners at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting on the basis of stakes won. But no sooner had the settling taken place at Tattersall’s Hotel than Ryan received a hefty slice of bad luck.
On the Saturday afternoon of September 20, some three weeks after the running of the A.J.C. Derby, Benvolio together with Thomas Ryan’s three other horses viz. The Ace, Lancer and Rosalie, were taken down to the Australasian Steam Navigation Company’s wharf in Darling Harbour for the purpose of being shipped to Melbourne, on board the City of Adelaide. The Derby winner was the first it attempted to get on board, but he refused to face the gangway and the stage, slipped on the pier, and fell. Benvolio was then placed in a box, the intention being to sling him on board, but while in the box he fell again, and was found to have received such injuries to his hindquarters as prevented his standing. A leading veterinary surgeon was called in and the poor colt was carried on a truck into the goods shed, where a bed was laid down for him, but his injuries proved too severe for any surgical remedy and after remaining in agony until 8 o’clock that night, he died.
It was a heavy financial blow for Ryan, for not only was Benvolio worth a large sum of money both as a racehorse and future stallion, but Ryan had already backed him to win a great stake, both in the Victoria Derby and also in the feature double of that race and the Melbourne Cup. Benvolio had been doing so well on the track at Randwick since the Derby that Ryan, Tothill and Brown all thought the Victorian equivalent was there for the taking. Very blood-like in appearance, as Benvolio walked through the streets to the wharf on that Saturday afternoon, his beautiful chestnut coat and athletic step were universally noticed, and as curious people remarked, it wasn’t every day that an equine aristocrat stepped among them. Little could they imagine that the horse only had a matter of hours to live!
Despite having won the Derby and been the recipient of the largest share of the stakes at the recent A.J.C. Spring Meeting, Thomas Ryan’s visit to the Harbour city had ultimately turned out to be anything but profitable. The unlucky owner enjoyed no success with the remainder of his team at the V.R.C. Spring Meeting either, watching his Rosalie trail in down the course in the Victoria Derby, won by yet another of Juliet’s grandsons by Fireworks, in Lapidist, trained by William Filgate. Filgate had paid 350 guineas for the colt at the same Maribyrnong sale where Tait parted with 650 guineas for Goldsbrough. Lapidist was a daughter of that distinguished matron Chrysolite, who three seasons after foaling Lapidist, would drop the champion, Robinson Crusoe. Disillusioned and depressed, a couple of months on, Ryan placed all his horses for sale at auction with Yuille and Co. in Melbourne, and left to return to Ireland where his widowed mother Alicia, and his sister Mary and her husband had gone to live. Thomas Ryan died of inflammation of the lungs on October 26, 1875, in Liverpool, England – not quite 25 years of age. Fortunately for sporting aficionados with a love of equine art and Australia’s Turf heritage, in the year before his premature death, Ryan had commissioned a fine oil painting from the brush of Fred Woodhouse of his favourite racehorses. In one of his more inspired canvases, the artist set the scene on the Flemington course in front of the recently built grandstand.
To trace the career of Harry Tothill, the trainer of Benvolio is to almost write a history of the Turf in the colony of South Australia. Born in 1845, Harry had an instinctive love of horses from childhood and learned to ride on his own pony around the environs of Norwood and the Britannia Hotel where his mother was the landlady. He first commenced riding horses competitively for his relatives Messrs Heed and Mills before journeying across to Maribyrnong in 1863 and linking up with William Filgate. Tothill partnered with Hurtle Fisher’s Rose Of Denmark when she won the Ballarat Handicap that year and also when the same mare filled the minor placing in the 1863 Melbourne Cup behind Banker and Musidora. In the first Adelaide Cup, run in 1864, Tothill successfully partnered with Hurtle Fisher’s Lantern, but he wasn’t on him when the three-year-old son of Muscovado won the Melbourne Cup later the same year.
In the month after that Cup, Tothill rode against Tom Hales in a famous match race at Thebarton, the first occasion Hales had ridden in Adelaide. The race was a private sweepstake of £100 aside between C. B. Fisher and the Hon. J. Baker, both of whom ran a couple of two-year-olds by the imported horse Fisherman. Hales on Smuggler won the race for Fisher, with Forester and Tothill coming in third for Baker in the four-horse field. Some few years later as we have seen, Tothill and Hales would briefly be associated respectively as the trainer and jockey for T. J. Ryan. Prior to joining Ryan, Tothill had worked with J. G. Gilbert’s string of horses at Pewsey Vale and a couple of Gilbert’s best horses were to form the nucleus of Ryan’s team when the latter extended the reach of his ownership. Increasing weight eventually saw Tothill transition from flat races to steeplechases and he won the principal steeplechase at the 1872 Geelong Meeting on Monk for T. J. Ryan before retiring from the saddle soon after.
The sale of T. J. Ryan’s racing stable and his removal to England did not see Harry Tothill cooling his heels for long. Following brief service with Mr J. Bennett, Tothill obtained the appointment as the private trainer to Sir Thomas Elder, who was in the early throes of stocking his Morphettville Stud and by June 1875, Tothill was overseeing his team. Such was the significance of Elder and his Morphettville Stud in the history of South Australian racing that perhaps I should provide some background to the operation that Tothill had joined. Thomas Elder was a Scottish-Australian pastoralist, philanthropist, politician and bloodstock breeder, and one of South Australia’s leading figures for much of the last half of the nineteenth century. Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, in August 1818, he was the fourth son of the merchant, George Elder, and his wife, Joanne. Thomas migrated to Adelaide in 1854 – the same year as Thomas Ryan – and came to a city where his three older brothers had already moved and established themselves in commerce. Yet within little more than a year after Thomas’s arrival, his three older brothers had all returned to England. Thomas stayed and ultimately formed Elder, Smith and Company (1863) and the Adelaide Steamship Company (1875).
However, our real interest here is Thomas Elder’s bloodstock adventures. It was in April 1873 that Elder started his stud farm. Initially, Elder considered utilising the grounds of his Birksgate estate, the Glen Osmond property that he had acquired from Arthur Hardy in 1864, for his proposed stud. Birksgate, containing about one hundred acres of land and timbered with old peppermints and newly-planted red gums, was reached by the main overland road to Melbourne and located under the highest peaks of the Mount Lofty Ranges. But while Birksgate was complete in most other respects, with its mansion, conservatory, shrubbery, vineyards, cellars and orchard, it didn’t afford the proper facilities for the keeping and training of thoroughbreds, being too much on a hill, as shown in the photograph above. Accordingly, Elder organised his new racing establishment at Morphettville, near the new South Australian racecourse that was being promoted under his auspices.
It was in March 1874 that Thomas Elder offered about 160 acres, adjoining the Morphett Arms on the Bay road, as the proposed site of a new racecourse on a lease for 99 years for a peppercorn rent. The Jockey Club Company, being formed to accept the course and prepare it, was to have the entire use and control of the land for thirty days each year and the grounds on which the buildings were placed for the whole year. The Company were to erect the grandstand and other necessary buildings near the Morphett Arms on the Glenelg line railway. The proposed new course was a fine, level piece of running ground in a pleasant locality, easily reached by rail from the city in a few minutes at a trifling cost and with passengers discharged at the gates. Among the promoters were the names of veteran supporters of racing including Sir John Morphett, Joseph Gilbert and R. C. Baker. Acceptance of the offer and the construction of the new racecourse suggested there was a new dawn in the racing affairs of the state.
Prior to the advent of Morphettville racecourse, what racing had occurred around Adelaide had taken place on the Thebarton course, which wasn’t much even at its best, and on the East Park Lands. The latter site was a pleasant one for a running ground, being so picturesquely situated between the city plantations and the hills but it had one major drawback. The good citizens objected strongly to placing the race paddock of the East Park Lands so completely in the hands of any club as to allow the course to be fenced and a charge made for admission. Consequently, the meetings held there had to depend on the liberality of those who were asked to subscribe to the added part of the stakes. The new course at Morphettville changed the dynamic entirely.
Harry Tothill moved into the neat stone lodge on the left of the entrance gate to Sir Thomas Elder’s 250-acre Glenelg stud and stables. He was fairly successful on behalf of the owner of the tartan jacket, and, appropriately enough, won the first race ever conducted on the Morphettville course when Red Gauntlet carried Sir Thomas Elder’s colours to victory on September 23, 1875. Great expectations were held for Elder’s racehorses particularly after he purchased the 1873 English Two Thousand Guineas winner, Gang Forward in December 1875 to serve as his stud’s foundation stallion. While Gang Forward enjoyed some success here, siring 15 individual stakes winners of 24 stakes races, he failed to get a really top-class racehorse to justify the almost £5,000 it cost Elder to land him in South Australia. Tothill managed numerous other wins for Elder with relatively inferior bloodstock, including the 1877 and 1878 South Australian Derbies with the filly Irish Queen and the colt Viceroy respectively. Irish Queen was ridden in that Derby by Sam Cracknell, who, like Tothill, had grown up in Norwood and who Tothill helped get established. Yet another of Tothill’s notable training victories came with Banter in the 1879 Adelaide Cup for Robert Barr Smith, Thomas Elder’s generous partner.
There is an interesting backstory to Banter’s Cup. Banter initially belonged to the Croziers, and Jack Hill was training him. Harry Tothill saw Banter do a gallop at Morphettville, and coming to town immediately, sought out Barr Smith, and advised him to buy Banter, as he was sure to win the Adelaide Cup. Barr Smith sent his agent around to Gordon & Co., who in those days represented the Crozier family and bought Banter, the manager for Gordon & Co., selling the horse without referring the matter to Arthur Crozier, who was really the man in charge. Arthur Crozier baulked at delivering the horse for a time but ultimately was forced to do so. Barr Smith won the Cup and afterwards sold Banter to Les Macdonald. The eleventh-hour sale was tough on Jack Hill, who did all the work, while Harry Tothill got the credit for having trained the winner. Harry Tothill was in charge of Sir Thomas Elder’s horses for almost five years but, disappointed with the results, Elder eventually replaced him with W. E. Dakin in the autumn of 1880.
The break with Tothill came soon after the breakdown of Royal Consort, a two-year-old son of Gang Forward who had been heavily fancied by the stable for the 1879 V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate. Thereafter, Tothill continued as a public trainer, building excellent stables at Somerton at the back of his dwelling house, a quarter of a mile from the beach and within easy distance of the Morphettville racecourse. Although like other trainers his boxes were nearly empty during the period of depression when there was no racing in Adelaide, he enjoyed good patronage after the re-introduction of the totalisator. Sardius, the 1883 Caulfield Guineas winner, was probably the best horse he had towards the end of his career and won respect and patronage from some of South Australia’s leading sportsmen like James Aldridge and John Pile.
For a man who had survived the perils of the Turf for some thirty years in the saddle, both on the flat and over fences as well as breaking-in horses, it is sad to relate that Harry Tothill was cut down in his 46th year when absentmindedly crossing King William Street in Adelaide from the Exchange in June 1891. He had gone to the city to attend to some race nominations and after he had transacted his business and was about to return to the railway station, he was knocked down by a grocer’s cart. Tothill wasn’t killed instantly but died a few hours later in hospital having sustained eleven broken ribs and a smashed liver. Tothill left a widow and nine children in rather impoverished circumstances. A public subscription was taken up on behalf of his widow to which both Sir Thomas Elder and Robert Barr Smith contributed £100 each while the S.A.J.C. and the A.R.C. each matched their contributions. Eventually, a sum of 1,424/3/9d was settled on Tothill’s family.
But let us return to Randwick and the 1873 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. There were many among the crowd and not a few sceptical pressmen who doubted whether, in fact, the best colt had won the A.J.C. Derby. Rowley Pickering of the Sydney Mail, who wrote under the pseudonym of Nemo, argued that while the best horse may have won, far too much use was made of Goldsbrough, Sterling and Fitz-Yattendon. The jockeys on the last three horses named, judging from their behaviour at the back of the course, would seem to have thought that the winning post was at the last turn. All three appeared to forget that there was anything else in the race. But whereas Fitz-Yattendon and Stirling knocked up in the straight, the Sylvia colt showed real grit to the very end, demonstrating that he had improved pounds since the Hawkesbury Guineas. Pickering observed that perhaps the fellow had the makings of a real racehorse after all. That the Derby form might be a touch suspect was certainly given credence on the second day of the meeting when, after starting favourite for the Maiden Plate, Benvolio could only manage third behind Fitz-Yattendon and the Sylvia colt.
The respective fortunes of Juliet’s son and grandson who finished first and third in that A.J.C. Derby could hardly have been more different in its wake. Whereas Benvolio met that untimely death in attempting to embark on the steamer to Melbourne, Goldsbrough did make it on board. Still, the sea voyage proved so rough and the buffeting he received so bad, that it confined him to his stable box for nine days upon disembarking. Indeed, for a time Tait feared the horse might be seriously injured. Such inactivity for so gross a colt cruelled any chance he had in the Victoria Derby, won that year by his near relative Lapidist, and he missed the Melbourne Cup entirely.
Nonetheless, in time Goldsbrough was to mature into the best stayer in the land. It wasn’t until his twelfth start that the Sylvia colt broke through for his maiden win, and when it came, it was at all places, in the Maiden Plate at the December annual meeting of the Bendigo Jockey Club when he had just one rival. But Tait knew that the big colt was only now gaining the strength to match his frame. At the Flemington Midsummer Meeting on New Year’s Day, he was started twice. Firstly winning the Three-Year-Old Handicap (12f) in which he beat Lapidist, the Victoria Derby winner, and later on the card running a gallant second in the Canterbury Stakes (2 ½ m) behind Joe Thompson’s Don Juan, winner of the previous Melbourne Cup. But for racing erratically, he may well have made it a double.
Always intending to start the colt in both the V.R.C. and A.J.C. St Legers, Tait surprised many when he returned him to Randwick in early January to avoid the flint-hard nature of the Flemington training ground. The horse was badly underdone when he could only manage third behind the filly Sea Spray in the V.R.C. St Leger in his first start in nine weeks, but the Master of Byron Lodge had the big fellow cherry ripe for the A.J.C. equivalent. The bookmakers generously bet double figures about the son of Fireworks, and with Jimmy Ashworth providing the navigation, Goldsbrough won cleverly by a half-length from his stablemate, Rose d’Amour – the filly that had already proved her classic credentials the previous spring by appropriating the V.R.C. Oaks and Mares’ Produce Stakes for Byron Lodge. Perhaps the real significance of Goldsbrough’s victory in the A.J.C. St Leger, however, lay in the fact that it was the first time that the Sylvia colt appeared on the race card bearing that name. It was almost as if Tait withheld the ultimate compliment to his wool broker friend until he was confident that the horse would embellish it with classic glory. A few days later, despite again racing erratically near the bushes, Goldsbrough ran a most respectable sixth in the Sydney Cup before winning the Autumn Stakes on the third day of the meeting.
As a four-year-old, Goldsbrough won the rich Hawkesbury Grand Handicap (2 m) at his seasonal debut by six lengths but failed to triumph again that year in seven more appearances. However, his series of placings included an unlucky second in the A.J.C. Metropolitan with 8 st. 7lb, conceding 15lb in weight to the winner, Sterling, one of the beaten horses in that 1873 Derby. Kept in training as a five-year-old, Goldsbrough went one better in the 1875 A.J.C. Metropolitan on that memorable occasion when he carried 9 st. 2lb to a narrow but emphatic victory over Kingsborough. The merit of Goldsbrough’s performance that day did not so much lie with the quality of the opposition as in the condition of the track, and the time he took over the two miles – the distance of the race in those days. Randwick was then very much a sandy course – it had not then been topped with loam – and to run 3 minutes 32.2 seconds with his weight was considered by many as the finest performance in the history of the race up to that time.
Goldsbrough, with Jimmy Ashworth aloft, ran a mighty race in the Melbourne Cup later that spring when he carried the top weight of 9 st 9lb into the minor placing behind the lightweights, Wollomai and Richmond. Goldsbrough carried the same weight too when a gallant second behind Richmond (7 st. 1lb) in the Champion Race on New Year’s Day – in the era when three-year-olds, because of the race conditions, were well-nigh unbeatable. Tait then set the big son of Sylvia for the Australian Cup, but the horse was prevented from taking his place after getting cast in his box. Goldsbrough wasn’t ever quite the same after that and finished unplaced in both the Sydney Cup and City Handicap at the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting in what proved to be his final campaign. A few weeks after the close of that meeting the magnificent stallion was placed in the hands of W.C. Yuille & Co. for sale. Goldsbrough’s complete racing record was 37 starts for 6 wins, 11 seconds and 8 thirds.
Allow me a final word on the famous broodmare, Juliet, before she passes from these pages. She only produced one foal after Benvolio, and that was The Hook, winner of the 1879 Doncaster Handicap for Eli Jellett. Juliet was carrying a foal by Tom King in 1872 when she unfortunately misplaced it while rolling. It was only with difficulty that the old mare’s life was saved, but she remained barren thereafter, eventually dying at R. J. Hunter’s Woodstock Stud in Victoria in April 1877 at 26 years of age. We will find Juliet’s name recurring again and again throughout these pages, as so many of her descendants continued to add lustre to the line.
But how much more remarkable might her achievements have been, had several of her family not met with violent deaths? Just consider that Cleolite was killed at Kyneton; Charon and Capulet at Flemington; Benvolio in Sydney; and her grandson, Robin Hood, in the treacherous seas when being shipped to Melbourne. Sylvia, Juliet’s most distinguished daughter, didn’t end her illustrious stud life with Goldsbrough and Robin Hood. As we shall see, in 1880 she dropped the great Martini-Henry, the horse who would win the Victoria Derby and Melbourne Cup at his first two starts. Martini-Henry might have been the last of Sylvia’s high-class sons on the racecourse, but she continued to drop a number of filly foals including Woodnymph, Elfin, Engagement and Forest Queen, each of whom produced at least one winner of a principal race on the Australasian Turf.
Perhaps the finest acknowledgement of Sylvia’s stature came as early as 1882 when the Auckland Stud Company amalgamated with the Pedigree Stud Company and founded a new stud. And the name? None other than Sylvia Park! When Sylvia Park was dispersed in January 1891, Thomas Morrin bought the famous mare for 125 guineas together with her filly by Ingomar, and it was at his Wellington Park Stud in Auckland that the grand old dam died on 21 December 1892.
It was a singularly lucky hour for Frank Reynolds and the Tocal Stud when Goldsbrough found his way there. The shrewd studmaster could see gold in Goldsbrough. Reynolds negotiated with John Tait and secured a deal that saw the son of Fireworks replace The Barb at Tocal, with the latter once more going into Byron Lodge to be trained, albeit briefly. Tocal boasted depth in their stallion ranks in those days, and Reynolds had stood the celebrated stallion Kelpie at Tocal during his last few seasons. Now, with his grandson Goldsbrough, Reynolds was intent on securing a continuation of the line. The best of stallions stamp their stock early and get winners from the start. That was certainly true insofar as Goldsbrough was concerned. The stallion’s progeny first appeared in the 1879-80 racing season, and his first success came as early as September when Galatea won both the Two-Year-Old Stakes and Sapling Stakes at the Brisbane meeting.
This initial crop included Hilarious, one of the best juveniles in New Zealand, as well as Kamilaroi, winner of the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick. Another to show promise was Cinnamon, a daughter of Goldsbrough that carried James White’s colours to finish just behind the place-getters in the Maribyrnong Plate, although her real claim to fame would come much later at stud. In the 1881 breeding season, which proved to be Kelpie’s last and by which time Goldsbrough had two full crops racing, Frank Reynolds’s schedule of service fees for his stallions showed Kelpie at 20 guineas, Goldsbrough at 15 guineas and The Drummer at 8 guineas. Goldsbrough was well and truly poised to seize the crown on that cold autumn day in May 1882 when the aged Kelpie breathed his last at Tocal.
Goldsbrough went on to sire 19 individual notable winners of 34 principal races as defined by W. J. McFadden’s book ‘Thoroughbred Sires of Australia and New Zealand’. The distances ranged from the C.J.C. Welcome Stakes over 4 furlongs to the three miles of the A.J.C. Randwick Plate and V.R.C. Champion Stakes won by Melos, who was arguably Goldsbrough’s finest stayer, although another son, Arsenal, did win the 1886 Melbourne Cup. Goldsbrough’s daughter, Crossfire, won the 1886 Doncaster Handicap while only a two-year-old and the following season went on to win the Oaks at Randwick. None of Goldsbrough’s sons proved particularly successful at stud, although Arsenal did manage to sire Murmur, winner of a Newmarket and Caulfield Cup, while one or two others got some useful winners.
No, the true measure of Goldsbrough as a stallion didn’t come until his fillies began to do their extraordinary stuff in the breeding paddocks. Goldsbrough sired the dams of, among others, Abercorn, Wallace, Trenton, Seahorse, Siege Gun, Wild Rose, Downfall, Hautvilliers, Flavinius, Spice, Street Arab, Air Motor, Alawa, Althotas, Churchill, Cuirassier, Eric and Even Time. Perhaps Goldsbrough’s profound influence on the Australian Turf is best demonstrated by a statistic on A.J.C. Derby winners alone. Abercorn, the winner of the classic in 1887, was the first to have Goldsbrough blood coursing through his veins, being a son of the aforementioned Cinnamon. In the 91 years from 1887, until the Derby was the last run during the springtime, in 1977, Goldsbrough appeared somewhere in the pedigree of no fewer than 27 winners.
I do not wish to render this account merely as a book of lists, but those 27 winners include some of the luminaries of the Australian Turf. In the interests of completeness I attach their names: Abercorn, Melos, Trenchant, Hautvilliers, Belah, Sylvanite, Mountain King, Cisco, Beragoon, Mountain Knight, Biplane, Artilleryman, Tregilla, Peter Pan, Talking, Reading, Laureate, Main Topic, Playboy, Caranna, Summer Fair, Royal Sovereign, Swift Peter, Silver Sharpe, Classic Mission, Taras Bulba and Battle Sign.
After a long and productive life, Goldsbrough died at Tocal in August 1898; he was buried in the village paddock with a kurrajongs tree planted on his breast and a stone placed at his head. No epitaph could possibly have been written on it that matched the one Goldsbrough had already made for himself both in the Stud Book and in the racing calendar. Surveying the priceless Goldsbrough broodmares in the Tocal paddocks and the simple grave, one might have reflected on Sir Christopher Wren’s motto: si monumentum requiris, circumspice (“if you require a monument, look around you.”). In the light of Goldsbrough’s extraordinary success at stud, given the similarity in their bloodlines, it is tempting to speculate as to what Benvolio might have achieved had he too, been spared to serve.
Goldsbrough was to be John Tait’s last great racehorse. There would be other good horses with which he would try to win the Derby again – most notably Melbourne – and although he gained placings, the days of dominance by Byron Lodge were drawing to a close. Tait’s last big race success came when Amendment won the A.J.C. Great Metropolitan Stakes in 1877. Diagnosed with a weak heart, Tait wound down his affairs as the decade of the 1870s expired. ‘Caspian’ writing in the Australian Town and Country Journal in May 1880 on the eve of Tait’s departure for a holiday in England, estimated that between 1865 and 1880 Tait had won almost £30,000 in stakes alone, excluding added money.
It was while on that visit to England that in London in August he married the widow who had already borne him six children. Upon his return from the Old Country, Tait took up residence at Toddington on The Boulevard, in the inner-Sydney suburb of Petersham. John Tait bought the handsome two-storey Victorian house together with its extensive grounds and gardens for £3,500 in June 1883. Built around 1878, it was an impressive six-bedroom residence with sweeping lawns, attractive garden beds, a carriage drive and a tennis court. Tait proved to be a most amiable and generous host at Toddington to many of his former racing confreres. His years of retirement from the Turf were by no means idle, for apart from being an active Justice of the Peace he was a committeeman of the Animal Protection Society and a New South Wales commissioner for both the Adelaide (1887) and Melbourne (1888) Exhibitions. Tait never entirely abandoned racing and to the end of his days regularly attended the Saturday fixture despite declining health.
A measure of Tait’s status in the Sydney sporting community came in March 1886 when, on the eve of his last visit to Europe, he was entertained at a banquet at Baumann’s Refreshment Rooms in Pitt-street to celebrate both his upcoming trip and his 70th birthday of five months earlier. The five-time Premier of New South Wales, Sir John Robertson, was in the chair and the company included the then Premier, Patrick Jennings, together with other premiers in George Dibbs and George Reid as well as such sporting luminaries as James White, William Long, and Edward Lee. That guest list is indicative of the powerful sway that the Turf held in the upper echelons of political life in the colony during Australia’s gilded age. It was in May 1888 that John Tait collapsed and died of heart failure while on a train en route from his Petersham residence into the city. He was buried in Waverley cemetery without religious rites and left an estate valued at almost £25,000.
Tait’s faithful servant and assistant trainer, Jimmy Ashworth followed his former boss to the grave almost five years later. As Tait’s activities at Byron Lodge diminished in the late 1870s, Ashworth accepted the position of A.J.C. Clerk of the Course; his debut in that guise came on Easter Monday, 1879, on the first day of the autumn meeting. The position in those days carried with it similar functions on behalf of Tattersall’s Club and, until just before Ashworth’s death, proprietary racecourses in the metropolitan area as well. Ashworth was performing his duties at Warwick Farm on that fateful day in October 1892 when he met with an accident that ultimately claimed his life. After the horses had passed the post in the Welter Handicap, the opening race on the card, Ashworth mounted on his favourite cob, was returning to the stand when he collided with the mare Cushla, ridden by the implausibly named G. Gee. Both riders were thrown, but whereas Gee escaped injury, Ashworth sustained a broken thigh and was removed to Prince Alfred Hospital, where he died almost a month later. A single man with neither wife nor child to mourn him, Ashworth passed from the scene bequeathing a modest legacy of £1,265.
And what became of those famous Byron Lodge stables on Randwick hill, over which Tait ruled for so long as if a despot with a rod of iron, with Ashworth obeying his every command? The stables did survive the two men, and continued to be used, but not for long. By the time the Great War broke out in August 1914 the old house, too, had disappeared, replaced by a string of cottages. Derelict remains of the old stables that had once housed the likes of The Barb and Florence lingered on for just a few years longer.