Up until the year 1881, no Queensland-bred horse had ever won the A.J.C. Derby; indeed, none had ever won a prestigious race at either Randwick or Flemington. Whereas the Turf in New South Wales and Victoria became established in the early years of colonisation, it wasn’t until the 1840’s that the Darling Downs was opened up to large leases of pastoral land. The Northern Australian Jockey Club was founded around 1860 with its headquarters at The Grange, Ipswich, and the racecourse was deemed significant enough by 1861 to host the Australian Champion Stakes – won that year by John Tait’s Zoe. Although there were other Queensland race clubs established by this time such as the Gayndah, it wasn’t until August 1863 that the colony’s premier club – the Queensland Turf Club – was formed. Its initial membership was fifty-three, and it secured from the Government a grant of land at Eagle Farm with the Governor, Sir George Bowen, agreeing to act as patron.
One of the leading spirits in the organisation of the Queensland Turf at the time and the man destined to become the colony’s pre-eminent bloodstock breeder and long-serving second president of the Q.T.C. was Joshua Peter Bell. Born in January 1827 in Kildare, Ireland, Bell was the eldest son in a family of three sons and two daughters, who came to Australia in 1829 when their father was in charge of transporting some convicts to these shores. Joshua attended Sydney College and later The King’s School, Parramatta, and then for a time worked in the office of a Sydney solicitor. At the age of twenty-one, young Joshua went up to the Darling Downs to manage the pastoral lease on the Jimbour property, near Dalby, that his father had purchased a few years earlier for the modest sum of £3,200. The area of the holding was more than 200,000 acres running some 12,000 sheep, and although owned in the nominal partnership of his father and brothers, it was Joshua who was soon directing activities.
The property flourished and quickly became one of the best-conducted stations on the Darling Downs, winning a reputation for the fine quality of its wool. By the time Queensland separated in 1859, Joshua Bell was a well-known identity on the Downs and in December 1862, despite his limited ability as a public speaker, successfully stood for the seat of West Moreton. Two years later he became Treasurer in the Herbert ministry. Bell by this time had acquired a patrician sense of noblesse oblige and as a minister of the Crown was a study in languid elegance; his beau ideal of a public man in the mid-Victorian age was that of an aristocratic dandy driving his fashionable and expensive equipages in the discharge of his various portfolios including Land and Works. He retained his seat right up until his appointment as president of the Legislative Council – a role he played until the day he died. Bell was active on many fronts both in a private and public capacity in Queensland. Despite, or perhaps because of his position in the Government, in 1872 Bell was a founder, major shareholder and director of the Queensland National Bank. An idea of his stature in the northern colony can be gleaned from the fact that during most of 1880, Joshua Bell acted as the administrator during the period Governor Kennedy was on leave.
Possessed of all the self-made man’s appetite for wealth and status, Joshua spent £30,000 during the years 1874-76 in building a stylish and ornate two-storied mansion of sandstone and cedar at Jimbour, which upon completion was referred to as ‘the Mecca of civilisation on the Darling Downs’. It still stands today, as one of the finest examples in the land of a grand squatter’s homestead.
Besides Jimbour, Joshua Bell invested a considerable sum in developing The Grange Stud on the edge of the Ipswich township, a property that consisted of about 600 acres of both flat and undulating limestone country, and included the old Ipswich racecourse – the scene of Zoe’s triumph in 1862. The management of The Grange was entrusted to William Kellett, a Queensland horse enthusiast and gentleman. The local people had originally designated the property ‘Limestone’ on account of its vast natural deposits, and when Bell developed the stud, the fences were built of pure limestone rock. It was said that there were not a dozen thoroughbred mares in Queensland, outside the few owned by Justice Lutwyche at Kedron Brook, on the outskirts of Brisbane, until Bell bought a few matrons in England and N.S.W. to mate with his colonial stallions.
The first sire used at The Grange was Silverfox, a prepossessing son of Yattendon. Lilla, from Legend, was the most successful of his descendants. Laureate and Bladensburg were the next stallions used there. Then came Lord of the Hills, an imported brother of the celebrated Lord of the Isles, who died after just one season. The death of this sire occurred in an unfortunate manner. At that time the Ipswich racecourse was laid out in one of the paddocks of The Grange, and the horse box in which Lord of the Hills resided was under the edifice used as the grandstand. Some workmen were busy repairing the structure, and the noise of their hammering so frightened the good Lord that he knocked himself about so badly that he succumbed to the injuries sustained.
Bell spent a ransom stocking his stud with well-bred broodmares, most from the colony of New South Wales but a select few acquired in England from good families. Mr Blenkiron of the Middle Park Stud in England assisted in the purchase of several and some of them were sourced from the Middle Park Stud itself. Two mares at least were lost on the voyage out. The best of the imported matrons were Legend, a daughter of Cathedral, and the future dam of an A.J.C. Derby winner; and Olive, future dam of Olivia and Sir Oliver. However, the imported mare that really concerns us in this chapter, Wheatsheaf, a daughter of the 1860 English Derby winner Thormanby, wasn’t brought over by Messrs Bell and Sons at all. Instead, Sir Joshua Bell purchased her from Norman D’Arcy (for less than 75 guineas) who bought the mare from England as a filly and raced her on the Queensland Turf, where she singularly failed to distinguish herself. I might mention that along with Wheatsheaf, D’Arcy imported Stockdove as well, a mare which went into the Fernhill Stud of the Hon. E. K. Cox and became the dam of The Australian Peer.
As the real lord of the harem, Bell eventually purchased the young stallion Epigram, foaled at the Middle Park Stud in England in 1872 and a son of the great Blair Athol, the hero of the English Derby and St Leger in 1864. Blair Athol’s blood was much sought after in the colonies and the stallion, after changing hands many times had been acquired at auction by the Cobham Stud Company in 1872 for 12,500 guineas. Bought as a yearling in England for a substantial sum by the livestock agent, Frank Dangar, Epigram was sent out to Australia along with Duke of Athol, Captivator, Agamemnon and several mares and fillies. Epigram was never raced but possessed an outstanding pedigree. Apart from the fact that Epigram was by Blair Athol, a son of Stockwell, Ellermire, the dam of Epigram, was by The Flying Dutchman and was a full sister to the 1856 English Derby winner, Ellington, and a half-sister to the 1859 English Oaks winner, Summerside.
Epigram first stood at Andrew Town’s Hobartville Stud in New South Wales. However, the horse was a bit light below the knee and slightly turned out in the near foreleg, and the sportsmen of that colony did not immediately discern the horse’s talents and thereby failed to patronise him. It was in 1876 that Epigram was sold by Mr G. F. Want to Bell at a reasonable price. Some judges in Queensland objected to Epigram on account of his small hoofs and because of this characteristic he was sent out of the ring at one of the earliest exhibitions of the National Association at Bowen Park. This controversial action of the judges provoked considerable correspondence in the newspapers of the time, in which the supporters of Epigram and those hostile to him thrashed out their views.
Whatever his shortcomings in the show ring, Epigram’s impact with the select band of quality broodmares at The Grange was immediate. Virtually all of Epigram’s progeny were good for something – whether as racehorses, hacks or for harness work. However, it is the racehorses that concern us here. Joshua Bell had already won two Queensland Derbies by the time the well-boned Epigram stock came upon the scene, with Whisker and Elastic in 1878 and 1879 respectively, but Epigram gave him a third in succession with Whisker’s half-brother Waterloo in 1880, a horse that was later sold to Donald Wallace for 1000 guineas.
The dam of both Whisker and Waterloo was the imported Wheatsheaf, and she rapidly acquired a reputation in the eyes of the Queensland sporting public, who began to take great parochial pride in her achievements. Whisker had been her first foal when she was only a rising six-year-old mare, and even her 1876 foal, Warhawk, sandwiched between her two Queensland Derby winners was a handy galloper, winning among other races a Q.T.C. Brisbane Handicap. Superior blood really told in those days. Wheatsheaf was mated with Epigram the following season after getting Waterloo and was it any wonder that Joshua Bell looked forward to the resultant foal with keen anticipation. It turned out to be Wheatear, a splendidly-proportioned colt who made it quite clear as soon as he began to gallop about the paddocks of The Grange Stud that he was not about to let down the family honour.
Wheatear was one of a team of four horses that Bell sent down with Harry Walsh to be trained out of the Coach and Horses Hotel at Randwick for the 1881 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, the others being Canary, Legerdemain and Emulation. The son of Epigram didn’t appear fully wound up during that Randwick gathering, a view seemingly confirmed by the fact that he improved as the week progressed. He was none too well served by Walsh in the saddle for the Champagne Stakes either, an exciting contest in which he finished fourth – and less than a length behind the winner, Spinningdale. On the second day Wheatear, handicapped with only 6 st. 11lb, was untroubled to win the Autumn Maiden Stakes (10f) and two days later was unlucky when he went under by a neck to the highly regarded Somerset in the Substitute Stakes. Billy Yeomans assumed the reins in Wheatear’s final appearance that week on the fourth and last day of the fixture, when he easily won the Nursery Handicap (6f) carrying the top weight of 8 st. 12lb. It was a memorable day for Bell because another of his team, Canary, scored in the Rous Handicap.
At the conclusion of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, it was announced that the Queensland team of horses owned by Joshua Bell was to be auctioned by Tom Clibborn in his forthcoming sale of tried horses. Not that Bell was stepping away from the Turf, but with the extent of his stud and the changing economic climate in Queensland, some culling seemed appropriate. An indication of the importance of Bell to the health of racing in the northern colony came at the Q.T.C. Autumn Meeting of May 1881 when horses sporting Sir Joshua Bell’s livery won seven out of the thirteen events; it was a domination that was repeated at the Ipswich Autumn Meeting as well. The Queensland correspondent for the Sydney Mail observed: “It is a melancholy thing that the excellence of The Grange Stud should paralyse racing in the south of Queensland, but there is no doubt that such is the effect of J. P. Bell’s efforts to give high-class racing a local habitation and a name in this colony.” Little wonder, then, that The Grange studmaster felt comfortable in taking advantage of the Sydney market while his horses were there.
Yeomans, a shrewd judge of a racehorse as well as a fine jockey, had been so impressed with Wheatear at his only ride that he encouraged Tom Lamond’s interest in acquiring the colt. Lamond was forced to go to 1050 guineas to secure possession and in so doing was acting on behalf of Captain Osborne, one of that famous band of brothers hailing from Marshall Mount in the southern tablelands of New South Wales. This accretion to Lamond’s stable certainly appeared to give the talented trainer a strong hand in the following season’s classics, for Zetland Lodge already sheltered Spinningdale – generally acknowledged as the finest juvenile of her season. The bad-tempered Spinningdale, by Maribyrnong from Sappho, was a half-sister to Nellie, Kingsborough, Savanaka and Lecturer. Bred at Leeholme by George Lee, she had been purchased for 700 guineas at the previous year’s yearling sales by Andrew Chirnside and entrusted to the training acumen of Tom Lamond.
Impressive as Spinningdale’s juvenile season had been at Randwick with victories in the inaugural running of the A.J.C. December Stakes as well as the Champagne and Sires’ Produce Stakes, nonetheless, there were some shrewd judges who considered Wheatear the better of the pair – Augur of The Australasian among them. Unknown to most, Wheatear had suffered shin-soreness during the A.J.C. meeting and shortly after coming under Lamond’s charge was given light blistering before being turned out into the paddocks. With the declaration of Melbourne Cup weights in the middle of June, the winner of the V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate, Welcome Jack, was rated as the leading two-year-old with 7 st. 1lb with Monmouth ranked two pounds inferior. Spinningdale was the highest rated filly at 6 st. 9lb while her newfound stablemate, Wheatear, came in at 6 st. 7lb.
Any narrative about Randwick and the A.J.C. at the close of the 1880-81 racing season wouldn’t be complete without a passing reference to the Royal Visit on July 16th, 1881. It was a special race meeting convened in honour of the dissolute Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, and his younger brother, the dull-witted Prince George, future King George V. It was at that meeting that the A.J.C. had the dubious honour of conducting a race for yearlings. The race was the Princes’ Stakes over three furlongs for a piece of plate valued at £50 and £50 in specie. In a field of fourteen with a 2lb weight concession to the fillies, two colts intriguingly named Mistake and Mistaken fought out a thrilling duel. The naming of this pair is a curious tale in itself. The Honourable E. K. Cox at Fernhill bred each colt out of the imported mares Q.E.D. and Stockdove from services to Dante and each foal was bay in colour.
Tom Clibborn sold the two as yearlings at Randwick with one going to James Wilson at St Albans, and the other to the local sportsman Sidney Knight. Unfortunately, owing to a misunderstanding the groom sent Mr Knight’s purchase to Wilson. When the Sydney sportsman discovered the mistake, he contacted the Squire of St Albans and the two men resolved to settle the difference and agree to keep the swap. In the circumstances, the names Mistake and Mistaken seemed particularly apt. Just what the odds would have been against the pair disputing a race put on as royal entertainment at the time of their sale is anyone’s guess. Curiously enough, as the running of the Princes’ Stakes demonstrated, each colt could gallop, and notwithstanding their premature scamper over the Randwick Turf as yearlings, each won good races in Sydney and Melbourne later in their careers.
The excitement of the Royal Visit had subsided by the time September and Derby Day came around. Tom Lamond was denied the services of his slashing filly Spinningdale in the blue riband after she slipped and fell when cantering on the rain-affected Hawkesbury course on the morning of the Guineas. Nonetheless, there was tremendous stable confidence about Wheatear, and although making his first appearance since the autumn, he had done more solid work at Randwick than any colt engaged in the Derby. Wheatear had grown into his frame during the winter recess and furnished into a grand colt; it was just as well, for Lamond was no apostle of conventional wisdom when it came to training horses, and he worked his charges much harder than most. Although some racing aficionados doubted the stamina of Wheatear, being a grandson of Blair Athol, a horse that had conspicuously failed to get stayers, the colt went to the post a well-supported 6/4 second-favourite for the classic.
It was a colourful crowd of about eleven thousand that made it to Randwick for Derby Day. Those who drove out to Randwick in their various range of equipages and carriages found the dust a great inconvenience while those who patronised the tramway found it so densely packed that on more than one occasion it proved a work of difficulty to get the motor and cars up the Liverpool-street gradient. Nonetheless, the new double line was found to answer admirably, for it removed the tedious wait at various points en route for trams proceeding in opposite directions to pass each other. Once arrived upon the course, it was noticeable to the Sydney Mail correspondent that various ‘welchers’, got up regardless of the cost to their respective tailors, were among the crowd and doubtless booked a good many inexperienced people during the day, deluded by their respectable appearance.
Although the railway now ran right through to Sydney from Melbourne, there were no Victorian horses engaged in the Derby. Randwick bore a different appearance to the year before with the considerable enlargement of the saddling paddock by removing the fence further eastwards, and all the ground formerly occupied by the Derby Stand now included with a series of pines and Moreton Bay figs planted. A new jockeys’ room had been erected close to the weighing-house, and near the entrance gate, the club had built a new lock-up for the reception of refractory characters taken in by the police.
In the absence of southern competitors, only five stripped for the race and the even-money favourite was Monmouth, the flag bearer for the Honourable James White. The colt was a full brother to Chester and Roodee, who had both carried the blue and white livery of Newmarket with such distinction; and James White, who had a particular penchant for the breed, parted with 1000 guineas to get the horse as a yearling. A fine, raking, powerfully-built colt, Monmouth was the hero of the late postponed Hawkesbury Meeting, having won both the Hawkesbury Guineas on the first day and the Mares’ Produce Stakes on the second. His first appearance on a racecourse had come in the Maribyrnong Plate when he ran unplaced but later at the same meeting won the Flemington Stakes beating among others, Welcome Jack, who had won the Maribyrnong Plate but was giving Monmouth 7lb as a result. Monmouth only had one more appearance as a juvenile, and that came in the V.R.C. Normanby Stakes on New Year’s Day when he went down narrowly to Liberator at level weights; he appeared then to be outgrowing his strength and Michael Fennelly elected to miss the autumn meetings, turning his charge out for a long spell from which the Hawkesbury fixture marked his re-appearance.
Apart from Monmouth and Wheatear, the only other two horses quoted in the betting were The Gem and Sardonyx. The Gem, running in the colours of well-known Maitland identity, Jack Mayo, hailed from a family famous for stamina; and had been runner-up in both the Champagne Stakes and Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick in the autumn. The colt had franked the form in the Hawkesbury Produce Stakes when he ran Monmouth a close thing. Sardonyx, a grandson of the famous Chrysolite through her daughter Onyx, carried the colours of well-known pastoralist and breeder, Fitzwilliam Wentworth, and was trained out of Surry Hills by James Monaghan. Only a small, low-set colt, many doubted he was up to carrying Derby weight, although he had come with a brilliant rush to win the Maiden Plate at Hawkesbury at his most recent appearance. However, the fact of Hales being in the saddle brought him some support. Rupert, the last son of that wonderful foundation mare of the St Albans Stud, Musidora, despite the services of Colley, was friendless in the betting.
The 1881 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
The story of the race is soon told. Contrary to expectations, the pace was pedestrian, and the small field hardly got out of a canter for the first half-mile with Huxley riding a waiting race in front on the hard-pulling Monmouth. The favourite quickened the pace at the seven-furlong mark and led to the distance where victory seemed assured until Sardonyx and Wheatear issued their challenges. Monmouth compounded quickly, and within a dozen strides Wheatear had cut down Sardonyx and gone on to win comfortably. The Gem ran on to take the minor placing in one of the slowest Derbies for years. When the news of Wheatear’s triumph reached Queensland, the men of that colony were content to cheer and quaff brimming toasts in city taverns and country alehouses at this belated achievement for Queensland bloodstock breeders.
The Derby prize amply rewarded Captain Osborne’s faith in paying 1050 guineas for the colt earlier in the year and again linked the Osborne family with a major race victory at headquarters. The Osborne family traced its origins in the colony of New South Wales to May 1829 when Henry Osborne with his wife Sarah had arrived in Sydney aboard the Pyramus and shortly after settled in the newly opened Illawarra district. They named their property Marshall Mount, after Sarah’s maiden name, and lived there in a crude timber dwelling, eventually replacing it with a simple two-storey stone Georgian building in which the couple reared no less than thirteen children.
It was in 1839 that Henry set out on his famous drive of a mob of sheep, cattle and horses from Dapto to Adelaide – a distance of a thousand miles over relatively unchartered territory. He succeeded by following a series of watercourses and eventually landed his livestock in Adelaide fit and ready for sale. It had been a calculated gamble, but it made his name and fortune and enabled Henry to settle each of his nine sons on various properties throughout the colony, with unusually extensive landholdings in the rich coal-bearing area between the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers south of Wagga.
Henry’s rugged sense of romance and adventure was inherent in most of his sons: certainly, in his ninth son, Captain Frank Osborne, the successful owner of Wheatear, who was an Imperial Army officer that served for many years in the cavalry in India and England, although his military duties never precluded the occasional foray into Australian bloodstock. The captain was a fine judge of a horse and willing to back that judgement when the mood took his fancy. 1881 was a memorable year for him for not only did he see his colours carried successfully in the A.J.C. Derby, but also in January he had been elected a life member of the club. Wheatear was easily the best horse to carry his colours on the Australian Turf although he was rather unlucky with another son of Epigram in Sir Oliver.
Most of his brothers successfully raced horses as well: George Osborne of Foxlow won the 1873 Sydney Cup with Vixen that Tom Lamond trained as well, while brother Pat of Currandooley fame later raced the good little filly Acmena who won the Champagne Stakes and Oaks Stakes at Randwick in 1894 and afterwards raced successfully in England. Captain Osborne eventually retired to England where he lived for some years and died there in November 1914. Pat Osborne, who served on the A.J.C. committee from 1925 until 1951, was Captain Osborne’s nephew from the Currandooley branch of the family.
For jockey ‘Billy’ Yeomans, Wheatear was his second win in the A.J.C. Derby, the first having come when he partnered Kingsborough for the Governor of N.S.W. in 1874. Yeomans with his fair-flowing beard, perfect hands and seat was picturesque in the saddle and remained one of the strong and silent types, whether on a horse or on the ground. Born in the inner-Sydney suburb of Chippendale in 1843, he started his successful life in the saddle when he first forged what was to be a lifelong friendship with the Bowler family of Mitta Mitta, a rich part of the Murray up between Albury and Bringenbrong. Harry Bowler became a great horse-breeder in the south and Yeomans made his reputation on the back of Bowler’s bloodstock, ultimately becoming the gun rider on the Riverina.
One of his earliest successes came on Bowler’s Australian in the famous ten-mile race at Wagga in November 1868. During the 1870s, Yeomans rode with much success for James Wilson’s famous St Albans stable and played his part in landing some good betting coups. Yeomans was in the leathers the day First King won the V.R.C. Australian Cup and St Leger and both Wilson and Yeomans always regarded the famous bay as the best horse either of them came across. Although he never rode a Melbourne Cup or Victoria Derby winner, Yeomans was the first jockey to win a Caulfield Cup (Newminster) while he enjoyed three victories in the V.R.C. Oaks with Formosa (1871) and Melita and Petrea for the St Albans stable in 1878 and 1879. At various times Yeomans rode for most of the leading stables including those of both William Long and James White.
Yeomans was occasionally very hard on a horse and at times could administer punishment in the worst traditions of Wackford Squeers. Bosworth was a horse that he once flogged in a race, and thereafter he used to tremble whenever Yeomans came near him. Like most riders of repute, Yeomans occasionally rode a bad race; he was thought by many spectators to have thrown away the V.R.C. Canterbury Plate of 1879 aboard First King and James Wilson wasted no time in telling him so. Sometime before his retirement from race riding Yeomans had bought a station on the Lachlan in partnership with his great rival, Tom Hales. The speculation turned out an unfortunate one for both and nearly cost them their life savings. It was dissolved in November 1887 with Hales suggesting he would give or take £10,000 for his share. Yeomans elected to give that sum and became the sole proprietor, subsequently dipping into wheat and wool growing in the Grenfell district and prospering. He bred a few horses there as well, among them Pat, who won the V.R.C. Grand National Hurdle for J. E. Brewer, while another horse, Rackstraw, went close to carrying Yeomans’ own livery to victory in the same race when beaten narrowly into second place in 1900. Yeomans died in September 1920 at his Arramagong East station, near Young, leaving an estate valued at a substantial £23,560.
The result of the 1881 A.J.C. Derby was particularly disappointing for Fitzwilliam Wentworth, who bred and owned the runner-up, Sardonyx. Born at historic Vaucluse House in 1832, he was the son of the famous William Charles Wentworth. The 49-year-old Fitzwilliam had been one of the first intakes of students at Sydney University – the university his father did so much to establish. The first matriculation examination was held in the first week of October 1852 and twenty-four candidates succeeded in passing the test including Fitzwilliam Wentworth, David Scott Mitchell and W.C. Windeyer. Fitzwilliam failed to complete his degree there but did claim a scholarship that entitled him to complete his education at an English university. Like his father before him, he selected Cambridge and entered St John’s College, obtaining his degree of Bachelor, and later his degree of Master of Arts. He studied for the Bar in London but never practised. Upon his return to N.S.W., he became interested in pastoral pursuits as well as the breeding and racing of horses. Fitzwilliam took up land near Dunedin, New Zealand, and named his station Wantwood. A few years later he also purchased Burrabogie station, near Hay, in N.S.W.
Fitzwilliam Wentworth was fond of most outdoor sports and was a familiar figure at most important sporting fixtures. He became a member of the A.J.C. committee around 1882, his ‘French grey, cardinal cap’ colours having frequently been seen at Randwick during the preceding decade. For a time he conducted the Greystanes Stud, which James Monaghan managed on his behalf. The best known of his horses was undoubtedly the gigantic Rapid Bay, a son of the imported English stallion Talk O’ the Hill and a brother to Neckersgat, and with him, Wentworth won the 1881 Doncaster Handicap at Randwick. James Monaghan trained his horses including Rapid Bay, and the two men enjoyed the satisfaction of seeing a daughter of Rapid Bay in Vaucluse win the V.R.C. Oaks in 1882. Sardonyx was probably the next best horse that Wentworth ever raced. Unlucky on the racecourse, Sardonyx nevertheless did win the 1883 A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap, S.T.C. Queen’s Birthday Cup and the 1984 A.J.C. Autumn Stakes. Sardonyx enjoyed success at the Hobartville Stud, too, and his progeny included Alchemist, winner in 1890 of The A.J.C. Shorts; and Oxide, who carried Walter Hall’s colours with such distinction as a two-year-old. In February 1889 Sardonyx met with a mishap when he broke his off-front leg at the knee-joint while galloping about the Hobartville paddocks. A sling and splints managed to save the stallion’s life, but he never sired a decent horse afterwards.
The New Zealand Stud Company and the stallion Musket first came to public notice through mares acquired from Fitzwilliam Wentworth. Among his possessions at one time were Goldsbrough’s dam, Sylvia, and Onyx the dam of Sardonyx. Joe Bennett, an old schoolfellow and lifelong friend of Wentworth, was one of the founders of the Stud Company. He suggested that he be commissioned to go to Sydney to acquire these two mares. Money was somewhat tight with the new company, and Bennett persuaded Wentworth to let him the mares ‘on tick’. The price for the pair was some £3,000.
As we will see in due course, the broodmares went to Auckland, where to Musket, Sylvia produced Martini-Henry, who by winning the 1883 Victoria Derby and Melbourne Cup double, put both Musket and the New Zealand Stud Company on the map. By comparison, Onyx was a bit slower to make her mark, but two years after Martini-Henry was foaled she dropped a massive brown colt to Musket. Like Martini-Henry, he too would be acquired by the Hon. James White, and racing as Nordenfeldt, he too, would win the A.J.C. Derby. Fitzwilliam Wentworth wound back his racing and breeding enterprise when he went to England for a lengthy stay in 1889. He died in a private hospital in Sydney at the age of eighty-three in September 1915.
After his Derby success, Wheatear was stripped twice more at the Randwick Spring Meeting; he found the five-year-old Wellington too strong in the Craven Plate but on the last day avoiding the Randwick Plate and returning to his own age group, Wheatear was untroubled to add the Members’ Handicap to his tally. At the settling of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting in Tattersall’s Hotel the following Monday evening Captain Osborne received the tidy sum of £544. Spare a thought for Joshua Bell given these proceedings. Bell had sent perhaps his strongest Queensland team to do battle at the spring meeting including the likes of Warhawk, Lord Clifden and Legerdemain – largely without success. Imagine his chagrin as he reflected on the folly of having sold the A.J.C. Derby winner out of his stable only to retain a team of inferior animals.
Tom Lamond took the son of Epigram to Melbourne, and although his breeder had failed to nominate him for the Victoria Derby, he was engaged for the Cup with 6 st. 7lb that now became 6 st. 12lb following upon his classic victory. Included alongside Wheatear in the select team Lamond took to Melbourne was a four-year-old short-bodied black stallion with imperfect legs named Zulu, with whom Lamond had won the Squatters Handicap from a small field at the recent A.J.C. Spring Meeting. Weighted on just 5 st. 10lb for the Melbourne Cup and still in the race, Lamond had specked him at long prices. The team was quietly domiciled at Mr Bloor’s Prince of Wales Hotel, Flemington, on the main road, near the Courthouse.
In all the years that Tom Lamond journeyed to Melbourne for the spring meetings, 1881 was to prove the most splendid. Wheatear, again with Yeomans in the leathers, won the inaugural running of the Caulfield Guineas on the first day of the V.A.T.C. meeting from a field of nine, narrowly beating the filly Royal Maid, a St Albans representative who a few weeks later was to win the V.R.C. Oaks. The V.R.C. Spring Meeting that year opened with the running of the Melbourne Stakes and Wheatear caused something of a surprise when he upset the odds-on Wellington, his Randwick conqueror, in a six-horse field. In Wheatear’s absence, later, on the same card, the Victoria Derby went to Francis Dakin’s grand colt Darebin, by The Peer from the beautifully bred and well-performed Lurline. Curiously enough, Darebin, after his racing career was over, stood at The Grange stud for a time. It was noticeable that the pace in the Victoria Derby, unlike its Randwick counterpart, was genuine, and neither Sardonyx nor Monmouth was able to run a place. Francis Dakin held a strong hand in that Victoria Derby, for not only did he part-own and train the winner, Darebin, but he also trained the third placegetter, Commotion for William Pearson.
This piece of intelligence caused many to question Wheatear’s stamina, particularly given the inability of so many of the Epigram stock to get over much ground. As a result, Wheatear went to the post at 100/4 for the Melbourne Cup in a field of thirty-three while Darebin went off the 3/1 favourite. Whatever chance Wheatear might have had in the race was cruelled owing to a dog getting in front of the horses just before they entered the straight. Wheatear fell, giving his jockey Gainsforth a nasty spill; and Suwarrow fell over him. Tom Lamond rued his misfortune as he looked on through field glasses but at the very moment the fall occurred, his other charge, the despised 100/1 outsider Zulu – who had gone to the front at the abattoirs – was successfully defying all attempts to run him down. And so, it proved, with the lightly weighted four-year-old prevailing by a length. Tom Lamond, who was largely responsible for preparing Archer on behalf of Etienne de Mestre for his two Melbourne Cups, finally had one of his own. He was a man widely respected for his ability to get the best out of horses with leg problems, and Zulu had tried him to the full. Owing to a swollen fetlock, Lamond had only been able to give the little black horse light work in the fortnight prior to the race.
Wheatear’s Derby victory had failed to convince critics of the Epigram stock that the horse was a genuine stayer and his mishap in the Melbourne Cup merely served to delay judgement. Confirmation for the sceptics came with Wheatear’s failure in the Champion Stakes at the V.R.C. Summer Meeting when the colt missed a place after being well supported in the race won by Coriolanus. There were excuses, however, for the horse had met with an accident at Albury while being conveyed overland by train. Returned to Sydney, Wheatear was freshened-up for an assault on the A.J.C. Autumn Week in what was to prove his last campaign.
Wheatear simply did an exercise canter in disposing of Somerset and the crippled Monmouth in the A.J.C. St. Leger becoming only the second horse after Kingsborough to take both the Derby and St. Leger at Randwick; but his staying pretensions were cruelly exposed over the two miles of the Sydney Cup when with 8 st. 2lb – 4lb over his allotted weight – he finished among the tail-enders. On the third day of the meeting, the stylish bay colt was saddled up twice: firstly, over the mile of the All-Aged Stakes which he won easily enough; and then two races later in the 2-mile Cumberland Stakes in which the steam was knocked out of him. Wheatear then went off so rapidly that he was unable to get a place in the Rous Handicap on the final day when he went to the post as 2/1 equal favourite.
Wheatear never raced again after his three-year-old season. While being prepared for a spring crusade in 1882, the Derby winner sustained a broken shoulder in a mishap during a working gallop at Randwick. Lamond had rather foolishly matched him with his stablemate, Sir Oliver, another son of Epigram that Captain Osborne had purchased from Joshua Bell through Thomas Clibborn for 600 guineas when a promising two-year-old. It proved an unhappy purchase for he developed into a brute of a horse that had a penchant for running off the course. In this particular gallop, Lamond placed Wheatear on the outside in a bid to keep Sir Oliver running true. However, at the finish when passing the entrance to the saddling paddock, Sir Oliver ran off so determinedly that he carried Wheatear over the rail, breaking his near shoulder. Lamond and his staff managed to get the Derby winner back to the stables and placed him in slings. The drama played itself out through August and much of September and while Wheatear didn’t succumb to his injuries, he suffered great agony and wasted away to a skeleton. In the end, Captain Osborne agreed with Lamond that the colt should be shot to stop further suffering.
Undoubtedly, the best three-year-old to emerge from that season was Commotion. A beautifully bred son of Panic and a younger brother to that good matron, Nightmare, Commotion was a genuine stayer and he gave his loyal owner, William Pearson some great triumphs on the racecourse. As an older horse, he twice won both the V.R.C. Champion Stakes and the V.R.C. Canterbury Plate although he is perhaps best remembered for his gallant second to Malua in the 1884 Melbourne Cup when he conceded 3lb to the younger champion. At stud, he proved himself a useful stallion too, getting an Adelaide Cup winner in Contrast and a V.R.C. Hotham Handicap winner in Mischief.
Sir Joshua Bell lived just long enough to see Wheatear win the Derby, Caulfield Guineas and Melbourne Stakes. Less than six weeks after the close of that V.R.C. Spring Meeting, Sir Joshua, in only his fifty-fifth year, and having just had the honour of K.C.M.G. conferred upon him, died suddenly of a heart attack while travelling in a Brisbane cabriolet, five days before Christmas. Stocky and athletic as a youth, Bell had grown grossly overweight from the delights of the gustatory, evidenced by his assemblage of chins; and racked by nervous strain and relatively late marriage, had become a prime candidate for such an early demise. Indeed, the last few months of Bell’s life had been a time of tumult and anxiety. Earlier in the year, financial pressure had forced him to complete a merger of his pastoral interests with those of Thomas McIlwraith and Smyth in the Darling Downs and Western Land Company, but the new enterprise wasn’t prospering and soon after Bell’s death, failed altogether.
Perhaps Joshua Bell’s greatest chagrin, however, was occasioned by his Turf pursuits. Not only had he come to realise that in Wheatear he had sold the best colt in the colonies out of his stables, but Wheatear’s half-brother Warhawk, whom Bell kept and raced, had broken his leg in the 1881 V.R.C. Hotham Handicap and subsequently been destroyed. In early December came the cruellest blow of all: the premature death of Wheatsheaf, the dam of both colts, Bell’s favourite thoroughbred, and easily Queensland’s most famous broodmare. The eleven-year-old matron who had been barren during her last season was found in a paddock at The Grange with one of her legs broken, though still alive. For a few days, hopes were entertained that she still might be saved to further her distinguished stud career, and an operation was performed; but the loss of blood was so great that a friendly bullet was deemed necessary to end the great mare’s suffering.
The death of Sir Joshua Bell was the final blow to Ipswich as a racing centre; the Northern Australian Jockey Club found itself in an even more parlous financial predicament than the Queensland Turf Club. Its racecourse at The Grange was heavily mortgaged, and its race meetings were generating pitiful revenue. Indeed, the last race meeting conducted there in June 1881 had provoked little interest and with the passing of Bell, the one-time capital city of Queensland racing became just another country town. Racing heritage aside, Bell’s death left a widow and a distraught young family.
Leaving aside financial considerations, the boys were too young to manage The Grange although I might observe that his eldest son, Joshua, later became prominent in Queensland politics while another became a successful trainer in England, principally for Sir Hugo and Lady Cunliffe-Owen during the mid-1920s. Sir Joshua Bell’s premature death thus resulted in The Grange Stud estate coming under the hammer of Messrs Fenwick and Kellett in March 1882 together with its rich collection of well-bred horses, headed by the all-conquering Epigram. All told, there was an impressive residence, garden, expensive stabling and training ground laid out over more than 500 acres while the bloodstock consisted of 29 broodmares and 39 colts, as well as 16 foals at foot. Most of the mares were in foal again to either Epigram or Laureate and included the imported Sundial, Olive, Legend, Cadeau, Oriana and Caprice – all of which played their part in raising the standard of the State’s bloodstock.
The whole enterprise was put up as a going concern, but in those straitened times, the highest bid was a derisory £6,000 at which The Grange was passed-in. Subsequently, the well-known Queensland sportsman, William Kent, who had raced the likes of The Dirk, Wanderer and Napper Tandy, negotiated privately on behalf of a company that he had formed and bought the estate and remaining stock for £10,000. Kent took the view that Bell had overstocked the place given the land available, and set about reducing the number of thoroughbreds to more manageable proportions by selling off quite a few. Doubtless, the interest from Australia’s leading sportsmen would have been decidedly keener had only they known that included among the yearling colts galloping in the paddocks was yet another strapping son of Epigram who in the fullness of time was destined to win an A.J.C. Derby too, along with a host of other first-class races.
However, I shall delay that story until the appropriate place in this chronicle. Kent didn’t keep The Grange for long, as in February 1885 Andrew Gordon of Dunrobin stepped in and purchased the stud and took a lease on The Grange supposedly for seven years. Gordon harboured delusions of bloodstock grandeur at the time and two months later spent freely at the dispersal of the Fernhill Stud, acquiring among other horses, Edward King Cox’s 1883 Sydney Cup winner, Darebin, as well as the broodmare, Stockdove, with her foal at foot by Darebin. As we have seen earlier in this chapter, that foal turned out to be The Australian Peer.
Alas, Andrew Gordon shortly thereafter got into financial difficulties and had to relinquish the lease on The Grange and sell all of his bloodstock within the year. In May 1886, under the auspices of the Queensland Mercantile and Agency Company, the sale of all stallions, broodmares, two-year-olds and yearlings realised 6,391 guineas when sold on site. William Kent was the principal buyer, and it was he who secured Darebin for 1500 guineas for subsequent export to California and the farm of the remarkable James Ben Ali Haggin where he became a very successful stallion.
Kent also managed to buy the aged English stallion Vespasian for 310 guineas as well as the mare Grey Esperance, with a bay colt foal at foot by Vespasian, together with her yearling colt by the same stallion and they turned out to be Greywing and Touchstone, respective winners of a Queensland Derby and a Queensland Cup. He got another Queensland Derby winner in Fano. Kent bought a few of the other well-bred matrons including First Lady and Stockdove for 400 and 300 guineas respectively. The Australian Peer sold for 340 guineas to Mr Bracken and ultimately found his way to William Gannon. Torrential rain fell as these proceedings got underway, but it did nothing to dampen either the ardour of the auctioneer or the optimism of the various buyers. Indeed, the sales aggregate was a tribute to the quality of the bloodstock that this premier Queensland stud had gathered together in just a few short years.