This chapter introduces into our chronicle the figure of Henry Charles White, the nine-year younger brother of the dominant Hon. James White, and the breeder of our 1899 Derby hero, Cranberry. Born at Ravensworth on the Hunter River in 1837, Henry was the sixth of seven brothers of whom James was the eldest. Although eclipsed by his older siblings during his youth, Henry came to play an influential role on the Australian Turf that eventually ranked second only to his eldest brother among all of the Whites. As a young man, Henry managed Boorrooma on the mid-western Barwon River, one of the three significant pastoral properties bequeathed by his founding father to the surviving family. It was in 1848 that James White together with his two oldest brothers, Francis and George, acquired the lease from W. C. Wentworth on Belltrees, the famous property near Scone in the Upper Hunter; and five years later the brothers purchased the property outright. It was this acquisition that led to a consolidation of the family’s pastoral empire, which included the disposal of their Barwon River stations. Consequently, Henry White accepted the management of Belltrees until Francis’s son was old enough to assume responsibility.
It was during his overseer stint at Belltrees that Henry White cast around for a country property of his own and his choice fell on the Havilah estate, situated about twelve miles east of Mudgee. Originally founded by William Lawson, the property was on-sold to an employee, Nicholas Paget Bayly, and it was Bayly that built the original homestead, coveting one to rival the nearby Cox homestead of Burrundulla. Neither the name of the architect nor the exact date of building is known for certain, but Havilah House did feature in The Town and Country Journal of 1876, while the Italianate detailing suggests construction around the year 1870. It was after Bayly’s death in October 1879 following an apoplectic fit that Havilah came onto the market and White was finally able to buy the estate in 1881. The name Havilah derives from the book of Genesis in the Bible and the reference to the “land of Havilah where there is gold”. Bayly found gold in fleece rather than the pure metal when he established a fine breed of merinos on the estate, a heritage built upon by the new owner.
Henry White found Bayly’s ten-room mansion too confined and in 1884 commissioned the coming man in Australian architecture, John Horbury Hunt, to draw up plans for extensions. As we shall see, Horbury Hunt was to enjoy a long and successful relationship with the extended White family and just a year or two later began plans for Kirkham House on behalf of James himself. The results of his design for Havilah still stand today and include the large and distinguished stable complex admired by all. A country house more prettily placed – or more substantially constructed – than Havilah House would be difficult to find. Built with an easterly aspect, Havilah House nestles in a long narrow valley on Lawson’s Creek and is faced and backed by rugged mountain ranges. The narrow stretch of arable flats and ridges in the valley have sustained and nourished the mares and flocks of Havilah for almost a hundred and fifty years. Henry White surrounded the house with fruit and flower gardens and grand shade trees, while the southwestern end of the house was clad in English ivy.
Although Henry White had been a desultory breeder of blood horses since 1859, mostly at Woodlands in the Hunter Valley, it was only in 1871 that he put this aspect of his stud on an altogether more serious footing. It happened when he purchased the celebrated English mare Valetta and three of her daughters for £1,000 from Charles Baldwin of Durham Court. It might have taken a few years for Valetta and her progeny to establish themselves at stud but when they did so a series of high-class winners were forthcoming. In 1885 one of the daughters purchased, Aveline, threw to the imported Gladiateur stallion Grandmaster, the sprinter-miler, Bungebah, winner of among other races, the A.J.C. Craven Plate and V.R.C. Newmarket. Alas, for Henry White, he had sold Bungebah to Alexander Busby as an untried horse and could only watch and marvel as Harry Rayner developed him into a champion.
The White family was to be more fortunate with the next high-class racehorse to come from the Valetta line. The year 1885 also saw Formosa, yet another of Valetta’s daughters and one bred by White in 1874, drop a neat three-quarter brother to Bungebah. Registered as Ensign, this colt gave Henry’s brother, James, a memorable Victoria Derby when he upset the great Carbine. In 1887 the third of Valetta’s daughters, Enone, bred by Henry White in 1876, made her contribution to Havilah bloodstock breeding adventures when she threw Paris to Grandmaster. This time, however, Henry retained the colt to race in his wife’s name and as such the good lady collected two Caulfield Cups, a Metropolitan and a Doncaster. In 1889 Aveline produced her second good galloper in the Havilah paddocks when she got Autonomy to Chester. As we have seen, Autonomy raced in the colours of the J. B. Clark confederacy and proved one of the best two-year-olds of his season by winning both Sires’ Produce Stakes and the Champagne Stakes besides.
Henry White was not a regular contributor to the Sydney yearling sales even after Havilah was in full swing, preferring instead to sell or lease the odd horse privately while retaining the majority of home-breds. His colours of red jacket, white maltese cross and red cap, were soon among the most familiar on Sydney’s racecourses. Still, for all of the success of the Valetta tribe in the late eighties and early nineties, the stock of winners began to dry up. And so, it was in April 1898 that the Havilah studmaster, who had not been enjoying much luck on the racecourse at a time when the man on the land was feeling the economic pinch, relented and sent down particulars of three slashing colts for auction. It was a decision he would regret to the end of his days. In attendance at those sales was Sam Fielder, a former successful jockey in the western districts of New South Wales, and now an established trainer who conducted his business out of Grafton House, Lower Randwick.
Just six weeks before those sales, Fielder had trained the family mare, Amiable, to win the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington and the prize money and winning wagers meant that he was cashed up for the sales. Moreover, Fielder had now come to believe in his own luck – that sense of inevitability and momentum that he had slowly acquired during the preceding decade. What initially had seemed a series of random choices for a career based on weight and circumstance, had now taken on the feel of a related sequence of events – fated predestination. And so, to that day when Sam inspected all three colts from Havilah and got his son, Fred, to successfully bid for two of them: viz. the chestnut colt by Antaeus, which he registered as Lowland Chief; and the strapping son of Cranbrook, which he named Cranberry. Young Fred Fielder got the first colt for 105 guineas but had to go to 330 guineas for Cranberry – a stiff price in those times and as such he was the most expensive of the sixty-three lots sold on the day. There was no demand for the third yearling offered by White, and Tom Payten was forced to buy him in at 110 guineas to be returned to Havilah. Later registered as St Clare, he raced under Henry White’s maltese cross banner and as luck would have it, was the only one of the trio to prove a lamentable failure on the racecourse.
Cranberry’s juvenile season by comparison with Lowland Chief was quite ordinary. Each colt made his debut in the first two-year-old race of the season, the Maribyrnong Trial Stakes at Flemington in October, with Lowland Chief going off the favourite on the strength of some impressive track gallops, but both horses finished down the course. While Lowland Chief trained on, Cranberry struck himself while galloping on that Melbourne trip and had to be turned out for almost two months. Although beaten in the Maribyrnong Plate, won that year by Scorn, Lowland Chief returned to Sydney to win at Randwick at his next two starts, including the prestigious December Stakes at the A.J.C. Summer Meeting. He was probably the only really decent horse sired by Antaeus, a stallion by that good New Zealand stayer, Sir Modred, which Henry White stood at Havilah.
Later in the season, Sam Fielder sold Lowland Chief to a Victorian buyer for a very tidy profit. Many wondered at the time why old Sam parted with that colt and yet retained Cranberry, which at that stage hadn’t even returned any prizemoney; but the Master of Grafton House knew his business. The great lengthy, big-boned son of Cranbrook was giving unmistakable evidence in training gallops that his metier was stamina. It was in the greyness of a winter afternoon at Hawkesbury that Cranberry rounded off a hitherto unconvincing season. The horse was finally successful in a Welter at his seventh start on the first day of July carrying the bottom weight in a field of seventeen. Favourably handicapped he might have been, but the four-length margin confirmed to the shrewd Sam Fielder that the stylish big chestnut had the makings of a Derby colt.
Winter lingered in the lengthening days of August as if unwilling to relax its grip. The tracks remained wet, and most Derby colts fell behind in their preparations. Cranberry was the exception in that he had been in constant work since April with the benefit of occasional racing. The chestnut’s only appearance in the new season before the Derby came at the Tattersall’s Meeting when he started favourite for the prestigious Hampden Stakes (9f), only to be beaten easily by the six-year-old gelding, The Chief, although Cranberry did have four lengths to spare over the rest of his rivals. The 1899 A.J.C. classic with prizemoney that year of less than £900, drew a field of just five, although the poverty in numbers on the running course was more than compensated by the abundance of spectators off it. The delightful spring weather attracting a crowd estimated at more than 20,000 people – the best Derby Day attendance for many years.
Racing was enjoying an unprecedented boom in those fin-de-siècle years. There were now no fewer than eight racecourses in Sydney with a race meeting held almost every day of the week except Sunday. A three-penny journey in the tram from Central Station would deliver one not just to Randwick, but any of the racecourses at Ascot, Rosebery, Victoria Park and Kensington. Still, it was Randwick that was special and the spring meeting the most special of all. Vice-regal patronage of the fixture was more numerous than usual in 1899 and included Lords Beauchamp, Brassey and Tennyson, the Governors of NSW, Victoria and South Australia respectively.
Cranberry’s fitness could not be faulted by even the most discerning sportsman and at the close of betting no better than even money was available. The horse expected to lay down the biggest challenge was Parthian, a homebred owned by William Long, by his champion galloper Grand Flaneur out of a Trenton mare. Parthian, who resembled Grand Flaneur the most of all that stallion’s progeny, was making his seasonal debut in the Derby but had shown distinct promise as a juvenile when he won three times from eight appearances including the A.J.C. Easter Stakes. Unfortunately, his Derby preparation had been marred by the wet tracks and illness to his trainer, Tom Brown, who had been unable to superintend the colt properly. Reviver was next fancied in the betting – representing yet another of Walter Hall’s annual tilts at classic glory, trained by Tom Lamond. Bred by Richard Rouse at Biriganbil and sold as a yearling for 135 guineas, Reviver was a half-brother to Survivor, winner of the 1897 A.J.C. Metropolitan. The stylish bay colt had repaid the owner’s faith in some measure by winning the Champagne Stakes at Randwick in the autumn.
Neither of the other two starters – Kalingo nor Promontory – was expected to provide serious competition, although the former was arguably the fittest racehorse in the field having already raced seventeen times and had easily won a flying handicap at Canterbury Park at his latest outing. Promontory was trained by Walter Hickenbotham and for a time he fancied his Derby chances, going so far as to cable Bob Lewis in England to book him for the ride. Lewis had been over there riding for J. E. Brewer but a combination of homesickness and the weather saw him heading home. Alas, when Lewis partnered Promontory in track gallops at Flemington, he sought to be relieved of the engagement and Bert Morrison, who had enjoyed so much success with the St Albans stable and W. R. Wilson, was substituted. A noted absentee from the Derby lists was Tom Payten, whose colt, Dewey, had been reserved for the weight-for-age Spring Stakes run later on the same card.
The 1899 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
There was no delay at the start and young Fielder on the favourite, who had drawn alongside the rails, made the running from barrier rise without being extended, Promontory and Parthian following, and Kalingo last. The first half-mile went by in a very leisurely manner with Promontory, which was desperately fighting Morrison for his head, escorting the favourite until nearing the milepost, where he gave way to Parthian as the favourite gradually quickened the tempo. Only half-lengths separated the trio as the field raced along the back of the course. When the horses swung round the bend, Kalingo improved his position and joined the leading pair as Promontory gave ground. Young Fielder, giving a masterly ride of waiting in front, dashed Cranbrook away at the half-distance and went on to win easily with the outsider Kalingo, in the hands of the veteran jockey, Mat Harris, beating Reviver for second place. Cranberry’s victory was very popular with the general public, who had not only supported him heavily but also enjoyed the prospect of a less well-known public trainer with a reputation to make, sheltering such a first-class colt in his establishment. After the judge had declared the correct weight and Lady Mary Lygon had invested Cranberry with the blue riband, Sam Fielder generously presented the coveted sash to the successful breeder, Henry White, who beamed a broad smile of sportive triumph. It was the fourth Derby in five years at Randwick to be owned or leased by a public trainer. Moreover, the colt had been ridden by the trainer’s son.
A mid-August foal, Cranberry on Derby Day was a sixteen-hand chestnut with a narrow blaze, one white stocking, and marked with those black blotches peculiar to descendants of Splendor. His success brought some belated attention to his sire Cranbrook, who was twelve years old when Cranberry was foaled in the Havilah paddocks. Cranbrook was a big chestnut by Chester, standing over 17 hands high with a marvellous girth and great length, and taking a power of holding. The horse was one of the James White team in 1888 that swept all before them, and in Cranbrook’s case, it was the Newmarket Handicap at Flemington when as a three-year-old he humped 8 st. 12lb and ran a sensational race record. It was a weight-carrying record for his age group that lasted until 1938 when the champion Ajax managed to win with 2lb more. In Cranbrook’s famous triumph, when Hales let him go, the young giant strode past his opponents one by one as if they were so many omnibus horses, and he won fairly pulling up. About a dozen horses were at his mercy at halfway, but Hales waited until the half-distance before letting him down. James White had bred Cranbrook, which was out of the imported English mare La Princesse that James bought while on a visit to England in June 1882; she had cost 700 guineas and was a half-sister to George Frederick, the Epsom Derby hero of 1874. The Newmarket was just one of a number of good races that Cranbrook won in the blue and white, and much was expected of him when James sold him to brother Henry for a thousand guineas in 1889 to stand stud duty at Havilah.
While Cranbrook wasn’t a failure at Havilah he never managed to get one quite as good as himself, although one can’t entirely be sure, for Cranbrook’s speed made him an attractive target for bushrangers. In August 1890 the horse was stolen from his box at Havilah and the police, who were sent for early in the morning, telegraphed in all directions. Cranbrook was used by the miscreants for breeding purposes before being recovered in a cave about twenty miles from the station some two weeks later. Although Cranbrook sired some useful gallopers, apart from Cranberry, he sired only three other stakes winners in Australia – all bred by Henry White, including Huret, which carried White’s colours to victory in the 1895 A.J.C. December Stakes. Certainly, Cranbrook’s stud career wasn’t assisted by White’s refusal to countenance outside mares to him until very late in his life. When Cranbrook’s fertility started to fall away, White sold him to a Mudgee man and the giant son of Chester proved popular with the local farmers in the district on those occasions when he did manage to get their mares in foal.
Cranberry’s dam, Tiwoona, by Splendor, was bred by Frank Reynolds at Tocal and was a year-younger sister to Jeweller, who won the 1893 A.J.C. Summer Cup with 9 st. 5lb for Gus Hooke junior when trained by James Monaghan; he later got a Sydney Cup winner at stud. Splendor was initially purchased in England by George Stead and after he won the Payne Stakes for that gentleman was sent out to New Zealand, but due to a silly, stringent regulation that had to be observed by importers at that time, Stead was virtually forced to sell the horse to Australia. During Splendor’s lengthy residence at Tocal Stud, the stallion sired winners of over £40,000 in stakes. Tiwoona’s dam, Souvenir, went back to the same family as the 1872 English Derby winner, Cremorne.
James Monaghan trained Tiwoona for Henry White, and as a two-year-old, she was seen out very early in the season when unplaced in heavy ground on her debut at Rosehill in August. In all Tiwoona had seven starts during that first season and failed to fill a place in any. At three she finally broke her maiden status in a mile Welter at Warwick Farm in June 1894 when ridden by a Mr E. H. Wells. The unusual conditions attached to the race, which involved both professional and amateur riders, required that any horse ridden by a professional had to carry 10lb extra. The following season on account of her ordinary form, Tiwoona got into the Doncaster with just 7 st. 7lb and managed to run second – beaten a length – to Walter Hall’s Delaware. Later that spring Henry White retired Tiwoona and mated her with Cranbrook, and Cranberry, Tiwoona’s first foal, was born the following year. Cranberry boasted a stout pedigree with three crosses of Stockwell, and one of his brother Rataplan, besides a cross of Sir Hercules.
The Derby was to be the high-water mark of Sam Fielder’s years on the Turf, and it was fitting that with young Fred in the saddle, it was very much a family triumph. Originally hailing from around Coolah and Grafton, Sam Fielder forged his reputation as a jockey in the Western districts of New South Wales, and there were few country courses between Mudgee and Moree with which he wasn’t familiar. One of his most successful associations in those early days was with a horse called Stockman, by the imported English stallion, Cheddar, and the pair won on courses all over the Western districts. Married at Gulgong in 1874 to Mary Lawn, Sam Fielder’s itinerant life on the Turf saw him living in Coonabarabran where his first child, Jack, was born later that same year. Following a stint in Dubbo, Fielder linked up in the late 1870s with Jack Smith of Tucka Tucka who then resided at Gurley station, just south of Moree, and trained his string for country meetings. It was during his stay at Gurley that his son, Fred, was born in 1878. However, the significant move in his life as a trainer came a couple of years later when he relocated to Grafton and linked up with T. H. Smith of Gordon Brook after the famous Barnes and Smith Brothers partnership had been dissolved and Thomas Smith had assumed responsibility for the horse stud in his own right.
Sam Fielder subsequently handled some of the best Gordon Brook stock with great success during a stint that lasted some five years, and it was during this time that his sons, Herbert, Frank, and Perceval were born at Grafton. It wasn’t until 1886 that Sam Fielder returned to Sydney when he set up his own stables first in Chelsea-street, Surry Hills, before moving on to Barker-street in lower Randwick in August 1888 and establishing Grafton House. The name of the stables derived both from Fielder’s own happy associations with that fair town in the Clarence River district but was also a play on Sir Ernest Cassel’s famous establishment in High-street, Newmarket, England. The house itself was a detached two-storey residence built of brick with a wide tiled verandah and slate roof comprising some seven upstairs bedrooms. The stables at the rear of the house were constructed of weatherboard with an iron roof and comprised eight loose boxes, a foreman’s room, feed room and a buggy shed. Daniel de Courcy, who for thirteen years was connected with John Tait’s stable and for many years trained for Henry Barnes on the Clarence, served as Fielder’s first foreman.
Even after his move to Sydney, the connection with Thomas Smith and Gordon Brook Stud continued. A number of the horses that Fielder successfully trained in Sydney were sourced from that stud and had carried Smith’s colours before being tested against the tougher class of thoroughbred in the Sydney metropolis. The gelding, Sam Weller, which raced in the early 1890s is a good example. Sam Fielder soon showed his ability at placing a horse and judging the precise handicap it could carry to victory. In those early days, his aims were modest, and he set about pulling off a series of small coups in minor handicaps and selling plates, in style similar to that of Bill Kelso. The winners began to flow, and Fielder was a dab hand in bloodstock dealing, always willing to sell if the price was right and turning over his horses very frequently when they failed to strike form quickly. In cutting his losses, he made few mistakes as stable discards rarely found success in the hands of other men. Gradually his bank balance began to grow, and he was able to buy a better class of racehorse. Despite his success, Samuel Fielder was one of those trainers that publicly championed the training of ponies and bridled at the distinction that compelled trainers at Randwick to pay a £1 p.a. license fee and yet debarred them from preparing ponies.
Arguably the first decent animal that Sam Fielder trained was Vanitas, with which he won the 1895 Tatt’s Carrington Stakes with just 6 st. 9lb in the saddle. A gelding by Martini-Henry, and well supported by the stable into 12/1, Vanitas won by a short length from Humphrey Oxenham’s Solanum. He must have been tried a good thing to win that Carrington because a couple of months later he ran second at Flemington in the Newmarket. Vanitas is an excellent example of the shrewdness of Sam Fielder in his bloodstock dealings. Originally trained by Tom Payten, Fielder managed to pick up Vanitas for 200 guineas from Harry Mackellar and later sold him at a tidy profit to race in India where he won the 1898 Viceroy’s Cup. The day Vanitas won the Carrington, Sam Fielder scored a double, for his horse Machinist also won the Disposal Stakes. It is generally forgotten now, but in those days at Randwick selling races were conducted, as in England, where the winner then became subject to public bidding. It wasn’t unusual for Fielder to enter such contests, land some winning bets, and then re-purchase the winner as he did with Machinist, which he bought in for just £26.
Another good handicap horse that Fielder owned and trained around this time was Parthenopaeus, a son of Splendor on whom Fred Fielder won the 1897 Hawkesbury Grand Handicap as a 7/1 favourite. Taken to Melbourne by the stable a few weeks later in a bid to win the Caulfield Cup, Parthenopaeus was backed for a fortune only to be knocked from pillar to post but still run second to Amberite. Soon after the race, Samuel Fielder put the horse up for auction, and he realised 700 guineas on a bid from two members of the Melbourne ring, Samuel Allen and Thomas Arnfield. The two men together with Parthenopaeus were subsequently disqualified for life by the V.R.C. over inconsistent running at the 1897 V.R.C. Spring Meeting. The Parthenopaeus plunge in the Caulfield Cup shows that not all of Fielder’s racecourse ventures prospered. There were occasions when he also burnt his fingers paying big prices for yearlings, perhaps most notably with the 650 guineas that he and Fred paid for Sensation, a son of Carbine that couldn’t get out of his own ground.
A staunch Catholic, perhaps Sam Fielder had a little help from above on Derby Day. Earlier in 1899 in an impressive ceremony at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church at Randwick, he and his son, Jack, had donated a magnificent, large mission cross and representation of Mater Dolorosa to the church, imported from France. The Fielder family certainly had much for which to be thankful in the closing years of the nineteenth century. Apart from Cranberry’s Derby, the stable was in cracking form around this period; and other quality winners included Amiable and Vigorous, which won the 1898 V.R.C. Newmarket and 1899 A.J.C. Doncaster Handicaps respectively when Fred Fielder rode each.
Both Amiable and Vigorous demonstrated Sam Fielder’s shrewdness in horse-trading. Amiable was a daughter of the good stallion Lochiel, and Fielder paid 500 guineas plus contingencies to take her over. Off the scene for almost 15 months, Fielder managed to land some sizeable wagers when she won the big sprint at Flemington. Amiable was later sold to race in England. Vigorous, on the other hand, was bought for 80 guineas at the sale of the Kirkham yearlings in April 1897 and was a son of Abercorn, out of that good producing mare Lady Vivian that James White had imported from England. It wasn’t a stiff price to pay for a colt that was a half-brother to two classic winners in Corvette and Volley, but he had an imperfection that made some buyers shy away. Sam Fielder was confident that he could get him to the post, however, and the Doncaster was his reward. Only days after winning the big mile with the chestnut stallion, Fielder sold him for 500 guineas to M. J. Trahan, who was acting on behalf of His Highness Kour Sahib of Patiala.
Despite the authority of Cranberry’s victory in the A.J.C. Derby, many sportsmen left Randwick racecourse that day unconvinced that he was the finest colt in the land. The suspicion that there might be one better had come with Dewey’s upset win against a class field that included his better-fancied stablemate Cocos as well as Bobadil in the weight-for-age Spring Stakes. A handsome, solid colt with plenty of size about him, Dewey wasn’t quite in the first flight as a two-year-old but his performance on Derby Day proved that he had progressed splendidly during his winter sojourn, a trait not uncommon with the Lochiel stock. Payten not only trained Dewey but was the owner and breeder as well. Dewey’s dam, Dona, had been a gift from James White to Payten some years before, after both men had attended a St Albans sale in March 1889. Payten liked the filly and White bought her for 75 guineas and later made a present of her to his loyal trainer. E. S. Chapman (‘Augur’) remarked at the time: “She will make your fortune, Tom, just as Musidora made Jim Wilson’s.” Certainly, the prize of the Spring Stakes was a handy down payment. The sporting public was not long denied the opportunity of a direct comparison between Dewey and the Derby winner, for both colts were paid up for The Metropolitan run three days later. It was this race that Payten had been angling for and had withstood the temptation of a Derby start to avoid the risk of a stone penalty.
Both Cranberry and Dewey were responsible for wonderful performances in The Metropolitan running second and third respectively behind the Joe Burton-trained mare, Cremona, a 50/1 shot, but the honours undoubtedly belonged to Cranberry. Despite carrying a half-stone over weight-for-age, a stone more than Dewey, and suffering a chequered passage, the Derby winner almost snared the prize. Cranberry finished fast after being hopelessly buried in the ruck three furlongs out but just going under by three-quarters of a length; Dewey was a similar margin away in the minor placing after almost falling at the first turn. On the third day of the Randwick fixture, Cranberry easily carried his 10lb penalty to the front in the Wycombe Stakes when again ridden by Fred Fielder, who with his two wins on Cranberry and his brace on Australian Star, finished as the leading rider at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting.
It was in the wake of his performance in The Metropolitan that W. R. Wilson of the St Albans Stud stepped in and negotiated to buy Cranberry for 3000 guineas, subject to veterinary inspection. Wilson was acting for William Allison of the London International Horse Agency, and the commission was on behalf of the prominent English financier and diplomat, Sir Edgar Vincent, who was later created first and last Viscount D’Abernon. Vincent had made his name in Egypt and the Ottoman Empire and enjoyed a great partiality for Australian racehorses at the time, having bought Sailor Boy some months before. Moreover, there was also an Australian connection with his trainer who was Reginald Day of Newmarket, a son of F. W. Day who at one time had trained privately for Samuel Hordern at Randwick.
Following his sale, there was much speculation as to whether Cranberry would be allowed to honour his engagements in the Victoria Derby and other races at the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. Placed under the care of Walter Hickenbotham and taken down to Melbourne, the intention was to run in the classic and young Fielder was booked to partner the colt. However, the horse developed a rheumatic soreness – a harbinger of problems to come in the harsher English climate – and was a dramatic scratching from the Victoria Derby at 12.25 pm on the Wednesday before the race. The horse never again carried silk on his native soil. Nonetheless, despite the absence of the A.J.C. Derby winner, three-year-olds swept the board in the rich distance handicaps in Melbourne that year.
There was one significant change in officialdom at the 1899 V.R.C. Spring Meeting. The long time race starter for the club, George Watson, had only weeks before tendered his resignation. At the annual meeting of the club, that year held in August at the Menzies Hotel, the subject of an honorarium for Watson had been discussed and subsequently, the committee awarded him a sum of £1,000 for his long and meritorious service. No sooner had Watson been granted the money than he stepped down. It was not altogether unexpected as for some time past, Watson had been in failing health and had not personally started any race for a year or two. The race-going public had missed the familiar figure, somewhat bent with age in his last appearances, but still preserving something of his old seat in the saddle, as he cantered to the starting-post, flag in hand. Blunt and courageous, with a reputation for fair dealing, George Watson had been a fixture and a larger-than-life figure on the Victorian Turf since 1852.
Born in 1829 at Ballydarton, County Carlow, Ireland, into a comfortable, upper-middle-class family, his father had been the Master of Fox Hounds for the county. Schooled at Kilkenny College and brought up amongst hounds and horses, young George had been intended for the Army but decided to make his way to Victoria instead, arriving in Melbourne in March 1850. Within six months of landing here, he was married and the following year he took up the lease on Kirk’s Bazaar from W. C. Yuille. Soon afterwards, George Watson entered into a partnership with Cyrus Hewitt, the head of Cobb and Co. in Victoria and signed on for a series of coaching contracts. In 1852, true to his family background, Watson formed the Melbourne Hunt Club with hounds that he brought over from his family’s Carlow pack in Ireland and which were initially kennelled in Kirk’s Bazaar in Bourke-street. As Melbourne became more densely populated, the hounds were moved to St Kilda, Caulfield, then Deer Park.
However, hunting was only one-half of George Watson’s recreations; the other half was racing. Watson’s connection with the Victorian Turf began in 1852 and when the Port Phillip Racing Club was disbanded in the 1850s, he became a steward of the two bodies that replaced it viz. the Victoria Turf Club and the Victoria Jockey Club, who shared tenancy of Flemington racecourse for some thirteen years prior to 1863. When those two clubs through mutual jealousy and maladministration argued their way out of existence, George Watson was one of the twenty-five men who collectively subscribed £1,800 to discharge the debts of both defunct clubs and finance the creation of the new body that replaced them i.e. the Victoria Racing Club. It was on 9 March 1864, that the V.R.C. officially came into existence and George Watson was one of the inaugural committeemen of twelve.
Watson continued to act in his capacity as the official race starter with the new club. While his main interest on the Turf was steeplechasing in which he was an outstanding amateur rider, his cerise jacket and black cap became very familiar on the flat at well. Indeed, he had won the first Queen’s Plate with Shadow in 1854. In 1860, Watson’s horse, Flying Colours, had taken out the V.J.C. Derby while in 1861, his horse Palestine won the inaugural V.J.C. Oaks. Other good gallopers that carried his livery to glory included Ballarat, Banker, Comet and Union. Watson had continued to go hunting as well as racing into his old age. One of his treasured possessions was a neat cane and crimson flag, sent out to him through Edward Lee by Tom McGeorge, the famous English starter, with the message: “To the best starter in the world, from a brother official.” The job of starter in George Watson’s early days was no sinecure. He often risked his life to start a race fairly, for he used to take his stand in the middle of the course, in front of the horses, and would drop the flag from that position, letting the horses go past him on either side.
George Watson wasn’t a man that moved with the times and was one of the most recalcitrant opponents of the single-strand barrier when it was proposed in the 1890s. As Maurice Cavanough wrote in his excellent book ‘The Caulfield Cup’: “Always a stern disciplinarian, Mr Watson’s disposition became more choleric with advancing years. During his very long career in charge of the flag he had earned the soubriquet ‘Prince of Starters’, but in the 1890s he relied more on punitive measures than cajoling to get big fields away in good order. He fined every jockey £10 at the start of the 1891 Melbourne Cup, and resorted to the same sort of coercion in the 1892 Caulfield Cup when he fined 31 of the 32 riders £5.” Of course, such penalties were invariably paid by the owners and it was hardly surprising when active lobbying began to remove old George. One measure of Watson’s cholera and quick temper was his reaction to Prince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh when the Duke attended the 1870 Melbourne Cup and accompanied Watson to watch the start. Just as Watson was in the act of lowering his flag, he asked him what horse was going to win? Simultaneously came the signal, “Off”, and the reply, “Damn it, man, judge for yourself; you know as much about it as I do.”
Perhaps one shouldn’t make too much of his title ‘Prince of Starters’. This sort of nonsense was thrown around by ingratiating newspaper correspondents in the nineteenth century quite freely and sometimes the irony of such journalistic bequests hasn’t quite come down through history, as witness the soubriquet ‘Honest’ John Tait. A commentary on just how successfully one family with good connections had snaffled the sinecures attached to the role of starter at Australia’s major race clubs was revealed in the speculation over George Watson’s successor. The only two possibilities that were canvassed were two of George’s sons: Godfrey, who had been the acting starter in the absence of his father in recent years, besides being the V.A.T.C. starter; and Thomas, who was the official starter for the A.J.C. In the end, the V.R.C. chose Godfrey to succeed him, as indeed, he had succeeded his father as the Master of the Melbourne Hunt Club. George Watson died at the age of eighty, at his home in St Kilda in July 1906.
Dewey gave Payten his one and only Caulfield Cup and landed some good wagers for the stable into the bargain but then met one better in Merriwee for the Victoria Derby. It was only at the eleventh hour so to speak that Merriwee – yet another of that brilliant tribe from Etra Weenie – came into the market. He became the hero of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting when he snared the Melbourne Cup on the rain-sodden ground a few days later for owner Herbert Power and trainer James Wilson junior who prepared the horse at Queenscliff, away from the prying eyes of touts. In so doing Merriwee landed some tidy doubles wagers for the stable, more than £20,000 so it was rumoured, and thereby managed to avenge the unlucky defeat of his close relation Savanaka, in the Cup twenty-two years before.
Cranberry wasn’t one of Sir Edgar Vincent’s happier investments in Australian bloodstock. It was widely hoped that the Derby winner would enhance the value of the Australian thoroughbred in the eyes of the world when he shipped out on the steamship Damascus in late November 1899 headed for Old Blighty as the reign of Queen Victoria tottered towards its exhausted conclusion. In a sense, the appearance of our Derby winner was in keeping with the spirit of the times. With his name changed to Stoccado in England, he continued to suffer from mysterious and intermittent lameness, possibly a result of rheumatism that had marred his last weeks on Australian soil. Although he did manage to run placings in a couple of races including the Chester Cup, he was never within lengths of his Derby form. Reg Day persisted in training him for two seasons before he was retired to stud in the 1902 season. Cranberry’s non-performance on English courses virtually guaranteed failure at stud; and by the 1905 season, he was standing at a service fee of just 9 guineas compared to the 200 guineas commanded by Carbine or the 46 guineas for Trenton. Perhaps the ultimate ignominy was being sold at auction for a mere half-sovereign in December 1915 when his stallion days were over.
I might mention that in Cranberry’s absence and notwithstanding the presence of Merriwee, it was Parthian that dominated the three-year-old ranks in the following autumn. William Long’s crumbling finances saw him forced to sell the colt in November after the conclusion of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. Given the illness of the colt’s trainer Tom Brown, Joe Burton was superintending Parthian in Melbourne, and it was he, acting on behalf of a Mr Muir, who purchased the colt for 1450 guineas. Parthian was subsequently placed in the Randwick stables of Bill Kelso and managed to win both St Legers as well as the Champion Stakes before he too, was sold to race in England.
The 1899-1900 racing year was widely acclaimed as the best of the decade for three-year-olds by knowledgeable sportsmen, given that the likes of Cranberry, Parthian, Dewey, Merriwee, Revenue and Australian Star were all seen out in it. It coincided with a moment in our history when foreign buyers were becoming interested in the relative value offered by Australian bloodstock. Indeed, all of the above were sold to race overseas except for Merriwee, who was knocked down to E. J. Watt to stand as a stallion in New Zealand where he proved very successful; and Revenue, a gelding that was ultimately given to the Governor-General, Lord Denman to use as a hack. It would be satisfying to regale readers with the various triumphs that these representatives of this land accomplished in foreign climes. Alas, except for Australian Star, all proved ignominious failures and none more so than Cranberry, given the money he cost.
Granted that Sir Edgar Vincent was bitterly disappointed with Cranberry, but in parting with the colt for 3000 guineas, Sam Fielder had plenty of ammunition to aim at new acquisitions. Nor was he long in getting another class horse in the shape of Famous, a bay son of Grafton, who was foaled at Wollar, near Mudgee, within weeks of Cranberry winning the A.J.C. Derby. In his first season, Famous won two two-year-old races and a flying welter but seemed to lose all form the following season and became quite moody. Fielder turned him out in the paddock for a good spell and brought him back to win the 1903 A.J.C. Epsom Handicap with just eight stone on his back, having supported the horse in the betting ring for weeks leading into the big mile. Curiously enough Famous is the exception to the rule of shrewdness in Sam Fielder’s horse-trading down through the years. Fielder eventually sold the stallion as a five-year-old only to see the handsome Grafton horse add the 1905 A.J.C. Doncaster and successive Spring Stakes at Rosehill to his haul of rich races.
Although Sam Fielder remained a trainer at Grafton House for many years after parting with Famous, he never again enjoyed the good fortune of those fin de siècle years, retiring at the close of the 1925-26 racing season to care for his sick wife, having gone some seasons without a top galloper. Nonetheless, the influence that he had on Sydney racing around the turn of the nineteenth century should not be judged on horseflesh alone. Rather, it was through the abilities a succession of his sons displayed in the pigskin that set the Fielder family apart on the Turf.
Fred Fielder, who won the Derby on Cranberry at the age of twenty-one, was a very accomplished rider in his youth and his coming of age happened to coincide with those few years when Grafton House sheltered some high-class racehorses. It was young Fred who steered Amiable to her Newmarket victory and Vigorous to his Doncaster in his father’s colours. Lest I give the impression that young Fred relied wholly on his father to recognise his jockeyship, I should add that his other big race wins for outside stables included the 1898 Doncaster on Syerla for Humphrey Oxenham and the 1896 Epsom for John Dines.
As impressive as Fred’s list of major race winners were, not all sportsmen of the period were convinced he was the best of Sam Fielder’s jockey sons. Many plumped for Sam’s oldest son, Jack, who was also a notable jockey in his teens, and is best known for winning The Metropolitan at Randwick on three occasions, viz. Cardigan (1887), Lamond (1888) and Paris (1893). Randwick proved a lucky course for him for he also won the 1890 Doncaster there on Sir William. Perhaps Jack’s most significant win as a jockey, however, came at the age of twenty when he partnered Henry White’s Paris to victory in the Caulfield Cup. In the years before the Great War, Jack Fielder trained in Melbourne and showed he was a chip off the old block when he won the Australian Cup in 1910 with Orline, a son of Orzil that Fielder leased from J. E. Stanley and which was sold to race in India. Jack Fielder later moved to New Zealand for health reasons and enjoyed some success there; he occasionally brought horses across the Tasman to try for prizes at Randwick and Flemington including Nedda, with whom he won the 1929 V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and who clashed with Phar Lap later that year in the Derby at Randwick. Fred Fielder died in May 1931.
Frank, Percy and Bert, three other sons of Sam and Mary Fielder were also good horsemen, and it was Frank, four years younger than Fred, who rode Famous in that memorable Epsom. I might add that almost all of the Fielder boys rode foul of the stewards at times and suffered enduring disqualifications. Sam Fielder retired from training at the close of the 1925-26 racing season, but bereavements soon engulfed his life. In May 1927 his son Fred, died suddenly at the age of 49 from a heart attack while a month later, Mary, passed on. No longer needing either the stables or the large dwelling with its haunting memories, on Wednesday 28th September 1927, the historic Grafton House and stables were auctioned by Hardie and Gorman in their rooms at Martin Place while old Sam moved in to live with one of his daughters. Sam Fielder lived on without Mary for seven more years, a well-known and popular identity in the Randwick municipality, eventually passing away at the age of 82 in February 1934 at the Waverley home of his closest daughter. Following a requiem mass in the Holy Cross Church, Bondi Junction, he was buried in the Catholic cemetery at Randwick. It was the severing of yet another link with the pioneering days of Randwick racecourse.
It is rather ironic that Cranberry was a failure on English racecourses because his breeder, Henry White, was one of the more successful owners to try his luck in the Old Country. Like his older brother James, Henry ventured upon a quixotic quest to achieve glory over there, and while he missed out on the classics after nominating several of his homebreds and sending them across the water, he enjoyed a measure of success in good handicaps. It was in 1895 that he sent his Metropolitan and dual Caulfield Cup winner, Paris, across the waters to be trained by our old friend, F. W. Day at Newmarket. Paris was strongly supported to win both the Cesarewitch and Cambridgeshire that year but went amiss and had to be scratched from both events. Nonetheless, later on, Paris proved a success on English courses, winning the Great Northamptonshire Stakes, Lewes Handicap and other races. It was the success of this little son of Grandmaster that attracted the attention of British sportsmen to the quality of some Australian racehorses and Maluma and Merman were not long in following suit across the ocean.
In the late 1890s, White had quite a few horses in training in England including Form, Georgic and Old Clo. Georgic pulled off a coup when he landed the 1898 Cambridgeshire Stakes at Newmarket as well as the rich Prince Edward Handicap at Manchester, while Form, another son of Cranbrook, won several races including the Westmoreland Plate. Just like James White at Kirkham, for some years around the turn of the century, Henry White bred a number of his best mares to English time in a bid win the Derby at Epsom, and although he sent a few of these homebreds over, none ever came up to the mark. Still, these English adventures didn’t involve any decline in his Sydney racing activities and in the last years of his life, he had horses scattered among many trainers including Tom Payten, Tom Lamond, John Allsop and Harry Rayner.
Henry Charles White having been confined to his bed at his town residence, Green Oaks, Darling Point, for several weeks before reluctantly accepting medical advice and journeying to Tasmania in search of a more congenial climate for his respiratory problems, finally found God’s acre in February 1905 in Hobart. Paris, the best racehorse ever to carry his colours, was, at the time of White’s death, domiciled at Green Oaks and enjoying the carefree life of a hack for one of his daughters. White’s estate was valued for probate at £280,331 and left to his widow and two sons, Ray of Lowdown Estate, Queensland, and Hunter of Havilah and Wollara Estates.
Hunter White continued the family tradition with the Turf, standing some good stallions at Havilah over the years including the likes of Tippler (GB 1921) and Fresco (GB 1935), while at the same time the Valetta blood occasionally resurged. Ventura, the winner of both the Breeders’ Plate and Gimcrack Stakes of 1911, and Toper, winner of the 1929 Hobartville Stakes, were both bred by Hunter White from a maternal line descended from both Cranbrook and Valetta. However, his greatest breeding triumph was undoubtedly getting the great Rogilla at his station near Cassilis in 1927. Hunter White was a prominent figure on the Australian Turf until his death in 1947, serving on the A.J.C. committee from 1927 to 1940. With his passing, Havilah Stud was carried on by Henry Charles Hunter White, the grandson of the breeder of Cranberry.