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.
A certain nostalgia and sadness arise when documenting the history of the Randwick classic with the realisation that so many of those splendid and original colonial homesteads where Derby winners were foaled exist no more. Sprawling, pastoral estates that once flourished in the economic boom times of the nineteenth century along with their gardens and orchards, pictures and furniture, not to mention their unique architectural charm, were reduced or demolished when their proprietors fell upon hard times. Perhaps no establishment captures the poignant tragedy of this loss of colonial heritage more than Duckenfield Park House and Stud, the birthplace of our 1898 Derby heroine, Picture.
When Carbine was sold for 3000 guineas in the wake of his defeat in the 1888 Victoria Derby, there was a body of uninformed opinion that believed the three-year-old colt was well sold at the price. As the bay was led into the ring that day, he was greeted with a round of applause. Archie Yuille, who was wielding the hammer, got a 2000 guineas bid to begin proceedings, which quickly climbed to 3000 guineas, at which figure he was knocked down to Harry Ryan, buying for a patron of Walter Hickenbotham’s stable, the patron appearing afterwards in the person of Donald Wallace. Wallace had attended the auction half intending to buy Tradition, who had run second to his own horse Mentor in the Melbourne Cup a week earlier; but when he went for 3050 guineas, Wallace switched his choice to the year-younger Carbine instead. Tradition subsequently proved worthless on the racecourse whereas, in Carbine, Wallace was to enjoy the pleasure and privilege of seeing his magpie jacket sported on possibly the best horse ever to race in Australia.
On March 6th, 1895, at the Agricultural Showgrounds at Flemington the annual sale of Victorian yearlings occurred. First on the list came the St Albans’ yearlings bred by W. R. Wilson. Only a year or two before, Wilson had spacious sale-yards erected at St Albans with the intention of selling his yearlings there, but the construction outlays hadn’t been matched by prices during the hard financial times. The St Albans’ studmaster had realised belatedly and reluctantly the need to send his yearlings to Melbourne among the buyers, rather than conveying the buyers to Geelong among the yearlings. A special train left Melbourne at 2.15 pm for the Showgrounds on the day of the sale. The St Albans’ list included no less than thirty yearlings and the day would be remembered afterwards for the sale of just one, in particular, Lot No.15, a chestnut colt by Newminster from Oceana, a brother to Froude.
There have been few more colourful characters to cross the Australian or New Zealand Turf than ‘Lucky Dan’ O’Brien, owner and trainer of the 1895 A.J.C. Derby winner, Bob Ray. Most racing men today recognise the name Dan O’Brien as the first owner of Carbine, but there was so much more to his colourful life in racing than that chapter. He was born on 16 January 1847 in Lonsdale-street, between Elizabeth and Queen-streets, in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton; it was roughly in line with where Kirk’s Bazaar stood for so long on the north side of the Bourke-street hill in the area now occupied by Hardware-street. How fitting that the man who was to become perhaps the shrewdest horsetrader of his times on both sides of the Tasman, should have been born within a stone’s throw of the most famous bazaar in the colonies for the buying and selling of draught, saddle and thoroughbred horses. Every week in the years of O’Brien’s early childhood, hundreds of horses of all breeds were driven down from the country and hills for sale there. At the northern end of the bazaar was a ‘bull-ring’ for unbroken horses while a shoeing forge stood at the Little Bourke-street end, or what is now Hardware-street. This was then a tan strip where the horses were paraded for the benefit of buyers. These were scenes familiar to O’Brien in his childhood.
On Tuesday, 8th September 1891, the steamship Waihora arrived in Sydney port from New Zealand. It carried valuable cargo, for onboard were the cream of racehorses owned by the prominent Napier sportsman, Spencer H. Gollan. Included in the team were Tirailleur, Tiraillerie, Sternchaser, Renata, Leonardo, and the jumpers Darnley, Kimberley, and Medjidie. The well-known New Zealand trainer, Percy Martin, was in charge of the horses with the crack jockey, William (‘Percy’) White, as the first horseman, and it was common knowledge that Sternchaser and Tirailleur had been coupled extensively in Victoria Derby-Melbourne Cup betting. The entire company were initially put-up at stables adjacent to the A.J.C. Hotel, Randwick. The stopover in Sydney was only temporary for the real destination was Caulfield. It was the first indication that a significant force in New Zealand racing was about to try its luck in Australia and it coincided with a period that saw an exodus of racing men and horses from the Land of the Long White Cloud as some of the less attractive aspects of the totalisator were felt.
In the very same year of the formation of the J.B. Clark syndicate, there came another man upon the scene also hoping to dominate the Australian Turf. He would be the syndicate’s greatest rival during its brief reign, and, after its premature demise, would assume the undisputed mantle of Australia’s leading owner. The man in question was William Robert (W.R.) Wilson, and from the time of his acquisition of the St Albans Stud in early 1890 until his death in May 1900, he came to dominate racing in this land in a manner that rivalled the Hon. James White when at the peak of his fame, and has never been equalled in all the years since.
Such was the early promise shown by Stromboli, Corvette and company that in September 1890 the J.B. Clark confederacy decided it wanted more. Even before most of that initial batch of Kirkham youngsters had sported silk, the syndicate transacted with Mrs White to acquire the following season’s yearlings as well. The price was 500 guineas apiece. So, it was to be double or quits! Included in this second job lot were three likely colts by Chester viz. Camoola, out of Copra, a sister to the two A.J.C. Derby winners, Navigator and Trident; Autonomy, a magnificent half-brother to Bungebah, subsequent winner of the 1890 A.J.C. Epsom and 1891 V.R.C. Newmarket Handicaps; and Warpaint, a full brother in blood to Abercorn.
Past haunted half-way houses – where convicts made the bricks – Scrub-yards and new bark shanties, we dash with five and six; Through stringy-bark and blue-gum, and box and pine we go – A hundred miles shall see to- night the lights of Cobb and Co!
Henry Lawson’s words capture the spirit of the times of Cobb and Co., the first large-scale network of inland road transport in eastern Australia. The enterprise made a number of men’s fortunes down the years but none more so than the hero of this chapter, Walter Russell Hall. Born in February 1831 at Kingston, Herefordshire, England, the eldest son of a glover and miller, he arrived in Sydney in 1852 with just a few pence jingling in his pocket. A fine-looking young man, confident, ambitious and adventurous, he began working for David Jones, the prominent Sydney retailer but before long the siren call of the Ballarat goldfields proved too seductive to resist, and later on, he moved to the Bendigo and Ovens diggings. The rush would be the making of Hall but not in the direct way he first imagined. Like many who found disappointment searching for the elusive metal, he eventually made money by providing services to other Eldorado dreamers instead, for a time conducting a carrying service between Ballarat and Melbourne before later becoming an agent for Cobb and Co at Woods Point and Beechworth.
Few families have played a more significant role on the Australian Turf than the Dangars of the Hunter Valley in N.S.W. The patriarch of the clan, Henry Dangar, first arrived in the colony of New South Wales from Cornwall as a confident 24-year-old in April 1821 aboard the Jessie, having been supported in his intent to settle here by his influential patron, the first Earl of St Germans. Shortly after his arrival, Dangar presented his impressive credentials to the N.S.W. Surveyor-General John Oxley, and upon Oxley’s recommendation found himself appointed as an Assistant Government Surveyor in July of the same year. After an initial experience surveying Crown land in the Camden district, Henry Dangar was directed to the Hunter River where he surveyed and laid out the future town of Newcastle before making an entire survey of the Hunter Valley, and later, a route over the mountains to the fertile Liverpool Plains.