Lists (None yet)

Login to create lists

Tagged (None yet)

Add Tags

Comments (None yet)

Add New Comment

No corrections yet

Flemington: Past and Present.


* Largó streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow/

The brilliant * Cup Carnival ' of Mel- bourne is how far-famed, enjoying a reputation, not only wide as the Australian

Continent, but reaching even to European - shores. The Flemington Race Course is counted among the finest in the world, and the prizes run for almost equal in value those contested for on the great English


It may, therefore, be interesting for a short time to hark back to the 'day of small th-ings,' the source and beginning of the racing glories, which, like a nimbus, now surround the 316 acres of turf stretch- ing away from the foot of the well-known. 'Hill' to the low banks of the Saltwater


The .first races ever held in Melbourne took place on March G and 7, 1838, the course being the flat extending from Batman's Hill to the Yarra. A couple of large bullock drays, lashed fibgether, formed the 4 Grand Stand,' and a few logs and gum branches the jumps for the horses. Tbe

succeeding year's races were held in the same place, but before the next annual meeting a private match had been run at Flemington, and the superiority of the place as a racecourse was BO forcibly demon- strated, that it was decided to hold the coining meeting there.

And so it came to pass that the inauguration of the now illustrious Flemington Course took place on March 3,

1840. The Grand Stand was erected near the river side, arid consisted of rough scaffolding. The winning post was planted near by, and a short space of the run home was staked and roped off. The races, which had before been limited to two. days, now extended to three. Crowds rowed up the river in boats, steamers then being luxuries undreaint-of. The rest of the sight-seers went by road, alL sorts of vehicles being used, from a bullock dray upwards. This was the first occasion On which silk was sported by the jockeys, and the youths were accused of being much more taken up with showing off their line feathers, like so many peacocks, than with the legitimate work of the day.

Towards the end of the year, the affairs of the Turf began to be placed on a permanent footing. The Port Phillip Turf Club was instituted, and a committee formed, consisting of Messrs. J. D. Lyon Campbell, E. II. Ebden, Hugh Jamieson, J. Hawdon, George B. Smyth, and William

. «.. -

Veaner, the three latter gentlemen being , appointed stewards. As far back as 1884

not one of these survived.

For many years the locality chosen for the Melbourne meetings was known only "as 'The Racecourse.' A small hamlet

sprung up, called after Bob Fleming, a butcher, who retailed meat to the denizens of the huts which gradually gathered round the spot, and the name of Fleming- ton was afterwards extended to the race-


It was not till 1847 that race-goers began to patronise what was then called Picnic Hill, which was so far away from the winning post that spectators did not care to take up their quarters there ; but gradually the Hill grew in favour. Up to 1848 the Flemington Course was held only by sufferance, there being not a line of writ- ing in existence to authorise its occupation. The Club applied to the Government for a ten years' lease, and it was granted, as trustees for the public, to Messrs. W. F. Stawell, J. C. Riddell, and J. F. L. Foster.' The partial fencing of the Course was begun,

and a more substantial Grand Stand erect ed.

The beginning of the next decide saw the ground partly fenced, and an entrance gate fixed close by the river, und 1851 brought an improvement in the attendance. Three steamers began to ply on . the Salt- water, the 1 Maitland ' carrying a thousand passengers. The principal meetings of the year were then held in March, or the beginning of April; and the weather record of the race days is chiefly made up of 4 wind and dust,' and ' heavy raine,' which tended much to damp the ardour of sport lovers and the success of the gatherings.

The spring meetings in October and November were, as yet, of secondary importance. No publican's iiconse was granted, but solid refreshments (in- cluding sandwiches, varying from sixpence to four shillings each) and temperance

drinks were sold in the row of booths stretching from the winning poet (which stood by the river for twenty years), between the course and the river, towards the Hill. This eminence was then, says ( Garry Owen,' in his ' Chronicles of Early Melbourne,' ' the place of pleasant and enjoyable picnics, and around by the bottom of the Hill, embedded in thick brushwood, were scattered groups of peopl e, of every age and condition, partaking of the contents of the cramined hampers and baskets, and ready to hail evèry passer-by to " come and share pot luck." ' The same

writer says : ' Nightly there was a race

ball, a dinner, or other festive demon- ' stration, at the Lamb Inn, the Prince of Wales, or some other principal place of entertainment, and, taken as a whole, the old turf times were infinitely more jolly and enjoyable, notwithstanding all their drawbacks, than the people of the present generation can bring themselves to imagine.' ' Garry Owen ' (Mr. Edmund Finn, senior) was the first to suggest the moving of the Grand Stand and winning post from near the river to the Hill, and for his pains was laughed and scoffed at, regarded as a fit inmate for a lunatic asylum, and nearly got 'the sack' in consequence from the Port Phillip Herald, on the staff of which newspaper he was a prominent member. * But he laughs best who laughs last,' and ten years later the prophetic journalist stood on the Hill and saw the winning post planted beside it, on the place which he had recommended so many years


In 1852 the structure, by courtesy called the Grand Stand,' was nothing more than

a few raised seats, open at back, sides, and front, threatening to come down, and manifestly unsafe. It was occupied chiefly by sporting gentlemen, '.the fair sex,' says a newspaper of the day, ' having, it seemed, withdrawn their countenance on the occasion.' The next year saw a better gathering of the pleasure-loving public

than had ever before been seen at a Melbourne race, and it was said that never previously ' had Victoria been graced with

such a number of excellent racers,' Mr. George Thompson's ' Ballarat ' and Mr. Thomas Austin's ' Shadow ' being the favourites. Every available vehicle was . put into requisition to convey the crowd to

the course, even á bathing machine was brought upon the ground, filled with passengers, and the steamers ' Maitland,' 'Gipsy,' and 'Cornet' brought thousands by the river. It is reported of these races that k hardly any intoxicating drinks were procurable, consequently there was a more ' perfect state of order than was ever before

experienced,' by which register it may be inferred that something stronger than ' temperance drinks ' found their way to the booths before, notwithstanding the fact that' no publican'slicense was granted.' The course presented many pitfalls in the way ' of holes, indented by the feet of cattle

during the previous wet season. The Grand Stand on this occasion was beautified

by the presence of one lady. It is also

noted that 1 an adjoining hill to the left ' of the stand was covered with spectators.'

This seems to be the first record of the 4 Hill/ being used as a vantage ground from which to view the races. Besides the usual guardians of the peace, a troop of the Gold Mounted Police and a detachment of the mounted corps of the 40th Regiment, with their officers, were present.

The two following years saw the love of sport on the increase, yet, that it was far from having gained the absorbing hold that it possesses over the populace at the present time, is proved by the fact that the account of the last day's racing of March, 1854 (Friday, the 24 th), is actually crowded out of the next day's Argus, by * Domestic Intelligence,' ' A Report on the Colony of Victoria,' and advertisements (which, by-the-way, were the chief contents of that particular issue), and the racing transactions appear in small print on the Monday morning. ' Ballarat ' (then owned by Mr. Milbrick), was the winner this year ot! the Turf Club Cup, 150 sovs., and 'Shadow' (Mr. G. Watson), captured the

Finish of the Race tor Turf Club Autumn Cup, March 23, 1857.



Queen's Plate, 200 so vs., while the Hodges Handicap, 200 so vs., was taken by Mr. T. Hay's ' Buckley.'

By 1856 the ' Melbourne Annual Race Meeting' had extended itself tb a duration of five days, and a leading daily devoted two columns to the first day's proceedings, beginning with a flourishing introduction, a fore-runner Of the elaborate and ornate prefaces to the racing reports of the Carnival of to-day. The stewards for the year were Messrs. John Grey, Compton Ferrars, Peter Snodgrass, Captain Hall (of H.M. 40th Regiment), and Dr. McCrae ; judge,- Mr. James Henderson; hon. secre- tary, Mr. A. M. L. Hunter; hon. treasurer, Mr. M. M. Harper ; clerk of course, Mr. John M. Candi ish ; starter, Compton Ferrars. ' Pluvial demonstrations,' as usual, mark the racing season.

The November meeting of 1856 was made a general holiday, and about 15,000 people are said to have been present in the field,'A numerous and fashionable company gracing the stand.' No doubt the patronage of vice-royalty gave a fillip and impetus at this time to sporting in Victoria. The third day's racing included a sweepstake, value 350sovs. ,in which two renowned horses were engaged-' Samson,' from Sydney, and . Hotspur,' leader of the Castlemaine circuit. The prize fell to the latter.

Before the March meeting of 1857, the Grand Stand underwent various improve

merits, and several additions were made, among the latter being a dressing-room for the jockeys ; and the whole of the '? straight running ' was fenced. His Excellency Sir Henry Barkly attended, and ' the stand was well filled with gaily dressed ladies.' The prizes were gradually increasing in value. A match was run during this season for 500 sovs., between Mr. Patteson's 'Jeannette' and. Mr. De wing's 'Van Tromp,' the latter winning by several lengths.

The Autumn Turf Club Cup was run for on Thursday, March 23, of this year, and was captured by Mr. John Orr's ' Alice Hawthorne,' which was ridden by Mr. Garton. The second place was taken by * Camel,' which was mounted by Mr.

Anslow. Both the riders were members of the Club. The distance, three miles, was run in 6 min. 15sec, the first mentioned racer winning by several lengths. Other horses running were

< Ugly Buck,' ' Flying Doe,' < Freeholder,'

and 1 Black Prince.' Our illustration shows the finish of the race. At the spring meeting of 1857,1 Alice Hawthorne ' again secured the Turf Club Trophy, Mr. Dunlop's ' Bathershins ' coming next.

With 1859 comes grumbling loud and long about the inadequacy and utter

unworthiness of the so-called ' Grand Stand.' It is believed that there would be no difficulty in raising money for a new one, and finding another and better site for the structure, ' under the Hill, for instance.' The dissatisfied folk are comforted with promises that all shall be ' remedied soon.' His Excellency Sir Henry Barkly, Miss Barkly, and a vice-regal escort more than usually imposing, mark this Autumn Meeting.

But the great and crowning event of Melbourne sport up to date was the Cham-

pion Race Day of October^., of this same

year, when the first Australian Champion Sweepstakes was run for, and won by a

Victorian horse, viz., Mr. Yuille's * Flying Buck.' The contest was witnessed by 35,000 people, - the Hill being crowded, from summit to base with some 10,000 spectators. The five-column newspaper account of the pouring into the city of visitors from the country districts, closely approaches the enthusiastic and graphically written race sketches we now, thirty years later, look for as a matter of course, and read and digest with our breakfasts, every time the Cup season

comes round in due course.

This great day closes the, sporting records of the * Fifties ' in a glory that had never been achieved by any previous turf event. It is, therefore, strange that the ' Sixties,'-the first of which I will cursorily mention, as I intend to make a bold and immediate leap into the present decade-should have opened with a decided failure in the March meeting, notwith- standing the countenance of two Governors,

His Excellency Sir H. Barkly and His Excellency Sir Richard G. Macdonald, of

South Australia. The attendance on the first day was described as being hardly more numerous than at a chance footrace, and metropolitan sports are bewailed as having i become very low when public money given for four events amounts only to the beggarly sum of £160 (increased on the second day to £400). ' Well may croakers predict,' it is added, ' the decline of the Turf, and be jubilant accordingly.' The judicious amalgamation of the two race clubs is suggested, and the limiting of the gatherings to one in the year ; the building of a new Grand Stand is urged, and also a " thorough purgation of the Turf, especially in presumed high quarters." With all these alterations and improve- ments effected, it is thought that the Melbourne meetings will become as popular

as ever.' The entire confidence of the

Trustees (afterwards, as all Australia knows, fully justified) in the race-loving

inclinations of Victorians, was shown by the fact that these gentlemen undertook to erect a new Stand under the Hill, at a cost of £15,000, of which £2000 accrued as profits of the Champion Meeting, the rest being raised by debentures. The work was put into the hands of the con- tractors, Messrs. Purdey and Swyer. This structure, known as Bagot's Stand (named after the Secretary of the day), was the beginning and the nucleus of the present magnificent accommodation. Mr. H. Byron Moore, the popular Secretary now in office, built the upper stand, which surmounts the primary erection, about the year 1883, excavating the Hill, and thus forming the splendid luncheon rooms underneath. Mr. Moore, about six years ago, put up the Marybyrnong Stand to the left of the Grand, and the one also which crowns the historical Hill, making sitting accommoda- tion for 18,000 people.

And now the early 'Nineties' see

From a Sketch on the Lawn at Flemington.

Flemington the great centre of attraction to all the sport lovers of Australia, and for many years upwards of 100,000 race- goers have annually thronged the half century-old field, to celebrate the illus- trious 1 Cup Carnival ' of the Victorian metropolis, of, which the approaching saturnalia to be inaugurated on Saturday next (October 31) promises to be no whit less brilliant than its predecessors.