The 1862 chapter of our chronicle introduces us to a family that came to have a dominant influence on bloodstock in the colony of New South Wales in particular, and throughout Australia in general. The founding father of the Australian branch of the Town family came to the first colony in less than auspicious circumstances. John Town (1773-1846) was apprenticed to a Lincolnshire tailor when he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Warwick, England, in 1796; he arrived in Sydney on board the Royal Admiral in the year 1800. Energetic and ambitious, the Antipodes gave John Town opportunities of which he could have only dreamed in the Old Country. In 1813 at Windsor, Town married Mary Pickett, a fellow convict who had been transported in the Aeolus and arrived here in 1809; and together they had three children although it is only their second son, William, born in 1812, that will concern us here. Through dint of application and hard work John Town earned his conditional pardon in 1815 during the enlightened governorship of Lachlan Macquarie and then proceeded upon a rewarding career as a miller and publican, firstly at the King’s Head Inn and later on at the more extensive George the Fourth Inn, at George-street, Richmond.
Owning a successful tavern was often the high road to prosperity in the roaring days of the thirties’ and forties’ as the young colony began to establish itself. John Town sunk much of his profits into pastoral adventures including selections in the Hunter Valley, almost 2300 acres at Yarowa in January 1834, and later an even more extensive run as far afield as on the Namoi in the Northern Tablelands. However, it was at Richmond that he settled and dabbled in breeding and racing horses at the local Richmond and Windsor gatherings during the 1830s. Town’s original Richmond property was on the banks of the Hawkesbury and nestled under the Curragong Mountains. It was only a couple of hundred yards from the site of the Richmond railway station, built later in 1860, and about a mile from the first race course. When the celebrated Arab horse, Phantom, from the stud of General McDowell in India, was available for service at five guineas a mare and was touring the countryside in 1835, he stood for a day at John Town’s property. By the time of Town’s death in 1846, at the assumed age of seventy-three and one of the oldest residents in the colony, he had managed to set up each of his three children either on the land or in Hawkesbury hotels of their own.
It was his second son, William Town, who was to forge the first significant link of the family with the Australian Turf. The Town name seemed pre-ordained for a glorious association with both the Australian Jockey Club and Randwick, when William’s horse Stranger won the Tattersall’s Free Handicap at the first meeting the club ever held on the newly refurbished racecourse on 29th May 1860. However, before that year and the advent of the new Randwick course, William Town’s flirtation with the Turf had been a rather mild affair and his horses moderate. He confined his racing to one or two meetings in and about the Hawkesbury; he was often dangerous with a country second-rater or two, such as the likes of Bottler and Transit. It was really William’s son, Andrew and his coming to manhood together with his passion for the Turf, that fired up the father. There was certainly nothing wrong with Richmond as a place to prepare horses for racing engagements even then. It was there that the favourite Flying Buck did his preparation for the second Champion Race, the ground being considered better for galloping than either Homebush or the new Randwick. Moreover, both Andrew Loder and Ben Richards used Richmond to prepare their horses for those early Randwick meetings.
It was Regno and his older half-brother Tarragon, by New Warrior, that first bestowed celebrity on the Towns, father and son, when it came to the Australian Turf. While Regno was the first to make an impact with his Randwick Derby victory, Tarragon was the year-older half-brother who only made his racecourse debut in the Metropolitan Maiden Plate on the first day of Regno’s Derby meeting. Precise details of when and for how much this thoroughbred family came into the possession of the Towns is somewhat sketchy. We do know that Tarragon at least, and probably Regno as well, were bred by Mr William Clarke of Bomera, Oakey Creek, near Murrurundi. We are told by the turf correspondent for Bell’s Life that Tarragon and his dam and all her family, were presented by his breeder to William Town, not with any idea at the time, of course, that both Tarragon and his younger half-brother would turn out to be top racehorses.
Certainly, the blood was good. Ludia, the dam of Regno and Tarragon, was by Waverley, who was by the imported St George from the imported Splendora. Ludia was a full sister to George Rowe’s Veno, winner of the 1857 A.J.C. Queen’s Plate and the great rival to Alice Hawthorn in the famous match race for 2000 sovereigns held in Melbourne in 1857. Ludia was from Peri by imported Gratis, her dam by Satellite. There is difficulty in tracing out a Stud Book pedigree for Regno’s granddam, Peri. Like very many good mares of her day, she was bred and reared, and bought and sold, at a time when pedigrees were little cared for and their correctness held in light estimation insofar as any future importance was concerned. Ludia herself was foaled in 1850 and commenced breeding in 1853, her first foal being Mistletoe by Septimus followed by Transit in 1857. Transit, as we have seen, carried William Town’s colours on the racecourse at the odd country meeting. Tarragon was Ludia’s third foal and the only one she ever had by New Warrior. Our Derby hero, Regno, came along the following year in 1859 and was a son of Potentate.
Regno first claims our attention in the sporting pages when she is one of just five entrances for the Derby made on Monday, 11th August in the Jockey Club Rooms in Mr Town’s nomination. When Derby Day rolled around a month later, Ben Richards’ Rioter was the only nomination withdrawn. So, four horses went to the post for the 1862 A.J.C. Randwick Derby Stakes and for the first and only time in the history of the race the majority were fillies. Strongly fancied to win the race was the pretty Zenobia, a daughter of the imported stallion Pitsford, out of a mare that traced back to the taproot Splendora (1836) (GB) by Emancipation. Splendora had gone into the Mylne brothers’ stud at Eatonswill and came to have an important influence on early Australian pedigrees. Much of the aura surrounding Zenobia was attributable to the fact that a lady owned her, a Miss M. Dickson, and she had created something of an upset on the first day of the A.J.C. Spring Meeting when she won the Squatters’ Purse in comparative ease. Another filly expected to be competitive was Eva, a daughter of New Warrior, owned and trained by Thomas Ivory, the popular licensee of the Black Swan Inn, at George-street, Sydney. Sporting the familiar blue jacket and straw cap of Ivory, Eva had run an excellent second in the Metropolitan Maiden Plate on the first day of the fixture when beaten by Tarragon, a horse then making his racecourse debut and whose greatness was not yet appreciated. The 1862 Randwick Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
The 1862 A.J.C. Spring Meeting was run over three consecutive days, beginning on Thursday, 11th September with the Derby programmed as the second race on the following Saturday. Notwithstanding the ominous skies, Derby Day attracted the biggest crowd of the meeting with an estimated five to six thousand in attendance including the Governor, Sir John Young, and the President of the Legislative Council and several members of both Houses, together with a large number of ladies. Regno, ridden by ‘Johnny’ Higgerson, won the Derby prize cleverly after coming with a brilliant finish, with the less fancied fillies completing the minor placings. Zenobia ran very badly, or rather, she was ridden very badly according to the correspondent of the Sydney Mail, with many in the crowd believing she wasn’t allowed to run on her merits. As was the convention at the time, Regno was saddled-up again in the last race on the card, the Forced Handicap over a mile-and-a-half – a race that was compulsory for all winners at the meeting although optional for beaten horses. There was no entrance fee, but the winner was to pay five guineas to the A.J.C. In the event, the best Regno could do was to finish runner-up to Mr Doyle’s Warrior.
That Derby was to be jockey ‘Johnny’ Higgerson’s only success in the race although he was a celebrated postillion during the 1850s and 1860s and was particularly effective in match races. Born in 1810, the year of the colony’s first race meeting, and largely a native of the Windsor district, Higgerson first began serious race riding at the age of seventeen. Francis Brown, who for a time trained Jorrocks, was one of his early mentors in the art of the saddle. Higgerson soon won for himself a considerable reputation in and about the Windsor and Richmond district and during the decade of the 1830s linked up successfully with the Charles Smith stables.
Indeed, one of his most celebrated rides came at the age of twenty-eight when he partnered Charles Smith’s Clifton to beat Charles Roberts’ Lady Cordelia in the Maitland Town Plate of 1838. There were only two starters, and it was a race of three heats over two miles each time. Clifton won the first heat by a head while Lady Cordelia took the second by a half-neck in 3 minutes 55 seconds. The third heat finished a dead-heat run in the very same time. The judge and stewards then decided that the stakes should be divided between the two horses and all bets to be drawn, as they thought it would have been a pity to ask any more of such two, game horses. Charles Smith’s Clifton stables had some impressive racehorses during that period of the late 1830s including the famous pair of Lady Godiva and Bessy Bedlam, each foaled in 1835, and Higgerson partnered each to many victories.
During the middle 1840s, Higgerson was very active in the Hawkesbury Turf Club which then conducted its meetings on the Windsor racecourse. At the time he was the licensee of the Bird-in-Hand Inn on the Windsor-Richmond road, and interested parties met at his premises to arrange the annual Hawkesbury Subscription Races. William Town was among those nominating entries at that time. Hotels and Inns in those days invariably offered stables, and it wasn’t unusual for a proprietor to train a few horses on the side. And John Higgerson wasn’t the average ‘mein host’. For a time in 1843 and 1844 at the Bird-in-Hand, he was both riding and training the champion racehorse, Jorrocks. Jorrocks changed hands four times in five years, but Higgerson was the jockey associated with the horse for much of his early career when owned by Henry Bayly, Andrew Badgery and Hugh Chambers.
Higgerson was one of the first jockeys in the colonies to make his living from race riding and training. A jockey’s reputation is often measured by how often he partners the outstanding horses of any era. It is undoubtedly true of Higgerson. Apart from his succession of victories on the great Jorrocks, he was the regular partner of Plover (St John – Fairy) foaled in 1844. Plover was bred by the remarkable Charles Smith although he eventually fell into the hands of Thomas Harris of Parramatta. Plover enjoyed the distinction of finishing in front of Jorrocks four times in their eight meetings, and it was usually Johnny Higgerson who was aloft and sporting the colours of a tartan jacket and white cap. Moreover, he trained the horse for a time on behalf of Thomas Harris, winning good races too, including the Australian Plate twice at the 1852 and 1853 Homebush Meetings.
However, of all the good horses ridden by Johnny Higgerson before his Derby victory on Regno, one name stands supreme. Veno! It was in 1857 that John Higgerson moved out to Maryvale, Liverpool, to manage the Edensor Park Stables for George T. Rowe, the man who was honorary secretary of the Australian Jockey Club at the time. It was Higgerson who partnered Veno at Flemington on 3rd October 1857, when she defeated the Victorian champion Alice Hawthorn, owned by Andrew Chirnside. It was the first of the inter-colonial challenges and was a 2000-sovereign match over three miles when each horse carried 10 st. 1lb. The clash generated tremendous interest between the colonies. It was heralded as the Championship of the Australian Turf and attracted some 20,000 spectators to Flemington and the famous hill, most of whom went home disappointed when the usurper from New South Wales won easily. Soon after winning on Veno, Higgerson rode Cooramin to victory in a match race with Tomboy for £200 a side. If that wasn’t enough, George Rowe had previously accepted another challenge to Veno, from the owner of the Geelong parvenu, Van Tromp, over three miles for a side wager of £500 to £300. And thus, two hours after his first victory, Higgerson yet again displayed his prowess in the saddle with another comfortable win, in time seven seconds faster than the first.
Upon his return to Sydney the following week, Higgerson was presented with a very handsome gold-mounted whip on the stage of the Theatre Royal under the patronage of the stewards of the Jockey Club. Just before Christmas 1857, the friends of John Higgerson assembled at Mr O’Brien’s The Mayor Inn and presented the jockey with a purse of sovereigns valued at more than £40. Some sporting gentlemen in the colony had subscribed the sum. Flush with funds and a gold whip, in August the following year, Higgerson purchased James Atkinson’s interest in Veno for £500. It wasn’t to be one of his best investments as the nine-year-old was past his best even then. Higgerson, a generous soul throughout his life but careless with money, was eventually forced to raffle Veno at Tattersall’s Hotel in September 1862. Fifty members subscribed two guineas a ticket, not so much for the honour of owning a former champion racehorse, but rather to help an indigent Higgerson out of his financial embarrassment.
Money, he might have lost throughout his life, but never his touch with horses. In April 1859, Richard Goldsbrough and Edward Row engaged Higgerson to train three horses for the National Sweepstakes, including Alice Hawthorn. It said much about his ability when such wealthy and prominent Victorians showed a preference for a horseman from New South Wales over one of their own. Higgerson partnered the celebrated mare in that First Australian Champion Sweepstakes run in October that year and worth £2,750 but finished unplaced in the race won by William Yuille’s three-year-old colt, Flying Buck. Higgerson’s fortunes changed for the worse in 1859, when his employer George T. Rowe died suddenly at the age of just thirty-six at Collingwood House from a severe asthma attack. Whereas George Rowe’s widow left Collingwood, Higgerson continued to live and train at nearby Maryvale, but the cost of the annual lease at 75 guineas without George Rowe’s support proved prohibitive. It was no smallholding. After all, the estate totalled 177 acres and included the Liverpool Racecourse and all the buildings related to it. In August 1864 the mortgagee of the Maryvale estate instructed it to be sold, and in September 1864 we find Higgerson in the Insolvency Court with debt proven against him and with the Court allowing him nothing more than his bed and bedding. He might have lost his lease, but from this time forth until the end of his life as a jockey, Higgerson largely travelled with, trained, and rode Tarragon, William and Andrew Town’s champion racehorse and the year-older half-brother to Regno.
Regno’s Derby victory at Randwick marked the beginning of a fruitful relationship between Higgerson and the Towns of Richmond. In the autumn of 1863, Regno resumed his career on the racecourse at the annual Penrith Races, finishing second in the Penrith Town Plate to the aged horse, Shamrock. It was a weight-for-age contest over a mile-and-a-half with 50 sovereigns added money. As disappointing as this may have been, Higgerson brought him to the post in fine fettle at the Randwick Autumn Meeting six weeks later. The son of Potentate won his only two races, the Randwick St Leger on the second day partnered by Higgerson, and the Forced Handicap on the third day when partnered by Bishop given that the former couldn’t make the relatively lightweight. Regno always was a horse of delicate constitution and required much attention in his training. Accordingly, the colt was not subject to great demands that autumn.
However, it was a different story at the 1863 Randwick Spring Meeting. Regno had furnished into a far more impressive individual and swept the board; the colt won the Waverley Stakes with Higgerson on the first day and the Sydney Handicap (1 ½ miles) on the second day. Regno saved his best for the last day when he landed the prestigious Metropolitan Cup (2 miles), a handicap sweepstakes of twenty sovereigns each and with another two hundred added. That Metropolitan Cup wasn’t without its controversy. Driscoll partnered Regno handicapped on 8st. 7lb, while his more fancied stablemate, Tarragon, ridden by Higgerson carried a stone more. Indeed, it was understood that William Towns had declared for Tarragon, the 2/1 favourite. Accordingly, people were shy of backing Regno, believing that he was in the field merely to cut out the work for his more formidable stable companion. However, some money did come for him in late betting forcing his price down to 6/1. It proved an A.J.C. Spring Meeting to savour for William and Andrew Town and when the prizes won were paid over in Tattersall’s Long Room on the Monday evening after the close of the meeting, the Towns picked up £615, besides an impressive silver cup and some reasonable wagers during settling.
It was shortly after the running of the Metropolitan Cup that Regno changed hands. It was known that the son of Potentate was available at the right price. Samuel Jenner, acting on behalf of Messrs Burt and Co. and an unnamed English buyer in Shanghai, secured him for £700 – a very significant amount of money for a colonial-bred horse in 1863. Alas, it proved a particularly unfortunate investment. Regno wasn’t the most robust of racehorses even at the best of times, as his relatively light racing career up to the time of that 1863 Randwick Spring Meeting suggests; he succumbed to seasickness and died on the passage to China. The sportsman who braved the market at such a high price deserved a better fate. Despite the significant sum of money received for Regno, many had queried the motives of William and Andrew Town in selling their putative champion. The truth of the matter was that they knew from home trials that Tarragon was the better racehorse and believed that he would also make the better stallion.
Regno’s string of successes at Randwick at the 1862 Spring and 1863 Autumn Meetings, attracted interest in his sire, Potentate. Foaled in Great Britain in 1856, Potentate was by Collingwood from Brightonia. A dark brown horse, free from white, he possessed impressive bone and power and inherited some rich blood. Imported to Melbourne in 1857 as a yearling, William Town bought him sometime later to stand at his Richmond stud. Brightonia, Potentate’s dam, only ran as a three-year-old, when she won a race at Goodwood, a race at Brighton, and the Yorkshire Oaks at York. Seen out in the same season as Pyrrhus the First, Collingwood, Potentate’s sire, won thirty-four times at all weights and distances and was acknowledged to be one of the gamest horses in England.
Although not up to classics standard, Collingwood claimed class on his distaff side as his dam, Kalmia, had also produced the 1848 Gimcrack Stakes winner, Glauca, and three years later the Nassau Stakes winner, Hirsuta. Nonetheless, Collingwood failed to measure up as a stallion and got nothing of note at stud in England. Potentate himself was only late in his third year when he got Ludia into foal. Initially restricted to Town’s broodmares, after Regno’s successes, he was made available to the public in the spring of 1863 at a fee of seven guineas a mare. Alas, Regno was the only decent horse he got here, although Playboy, another of his progeny, did carry Andrew Town’s colours to win the 1875 A.J.C. Free Handicap. However, by then Potentate had long been banished to W. J. Durham’s Wombo property west of Singleton.
As impressive as Tarragon’s career had been up until the sale of his younger half-brother, it went to another level afterwards. It was only as a late five-year-old that the horse began to ride up to the sky. At the 1864 Randwick Autumn Meeting, Tarragon carried 10 st. to victory in both the Randwick Grand Handicap and the Queen’s Plate, each time with Higgerson in the saddle. At the 1864 Randwick Spring Meeting, the pair again combined to win the Cumberland Handicap, and the Metropolitan Cup for the second year in succession, for William and Andrew Town. In the latter race, Tarragon gave Volunteer 20lb and a beating. The following year the stable set Tarragon to win the Adelaide Cup for a stake worth nearly £1300 with Higgerson responsible for taking him across. Adelaide founded only some thirty years before was trying to establish itself as a sporting city and the race was a major event. Burdened with 10 st. 4lb, Tarragon could only run third in the Cup won by Ebor. Brought back to Randwick for the 1865 Spring Meeting, he won both the Sydney Handicap and the Forced Handicap carrying big weights.
After enjoying a month’s spell, Higgerson accompanied Tarragon by ship to Melbourne for the rich 1866 Champion Race (3 miles) on New Year’s Day. And what a Champion Race it proved to be with Tarragon running a dead-heat with John Tait’s Volunteer! The pair had to try conclusions after the last race and again it was a close-run thing until nearing the post Tarragon came away with his 9 st. 13lb to win by a length-and-a-half. The horse never again recaptured that form. His last hurrah came at the 1867 Randwick Autumn Meeting. He started for the Sydney Gold Cup with 9st 12lb but he never showed up in any part of the race won by Fishhook. In fact, when endeavouring to come up at the last turn, Higgerson fainted with exhaustion, and the horse cantered in alone last. On the final day of that A.J.C. autumn fixture, Tarragon stepped out for one last time to do battle in the Queen’s Plate but for the first time unaccompanied by Johnny Higgerson, who had peremptorily announced his retirement from the saddle in the wake of the Sydney Cup fiasco. With ‘Jemmy’ Ashworth warming the leathers, Tarragon was never in it. Immediately afterwards William and Andrew Town announced that their old champion would be retired to stud.
Both William and Andrew Town held out high hopes for Tarragon as a stallion. William died before Tarragon’s stock had raced, while Andrew persisted with the son of New Warrior much longer than he should have. Perhaps the stallion’s most notable winner was A. T. named after Andrew Town and raced in the nomination of Alex Benson, who managed the Hobartville Stud on behalf of Town. A. T. carrying a mere 6 st. 4lb won the 1876 Sydney Cup at Randwick. Curiously enough, it was Alex Benson who was to succeed Andrew Town as Judge of the Australian Jockey Club in 1890 following Town’s death.
The decade of the 1860s was a time of prosperity for William Town and his eldest son, Andrew, and together the pair held three runs on the Liverpool Plains and one in the Bligh district. However, William Town wasn’t to enjoy a long-innings, and he died at the age of fifty-one in his Richmond residence on May 5th, 1868. In the medical terminology of the day, he died of “serious apoplexy” or perhaps more accurately, a stroke. A servant having occasion to pass through his bedroom in the morning observed something peculiar about his countenance. Andrew Town was immediately informed and proceeded upstairs to find his father dead. As a result, Andrew Town inherited Tarragon and much of his father’s fortune. It was already apparent that whatever William’s influence on the Turf, his son, 28-years-old at the time he came into his patrimony, was destined to enlarge upon it – given his energy and ambition.
Born on 7th March 1840, at Richmond, New South Wales, young Andrew had been educated at the Church of England school, Richmond, and at the Reverend Matthew Adam’s Presbyterian school at Windsor. It was in July 1863 that he married Emma Susannah Onus, the daughter of a well-known and established Hawkesbury family. Marriage further sharpened the edge of Town’s ambition as the couple settled on the site of his father’s residence at the corner of Windsor and Paget-streets, Richmond, constructing a separate two-story house for their own arrangements. It was the place where most of Andrew’s stud was based, although he also maintained extensive stables at nearby Clarendon.
A big, bluff and hearty man – a regular bon vivant – Andrew Town’s most notable physical characteristic, apart from his size, was a well-maintained black beard in which he took great pride and which lent gravitas to his bearing that was entirely consistent with his direct and outspoken nature. Andrew was a man that lacked moderation in most things. When he ate it was voraciously; when he drank it was copiously; when he entertained it was royally; and when he gambled it was extravagantly. Although there were times in his life when he could practice abstinence, temperance seemed entirely beyond his character. These various facets of his nature were invariably on display as his horse racing and breeding enterprises, and his pastoral adventures flourished in the wake of his father’s death.
At the 1870 A.J.C. Spring Meeting, Andrew Town’s red jacket and black cap were carried to victory in the Spring Stakes by Illumination, a three-year-old daughter of his old favourite Tarragon. Another home-bred three-year-old filly, Amethyst, by New Warrior, also won the opening race on the card. 1871 was an even better year for Town’s racecourse fortunes. At the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, Illumination won both the Autumn Stakes and the Ladies’ Cup while Sir William, a five-year-old brown horse also by Tarragon, shared the Doncaster Handicap with Tom Lamond’s Lottery. Then later that year at the A.J.C. Spring Meeting, Rosebud, a six-year-old chestnut mare by Sir Hercules, won Town the rich Great Metropolitan Handicap over two miles. Other winners for Town at that 1871 Spring Meeting were Stockwell (1871 A.J.C. President’s Handicap and Tradesman’s Plate), and Aveline (1871 A.J.C. Spring Stakes) and each was by Yelverton, an English-bred son of Gemma-di-Vergy imported by Charles Baldwin. Tarragon continued to produce the odd-winner for Town including Vauban (1872 A.J.C. Prince of Wales Stakes); Baroness (1874 A.J.C. Ladies’ Mile); Playboy by Potentate (1875 A.J.C. Free Handicap); and Tradition (1876 A.J.C. Squatters’ Stakes). However, it gradually became clear that his old favourite wasn’t really cutting it as a stallion.
Like many studmasters seeking that elusive champion stallion, Andrew Town experienced a few failures before hitting, or rather, buying, the jackpot. Tarragon apart, neither Potentate nor the great racehorse and Melbourne Cup winner, Tim Whiffler, measured up as stallions at Richmond. Lord of the Hills proved useful, although he stood there for just a season or two. It was only when Andrew Town secured Maribyrnong on a two-year lease from George Petty that things began to look up. While initially leased, Town eventually persuaded Petty to allow him to purchase the stallion outright. A son of the imported Fisherman, Maribyrnong had only started once on the racecourse when he broke down in the 1866 Victoria Derby won by his stablemate, Seagull. Already established as an outstanding foal-getter at the stud from which he derived his name, he enhanced his reputation when Town lured him to Richmond in March 1871. In the spring of that year, Town matched Maribyrnong with The Fawn and the resulting foal was the champion colt, Richmond. Three seasons later the same sire and dam produced the great Bosworth. Thereafter, Maribyrnong and The Fawn’s subsequent foals commanded a king’s ransom, which was just as well because Town spent a similar sum procuring other well-bred broodmares, both colonial and English, to form the harem for the big, brown, crippled horse.
The next big step in Andrew Town’s rise to leading bloodstock breeder in the colony came when he acquired Hobartville in 1877. After that, he spared neither himself nor his patrimony in elevating it to the status of the finest stud in New South Wales. Hobartville had enjoyed a colourful history long before its acquisition by Andrew Town. The original land grant of 400 acres had been made to the naval surgeon Edward Luttrell (1756 – 1824) when he arrived in the colony in 1804 with his wife and children in the Experiment. Luttrell eventually passed the land on to his son-in-law, Lt Thomas Atkins, who advertised it for sale in the Sydney Gazette in February 1816. William Cox junior, who had travelled out to the colony with Luttrell, stepped in and bought the land and built the celebrated Hobartville House in around 1828-29.
It is the finest of all the Cox houses in New South Wales, and its design has grace and refinement worthy of a leading architect, although just who the original architect was remains something of a mystery. From the detail of the classical entrance-portico to the elegant drawing room, and the colourful landscaped garden with glorious views across the vast Hawkesbury Valley, this beautifully finished two-storey residence was always worthy of a leading citizen. William Cox died in 1850 and left Hobartville to his widow in trust for his eldest son, William. When the time came, however, William was happily settled at the family’s ‘Negoa’ property in the Hunter Valley and conveyed Hobartville to his younger brother Sloper. It was when Sloper Cox died bankrupt in September 1877 at Hobartville that the estate came onto the market.
After buying Hobartville, Andrew Town to all intents and purposes stopped racing horses on a large scale and concentrated more exclusively upon his commercial breeding enterprise. The last horse to carry his famous red jacket and black cap to victory in a major race was Cap-a-Pie, a daughter of Maribyrnong, trained by Albert Cornwall to win the 1878 A.J.C. St Leger, before ultimately being exported to New Zealand as a stallion. In July 1878 he instructed Thomas Clibborn to dispose of most of his horses in training. Indeed, the only horses to run in Andrew Town’s name at A.J.C. Spring or Autumn Meetings during the decade of the 1880s was Auray, a granddaughter of the legendary Chrysolite. As a commercial breeder, Town wished to avoid the perception of a conflict of interests, i.e. that he may have retained the more promising of his home-breds for his own selfish pursuits.
The Squire of Hobartville seldom stopped at a price when he fancied a mare for his stud, an attitude that was to cost him dearly in the fullness of time. Too often he bought well-performed racing mares without careful analysis of the suitability of their pedigrees to be matched with his stallions. It was on Tuesday, January 21st, 1879 that the Squire of Richmond held his first annual sale of blood-horses, with twenty-two yearling colts and fillies being the centrepiece of the action, while T. S. Clibborn wielded the gavel. It was the first time that a studmaster in New South Wales had followed the example of their Victorian counterparts by selling in January. A special steam engine was laid on at Redfern station at 8.30am to take the prospective buyers to Richmond, and prominent breeders of bloodstock were well represented. Western men were much to the fore including Messrs John, George, and Edward Lee; William Kite; and George Suttor; while those from the metropolis to put in an appearance included the Hon. James White, Tom Lamond, Alexander Bowman, George Hill and Tom Ivory. R. C. Bagot was even in attendance from Victoria.
The majority of the yearlings on offer at that initial sale were by either Maribyrnong or Tim Whiffler and from a range of high-quality colonial and imported matrons including The Fawn, Illumination, Marie Stuart, Amethyst and Miss Peri. A number of mares and foals, as well as yearlings, were sold that day, resulting in a satisfactory aggregate of 4275 guineas. It was a tidy start, but over the next decade, Andrew Town’s sale of thoroughbred and draught yearlings would burgeon into something approaching an annual gala fete or pageant. Each year a special train would leave Redfern calling at Granville, Parramatta, Blacktown and Richmond and on arrival at the terminus, vehicles were ready to carry the company to Hobartville with Mr Clibborn starting proceedings at 10 am sharp. An excellent luncheon was freely provided in a large marquee that seated three hundred people on the grounds adjacent and liberal alcoholic refreshments were available. The sales took place under the avenue of magnificent oak trees, which adorned the drive to the House.
In later years, four or five hundred people attended the sales including the demimonde of Sydney society; even the Governor, Lord Carrington, frequented with his suite during the term of his office. The high tide of fortune for the annual Hobartville sales came in 1886 when 92 lots including no less than 77 yearlings, went under the hammer and which together with trotters and draught horses realised over 13,000 guineas. The yearlings often achieved record prices as did the future Segenhoe (Maribyrnong-The Fawn) when knocked down to the Hon. James White in 1881 for 2000 guineas. That same price was again realised two years later by Segenhoe’s younger full brother, Warwick.
At one time, Town commissioned Bruce Lowe to buy mares in the old country, and among the few that the author of ‘Breeding Racehorses by the Figure System’ bought, was Merman’s granddam, Surf. Likewise, William Long was commissioned to buy mares for the stud while on a visit to England in 1883-84. Among the distinguished English matrons that went into Hobartville during Town’s tenure were Apethorpe (dam of Stanmore); Bengal Light (dam of Light Artillery); Bay Archeress (granddam of Parthian); Montana (dam of Vulcan); Olive (dam of My Lord and Olivia): Rosedale (dam of Iolanthe and Kingsdale); Sophietina (dam of Alexander and Albatross); Vanity (dam of Conceit); White and Blue (dam of Tempe and Blue and White); Peril (dam of Cherry); Penitent (dam of Penance); The Witch (dam of The Wizard and Witchery); Fair Alice (dam of Brown Alice and Esperance); Fair Duchess (dam of Equation); and Amethyst (dam of The Italian, Westminster, Chorister, Sapphire).
The Australian-bred mares included Adieu; Welcome (dam of Lady Edda); Mona (dam of Musketoon); Olga (dam of Emmie, Patron, Patronage, Patroness and Ruenalf); The Fawn (dam of Richmond, Bosworth, Palmyra, Segenhoe and Warwick); Bridesmaid (dam of Trenchant); Astarte and Genesta, both daughters of The Fawn; The Giggler (dam of Brown and Rose); Guelder Rose (dam of Bargo, Tamarisk and Wycombe); Jessamine (dam of Cunnamulla); Maria (dam of Moonshee); Nina (dam of Lord William and The Bohemian); Paradise (dam of Petronel); Queensdale (dam of Bandolier); Sapphire (dam of Blue Fire and Mannlicher); Seaweed (dam of Merman); Tuberose (dam of Rose Flaneur and Nada); and Venice (dam of Ginevra and Fucile). Of course, the list above denotes those mares that were reasonably successful.
When one considers the hefty sums that Andrew Town paid for some of his broodmares that subsequently proved abject failures, it is no inconsiderable irony that The Fawn, the best and most profitable broodmare he ever owned, was a relative bargain. He got her at the dispersal of the Woodlands Stud in January 1866. Melesina, an imported English mare (foaled in 1849 by Harkaway out of Poteen) with a filly foal at foot by Premier was auctioned. Mare and foal were knocked down to Victorian identity, Samuel Waldock, who subsequently re-sold them to Andrew Town. Only later was the foal registered as The Fawn and, as they say, the rest is history.
Andrew Town was just as profligate in his pursuit of thoroughbred stallions. Just consider the roll-call of stallions that stood at Hobartville during Andrew Town’s tenure: Tim Whiffler; Grand Flaneur; Epigram; Julian Avenel; Somnus; Cheviot; Sardonyx; Rapid Bay; Monthorpe (for a time the only son of the English Derby winner, Doncaster, in Australia); Beauclerc (brother to Grand Flaneur), Malta (by Kingstone), Kingfisher by Fisherman, Segenhoe, Monmouth (a brother to Chester), Gloucester (brother to Goldsbrough), Navigator and Trenton. Despite this panoply of stallions at various times, Andrew Town did not always confine himself to his own sires.
Andrew Town cut a significant figure in New South Wales and not merely as a bloodstock breeder. Appointed a magistrate in 1866, Town’s shadow lengthened down the years as Hobartville flourished. He was a councillor of the Agricultural Society of New South Wales, a committeeman of the A.J.C. during the late 1880s and founding chairman of the Hawkesbury Race Club from 1882 – 1889. Town’s energy and liberality did much to promote the annual Hawkesbury Race Meeting as one of the most popular in the colony. Moreover, Town acted as an honorary judge for both the A.J.C. and Sydney Turf Club, as well as for Canterbury Park, Warwick Farm and Hawkesbury. He didn’t restrict his breeding adventures to thoroughbreds. Hobartville was to become just as renowned for its pedigreed Hereford, Devon, and Ayrshire cattle; not to mention its pigs, ponies, draught and carriage horses and even its trotters. In 1882 Town imported, at great expense, the peripatetic American trotting stallion, Childe Harold. Inbred to all the best trotting bloodlines in America, the ten-year-old horse had already produced wonderful stock himself. Town went to great cost procuring suitable mates for him too. Incidentally, it was in memory of this stallion that the premier trotting track of Sydney, Harold Park, was named.
Prodigal and rarely judicious in his extravagance, Andrew Town’s acquisitiveness for the best and most expensive bloodstock during the early and middle 1880s, couldn’t be sustained forever. Nor was he helped by the constant flattery and fawning attention of those who filled his ears as to his pre-eminence as a bloodstock breeder and sportsman. Andrew Town was a man who liked to be liked and into his forties, given his love of good food, good wine, and good company, he had fallen into fatness and a fermenting self-assurance. However, life on and around the racecourse is one long lesson in humility. One can defy the gods for a time and Town’s purblind profligacy during the boom years of economic prosperity didn’t have immediate consequences. However, the severe drought in the last years of the 1880s that ushered in the harsh economic recession of the nineties saw Town trapped by his own folly. The value of his bloodstock and other assets fell, while the level of his debt increased as interest compounded. Let’s face it. There is no coming back on the impetuous stream of life, and we must all set our pocket watches by that clock of fate. And like Sir John Falstaff, there was a kind of alacrity in Town’s own sinking.
It was in October 1889 that Andrew Town resigned his position as a member of the A.J.C. committee. Around the same time Andrew Town’s mortgagees, William Long and George Hill junior, foreclosed not just on Hobartville and its stock, but on Town’s Podsnapian optimism as well. Although only aged forty-nine, the creak of Charon’s rowlocks and the dulling miasmas of the Styx were closing in on Town. Only too aware of both his financial and physical plight, the Hawkesbury Race Club and the Australian Jockey Club held a complimentary race meeting for him at Randwick on the 4th of January, 1890. Between seven and eight thousand people flocked to the racecourse including His Excellency the Governor, and Lady Carrington and suite. Apart from the interest in the races alone, the Hon. James White presented a trio of youngsters that he had bred to English time and which he was preparing to send to England to contest the 1891 English Derby and other classics.
The trio of Wentworth, Nepean and Mons Meg were paraded in the grandstand enclosure and later galloped on the course during the luncheon interval. A sum of £1,830 was raised and donated to Andrew Town’s wife ‘for her sole separate use’. Heartbroken at the loss of his inheritance and his beloved Hobartville, Town died of typhoid fever at Lady Robinsons Beach, near Rockdale, on 10th February just nine days after attending a race meeting at Rosehill. His wife, and four sons, and six daughters survived him. The Bulletin claimed that if all men connected with horse racing were ‘as straight and true as was Andrew Town the turf would indeed be the sport of Kings and not a mere spider’s web.’ However, his liabilities exceeded his assets, valued for probate at £91,233, by over £15,000 with no less than £84,714 owing to Long and Hill.
And so, it came to pass that on Thursday, May 29th, 1890, the Hobartville Stud was practically dispersed and the sires and matrons scattered across the colonies. About two hundred gentlemen attended, including representation from the adjoining colonies and New Zealand, and watched Tom Clibborn wield the gavel. The broodmares went first, and the top price was 1070 guineas given by Tom Payten and acting on behalf of James White for the imported mare White and Blue. The Squire of Kirkham also purchased Blue and White in foal to Somnus for 710 guineas. When the impressive Trenton came under the hammer, there was more than a flurry of excitement. W. R. Wilson of the St Albans Stud got the nod with a bid of 3000 guineas amidst great applause. The entire proceeds of the sale were 13,935 guineas. The Hobartville property fell into other hands as I shall chronicle in later chapters. Hobartville House still stands today and is shown below.
Perhaps I should add here that Andrew Town’s faithful servant in the saddle, Johnny Higgerson, outlived his patron by some fifteen years. But he too, rather more predictably perhaps, fell on hard times. After living well into his nineties, and having some twenty-five children, Higgerson was to die in Sydney Hospital in May 1905 from accidental gunshot wounds inflicted in the National Park where he had lived for many years employed as a ranger. Higgerson died in abject poverty, and subsequently, Frank Farrell made an appeal to the public for funds, collecting close to £150. The trustees to the fund decided, at the request of his widow, to buy some land, erect a cottage and furnish it, with the balance of the money given in cash to Mrs Higgerson.
Before we leave this chapter perhaps, we should spare a thought for Tom Ivory, the owner and trainer of the 1862 Derby runner-up, Eva. Active as an owner and trainer until failing eyesight forced his retirement in 1893, Tom Ivory never did win the Derby, although he did take out a number of the Turf’s other great prizes. Born at Windsor in 1828, his background shared certain parallels with William Town. Ivory’s father, like Town’s father, had arrived in Sydney in November 1880, each as convicts and each aboard the Royal Admiral. Stealing a mare had been Charles Ivory’s crime. Moreover, both John Town and Charles Ivory each married fellow convicts, in Charles’s case, Ann Healey, transported for stealing seven yards of lace. Both the Town and Ivory families hailed from Richmond. Tom Ivory, like William Town, was the youngest child but he was one of nine children. When he grew to manhood, he maintained a thoroughbred stud at Eastern Creek, near Windsor, although for most of his life, he lived in a house and stables in Bourke-street, Surry Hills.
One of the first horses Ivory owned was Young Morgan, who, after clearing the board at Bathurst in 1860, started favourite for the Second Champion Race in September that year, only to be badly beaten in the race won by Zoe. Flying Doe, partnered by Sam Holmes in the saddle, and sometimes Tom Willis, also did Tom Ivory good service winning among other races the Spring Sweepstakes at that 1860 Champion Meeting, and with Peter Possum and William Tell, a brother to the celebrated Archer, he was also very successful. In fact, he never lost a race with William Tell, who sadly died at the peak of his powers in September 1862. Tom Ivory also made a lucky purchase in O’Meara, a half-brother by Little John, to Cossack. Bought as an unbroken colt for about £50 or £60, Ivory must have won upwards of 30 races with him and generally with Joe Kean, later the AJC Clerk of the Course, getting the leg-up.
The next racehorses of note that Ivory possessed were Sultana, Bylong, Sir Hercules and Blair Athol. Bylong, who, as we shall see, ran second in the A.J.C. Derby behind The Barb and then came out and won the 1866 Great Metropolitan Stakes, was stolen from Junee Reefs in 1881 and destroyed. Sir Hercules and Sultana both won a few races, although it was as a broodmare that Sultana came into her own. Her son Sterling won more than ten races including the Wagga Cup, the Hawkesbury Handicap, and the A.J.C. Metropolitan Stakes. Five years after Sterling, Sultana produced Sweetmeat, who was a good racehorse but unlucky, as he invariably failed when expected to land a big coup. Still, he won several good weight-for-age races besides the Wagga Cup, although he is probably best remembered for running two minor placings in the Melbourne Cup: second to Darriwell in 1879 and third behind Zulu in 1881.
However, Ivory’s greatest disappointment with Sweetmeat came when the horse ran second behind First Water in the 1881 Australian Cup. The public had warmly supported Grand Flaneur for the race, but as the day approached it became an open secret that William Long, the owner of Grand Flaneur, had large bets dependent upon Sweetmeat and at the eleventh hour Grand Flaneur was withdrawn, an act which caused much public resentment. Actually, Tom Ivory trained a minor place-getter in three successive Melbourne Cups, for apart from the dual misfortune in the race with Sweetmeat, he put the polish on Captain Rossi’s Lord Burghley when that horse ran third in 1880 behind Grand Flaneur and Progress. Ivory bought the horse soon afterwards.
Mention of Sweetmeat reminds me of another unsavoury incident associated with the betting ring and the Ivory stable. The horse was scratched shortly before the 1880 A.J.C. Metropolitan but only because Ivory had been forestalled in backing the horse and he couldn’t get on at a satisfactory price. As none of those who had supported Sweetmeat was inclined to accommodate him, he put the pen through his name. Of course, a man may do what he likes with his own. After all, there was no law at the time to prevent it, but it smacked of dishonourable conduct nonetheless. In those days when a man entered a horse for a race to which public money had been added to the purse – he entered into an engagement, albeit a moral one – to run his horse for that race provided the weight allotted was satisfactory and the horse well. Ivory, however, didn’t consider it worthwhile just to run for the stake. Of course, the racing laws eventually changed but not before many such incidents occurred.
If this catalogue of near-misses suggests that Tom Ivory was unfortunate on the Turf, there were times when he did enjoy good luck and none more so than with Master Avenel who won the 1880 Epsom Handicap and the 1881 Caulfield Cup. The latter race was run in the autumn that year and produced a blanket finish when Pirate, Master Avenel and Woodlands all finished together, and it was no little time before the judge could make up his mind. It was the general belief that Woodlands was entitled to the verdict, but the judge decided in favour of Ivory’s horse. After Master Avenel, came Lancer, that hardy gelding that won both the 1885 Q.T.C. Brisbane Cup and the 1891 S.T.C. Queen’s Birthday Cup. However, very soon after that Birthday Cup, Tom Ivory’s eyes failed him, and following an unsuccessful operation in 1892, he remained nearly blind.
Perhaps the best piece of business Tom Ivory ever did when it came to bloodstock was at Thomas Clibborn’s annual sale of racehorses in May 1886, when he recommended that J.R. Smith, the proprietor of the Tucka Tucka Stud at Yetman on the Macintyre River, buy Gozo. The horse wasn’t a beauty to look at, but Ivory knew his worth and Smith always had the highest respect for his judgement. The price of £600 at the time seemed a bit high but as events transpired, it was but a tithe of Gozo’s true value, and as a stallion, he was to be the making of the Tucka Tucka Stud.
Racing authorities in Australia have always tended to look after their own (provided one has the right connections) and in April 1893 the Australian Jockey Club granted Tattersall’s Club the use of Randwick racecourse for a complimentary race meeting to Thomas Ivory. Here was yet another parallel with Andrew Town. At the A.J.C. meeting that moved this resolution, the Hon. H. C. Dangar did demur. While his entire sympathy was with its object, he observed that members should not lose sight (no pun intended) of the fact that the action of the club would set a precedent. As a result, the committee might be called upon to grant the course for all sorts of charitable purposes in the future. Mr Betts pointed out quite rightly that a precedent had already been established with the Andrew Town Complimentary Meeting.
The fixture was duly conducted on Thursday, April 13, although the attendance of just over two thousand people proved somewhat disappointing. Perhaps some of the sporting public hadn’t forgotten the odd disreputable moments provoked by the Ivory stable. Although a jaundiced correspondent of The Referee pointedly observed: “I have often noticed when an appeal is made to members of the A.J.C. not to use their ‘privileges,’ but to pay at the gate, very few put in an appearance.” Nonetheless, the meeting turned a profit of just on £400, albeit £90 of this donated by William Long and George Hill from prize money won. Appropriately, Tramp, a son of Tom Ivory’s old favourite, Sweetmeat, won the Hurdle that day. Old Tom, was much luckier than Andrew Town in the wake of his complimentary race meeting. Whereas Town only lived six weeks more, Ivory lived on for another sixteen years before being nominated for that forced handicap in the sky. He died in his 82nd year in his home at Lower Randwick, having been blind for more than a decade. In my pursuit of the famous blue jacket and straw cap of Thomas Ivory, I seem to have strayed from the immediate subject at hand – the 1862 Randwick Derby. No doubt, when old Tom died, saddling up Eva for that race must have seemed a distant memory of an event long ago and far away.