No two brothers have made a more significant contribution to the Australian Turf than Hurtle and Charles (CB) Fisher. One of the pioneering families of South Australia, their father, was the first Resident Commissioner of South Australia and controlled the sale of land in that fledgeling colony during the first two years of its existence. In this role, Fisher senior was responsible to the Board of Commissioners in London and in many respects exercised more power than Governor Hindmarsh, with whom he worked in tandem. Fisher arrived in Australia with his family in December 1836 and during the five months voyage out to South Australia on the old naval transport, HMS Buffalo, argued incessantly with Hindmarsh. Their mutual antipathy continued for two more years until both were recalled to London and replaced. Fisher, however, returned to live in the colony becoming Adelaide’s first mayor in November 1840 and ultimately Speaker and President of the Legislative Council. Passionately fond of horseracing, he was one of the first to patronise the sport in the sister colony and was a founding member and president of the early South Australian Jockey Club.
Having a father in such a powerful and influential political role and able to dispense patronage, proved no disadvantage for the sons. In 1838 the 20-year-old Charles, together with his older brother James, occupied his first pastoral lease just a few miles north of Adelaide. In the years that followed all the brothers proceeded to enjoy a series of leases from which they supplied Adelaide with sheep and cattle; their dealings were not always straightforward but with friends in high places they didn’t have to be. In those bygone days, leases of crown land were granted on condition that they were stocked within three months with at least sixteen cattle or a hundred sheep to the square mile. In 1844 the Fisher boys were charged with understocking their holdings or with moving stock from run to run to establish occupancy. The young men never denied such charges but continued to retain their leases nonetheless.
The boom of the Victorian goldfields considerably added to the fortunes of the Fishers when they arranged to supply large numbers of sheep and cattle to the burgeoning population of diggers around Ballarat and Bendigo. In turn, the profits were ploughed back into even more substantial land holdings. By 1854 the Fishers had bought Bundaleer for £31,000 and the following year, Hill River, near Clare, for £160,000; they then had more than 800 square miles under pastoral lease. Charles was also buying freehold land, in particular, the Levels, near Adelaide, where he began a merino stud. In time, the oldest of the brothers, James, returned to England leaving Charles and his younger brother, Hurtle, to make their mark on Australian racecourses. Despite his repatriation to the old country, James was to exert a profound influence on the Australian Turf in the years to come. For it was he, on behalf of Charles and Hurtle, who selected some of the good English mares that were shipped to Australia to fill the brothers’ Maribyrnong paddocks. As we shall see, he was instrumental in the selection of certain stallions as well, and not just for his family; for I might mention that it was James Fisher who paid the 4100 guineas in 1875 to get the English Two Thousand Guineas winner, Gang Forward, for Thomas Elder’s stud.
In the true pastoralist tradition of the nineteenth century, Charles and Hurtle Fisher were each accomplished horsemen. In fact, in 1838 Charles had ridden at the first race meeting ever held in Adelaide and was one of a small group that organised the city’s first steeplechase. Hurtle, too, won some point-to-points in his youth and much later (1866) enjoyed the distinction of winning on his brother’s horse, Smuggler, the New Year’s Gift, a race for amateur riders at Flemington then held traditionally on New Year’s Day. In that year it coincided with the running of the Champion race on the same card. Both Charles and Hurtle acted in the capacity of stewards that day, Charles representing South Australia and Hurtle Victoria. The booming prosperity in the wake of the Victorian gold rush saw gambling in general, and horseracing in particular, flourish, and both Charles and Hurtle imported several thoroughbreds for racing and breeding. And while Charles was the more dashing in his gambles and the more familiar name that has come down to posterity, it was, in fact, the younger Hurtle who initially made the bigger splash. The brothers brought a number of horses into Victoria from around this time, transporting many from their base in Adelaide by ship.
In fact, it was during just such a passage in August 1859, when Hurtle and another brother, George, were ferrying some horses to Melbourne, that their ship, the iron steamer Admella, was wrecked on a sunken reef. George Fisher lost his life along with around 90 others out of a total ship’s manifest of 113 passengers and crew. It is probably the most famous shipwreck in the history of coastal shipping on the Adelaide to Melbourne route, not least because the relatively few survivors had to last through seven nights in the depths of winter, clinging to wreckage before a rescue was affected. Moreover, it happened soon after each of the capital cities in the Australian colonies became linked by telegraph and the protracted rescue attempts attracted wide coverage in the newspapers of the time. That Hurtle Fisher could survive against such odds suggested a life destined to follow no ordinary course, something that was to be confirmed almost a year later and on the other side of the world with his first major foray into British bloodstock.
On occasions in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, there were bargains to be had in bloodstock during a war and its messy aftermath. And this was never more evident than in the wake of Britain’s involvement in the Crimea fiasco (1854-1856). Hurtle Fisher had announced his intention in early 1860 to establish a stud at Reedbeds, a few miles out of Adelaide and very near the once-famous Fulham Park Stud. Hurtle had asked his brother James, then in England, to seek out a likely stallion and an assortment of mares on his behalf. James saw his opportunity with the death of Lord Londesborough in February 1860 and the projected sale of his Kirkby Farm Stud through Tattersall’s. Never one to do things by half measures, James Fisher rather audaciously set his cap at Stockwell as his choice of a stallion, but he came up against some bidders with deeper pockets. The powerful chestnut horse was to prove the greatest stallion the world had ever seen up to that time, but that day he went above Fisher’s limit when sold for 4500 guineas to Liverpool banker R. C. Naylor. Likewise, West Australian, the first horse to have landed the English 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger, proved too expensive when he sold for 4000 guineas to go to France as the property of the Duc de Morny, the illegitimate half-brother to Emperor Napoleon III. Fisher was forced to make a more modest choice instead and switched his allegiance to the dual Ascot Gold Cup winner, Fisherman at the cost of 3000 guineas.
A son of Heron, Fisherman, was a rather remarkable animal – as tough as old fencing wire and as genuine a horse as ever looked through a bridle. As a three-year-old, he had won the Ascot Gold Vase as well as 22 other races during that year of 1856. It remains a record number of times that any horse on the English Turf has won during a single season. Fisherman was successful in another twenty-two races the following year and another twenty the year after when as a five-year-old he won his first Ascot Gold Cup. A year later he won the Gold Cup a second time and in his full career on the racecourse greeted the judge first in 70 of his 121 races. Retired from the Turf, Fisherman began his stud life at Swalcliffe near Banbury in Oxfordshire, where he was advertised to serve twenty-five mares at twenty-five guineas, and he got several winners in his first crop. It was after this first season at stud that Fisher managed to buy him in 1860.
Fisherman was to have a wonderful influence on Australian breeding, and while his services were open to the public, his success in Australia came almost exclusively through his mating with just six mares that Fisher also acquired to share his voyage to Australia. The mares in question were Juliet, who concerns us most in this chapter; as well as Marchioness, Gildermire, Rose de Florence, Omen and Cerva. Marchioness was an English Oaks winner while Gildermire had dead-heated for first in the famous race as well, only to lose the re-run. In giving 1260 guineas for Gildermire, who had a West Australian filly foal at foot, James Fisher paid the highest price for a broodmare in England since Camerine was knocked down to Lord George Bentinck in 1837 for 1550 guineas.
Juliet, by comparison, cost only 850 guineas although Fisher had to outbid Mr Blenkiron of the famous Middle Park Stud. The quality didn’t end there either. Rose de Florence was out of a mare that was a half-sister to Stockwell’s dam, while Omen was closely related to the celebrated stallion, Gladiateur. Juliet from all accounts was not a particularly fetching individual and her racecourse deeds, or lack thereof, matched her looks. Foaled in England in 1851 and a daughter of the great blood stallion Touchstone, Juliet didn’t make her racecourse debut until three – her only season on the Turf – when in seven starts she failed to earn a winning bracket. The best she could manage was a neck second in a mile trial handicap at Newton. It was after a bad third in a Selling Plate (10f) at Manchester with 6 st. 11lb, when she had been entered at £50 and her three rivals at only £30, that Juliet was retired. At stud in England, she had two or three foals – which I think were sent to Germany – before James Fisher managed to buy both her and Marchioness from Lord Londesborough.
It is a matter of great interest that both Juliet and Marchioness had been mated with the champion English stallion Stockwell before being shipped by Fisher across the seas. Fisherman, together with his happy tribe of mares, arrived on Australian soil in November 1860. At last, Hurtle Fisher had the foundations to his much sought-after stud, first established at Reedbeds. It was there that Juliet and Marchioness each dropped fine filly foals to Stockwell to give the stud a flying start. Juliet’s foal was subsequently named Chrysolite; Marchioness’s foal became Rose of Denmark. These two daughters of Stockwell, conceived in England will loom large in our chronicle as it unfolds, not least because, each, in turn, was to become the mother of an AJC Derby winner, but more of that anon.
Hurtle Fisher’s stud remained just outside of Adelaide until April 1863 when he decided to quit the State; he offered the whole of his bloodstock for £12,000 and kept them on the market for several months, without finding a purchaser. An attempt to form a company failed. It was really as a last resort that he bought the sprawling property on the breezy heights above what was then known as the Saltwater River, about a mile-and-a-half from Flemington racecourse and some five miles from Melbourne, and offered the management to William Filgate. With the relocation came a change of name: the famous Maribyrnong Stud was born. The property extended to over 200 acres and in due course Hurtle Fisher constructed substantial stabling that was both airy and spacious, and a tan galloping track, something that wasn’t even available at Flemington at the time.
Befitting his prominent role in Victorian Turf matters and given his relocation, Hurtle Fisher was one of the nineteen men who attended that fateful meeting at Scott’s Hotel on March 9th, 1864 that saw the birth of the Victoria Racing Club. It arose phoenix-like from the ashes of its diminished predecessors, the old Victoria Turf Club and Victoria Jockey Club, whose mutual jealousies and tedious bickering had reduced racing in Victoria to a parlous state by the early sixties. Fisher became one of the famous twelve who formed the inaugural committee of the new club and for a time, in conjunction with Captain Standish and William Leonard, acted as handicapper until a celebrated and very public punch-up with George Watson, that prince of starters. Watson was a passionate Irishman who objected to the weight his own horse, Ballarat, had been allocated relative to the ultimate winner, Babbler, owned by another VRC committeeman, Major Baker, in a steeplechase at the Autumn Meeting in 1869. Hurtle Fisher’s blow, after sustained verbal abuse from Watson, violated the sanctity of the stewards’ stand and although the stewards recommended Watson’s expulsion from the club, the committee didn’t endorse the recommendation. Watson, as contrite as an impassioned Irishman can be, voluntarily resigned from the committee. But I get ahead of myself.
It was neither his knowledge of the Marquis of Queensbury’s rules, nor his administrative proclivities on the Victoria Racing Club committee, that gave Hurtle Fisher prominence in sporting circles, but rather the reflected glory of a particular stallion that he owned. Alas, Fisherman did not live long as the sultan of Maribyrnong, dying on June 14th, 1865, of a form of diphtheria, but not before he had sent forth a succession of brilliant gallopers on to Australian racecourses that made the name of Hurtle Fisher famous throughout the land. Not all of the stallion’s best progeny were raced by Hurtle or Charles Fisher, although the majority were. The stud career of this son of Heron lasted for just four seasons in Australia, and only twenty-three mares were ever recorded as having been mated with him here.
From such a small representation just consider that in the six-year period from 1864 to 1869 Fisherman’s sons and daughters at Flemington alone won no less than three Derbies, three St Legers, four Oaks and four Ascot Vale Stakes, which was then the country’s richest two-year-old race. All this from a stallion that at first was somewhat ungraciously received by Victorian breeders! Little wonder that when he died, he was buried on the estate in a suitably honoured grave, fenced-in and planted, in a paddock at the foot of the gardens and hill on which Maribyrnong House stood. Although a feature of the landscape for many years, neither the grave nor the house has survived the inexorable march of time. I might mention that the AJC has in its possession a beautiful oil painting of Fisherman from the brush of J. F. Herring senior, presented to the club by Mr Fitzwilliam Wentworth in 1888. It captures all of the spirit of the old warhorse.
It was less than twelve months after the death of Fisherman that Hurtle Fisher dramatically announced his intention of selling the Maribyrnong Stud and temporarily retiring from the Australian Turf. The announcement was met with surprise and disappointment in equal measure, as it came during a time when Hurtle Fisher’s colours reigned supreme and were carried with the confidence of the general public. Apart from the string of good gallopers by Fisherman that had won him renown, Hurtle had raced horses of other breeding with similar success – most notably Lantern, by Muscovado, who won both the Melbourne Cup and Victoria Derby in 1864. However, along the way, some stunning reverses had offset this string of successes. The first significant loss sustained by Fisher had been that of the promising three-year-old colt, New Holland, by Stockwell, who died shortly after his safe arrival in Melbourne and for whom Fisher had declined an offer of £2,500.
Next came the accident to that exceptional colt Wonga Wonga, which necessitated his destruction; and then came the death of his particular favourite, Lantern, in mysterious circumstances, which would have dampened the ardour of even the most jovial and optimistic of sportsmen. It begged the question as to whether breeding could pay, particularly when it came in the wake of the sale of those other fine Victorian breeding establishments at Bournefield and Woodlands. Not long before it had been prophesied by racing journalists that Hurtle Fisher’s string would become so formidable that none would dare oppose him. Where were the prophets now? The truth was that to conduct a combined breeding and racing enterprise on such a vast scale even in the 1860’s was an extraordinary gamble that few could make profitable.
The dispersal sale was held on April 10th, 1866, within a stone’s throw of Fisherman’s grave. A sales ring was formed under a group of trees in the Maribyrnong grounds to provide shade from the glaring sun. It aroused unprecedented interest, and while George Watson organised proceedings, Richard Tattersall acted in the capacity of the auctioneer. Hurtle Fisher wasn’t present, although William Filgate hovered the grounds like a guardian angel. The 45 lots realised some 26,000 guineas – a formidable sum for those days. Analysing these proceeds, we find that the yearlings – nine in number, although only six were by Fisherman, the other three fetching 275 guineas – realised 5,055 guineas; the eleven horses in training brought 11,540 guineas; the eight foals 2,130 guineas; and the fourteen broodmares 7110 guineas.
However, the principal buyer turned out to be none other than the vendor’s brother, Charles Fisher, and the fact that the best of the stock finished up in his hands – even though some were purchased on his behalf by others – led many to question whether the sale was genuine. As we have already seen, Fishhook was sold for a sensational 3600 guineas into CB’s possession, while his other acquisitions included The Fly (700 guineas), Seagull (1900 guineas), Sylvia (600 guineas), Rose of Denmark (540 guineas) and Angler (700 guineas). All told, Charles Fisher paid over two-thirds of the sales aggregate to his brother. Moreover, within a day or so after the sale, it was confirmed that Charles Fisher had also purchased the Maribyrnong estate itself.
The sale suggested a complete withdrawal from the Australian Turf for Hurtle Fisher, but it was more a significant scaling back. The turbulent vicissitudes of Hurtle and Charles’s pastoral fortunes were reflected in the bloodstock ventures of both brothers over the years. During the high times, they would splurge outrageous sums on racehorses and broodmares, only to scale back dramatically in the hard times. It was a pattern of behaviour mirrored in their respective reigns as the Squire of Maribyrnong. After selling the stud in April 1866, Hurtle Fisher never owned the place again, although he did maintain lesser establishments. Charles, however, was to enjoy two separate tenures at Maribyrnong, the first lasting just on two years from the time of Hurtle’s withdrawal until April 1868, when Charles sold Maribyrnong by the novel method – novel in Australia at least – of a lottery. Both Hurtle Fisher’s dispersal sale in April 1866 and Charles Fisher’s lottery in April 1868 are relevant to this particular chapter of our Derby chronicle because of one mare, in particular, Juliet, the daughter of Touchstone.
Juliet’s first Australian foal, Chrysolite, had won the Adelaide St Leger while Sylvia, her second foal, was a yearling at the time of Hurtle’s dispersal sale. While each of these daughters will feature in future chapters of this book, our concern at this juncture is with the foal that Juliet was then carrying by Ferryman at the time Hurtle Fisher removed himself from Maribyrnong. The stallion Ferryman, bred by Hurtle Fisher, had been Rose de Florence’s first foal to Fisherman, but the horse had injured himself when a youngster and consequently was never put into training. A rich brown, very like his sire and of great power and substance, Ferryman, while just a three-year-old did stud duty for a season at Maribyrnong upon the death of Fisherman, and Juliet had been one of his chosen lovers.
As we have seen, Charles Fisher acquired Juliet at the time of his brother’s dispersal sale and in the spring of that year in the Maribyrnong paddocks she dropped a particularly handsome brown colt. By the time Charles Fisher first decided to quit the place in April 1868, the youngster had matured into a very nice yearling and a New Zealand gentleman, J. G. Smith of Dunedin, drew him in the subsequent lottery. Smith wired up instructions for the sale of the colt and the youngster was offered the following month through Messrs McKersie and Rigg at Kirk’s Bazaar. I might mention that Hurtle Fisher drew both Juliet and Omen in his brother’s lottery, but he was no longer interested in breeding on a large scale and within a year had sold both broodmares to Mr R. J. Hunter for his Woodstock Stud on the Yan Yean.
Now Hurtle Fisher might have temporarily lost his appetite for breeding racehorses on a grand scale but owning them was another matter; and he had always maintained a high opinion of the Juliet yearling of his own breeding, having watched with interest as he matured from a foal. However, when the horse was put through the ring at Kirk’s Bazaar, despite his fine appearance and rich pedigree, he didn’t provoke the competition expected despite the large attendance of racing gentlemen. Accordingly, he was knocked down to Hurtle Fisher for 330 guineas and promptly registered as Charon. It was the racing correspondent for The Australasian newspaper, E. S. Chapman, writing under the name of Augur, who first suggested calling the colt Charon. Chapman happened to be visiting the Maribyrnong property on the day of foaling of the brown colt with the two white hind fetlocks. Charon, of course, was the name of the ferryman in Greek mythology that conveyed in his boat the shades of the dead across the rivers of the lower regions. It might have sounded distinctly subterranean, but from the moment this grand-looking colt, albeit one with suspicious hocks, began to gallop on the training tracks, it was clear he wouldn’t languish in the nether regions. His course was written in the stars!
Charon’s racecourse debut was delayed until the VRC Summer Meeting when he contested the prestigious Flemington Stakes on New Year’s Day – coincidentally the occasion of the last Victoria Derby run at that time of the year. Supported by the stable, Charon went off a 1/2 favourite and safely ferried his friends over troubled waters to win cleverly by a neck from another son of Ferryman in Gondolier. The colt’s next start didn’t come until the VRC Autumn Meeting and the Ascot Vale Stakes (5f). Despite carrying a 5lb penalty, he went off the even-money favourite only to go down by a half-length to yet another son of Ferryman in Lamplighter. The winner was the last of the four class racehorses foaled by that great broodmare, Gaslight. It was a different story two days later in the Nursery Handicap with a furlong further to travel, when, despite Charon giving the Ascot Vale Stakes winner 6lb in weight, Hurtle Fisher’s colt won comfortably from Lamplighter, who was subsequently disqualified for running inside a post directly after the flagfall.
The two Ferryman colts continued their keen rivalry less than a month later in Sydney. Alas, the best of Charon wasn’t seen on the occasion of his first visits to Randwick. The colt had sustained a minor injury to his foot during the voyage there and he was underdone in Joe Morrison’s hands for his three engagements during that AJC autumn week. It was the other son of Ferryman, Lamplighter, who emerged as arguably the best juvenile of the season after his easy victory in the Champagne Stakes when relegating Charon into the minor placing, although neither horse contested the Sires’ Produce Stakes.
In early July when the VRC handicapper released his weights for the Melbourne Cup, it was found that he had jointly ranked Charon, Lamplighter and Barbarian as the best of the rising three-year-olds, each sharing a 7 st. impost. Wisely, in view of the risks inherent in sea voyages during that era – a risk about which Hurtle Fisher was only too painfully aware – Charon, together with the balance of Fisher’s team, was left in Sydney for the spring gathering. It wasn’t until mid-June that Joe Morrison departed his Flemington stables to take passage to the sister colony and assume supervision of Fisher’s horses, which, apart from Charon included the likes of Blondin and Ragpicker. Morrison stabled Charon and the others at Cutts’s establishment on the hill near Randwick racecourse.
The 1869 AJC Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
A large and fashionable company gathered under glorious skies at Randwick on Derby Day. Many carriages lined the rails on the opposite side of the course to the saddling paddock. In a scene reminiscent of a Frith canvas, omnibuses were drawn up for nearly half-a-mile – from the entrance gates to way above Cutts’s stables – with those people who objected to paying the shilling charge of admission perched upon them. The Governor, the Earl of Belmore, and his Countess, who occupied the Vice-Regal corner while a large circle of the elite of Sydney society fawned about them, represented the opposite end of the social spectrum.
A field of eleven – seven colts and four fillies – contested the Derby and the betting market suggested that it was the best opportunity yet for the prize to be carried off to Victoria. Apart from Charon, Lamplighter also represented the southern colony. In the week prior to the race the public seemed more uncertain than ever as to the choice of favourite – Lamplighter, The Fop and Detective all sharing the honour at some stage and ultimately going to the post as co-favourites with Charon only a point longer. Charon might have gone off the favourite in the race but for the persistent whisperings as to the state of his fetlock joints. Moreover, the doubts were well-founded, as it was touch and go as to the horse starting right up to the last. There was no stable support for Charon on Derby Day itself, as Hurtle Fisher had backed his colt at more generous odds months before.
Mr Bent, who officiated as the starter, got them off at the second attempt at 3.15pm and the two Victorian sons of Ferryman led the field past the stands the first time, two clear lengths in front and pulling their respective jockeys out of the saddle. By the three-quarter milepost, The Fop had joined the pair in front – a state of affairs that lasted until a quarter-mile from home when Joe Morrison took a pull at Charon. Balancing the powerful brown colt before administering one cut of the whip, Charon and Moselle struggled home together from the distance with the son of Ferryman emerging triumphant by a head at the post; The Fop was a further length back in third place just ahead of the tiring Lamplighter. The time of 2 minutes 47 seconds was the fastest on record. The eye confirmed what the clock suggested, i.e. the spur marks sported by Charon showed it had been no easy victory, although the colt appeared in little distress as Deas Thompson tied the blue riband around his neck. Hurtle Fisher had at last carried off his great ambition on the Turf of New South Wales.
Charon’s Derby success renewed interest in his sire, Ferryman. The stallion had only stood the one season at the Maribyrnong Stud before being sold at the dispersal in April 1866. Then, the horse had been acquired by a Mr Mogg, who maintained a station at St Arnaud, about one hundred miles north of Ballarat, and it was in that remote part of the land that Charon remained when his first crop achieved so much in their first two seasons. Charon alone would have justified the blandishments of leading Victorian studmasters to induce Mr Mogg to part with Ferryman, but the stallion managed to get three other top-quality racehorses from his initial book as well viz. Lamplighter, Gondolier and Derby. In the wake of Charon’s blue riband, R.J. Hunter successfully negotiated to stand Ferryman at his Woodstock Stud to take the place of Fishhook. Alas, however, Ferryman succumbed to an accident before getting his chance with the Woodstock mares and died prematurely without producing another first-class racehorse. By contrast, Juliet, the dam of Charon, was to experience even greater glory in the paddock with her subsequent progeny, but I shall leave that story for a later chapter.
There was an interesting sidelight to the 1869 AJC Spring Meeting insofar as our southern colony was concerned. The presence of some Victorian gallopers in the Derby and other races aroused considerable interest, and in 1869 the electric telegraph was coming to play an important part in the life of Australia. Its value in quickly communicating the results of important race meetings in sister colonies was just beginning to be appreciated. In Melbourne, the best establishment for obtaining the ‘earliest information’ via the wire was either at Cleeland’s Albion or Goyder’s Hotel; and each was packed to the gunnels during a race meeting at Randwick. Now chicanery and the Turf have always been louche bedfellows down through the years, and the advent of the telegraph in Melbourne merely afforded another opportunity for a dirty weekend.
Mr Goyder had made arrangements to get ‘first news’ of the Derby and Metropolitan winners for the benefit of his hotel patrons. However, in a plot worthy of George Roy Hill’s celebrated film ‘The Sting’ just on a hundred years later, miscreants at the Spencer-street telegraph office conspired to make known the contents of the Argus telegrams to certain parties, at least a half-hour before they were officially opened. However, Charon’s price in the Derby and the limited number of chances in the event didn’t provide quite as much scope for a post-race sting as did Circassian in the Great Metropolitan Stakes. The belated discovery of the ruse triggered an official enquiry into the workings of the telegraph department. It revealed just how loose the system – if system it could be called – really was.
Charon was quite unsettled in his box in the days following the AJC Derby, and Fisher was forced to scratch the colt from his other Randwick engagements to get him ready for the Victoria Derby/Melbourne Cup double. 1869 was the year in which the VRC Spring Meeting was re-fashioned into a four-day gathering, modelled on the AJC fixture, in which the Victoria Derby for the first time was run on the opening Saturday. Before this, the race had been conducted at the Midsummer Meeting on New Year’s Day. The pattern laid down in 1869 has remained broadly the same in all the years since.
The first Derby conducted under this changed policy proved to be the ‘good thing’ for Charon that it looked on paper, but it wasn’t without controversy. It was a race run in a manner that displayed the colt’s gameness rather than the jockey’s skill. In the straight Morrison made his run inside a couple of horses and a rival jockey, Thompson, tried to force him inside one of the running-posts. Morrison was compelled to pull back and come around them and Charon did so after a few cuts of the whip and a liberal supply of steel into his ribs. This little game allowed Detective and Lamplighter to get up for second and third respectively. The denouement to the fracas came in the saddling paddock afterwards, when Morrison administered his own summary justice with his fists.
In winning the Victoria Derby, Charon gave Hurtle Fisher his fourth victory in that race in six years, following upon those of Lantern, Angler and Sea Gull. Fisticuffs or not, that spring gathering was to be a memorable one for Joe Morrison. Unable to make the seven stone to ride Charon in the Melbourne Cup, the jockey took the mount on the six-year-old Warrior instead and managed to land the Cup easily, while Hurtle Fisher’s colt finished back in the ruck. Whatever Fisher’s disappointment with the Cup, he received a generous measure of atonement on the last day of the meeting. Charon managed to win both the All-Aged Stakes (8f) and the Queen’s Plate (3m) and surviving a lengthy protest from Morrison on board the Cup winner in the latter event.
Glorious it may have been for Hurtle Fisher’s big bay colt, but those two victories on the final day of the VRC Spring Meeting proved to be the last time the horse sported silk. Many critics at the time argued that, like quite a few of the Fisherman stock, he was too big and heavy-topped to last any length of time on the Turf. Such prophecies came true when Charon was taking his last gallop before resuming at the VRC Autumn Meeting the following March. After passing the scraping sheds at Flemington on his third time around the tan, Charon rolled on his side, and after going about fifty yards further suddenly dropped to his hocks and fell on his side. A wool dray belonging to Goldsbrough Mort was procured and the colt removed to Fisher’s training stables nearby, but sadly the colt subsequently died. A post-mortem revealed that his death was the result of a fractured backbone. Charon’s demise renewed debate as to the soundness and suitability of Fisherman stock on Australian tracks. Too many of them, such as Fishhook and My Dream, had failed to stand up to the rigours of training as older horses after brilliant performances at two and three.
Hurtle Fisher dominated the decade of the 1860s on the Victorian Turf and Charon was to be the last of his really good horses. The end of the Fisherman line effectively spelt the end of Fisher’s domination. Apart from a Melbourne Cup, an AJC Derby and four Victoria Derbies referred to above, Fisher’s trophy cabinet at one time also boasted the silverware of an Australian Cup (Nathalie 1864); two Victoria Oaks (Lady Heron and Sea Gull 1864 and 1865); six Ascot Vale Stakes (Lady Heron, Sea Gull, Sour Grapes, Fenella, The Roe and Explosion), VRC St Leger (Angler 1866) and a Champagne Stakes (Fenella 1868). In the wake of Charon’s demise, Hurtle Fisher disposed of the greater portion of his horses in training and proceeded on a voyage to Europe via California, for an extended holiday.
The years of domination might have ended, but when the little man returned from his international vacation, he resumed racing thoroughbreds on a more modest scale down through the years. During the mid-seventies, Hurtle Fisher maintained an excellent boutique training and breeding establishment at Moonee Ponds with Abe Davis managing both paddocks and stables. Amongst others, Fenella and Ragpicker were broodmares there. He even had a capital training course laid down and sown with English grasses. When the de Mestre stable was in such rare form at the 1881 Melbourne Cup Meeting, Fisher was connected with it and won races at that fixture with the likes of Courtenay and Sunset. However, soon after that meeting Hurtle Fisher went to Queensland to oversee his pastoral interests and raced very few horses in later years. In 1891 he did venture to Melbourne once more in the hope of seeing his horse, Buttons, run in the Melbourne Cup, but in the end, he didn’t consider the horse good enough to start.
Hurtle Fisher was ruined financially after the collapse of the Queensland leases in which he had taken an interest together with his brother Charles. The Queensland Supreme Court ruled that the brothers’ claims to qualify as residents were fraudulent. Although Charles managed to survive to fight another day, Hurtle was all but finished. A measure of his plummeting fortunes was the fact that in October 1899 a complimentary race meeting was tendered him at Moonee Valley in a bid to raise some much-needed financial assistance. The names of the races corresponded to the names of famous horses he had raced.
Fisher attended, dressed resplendently as of old, and sporting a necktie of his trademark colours – rose and black stripes. Although the general public patronised the meeting quite freely, the absence of some of the colony’s leading racing men from the stewards’ enclosure was remarked upon by The Australasian. Time was when Hurtle Fisher could have bought and sold the lot of them, but such is the fickle nature of the multitude. Those dishonourable men who seek out a prince’s favours to line their own pockets are usually not given to reaching into them to bestow favours on paupers. Hurtle Fisher died in Melbourne in July 1905 in somewhat reduced circumstances.