Early on a Sunday evening in June 1872, the R.M.S.S. Nubia steamed into Sydney Harbour bearing an important cargo; its arrival from England signalled the quickest passage on record for a steamship of its size – just twenty days! On board was none other than Sir Hercules Robinson, the fourteenth Governor of N.S.W. and the man chosen to succeed the Earl of Belmore as the first citizen of the colony. When the government barge disembarked His Excellency the following day for the official greeting at Prince Alfred Stairs, it was estimated that around 15,000 people crowded along the foreshores of Circular Quay and the official route to Government House. Few of the crowd realised it, but the arrival of this Sir Hercules was to be every bit as important to the colonial sport of horseracing as was that of his namesake, the sire of Yattendon and The Barb, all those years before. Very much a populist figure, Sir Hercules Robinson during his relatively short stay was to embrace the Turf and the Hunt with gusto; his vice-regal patronage would do much to elevate the social standing of racing in the colony of New South Wales and attract the wealthy classes into the ranks of ownership.
Sir Hercules George Robert Robinson, to give him his full title, had been born in County Westmeath, Ireland, in 1824, the second son of an Admiral of the Fleet. Educated at Sandhurst, he was a true man of the British Empire and had already seen service as Governor of both Hong Kong and Ceylon and been rewarded as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George. Energetic and fond of power, Sir Hercules made it clear from the very beginning that he was to be no mere figurehead in his new land. He was forthright and outspoken on a whole range of issues, an approach that had the effect of offending parliament; his somewhat condescending arrogance towards the emerging colony and its institutions was one shared in equal measure by Lady Robinson. A striking example of his unilateral exercise of power was his pardon, subject to exile, of the notorious bushranger Frank Gardiner, who had served only 8 years of a 32-year sentence; he dismissed as ‘unreasonable and unjust clamour’ the public and the political uproar that followed. As controversial as his actions were to prove at times, Sir Hercules Robinson nonetheless was to play an important role in the evolution of responsible government here.
Balding and rotund, Sir Hercules deliberately cultivated an image of a manly sportsman. He espoused the value of cricket in the formation of character – granting the land in 1877 that created the Sydney Cricket Ground – and ingratiated himself with the people of Sydney by soon racing horses on a liberal scale. However, there was no doubt that Sir Hercules genuinely loved horses for their own sake, for he kept a string of first-class gentlemen’s and ladies’ hacks in the Government House stables for pleasure. The new Governor’s first visit to Randwick came on Derby Day 1872, and by then he had already agreed to become the patron of the club. It was at that official luncheon, following the royal toast by the Hon. Edward Deas Thomson that Sir Hercules expatiated at length on his particular philosophy of the Turf:
“I am especially pleased to observe that the fine old manly sports and pastimes of England have been so successfully reproduced here, as I believe they exercise a very important influence in the formation of the national character. As regards racing, I have all my life been an ardent admirer of the sport, which I am sure, when properly carried out, is productive of beneficial results. It offers opportunities for pleasant social gatherings such as we have here this afternoon. It affords amusement and recreation to large numbers of persons of all classes – and it is specially intended and calculated to improve the breed of a valuable description of stock, for which this climate is peculiarly suited, and which is indispensable for the prosecution of agricultural and pastoral enterprises in a vast new country such as this. I am aware that many estimable persons in this community think differently and abstain from countenancing this amusement. I do not conceal from myself either that racing does sometimes lead to abuses, which any lover of true sport must deplore. But I hold that racing per se is innocent – that it always will be followed wherever there is a tolerably well-to-do English community; and I think, therefore, the true policy for persons of influence and position is not to turn their backs on the racecourse, but to give it the benefit of their presence and support; to try and elevate it by making the course a place to which they can bring their wives and daughters, and so, by associating with the sport these civilising influences, prevent a fine old British institution degenerating into a mere instrument of gambling and speculation. Feeling thus, as I do on the subject, you may rely on my taking a warm interest in the Turf of New South Wales during my stay in this colony…”
True to his word, Robinson quickly became the patron not just of the Australian Jockey Club but the Hawkesbury Racing Club, the Northern Jockey Club and the Sydney Hunt Club among others. Nor did he merely restrict his interest in racing to the colony of N.S.W. Both he and Lady Robinson annually journeyed to Melbourne with a large vice-regal party for Melbourne Cup celebrations. It was soon after arriving in Sydney that Robinson decided to establish a racing stable of his own and later on decided to appoint a private trainer. His choice fell upon Tom Lamond, who only a couple of years before had won his first Sydney Cup with the lightweight, The Prophet, and was then seen as the coming man. Just how shrewd the choice of Tom Lamond proved to be will become clear as the pages of this chronicle unfold.
Let me say that sooner or later Lamond would have made it on the Turf with or without the patronage of Governor Robinson, but in 1874 a vice-regal appointment opened many doors. While the history books tell it otherwise, it was Lamond who was largely responsible for the success of Archer in the first two Melbourne Cups. Born at Shoalhaven in 1839, he had first followed the occupation of a jockey, and it was in that capacity that he initially came to the attention of Etienne de Mestre. The Master of Terarra recognised horsemanship when he saw it, and de Mestre entrusted Lamond with much of the work to get the great Archer to the post in his two Cups in 1861 and 1862. It wasn’t until the early 1870s that Lamond decided to strike out on his own as a trainer, coming to Sydney to hang out his shingle. His early training career was given a boost when he prepared Johnny Smoker to win the 1872 Tattersall’s Cup and when The Prophet credited him with the Sydney Cup just a few months later his star was clearly in the ascendant.
Sir Hercules Robinson never did things by halves. Finding that the stabling at Surrey-hills in Sydney was insufficient to accommodate the number of horses he envisaged owning, Robinson secured a ninety-nine-year lease of several acres of the sandy wastes on the Waterloo estate, the property of Sir Daniel Cooper. A row of shade trees was planted, and the area cut up into four grass paddocks with a neat residence constructed in the centre on a slight rise overlooking the stables, surrounded in typical English fashion by a well-kept garden. The view from the highest point embraced the waters of Botany Bay. The whole complex lying within a mile of Randwick racecourse offered easy access to the training grounds. A tan exercising track was laid down. The Governor gave Tom Lamond some famous English sporting prints with which to adorn the saddle-room, complete with forge, while Lady Robinson personally planted the English creeper that flourished over the buildings in the years that followed. To ensure that Government House was kept fully abreast of the doings of the stable, telegraphic apparatus was laid on from the seat of Government directly to Lamond’s cottage.
The stables were christened Zetland Lodge, and the colours registered by His Excellency in this his temporary homeland were the very same as the famous ‘white, red spots, red cap’ of that fine English sportsman, the Earl of Zetland. I might mention that when Victoria Park racecourse was laid out in around 1907, it was quite close to Zetland Lodge and the Zetland spots fluttered in the form of a flag flying over the official stand. While it is a name that no longer resonates, in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Zetland colours were among the most recognised of all on English racecourses, largely through the deeds of the great Voltigeur, winner of the 1850 English Derby and St Leger.
Voltigeur was the only horse ever to conquer The Flying Dutchman, a result that was achieved in the 1850 Doncaster Cup, which then gave rise the following year to the celebrated clash of the century at York when the Dutchman gained his revenge. Sir Hercules Robinson was an impressionable young man in his mid-twenties when Voltigeur was holding sway, and he never forgot the experience. To own a Derby winner himself and to see it sport those very same colours became something of a dream. It was a dream that was to be realised, not on the Downs of Epsom, but at faraway Randwick in 1874, when Tom Lamond sent forth Kingsborough to join battle in Australia’s great classic.
If Sir Hercules Robinson’s choice of horse-trainer was inspired, then even more so were his early essays into colonial bloodstock. Never niggardly in his conduct of racing affairs, Robinson from the very first wanted the most aristocratic lineage in his bloodstock, and during his tenure enjoyed a particular arrangement with the Yattendon stock bred at Fernhill by E. King Cox, especially those descended from fine English mares. As we have seen, one such acquisition was the highly fancied FitzYattendon, who could only finish seventh for the Governor in his first tilt at the Derby prize. For his second attempt at the blue riband, Her Majesty’s representative chose a colt of quite different breeding but in so doing scored a bulls-eye. It came in the shape of Kingsborough, a beautiful bay colt, absolutely perfect in conformation, bred by George Lee from yet another mating of the prolific stallion Kingston with his already distinguished broodmare, Sappho.
The colt was a full brother to the flying grey Lecturer, raced so successfully by Lee as a juvenile. Lee had intended to race this colt as well, but the honour of allowing the horse to be raced on lease by the Governor of N.S.W. while still retaining ultimate ownership was one that George Lee couldn’t resist. And thus, it came to pass that the second of the trio of famous full brothers was fated to carry the Zetland spots to a string of glorious victories.
As a rule, Sir Hercules was very much against the early racing of two-year-olds. However, Kingsborough, like Lecturer, despite a decided inclination to laziness, showed so much early pace on the training gallops that the owner soon relented. He allowed the colt to make his racing debut on the opening day of the V.R.C. Spring Meeting, where he failed to gain a place in the Maribyrnong Plate won by Stockbridge. He was brought out again at the same meeting on the third day when with 5 st. 12lb he ran second to Atalanta in the Flying Stakes, open to older horses. The son of Sappho was then turned out until the autumn meeting at Randwick where he stripped a different animal, winning the Champagne Stakes very easily from a good field after having been backed into favouritism. On the second day of that fixture, and at an even shorter price despite a 7lb penalty, Kingsborough won the Sires’ Produce Stakes in a canter by four lengths from The Novice and Llama in third placing. On the fourth and last day, burdened with 9 st. 5lb he failed in his effort to give A.T. two stone in the Nursery (6f) going down to that smart colt of Etienne de Mestre’s by less than a length. Kingsborough then wintered, as a very short-priced favourite for the A.J.C. Derby.
When Kingsborough stepped out in the new season for the one-mile Hawkesbury Guineas, he was partnered for the first time by Billy Yeomans, already well established as a first rank rider, and just then beginning his very fruitful association with Zetland Lodge. This new partnership of horse and jockey were sent to the starting post at odds of 2/1 on and won easily. On the second day of the Hawkesbury meeting, Kingsborough repeated the dose in the Mares’ Produce Stakes at an even shorter price when he beat his only rival, Llama, thereby franking his juvenile form and ensuring that three weeks later he would very much start the public fancy for Randwick’s blue riband. Sir Hercules Robinson, thrilled at the prospect of owning a classic winner, even journeyed from Government House to attend some early morning gallops at Randwick in the lead-up to the great race.
The scene in Sydney on Derby Day 1874 was described by the Sydney Mail as follows:
“At half-past 12 o’clock there was a great rush to the course, and a long line of four-horse ‘buses could be seen en route for the convincing ground, to say nothing of the private vehicles and cabs and hansoms. The official programme of events tastefully got up as usual by Messrs Gibbs, Shallard, and Co. was hawked about the city by juveniles who conducted their business with great energy and irritating pertinacity. In every street the citizens, whether ‘horsey’ or otherwise, were overwhelmed with offers of ‘c’rect cards of the races’ and, as many of the urchins who upon ordinary occasions engage in the wax match trade were on Saturday entrusted with the business of providing the public with programmes of the Derby Day engagements, some idea may be formed of the difficulty of shaking the youngsters off without making an investment.”
The spell of sultry weather Sydney experienced in the days before broke at about one o’clock when the rain came and continued throughout the afternoon. Still, it was estimated that a crowd of about six thousand braved the elements to pay homage to the colony’s best thoroughbreds. The rain began to fall heavily just after the Hurdle Race had been decided and it became evident there was to be no respite. Few persons then had sufficient hardihood to disport unsheltered and encourage those proprietors of the various games of chance that were otherwise languishing for want of support. A few minutes before the Derby came off the rain ceased for a short time, allowing an inspection of the candidates as they took their preliminary walk in front of the grandstand. Only Kingsborough and Melbourne, with the veteran jockey Jimmy Ashworth, received anything like a reception. Melbourne, a son of Panic prepared by John Tait, had been difficult to train at two, but Tait had persevered with him, and he had struck form at the Hawkesbury Meeting where he had won both the Trial Stakes and Maiden Plate. Apart from some nibbles for Melbourne, there was very little betting on the classic given the prohibitive odds on offer about the favourite.
The 1874 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions are set out in the table below:
At the first attempt, the flag went down to a grand start with Neredah taking up the running as soon as the field entered the straight the first time, leading Melbourne by a half-length past the stand – Kingsborough, Buckingham, The Novice and Llama following in order. Neredah increased her advantage to a length and a half past Cutts’s, ahead of Melbourne with Kingsborough in close attendance. At the far side of the course, Neredah continued to flourish and going up the hill, both Buckingham and The Novice were already in difficulties. The pace, which had been slow, now quickened although Neredah, gallantly holding her own, still turned into the straight in command, a half-length clear of Melbourne. Ashworth, who had been hard on Melbourne for the last half-mile, sat down on him at the distance and when opposite the St Leger Stand had reached the leader’s head. But the favourite, making ground on the outside, at the same time dashed to the front to win hands down by a couple of lengths, leaving the other pair to dispute the minor placings. Although the time was slow, the general impression was that Kingsborough had Yeomans so wished, could have made any post a winning one.
The victory of the Governor’s colours was popular, and the crowd hailed Sir Hercules with acclaim upon his colt returning to be unsaddled. In fact, it was the second time that day that the famous spots had attracted the attention of the judge as Sir Hercules’ filly, Nea, had earlier won the Trial Stakes, the second race on the programme. As usual, after the Epsom Handicap had been run – the last race of the day – there was the traditional rush for omnibuses, although His Excellency stayed to the very end to celebrate his triumph. His coach journey back to Government House was marked by a crowd of several hundred people congregating at the corner of Botany and Oxford streets to cheer him as he passed by handling the ribbons of his stylish English four-in-hand drag, with Lady Robinson seated on the box beside him. An indication of Robinson’s love of the Turf is the fact that he and his party attended all four days of that A.J.C. Spring Meeting and each time stayed for the full race card. Whatever the political pressures of office, they were never allowed to interfere with a day’s racing.
The Governor’s success on Derby Day was by no means his only joy. On Monday, Nea, despite a 5lb penalty won the Spring Maiden Stakes while on the third day his colours scored a double when Fitz-Yattendon won the President’s Handicap and Kingsborough added the Mares’ Produce Stakes (10f) to his tally. In winning the latter race so very easily despite 13lb in penalties taking his weight to 9 st. 9lb, Kingsborough emphasised his class over a middle distance. All of this resulted in Sir Hercules Robinson being the leading owner at the fixture with winnings of £1,240/2/6 – from total available stakes of £5,068. There was some heavy settling in the crowded rooms of Tattersall’s Hotel on Monday evening following the conclusion of the meeting as some of the Governor’s horses had met with good support.
Kingsborough had not been nominated for the V.R.C. Spring Meeting and did not re-appear on a racecourse until the opening day of the A.J.C. Autumn Meeting in late March. During his absence, John Tait’s Melbourne had won both the Derby and St Leger at Flemington, and excitement ran high for another clash of the two cracks in the A.J.C. St Leger. All of the other entrants for the Randwick red riband paid a forfeit and left the field clear to the pair. Yeomans on Kingsborough matched it with Ashworth on Melbourne, and the Governor’s colt won an exciting contest cleverly, if not easily, by a long neck. Henry Kendall later immortalised Kingsborough and the moment in verse:
“Just look at his withers, his thighs!
And the way that he carries his head!
Has Richmond more wonderful eyes,
Or Melbourne that spring in his tread?
The grand, the intelligent glance
From a spirit that fathoms and feels,
Makes the heart of a horse-lover dance
Till the warm-blooded life in him reels.”
The following season as a four-year-old, Kingsborough’s career was marked by a series of clashes with another of John Tait’s horses in Goldsborough. Kingsborough was the better horse up to ten furlongs, but he could not stay as well as Goldsborough, a fact that was proven in the famous 1875 Great Metropolitan (16f) when the son of Fireworks gave the year younger horse 6lb but still managed to beat him, albeit by less than a length. Later that spring Kingsborough failed with 8 st. 11lb in the Melbourne Cup after being sent to the post a well-backed second favourite on the strength of his Melbourne Stakes win the previous Saturday. The two miles again proved just beyond him in the Sydney Cup the following autumn when he dead-heated for second with his stablemate Neredah, a length away from the winner A. T.
Kingsborough headed the Melbourne Cup weights in 1876 with 9 st. 7lb but never made it to the post after going amiss earlier in the campaign while being prepared for the Great Metropolitan Stakes at Randwick. He had never been the easiest horse to train with his suspect legs and that Lamond had succeeded in keeping him on the Turf for as long as he had was in itself a triumph of the training art. The horse was then put up for auction at George Kiss’s bazaar. There was much to recommend Kingsborough as a prospective stallion, both on pedigree and performance, and he did good work at John Lee’s Bylong Stud for many years; his best stock included Muriel, the winner of a Tattersall’s Cup, and Tilburn, who claimed The Shorts at Randwick. Kingsborough also sired Kathleen, dam of those three good gallopers, Cabin Boy, Pilot Boy and Sailor Boy; while other of his daughters were responsible for the likes of Cato, Florrie, Kinglock, Machine Gun, Merloolas and Mooltan. When Kingsborough’s powers began to wane, John Lee replaced him with another Derby winner in Trident, and Kingsborough ultimately died in March 1897 at Cunningham Creek, near Mudgee. At least his end was more dignified than that of his great three-year-old rival, Melbourne. Sold to race in Brisbane at the end of his six-year-old season, Melbourne managed to win some good races there as well as going on to sire two winners of the Queensland Derby before dying of thirst in a paddock as a nine-year-old.
If Kingsborough was the most distinguished of the horses to carry the colours of the Governor of New South Wales, many others did so with success including Fitz-Yattendon, Tocal, Queen’s Head, Habena, Nea, Valentia and Hyperion. But for a lapse of judgement on Robinson’s part, the list might also have included Chester. E.S. Chapman, who wrote under the nom de plume of Augur for The Australasian, stated that the Governor was offered Chester as a yearling by Edward Cox upon his own terms. However, the Governor, despite a marked preference for Yattendon stock descended from good English mares, disliked the plain and coarse colt and declined the generous offer. Successful as Sir Hercules Robinson was on the Australian Turf, even without Chester to carry his colours, there was a dark side to his involvement in the sport, at least in the eyes of some.
During the initial period of his appointment, Sir Hercules wagered heavily, behaviour that attracted the ire of both the church and certain prim and proper citizens within the colony. The contentious subject of betting – and the Governor’s dalliance with it – was the subject of a leading editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald during the 1876 A.J.C. Spring Meeting. It came just a week after Sir Hercules’ colt Tocal had gone desperately close to giving his owner a second A.J.C. Derby. The said article concluded: “The best type of the English gentleman is not promoted either in England or any other part of the world, by the practices of the turf as at present existing. If his Excellency can save a noble English sport from degradation, he may prove himself a benefactor to the colony. For his private habits and tastes, he is not responsible to the public; but he cannot divest himself of his influence as the leader of society. The one vice of the turf is betting, and it is in the power of his Excellency to discourage this probably more than anybody else in Australia.”
Government House took umbrage at the inference and it elicited a spirited series of written exchanges between both parties published in the Sydney Mail. Looking back later on his period of ownership in the colony Sir Hercules reflected: “I used at first to back my horses for a few pounds when I thought they had a good chance: but when I found that a five-pound note was magnified into five thousand, I gave it up. Not that it made much difference, however, for when I won the Derby and St Leger, I was reported to have won £40,000, whilst I had not directly or indirectly won a shilling on either race. I could go through the list in the same way. I won the Champagne Stakes twice, the Hawkesbury Guineas twice, the Breeders’ Plate once, and the Produce Stakes several times, but whilst the ignorant and malevolent were insisting that I was winning untold sums, I did not stake on all these races together as much as many an old woman in Sydney risks upon her nightly rubber of whist.”
His Excellency, weighing up the balance on the effect that his vice-regal patronage had had on the Turf, rather unsurprisingly concluded: “My own opinion is that I have done good (sic). I see the gentlemen of the country – such as Messrs Dangar, White, E. King Cox, Rouse, Eales, Want, Lee, Vincent, Dowling and others of that class – beginning to follow my example of racing without gambling…The Betting Act, the passing of which I strenuously urged upon the leaders of both sides of the House, has, I believe, done much good; and if the Press would only back these efforts by withholding the publication of the daily fluctuations of the betting market and the touting reports of morning gallops, which stimulate gambling and interfere with legitimate sport, there would then be in this respect, I believe, little left to be desired.”
Methinks Sir Hercules protested too much. Despite his denials, the rumours of his large bets were well-founded, and his winnings were reportedly embarrassing. The Governor continued to race horses on a grand scale, and he only disposed of most of his horses in training through Thomas Clibborn some eighteen months later, at the conclusion of the 1878 A.J.C. Autumn Meeting, when it seemed that his term of office was about to end. Tom Lamond, who had so successfully managed the vice-regal establishment of Zetland Lodge stables, proceeded to purchase the lease from the Governor and resumed life as a public trainer. Sir Hercules Robinson was, however, granted an extension in July 1878, long enough at least to see his daughter married at Sydney’s St James Church the following month. It was noticed in the newspapers’ society columns that the bride’s travelling dress featured her father’s racing colours. Sir Hercules eventually left the colony in March 1879 but not before the Australian Jockey Club conducted a special day’s racing at Randwick in January in recognition of his services. The famous ‘white, red spots’ were carried in the last event on that card, the Farewell Handicap, by the Governor’s old favourite, Emily, a half-sister to Kingsborough, but she finished unplaced in the hands of a youthful Tom Hales.
Sir Hercules left N.S.W. to briefly become the Governor of New Zealand, where, apart from his official duties, he made a significant contribution to their bloodstock industry by importing the broodmare, Atlantis, together with her son St Leger, as a foal at foot, on behalf of the Auckland Stud Company. Robinson intended to resume ownership over there and even arranged for James Kean to train for him, but his term of office was cut short. In August 1880 Robinson’s appointment as Governor of South Africa was announced. En route to take up this new position the following month, he called in at Sydney and yet another complimentary race meeting at Randwick was organised in his honour – this time under the auspices of the Sydney Amateur Turf Club. It was a mark of his popularity in the colony that a bumper crowd estimated at 7,000 were in attendance. The V.R.C. also intended to hold a complimentary meeting – well, actually they did – but after two postponements on account of the state of their courses, by the time it was held Sir Hercules Robinson had already left the country! Robinson’s services in South Africa eventually saw him elevated to Baron Rosmead; he died in London in April 1897. The Australian Turf has rarely had a truer friend.