Such was the early promise shown by Stromboli, Corvette and company that in September 1890 the J.B. Clark confederacy decided it wanted more. Even before most of that initial batch of Kirkham youngsters had sported silk, the syndicate transacted with Mrs White to acquire the following season’s yearlings as well. The price was 500 guineas apiece. So, it was to be double or quits! Included in this second job lot were three likely colts by Chester viz. Camoola, out of Copra, a sister to the two A.J.C. Derby winners, Navigator and Trident; Autonomy, a magnificent half-brother to Bungebah, subsequent winner of the 1890 A.J.C. Epsom and 1891 V.R.C. Newmarket Handicaps; and Warpaint, a full brother in blood to Abercorn. Arquebus, a son of Martini-Henry out of Acme, winner of the 1885 V.A.T.C. Debutant Stakes and V.R.C. Maribyrnong Plate was another likely type. Apart from those colts and others, the syndicate also arranged to lease – for racing only – a few of the Kirkham yearling fillies that the stud wished to retain for breeding purposes. These included two particularly fine Chester fillies: Trieste, a sister to the brilliant but ill-fated Titan; and Moonray, a sister to those two former good Newmarket representatives, Carlyon and Uralla. On paper at least, it seemed a likely enough team of gallopers.
Nor was the success long in coming. At the Melbourne spring meetings, Trieste won both the V.A.T.C. Great Foal Stakes and, even more sensationally, the V.R.C. Flying Stakes against the older horses; although Moonray failed when the stable representative in the Maribyrnong Plate. However, the moment when the sporting public first became aware of the syndicate’s likely strength in juveniles that season was when a particular nursery handicap was conducted at Rosehill in early December. Payten laid out his stall and in a crowded field saw four of his two-year-olds make their racecourse debut. None were fancied in the betting market, but that didn’t stop the J. B. Clark syndicate representatives filling all three placings when Donation, another son of Martini-Henry beat Autonomy and Arquebus – with heads separating the trio.
Their one unplaced runner, Warpaint, seemed disappointing at the time, but even he was to win a nice race later in the season and ultimately become the one-time favourite for the V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap. The stable’s good fortune continued later in December at the A.J.C. Summer Meeting when Moonray shrugged off her disappointing Flemington form to win both the December Stakes and Christmas Handicap while Autonomy annexed the Flying Handicap and Surprise Stakes. The domination rolled on to the Tattersall’s fixture on New Year’s Day when Trieste won the Carrington and Autonomy the Juvenile Stakes, the latter lumping 9 st. 9lb and winning by a contemptuous four lengths. The Newmarket two-year-old winners it seemed were a bit like Lewis Carroll’s oysters on the beach: “thick and fast they came at last, and more, and more, and more.”
It seemed to many sporting pressmen that the domination of Newmarket when the late James White was at the helm remained alive and well, and was just being managed under a new flag. Extravagant encomia emanated from the sporting newspapers as to the abilities of the J.B. Clark juveniles. What the public didn’t realise was that the debut of the best Newmarket youngster that season was being delayed with a view to a betting coup during the Melbourne autumn. The colt in question was Camoola, a mealy-coloured chestnut of medium size but possessed of a rather delicate constitution as a juvenile that proved a handful for Payten before he had even been seen in public. The colt took his name from the town near Longreach in central-west Queensland. When as a yearling he was first sent down to Newmarket from Kirkham to be put through his facings, he fell sick, and Payten entertained but faint hopes that the colt would even survive. However, thanks to a timely dose of physic, bolstered by a couple of bottles of stout, he recovered to become the stable’s great white hope.
Camoola suffered two quiet runs in Sydney during January before being spirited to Caulfield for his prime engagement in the Oakleigh Handicap, the forerunner to the Oakleigh Plate, a race over 5 ½ furlongs and open to all ages. As we have seen, two-year-olds commonly ran in it during this period although apart from Trieste’s brother in 1890, the age-group didn’t boast a particularly good record. Such was the confidence about Camoola, however, that he was backed down to the 9/2 favourite in a wide betting race and the long-striding colt, never bustled by Ernie Huxley, duly landed the prize. A week later Camoola was sent to the post in the red for the Ascot Vale Stakes and justified his growing reputation as the coming horse. However, the merit of that performance was discounted by his utter failure behind Strathmore in the All-Aged Stakes on the last day of the Flemington fixture. Actually, the real emerging star in the Newmarket firmament seemed to be Autonomy. The big slashing bay was preferred by the stable for the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Flemington and scored a hollow win from his only two rivals while on the third day of the meeting, he easily appropriated the Nursery Handicap despite 9 st. 7lb in the saddle.
Payten returned the team to Sydney for the autumn week at Randwick, and with three apparent aces in his hand in the form of Camoola, Autonomy and Trieste to play, it seemed only a matter of how he shuffled the cards to determine which races the trio would win. Surprisingly enough, Camoola made just one appearance at that Randwick meeting – and it not coming until the fourth day – when he proved most disappointing in the Nursery. Payten had made the mistake of starting the colt in a mile weight-for-age contest on a heavy track at the Rosehill Race Club’s autumn meeting, before Randwick, when he went under by a head to Bungebah, and the effort had flattened him.
Once again it was Autonomy that dominated proceedings winning the Sires’ Produce Stakes when his only opponent turned out to be his stablemate Arquebus, and then, despite the inconvenience of a 10lb penalty, smashed a small field for the Champagne Stakes. Although Trieste failed to emulate Briseis and Crossfire as successful two-year-olds in the Doncaster, she showed her class by winning the Nursery with 9 st. 9lb on Cup Day. What a day that proved for the J. B. Clark team! A treble no less, for apart from Trieste’s victory and Autonomy’s Champagne Stakes, it was the day that the year-older Stromboli landed the Sydney Cup itself! What a future the syndicate contemplated, as their team of juveniles were turned out into the Kirkham paddocks to await the spring. Few sportsmen were surprised when the V.R.C. handicapper released his Melbourne Cup weights in late June and Autonomy was rated the best of his year with eight stone – or 7lb more than Camoola – judged the second best of the age-group.
The V.R.C. handicapper was entitled to his own opinion but in the cold early mornings of August, as he experimented in working gallops at Randwick, 37-year-old Tom Payten came to realise what he had suspected all along. Camoola, despite the dash shown over the short course in the Oakleigh Handicap, was a genuine stayer and Autonomy was not; while Trieste, superb filly though she was, was no match for either over a bit of ground. In collaboration with John Bowden, Payten mapped out the horses’ respective Randwick spring programmes. Trieste would be set for the Epsom, Oaks and Biennial Stakes on each of the first three days; Autonomy for the Spring Stakes, Craven Plate and Randwick Plate on the first, third and fourth days; while Camoola would be preferred for the Derby, and the Wycombe Stakes on the third day. To assist Camoola in his Derby exertions, the small but well-set Arquebus, who had earlier demonstrated that he was no slouch by winning the Maiden Plate at the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting, would serve as a pacemaker.
Beautiful spring weather ushered in Derby Day, and the presence of the Governor and the Earl and Countess of Hopetoun honoured the gathering. There had been some marked changes to the course since the previous Derby running, with improvements to the official stand including a stylish verandah at the rear of the structure covering nearly 4,000 square feet of asphalt flooring, which afforded cover from the elements while also offering an excellent promenade. The western half of the enclosure was reserved for members only, with the other section available to the public upon payment of 5/- entry. The old pressroom had been converted into a lavatory, and a portion of the telegraph operating room next door into a place for the storage of liquors to be dispensed over a new bar 23ft long, running parallel with the wall of the building. A newly renovated pressroom and a telegraphic operating office had been constructed on the first floor, just above their previous locations. Another significant construction was the spacious and handsome tearoom pavilion, designed to an octagonal ground plan and situated at the rear of the grandstand, midway between the scratching tower and the members’ section of the paddock.
Perhaps the most immediate change that struck the general public from previous Derby Days, however, was that relating to the entrance gates. Whereas both pedestrians and vehicles had traditionally used the main entrance gates, only vehicles were now allowed to pass through. A new gateway had been opened about half-way between the old entrance and the main gates, by which tramway and omnibus passengers were now set down. They, together with pedestrians, could reach the saddling paddock by a walk of sixty yards, entering the enclosure at the north-eastern angle, near the ranger’ cottage, and thereby avoid the risk of collision with cabs and other vehicles. Members were able to use the Bunnerong-road in driving to the reserve set apart for them, thereby reducing the crush through the main entrance.
The 1892 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
Just five colts stood their ground when acceptances were finalised for the 1892 A.J.C. Derby and apart from the two Newmarket representatives, Henry Dangar’s Attalus was expected to provide the stiffest opposition. A homebred son of the English mare Signora imported into Australia by William Dangar, Attalus was a half-brother to the 1887 A.J.C. Metropolitan Stakes winner, Cardigan, as well as Duenna, the future dam of Amberite. Attalus was making his seasonal debut but owed his strength in the betting market to a consistent but unlucky juvenile season that had seen him finish second at each of his four appearances including both the Carrington and Ascot Vale Stakes. An interesting runner was Blarney Stone carrying the colours of George Hill; he was a full brother to the champion Randwick miler, Marvel, although he had shown nothing in his two appearances to suggest he was worthy of that blood relationship. The only other runner, Dan O’Connor, had won twice as a two-year-old, at the September and June Tattersall’s meetings, but his staying credentials were considered suspect.
John Bowden and his confreres had freely backed Camoola to win the Victoria Derby/Melbourne Cup double, and with such an ambitious programme beckoning, the colt wasn’t fully wound up for the A.J.C. meeting. Nonetheless, Payten had done enough with him to feel the Derby was assured and the easy eloquence of Camoola’s stride did indeed tell the story long before the winning post. When the flag was dropped Arquebus cut out the race at a merry pace, attended at short intervals by Attalus and Dan O’Connor with Camoola occupying a convenient place near the rear. At the six Attalus dropped back suddenly after bursting a blood vessel and Nerriker pulled him up before the turn. Swinging for home, Arquebus was still going strong, but inside the distance, Camoola gradually drew up to his stable companion and came away to win comfortably. Although the final margin was only a length, the winning time was the third fastest in the history of the race: only Trident and Gibraltar had ever gone faster.
Derby Day was the high point of the Newmarket fortunes at that A.J.C. Spring Meeting. Although Trieste did manage to win her other two engagements, the Oaks and the Biennial Stakes, the best Autonomy could muster were placings in each of the Craven and Randwick Plates; while Arquebus – flattered by his proximity to Camoola at the finish of the Derby – failed badly when favourite in the Metropolitan Stakes (12f), run that year for the first time at a mile-and-a-half, reduced from its previous two miles. Camoola for his part failed to carry his 10lb penalty when unplaced in the Wycombe Stakes. Nonetheless, assisted by Ulric’s win in the Trial Stakes and placing in the Members Handicap, the J.B. Clark confederacy finished the A.J.C. Spring Meeting as leading owner while Ernie Huxley with five victories was the leading jockey.
Camoola was the third of jockey Ernie Huxley’s four winners of the Derby; his fourth was to come three years later on Bob Ray. Born in 1870 at St George, Huxley’s father kept an inn not far from the Hawkesbury racecourse. Ernie’s association with the Newmarket Stables came about through the success of his older brother, William, who rode for James White during the Squire’s early days on the Turf when Michael Fennelly was in charge, and his mounts included the unplaced ride on Gainsborough in the 1879 A.J.C. Derby. Ernie naturally followed his brother to Newmarket and also learnt his craft under Fennelly; he rode for James White too, but his halcyon days came with his association with the J. B. Clark syndicate and only after the retirement of Tom Hales. Huxley’s marriage to Margaret Payten, Tom’s sister, early in 1892, further strengthened his association with the stable. Always a dapper, confident little man, he brought the same qualities to his saddle craft and had a splendid seat and hands and with the judgement of pace to match. In a finish, he had few superiors in the pigskin, a talent that was ably demonstrated by his very vigorous ride to land Stromboli in the last strides to win the 1892 Sydney Cup as well as his Champion Stakes victory later in the season on Camoola. Increasing weight eventually forced his retirement from the saddle in 1907, and in June of that year, the A.J.C. issued him with a trainer’s licence.
Of a somewhat volatile and scheming nature, he was never really suited to the long hours of discipline demanded by the training profession. Perhaps his best horse was Trentmoon, which he leased from a Riverina sportsman and with whom he won the Tattersall’s Club Cup in 1909. Two of Huxley’s sons, William and Ernie junior also became successful jockeys, riding in England and India. Richard Wootton was responsible for Ernie junior going to England to ride, and it was the younger lad’s success that induced Ernie senior to quit Australia and try his luck there with his elder son, William. In so doing he reportedly left his wife and other children in penury. Although Ernie senior intended to set up training in England himself, circumstances conspired against it, and in due course, he apprenticed William to Richard Wootton as well. The arrangements had an unsavoury sequel when Ernie subsequently took Wootton to court for a large sum said to be due to his son, but the judge found that Huxley’s actions were nothing more than an attempt to extort money and Huxley senior returned to Australia in disgrace. The episode did nothing to harm William’s career, however, and he went on to win an English Oaks (1914) among other important races. Ernie Huxley senior died in Sydney in October 1940.
On the first day of the V.A.T.C. Spring Meeting Camoola won the Caulfield Stakes and Autonomy the Caulfield Guineas, setting the Flemington touts a rare quandary concerning which of the pair was to be the stable’s Victoria Derby representative given that each had been coupled in stable betting. One morning Autonomy would beat Camoola badly; two mornings later the form would be completely reversed. What the touts didn’t know was that it was a four-stone lead saddle changed from one to the other that made all the difference. Nat Gould told an amusing tale about that infamous saddle in his book of reminiscences “On and Off the Turf in Australia”. Fidelity to the fact was not always conspicuous in Nat’s writings, but this one has a ring of authenticity, for Tom Payten’s various tricks and artifices to confound the touts were legendary. A raconteur whose racing novels were plotted by an imagination operating on luxury and who pandered more to the demands of entertainment, Gould was a native of Manchester, England, who came to Australia for a visit in 1884 when he was in his mid-twenties and finished up staying for eleven years. He writes: “There was an occasion when painters were doing up the saddle room at Newmarket, and one of the workmen asked a stable lad to remove an innocent-looking saddle on one of the trees. “The lad, without a thought, pulled it down by the stirrup-leather, in order to catch it. When it fell, this saddle nearly broke the youngster’s neck, for it weighed about four stone.”
However, in the case of the 1892 Victoria Derby, all the Flemington touts were spared the necessity of backing both Camoola and Autonomy when Autonomy was withdrawn, and set for the Melbourne Stakes instead. A strong field started for the weight-for-age event that year with Paris as the favourite, but Autonomy won, beating his older half-brother Bungebah by a short half-length. Later in the day, the odds laid on Camoola for the Derby were never in danger, particularly with stablemate Ulric ensuring a good pace. The auguries of that first day suggested that the J.B. Clark syndicate might be in for a bumper carnival, but it wasn’t to be. Although the Victoria Derby programme was conducted in the sunshine and on firm ground, on Saturday night the rain began to fall and by Cup Day had delivered up a course that was a quagmire. Camoola ran a well-backed second favourite in the Cup but split his saddle in two after only half the journey; he trailed in badly behind Glenloth, the milkman’s horse that added a romantic chapter to the race’s history.
Nor did things improve for John Bowden and associates on Oaks Day when Trieste, who started the favourite for the fillies’ classic, was beaten into second place by Etra Weenie. John Bowden fired in a protest alleging that interference by the winner had cost Trieste the race. The matter first came before the honorary stewards, who dismissed the objection, and so Bowden then instituted a subsequent appeal to the full V.R.C. committee but with the same result, reputedly by a majority of one vote. This was the first occasion that any aggrieved owner had taken the extreme step of challenging the V.R.C. committee itself, and in so doing Bowden was really asking the full committee to set aside a verdict given by a court composed of five of its own members. The affair generated a great deal of discussion, and Bowden, adopting the self-righteous and sanctimonious persona with which the public was coming to identify him, wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald arguing that the committee’s decision practically debarred him from accepting the second money of £100. Accordingly, in conjunction with others interested in the filly, he had determined to devote the entire amount to the fund for the benefit of the amateur, Mr A. E. Wicks. Wicks had met with a serious riding accident necessitating the amputation of his leg at the recent meeting of the Sydney Turf Club.
Trieste was off the scene for almost twelve months after that celebrated Flemington week and only made a couple more appearances in J.B. Clark livery before being whisked off to the Kirkham Stud. Tenure at Newmarket under Tom Payten never harmed any filly’s prospects as a matron – testimony to the master’s kindness with the fairer sex – although Trieste’s success at stud never came until after she had been sold by Mrs White and had entered the Wilton Park Stud of Samuel Hordern. There, she produced a string of very good fillies to his resident stallion Haut Brion, including a V.R.C. Oaks winner (Styria), an A.J.C. Doncaster Handicap winner (Istria), and a V.R.C. Sires Produce Stakes winner (Eleanor). But I digress.
If the spring fixture at Flemington in 1892 had proven to be controversial for J.B. Clark, then the following autumn was no different. Heavy rains again assaulted the Flemington course on the first two days of the 1893 V.R.C. autumn gathering and neither Autonomy nor Camoola, as sons of Chester, was partial to mudlarking. The going in the early part of that week was like boarding-house porridge, and Camoola failed to run a place when odds-on for the St. Leger won by Culloden. He then fared even worse in the Australian Cup. Autonomy was preferred for the Essendon Stakes and Bourke Handicap, but he, too, floundered. It was a different story on Champion Stakes Day, however, when sunshine engulfed the course.
Camoola showed his full compass when he completely smothered the field in the feature race, which, I think for the first time, involved a time limit; while Autonomy appropriated the Autumn Handicap and the juvenile, Projectile, won the Nursery to give the syndicate a treble on the day. The Newmarket stable was then deprived of the services of Autonomy when the big son of Chester broke down while being prepared for the Randwick autumn meeting and to all intents and purposes it ended his racing career. Although Autonomy had a handful of starts as a four-year-old, he never bothered the judge again. Camoola proved a bit more resilient, and enjoying firm ground during that 1892 A.J.C. autumn fixture, in four appearances won both the St. Leger and Cumberland Stakes (w-f-a 16f); while finishing third with 8 st. 9lb in the Sydney Cup and runner-up in the A.J.C. Plate when despatched as the favourite each time.
Camoola raced on for one more season but found glory hard to come by as a four-year-old. In eleven appearances the chestnut managed to win just the Randwick Plate while finishing out of a place in all the others. His last start came when he knocked up badly in the 1894 Sydney Cup won by Lady Trenton on the very heavy ground and was found to be lame upon cooling down. Camoola was promptly retired and leased to Mr Cobb’s Bando station, but, tragically, before the chestnut stallion had a chance to prove himself as a sire, he was found dead in a paddock in early November 1894, just weeks into his first season. He had been running with mares when he got caught in a barbed wire fence, wounding himself so badly that he bled to death.
The accident became the subject of a £1000 claim by the owners of Mr Cobb, the lessee, who was blamed for the injury. However, the gentleman appointed to arbitrate decided otherwise very promptly. Of that limited first book of mares that he did manage to serve, none of the resulting foals won any race of note. By contrast Autonomy’s life as a sire was peripatetic with Tom Payten leasing the stallion to a number of studs. He stood his first season at Neotsfield and his second at Mr Northern’s place, while later on he was domiciled at Hobartville for a time. In April 1897 Payten finally disposed of him to Charles Baldwin of Durham Court stud, near Tamworth. For all of his various residencies, Autonomy failed to produce any progeny out of the common and his best was possibly Tsarina, winner of a P.A.R.C. Christmas Handicap.
The personnel that made up the abstruse J.B. Clark syndicate had never remained immutable from its inception. John Arthur didn’t stay within the syndicate for long, and once Tom Hales stopped riding and became more preoccupied with building-up his Haleswood stud, he too withdrew. Indeed, it was the withdrawal of personnel that triggered the sale at Newmarket in April 1892 of the J.B. Clark team of eleven older horses, including Stromboli, in order to determine fair market value. Hales bought his old favourite Corvette for 260 guineas hoping she might make a good broodmare, and she did get a useful horse in Man O’ War. Of course, seven of the eleven lots were bought back by Bowden to continue racing under the J.B. Clark nom de course, which by then numbered just Bowden, Bailey and Payten.
It was at Easter 1892 that the Kirkham-bred yearlings came onto the open market for the very first time, as the J.B. Clark syndicate had declined the previous August to take them as a collective at 500 guineas apiece, although Messrs Bowden and Bailey continued to lease a number of the stud’s yearling fillies. It is interesting to note that of the eleven Kirkham lots offered that year only three brought 500 guineas or more with an average of just 340 guineas. Nonetheless, Payten was active on behalf of the remaining syndicate, buying among others Projectile, yet another son of Chester, for 800 guineas. Some of Bowden’s own purchases at those sales were unfortunate to say the least, including the 1100 guineas paid for the Trident-Nellie colt and the 600 guineas Trenton colt subsequently registered as Currawang and Cambooya respectively. The fact was that even after they stopped taking the Kirkham yearlings as a job lot, the syndicate still enjoyed its most significant success with Kirkham-bred yearlings bought on the open market, as both Projectile and Chesterman attest. The continuation of the collective didn’t stop individual members buying their own horses, and as we shall see, William Bailey managed to have some success in this regard.
As the decades of the ‘nineties unfolded and the depression bit ever deeper, race clubs cut back drastically on prize money – for example, the value of the Melbourne Cup plummeted from £13,230 in 1890 to just £3,667 by 1895. Although the A.J.C. was not as badly affected as the V.R.C., it responded to the economic crisis quite differently. The club maintained the level of added money to the A.J.C. Derby, i.e. 500 guineas, throughout the nineties while at the same time preserving the value of their major handicaps; for example, the value of the Epsom, Metropolitan and Doncaster Handicaps were maintained at £1,000 throughout 1890 to 1896 while the Sydney Cup was actually lifted from £1,500 to £2,000 in 1892. Rather, the A.J.C.’s retrenchments occurred elsewhere, such as the deletion of the Sires’ Produce Stakes from the programme after its 1893 running (it was not to be reinstated until 1905), while there was a reduction in the amount of money added to sweepstakes for races such as the Craven Plate.
The deteriorating economy imposed real strains on the ownership of large strings of racehorses and the viability of the J.B. Clark syndicate – leaving alone the personal idiosyncrasies of its individual members – was called into question. Occasional successes in big races such as Projectile’s victory in the 1894 Metropolitan were insufficient to defray the huge expense. John Bowden might have basked in the splendour of a glorious spring afternoon when he received Projectile’s Metropolitan prize, but to the discerning, the shadows were already lengthening beyond the apparent glare of the Newmarket sun. The syndicate had been successful and in 1893 finished as Australia’s leading owner, but it had come at a heavy price.
When the syndicate’s end did arrive, it was the result, rather unsurprisingly, of yet another contretemps with officialdom. It concerned the race for the A.J.C. Plate on the last day of the 1895 autumn meeting. Unlike most contests for that prize, that year it was looked upon as an unusually open event with favouritism divided between Havoc and The Harvester, while Chesterman, raced by the J.B. Clark syndicate was also fancied. It was the contentious and rousing battle among this trio in the final furlong, for which the race became infamous. Dire distress caused Havoc to reel out at the finish and collide against Chesterman, who in turn rolled against the fast-finishing The Harvester, thus causing serious interference. The respective owners entered protests on behalf of both Chesterman and The Harvester, and, after what seemed to be an unnecessary delay, were dismissed.
Chesterman’s complaint was the first to be submitted, but it was difficult to understand how it could have helped him in any way, for, had it been upheld as far as Havoc was concerned, it would only have told against him with regard to The Harvester, for the rule is imperative that such interference is fatal whether occasioned accidentally or otherwise. To many, it seemed that the ultimate verdict should have gone to Mr Cook’s splendid colt. Be that as it may, the fallout was immediate. John Bowden peremptorily announced that the syndicate would stop racing forthwith and the entire Newmarket string submitted under the hammer. Mr Cook, a generous sportsman, by contrast gracefully accepted the decision of the stewards. The following month Beadell’s Bazaar in Hunter-street attracted a large attendance to witness the proceedings of the dispersal. Given the constrained times, it wasn’t surprising that a few of the lots, including both Autonomy and Projectile, were passed in and subsequently left in the hands of bloodstock agent and A.J.C. handicapper, H. A. Thompson, for placement afterwards.
The history of the J.B. Clark syndicate offers an interesting microcosm of the Australian Turf during those fin de siècle years. In many respects, it was an arrangement many years ahead of its time – a brave experiment; and it took a particular confluence of circumstances and coincidences to come into being when it did. These circumstances included the death of James White; the continuation at Newmarket of Tom Payten; and the willingness of certain friends and clients of Payten to subscribe to the adventure. When it ended just after five years, despite two A.J.C. Derbies and Sires’ Produce Stakes; two V.R.C. Sires’ Produce Stakes and a Victoria Derby; an A.J.C. Metropolitan, Sydney Cup and Champagne Stakes; as well as a Caulfield Guineas, not to mention the syndicate’s status as the leading owner, it was largely judged a failure – and a financial failure it certainly was. Much of the reason for this lay in timing. There are times in the affairs of men when expensive gambles are appropriate, but alas for Bowden and friends, the ‘nineties were not such propitious times. The storm clouds of economic depression were already gathering when their costly craft of syndication first launched upon choppy seas. The retrenchment in prize money forced upon the race clubs left the syndicate’s expensive bloodstock tilting for diminished stakes. Their failure to win any of the really valuable handicaps – Stromboli’s Sydney Cup notwithstanding – didn’t help matters; nor did the fact that any of their prized sons of Chester or Martini-Henry were ever valued highly as potential stallions.
The dalliance cost Tom Hales dearly, but in the case of William Bailey, his not inconsiderable fortune ensured he lived to fight again, another day. In fact, his most glorious A.J.C. Derby still lay in the future. Payten survived the venture and went on to make his fortune in another way, although with the syndicate’s demise he never again came to dominate the training ranks in the manner that marked the decade immediately after the death of Michael Fennelly. It would have been a brave man at the close of the 1892 A.J.C. Spring Meeting who chanced to observe that Payten, who had won four Derbies at Randwick in six years, would only win one more – and that wouldn’t come for another twenty years! The curious thing, however, was that when it did, it was the direct result of a particular filly that had carried the J.B. Clark livery largely unsuccessfully; and which Payten had acquired at public auction in January 1893 for just 71 guineas for the then four-year-old mare. Pie Crust was the horse in question, and she was one of the Kirkham-bred yearlings included in the first job lot that J.B. Clark purchased. Indeed, she proved of enormous benefit to Payten over the years, but I shall leave that tale to later chapters. Which leaves us with John Clark Bowden, the moving spirit behind the Confederacy; and in many ways, he was the most intriguing character of them all. Before he passes forever from the pages of this chronicle allow me a little latitude to explore the nature of this quite singular personality.
John Bowden’s character, particularly in relation to racing officialdom, could be likened to that of a bull that carried around its own china shop – to employ an expression that Winston Churchill later made famous. The Etra Weenie affair gives a taste of his character. Bowden’s complaints against handicappers were also many, but not varied, as they inevitably pertained to the penalties that were unfairly loaded onto his own horses. In February 1894 the V.R.C. committee went so far as to establish a special enquiry into a charge of unfair handicapping preferred by him against Frances Dakin, which subsequently found that the charge could not be sustained. An impartial and objective observer must conclude that there was much to be desired in the governance of Turf matters in this country by the last decade of the nineteenth century and that a reform movement was necessary. Whether or not, however, John Bowden was temperamentally suited to lead such a movement is highly debatable. Perhaps his most celebrated tilt at authority, in a career distinguished by such ventures, came at the 1895 annual meeting of the V.A.T.C. held in the first week of October. The subject of contention was that of committee members sitting in judgement as club stewards on disputes in which they might have a financial interest. It proved an important test case that eventually led to the appointment of independent stipendiary stewards forbidden from having any pecuniary interest in the matters they supervised.
Bowden, without naming names, alleged an incident in which a horse backed by a club steward had run second in a race, only for a protest entered on its behalf being upheld by a panel of stewards presided over by the man who had made the bet. The self-righteous Bowden saw it as a need to cast out the moneychangers and devil from the temple or rather, in this case, the humbugs and hypocrites from the race club committee-rooms. The truth was that too many committeemen acted as though the club, by having and proclaiming ideal standards, were sufficient to abrogate the need for them to live by them. Pray allow me to quote from Maurice Cavanough’s book ‘The Caulfield Cup’: “The meeting took a poor view of Mr Bowden’s anonymous accusation, and there were angry cries of ‘Name the man!’ Speaking in a measured, level tone, Mr Bowden said: ‘It is the chairman of the V.A.T.C.’
Now, this was explosive stuff. Frank Madden, a hot-headed Irishman and a crony of Anderson’s who shortly after became Speaker in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, jumped to his feet and demanded that Bowden back up his accusation with full details of the horses involved in the protest, the date of the race and the course at which it was held. The accused chairman buttressed Mr Madden’s demand by saying: “Believe me, gentlemen, this is one of the greatest falsehoods ever uttered. You may be sure Mr Bowden is the last man I would say this sort of thing to.” Apart from adding that the incident occurred at Moonee Valley, Bowden declined to elaborate at the meeting. An angry Frank Madden then moved a motion: “That the meeting disbelieves the statements made by Mr Bowden concerning Mr Arthur Anderson, the chairman of the V.A.T.C.” This motion carried. A few days later Arthur Anderson wrote to the V.A.T.C. committee asking them to call upon Bowden as a member of the club to appear before them, and make a definite charge against him (Anderson) and to substantiate the same. John Bowden wrote a letter to The Argus giving full details of the aforementioned incident, repeated his charge and invited Anderson to prove him wrong by bringing an action for libel in the County Court. Anderson declined the offer, preferring instead that ‘a court of honour’ should adjudicate on the matter, one composed of either the V.R.C. or V.A.T.C. committees.
If Anderson was convinced that a panel of sympathetic fellow committeemen would ignore the evidence and acquit him of humbug, he was entirely misled. Investigations disclosed that the particular case in question was referred to the V.R.C. on appeal, and the minutes of that appeal hearing proved the correctness of John Bowden’s allegation. Having arrived with bluff, the V.A.T.C. chairman Arthur Anderson now departed with bluster, arguing that after four years he had completely forgotten about the incident and that in any case he had not voted on the decision to uphold the appeal (and thus retrieve the value of his betting voucher) because the other four honorary stewards had unanimously agreed to do so. Nonetheless, he submitted his resignation and left it in the hands of club members to decide whether or not it should be accepted. In the words of Maurice Cavanough:
“Another stormy meeting of the V.A.T.C. was held on December 19, with Mr Herbert Power in the chair. Mr Anderson’s supporters were there in force. After voting to tender an apology to Mr Bowden, the meeting left a decision on the Anderson resignation to the committee which met for that purpose on December 24. The committee gave their chairman a most unwelcome Christmas present by accepting his resignation.”
John Bowden’s relations with the V.R.C. committee, of which he was a member at various intervals, were, if anything, even more, volatile and contentious. At times it seemed that his whole soul was loaded with bilious indignation at the manner in which the principal club administered the Turf in his home State. He first offered himself, unsuccessfully, as a candidate for the V.R.C. committee in July 1892 and on and off for the next 20 years added fire and brimstone to the public discussion of Turf matters in Victoria and beyond, whether on the committee or not. Bowden’s view was that unchecked power created its own motives and set its own agenda and that the best way of intimidating power was to force it to discuss publicly the measures which it was seen to be taking.
In the early years of the new century, Bowden assumed the role of Turf censor and vigorously advocated reform. In February 1903 he was elected to a seat on the V.R.C. committee and during his tenure addressed a long circular to club members and newspapers setting forth what he regarded as defects in the management of the club’s affairs. In particular, he targeted Byron Moore, who was the secretary at the time and had interests in certain enterprises that were doing business with the club. Such flagrant conflicts of interest Bowden sought to have brought into the open, although some saw Bowden’s machinations as a personal vendetta against Moore and C.M Lloyd.
Whatever certain factions on the committee thought of Bowden’s conduct, club members in general approved and in July 1904 this stormy petrel was re-elected to the executive at the top of the poll. Bowden’s presence on the committee, hitherto largely an enclave of patrician privilege, did dredge up to the light of day the acrid effluence of certain cosy deals and accommodations that were not necessarily in the club’s best interests, and some overdue reforms in governance were implemented. But Bowden was not an easy man to work with and seemed to bring personal antipathies to his role: he never conceded with affability and always refused with harshness. He severely damaged his own standing over his clash with Richard Casey and the Sylvanite affair, but I shall leave that to a later chapter. By the time his term of office expired in 1906, Bowden had so exasperated a majority of members that he was defeated at the annual election. Although he was a candidate on a number of subsequent occasions, he failed to regain his seat. A measure of the extent to which Bowden polarised people can be found in the V.R.C. membership’s reaction to his last bid for re-election in July 1912. Very little notice was taken of his candidacy when first announced. However, as the election neared and the spectre of his possible return seemed larger than life, some 700 members were galvanised into paying up at the V.R.C. office on the Monday before the poll.
John Bowden continued to race horses intermittently down through the years after the J.B. Clark interregnum, often in the stables of Tom Payten, but never again on the same lavish scale. Although he made the occasional appearance at Randwick, he largely restricted his attendance to Flemington and Caulfield, given that he lived in the Melbourne suburb of Auburn during those closing years of his life. He still regularly attended the annual general meetings of the V.R.C. and V.A.T.C. and vigorously spoke on various Turf matters. Nonetheless, his utterances now seemed the merest of splutters from one who once kindled roaring conflagrations. After months of steadily declining health, John Clark Bowden died in his 80th year at Malvern, Victoria, on April 7th, 1924, mostly unnoticed by Victorian racing authorities.