In the very same year of the formation of the J.B. Clark syndicate, there came another man upon the scene also hoping to dominate the Australian Turf. He would be the syndicate’s greatest rival during its brief reign, and, after its premature demise, would assume the undisputed mantle of Australia’s leading owner. The man in question was William Robert (W.R.) Wilson, and from the time of his acquisition of the St Albans Stud in early 1890 until his death in May 1900 he came to dominate racing in this land in a manner that rivalled the Hon. James White at the peak of his fame and has never been equalled in all the years since. Born in County Tyrone, Ireland in 1850 the son of a civil engineer, William Wilson immigrated to Victoria with his parents and eight brothers and sisters at the age of six. The family settled in the then quiet town of Geelong, or ‘Sleepy Hollow” as the place was contemptuously termed.
Wilson matured into a big and bluff individual with an eye for the main chance, and at the age of eighteen, travelled to New Zealand where he began working in the nascent alluvial mining industry. After about five years, Wilson moved on to Port Pirie and Port Augusta in South Australia acting as a commercial agent in a small way. It was the gold rush in the northwest corner of New South Wales, and with which Port Augusta traded, that gave Wilson the chance of becoming a company promoter. A confident and wilful man, he floated a number of mining ventures in the Lofty Ranges on the Adelaide Stock Exchange in those heady days, most of which failed to turn a profit, except to himself. It was the discovery of Galena at Thackaringa that initially brought Wilson to Broken Hill and the district that was to make his fortune.
The long narrow hill with the strange silhouette in the Barrier Ranges had been sitting there all those years just awaiting the discovery of its silver underneath. As Geoffrey Blainey has observed, any rich discovery provokes the exasperated wishes of those who had the chance and passed it by; and in the case of Broken Hill the exasperated were to be numbered in their hundreds. “On foot or horseback, driving bullock teams or sitting in mail coaches, they passed within a few miles of the hill, and could have acquired a title to millions of ounces of silver for no more than the price of a coach ticket to Sydney”. However, the 34-year-old Wilson, who had already floated some silver mines in nearby Silverton, and was managing one, had the money and foresight to buy a one-fourteenth share in Broken Hill for £2,000 in 1884 just at the time of the sinking of the first shafts. In so doing he became one of the men who drew up the original prospectus for the floating of the company that won fame as Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd. William Wilson served as a director for six years and was one of the early chairmen of the board, championing the method of open cut mining against strong opposition. The company flourished and paid more than a million pounds in the year ending May 1891 to its shareholders, a sum it matched the following year as it generated wealth on a scale unprecedented in Australia up to that time.
Just as the Victorian goldfields proved a boon to the Australian Turf with men like William Bailey, Martin Loughlin and others putting much of their wealth into expensive horseflesh; so too, the silver of Broken Hill made many a racing man and gave bloodstock breeding in Australia a tremendous fillip. Apart from William Wilson, Ernest Brodribb was another who ploughed much of his Broken Hill earnings back into the Turf. Another was the Englishman, Alfred W. Cox, the son of a Liverpool jute merchant, who arguably made the biggest splash of all. Mostly ignored in Australian Turf lore, Cox had been sent over here in disgrace after failing his entrance examination for the British Army. Legend has it that he won a derelict sheep station in a game of poker on the voyage out.
The property proved worthless as a sheep station, but the dry, dusty soil was laden with silver. Cox returned to England a wealthy man and linked up with Alec Taylor of Manton fame. Included among the many winners to carry Cox’s colours on the English Turf were Lemberg and Gay Crusader, respective winners of The Derby at Epsom in 1910 and 1917. Most of the men that reaped immense fortunes from Broken Hill were conspicuous spenders and generous hosts in their extravagant mansions. Although they called themselves gentlemen, most were never wholly accepted into society, and knighthoods rarely came their way. As Geoffrey Blainey observes, a significant difference between the gold town of Ballarat and the silver town of Broken Hill, was that in the former some of the citizens who enjoyed the wealth from the mines took a civic pride in beautifying the town. By contrast, Broken Hill produced rich men who, though much richer than their counterparts in Ballarat, shunned the prospect of living in the place because of the heat, the isolation and the inhospitable terrain.
But I seem to have strayed from the path; pray allow me to return to William Wilson. As befitted a native of Ireland, Wilson was keenly interested in horse racing from his youth and in his early days in South Australia even served briefly as the secretary of the Port Augusta Jockey Club, organising a few annual meetings on what passed there for a racecourse. His brother, Samuel, shared the same interest and he was later to become the president of the Adelaide Racing Club. Although he raced a few horses intermittently down the years, William’s mining adventures and the itinerant demands of company management conspired to prevent a major commitment to the sport until the late 1880’s. However, in 1889 his horses, Sluggard and Chetwynd, won three races at the Flemington Autumn Meeting and this success served to whet his appetite.
Now flushed with dividends of silver as one of the Broken Hillionaires, a term coined by the Sydney Bulletin, Wilson began to expand his team of racehorses during that year while also laying plans for establishing his very own stud. At the Tattersalls’ Sales in England, he bought the stallion Eiridspord, a son of Isonomy from a daughter of Musket, and the winner of the Newmarket Derby and Liverpool St Leger, together with a selection of well-bred English fillies all foaled in 1887. The group included Elsie by St Simon, Eleusis and Bonnie Rosette both by Barcaldine, Lady Marden by Marden, and Beanfeast by Plebeian. All would make their mark on the Australian Turf in due course and, as we shall see, two of the mares would foal A.J.C. Derby winners. It puts one in mind of the influence of that happy band of matrons that accompanied Fisherman to Australia on behalf of Hurtle Fisher all those years before.
Wilson was the most prolific buyer of yearlings at the January 1890 sales of the New Zealand Stud Company too, and he did some smart business there. It was Musket blood that he was after, and the best way of getting it then was to buy sons and daughters of Nordenfeldt. He purchased three good ones in Zalinski, Trenton’s half-brother at the cost of 950 guineas; the future champion three-year-old colt, Strathmore, at 325 guineas; and Steadfast, a half-brother to Lochiel and named in honour of George Stead who for a time owned Lochiel, for 1025 guineas. What a trio with which to announce one’s first concentrated assault on the Turf! Strathmore won the Caulfield Guineas at only his second appearance, and then proceeded to win the Victoria Derby, St Leger, Champion Stakes and All-Aged Stakes at Flemington and was desperately unlucky in running third in Malvolio’s Melbourne Cup. Zalinski wasn’t a bad second string either, winning the Toorak Handicap, Essendon Stakes and Loch Plate at three and running second to Strathmore in the Champion Stakes. Steadfast was the relative failure of the group, but even he managed to win the weight-for-age Canterbury Plate at the 1891 V.R.C. Spring Meeting.
Wilson had already decided to settle permanently in Victoria when he attended those 1890 New Zealand Sales and was at an advanced stage in negotiations through W. C. Yuille and Co. for the purchase of the famous St Albans Stud, just outside of Geelong. For a boy with racing in his blood who had spent some of his formative years in the Geelong district, it was a much-coveted prize. The foundation of the St Albans Stud during the 1870’s by its original owner James Wilson, and its passing into the hands of John Crozier in the late 1880’s, is described in the 1872 chapter of this book. Crozier only retained St Albans for a few years and made the mistake of using Savanaka as his principal stallion. Notwithstanding the quality of his pedigree, Savanaka wasn’t the most prepossessing of individuals, and despite the best of mares, failed as a stallion and somewhat sullied the reputation of the St Albans paddocks. Crozier had now placed the property on the market although it wasn’t until February 1890 that a price slightly more than £70,000 was agreed upon, with the deal to include all of the stock except the yearlings, which Crozier would dispose of the following month. It was on 20th March that William Wilson officially became the new Squire of St Albans.
At the time the stud changed hands the resident stallions standing there were the ageing First King, who was then rising 16-years-old, the year-older Robinson Crusoe, and Albury, an undistinguished son of Yattendon; Newminster; while several of Andrew Chirnside’s mares were quartered there as well. Wilson lost no time in re-invigorating the bloodlines roaming the paddocks and overhauling the property itself. His first act was to appoint his long-time friend from South Australia, Les Macdonald, as his racing manager, a key role given Wilson’s penchant for extensive travels in England during his tenure of St Albans. Macdonald had trained and raced horses since his teens. When a very young man he won the South Australian Derby in 1879 with Pawnbroker. Later that same season he won the A.R.C. Alderman Cup with Banter. Macdonald’s sister married J. E. Saville, one of the leading owners and trainers in South Australia. Indeed, he won the Melbourne Cup with The Assyrian and very soon after took a team of horses to England and stayed there.
Saville was the first Australian owner to exploit the English racecourse with an Australian-bred horse. In so doing, he preceded the Hon. James White in that adventure and among the horses he took with him in 1888 was Ringmaster, selected by Macdonald for Saville. Ringmaster won five good races over there including the Great Northern Handicap of 500 pounds at York. Macdonald took over Saville’s Adelaide training establishment and engaged one Mr Hugh Munro, a successful footballer of the day, to assist in the training of his horses. Just how significant that piece of recruitment was for the future of Australian racing can only be marvelled at, for not only did Hugh Munro train a succession of winners including the Melbourne Cup in 1901, but he would become the father of Jimmy and Darby Munro, two of the greatest jockeys Australia has ever produced. Still, all that lay in the future when this talented sportsman swapped his football boots for a stopwatch. Meanwhile, Macdonald, with Munro’s assistance, went to Victoria to win the Maribyrnong Plate twice in three years with those two smart youngsters, Newstead and Hortense, in the mid-eighties.
William R. Wilson trusted Les Macdonald absolutely and between them, the two men were to revitalise St Albans into the finest thoroughbred stud in the southern hemisphere. A lodge was erected and a pretty drive formed about two hundred yards on the town side of the former main entrance. The old range of stabling was removed and a brick building substituted further from the house; the paddocks were re-grassed; and large-scale irrigation work was undertaken, while electric lighting was also introduced. James Wilson’s old summer track down by the Barwon was rendered usable again, and Hugh Munro retained to train the racehorses. A 12’ high corrugated iron fence was erected to guarantee privacy on the training ground.
The new Squire of St Albans was obsessed with the superior blood of Musket, and with Carbine unavailable he was determined to at least obtain Musket’s second greatest son, Trenton. This magnificent racehorse was out of Musket’s second crop in New Zealand, and the first foal from that wonderful daughter of Goldsbrough, Frailty, one of the best broodmares ever foaled on these shores. Because of shelly feet – a common condition with the Musket breed -Trenton’s racing career over four seasons had been restricted to just 13 starts. Unbeaten in three appearances at two and winning each time for a different owner, he was then acquired by that ubiquitous character of the Australasian Turf, Dan O’Brien. After a very quiet three-year-old season in which Trenton was seen just twice in public, O’Brien set him for a big plunge in the 1885 Melbourne Cup only to be denied by a head in the race won by Sheet Anchor.
After that campaign, O’Brien sold Trenton to the free-spending baronet and Anglophile, Sir William Cooper, for 2500 guineas, and the horse went into the stables of Tom Lamond. Cooper only got four runs for his money, but one of them was that famous 1886 Melbourne Cup when Trenton was again a gallant second, this time being beaten a long neck by Arsenal, after giving the year-younger horse more than two stone in weight. Cooper and Lamond subsequently had a falling out just a few weeks after the Cup, which saw the son of Musket transferred into the stables of Ike Foulsham. Old Ike couldn’t match Lamond’s genius with crocks and never even got a start out of the horse and Cooper sold Trenton in March 1888 at Fennelly’s Bazaar on the eve of going to England with his brother Sir Daniel Cooper. Alec Benson then acquired the rising seven-year-old horse on behalf of Hobartville Stud and Andrew Town for just 800 guineas.
Trenton let down into a very masculine stallion and had just finished serving his second book of mares when the impecunious Town defaulted on his loan, and his mortgagees, William Long and George Hill, foreclosed on Hobartville in late 1889. Town’s tragic death quickly followed, and Trenton came onto the market along with all of the Hobartville stock at the stud’s dispersal in May 1890. William Wilson attended those sales in person and was forced to go as high as 3000 guineas before subduing William Inglis in a bidding duel. This wonderful son of Musket, then nine years old, was on his way to Geelong at last! It was a high price to pay for a stallion whose stock remained untried on the racecourse, but he was to prove the re-making of St Albans Stud.
When the stud announced its list of stallions at the service of the public in mid-July, Trenton was made available at a fee of 50 guineas. Despite the demands on the horse, Wilson found time to exhibit him at the Geelong Agricultural Show later that year where he won the special prize for thoroughbred stallions. Still, handsome is, as handsome does. However, proof of Trenton’s prepotency came quickly when the first of his progeny to race, Gaillardia, cleverly won the rich Sapling Stakes at the Caulfield Grand National Meeting in mid-August. Ironically, in winning Gaillardia edged out a filly of William Wilson’s on the post – and it was one time the Silver King didn’t mind losing. One swallow a summer does not make, but when the brilliant Etra Weenie waltzed in for the Maribyrnong Plate at the 1891 V.R.C. Spring Meeting, Trenton’s reputation was assured. Others in his first batch included the future Sydney Cup winner, Lady Trenton, and a Villiers winner in Bliss.
Accordingly, Trenton’s second crop was awaited with keen anticipation and by the close of the Randwick autumn meeting in April 1893, it was clear that the stallion had again delivered the goods in the shape of two promising juveniles, Light Artillery and Delaware. Light Artillery was an exceptionally handsome brown colt, deep set and big-barrelled, out of the good imported mare Bengal Light, and prepared for John Turnbull by a promising, young 33-year-old Melbourne trainer named Walter Hickenbotham. Bought as a yearling for 675 guineas at the Sydney Sales, his purchase price had been recouped early in the season when at his second appearance he won the valuable Debutant Stakes. Light Artillery then failed to fire during the Melbourne autumn but brought across to Sydney he closed out his season by upsetting a good field to win the Sires’ Produce Stakes at Randwick. Delaware, a more backward colt than Light Artillery, and trained by Tom Lamond for the old Cobb and Co identity, Walter Hall, burst onto the scene on the fourth day of the A.J.C. autumn fixture when he careered away from a field of twenty to win a nursery handicap by six lengths. However, those sportsmen attending the A.J.C. autumn fixture who considered that sons of Trenton might have a mortgage on both Derbies later in the spring had cause for doubt after the running of the Champagne Stakes.
In that race, Carbine’s three-quarter-brother, Carnage, ploughed through heavy going at Randwick to win rather easily, carrying the now famous colours of the St Albans studmaster. William Wilson had purchased this beautifully-built, dark chestnut colt by Musket’s son, Nordenfeldt, together with his dam Mersey, at the dispersal sale of the Sylvia Park Stud in New Zealand for 2300 guineas. Mersey, who by then was seventeen-years-old, proved expensive at that price, but not so the colt foal at foot. Wilson had made an offer for the whole of the Sylvia Park thoroughbreds, as well as the farm itself back in 1890 when the sale of Carbine’s birthplace was first proposed. Alas, his comprehensive offer was refused as were all others and in 1891 the famous dispersal sale was conducted.
Having failed to buy the whole stud, at least Carnage ensured Wilson didn’t come away empty-handed. A better-conformed horse than Carbine, and very deep through the brisket, he did share the same lazy good-natured character of ‘old Jack’. The colt had made his much-awaited public debut when unplaced at Caulfield in the Oakleigh Plate in February and had run twice at the Flemington Autumn Meeting without success before breaking his maiden status in the Federal Stakes at Caulfield in mid-March. That easy victory over Light Artillery, albeit with a 23lb weight concession, prompted the visit to Sydney. Not that Carnage was the only promising two-year-old that St Albans Stud sheltered that season. Havoc, a three-quarter brother to Trenton, had also been bought for 2200 guineas on William Wilson’s behalf at the Sylvia Park sale. Like Carnage he was by Nordenfeldt, but out of Trenton’s dam, Frailty, and rumours were emanating from Geelong that in time he might even prove the superior colt. Unfortunately, he was backward and immature and only started once as a juvenile late in the season; he was then hors de combat for eighteen months and missed his three-year-old season entirely. Still, the rumours regarding his ability, as we shall see, were eventually proven to be true.
The 1893 A.J.C. Derby field and race conditions appear in the table below:
Only five horses accepted for the 1893 A.J.C. Derby and neither Carnage nor Light Artillery – the two best colts of the season – were in the race, with the former aimed solely at the Victoria Derby – Melbourne Cup double, while the latter suffered an interruption to his training programme. The general public, confronted with such a moderate lot, in their desperation, made Projectile the favourite. Another of those Kirkham-bred foals acquired by the J.B. Clark syndicate, he was bought for 800 guineas and trained by Tom Payten. Projectile had won the Ascot Vale Stakes in his first season as well as running a good second behind Bungebah in the V.R.C. All-Aged Stakes, at the same meeting. Second elect was Delaware who bid fair to give Walter Hall his first blue riband, while yet another son of Trenton, Trenchant, was next fancied. Solanum, trained by Mark Thompson on behalf of colourful bookmaker Humphrey Oxenham, was an interesting runner. A son of Somnus out of Blue and White, a smart filly that had won both the December Stakes and The Shorts at Randwick, Solanum had been knocked down to Thompson for 200 guineas at the Kirkham sale of yearlings in April 1892. Although on form Solanum hardly seemed a serious chance, Mark Thompson’s horsemanship was well respected. The fifth runner of the Derby quintet, Pharamond, wasn’t expected to disturb the judge.
Rowley Pickering who wrote as Nemo in the Sydney Mail made his observations of the race in the idiosyncratic language of the time: “The favourite and Delaware, notwithstanding that the pace for the first mile was little faster than that of a blackfellow running in boots, were kept too far out of their running, and when the so-called race resolved itself into a four-furlong and a half spin, they had to give Solanum, Trenchant and the beaten Pharamond a long start. Pharamond failed to stay it out, and Trenchant, in whom Allsop, his trainer, reposed the greatest confidence, out-stayed and out-paced Solanum in the run home. Delaware made a long run from the three-furlong post, but the effort played him out. Had he been in possession of a little more condition, he could not have lost, and there can be little doubt but that before the close of the season he will succeed in lowering the colours of the pair that finished in front of him.” The farcical winning time of 2 minutes 54 seconds, except for that recorded by His Lordship in 1878, was the slowest in the history of the race since 1865. Many sportsmen were critical of the jockeyship and observed that, had the recently retired Hales ridden in the event, he would have won on any of the five runners.
And so, it came to pass that a Trenton colt did win the Derby, although not the one people had in mind during the months leading up to the classic. While Trenchant’s breeding is credited to Josh Leeds, it was Andrew Town who had mated Bridesmaid with Trenton at the Hobartville Stud. Leeds acquired Bridesmaid, who was carrying Trenchant at the time, along with some other mares when the whole of the Hobartville stock came onto the market in May 1890. Bridesmaid, a good-producing daughter of Yattendon, had previously foaled two winners of the Q.T.C. Hopeful Stakes. Purchased when a yearling by William Gardiner, the proprietor of the Gobolion Stud, Trenchant gave trainer John Allsop his second A.J.C. Derby following upon the success of Gibraltar three years earlier. Trenchant had been quite a nondescript juvenile finishing unplaced in each of his three appearances during his first season. Although Allsop had evinced confidence that he had a Derby colt in the making, it wasn’t until the son of Trenton finished a good second in the Spring Handicap (10f) at the Tattersall’s September meeting upon his seasonal re-appearance, that bookmakers took him seriously. William Gardiner’s experience in the ranks of ownership had been one of aspiration rather than fulfilment up to the time of the Derby.
Taken to Melbourne, Trenchant’s clash with Carnage in the Victoria Derby was looked upon keenly by southern sportsmen, who relished the prospect of beating the first colony. Rheumatism that had proved so troublesome to Carnage’s shoulder during the winter months eased with the sunshine and his trainer Hugh Munro was able to start him for his seasonal debut in the Caulfield Guineas in which he ran unplaced to Patron. That run brought him on. It was in October 1893 that the innovation of reading the card on important spring events was put into effect for the first time at the Victoria Club, which gave quite a fillip to betting turnover. The stable money poured on to Carnage for the Derby-Cup double and how close he came to pulling it off!
The Derby at Flemington that year was a genuine contest. The race record was equalled, and the manner in which Carnage sprinted in the straight soon settled all opposition with Trenchant and the other N.S.W. challengers failing even to run a place. As if to underline the dominance of St Albans at this time, both minor place-getters in the Victoria Derby were bred there as well. The perceived merits of the three-year-olds were measured in the Melbourne Cup on the following Tuesday when Carnage, with a pound over weight-for-age, went to the post sharing second favouritism in a wide-betting race, with Trenchant and Light Artillery friendless at 100/1 in a thirty-horse field. Carnage led for home and was hailed as the winner until the aged Tarcoola ran him down just inside the distance to win by a half-length. The two Trenton colts both finished down the course. It was the closest William Wilson would ever come to winning the Cup.
Neither Trenchant nor Carnage did much on the racecourse after their glorious spring of 1893, although leg problems plagued each. Trenchant did run the minor placing in the A.J.C. St Leger and later at that same autumn meeting won both the City and Rous Handicaps, but it was the last time the horse saluted the judge. The colt was absent from the racecourse during his entire four-year-old season and then returned for a brief campaign as a spring five-year-old. Although Trenchant finished unplaced in four out of five races that season, in the other one, the Caulfield Cup, he ran a gallant second behind Humphrey Oxenham’s Waterfall. The subsequent form of Carnage was similarly mixed. He never quite matured into the horse that many hoped he would, as a three-quarter brother to Carbine. He did manage to finish second in both St Legers – behind Patron at Flemington and The Sailor Prince at Randwick – but like Trenchant he failed in the 1894 Sydney Cup on the heavy ground in the race won by John Mayo’s Lady Trenton. Likewise, his four-year-old season proved disappointing, and seven races yielded only one victory – the V.R.C. Essendon Stakes on the first day of the V.R.C. Autumn Meeting of 1895. The following spring, he was retired to the St Albans Stud where he stood for just one brief season.
The economic depression of the 1890’s that swept across Australia created havoc everywhere but especially for those men on the land. It started with the shipping strike of 1890, and the slump in world prices for wool and wheat greatly exacerbated it. By 1891 the whole ramshackle nature of Australia’s financial structure began to collapse under its own weight; and as confidence crumbled, there was a run on the banks, which saw many of them close their doors. Insolvency was everywhere, and as credit dried up, industry was dragged down. Thousands of people left the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria for the ephemeral prospect of riches on the West Australian goldfields. Horse racing fell into a slump that saw the prize money for the Melbourne Cup drop from £10,000 in 1890 to just £3,000 in 1894 with a commensurate fall in the price of yearlings. It was a state of affairs that ruined many racing men as we have already seen with the likes of Charles and Hurtle Fisher and Etienne de Mestre going to the wall. While William Wilson’s fortune, based as it was in mining, wasn’t as vulnerable as those exposed to the land, the depression meant that for the moment St Albans Stud couldn’t be justified on the grand scale in which it had flourished during the heady days of prosperity. Early in March 1895, William Wilson created a sensation when he announced his intention to dispose of the St Albans Stud and all of his racing and breeding stock and retire from the Turf.
What the canny Wilson intended in the circumstances was a refinancing of the entire operation, inviting the general public to oblige by means of subscribing for tickets in a lottery. It revived memories of the Maribyrnong distribution by Charles Fisher back in 1868 but on a much grander scale: the amount asked by Fisher was less than one-sixth that required for St Albans and back then there were only 35 prizes. In the five years since Wilson had bought the St Albans estate for £70,000, it was estimated that he had spent a further £30,000 on stock and refurbishments. I doubt if there has ever been a more valuable array of champion racehorses and broodmares past, present and future, held in Australia by just one man. Given the hard times, Wilson knew that a sale or public auction would return a mere fraction of his outlays. Hence the idea of a lottery with the horses and the estate itself, comprising the individual prizes. Wilson asked 56-year-old George Adams of Tattersalls to organise proceedings.
The proposal was quite straightforward. There would be 125,000 tickets at £1 each with 130 prizes up for grabs; after allowing for organisational and promotional expenses, Wilson would finish with a small profit over his total outlays during his proprietorship. Any lucky ticket holder that won a horse could take possession of his prize immediately, but those not wishing to do so could arrange for their horse to be sold at auction a week later and receive the money raised there instead. And therein lay the means by which Wilson calculated he would be able to reclaim the nucleus of St Albans and continue the life of the stud. Cashed up with the lottery proceeds in a time of economic hardship, Wilson would have few rivals in any public auction of the prizes, and he held no doubts that he could reclaim the St Albans estate itself back from the lucky winner at the right price. After all, few people would have the means to finance it as a going concern during a depression.
It is worth reflecting on the order of the first ten prizes drawn in Brisbane on October 24th, 1895, as it indicates the value that Wilson and his advisers placed upon individual thoroughbreds at the time:
First Prize: The St Albans Estate consisting of 748 acres and situated 3 ½ miles to the east of Geelong; Second Prize: Trenton – recognised as the best sire in Australia at the time; Third Prize: Eiridspord – a son of Isonomy and already a successful stallion; Fourth Prize: Robinson Crusoe, the Derby hero of 1876 and by now 22-years-old; Fifth Prize: Strathmore, winner of the Caulfield Guineas, Victoria Derby and St Leger; Sixth Prize: Bill of Portland, the only son of St Simon in Australia at the time; Seventh Prize: Carnage, winner of the Victoria Derby in 1893; Eighth Prize: Havoc, winner of the Australian Cup in 1895; Ninth Prize: Wallace, a three-year-old son of Carbine and arguably the best juvenile of the previous season; Tenth Prize: Challenger, a 3-year-old son of Eiridspord and winner of the Debutant and Ascot Vale Stakes. Of course, given that there were 130 prizes in all, some of the lower order prizes are fascinating in hindsight. For example, Insomnia was prize number 77 and was described as a barren mare. If only they’d known. That spring, Insomnia got in foal to Trenton and twelve months after the lottery, happened to drop a filly that was registered as Wakeful. Oceana, the dam of a two-year-old called Newhaven, was prize number 59. Eight days after the lottery was drawn, Newhaven would win the Maribyrnong Plate.
From the day in March when William Wilson announced the lottery, until the day of its draw, the value of the prizes was maintained. Wilson headed the winning owners’ list for the season, while Trenton – with only three crops racing – had been runner-up to Grand Flaneur as the leading stallion, with Robinson Crusoe finishing fourth in the table. As was the case with Charles Fisher’s lottery, not all the tickets were sold, perhaps not surprising considering the hard times; although one major barrier to their wholesale disposal was the inability of agents to make the affair public in England. Originally Wilson had intended Joe Thompson to act as the sales agent in England, and he was sent a large allocation of tickets, only for Thompson to decline the role owing to the stringency of the English law at the time. In the end, the few thousand tickets that went to the Old Country had been applied for by cable and dispatched directly from Brisbane.
Nonetheless, the ticket sales were healthy, and George Adams drew the lottery as scheduled in the Centennial Hall, Brisbane, a week before the Melbourne Cup. Uncannily, the very first prize drawn was the estate itself, which was won by a Seymour group of eight men. A syndicate of four at Creswick headed by Mr C. E. House won Wallace, while Carnage went to the lightweight Sydney jockey, Liddiard, who used to ride for the Payten stable. It was Harry Arundel of the Federal Hotel, Berrigan, who won Trenton; and therein lay problems. Arundel immediately telegraphed to Yuille and Co. to put the stallion up for sale the following week but in the meantime, insure him for £5,000. It was alleged that Arundel – a former clerk at a firm of solicitors – was guilty of defalcation and a writ of ‘foreign attachment’ was served on Wilson preventing him from transferring Trenton. Arundel claimed the winning ticket was half-owned by his wife, a claim that, however dubious, was acknowledged by his creditors in a bid to resolve the legal imbroglio. Both parties recognised that if the matter had been allowed to drag through the courts the best years of Trenton’s life as a stallion might have passed and there wouldn’t be left a hair of the stallion’s tail to divide at the end of it.
Trenton’s credentials as a stallion were undoubtedly enhanced by Auraria’s win in the Melbourne Cup a few days after the lottery, as indeed was the reputation of St Albans, for all three place-getters that year were bred at the stud. When Trenton was put up for public auction in mid-November, Clarence Wilson, a son of Sir Samuel Wilson, offered 7000 guineas for him! Alas, greed saw the price refused, only for the horse to be sold a short time later to the very same bidder acting on behalf of Cobham Stud in England, for 5000 guineas. That same stud also managed to purchase Carnage from William Wilson for a reported 3500 guineas, after the St Albans proprietor had privately repurchased the son of Mersey when only 1850 guineas were bid for him at the public auction. When Wilson negotiated to re-purchase Carnage, it was with the objective of his continuing at St Albans where he had had about fifteen mares during the season. However, in the end, the Cobham Stud made an offer Wilson couldn’t refuse. It was a sad loss for Australian bloodstock for time would show that Carnage’s one limited season at St Albans, yielded two high-class gallopers in Combat and Seclusion.
It seemed, however, that the English were at last determined to atone for their original sin of letting Musket go to the colonies by snapping up his descendants. Despite holding a wad of tickets in the lottery, the only plum drawn by Wilson himself was Bill of Portland, and holding that ace made the decision to let Carnage go a little easier on his mind. Undeterred by his lack of luck in the lottery the Silver King proceeded – through the agencies of C. M. Lloyd and Les Macdonald – to buy back most of his horses in training, including Wallace and Havoc, and several of the best broodmares as well. Re-purchasing the estate took a fortnight longer but eventually it, too, through the help of Walter Hall, came back to Wilson’s ownership for £24,000 – down from an original reserve of £40,000. Thus except for the departures of Trenton and Carnage to England and gallant old Robinson Crusoe to New Zealand, St Albans stood much the same as it did before the lottery had ever been announced, although Wilson was considerably better-off. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
Both Carnage and Trenton were shipped together in the Orizaba in December 1895 and arrived at the Cobham Stud, Kent, in February. Carnage, whose initial service fee was 50 guineas, got a full book of mares in his opening season and occupied the box sacred to the memory of the 1874 English Derby hero, George Frederick, while Trenton, standing at twice the amount, took the stallion box once occupied by the great Blair Athol. Neither Carnage nor Trenton was afforded the opportunities they deserved at Cobham, although Carnage was only there a season or two before Count Lehndorff, who was managing the State Studs of Prussia, purchased him on behalf of the Graditz Stud in Germany. “Blood is the juice that works wonders!” was a saying of Lehndorff that still adorns the mare stables even today, and the prospect of buying a three-quarter brother to the legendary Carbine was one the Count could not resist. The amount quoted by William Allison for Carnage at the time was 10,000 guineas, but he changed hands for 7500 guineas plus old St Gatien, who shared the 1884 English Derby with Harvester. Carnage wasn’t in England long enough to establish himself, but fared little better in Germany, for on his arrival at Graditz, he was prostrated by a bad attack of fever and never really recovered from it. Although he got a number of useful horses, he gradually lost his hold on breeders there and after 1906 was left to sire half-bred mares at the Berberbeck State Stud in Germany where he died in early 1912.
Nor was Trenton’s European odyssey any more inspiring. The son of Musket took ill on the long voyage to England and arrived in such poor condition that almost his whole first season book of mares had to be cancelled. Neither did the rigours of the English climate assist, for the horse suffered from rheumatism in his first couple of winters there. The two best of his early English-bred colts, Longy and Eccleston, were each distinctly unlucky. Longy was ruined by drinking bad water when he was sent on an ill-fated expedition to Baden Baden. And Eccleston’s owner was killed in the Boer War thereby rendering his horse’s engagements void, and the horse was subsequently sold to an Austrian breeder. Although he got a handful of winners there, including a number over obstacles, Trenton died in England at the age of 24, his talent mostly unrecognised.
Not so in Australia. In the years after Trenton was shipped to England, his reputation here continued to burgeon as the sons and daughters in the crops he left behind reached maturity and achievement on the racecourse. In time Revenue would give him a second Melbourne Cup winner, while Aurum would be acclaimed one of the greatest two and three-year-olds seen in Australia. Alas, those sons of Trenton that did make it to stud here, generally failed to carry on the line although it was the colts foaled in the 1890 season that proved the best. Our Derby hero, Trenchant was retired to William Gardiner’s Gobolion Stud, on the banks of the Macquarie River near Wellington in NSW. Scarcely standing more than 15.2 hands, Trenchant got a number of useful horses at the stud although nothing quite as good as himself, the best being Retrencher (Memsie Stakes) and Severity (winner of a Caulfield Stakes and runner-up in a Sydney Cup).
Delaware, on the other hand only got one good horse in the Moonee Valley Cup winner, Rael Locin. Perhaps the best of Trenton’s sons at stud was Light Artillery who stood at the Morphetville Stud of Sir Thomas Elder and served with some quality mares, got a number of good class winners on tracks in South Australia and Western Australia. If Trenton’s sons proved disappointing in the breeding barn, his daughters exceeded expectations as the likes of Etra Weenie and Lady Trenton attest. All told his daughters were responsible for 55 individual winners of principal flat races in Australia including five Melbourne Cup winners in Lord Cardigan, Merriwee, The Parisian, Westcourt and Night Watch as well as other great gallopers such as Dividend and Melodrama. It seemed entirely appropriate when Trenton’s skeleton was presented to the Victorian National Museum in 1907.
After the tumult and the shouting of the St Albans’ lottery in 1895, William Wilson seamlessly retained his domination of the Turf with a string of high-class gallopers over the next few seasons. Indeed, just days after the lottery, Wallace, whom Wilson bought back for 2500 guineas plus contingencies on the Derby and Cup, won the Victoria Derby for the St Albans studmaster, and although he failed in the Cup, the son of Carbine as we have seen enjoyed a remarkable season. Wallace was just one of many greats to come out of St Albans Stud in the late nineties’. Indeed, the establishment was at the very height of its fame when Wilson died prematurely, at the age of just 50, in May 1900 in his town residence, Shanghai Villa, in St Kilda Rd, Melbourne. He had been suffering for some months with internal ulceration, and septic poisoning eventually supervened. During a decade-long reign, his horses won over £72,000 in stakes money. Wilson’s many victories included three Champion Stakes, two Sydney Cups, three Champagne Stakes, three Australian Cups, three Victoria Derbies and two Victoria Oaks; but he never did claim either an A.J.C. Derby or a Melbourne Cup, although in the latter he was placed on four occasions. Among the great horses to carry his colours were Carnage, Strathmore, Aurum, Wallace, Bobadil, and La Carabine; and the famous jacket of white and cardinal seams was just as popular on the flat as it was in the grandstands because the people knew his horses ran on their merits.
With his death, the Australian Turf had lost its greatest patron. Yuille and Co offered the St Albans’ racehorses for sale on August 10th at their Newmarket stockyards, and such was the public interest taken in the sale that an entry fee of one shilling was charged ‘in order to keep out the riff-raff’. La Carabine went for 1200 guineas to Sir Rupert Clarke while Bobadil, for whom the late William Wilson had refused 5000 guineas during his racing days, went for exactly one-tenth of that price when knocked down to Mr F. S. Grimwade. But the greatest bargain of all turned out to be an unraced three-year-old filly, described in the catalogue as ‘a nice little mare by Trenton that should be worth a place in any stud’. She was from the very last crop the great stallion got in Australia. Les Macdonald, who had so successfully managed St Albans on behalf of Wilson, had kept his eye on this filly from the time she began to gallop about the Barwon River paddocks; he asked Neil Campbell to bid for her on his behalf, and she was knocked down to him for 310 guineas. How typical that Trenton has saved his very best until last, for the filly was none other than Wakeful, quite probably the greatest mare Australia had ever seen until recent times.
Wakeful wasn’t Les Macdonald’s only purchase at the dispersal sale of St Albans. Nothing demonstrated Macdonald’s sound judgement of bloodstock more than the horses he bought at that sale. In a bit of brisk bidding, he got Kinglike for 900 guineas, Aurous for 350 guineas, and Revenue for 725 guineas. Macdonald then settled with a house and stables at Caulfield. Each of those three horses proved a first-class stakes winner. In the 1900-01 season, Kinglike won the Caulfield Guineas, Aurous the Caulfield Futurity Stakes, and Wakeful the V.A.T.C. Oakleigh Plate, V.R.C. Newmarket Handicap and A.J.C. Doncaster. The following season Revenue won the Melbourne Cup. Macdonald retained Wakeful and Aurous as broodmares and kept them at studs in N.S.W. The influence of W. R. Wilson’s St Albans blood was to augment the Macdonald fortunes for the next decade and more. Among the progeny of Aurous was the sprinter Dunolly and the dams of Desert Gold and Tangalooma. Wakeful’s second foal, Blairgour, the breeder won the Oakleigh Plate and Futurity Stakes in 1911. Wakeful’s son, Night Watch, gave Macdonald his second Melbourne Cup in 1918. In the 1903-04 season, Macdonald won the V.R.C. St Leger with Kinglike’s brother, Scottish King. Successful bearers of the black jacket, rose sleeves and white cap in 1906 and 1907 included Lady Rylstone and Wandin. The former was a winner of the A.J.C. Champagne Stakes and the V.R.C. Oaks, while the latter won the Oakleigh Plate before being sold to India at a tidy price.
During the First World War and the 1920’s Macdonald had comparatively few horses in training. Those that he did have were trained by Dick Bradfield, who won the Cup with Night Watch. It was during that period that Bradfield won many races for Messrs Clark and Robinson with Lucknow, King Offa, Magpie, Lanius and others. Macdonald acted as manager of these horses for their owners who lived in England. When Night Watch won the Melbourne Cup at 12/1 Macdonald remarked that it was only a matter of sentiment that he kept the horse in training. Indeed, Macdonald had several descendants of Wakeful in training up to March 1927 when he had a clearing sale of all the stock he owned at the time. Wakeful’s daughter and three horses in training sold for 2975 guineas. Wakeful, I might add, was still owned by Macdonald when she died at the age of twenty-seven in September 1923. It was in November 1929 at the age of seventy-three that Charles Leslie Macdonald died in a private hospital of a bullet wound to the head. He had been in ill-health for a long time and was found lying unconscious in a room in his flat at Cliveden Mansions, East Melbourne. Near him was a revolver. It was a melancholy ending for Macdonald, who died childless, but left a widow. He was the last real surviving link with William Wilson’s St Albans’ adventure.
In relaying the story of C. L. Macdonald’s post-St Albans‘ fortunes, I seem to have strayed from the path of the great Geelong stud itself and its story after William Wilson’s death. It was on Wednesday, November 7th, 1900, the day after Clean Sweep won the Melbourne Cup that the sale of the famous St Albans Estate itself took place at Scotts Hotel, Melbourne.
The celebrated sire, Bill of Portland, was purchased by William Allison for the Cobham Stud in England for 4900 guineas, and thus returned to his native soil. Jack Smith of Bundoora Park tried hard to buy Bill but the English money was unlimited, and he had to compromise with Wallace for 750 guineas instead. Some compromise! Havoc, the future sire of an A.J.C. Derby winner in Belah went for 730 guineas to Charles Baldwin of Durham Court. The St Albans Estate found a new owner for £14,900 in Mr R. Govett, a Queensland pastoralist who hailed from the Barcoo River country. Govett was to use the place for purposes other than horse breeding, and by 1909 the land was being sub-divided. James Scobie briefly considered it as a training establishment around this time but upon inspection found that both the boxes and training track practically wanted re-making.
And so, the golden epoch of St Albans was over. Although the place enjoyed a brief resurgence under Guy Raymond’s stewardship some years later, most notably when Phar Lap was spirited away there after the clumsy and melodramatic shooting attempt on the eve of the 1930 Melbourne Cup, effectively it ceased to matter in Australian racing from the time of William Wilson’s passing. A visit to those once sacred acres today is an unrewarding and somewhat melancholy pilgrimage. The property is now a housing development with streets and houses named after the very people and horses that made St Albans famous; but such was the haste of the developers in their quest for a quick quid, they couldn’t even manage to spell some of the names correctly. Little of historical importance lingers, although the gatehouse still stands as a private residence and James Wilson senior’s homestead, dating from 1873, may yet be found at the end of Homestead Drive. Mersey, the dam of Carbine and Carnage, lies buried in a marked grave under a gum tree, while the only other recognised burial sites are those of James Wilson’s foundation mares, Mischief and Musidora.