A grand steeplechase

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In the 1840s enterprising Charles Abercrombie purchased land at present-day Birkenhead Point and established an orchard and a ‘salting and boiling down’ works.

Abercrombie also laid out a racecourse on his property where the first steeplechase race in Australia was held in 1844. The ‘Five Dock Grand Steeple Chase’ had nine leaps, including a 6 metre pond leap and a 1.4 metre stone fence.

The Sydney Morning Herald at the time declared that the ‘first race was regarded as the best that ever took place in the colony, and far exceeded the expectations of the most sanguine sportsmen present.’ The prize for the first race was sixty sovereigns (£60) and was won by Mr Kemble’s British Yeoman, ridden by Gorrick, with Mr Bryant’s Highflyer, ridden by Watt, coming second. Abercrombie’s own horse, Emancipation, came last in the second race and second in the third event.

A delightful series of lithographs held by the Mitchell Library (State Library of NSW) records the event.

Currently a display at Five Dock Library, ‘Once we had horses!’ celebrates local horses through a selection of historical photographs from Canada Bay Connections.

Posted on October 30, 2015, in Five Dock and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The Oxford Companion to Australian Sport (1994) provides some interesting background on horses and horse racing in Australia.

    Seven horses arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788. There were 200 horses in the colony of NSW by 1800 and 1100 ten years later.

    ‘In a primarily penal colony the military authorities did not care to authorise horse racing, but there is evidence of a ‘race ground’ in use on the Hawkesbury River near Richmond as early as 1806. Press mention of match races at a holiday gathering at Parramatta was made in April 1810. The first official race meeting, chiefly organised by officers of the 73rd Regiment, took place over three days (15, 17 and 19 October 1810) at Hyde Park in Sydney’

    The first thoroughbred to arrive in Australia is believed to be Rockingham (probably a son of the British horse Rockingham by Highflyer) in 1799.

    One wonders whether Highflyer which came second in the ‘Five Dock Grand Steeple Chase’ was a descendant of this horse, or perhaps, simply named after Highflyer, one of the most famous British horses of the eighteenth century.

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