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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.