Yesterday Today | Horsemen, past and present

HORSING ABOUT: A jockey pictured in the 1890s. The Bathurst Jockey Club had to look for a new location for its racetrack in 1895.
HORSING ABOUT: A jockey pictured in the 1890s. The Bathurst Jockey Club had to look for a new location for its racetrack in 1895.

TITLED “Horsemen, past and present”, this Bathurst District Historical Society image shows a young jockey, complete with riding whip and cap, with several other men in the 1890s.

The photo is a very casual one, as not all the men are even facing the camera. While it is understood that there are people by the name of Yeomans in the photo, we are not aware of any others.   

It is known that a J. Yeomans and a Bertram William Yeomans, as well as David Byrne, were jockeys in Bathurst in the 1890s and part of the Bathurst Jockey Club. Joseph Burton was one of the trainers in Bathurst. 

In August 1895, the Bathurst Jockey Club met in the Royal Hotel in William Street to hear the results of a deputation to the New South Wales Minister of Agriculture concerning the resumption of the land that was then the location of the club’s racetrack. 

The land had originally been given to the club under the local trusteeship of William Kite, the late John McPhillamy and John Declouet. The meeting decided to look for a new site and decided that a committee be formed, to include a surveyor, to visit locations that may be suitable.

As one of the trustees, William Kite had agreed to lend between £1200 and £1500 to add certain improvements. He had drawn cheques on his account at the Commercial Bank in Bathurst to have a grandstand constructed, the track fencing built and to effect other improvements. Later, the name was changed to the Bathurst Turf Club.

The track that had been used for racing underwent some changes late in 1849, under the supervision of Mr Lawson. 

The first day of racing took place on Wednesday, February 27, 1850. The event was for the Town Plate, with a prize of £50. Several heats took place on the day. 

It was for all horses and weight for age. The race meet, although well-attended, was not so striking in the numbers of horses when compared with previous occasions. 

Still, there was a good muster of the right sort. Tolerably heavy books were made up and by-betting was brisk. The distance round the course was two miles and 481 yards and the time taken was around four minutes, 37 seconds.

The second race was the Maiden Plate for £20. It was for horses that had never won an advertised prize above £10 and was over one mile, 240 yards. 

The winner of the first heat, with five horses in the race, took two minutes, 22 seconds. 

The third race was the Galloway race for £20, with a sweepstakes added. It was for all horses 14 hands high and under weights seven stone and seven pounds.

Racing continued the following day, Thursday, February 28. The first race was a Hack Hurdle of £15, with a sweepstakes of 20 shillings, with all horses carrying ten stone over two miles and 480 yards. There were also six jumps of three feet, six inches. 

The horses taking part included Picton, Welcome and Dandy. Horse owners were mainly wealthy local landowners, along with hotel and inn owners. Four races were held on this day, with racegoers returning on the Saturday for another four races.

On March 17, 1857, just seven years later, Sydney’s Empire newspaper was not impressed with horse racing in Bathurst. 

The paper noted that it was a remarkable fact that although horse racing had always been a favourite pastime among Englishmen, and although horse-breeding had, almost from the first settlement of the Bathurst district, formed an important branch of industry, the former, so far as Bathurst was concerned, was fast sinking beneath contempt. 

There was a poverty of spirit about the thing, an utter absence of effort among local breeders, and a miserable display of horseflesh, when compared with the olden times of the turf in this district, the Empire said.

It made every dispassionate observer feel that the Bathurst Jockey Club was called into existence to self-destruct, the paper said.

Alan McRae is with the Bathurst District Historical Society