Alfred Owen Ellison
The featured image shows the assemblage for the presentation of the Bim Thompson Lightning Handicap at White Park Race Course Scone in May 1981. Those present from left to right are: David Bath; Bill Howey; Robert Thompson (winning jockey); AO Ellison; Antony Thompson; Peter Meehan (Radio Station 2NM); Bert Lilley (Sydney Morning Herald). This cadre probably captures AOE’s closest allies in his nether years?
Mr Ellison was Antony Thompson’s godfather. He was a close family confidante at the time of Bim Thompson’s tragic and untimely sudden death the previous year. He was then still resident at ‘Baramul’; the neighbouring property to Widden.
Peter Pring in his excellent ‘The Star Kingdom Story’ paints an intuitive and sensitive word portrait of AOE. He knew him well. There are some superb images of a very dapper ‘tres soignee’ AOE at Flemington and Randwick. He depicts the relationship with ST Wootton based on mutual respect settling points of difference amicably. AOE was also a businessman with multiple interests including horticulture, gardening, farming and grazing. He once said to me: ‘I may not be a very good stockman Bill (he wasn’t) but I am a very good gardener. Farming is gardening on a large scale’. He was right. He could also be artful. Murray Bain was much amused when AOE set about ring barking all the Ironbark Trees on the escarpments. It left good looking Box Eucalypts deemed to flourish on better country. Murray thought this was a meretricious means of ‘improving the country’ to the untutored or unwary voyeur?
Alfred Owen Ellison (1 January 1903 – 12 June 1987), often referred to in print as A.O. Ellison and known colloquially as Alf or A.O., was an Australian solicitor, company director, racehorse owner and breeder. However his closest friends called him ‘Allwyn’ which he much preferred. One of these was Murray Bain. AOE greatly admired Murray Bain and modestly gave much of the credit of Baramul’s success to his veterinary advice. Theirs was a top class professional relationship based on mutual respect. He especially loathed being addressed as ‘Alf’ by racing journalists. For over forty years he was the owner of Baramul Stud. Ellison served as chairman of the Australian operations of Mutual Acceptance Ltd (now Standard Chartered) and Lister Blackstone. He was President of the Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association of N.S.W. As a solicitor he implemented the inaugural charter and Rules and Bylaws.
Birth and education
Ellison was born in Queensland, to Fanny (née) Bytheway and the Rev. Tom Ellison, a Methodist minister. He was one of six children: four boys and two girls. Ellison commenced at Newington College in 1918 during the headmastership of the Rev Dr Charles Prescott. In 1920, his last year at school, he was Senior Prefect and was awarded the Old Boys Prize. Ellison was awarded an exhibition in the Leaving Certificate. He went up to the University of Sydney in 1921 and graduated as a Bachelor of Arts in 1924 and as a Bachelor of Laws in 1927. He was in residence at Wesley College, University of Sydney.
After serving as an articled clerk with Robson & Cowlishaw during his university studies, Ellison foundered the legal firm AO Ellison & Co in Sydney. It was active in advising New South Wales manufacturers on to their rights and liabilities, especially in relation to industrial relations and occupational health and safety legislation. The firm moved into insurance work and after a series of mergers is now known as Rankin Ellison and has offices in Sydney and Newcastle.
In 1940, Ellison founded Baramul Stud in the Hunter Valley. The name of Baramul originally had two Rs. It was developed on land known as Joe’s Paddock that had previously produced some good early horses. Ellison had previously had his mares at the Widden Stud nearby. Soon after its foundation Ellison bred Alister at Baramul. Alister went on to win the AJC and VRC Derbys and the W S Cox Plate. His horses were branded with an image of a barbed tail taken from a Wyvern, the heraldic symbol of his old school, Newington College.
The disappointing Kerry Piper was the first stallion Ellison and Wootton stood in partnership. However the affiliation flourished. Wootton acknowledged Baramul with its overall lushness and fertility as the ‘ideal’ nursery for raising Thoroughbreds. When I first saw it I was stunned. It was my very favourite aesthetic property in the Upper Hunter Valley. STW said of AOE: “Ellison is a perfectionist. He does nothing by half measures. If a problem comes up he goes on and on until he gets to the bottom of it. Baramul was, and is, run by him in an exemplary manner”. From 1951, Star Kingdom, a sire owned by a partnership of Ellison, Stanley Wootton and Reg Moses brought great acclaim to Baramul.
Ellison was an enthusiastic grower of camellias and he produced prize-winning stock at Baramul. With Prof. E.G. Waterhouse he arranged displays of camellias at the Macquarie Galleries and David Jones. The camellia japonica A.O. Ellison is named in his honour.
Later life and death
In 1981, before the sale of Baramul, Ellison bought the cattle and horse stud Kilwinning at Scone, New South Wales. He had married Nancy Shearston in 1928 and she predeceased him in 1982. Ellison died at Kilwinning on 12 June 1987. His personal secretary at A O Ellison & Company was Miss Norah Elliott. His housekeeper at both Baramul and Kilwinning was Mrs Connie Phillips who survives him and is a resident at Strathearn Village Aged Care in Scone.
Bill & Julie Rose are the current owners of Kilwinning having purchased it from the Estate of A O Ellison. F W Rose was an executor of the estate.
Most of us were a tad afraid of AOE. He could be intimidating if aroused or challenged with an acute perspicacious mind. He was a master of invective delivered in his severely clipped barrister’s argot. Many of my generation looked up to him for counsel and advice. I was one of them. He enjoyed discussing sex! John Andrews was a young Queensland horseman at Baramul in 1967. He and I were the beneficiaries of AO’s prurient observations and interpretation of our ‘inexperienced’ behaviours!
He proved to be an influential personal mentor on numerous occasions. He selected me to accompany the ship carrying his dispersed bloodstock to the USA in 1970. I have documented this seminal journey elsewhere. He proved to be a tower of strength on the occasion of Bim Thompson’s tragic demise in July 1980. AOE was the very first person David Johnston very wisely contacted on discovering the catastrophe early that winter’s morning. Mr. Ellison took over from there. He was actually Antony Thompson’s Godfather.
On moving to Scone I routinely sought his sapient counsel. Sarah and I entertained both AOE and Mrs Connie Phillips at a ‘welcome to Scone’ soiree when we lived at Moobi. He told me ‘the Widden Valley is a wombat hole and I’m glad to have crawled out of it’. This surprised me. It was the only time I ever encountered him even remotely affected by alcohol as I poured him into his car. He wasn’t driving I might add.
AOE and his faithful secretary at AO Ellison & Co Miss Norah Elliott ran the Bletchingly Syndicate for ST Wootton and others. We were both shareholders. It was a binary symbiotic arrangement. Not long before he died AOE presented me with a large framed photograph of champion stallion Bletchingly. He signed it on the back: ‘Bill: In gratitude for many generosities. Alfred Ellison 2nd December 1986’. He died on 12th June 1987 aged 84. As I left the room he said to me in his very best clipped barrister’s patois: ‘Bill. Let me tell you; you have to be a very wealthy man to go chasing thoroughbred horses’. He was talking about someone else; but it was a lesson for me!
In 2017 AO Ellison was inducted into the Newcastle Jockey Club’s racing Hall of Fame. Good friend Sam North was his main proponent. He is featured in both videos ‘The Star Kingdom Dynasty’ and ‘The Veterinary Surgeon on the Stud Farm’ on this website. I have in my possession a letter from Stanley Wootton to Murray Bain written from the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne dated 31st December 1972. It is a quite revealing letter. The STW and AOE enduring partnership may have begun to ‘fracture’?
Alfred Owen Ellison
See also and acknowledge: https://kingsoftheturf.com/1950-alister-runs-a-true-course/
For debonair breeder Alfred Owen Ellison, Alister marked an impressive beginning for his newly established Baramul Stud in the Widden Valley. Born in Queensland on January 1st 1903, Ellison was the middle boy of a fairly evenly spaced family of six children born of a Methodist minister and a cultivated and scholarly mother. Educated at Newington College, Sydney, in his last year at the school in 1919 he was Senior Prefect and awarded the Old Boys’ Prize. Ellison subsequently won an exhibition to Sydney University where, in residence at Wesley College, he established a strong academic record graduating as a B.A. in 1924 and a Law degree with Honours in 1927. After serving as an articled clerk with Robson and Cowlishaw during his university studies, almost immediately upon graduation ‘A. O.’, as he was commonly known in legal circles, began his city practice ‘A. O. Ellison & C0.’ in a one-room office, sparsely furnished with a desk, a telephone and a typewriter. From its foundation, the firm assisted N.S.W. manufacturers in relation to their rights and liabilities, including those under industrial relations and occupational health and safety legislation. It quickly expanded into insurance litigation in 1933 and relocated to one of the city’s wealthiest streets.
Ever since his childhood in Queensland, Ellison had enjoyed an affinity with both horticulture and horses. As his legal practice expanded and he began serving on a range of company boards, Ellison had the money to indulge his hobbies. Initially, he started breeding horses on a seven-acre property at Wahroonga and later as his interest expanded and prior to his purchase of Baramul, he kept mares at the Widden Stud. Indeed, it was through his relationship with Widden that Ellison became aware of the land formerly known as Joe’s Paddock, and then Barramul, coming on to the market. The property had been used for breeding some good bloodstock in the past but was a 900-acre dairy farm when he purchased it in 1947.
Ellison dropped one ‘r’ from the name Barramul for it to become Baramul, and then spent the better part of four years developing the best type of pasture with ryegrass and lucerne being lavishly spread on the ground. In time, Ellison would expand the property to encompass some 5000 acres with two-fifths of the property under lucerne. The Baramul brand, which was an image of a barbed tail taken from a wyvern, derived from the heraldic symbol of his old school, Newington College. Baramul under Ellison wasn’t just famous for thoroughbreds. ‘A.O.’ was an enthusiastic grower of camellias and soon realised that the soil there was capable of producing prize-winning plants. Indeed, together with Professor E. G. Waterhouse, Ellison arranged displays of camellias at the Macquarie Galleries and David Jones. In due course, he even had a variety of camellia japonica named after himself. Alf Ellison was an early committeeman of a revitalised N.S.W. division of the Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association and in 1950 he was elected unopposed to its presidency.
Alister was just one of three horses offered by him at the 1949 Sydney Yearling Sales, in the first yearling draft from the property. A solicitor in his professional life, Ellison had built up a large practice in Sydney and served on a wide range of company boards. Initially, he started breeding horses on a seven-acre property at Wahroonga, and one of his early purchases came in 1943 with the unraced three-year-old filly, New Flower. Purchased for a trifling sum of sixty guineas, she was a daughter of our 1938 Derby hero, Nuffield, and a three-quarter sister to the unlucky Silver Standard. Her first foal to Veilmond was Set Purpose, winner of the A.J.C. Squatters Handicap among other races and runner-up in the Breeders’ Plate. Alister came along as her fourth foal after New Flower was sent to the imported Widden stallion, Whirlaway, and brought 1500 guineas at the same sales that had seen True Course change hands. It was actually in 1947, the year of Alister’s foaling that Ellison bought Baramul, a former 900-acre dairy farm. While the farm was transformed, Lionel Israel reared Alister at Segenhoe Stud. Ellison’s success as a studmaster, however, eventually resulted in Baramul expanding to more than 5000 acres, and as we shall see, for a time become one of the most influential studs in the Widden and Hunter Valleys.
Whirlaway, although only lightly raced because of the War, was a successful performer in England and was twice placed at Ascot over one-and-a-half miles. A son of His Highness The Aga Khan’s unbeaten Bahram, the winner of £43,086 in stakes that included the English Derby and St Leger, Whirlaway was the first of that stallion’s progeny to arrive in Australia. Whirlaway’s dam was a half-sister to Scottish Union, yet another winner of the English St Leger.
Imported to Australia by Frank Thompson of Widden Stud to stand alongside Brueghel, Whirlaway began his stud career here with a succession of smart juveniles in his first season, with the likes of the A.J.C. Gimcrack Stakes winner, Rhumba, as well as Curiosity and Lady Pirouette. Alister came along in the stallion’s second crop and was an early October foal.
Whirlaway became the first stallion since Multiform in 1905 to sire both the first and second place-getters in the A.J.C. Derby although Rumyle like Alister was bred from an outside mare visiting the stud. After Alf Ellison purchased Baramul Stud, he and Frank Thompson became neighbours. Moreover, the two men had much to do with each other as they were vice-chairman and chairman respectively of the Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association of Australia. As the two Whirlaway colts, Alister and Rumyle slowly developed Derby form there was some good-natured banter between the two men as to which would be the better. There was much mutual satisfaction when the two horses finished first and second. And to cap a wonderful day for Frank Thompson and Widden, Achilles, the Epsom Handicap winner had also been bred there being by their former stallion Ajax.