Cradle of Thoroughbreds

Cradle of Thoroughbreds

Douglas M Barrie 1953

Featured Image: The County of Cumberland was the early nursery for all horses in the colony

Australia’s first organised race meeting was held in Hyde Park, Sydney on Monday 15, Wednesday 17 and Friday 19 October 1810.

Seventeen horses competed for the main events, besides “several matches held between ponies.” Further meetings were held in 1811, 1812 and 1813.

After the crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813, exploration commanded the energies of the leading citizens. Race meetings recommenced again in 1819, although it was not until 1825, when the first Sydney Turf Club was formed, that racing in Australia really went ahead.

There were a number of good stallions on the mainland early enough to beget our first competitors. Best of these was the English horse Northumberland (imported in 1802) and his sons Percy, Hotspur and Young Northumberland; also Rockingham (imported in 1799) and Washington (imported ex-America in 1802). Besides these were several stallions from Oriental sources, such as Campbell’s Shark and the same owner’s great early sire Hector. The majority of importations prior to 1820 were of Arab origin.

Stride, imported in 1822, and Steel Trap, in 1823, led the influx of great English blood, which has not since ceased. From this time breeding increased rapidly. Bloodhorses were required not only for racing; they had a vital role in the development of the Continent.

During the first fifty years breeding activity was centred in the County of Cumberland. Horses bred or used in the historic studs which were located along the Hawkesbury, the Nepean and their tributaries Eastern and Southern Creek, figured in the extended pedigree of some of our best horses of today. Early importations came from the best blood available in the world at that time. Steel Trap(Foaled in 1815; imported in 1823) was a star class exemplar.

In England Steel Trap was a good performer. His sire Scud got the 1818 and 1820 Derby winners Sam and Sailor, as well as Shoveler, the 1819 Oaks winner. Sorcerer, the sire of Steel Trap’s dam Prophetess, was one of the best sires of his time and a link in the chain that led to Matchem down to Hurry On and Man O’ War. Prophetess’ sire Whiskey got Eleanor, the first winner of both the Oaks and Derby. His sire Saltram, won the Derby; while maternal great grandsire Diomed won the first Derby in 1780. Similarly, other imported sires came from the most successful English blood of their particular period.

Cumberland County was the cradle of Australia’s bloodstock industry. Early breeders and owners were men of historic significance, and many of their homes and farms exist today (1953).

Colonel George Johnston was the officer, who, at the instigation of Macarthur’s party, arrested Governor Bligh in 1808. Johnston’s stallion, Northumberland (imp), was one of the most used in early Sydney. He stood at Johnston’s farm at Annandale, now a suburb of that name. Johnston’s larger holding “The King’s Grant” passed to his daughter and her husband Major Weston. Here, in 1817, historic Horsley Park was built, where the first hunt assembled in Australia, with hounds specially brought from England.

The first Australian-bred stallion advertised for duty was Captain Piper’s Young Northumberland. He stood from 1804 at Hassall’s stables at Parramatta. His owner was steward for the first Sydney Jockey Club and Point Piper takes its name from him. Captain Piper later left the coast for his “Alloway Bank” Estate near Bathurst, where he settled for the rest of his life.

Rival for Northumberland was Campbell’s Hector, who was a great acquisition to the colony. His blood survives in maternal families. De La Salle traces back to a Hector mare.

Hector stood first in Sydney, at Campbell’s yard in Bligh Street where the Union Club, the AJC and Stud Book Keeper’s Offices are today (1953). His later owner, Mr D’Arcy Wentworth, was the father of W. C. Wentworth, explorer and statesman. Hector’s next habitat was the “Home Bush Farm” where the Sydney Abattoirs are today (1953; now Sydney Olympic Park). It is possible that horses used in the first Blue Mountains crossing were progeny of Hector and Northumberland.

The Wentworths’ larger holding was “Fitzwilliam Place” at Toongabbie, an important breeding centre in those far-off days. Mr J C Osborne is today (1953) breeding fine thoroughbreds at his small stud in Fitzwilliam Road, on a portion of the old estate. A Cold Shower colt bred by Mr Osborne was the biggest yearling offered at the 1952 Easter Sales, standing at 16.2 hands.

Friend of the Wentworths and one of the Blue Mountain trio was Lieutenant William Lawson. Shortly after the Bligh incident, in which he took part, Lawson built “Veteran Hall” at Prospect Hill. Today tall pines look down on Sydney’s water reservoir; and mark the site of the house and stables where such horses as Baron (imp. 1824), Theorem (imp. 1828) and the Colonial-bred Spring Gun, stood the season. This son of Steel Trap was the winner of the Produce Stakes in 1828; the Governor’s Cup, the Wentworth Cup (twice) and the Town Plate. Lawson was among the most notable of the early breeders.

A few miles west, near Doonside, is the historic “Bungarribee”, rich in thoroughbred history, and where Steel Trap died in 1834. Built 130 years ago by John Campbell of India Mutiny fame, Bungarribee was at times owned by three important breeders. The first, Mr T C Icely, imported Manto; our first named thoroughbred mare. She was the grand-dam of Flora McIvor and ancestress of the very numerous families that produced Trenton and company.

A later owner was Mr Charles Smith, a noted breeder who carried on the thoroughbred tradition. Famous Bungarribee sires in his time, beside Steel Trap, were Rous’ Immigrant (imp) and Emancipation (by Toss imp).

Next came Mr Henry Herman Kater, who imported Cap-A-Pie, Tros and Kater’s Georgiana in 1839. Cap-A-Pie was a son of The Colonel, winner of the 1828 English St Leger, and a grandson of the 1815 Derby winner Whisker. His best colonial son was Mr Charles Smith’s bay horse Sir Hercules, the son of Yattendon.

Not generally known is that this was a line of Eclipse which survived n the County Cumberland for 60 years before being returned to the United Kingdom. The line ran thus – Eclipse, Pot8O’s, Waxy, Whisker, The Colonel, Cap-A-Pie, Sir Hercules, Yattendon, Chester, Abercorn (exported to Ireland in 1898). Patron, another offshoot of this line, was also exported, to do well at the stud on the Continent.

“Bungarribee” was later used as an assembly depot by the Australian Agricultural Company when exporting our famous Walers. During the present century the property was owned and managed by Mr Tom Cleaver. In his time Messrs W Kelso, G Price, H R Telford, F Williams, J T Jamieson, Bayly Payten and Frank McGrath were among the leading trainers who sent their charges to spell in the paddocks which surrounded the old home. On the big oat-bin grooms have scratched the names of famous visitors. Clearly visible are such names as Gay Ballerina, Havoc, Chatham, Rampion, Pretzel, Phar Lap, Lord Valentine, High Caste, Lynch Law and Satmoth. Closing Time, Ammon Ra, Prince Humphrey, Amounis, make up a list of notable residents, not forgetting the great Peter Pan, who went from Bungarribee pastures to win two Melbourne Cups.

The gracious old home is now a ruin, although the big barn and stables, which housed good horses for over a century, still stand. What a pity that Bungarribee House cannot be saved from the fate which is rapidly overwhelming it.

Immediately to the north of Bungarribee was Mr Crawford’s “Hill End”, which may still be located today, between Doonside Station and Eastern Creek. Next door was “Flushcombe” the property of Mr R Lethridge. Hither came Bay Camberton in 1824 and here many colonials, such as Problem, were bred.

Bay Camberton’s bloodline survives today through the old maternal families. His sire, Old Camberton, was one of the gamest stayers ever seen on the English turf. He won a famous race against three others. Of these, one dropped dead after passing the post, one went blind and the third was never of use again. Old Camberton was later exported to France to carry on his stud success.

At the junction with South Creek was the holding of the Reverend Samuel Marsden, who dabbled in breeding and farming, apart from his more religious activities. Champion (1809) by Northumberland (imp) was bred by His Reverence at Marsden Park.

Between Marsden Park and Castle Hill is “Hambledon”, originally the estate of John Palmer, commissary general of the infant colony and the breeder of Palmer’s Grey (1808) and Regent (1815). One of the State’s most successful breeders today is Mr A Meehan, whose nearby Marylands Stud has in recent years produced Riptide, Free Rule and Nagpuni, etc.

At the headquarters of Eastern Creek, and almost next door to “Horsley Park”, was Mr Brown’s “Abottsbury Farm”, where Model, the milk-white Arabian, presided over the equine establishment. Model was one of the few Arabs whose blood survives in the old colonial families; the taproot mare Myrtle, (by Gemma Di Vergy), traces to Vesta by Model. His sons included Australian, the winner of the 1825 Two-Year-Old Stakes, while the stout gelding Jorrocks was a close descendent.

One of the best of the early importations was Gratis (imp. 1835), a son of Middleton the 1825 Epsom Derby winner. He stood in Sydney, and also at Mr Charles Roberts’ property Wallgrove, just north of “Abbotsbury”. Dinah, by Gratis, is an Australian tap-root mare whose family was very successful in Victoria after the 1850’s and included Mermaid, the Sydney Cup winner, besides Briseis, the only filly to win both the VRC Derby and Melbourne Cup (in 1876).

South Creek rises near historic “Raby” and flows north to join the Hawkesbury at Windsor. Mr Alexander Riley, an early magistrate and pioneer wheat grower and sheep-breeder, imported Skeleton, Australia’s first Irish horse to Raby Park in 1827.

This was a brilliant racehorse and one f the fastest horses in Ireland. “Raby” is said to be one of the oldest inhabited homesteads on Australia. The present owner, Major Mitchell, is a grand old horseman and thoroughbred horses are still bred there.

Some miles down South Creek, Mr Henry Bailey bred some of the first racers at his “Bayly Park”. Here after 1830, the imported racehorse Whisker stood at stud, in between winning races and matches. He was a son and namesake of the 2815 Derby winner. He died in 1834 shortly after Mr Bailey had refused £1400 for him.

Less than three miles away was Gregory Blaxland’s “Lee Holme”, the starting point of the all-important Blue Mountain expedition. Today, close by is Mr H P McCormick’s fine stud “Sundridge Park”, where Edwardsi (imp) at present is top sire and where such good ones as Prince Dakhil have been raised.

South Creek crossed the old Western Road into “Bathurst”, at one time owned by John Oxley, the surveyor-general and explorer, and then flowed through the farms of Captain and Mrs King, where several of the Young Hectors did stud duty in the 1820’s.

Messrs J Harris and Samuel Terry of “Terrybrook” were prominent breeders; each situated on the opposite sides of South Creek near the first site of the village of Castlereagh. Today, a few miles west nearer the Nepean River, is Mr J C Benrodt’s “Princes Farm” and Mr H S Thompson’s “Tarwyn Park” studs.

The boundary of the county is formed by the Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers. Actually outside the county and across the Nepean River are historic “Camden Park”, the home of John Macarthur and his descendants since 1805. Macarthur had been, perhaps, our leading breeder while at Elizabeth Park at Rosehill. Percy, a son of Northumberland (imp.) bred by Macarthur in 1804, and Hotspur, Percy’s brother of 1805, was among the first of a numerous company of improving quality.

Over the long many years good racehorses and stallions came from Camden Park. Macarthur broodmares like Gulnare (imp.), Casandra, Alice Grey and Gedley have many descendants racing in Australia and New Zealand.

Mr William Howe’s “Glenlee”, well known in the early days, was just across the river. A mile or two northwest were tow holding so the surveyor-general Oxley, “Elderslie” and “Kirkham”. The history of Kirkham dates back to 1816 when Governor Macquarie made a grant of 1000 acres to Oxley. Altough Oxley’s original home “Kirkham Cottage” has long since disappeared, the coach house and stables may still be seen. Oxley died in 1828 and for some years his sans managed the old home. Bachleor was a notable importation doing duty here from 1830.

However, “Kirkham” won greater recognition as a thoroughbred home later in the century, when it became the property of the Hon James White. In his time “Kirkham” stud sires included Martini-Henry, who won the Victoria derby and Melbourne Cup at his first two starts; and Chester who also claimed the same double among his many victories. The great son of Chester, Abercorn, was bred at Kirkham in 1884. Importations included Ayr Laddie, Dalmeny, Fitz-Donovan and the well performed Gossoon. Martini-Henry, although bred in New Zealand, came to “Kirkham” when a foal.

“Cobbitty”, just downstream from “Kirkham”, has long been a horse centre and “Denbigh”, the old home of the Hassall family, is nearby. Pf later years “Cobbitty” became famous as the headquarters of the NSW Polo Association.

At the junction of Bringelly Creek with the Nepean, were “Vermont”, the pastoral home of William Charles Wentworth, and “Shancomore” owned by J T Campbell, Sheriff of the Colony and Secretary to Governor Macquarie. “Shancomore” boasted three publicised stallions in the 1810 – 1820 period – Abracadabra (son of Hector); Shillelagh (by Nelson, the son of Northumberland, out of Worrogombee by Rockingham, imp) and Abdallah a “milk-white full bred Arabian”. The stud fee for the latter was “currency 5 guineas., or  in lieu of money payment, 12 bushels of good storable wheat”.

Mulgoa, near the junction of the Warragamba and Nepean Rivers, was the Cox country. The three brothers were sons of William Cox of Sydney and Richmond who built the first road to Bathurst. Henry Cox’s homestead “Glenmore” is now a country club of that name. George Cox’s “Wimbourn” was the stud home of the good early racehorse Chase in the 1820’s. Chase was a son of Bay Camberton (imp.).

In 1842 Edward Cox built the beautiful home “Fernhill”, which his son the Hon E K Cox made the showplace of the Commonwealth when Yattendon was top sire. Chester was bred at Fernhill and also the unbeaten Grand Flaneur who was another of the select company to win the Victoria derby and Melbourne Cup double. The Fernhill Handicap, run at Randwick, owes its name to this famous old stud.

“Fernhill House’ is an architectural gem wrought form local stone and timber and will look down on the grave of Yattendon and out across the cradle of the Australian thoroughbred for many another year.

Overlooking the rich flats, beside which the Grose joins the Nepean to become the Hawkesbury River, is “Hobartville”. Records in the Mitchell Library disclose it was known as “Hobart Ville” since 1816 or earlier. The home of the Reynolds family for over a half a century, “Hobartville” had produced fine horses for famous owners for almost the previous century. Maribyrnong, Tim Whiffler, Grand Flaneur have in turn been the boss there; while recent notable, like Temeraire and Moorland, have come from Hobartville sires and Hawkesbury pastures.

Clarendon racecourse lies between Richmond and Windsor – one of Australia’s oldest racecourses and another old Cox home. Near Windsor, Mr Charles Smith had “Clifton” and across the river were notable horse breeders, like the Baldwins. One of the most celebrated performers of the early racing days was Scratch. Bred and reared on the Hawkesbury it was nothing for Scratch to travel 30 or 40 miles to a meeting.

From these old homes within forty miles of Sydney, came horses that were to establish a breed of stayers as fine as any in the world. From the time of Jorrocks, the iron gelding Spring Gun and Scratch, until the present day, the County of Cumberland has continued to contribute some of the best racehorses.


Since Douglas Barrie wrote this original article in 1953 things have changed dramatically in the County of Cumberland. Now largely subsumed and swallowed by the inexorable urban expansion of Sydney westward, fewer of the icon historical establishments remain in ‘production’. Very little genuine pastoral land remains available for agricultural pursuits. Similarly, since the arrival of Star Kingdom and the introduction of the Golden Slipper Stakes at Rosehill, the breeding industry has focused on rapid returns and ‘quick fix’ outcomes. The heady halcyon days of Victoria Derby and Melbourne Cup doubles are long gone!