State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 74 Spring 2004


Frederick Woodhouse Jr. [Carbine] 1889. Oil on canvas. H86.111. La Trobe Picture Collection. On display in the Cowen Gallery.

Samuel Knights, artist. [Toryboy, Winner of the Melbourne Cup 1865] 1865. Oil on canvas mounted on board. H6705. La Trobe Picture Collection. On display in the Cowen Gallery.


Gerry Brody
Painted Horses: A Racegoer's Note

Currently on display in the Cowen Gallery of the State Library are two paintings of racehorses which make an interesting comparison: Toryboy, the 1865 Melbourne Cup winner, painted by S. S. Knights, an artist who has left only a few known works; and Carbine, the 1890 Melbourne Cup winner, painted by Fred Woodhouse Jnr, a member of a famous family of animal painters who migrated to Victoria in the late 1850s.
The horses themselves make an interesting contrast. Toryboy, an aged grey gelding at the time of his success, could be seen as a very durable racehorse because he started in the Melbourne Cup five times (1861, 1862, 1865, 1866 and 1867). However, apart from his win in 1865 his best placing was fifth in the 1861 race (the first running of the Melbourne Cup, which was won by Archer). While few students of the Australian turf would know much about Toryboy, the situation is quite different with Carbine. A stallion who had run second to Bravo in 1889, he was the favourite when he won the following year. The influence of Carbine on the breeding industry in Australia and England can not be underestimated. One of his best Australian sons, Wallace, sired Kingsburg (the 1914 Cup winner) and Patrobus (the winner in 1915). Carbine's deeds at stud in England were significant because he sired Spearmint, who won the English Derby in 1906 in record time. His grandson Spion Kop (1920), and his great-grandson Felstead (1928) both won this prestigious race. While acknowledging that comparisons between one era and another are difficult to make, there are those who claim that Carbine was the best horse Australia has ever seen. On the performances of the horse they have a lot to support them. In his race career Carbine won 33 times from 43 starts and was unplaced only once. A Cup historian also suggests that in the history of the Australian turf many would argue that the two horses who stand out are Carbine and Phar Lap.1
The painting by S.S. Knights is of the 1865 field parading before the start. The grey Toryboy is in the centre of the picture behind Panic, a brown horse imported from England. This Melbourne Cup was significant for a couple of reasons. The Victoria Racing Club, which had been formed in March 1864, held its first Melbourne Cup on the first Thursday in November of that year. (The Cup was run on a Tuesday for the first time in 1875). The V.R.C. had more time to bring in changes for the 1865 event. Maurice Cavanough, in his book The Melbourne Cup 1861 to 1982, states that ‘the name Melbourne Cup took on real meaning when the Club added to the winning owner's prize-money a piece of plate valued at one hundred sovereigns. The piece of plate was a handsome silver cup which was on display in the grandstand until the presentation
ceremony’.2 Also, improvements were made around the course, including additional seating on a piece of lawn which had been regraded, the erection of a pavillion and the installation of a telegraph office in the grandstand. Another point of interest is that for public servants and bank officials Cup Day 1865 was declared a half-day holiday.
The favourite for the 1865 Cup was Panic, who was foaled in England in 1858 and imported to Tasmania. He went to stud at three years of age but also continued to race. Prior to the Melbourne Cup he had won a three-mile race at Launceston, and in the Melbourne Cup was handicapped to carry ten stone. Toryboy, whose form going into the race was moderate, was allotted seven stone. On entering the straight for the run to the finishing line Panic and Toryboy drew away from the rest of the field and settled down to fight it out. It was the grey gelding with three stone less to carry who prevailed by two lengths. One intriguing aspect of the race was that the owner of Toryboy, a Prahran draper named B. C. Marshall, had secretly trialled his horse over two miles on the Sunday morning before the race. The horse was clocked to run the distance unassisted at 3.44 minutes, and on Cup Day he ran the same time in winning the race.3 On the strength of the trial, it was reported that the owner had a substantial bet on his horse because the odds shortened from 100/1 to 20/1.
Carbine was bred in New Zealand and was the best-known son of Musket. He was beaten in the 1888 Victoria Derby, but his record before running in the 1889 Melbourne Cup was imposing. He was the top weight in the 1889 Cup, carrying 10 stone, and was third favourite at 7/1. When the field was dispatched his jockey Mick O' Brien restrained him to the rear of the field. On reaching the turn into the straight Carbine had improved his position to seventh and at the furlong mark he made a run on the rails to take the lead. The lighter-weighted Bravo raced up to Carbine and on the line drew away to win by one length. The run by Carbine was full of merit because, as Maurice Cavanough states, it was discovered that he suffered a split heel during the race. The injury was the direct cause of his only unplaced run in his forty-three starts: in the Canterbury Plate on the last day of the 1889 Cup Meeting he ran last in a field of four.4
In the 1890 Melbourne Cup Carbine, at five years of age, was allotted ten stone five pounds. He had shown excellent form leading up to the Cup, winning his second Sydney Cup carrying nine stone nine pounds. On Derby Day before the Cup he won the Melbourne Stakes easily and even though only one horse had won the Cup carrying ten stone or more (Archer in 1862) he was made favourite for the race. Jockey Mick O' Brien, who had ridden Carbine the previous year, was not available due to illness, and Bob Ramage was given the ride. Ramage wanted to conserve Carbine's energy but was wary of letting the lighter-weighted horses set up too big a lead. There were 39 starters that year and Ramage was concerned about being caught at the rear of the field. The horses with the lighter weights set a brisk pace and Carbine was in touch with the leaders on the turn. In the straight Ramage made his move and sent Carbine into the
lead about a furlong from the winning post. At the finish he was two and a half-lengths clear of Highborn. On returning to scale he was given an enthusiastic reception by the 85,000 people who attended that day.
Carbine was so popular with the public that poems were written about him and lengthy articles on his performances appeared in newspapers and journals. He was even known by the nickname ‘Old Jack’.
Carbine's owner, Donald Wallace, was a pastoralist and member of the Victorian Legislative Council for South West Province from 1889 to 1894. He had won the Melbourne Cup in 1888 with Mentor and had collected a substantial amount of money on both of his Cup winners. Carbine retired in 1891 and stood at stud in Victoria for about four years. His owner, having encountered financial difficulties because of the depression of the 1890s, decided to put him up for public auction. This did not eventuate because an offer (13,000 guineas) from the Duke of Portland was accepted. He became the second in line sire behind the legendary St Simon at the Duke's Welbeck Abbey stud in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. The day he was to leave for England was kept quiet because it was feared that many of his supporters might protest. The news eventually did get out and many people made the trip to the wharf to farewell him, but no incidents were reported.5
It is no surprise to learn that the history of animal painting in Australia has been influenced to a great extent by the English tradition. In Australia wealthy landowners engaged artists to paint their prize-winning bulls, cows and dogs. In the early days the painting of hunting and coursing scenes was popular. Also, the owners of horses who had won major races commissioned paintings of their star performers. Many of the prominent animal painters in Australia during the nineteenth century were born overseas and some had studied under important English artists. In England the names of George Stubbs, John N. Sartorius, John E. Ferneley, Edward Troye, J.F. Herring and Harry Hall were all fairly well known.
In his research on the Woodhouse family Dr Colin Laverty found that Fred Woodhouse Snr had studied in England under J.F. Herring.6 It has been suggested that Fred Woodhouse Snr was usually keen to impart action in his paintings, and according to a writer on the history of racehorses in art ‘before he left England there is no doubt that he contrived to absorb some of Herring's skills at portraying the thoroughbred horse’.7 Fred Jnr was ten years old when his family arrived in Melbourne in 1858. In comparison to his father it has been claimed that he had a softer style and that his paintings of horses were generally very appealing. This is well illustrated in his painting of Carbine in his stall. He is an imposing individual and the quality of the horse is evident. His coat is bright and the composure and good nature of the animal comes through. The artist has used the sunlight coming into his stall to good effect.
The young Fred Woodhouse assisted in his father's studio until about the mid-1880s and both sent works to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886. Fred Jnr's exhibits were eight framed, hand-coloured photographs of Australian racehorses. The names of the horses painted were not listed in the exhibition catalogue. He also made a significant contribution to Australian art and sporting history through his involvement with the series of sporting prints known both as Woodhouse's Australasian Winners and as Woodhouse's Australian Winners. He is known to have produced at least thirteen of these prints, mostly of Melbourne Cup winners.8 It may be of interest to know that the State Library's Picture Collection also holds paintings by Fred Woodhouse Jnr of another three outstanding Australian racehorses – Wakeful, Poseidon and Aleconner.
Many paintings of Carbine survive and among them are those by the following well-known animal painters: Fred Woodhouse Snr, Edwin Woodhouse, A.C. Havell, Mark Gawen and Martin Stainforth.
Animal painting as a profession was under threat before the end of the nineteenth century mainly because of the development of photography and its subsequent widespread use on racecourses. Fred Woodhouse Snr was quoted as saying: ‘A Melbourne Cup always meant £100 to me and the work occupied about a fortnight, but photography knocked me out. Now an owner can get a picture of his horse in a sixpenny weekly, or for nothing wrapped around the meat.’9
The artist S. S. Knights, who painted the horses milling around before the start of Toryboy's Cup, is not as well-known as members of the Woodhouse family. He was born in London c.1818, probably the son of Samuel Salkeld Knights, the publisher of sporting prints in London early in the nineteenth century.10 He arrived in Victoria in 1852. In that year he painted a scene called Natives Spearing Eels on Back Creek (held in the National Library of Australia). It seems that not long afterwards he was painting the prize-winning animals of wealthy landowners. His competence as an artist must have been of a sufficiently high standard, because in 1855 he received a commission to paint the portraits of prize-winning animals in the Port Phillip Farmer's Society Show. In February 1856 the Society announced that the fifteen portraits of prize-winners in their recent show, which had been chosen by the animals' owners in lieu of a medal, were now complete and on view at Knights's studio in Collins Street East, Melbourne.11 On 4 November 1874 the Adelaide Observer reported on a visit of Victorian animal painter S. S. Knights to the colony. About six weeks later the Observer reported that an exhibition of works of art held in the Adelaide Town Hall had included some of S.S. Knights's studies of animals which were shown at the last exhibition of the Chamber of Manufacturers along with others painted by him on commission.12
In Knights's painting on display in the Library it is fair to say that Panic is the more imposing individual. Toryboy is sleek and compact and the picture more or less
concentrates on the four horses in the foreground. It seems that the artist wants us to notice the big brown horse just to the left of the centre. In the painting Panic is much taller than Toryboy and appears the stronger and more robust horse. However, it is an interesting painting historically because it is possible to glimpse part of the crowd lining the fence on both sides of the track, and the small grandstands and marquees give an idea of the amenities available for the public. Also, on a close inspection of the painting it is possible to discern some of the crowd packed into an open stand on the outside rail.
It is gratifying to know that institutions like the State Library of Victoria have examples of well-known Australian sporting artists in their collections because the majority of these works are in either private hands or racing club offices and rarely seen by the general public.


Maurice Cavanough, The Melbourne Cup 1861–1982, ninth edition, South Yarra, Currey O'Neil, 1983, p.80


Ibid, p.65


Bill Ahern, Century of Winners: The Saga of 127 Melbourne Cups, Brisbane, Boolarong, 1988, p.11


Cavanough, p.80


Grania Poliness, Carbine, Waterloo, NSW, Waterloo Press, 1985, p.79


Colin Laverty, Australian Colonial Sporting Painters: Frederick Woodhouse and Sons, Sydney, David Ell Press, 1980, p.21


John Fairley, Great Racehorses in Art, Oxford, Phaidon, 1984, p. 120


Laverty, p.54


Ibid, p.46.


Peter Walker, ‘S.S.Knights: Australian Colonial Sporting Artist, 1814–80’, in Australiana, vol. 13 no. 1, February 1991, p.21


Joan Kerr, The Dictionary of Australian Artist: Painters, Skctchers, Photographers and Engravers to 1870s, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1992, p.434.


Ibid, p.435