and betting—Lord Harris and the Cricketing Association of New South
Wales—Colonial crowds— A public holiday—Bookmakers, the vultures of
society—Their influence subversive of true sport—A water party on the
harbour—Our host and hostess—Australian ladies—Less constraint and
conventionality than in England—Precocity of the girls—Beauty of the harbour—Monman's
Bay—A merry party—The eight-oar race between the .rival colonies—Account of
the race between Trickett and Bush for the championship of the world.
Our Cornstalk cousins are
decidedly a sport-loving race. The grand old games of England have struck
root in a congenial soil at the Antipodes, arid all manly sports and
athletic exercises here flourish with a vigour, which is not excelled even
by the parent stock. In cricket and aquatics they have amply proved their
incontestable excellence, as the names of Trickett, and the Australian
eleven who proved their mettle against English cricketers, can testify.
Nearly all sports, however, are tinctured with the fatal vice of gambling
and betting. Especially is this the case on the turf. Australian race-horses
are a magnificent breed of animals; but the baleful influence of the Ring
shadows every race-course in Australia. . The late popular governor, Sir
Hercules Robinson, by his example and patronage did much to bring the turf
into favour and elevate the tone of the sport; but those ruffianly
book-makers are the bane of the pastime, and that they abound in such
hateful numbers is both proof of the existence of the gambling spirit
referred to, and a fruitful cause of its spread and continuance.
It is no uncommon thing in
provincial towns to find small coteries. of confirmed gamblers who, night
after night, sit over the dice till dawn, and you may come upon couples
slinking into the early bars to quaff their matutinal draught of rum and
milk, to steady their nerves after a night's dicing and cards.
Many clerks in offices and
banks regularly make their books on the races, and the gambling spirit is
not confined to horse-races. The insidious poison blights with its presence
almost every department of sport. The disgraceful scene at the match between
Lord Harris' eleven and the Colonial team at Sydney, which has now become
historical, owed its origin to the presence of professional betting men in
the enclosure, which was supposed to be set apart exclusively for the use of
the members of the Cricketing Association of New South Wales. I was witness
of that disgraceful scene, and I must bear testimony to the deep-seated and
universal feeling of shame and humiliation which pervaded the breast of
every true sportsman in the assemblage. The one prevalent feeling was, "What
will they think of ns in England?" Every apology that could be thought of,
every amende that could be given was made to the visiting team, and I think
it was, perhaps, bad taste in Lord Harris to make the public charge he did,
after the sorrow and regret of the whole community had been tendered to him
and accepted by him. The fons et origo of the whole scandal was the presence
of these vultures of the Ring-in the cricket pavilion. The crowd that
afterwards invaded the ground were composed almost entirely of the
scoundrelly larrikins. That no policemen were there, at least not in
sufficient numbers to clear the ground, was only an evidence how little
their presence in ordinary circumstances is needed. A colonial crowd is,
indeed, a miracle of orderliness and good-nature. I have seen elections,
races, regattas, coursing matches, football and cricket contests, and public
gatherings for every conceivable purpose, and I record my deliberate
conviction that the demeanour of an Australian crowd will compare favourably
with that of any kindred gathering in any part of the world.
It has been said that we
northerners do not know how to enjoy ourselves. If the author of that idea
could only see a Sydney crowd out for a holiday, he would certainly come to
the conclusion that the Southern Briton most thoroughly knows how to make
the best of a holiday. A New South Wales fete day would vie in gaiety with
an Italian Carnival or a Hindoo mela. Family groups pour out of the city in
every variety of vehicle, and the various roads diverging from the city look
each like a miniature Epsom road-on the great Derby Day. . All the
holiday-makers are well clad. Hampers of viands and drinkables are provided
in lavish abundance. All is jollity, mirth, and good-humour, and to the
credit of the populace, be it said, little drunkenness is seen. All seem
possessed of plenty of money to spend, and they spend it freely. There are
very few walking parties. Multitudes go for a day on the waters of the
beautiful harbour; hundreds ride or drive to the various sea-side and
suburban resorts. If Randwick Races be the scene of carnival, thousands
repair to the noble course; but thousands more would flock thither if the
brassy-throated vulture class were driven from the scene. Many of these are
of the lowest type of humanity. They haunt the purlieus of low
public-houses, and are generally in league with the low betting publicans.
Many of them are the consorts of abandoned women, and act as jackals to
those unfortunate pariahs of society. When a lucky digger, a drover, a
station overseer, a bush hand, or purchaser, a new comer, with a few spare
notes in his possession, or a foolish young squatter with more cash than
brains comes to town, these hyenas mark him down at once. Woe betide him if
he gets within their clutches ! They will strip him as clean as a
sausage-skin. They are utterly devoid of pity.
The book-maker, or
professional betting man, from the most lenient point of view, lives on a
prevalent vice. He appeals to a vicious want, and inhaling a vicious
atmosphere, and begirt by vicious surroundings, men do not generally look
for the virtues of a Bayard among the blatant foul-mouthed slaves of the
Ring. As one of the ignoble fraternity forcibly put it to a friend of mine,
on one occasion, in a weak moment of cynical candour, they live by "Bestin."
"Bestin is our game, sir," said the broken-nosed "sport." "Everybody else
tries to 'best' us, and so we try to ' best' everybody at their own game."
This is probably the most favourable point of view in which the bookmakers'
ignoble vocation can be looked at.
It's a sorry satire on our
boasted civilization, and loudly proclaimed love of, and interest in honest,
manly sport, as a community at large, to see so many of these jackals
thriving amongst us. They taint every sport with their presence. Their loud,
strident, voices and brazen effrontery carry them everywhere. We even, on
occasions, see them hobnobbing at the same table with Members of Parliament
and of the learned professions, and responding at public dinners to the
various toasts. If gentlemen who wish to bet would only bet with gentlemen,
the area of operations of the blatant book-maker would be much
I have little doubt in my own
mind that many of the best sportsmen and truest lovers of honest pastime
abstain from taking an active participation in organizing public amusements,
simply because the objectionable betting element is so strongly represented.
Thus, as in politics, so in sport, second-rate busy-bodies and third-rate
nonentities become the representative men. I am convinced more men of means
would go in for keeping a horse that they could enter once a year for their
local races if they felt secure against the vulgar familiarity, the
obtrusive rascality, and the vile machinations of the betting men.
But so it is, and year by
year racing gets more and more into the hands of sporting publicans, horsey
butchers, and seedy characters of all sorts, and gentlemen, owners,
breeders, and bona-fide sportsmen get more and more heavily handicapped. So
it happens that gate-money becomes the paramount object in a race meet. The
primary object of horse-racing—improvement in the breed of racers—becomes
more and more a matter of secondary moment.
The existence of the
magnificent harbour gives to the Sydney holiday-maker exceptional facilities
for a day's rare enjoyment, such as are perhaps nowhere enjoyed in such
perfection in any other port in the world. One of these rare water-parties
yet lives in my memory. It was on the occasion of the first inter-colonial
eight oar race eve*, rowed on the waters of Port Jackson. The contest was
for the aquatic supremacy between Victoria and New South Wales.
I was the guest of a couple,
w^hose hospitality, courtesy, and native kindliness of disposition endear
them to a large-circle of acquaintances. They are a good type of the higher
class of colonists. Native Australians both, education and refinement have
taught them that the mere acquisition of wealth is not the "be all, and end
all," of existence. Our host was devotedly attached to the country of his
birth, and having a place in the councils of the nation, he makes his
parliamentary position the means of stirring to advance the true progress of
his country in all that will make her really and practically a great and
progressive nation. Belonging to one of the learned professions, he fully
recognizes the dignity of his position, and if we had more men of his stamp,
taking an active and intelligent part in public life, we would not hear so
much of the rampant jobbery and widespread corruption which generally
follows when the reins of power are committed to the hands of needy,
impecunious, professional place-hunters, and unscrupulous selfish
politicians, whose first ambition is to aggrandize themselves, feather their
own nests at the expense of the public, and legislate in the interests of
the class that clamour the loudest, subordinating great questions of state
to the vulgar outcry of the mob.
Our hostess is a specimen of
the rare womanly beauty which ripens into such perfection beneath the ardent
Australian sun. Indeed the traveller cannot fail to be struck with the
general appearance of the Australian women. I think they possess greater
charms of face and figure, and a more delicate, refined style of beauty, as
a rule, than their northern sisters. Tlio Australian-born woman is generally
tall, well proportined, agile, lithe of limb, and has all her features cut
in a classic mould of rather a Grecian or aristocratic type. In plain words,
I think Australian women are more generally pleasing, more lovely in feature
and more graceful in figure, than English women. The climate has doubtless
much to do with this, but beauty is not by any means confined to the
wealthier classes. The free out-of-door life, the abundant fare, the freedom
from many foolish kinds of conventionality which handicap the English girl,
all go in favour of the Australian. One is surprised to find so many really
beautiful faces and faultless figures, in all ranks; and the observant
student of "the human form divine" must come to the conclusion, that so far
as outward beauty is concerned, the race has not deteriorated - by its
transplantation to the antipodes. The Australian, however, must strike her
flag to the fresh rosy cheeks and ruddy warm complexions of the village
beauties of the old country. Clear complexions are not the strong point of
the Australian belles.
Far more freedom is accorded
to Australian girls than mothers in England would ordinarily think
consistent with propriety. The Australian beauty is quite able to hold her
own in railway, omnibus, or steamboat. It is not considered at all uncommon
or remarkable to see her go shopping, travelling, or visiting, without male
escort or female chaperone. Whether the girls are improved by this, or the
reverse, may be a moot point; opinions vary. Australians are certainly
quick, intelligent, self-reliant. Their detractors, who may not have had the
same degree of liberty- accorded them in their own youth, will occasionally
hint that they are just a little too strong-minded, impulsive, forward, and
free spoken. Let us assume that this is pure jealousy.
The curled darlings of the
old country, in making advances, therefore, to the Australian blonde or
brunette, frequently find themselves taken rather at a disadvantage. Their
armoury of vapid commonplaces about the weather and such like stock topics
are not unfrequently found insufficient to withstand the keen incisive
torrent of sound sensible talk, showered on them by the self-possessed
creature, whom in their sublime altitude of self-worship, they propose to
patronize. The youth of this stamp will be fortunate if he do not find some
patent foible of his own mercilessly exposed, and the weak points of his
armour pierced by the shafts of a quick-witted raillery. The Australian
belle is not above the blandishments of flattery, and a little scandal is
seldom disagreeable to the female mind, but the ambitious youth who would
make a good impression must address his partner as if she had brains in her
My business, perhaps my
inclinings, have brought me more in contact with the male Australian than
with the gentler sex, and I have seen more of the public than the domestic
life of this vigorous young nation, but certainly (and now I write for my
Anglo-Indian friends) if every neighbourhood around Sydney contains such a
collection of truly charming families and neighbourly people as that suburb
where I have the good fortune to reside, I would far prefer to spend my days
here, than in the censorious, artificial, conventional, and cold formal
atmosphere of an English provincial town. But perhaps the Hindoo proverb
contains the truth, Ap Bhula to jaggat Bkula, "If thou art good, thy
neighbourhood will be good also."
To return to our picnic. We
had provided for our use a speedy little steam-launch. It was a cold
morning, and great-coats, ulsters, wraps, cloaks, and warm coverings of all
sorts were in request. We steamed gaily away from the crowded wharf. There
was none of that cold, formal restraint which characterizes a mixed party in
England. Merriment and good-humour were the prevailing features. By midday
we had steamed into the sheltered recesses of Mossman's Bay. We disembarked
at a primitive landing-place, and spread out the snowy cloth in a sheltered
nook carpeted with the living greenery of the crisp, fresh-looking cooch
grass. The genius who presided over the commissariat had had imperial ideas
of hospitality, and while a fire was lighted, on which to boil the "Billy of
tea" which is an indispensable adjunct to every Australian picnic, we
hastily disinterred from their swathings of paper and straw the multitude of
good things which had been provided. After lunch, we wandered along the
sides' of the lovely gorge, and then again embarked and steamed off to
witness the race, towards which point now numberless steamers, row-boats,
yachts, sailing-skiffs, and pleasure-boats of all descriptions were rapidly
working their way.
Nothing can exceed the zeal
of young Australia for its sports, and this is well so long as sport does
not stifle all taste for higher pursuits. There is just a danger of this,
and we may even say a great danger, which is even now apparent. The
gladiators of the intellectual arena are not greeted with the applause of
the multitude, as are the bowlers, batsmen, scullers, runners, and athletes,
who carry off the laurels in the Isthmian games Still the country is young,
and let us hope that mental culture will in time become more general and
The race of which I have to
tell was rowed over the champion course, on Saturday, the 30th of June,
1877, shortly after my arrival in the colonies.
From earliest dawn, all
dressed in gala costume, and well supplied with creature-comforts, the
population of the city and suburbs had turned out en masse to witness the
race. By mid-day, most of the shops were shut, and a steady exodus set in
from the excited city. Trains densely packed with eager passengers shot
swiftly along the line; omnibusses, parcel-delivery vans, waggonettes, cabs,
in fact every description of vehicle rolled merrily over the roads,
conveying their excited occupants to the scene of the contest. Steamers
snorted and puffed and shrieked as they ploughed their way to Gladesville
and other spots on the shore, bearing dense crowds of ardent partisans of
the two men of the day, to witness from the cliffs and heights the grand
match for the championship of the world.
The busy steamers threading
their tortuous way along, the immense crowds fringing the rocky shores, and
the countless fleet of boats and skiffs that fleck the water, crossing and
recrossing, gliding here and dashing there,—a most wonderful panorama of
ever-changing form and colour, a most magnificent and memorable sight.
Blue, being Trickett's colour,
seemed universally worn. Steamers flaunted it from mast-head and prow.
Row-boats showed some fluttering fragment as they danced along. In the
streets it seemed to be the prevailing calpur. Hors^wore rosette s of it;
the very whips were decorated with it. The more modest green of Rush seemed
at a discount; but many hearts in the crowd beat warmly for him, and in
every mind there was a conviction, that if indomitable pluck, and honest,
manly emulation could wrest the coveted honour from its popular possessor,
Rush of all men was the man to make a gallant struggle. Hen and Chicken Bay
lay before us, as calm as a mill-pond and polished as a mirror; the bold
masses of bush were reflected in its clear, still bosom, and with its air of
perfect stillness and repose it proved a most marked and striking contrast
to the thronged and agitated waters of the mid passage and to the eager,
tumultuous, ever-moving, swaying crowds, that now clustered thick on every
point and occupied every available foothold on the densely-populous shores.
The sun had now burst from his canopy of cloud, and, as if sharing in the
general excitement, flashed his penetrating rays on bush and rock, and
dancing wave, till the sheen on the water was like a vast sheet of burnished
silver, flashing from its glittering surface the concentrated rays of many
moons. The scene was indeed a lovely one. The arrangements were most
excellent. There was no confusion; the course was kept clear from first to
last, and no accident occurred to mar the pleasure of the day.
By half-past three the course
was all clear, and the numerous fleet of steamers had taken up their
positions, being stationed on both sides of the rowing course, athwart the
stream. The excitement had now reached a frantic height.
There was a hush and lull of
expectancy. A six-oar now pulled slowly from the landing-stage, proceeding
onwards in front of the Governor's barge, that genial and popular sportsman1
having been loudly cheered as he proceeded up the river. In the stern of the
boat lay Rush's slender craft, and the gallant Irishman himself could be
seen standing up m the middle of the boat, leisurely divesting himself of
his outer garments.
Next, Trickett, seated in his
fairy-looking racing skiff, emerged into view from behind Bowden's Wharf.
His advent was the signal for a roar of welcome, and queries were showered
from countless lips.
For the moment the two men
were the cynosure of every eye—the observed of all observers. Rush soon took
his seat in his boat, and pulled slowly and steadily forward to meet his
The two competitors quickly
neared each other. We could see the drops of water flashing from their
polished oars like beads of liquid silver. It was understood they were to
start by mutual arrangement.
After a few preliminary
evolutions, as if actuated by one impulse, both bounded forward like
"An unbroken steed when first
he feels the rein,"
or like greyhounds dashing
from the slips. "They're off at last'" "Splendid start!" "Rush leads!" are
now the cries. Men hurry backwards and forwards. There was a mighty swaying
and surging, and a great commotion amongst the crowds on the steamers.
It was true—Rush was leading,
and, pulling with a quick, powerful stroke of forty-two to the minute,
seemed to be increasing his distance Both men were not yet settled to their
work, and threw up considerable spray. Rush looked the more bulky and tihe
stronger of the two, but his action seemed somewhat strained, and had not
the graceful ease of his lithe antagonist. Both men were now settling down,
and already the fleet of steamers was in motion; and while volumes of smoke
mingled with the escape steam, they bore swiftly down in pursuit of the tiny
craft on which all eyes of that vast multitude were fixed.
Passing Uhr's Point, Rush led
by a clear boat's length; nearing Blaxland's Point, and opposite Concord, he
had somewhat increased his lead. Trickett now put on a spurt, and, amid
enthusiastic cheers, waving of hats and handkerchiefs, and the most frantic
excitement, began to overhaul his plucky opponent. Off Bottle Point the
boats were close together, so close that we feared the oars must clash. This
was the most madly-exciting moment of the race. The boats seemed bounding
through the water. The men strained every nerve, and with each muscle tense
and strung, eyes set, teeth clenched, and hearts beating with fierce
emulation, they lifted the boats bodily forward at every stroke. It was now
a struggle in dead earnest, and for several seconds the boats lapped and
lapped each other—now one gaining a few inches, and now again receding.
Steadily, however, the "Cornstalk" kept creeping up, and the Clarence River
man kept getting, inch by inch, a rearward position. Round the bend the
boats were abreast of each other, and, amid the most frantic cries on the
part 'of the crowd, Trickett shot ahead, and from that moment he was again
the secure Rowing Champion of the World.
With steady, bull-dog
tenacity, however, the Australian representative of Green Erin struggled on.
He rowed most gamely and manfully throughout. The race was now virtually
Trickett's, who increased his lead until, when nearing the Rowing Club, he
must have been eight lengths ahead.
Here he paused a moment to
wave his hand to his enthusiastic admirers, who thronged the shore in
countless numbers. Again the long, lithe, muscular arms sent the merry
blades flashing through the water, the defeated, but dogged and determined,
pursuer pulling gamely and steadily in the wake.
A perfect ovation now greeted
Trickett. Men's minds seemed altogether off their balance; the roar of the
cheering was like the noise of many waters. The air was loaded with
clamorous bursts of applause, that echoed and re-echoed far down the river.
Pigeons wheeled round in mazy
gyrations, bearing news of the issue of the contest to anxiously-expectant
friends at a distance. Gun and pistol shots added their din to the mixed
medley of sound. Amid cries, shouts, ringing cheers, waving of flags, hats,
and handkerchiefs, and a culmination of excitement quite without a parallel
in the history of the colony, and utterly indescribable in words, Trickett
flashed past the judge's post.
So ended the famous
boat-race. Long may the breed of men like Trickett and Rush continue.
Against honesty and straightforwardness like theirs the machinations of the
Ring are powerless. Long may the love of honest, hearty, manly sport
flourish in Australia. May the cool resolution, the generous rivalry, the
quick resource, the dogged determination, and the indomitable pluck that are
the heritage of our race and the outcome of all manly sports and pastimes,
follow the brave lads of Australia into the world.