Horse racing.



Since the early days of Colonisation, horse racing was always a popular event.

See the use of the Tasmanian Cable only five days after it was opened in 1859.

When the telegraph was introduced, results could be widely dissemminated more quickly. This had benefits as well as drawbacks. One of the problems which arose was the rise in off-course betting.


New South Wales.

In late 1869, the horse racing fraternity in both New South Wales and Victoria were astounded and angry at a breach of confidence in the telegraphic process in Victoria. The Empire of 27 October 1869 summarised the situation as follows:

"It appears from the Melbourne Daily Telegraph that a commission has been appointed, consisting of Messrs. Templeton, Chomle and Ellery, to inquire into a charge which has been preferred by Mr. Dyer, of Messrs, Greville and Co.'s telegraphic agents, against the Victorian Telegraph Department. At the late Randwick meeting, special arrangements were made by the firm of Greville and Co. both here and in Sydney to obtain the earliest information of the result of one of the races in which the bookmakers were greatly interested. The information was forwarded from Sydney but, before it had reached its destination, its nature became known to several bookmakers who had a few hundreds upon the result of a race which was not generally believed could have been known in Melbourne. The suspicion is that some persons connected with the Telegraph Office divulged the contents of the telegram to the bookmakers, and that the delivery of the telegram was delayed to afford time for operations in the betting ring. The inquiry is to be held this week".

The Sydney Mail of 6 October 1877 reported as follows:

"The Spring Meeting of the Bathurst Jockey Club, which opened on Thursday, was badly patronised. I never saw fewer people on the Bathurst course at any meeting of importance, and very probably the club will in future confine itself to one meeting in a year — for sometime at all events. The committee had done all in its power to render the proceedings attractive, but the sniallness of the entries, and the want of interest generally displayed by the residents of the town and district, but especially of the town, were quite sufficient to account for the thin attendance. Up to 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the weather was just the thing for racing, and the appearance of the course, presenting as it did one expanse of green verdure, was particularly pleasing to metropolitan visitors, who constituted the niajority of those inside the Grand-stand enclosures. Besides other improvements, a telegraph office had been erected, and a wire having been laid on from the main line, those who felt so disposed were placed in a position to send messages through to Sydney without the trouble of first forwarding them to the station in town. The Volunteer band had been engaged, and altogether the management left nothing to be desired. The secretary and other officials being as usual courteous and obliging".

A much fuller account of the Bathurst races was included in the Australian Town and Country Journal of 6 October 1877.


Examples of Press Telegrams from Wagga Wagga are included elsewhere.

Some race courses are better known that others. Some people have heard of Randwick Racecourse but the Milparinka Racecourse is - per capita as they say - much more popular:

"Randwick is a pansy race meeting. You travel on trams with special leather seats; you can have iced beer, oysters or ice-cream if your poor pampered stomach desires them. The A.J.C. boasts of attendances of so many thousands when Sydney's population runs well over the million mark.

What about an attendance of more than a hundred when the city's permanent population is seven? THAT number attended Milparinka race meeting the other day, more than 800 miles west of Sydney, in The Corner, that remote part of New South Wales immortalised by the explorer Sturt and sanctified by the blood of the explorer Poole, whose grave, near the mountain which bears his name, lies blistering in the heat near the camel town of Tibooburra, 26 miles north of Milparinka".
(The Sun, 21 February 1937).



see also Vic TOs Race Courses

The Maitland Mercury of 1 January 1857 reported that "The line to Ballaarat is now in full working order, and the result of yesterday's and Thursday's races were telegraphed to us at the Melbourne Herald for publication as soon as they were known at Ballaarat".

See Ballarat TO for reference to Ballarat Racecourse

The Geelong Advertiser of Friday 6 February 1874 reported another betting problem involving the telegraph operation. "Another piece of mismanagement on the part of the Telegraph department was, for all we know, the means yesterday of causing money to be bet on a horse that ought to have been "scratched" the day before. On Wednesday Mr A. H. Bartlett telegraphed to the secretary of the Racing Club to scratch Maori for the Hurdle Race but his message was not delivered until near midday yesterday, it being accompanied by a memo, to the effect that it had been overlooked. If any money was lost through the blunder it is a pity the department cannot be made to pay it".

Earliest recorded delivery form sent from a Racecourse.
7 November 1874.
Unfortunately the link to horse-racing is obscure.

The Bendigo Advertiser of 9 November 1877 observed "The closing of Post and Telegraph offices throughout the colony during the Cup day has again given rise to much adverse comment, seeing that the use of the wires is more urgent on that day than any in the year. The running wires on to the racecourse for the early dissemination of news certainly seem rather inconsistent with closing the country offices".

The Age of 28 February 1882 included correspondence to clarify a grave misinterpretation:

"The following letter has been sent in to the Commissioner of Railways by Mr. Lavater, the Accountant of the Department, with reference to the free passes issued to the Postal Department on the occasion of the Victoria Racing Club Spring Meeting:

"18th February, 1882. — Memo

During the conference held on the 9th of last month, on the subject of free passes, the Hon. the Minister will doubtless recollect that I made a statement that, on one occasion, no less than forty-seven telegraph operators and eleven telegraph messengers had free passes issued to them by the Postal Department to the racecourse and back to report the Derby Day. I find that this statement has been officially denied, and that, during my absence on leave, this denial has found its way into the press and comments have been made which cast a doubt upon the truthfulness of my statement.

I therefore do myself the honor of laying before you, for your inspection and perusal, the original documents connected with the matter, from which it will be seen that, although speaking from memory and not anticipating that my remarks would be made public, I was absolutely correct in every particular. The official return furnished by the Acting Deputy Postmaster-General, showing the free passes issued by him for the week ending the 3rd November, 1877, will be found attached under cover of correspondence No. 77 | 774, together with my minute drawing attention to the issue of the passes in question bearing date 7 | 11 | 77, the Secretary's reply dated 16 | 11 | 77, and my final minute dated the 17th. The passes were issued by the Postal Department on the 1st November, 1877, in the followiug manner:

  • Nos. 290 to 336 inclusive - Forty-seven first-class passes to telegraph operators, Melbourne to racecourse return pass - on duty.
  • Nos. 341 to 351 inclusive — Eleven second-class passes to telegraph messengers, Melbourne, racecourse, return pass, on duty.

I trust this will be sufficient to exonerate me from the charge of having made an unfounded statement.
G. T. A. Lavater, Accountant Victorian Railways."

Mr. Bent has ordered a copy of the memo to be sent to the postal authorities who denied that the number of persons mentioned by Mr. Lavater travelled on free passes".


The Chronicle of 15 August 1903 was one of a number of newspapers to carry the following announcement: "Mr. M. P. Considine (secretary of the Associated Racing Club) writes to the Melbourne press that it has been decided by the Sandown Park, Aspendale Park, Epsom and Mentone racing clubs to discontinue the ordinary telegraph office, that has been open to the public on their courses, and to have, in its place, a private telegraph office as arranged with the Deputy Postmaster-General. All telegrams sent to the course will be delivered in the usual way to the club's clients. Any person wishing to send telegrams away from the course must send them through the secretary. The reason for this alteration is on account of the numerous 'tote' and betting shops that have sprung up in Melbourne, suburbs, and country towns obtaining, through their agents on the different courses, the starters, jockeys, betting and results of races therefore doing a lot of injury to the race meeting, the owners, horses, &c., that attend the races".


See 1881 Victoria Telegraphs Report p. 15.

Black Flag was trialled over two miles at Flemington (Vic.) in preparation for the July 1896 Grand National. Ridden by Jenkins, he was beaten by Buzzi in 3 min 8 sec.

On the morning of the V.R.C. Grand National, Black Flag had support at 100 to 14 but 100 to 15 was refused. Black Flag had recorded a good gallop and one of the finest conditioned horses at head quarters. He ran in company with Lord Byron and Bischoff and did a mile and half in splendid time, easily beating his opponents. This is an exceptional performance considering Bischoff's brilliancy on the flat in private.

At the betting market on Friday 2 July, Black Flag was backed for £8,000 at 100 to 14 - the best price at the finish being 100 to 15. Newspaper selections by "Caspian" had Black Flag 3 behind Morago and Artist while "Reginald"'s Selection was Black Flag or Artist as equal favourites.

The result: see the three separated paragraphs elsewhere.


South Australia.

As a sign of the times, the Race Meeting of 1929 in Tailem Bend had a totalisator installed and had arranged for patrons to be able to view the races from their cars.


On 23 March 1938, the Sporting Globe announced in its columns that "it is unable to send last minute selections by  "collect" telegram as postal authorities will  not accept such messages.  Readers requiring special selections must send us a reply-paid telegram the day before a race meeting".


Western Australia.

A duplicate line to the Perth Racecourse was completed towards the end of 1896.

At Cue, a special race meeting was held in December from 1893. A description and a note on course improvements can be found elsewhere.

Patrick Joseph Cummings - the grandfather of the legendary horse trainer Bart Cummings - was buried at Black Range (Nunngarra) W.A. He died of "heart failure consequent on excessive worry owing to ill success to prospecting".


New Zealand.

Even our neighbours "across the ditch" became involved with the use of telegraphy for horse racing:

"It may interest our readers to know that the news of the victory of Navigator in the Derby on Saturday was received at Reuter's office in Wellington, N.Z., before the winning jockey had dismounted, the actual time occupied in transmission from the Flemingion course being less than five minutes, reports the "Argus". Such a feat of telegraphy, over a distance of nearly 2000 miles, has scarcely ever been equalled, and it reflects great credit on the Victorian and other telegraph departments". 
Ovens and Murray Advertiser 2 November 1882.


Horse racing and the confidentiality of telegrams.

There are very few instances which have been published related to the confidentiality of telegrams related to the results of a horse race. Perhaps the most important was that for the 1878 Melbourne Cup:


The evidence made public in the case — Browne v Chenall — on Friday last at the Corowa Police Court, regarding the origination of the disagreement between the contending parties calls for a more than passing consideration.

The facts which led up to the case are that

  • a sweepstakes was got up in Corowa on the Melbourne Cup;
  • that the sweep was drawn, and the horses allotted;
  • that the race was run;
  • that subsequent to the race being run and before a public telegram had been received in Corowa, it is stated on oath that the telegraph master in Corowa was heard telling a man named Bruce, the name of the winning horse; and
  • that Bruce shortly afterwards purchased one of the prize-takers in the sweep at one-sixth of its value.

The inference of course is that, although the telegraph master was only overheard telling the name of the winner of the Melbourne Cup, he also told the names of the second and third horses, and that Bruce made use of the information received to his own profit.

So far, the affair bore a peaceable aspect, but the complainant in the subsequent case first told the holder of the horse purchased by Bruce and the landlord of the Globe Hotel, both of whom subsequently referred to the matter, and an apparent discrepancy was disclosed in the information conveyed. This said to an interview between Chenhall and Browne, when language was used which brought the case into Court, and the information regarding the Telegraph Office before the public.

It is needless to say that early information of an important fact is valuable to the recipient and, as in the case of the Melbourne Cup, it is quite possible to utilise the each information and make it a source of profit. According to the rules of betting, a bet is "off" if previous knowledge can be proved against the person laying the wager, and this is equally applicable to the purchaser of a sweep after the race has been run and when information has been received of the winning horses. The rule is a good one. It prevents the organisation of a system of fraud, and lays a foundation for honest dealing in a pastime where so much chicanery is practised and so many precautions for the preservation of honesty are necessary. In the present case, if the names of the first, second and third horses in the Cup were obtained illicitly from the telegraph master by Bruce, we have no hesitation in saying that a fraud was perpetrated in purchasing a horse in the sweep for one-sixth of its value; and that the telegraph master, if he conveyed the information, was guilty of a breach of the regulations framed for his guidance and of a trust reposed in him by the public which can neither be effaced by inquiry nor palliated by confession.

It is well-known that no telegrams were received in Corowa concerning the result of the Melbourne Cup until nearly two hours after the telegraph master was heard telling the name of the winner to Bruce. But as telegrams left Flemington immediately after the race, or about ten minutes past four in the afternoon, it was quite possible for the officials in the Corowa office to hear a message in transition without setting the spring-gear in motion and reading it off the tape and therefore, as it was six o'clock or after when the first telegram of the result was received in Corowa, and as it was before half-past four when the telegraph master was heard telling the name of the winner, it follows that the information was obtained irregularly and illegally.

The information was also used in a manner calculated to bring discredit on the Telegraph Office and opprobrium upon the persons using it. We have said that it is calculated to bring discredit on Telegraph Office but we know that it has done so. We also know that important telegrams written in Corowa have been sent to the Wahgunyah office rather than risk sending them where the winner of the Melbourne Cup could be heard before a telegram had been received by the public. The facts connected with this subject have been sworn to in a Court of Justice and, as the interests of the public, the standing of the telegraph master and the trustworthiness and secrecy of the Telegraph Office are at stake, it is absolutely indispensible that a most searching investigation be at once instituted,with a view either of substantiating the facts as alleged or of relieving the telegraph officer and the office itself of the imputations cast upon".
(Ovens and Murray Advertiser 26 November 1878).