Archer, with jockey, J. Cutts, in E. L. de Mestre’s colours, painted by Frederick Woodhouse Snr
Origins of the Race
The 1850s were golden years for Victoria. Not long after separating from New South Wales in 1851, rich sources of gold were discovered in Bendigo and Ballarat sparking a gold rush which brought untold wealth to the colony.
Many Victorians, no doubt, felt a growing sense of superiority over their mother colony.
In 1857, Andrew Spencer Chirnside, a wealthy grazier and racehorse owner, boasted that no horse could beat his mare Alice Hawthorn. Confident of success, Anthony Green, trainer of the mare, challenged owners in New South Wales to a ‘Championship of the Colonial Turf’, to be run over three miles at Flemington on 3 October 1857 for a purse of £1000.
George T. Rowe of Liverpool, New South Wales, took up the challenge.
An estimated crowd of up to twenty thousand people turned out to watch Rowe’s horse, Veno (also trained by his brother-in-law, Etienne de Mestre) comfortably beat Alice Hawthorn by two lengths in a time of 6 minutes 12 seconds.
The Melbourne Cup. 1861.
Melbourne racing interests, eager for a rematch, began planning for a three-day Spring meeting which would include a new two-mile handicap race to be called the Melbourne Cup.
Englishman Captain Frederick Charles Standish is often credited with suggesting the Cup be named after the city.
A keen racing man, he had been forced to sell his property in England in 1852 to pay gambling debts. He then migrated to the colonies, trying his luck on the Victorian goldfields before being appointed Assistant Commissioner of the Goldfields in 1854 and, later, Protector of the Chinese.
In 1858 he became Chief Commissioner of Police in Victoria.
He was a member of the Victorian Turf Club and was a steward on the day of the Cup.