And so the days are filled...

07 November 2006

Melbourne Cup Day Rant #2

I realise I haven’t posted in a while but it was Fiver’s querying the lack of any new posts which really alerted me to the gravity of the situation. So I hereby bring you my Second Annual Melbourne Cup Day Rant. This year: Horses Who Do Not Have their Rightful Place in History

Australian history is full of famous horses. Ask any Australian on the street to name a racehorse and I guarantee they’d be able to come up with 5. But lots of horses don’t get the recognition I think they deserve.

A while back, I did some research on a lovely little pub called the Frisco, in Woolloomooloo. There has long been a story bandied about by the publicans at the Frisco that the hotel is named after a ship called the ‘San Francisco’ which crashed into Woolloomooloo Wharf ‘sometime in the 1880s’.

The first thing that rang alarm bells for me about this story was that the hotel only became known as the Frisco in 1892. Originally, from 1854, it had been called the Dowling Street Wharf Hotel. (Here’s what the original building looked like.)

I consulted with the foremost authority in Australia on ships and shipping and he told me there were two ships with ‘Frisco’ in their names around that time, neither of which ever appears to have called at Sydney. There was the American naval cruiser, the USS San Francisco (launched in 1889, commissioned in 1890, and flagship of the South Pacific Squadron for 18 months), and there was a Dutch cruiser called the John Willim Frisco, launched in 1886.

A comprehensive search of local newspaper indexes for the 1880s and 1890s revealed no mention of a ship ever colliding with Woolloomooloo Wharf. So this ship idea is looking pretty flimsy to me.

A Google search for Frisco + 1880 + NSW led me to the horse, of course. A horse called Frisco won the Sydney Cup in 1887, the premier distance horse race in NSW (3200m). Frisco was sired by one of Australia’s most famous horses, Grand Flaneur, who was unbeaten on the race track, and winner of the 1880 Melbourne Cup.

I found out from old bloodstock guides that T Sampson owned Frisco in 1887. Although I searched the guides for 1890-1895 for changes in ownership for Frisco, and I searched the race results for the same time period to see if Frisco ever did anything else noteworthy, I couldn’t come up with anything giving me a date of 1891-1892 to explain why the name of the hotel might have changed exactly then.

The next step is to find out who owned the hotel, whether it changed hands around 1891-1892, and whether, possibly, one T Sampson was a shareholder in the pub. But unfortunately, I had to leave the evidence trail here due to the inevitable deadlines. Someday I hope to follow up this lead, but for now I like to think that one lucky punter put down money on a long shot at Randwick Racecourse in the autumn of 1887, won big, went on to buy a pub, and name it after the horse who earned him his riches.

The publicans, however, like to stick to their story of the ship, and if you go to the pub today, you will see they have a bit of a nautical theme running throughout (see the anchor above the door?). This makes sense, they’re located near the wharf and prior to land reclamation in the late 19th century they were practically on the water’s edge. But after ordering your schooner, spare a thought for a little-known horse called Frisco, outshined by his dad, whose moment in the sun may or may not be immortalised by the name of a little local pub on a corner in Woolloomooloo.

And, for posterity, this year I drew Maybe Better and Mahtoum in the $1 office sweep. Maybe Better was tipped for a win by one Sydney Morning Herald writer, and Mahtoum is trained and part-owned by Kim Waugh, wife of Aussie cricketing legend Mark (who reportedly has a severe allergy to horses!) Incidentally, Mahtoum won the Sydney Cup last year!

Results - Maybe Better - 3rd place, my winnings =$4
Mahtoum - a respectable 6th