THE PORT PHILLIP GAMES
In the middle of 1850 steps began to be taken for establishing public games in the Port
Phillip District similar to the popular Border Games that were held in Scotland. An initial meeting was held on Saturday, 15 June 1850 at the "Governor Arthur" Inn, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne. In attendance were - Messrs. John Brock, Dalmahoy Campbell, Disher, James Bowie Kirk, W. Lyall, J. Mills, James Purves, and Francis Stephen. The following preliminary arrangements were unanimously agreed upon:
1. That public athletic games, under the designation of the "Victorian Gymnastic
Games" be established in Melbourne.
2. That the first meeting for competition be held at the race-course on the 12th
day of August, 1850.
3. That the games to be then exhibited, with the amount of prizes and entrance
fees, be set.
4. That prizes be awarded by the Stewards in their discretion, for the successful
exhibition of any remarkable feat requiring the exercise of energy, agility, and skill,
although not included in the preceeding list of performances.
5. That three refreshment booths be erected on the race-ground on the day of
competition, the same to ballotted for, and that the successful parties each pay the sum
6. That such additional rules and arrangements may be subsequently made as
circumstances shall require.
7. That Mr. Disher be requested to act as Secretary, and Mr. Henderson as
Treasurer, and that all subscriptions shall be paid to the Treasurer.
8. That the following gentlemen be requested to act as Stewards, to regulate and
superintend all measures deemed necessary for the successful exhibition of the games,
and to award and distribute the several prizes:- His Worship the Mayor of Melbourne,
Messrs. John Bell, J. Calvert, Colin Campbell, Hugh John Chambers, Mr. Erskine, T.
Hamilton, James Bowie Kirk, W. Lyall, M. Lynch, J. Mills, John O'Shannassey, Francis
Stephen, and J. Turnbull.
Another meeting of the Committee was held at the "Governor Arthur", Little Bourke-
street, on Tuesday evening, 23 July 1850 to decide by ballot the licensed victuallers for
booths at the race course during the games. Messrs. Disher, Erskine, Henderson, F.
Stephen, and Wills, opened the business, and the following publicans were declared the
successful candidates: - No.1, Mr. Dowling; No.2, Mr. Lynch; No.3, Ewen Tolmie and
No.4, Mr. M'Cormack. It was proposed and carried, that Messrs. Erskine and Francis
Stephen wait on his Honor the Superintendent to request that he will extend his
patronage to the games, and also to solicit that Mrs. La Trobe will honor the public by
distributing the prizes to the successful competitors. It was suggested by the publicans
who obtained the booths that it would be necessary to obtain the sanction of the
Bench, which Mr. Francis Stephen said he would do gratuitously.
The committee met again on Wednesday evening, 7 August 1850. Dalmahoy
Campbell, Esq. was voted into the Chair. Surprise was expressed at the refusal of the
Bench of magistrates to grant licenses, and after a sharp discussion, it was agreed to
try the effect of another application to the Bench, requesting them to reconsider the
matter. Accordingly, a renewed application was presented by Mr. Stephen to the
Bench, composed of Charles Payne, Esq. (chairman) William Jacomb, James Simpson,
James Smith, Evelyn Pitfield Shirley Sturt and William Thomas, Esqrs. and a stranger,
whose name was not known; and, after deliberating upon it for a few minutes, it was
announced by the chairman that the Bench could see no good reason for disturbing the
decision previously arrived at. Mr. Simpson observed that the Bench could not
entertain such an application. It would never do for the Bench to be occupied one day
in reviewing the decision of a different Bench on a preceding day; besides, in the
present case, he fully concurred in the decision of the Bench. Mr. Stephen, in support
of the application, said that some of the magistrates who had formerly adjudicated in
the matter were prepared to grant the present application, having been convinced that
it would be in the interests of the public to allow spiritous liquors to be disposed of as
refreshments at the games. Mr. Smith said, as one of the magistrates referred to by Mr.
Stephen, he was still disposed to adhere to the decision in the matter that had been
unanimously given by the Bench, and he believed they were mostly all willing to
confirm that decision; and he would state, positively, that he had obtained the
knowledge that some of the Stewards of the games were of the opinion that it would
prove advantageous to the interests of the public to restrain the sale of spiritous liquors
on the occasion. He did not apprehend that much inconvenience would be entailed
either upon the public or the committee by the decision of the Bench, as persons going
to the games from Melbourne could easily take a supply of refreshments with them. It
should be borne in mind that the magistrates had offered no objection to the extension
of confectioner's licences. The application was formally dismissed.
The Stewards were occupied the greater part of Saturday, 10 August 1850 in allotting,
marking off, and properly securing the ground upon which the various feats of
strength, skill, and agility were to be performed, and otherwise making such
arrangements as they deemed necessary for giving a fair trial to the first experiment
made of introducing a regular series of such manly sports and games to the colony. A
covered platform was erected for the accomodation of such ladies as were desirous of
witnessing the sports but felt reluctant to be mixed in the crowd surrounding the
On the day of the games the following Monday the Stewards commenced making the
entries for the several games to be contested at half-past ten o'clock, and the sports
commenced at eleven o'clock sharp. The weather was most favourable, and concurring
circumstances gave promise of the sports passing off in the most creditable and
satisfactory manner. The games excited fully as much, if not greater interest, than the
Annual Races, and nearly as many were assembled on the Race Course at Flemington
as on that occasion. The steamer "Diamond" was dressed in her best array, and was
crowded with passengers, who were enlivened during the short river trip from
Melbourne by Hoare's Brass Band.
The course presented a most animated scene. Numerous carriages filled by the elite
drove up the course, accompanied by a goodly number of well mounted equestrians
both male and female. The Mounted Police as well as a number of the civil force were
on the ground, but were scarcely required to quell distrubance; but one "row" took
place during the day, and the parties who had proceeded to display their fistic science
were immediately taken into custody and marched off the course. The games were
protracted to an unwonted length of time by the pressure of the mob upon the arena
where the games were contested. The Stewards were kept on their legs during the
whole of the day, and their united power, notwithstanding that they were armed with
whips and sticks, were of no avail in keeping the arena clear. A stand was erected by
Ewen Tolmie, for admission to which the charge of half a crown was made (the Press
were admitted gratuitously) and with the exception of the view which was obtained by
those who occupied the line of carriages drawn up along the ropes, this was the only
situation on the ground from which a good sight of the sports could be obtained.
His Honor Superintendent Charles Joseph La Trobe was in attendance but Mrs. La
Trobe was unable to be present. When the bugle sounded at eleven o'clock to prepare
there must have been from five to six thousand persons on the course. A second bugle
sounded and the games commenced.
GAME 1 - QUOITS - TWENTY-ONE YARDS - ( FIRST PRIZE £8; SECOND
PRIZE £3 )
ENTRANCES - Thomas Hamilton, Richard Sutcliffe, Charles Wood, Messrs. Cooper,
Swanston, Rankin and Hervey.
GAMES - Hamilton and Cooper (Cooper won by 1); Swanston and Wood (Swanston
won by 2); Hervey and Rankin (Rankin won by 3); Sutcliffe and Thomas (Sutcliffe
won by 1); Cooper and Swanston (Cooper won by 5); Rankin and Sutcliffe (Sutcliffe
won by 3); Sutcliffe and Cooper (Sutcliffe won by 6).
REMARKS - The play was anything but good throughout the games; most of the
pitching being wide of the Hob; and, throughout the games, not one of the players
ringed a quoit. Sutcliffe and Cooper's throws were decidedly the most practised, and
considering the length of the pitch, were delivered well. Sutcliffe was declared the
winner of the first prize and Cooper the second prize.
GAME 2 - A LEVEL RACE OF 100 YARDS - ( PRIZE £5 )
ENTRANCES - Henry W. Manuel, Gilbert Meredith, Joseph Johns(t)on, A. Davi(e)s,
James McLean (or M'Lennan), Tobias Butler, Barnes (or Burris), J. Holmes, Thomas
Pinkerton (junior), W. Rose (or Ross), W. Richardson, J. Binstead, Colin Fraser,
Francis Stephen and H. Stephen.
REMARKS - A false start took place, and five out of the number ran home to the
winning post before they were aware of the error. When run, this was a very good
race, the time in which it was done being fourteen seconds. Henry W. Manuel, a native
of Sydney, won the race with Thomas Pinkerton (junior), at about three yards behind
him in second place; and Francis Stephen at five yards behind Pinkerton, coming third.
It would have added greatly to the interest of the race if the competitors had been
dressed in sporting costume, each distinguished by a particular colour; as it was, those
at a distance could not distinguish the changes in the race.
GAME 3 - JUMPING IN LENGTH - ( PRIZE £5 )
ENTRANCES - William Toner, W. Lyall (or Lyons), John Bruce, John Ryan, John
Keogh, R. Clemen(t)s, and W. Trancy.
REMARKS - This event, a standing long jump, was won by John Ryan who jumped
ten feet two inches. Ryan, an athletic well formed man of great elasticity, won by about
two inches. There was great competition, and the jumps were very close. Several of
the others were within a short distance of him. Second was W. Lyons who jumped 9
feet and third was William Toner who jumped 8 feet 9 inches.
GAME 4 - THREE JUMPS IN LENGTH, STANDING - ( PRIZE £3 )
ENTRANCES - Patrick Ryan, George Meredith, W. Lyall (or Lyons), John Keogh,
Robert Fenton and William Toner.
REMARKS - This event of three standing jumps was taken by Patrick Ryan (brother
of the above John Ryan) who at the first offer jumped 30 feet 8 inches. This was
afterwards headed by one of the competitors who jumped 31 feet 3 inches. Ryan
however, at the next offer, went over 32 feet 4 inches. The game was remarkably well
contested by all the competitors, the whole of them jumping within a short distance of
the winner. Mr. Lyall was adjudged the second best and there were others little inferior
in power and agility who lost owing to the slippery state of the ground.
GAME 5 - PUTTING THE HEAVY STONE OF 22 LBS. - ( PRIZE £5 )
ENTRANCES - John Ritchie, Robert M'Dougall (of Moonee Ponds), Mr. Toner, Mr.
Grant, and John Bell (of Colac).
REMARKS - A vast deal of interest was excited by this game. The cast of Mr.
M'Dougall, thirty feet in his first throw, brought the other competitors to their mettle.
It was soon clear, however, that no one was able to compete with Mr. M'Dougall, until
John Bell, without divesting himself of his coat, very coolly pitched the stone a couple
of feet beyond. Mr. M'Dougall strained every nerve in his after throws, and although
near the mark, could not come up to the winner, John Bell, who cast a stone a distance
of some three feet beyond any of the other competitors.
GAME 6 - PUTTING THE LIGHT STONE OF 14 lbs. - ( PRIZE £2 )
ENTRANCES - Messrs. Shoemack (or Shumack), Bruce, Ebzer (or Easer), Grant,
Hogan, Croker, Manuel, M'Kenzie, Mason, Ritchie, M'Dougall, Armstrong, M'Nab,
REMARKS - The throwing was decidedly inferior to that of the heavy stone, and the
furthest throw, that of Mr. Mason who was declared the winner, was little further than
John Bell's cast with the 22 lbs. The winning cast was 33 feet 4 inches. Second was
Mr. Ritchie at 32 feet 6 inches and third was Mr. M'Dougall at 31 feet.
GAME 7 - THROWING THE HEAVY HAMMER OF 20 lbs - ( PRIZE £5 )
ENTRANCES - Mr. Mason, Dalmahoy Campbell, Mr. Ritchie, Mr. M'Dougall, and
REMARKS - The pitches of these gentlemen were within a few lines of each other,
and were delivered with great case, and in a scientific manner. The prize was, after a
hard contest, awarded to Mr. M'Dougall, for a cast of 47 feet 8 inches. Dalmahoy
Campbell reached 46 feet 6 inches and Mr. Ritchie 44 feet 6 inches.
GAME 8 - THROWING THE LIGHT HAMMER OF 9 lbs - ( PRIZE £3 )
ENTRANCES - John Quinn, Henry Parker, John Ritchie, Armstrong, W. Ritchie,
Grant, Lyall, Robert Mack, and Daley.
REMARKS - After the first turn of throws a tremendous cast was made, and
miscalculating the direction, the hammer went with tearful violence into the midst of
the crowd. Luckily those on foot were able to get out of the way of this deadly missile,
but the equestrians were not so fortunate, and the hammer struck a horse on the head,
breaking the handle. As fortune would have it no serious injury was inflicted on the
animal. However, at the sight of this the Stewards, to prevent any further accidents,
immediately stopped this game.
GAME 9 - A HURDLE RACE OF 400 YARDS, OVER SIX LEAPS, 3 FEET 6
INCHES IN HEIGHT -
( FIRST PRIZE £8; SECOND PRIZE £3 )
ENTRANCES - Messrs. Weston, Hamilton, Henry Stephens, William Pender, Smith,
Murray, Evans, Quin, Holmes, Hayes, Pinkerton (junior), Poole, O'Brien, and Thomas
REMARKS - The most exciting game of the day was the Hurdle Race. Off: a fair
start, all abreast, making easy play until twenty yards of the first hurdle when the speed
was increased for the leap, and Hamilton, Pinkerton, Poole, and Henry Stephen went
over nearly together; the rest followed close on their heels, two went down. At speed
to the second hurdle, Hamilton, Pinkerton, Poole, Holmes and H. Stephen keeping the
lead, the others making capital running; over, and three more biting the dust. Speed
increasing to the third hurdle, the same parties keeping ahead, and the remainder of the
field making good whippers in. At the third hurdle three more went down, and the
remainder were making the best of their muscle and wind. At the sixth the two leading
runners Hamilton and Poole tipped the hurdle and came down, Holmes rushed in
before they could regain their feet and was declared the winner.
As the day was by this time fast wearing to a close, the Stewards announced that the
remainder of the prizes would be competed for on the following day. Some attempts
were then made to get up a hack race, but the lateness of the hour prevented anything
being done in this line, and the assemblage consequently dispersed homewards. Two
steamers were in attendance, and were filled on their return to town.
In the course of the day, a very pretty fire balloon was sent up, which sailed out of
sight in a few minutes. An accident occurred when Mr. Robinson, of Condell's
brewery, in leaping his horse over the ropes was thrown and received several severe
contusions. No limbs, however, were broken, and it was expected that he would soon
recover. He was taken from the course and conveyed home by steamer.
THE SECOND DAY'S SPORTS
The programme of the games as laid down by the Stewards, was continued the second
day; and all things considered, a very fair sprinkling of visitors attended. An estimated
800 to 1,000 persons were present. Of course the line of road was not thronged so
thickly as on the preceeding day, and by far the larger majority of the travellers were
really sporting men. As the Stewards were rather behind time in reaching the course it
was near noon when entrances were called for.
GAME 10 - HITCH AND KICK - PRIZE ( £5 )
For this there were no entries, and it was passed over.
GAME 11 - HOP, STEP AND JUMP, STANDING - PRIZE ( £5 )
ENTRANCES - Patrick Ryan and Gilbert Meredith.
REMARKS - This prize was won by Patrick Ryan, who jumped a distance of 25 feet
9 inches; Meredith being about a foot behind. ( John Bell, of Colac tried the jump after
the close of the game, and went about 2 feet 6 inches beyond Ryan. )
GAME 12 - HOP, STEP AND JUMP, RUNNING - ( PRIZE £5 )
ENTRANCES - John Ryan, Joseph Mason, John Bell, and William Pender.
REMARKS - This prize was taken by John Bell who went a distance of 38 feet 2
inches (about 11 feet less than he been known to accomplish); the next being Joseph
Mason, 36 feet 6 inches.
GAME 13 - STANDING HIGH JUMP - ( PRIZE £5 )
ENTRANCES - John Ryan and William Lyons.
REMARKS - This was won by John Ryan clearing the bar at 4 feet high. William
Lyons also went over once at that height, but knocked down the bar with his back
GAME 14 - RUNNING HIGH JUMP - ( PRIZE £5 )
ENTRANCES - John Ryan and George Kerridge.
REMARKS - This was won by John Ryan clearing 4 feet 7 inches in height: George
Kerridge also jumped very well. In his last leap Ryan jumped at least four inches above
the bar, which was placed at the height above named.
GAME 15 - RUNNING JUMP IN LENGTH - ( PRIZE £5 )
ENTRANCES - John Ryan, and Gilbert Meredith.
REMARKS - This was taken by John Ryan, jumping a distance of 16 feet 1 inch,
Gilbert Meredith being close behind him.
GAME 16 - FOOTBALL - ( PRIZE £11 )
This game was postponed to a later date.
GAME 17 - WRESTLING - ( FIRST PRIZE £5; SECOND £3 )
ENTRANCES - John Bourke (from Cornwall), Thomas Light (from Cornwall),
Patrick Kelly (from Dublin, Ireland), Gilbert Meredith, Peter Coran (from Dublin,
Ireland), and Henry Johnston(e).
FIRST BOUT - Peter Coran and Patrick Kelly; Gilbert Meredith and Henry Johnston;
and John Bourke and Thomas Light.
REMARKS - Peter Coran, who had considerably the advantage over his antagonist in
weight and strength, threw his man easily two successive throws. Gilbert Meredith and
Henry Johnston showed some pretty sport, being well matched, and both remarkably
light active young men; Johnston took the first fall, and Meredith the two succeeding.
John Bourke and Thomas Light also showed some excellent play but the former was
too ready at the trips for his antagonist; and succeeded with great dexterity in throwing
him two successive falls.
SECOND BOUT - Meredith and Bourke, and Meredith and Coran.
REMARKS - The struggle between Meredith and Bourke was one that excited
considerable interest. Meredith had the advantage of his man in activity and
proportioning whilst Bourke was rather the heavier and showed more skill at the trip.
In the first turn, Meredith was thrown, though both went down; in the second turn
after considerable manouvering, Meredith threw his adversary a clean fall, but fell
himself almost at the same time; in the last turn both were exceedingly cautious, and
after several very excellent attempts on both sides, Meredith concluded by throwing his
man a clean fall. The manner in which Bourke, who was only a youngster of about
eighteen, carried on the contest, elicited loud applause from all sides. Meredith, who
had been continuing the struggle for upwards of an hour and a half, now had to face
Coran, who was a heavy, paunchy man, between 15 and 16 stone weight, whilst
Meredith did not weigh much over ten stone. However, after a short pause to breathe,
he went cheerfully to work, and before another ten minutes had passed he had thrown
his burly adversary two successive falls, the latter an exceedingly clean and conclusive
one. Bourke was then asked to compete with Coran for the second prize, but, in his
struggle with Meredith, he had received so many blows on the shins, although only
with the naked foot, that he was scarcely able to walk. Meredith was thereupon
proclaimed the winner of the first prize, and we must say that he has shown himself not
only a good wrestler, but also a man of extraordinary powers of endurance. The
second prize was awarded to Coran, but we rather imagine had Bourke been able to
face him, that this man would not have taken the prize. The Stewards also very
generously awarded one pound to Bourke, as a testimonial of his good wrestling and
During the games a well contested pony race, between James Dunbell's Boiler, ridden
by Johnny Dawson, and Ewen Tolmie's Budgera, ridden by Johnston, came off for £1
a side. The race was once around the course, and was won easily by Boiler, who came
in nearly a distance ahead. Fault was found with Johnston's riding, and a second race
was made between the parties. Boiler, ridden by Dawson, as before, and Budgera
ridden by William Lang, the jockey. Boiler took this race also, but had his work to do,
the pony being but a few yards in the rear.
After the games a number of follow-up matches were held amongst the contestants,
including a match of quoits between Richard Sutcliffe and Charles Wood on Saturday,
17 August 1850.
At the Flemington Race Course on Monday, 26 August 1850 at 3 o'clock a foot race
of 200 yards between Henry Manuel and Thomas Pinkerton was eventually run. At
£10 a side it was easily won by Mr. Manuel in 22 seconds, beating his opponent by
three or four yards. A pony race was then held for £10 between the ponies of Mr. Mills
(of Flemington); Mr. F. Stephen and another. This race was won easily by Mr. Mills'
The long talked of game at foot-ball was then played. The following sides were
chosen, the first pick being gained by a toss-up. First Team: Messrs. F. Stephen, Mills,
F. Warman, Culgen, Ewers, Wood, Butler, Clancy, Smith and W. Barry. Second Team:
Messrs. D. Campbell, C. Campbell, Barry, Dowling, W. Warman, Brodie, Pender,
Wilson, Carlew and Hinton. The game was spiritedly contested for two hours and a
half, and it would be impossible to render any account of the falls, or the vicissitudes of
the game. Notwithstanding the necessary scuffles and close contact of the parties, the
greatest good-humour prevailed, and Mr. F. Stephen's party were eventually declared
Contributed by Alexander Romanov-Hughes ( PPPG Member No. 52 )
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