The greatest sporting contest ever

Great sporting contests have long centred on Queensland where the town of Ipswich was once a prime candidate to be the capital of the colony. A horse race there in 1870 was described at the time as the most exciting and memorable contest to have ever taken place in the district. That’s because most of the course was actually through the town itself and so virtually the whole of the population of 4,800 people got to witness it.

The streets of Ipswich that hosted the race in 1870

It was between local rogue William Stanley and the well-known detective John Barry of the Ipswich police. The race came about after a debate on the Sunday night about the capabilities of their respective horses.

The course was set for the next morning – it was from the pocket on the north side of town, across the river and to the police lock-up – the distance being about two miles which is the same as the Melbourne Cup. The prize for the winner was a bullock, and it was “owners-up”, which means Stanley and Barry had to ride their own horses.

That gave Stanley a big advantage on his horse “The Artful Dodger” which was perfectly named as you’ll find out. That’s because Detective Barry’s horse “Thief Catcher” – yes, its true name – was known to be a splendid weight carrier and a glutton for distance, but there was doubt about whether his wind was sufficient to withstand the doubtless pace, especially because the detective was double Stanley’s weight.

A constable in the Queensland Mounted Police c1870

Stanley was an accomplished jockey having ridden a place-getter at the Ipswich Races just the week before. He was also well acquainted with Detective Barry and the Ipswich lock-up.

So the race got underway at seven o’clock the next morning and the lighter Stanley forced the pace early and established a good lead. They went across the bridge where Stanley eased up and Barry closed the gap. They raced down Bremer Street and then a sharp wheel onto East Street, before Stanley galloped into the police lock-up yard as the comfortable winner.

But the bullock prize and the race itself wasn’t as it seemed. That’s because the next morning, Detective Barry had Stanley up before the magistrate charged with bullock stealing. The charge was ultimately dropped but it may well have been the first case of attempted money laundering (or rather bullock laundering) in Queensland history. It was also the perfect police sting because it resulted in Stanley riding straight into the police yard.

Detective Barry had made his name with the New South Wales Mounted Police by catching absconded convicts in the New England district in the 1860s back when the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt was roaming the region.

Barry was so highly thought of that in 1868 with the Queensland Police he escorted the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred the second son of Queen Victoria, through the streets of Brisbane in the first ever Royal Visit to Australia. The tour was infamous for an attempted assassination, after which the prince reportedly said to his mother, “In New South Wales they shot at me, in Victoria they mobbed me, but in Queensland they sent me to Jondaryan (west of Ipswich) and inflicted me with over-zealous officials.”

In 1869 the Queensland Governor awarded Barry £15 for shutting down the infamous Ipswich Railway Embezzlements which was the first embezzlement of public money in Queensland history.

Prince Alfred in 1868 when escorted through Brisbane

Barry continued to enhance his reputation by regularly arresting cattle thieves and recovering long lost saddles which were the currency of colonial days. He retired in 1895 to run the Montague Hotel in South Brisbane and that beautiful 1890 building is still there today.

None of Detective Barry’s achievements will ever over-shadow the image of him 150 years ago aboard Thief Catcher in full pursuit of The Artful Dodger, through the streets of Ipswich and into the lock-up yard, and all to the full appreciation of the viewing public.

CLICK HEAR to hear about this amazing sporting contest on West Brewmer Radio

Photo credits:
Ipswich in 1870 by the banks of the Bremer River – Ipswich Historical Society
Constable of the Queensland Mounted Police c1870 – State Library of Queensland
Duke of Edinburgh Prince Alfred 1868 – by Montague Scott from State Library of New South Wales


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