Great foot race swindle

Thousands of people turned out to see the ‘Western Star Lodge’ Grand Handicap at Sandy Gallop in Ipswich, Queensland, on New Year’s Day in 1886. Many of them already knew that a swindle was afoot. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.

This was back when sports days were huge, and professional running was even bigger. The Grand Handicap was run over one hundred and fifty yards and the prize money for the winner was £40 which is the equivalent of almost $40,000 today. The betting was enormous, with fabulous sums able to be won if the handicap was well managed.

In the final of the race that day, two runners had travelled three hundred miles from Roma in western Queensland. One was Jack Wieneke who the previous year had won the biggest race of his life against Bill Gollan the ‘Mackay Meteor’. As soon as Wieneke crossed the finish line he was carried shoulder high by ecstatic supporters, and when the settling was done, Wieneke was presented with a wallet containing crisp new Bank of Australasia notes to the life-changing value of £140.

Jack Wieneke and his trainer

The other Roma man in the Grand Handicap was the well-known F.W. Lowe who just weeks earlier in Roma had been beaten by an unknown.

There was also Constable Alex Chalmers who was a member of the champion athletic Chalmers family from Tenthill in the Lockyer Valley. He was the four-time Queensland champion and had wins against Ipswich’s Jim McGarrigal who was the Australian champion. Another finalist was Charlie McAnany who was a local runner from Ipswich and a dyed-in-the-wool railway worker.

The final of the Grand Handicap was run and it was Lowe who crossed the line first. He was just inches ahead of McAnany in second, while Wieneke – who it was said ran below his best – and Chalmers, were a yard further back.

When the settling was done at the North Australian Hotel, McAnany protested the result. He claimed that the winner wasn’t F.W. Lowe at all, but rather a different runner all together.

The committee made their enquiries. The winner Lowe said that he was F.W. Lowe, but he did have a cousin in Roma who had the same initials. The other Roma man Wieneke said that he knew both a Fred Lowe and a Frank Lowe. Constable Chalmers said that the winner was indeed the right F.W. Lowe. Then there was a man called Alec Wellstead. He had come down from Roma especially for the race. He also confirmed the winner was the right F.W. Lowe. The committee dismissed the protest, and gave the £40 first prize to Lowe.

But the controversy didn’t go away. Word came from Roma that the racing committee there knew only one F.W. Lowe and that was Fred. Also, the description of the winner didn’t match that of Fred Lowe at all. What’s more, Fred Lowe was actually seen in Toowoomba that day, and so he definitely could not have been the winner.

The description of the winning runner matched perfectly that of nineteen-year-old shearer Larry Noonan. Noonan was the unknown who had beaten the real Lowe in the lead-up to the race. On that occasion, Noonan had won £15 despite giving Lowe five metres start. That’s when the plot was hatched.

The committee back-flipped, and overturned their decision. It seems that the entire race were part of the swindle – except for Ipswich’s McAnany. Wieneke claimed his own innocence by saying that many people there knew Lowe wasn’t who he said he was, and so he didn’t bother saying anything. The net of guilt was thrown far and wide.

The main conspirators Chalmers, Wieneke, Noonan, and Lowe were all disqualified from ever taking part in any sports held under the auspices of the Western Star Lodge. The man Alec Wellstead who came down from Roma, he was severely censured and barred from ever taking part in, or appearing at, any sports gatherings ever again.

Chalmers also lost his job with the Queensland Police. But such was his popularity and the belief that he’d been unfairly tempted, he was appointed warder at the Woogaroo Asylum and allowed to race again. Chalmers later became a champion cotton and potato grower at Laidley.

Wieneke became a starter and handicapper for the Maranoa Jockey Club, and a world-famous saddler.

The man Wellstead, who instigated the swindle, started the Gatton Turf Club and made it one of the most prosperous race clubs in Queensland.

Alec Wellstead

Ipswich’s McAnany, who was the only runner not in on the swindle, went back to the railways where he worked for over fifty years.

Things didn’t go so well for the young ring-in Noonan, however. In 1891 when the Great Shearers Strike was breaking out, and the colony appeared on the cusp of civil war, he was elected shed delegate by the Queensland Shearers Union. Days later Noonan inexplicably disappeared, and months later was reported dead.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD LIVE ON RADIO.

Photo credits:
Stawell Gift – Star News Group 2019
Jack Wieneke and trainer Jack Painter 1885 – Western Star and Roma Advertiser, 18 May 1935, page 4
Alec Wellstead at the Gatton Church of England 1914 – Brisbane Courier, 24 January 1914, page 12

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