Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Hon. William Pearson, M.L.C. (1818–1893)

In many ways the Hon. William Pearson, M.L.C., is our most remarkable pioneering ancestor, but is also one of the hardest to get to know. Very few photographs of him have survived, hardly any of his correspondence, and he made very few speeches in Parliament. The obituaries that appeared in The Gippsland Times and the Gippsland Mercury on Saturday, August 12, and Monday, August 14, 1893, respectively, are both chatty and affectionate, but only one even mentions our great-great-grandfather's most remarkable achievement, namely his stupendously profitable investment in the Long Tunnel Gold Mine at Walhalla in the Victorian Alps. Apart from Kilmany Park, his monument, William Pearson's hugely extensive pastoral holdings elsewhere in Victoria are not mentioned either. His thoroughbred horse-racing successes and failures are what seem to have captured the public imagination. He himself successfully concealed from all but a few old Gippsland cronies his involvement in one of the darkest episodes in the history of Australia, about which more presently.

According to the Gippsland Mercury:

We have this morning to chronicle the death of the Hon. William Pearson, of Kilmany Park, Sale, and Craigellachie, East St. Kilda, which took place at the latter place on Thursday afternoon [August 10, 1893]. The event was not unexpected, for Mr. Pearson, who was 74 years of age, has been in failing health for some months past, and his doctors had given up all hopes of his ultimate recovery, though they considered that he might possibly survive for months. His affection was heart disease, and it appears to have carried him off somewhat suddenly at the end, Mr. Pearson expiring of syncope on the day stated, after an attack which lasted a few minutes. The funeral has been arranged to take place this (Saturday) afternoon, and will leave his late residence for the St. Kilda cemetery at 3 p.m. We learn that a number of Sale and district residents intend to be present at the ceremony. Yesterday the usual signs of mourning were visible in all parts of the town, and the corporation flag floated at half mast. In penning the following reference to Mr. Pearson’s career, we have been at some disadvantage, in consequence of the absence of the family in town, but it will be found sufficiently explicit on most points of interest:—

The deceased gentleman was the eldest son of Captain Hugh Pearson, R.N., of Hilton, Scotland, and was born at Hilton, parish of Kilmany, Fifeshire, in 1818. He was educated at Polmont [the schoolmaster’s name was Thomas Girdwood, and he served in that capacity from 1789 for more than 60 years], and the Edinburgh High School, and early in life developed a taste for the sea, to which, as stated in Victorian “Men of the Time” edition, 1882, he was brought up, though his father in order to disgust him with that vocation sent him on board an American timber ship. He appears to have resented this by running away from his ship; but he did not abandon maritime pursuits, and was sent on board an East Indiaman, where he rose to the rank of third mate. Upon the death of his father he relinquished seafaring pursuits, and being attracted by the accounts of the pastoral riches of Victoria, then known as Port Phillip, sailed for these shores, arriving in 1841. Gippsland was then newly discovered and practically a terra incognita, but with the true pioneering spirit Mr. Pearson turned his attention to the new country, and arrived at it
via Omeo. It is probable, but we are not sure, that he was accompanied by another well-known pioneer, Mr. Brodribb. He drove cattle over to the Gippsland plains, and after a temporary occupation of Lindenow, pushed on, and established himself at Kilmany, being greatly attracted by the magnificent plains between the two rivers, the Glengarry and the Thomson. It was about the same time that Mr. Macfarlane took up Heyfield. Mr. Pearson met and bravely surmounted the difficulties incidental to early squatting life. He suffered from drought and flood, from the depredations of the wild blacks, with whom he had many a brush, but eventually converted the leasehold into a noble freehold estate—certainly one of the most valuable in the colony. In the acquisition of his fortune he was greatly assisted by the strong interest he always held in the famous Long Tunnel Mine, Walhalla, of which he held about a third [actually two fifths] of the shares, and from which he has received many [hundreds of] thousands of pounds in dividends. Mr. Pearson was married in 1859 to Miss Travers, daughter of Mr. Travers, of the East India Company’s service, and had a family of seven children, of whom four with the widow survive.

It is probably due to the early training of Mr. Pearson that he was excessively brusque in his general demeanor, but those who knew him best are correct in asserting that the rough core concealed a very manly and generous spirit. “He was,” says one who knew him well, “the straightest man I ever knew,” and there can be no doubt but that such praise was altogether deserved. He went for what he believed to be the right in the straightest possible manner, and had a huge scorn of other men who were given to tergiversation or trickery. Such scorn was expressed in the strongest possible language, and he had much at command, and in his more youthful days was accustomed to back up his opinions by stronger means still. There are many living now, however, who will testify that he could on occasion do really generous things, and especially when someone who had fallen by the wayside needed a friendly hand to give him a fresh start.

The deceased gentleman was no stranger to political life, having sat in the Legislative Assembly for North Gippsland in 1864, when he defeated the miner’s candidate, Mr. C. F. Nicholls. We have some remembrance that he had previously contested a Parliamentary election unsuccessfully, but we cannot just now lay our hands on the authorities. He was returned a second time for the same constituency in 1866, but shortly afterwards severed his connection with the Assembly, and never sat in that House after payment of members became the law of the land. He was returned to the Upper House in 1881 for the Eastern Province, and when the provinces were rearranged sat for the Gippsland Province, and retained the position until his death. It cannot be said that he was in any way a prominent politician, nor was his voice too frequently heard, but he had a rough and ready common sense which enabled him to get at the bottom of a subject, to sift the wheat from the chaff, and he voted straight in accordance with his convictions, and was permanently ranged on the side of law and order. He was elected without opposition last year, and his term of office which has been cut short by death would not have expired until 1898.

Perhaps, however, it is as a sportsman that Mr. Pearson will be best known. For a long time he kept and regularly hunted a pack of hounds at Kilmany Park, and his connection with the Greenwattle course was maintained through an unbroken series of years, while his metropolitan successes are registered in the archives of the V.R.C., of which body he was an energetic member. Concerning his sporting career we extract the following from the Argus, a journal well qualified to speak of it:—“On the turf Mr. Pearson was a well-known figure. During a career as an owner of racehorses extending over a period of between forty and fifty years, he probably won a larger number of races than any man in Australia. Commotion was undoubtedly the best horse that he ever owned. He was the Carbine of his day. His performances were brilliant, and included the winning of the Champion race twice, in 1883 and 1885. The son of Panic was also twice placed in the Melbourne Cup, running third to Martini-Henry and First Water in 1883 with 10 st[one]. 1 lb. on his back, and second to Malua with 9 st. 12 lb. up in the following year. At the same meeting, Commotion gave Malua a pound and a four lengths’ beating in the Canterbury Plate, for which event odds of 2 to 1 were laid on Malua. Mr. Pearson had another good horse at this time, Fryingpan, as game an animal as ever stripped for a race, and who is now known to fame as the sire of the Newmarket Handicap winner, Fortunatus. Fryingpan won many good races, but his great performance was carrying 10 st. 1 lb. to victory in the Bookmakers’ Purse, one mile, in the mud, at Flemington, in the excellent time of 1 min. 42¾ sec., Don Quixote being second, and Malua, as a four-year-old, with 8 st. 5 lb in the saddle, third. Other good horses owned by Mr. Pearson were Hyacinth, Magnet, Venom, and Lamplighter. With Hyacinth he won the Newmarket Handicap in 1892, and with Lamplighter he appropriated the Ascot Vale Stakes in 1869 and the St. Leger in 1870. Mr. Pearson could not be regarded as a lucky man on the turf, for though he won a few important races, his horses on several occasions ran into second or third place in big races. Comparatively speaking, he was much more successful with jumpers than with flat-racers. Trumpeter, Lady Ashton and Royal Oak were three steeplechasers owned by him that won several good races. Royal Oak was the winner of the Grand National Steeplechase in 1887. Mr. F. F. Dakin, the present V.R.C. handicapper, acted as Mr. Pearson’s trainer at Flemington for several years. Mr. Pearson was a heavy better when he considered he had a good thing, and he thought nothing of putting £1,000 on one of his horses in a steeplechase at Caulfield or Flemington. He landed a very big stake when Hyacinth won the Newmarket, and he also had a good win Gondolier’s victory in the V.R.C. Maiden Hurdle Race. He never hesitated to give a big price for a good horse, but he was singularly unfortunate with his high-priced stock. Redbourne, a son of St. Albans and Royal Maid, for whom as a yearling he gave 1,325 guineas, never won a race, and Bedouin, by Darriwell—Black Gypsy, for whom a good price was also paid, was very unsuccessful on metropolitan courses, though he won a few races in Gippsland. Bedouin showed good form as a two-year-old, running into a place several times, and finishing third in Hortense’s Maribyrnong Plate. He must have been an expensive horse to his owner, who several times backed him heavily for races which he failed to win. He gave something like 1,500 guineas for Silver Prince, but the New Zealander could never be got fit enough to even start in a race. Mr. Pearson once owned a Melbourne Cup winner in Arsenal, but he sold the son of Goldsborough before he won the race. He purchased Arsenal as a yearling for 625 guineas, and after failing to run up to expectations in the Melbourne Cup as a three-year-old, he sold him to Mr. W. Gannon, for whom he won the Cup the following year. A Grand National Hurdle Race winner in Crusoe, at one time ran his colours but he also had the bad luck to part with him before the gelding won the most important race in his career. Mr. Pearson was within an ace of becoming the owner of the greatest racehorse Australia ever saw—Carbine. At the yearling sale at which the son of Musket—Mersey was sold, Mr. Pearson was represented by Mr. N. Goold, of Melbourne, who bid up to 600 guineas for Carbine, but Mr. D. O’Brien went 20 guineas more and secured him. Mr. Goold got a good-looking colt, by Musket form Leila, who subsequently raced at Whitworth, for 510 guineas at the same sale, and he turned out a rank failure; and another well-bred colt, Firelock, a full brother to the Champion winner, Matchlock, who was also purchased by Mr. Pearson about this time at a higher figure, was very little better. Such is the lottery of buying yearlings. Latterly, Mr. Pearson’s colours had not frequently been seen on metropolitan courses, but at the last V.R.C. Spring Meeting he was represented by a small string, two of the number, Wolf and Hyaena, being by his old favourite, Commotion, but the trip was not a success. Mac and Hyaena also carried his colours unsuccessfully at the last V.R.C. Autumn Meeting. For many years Mr. Pearson was a member of the V.R.C. committee, and as a practical racing man his counsels were always of value. His death is a great loss to the turf of this colony.

No comments:

Post a Comment