Friday, May 20, 2011


Uncle Roy Pearson, Gran’s brother, died on July 31, 1923, “at his residence ‘Commotion,’ Kilsyth,” near Croydon. The death notice, which appeared in The Gippsland Times (Thursday, August 2, p. 2) and elsewhere, laid emphasis on certain particulars, namely “William Roy, only son of the late William Pearson, Kilmany Park, Sale, aged 33 years.” Kilmany was sold to the government in 1921 for subdivision and “soldier settlement,” although it is not entirely clear why this occurred. At his death in 1893 Roy’s grandfather, who created Kilmany in the 1840s, left it to his eldest surviving son and namesake, our great-grandfather, and it seems to have been the younger William’s intention (insofar as it was stated in his will) that Kilmany should eventually pass to Roy, though perhaps not as soon as 1919, when Mr. Pearson died suddenly of a heart attack. Whether Roy tried his hand at running the place and failed, or else the debts accumulated during the First World War were simply too burdensome, the decision to give up Kilmany was obviously taken as a consequence of settling his father’s estate. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Roy drank heavily, and it may have been that he died as a consequence of chronic alcoholism even though phthisis and myocarditis were the officially certified causes of death. Perhaps something traumatic happened to Roy during the war that marriage to Maida Frances Blood Dowling failed to heal, and the disappointment of losing Kilmany Park gravely exacerbated—we shall almost certainly never know for sure; certainly he served as an officer of the twelfth Reserve Regiment of Cavalry (13th Hussars) and the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and evidently suffered from sunstroke in Mesopotamia. But it is clear that in piecing together a sort of life for himself after the sale of Kilmany, Roy identified powerfully with his family’s Gippsland legacy. On his death certificate he is described as “Grazier,” with a capital G, as his late father is also. Either Roy chose to be buried in Sale (on August 2), or that exceedingly inconvenient choice was made for him. However that is not what concerns me here. “Commotion,” the odd name Roy chose for his house and grounds at Kilsyth, near Croydon on the outskirts of Melbourne, was borrowed from the most celebrated of his grandfather’s racehorses. According to the Argus (Wednesday, October 14, 1885, p. 5), “No racehorse has ever been so peculiarly identified with the Flemington racecourse as Commotion.” (The elder William was one of the founding members of the Victoria Racing Club.) “His retirement from the turf,” that is, Commotion’s, “just on the approach of the Melbourne Cup, affords an opportunity of recalling a few memories connected with this superb horse, whose record is second to none in Australia. Many years ago, Mr. G. A. Brown, of this city, who has for a long time been connected with the staff of the Argus and the Australasian, bought while in England a brown thoroughbred colt for a park hackney, giving 84 guineas for the animal. It was well bred, being by Alarm from Queen of Beauty. Alarm’s sire was the famous stayer Venison, Beauty was by Melbourne, and farther back it would be superfluous to go. Mr. Brown says, ‘The colt was a bag of bones, or I would never have got such aristocratic breeding for the money in England.’ He called his bargain St. George, and brought him to Australia, but a well-informed friend pointed out that the colt had a name when he bought him. He was called Panic—‘a very good name, too,’ it was remarked, ‘for a son of Alarm.’ Mr. Brown therefore adhered to that name. Panic found his way to Tasmania, and into the hands of Mr. Samuel Blackwell. Mr. Blackwell lived at Melton Mowbray, named after the famous English headquarters of hunting. Then Mr. Phillips trained and raced Panic. He ran second to grey Toryboy in the Melbourne Cup of 1865. He became the sire of many stout racers, including Wellington, Melbourne, Pell Mell, and, the greatest of all, Commotion—an excellent name for the son of Panic and grandson of Alarm. Commotion’s dam was Evening Star, by Lord Clifden, tracing back to Newminster, Voltigeur, and Melbourne. Commotion had Melbourne on both sides in his breeding, and in Melbourne only would he race to advantage, having a prejudice against Sydney, Adelaide, and even Geelong. At the V.R.C. Spring Meeting of 1881 he was found making his debut, as a three-year-old, in the Derby, under the pink jacket, blue sash, and black cap of Mr. Phillips. He excited no notice in the saddling paddock, and was not mentioned at all in the betting. Darebin won, with Commotion a bad third. The Railway Stakes, next day of the meeting, brought him out of his shell, for he won easily. At the V.R.C. Midsummer meeting, New Year’s Day, 1882, he ran Coriolanus to three-quarters of a length for the Champion Race, being ridden by [the famous Tom] Hales. His second win was scored at the V.R.C. autumn meeting, when he first showed his superlative form by carrying off the St. Leger, and turning the tables on Darebin, who was third. Mr. Phillips was first and second with two Panics—Commotion and Pell Mell. Commotion likewise won the Town Plate, weight for age, two miles, with the veteran Wellington, another Panic, second. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that both owner and public preferred Pell Mell to Commotion, for the former started first favourite, at even money on him, and was nowhere. Commotion won with the greatest ease by three lengths, beating not only Wellington and Pell Mell, but also Progress, Darebin, Sweet William, Coriolanus, Salisbury, and Santa Claus. This was one of his best races. Commotion’s records away from Melbourne may be omitted, because they are of much less importance than those of his doing at Flemington. As a four-year-old, he opened by winning the Veteran Stakes, at the V.R.C. Spring Meeting, with The Assyrian second, and First water third, thus beating the Melbourne Cup winner The Assyrian, to whom he gave 5th. He also won the Canterbury Plate by over two lengths, beating Darebin, Sweet William, and The Assyrian. In the meantime, it should have been mentioned, he became the property of Mr. Pearson, who gave 1,400 guineas for him apparently at his zenith, and yet Commotion far outdid afterwards all he had accomplished before. Next he won the Champion Stakes on New Year’s Day, 1883, by a short half-head, beating Guesswork, Navigator, Calma, and Segenhoe. His five-year-old record opened with cutting down the field in the Melbourne Stakes at the V.R.C. Spring Meeting. Next came the first of his masterly performances under crushing weight in the Melbourne Cup, with Martini-Henry first, First Water second, Commotion third, carrying 10 st[one]. 1 lb.—a performance not beaten by very much in The Bath’s Sydney Cup. When the Melbourne Cup came around again in 1884, Commotion displayed the finest rush of his life in a desperate grapple with Malua, to whom he ran second, only beaten by half a length, and he soon after defeated Malua in the Canterbury Plate. His wins of the Midsummer Handicap and Champion Stakes, for the second time, finished up his brilliant chronicle. To this splendid horse all distances have been alike, and he has shown himself remarkable for dash, but his Midsummer Handicap victory; for pace, by his two achievements in the Melbourne Cup races; and for endurance by his two wins of the Champion Race. He is the most popular horse that ever galloped on the Melbourne racecourse.” Eight years later, shortly after the death of the Hon. William Pearson, M.L.C., of Kilmany Park, the Argus (Saturday, October 28, 1893, p. 6) reported: “DEATH OF COMMOTION. The old sire Commotion, belonging to the late Mr. Wm. Pearson, was shot on Thursday, having utterly broken down.” Roy was only three, so it is hardly surprising that for him, if not so much for his three sisters, “Commotion” remained the stuff of legend, the revered memory of what might have been. Perhaps wisely, Aunt Maida, his young widow, returned to Toowoomba in the hills of far-distant southern Queensland, where she married Uncle Roy in 1920.

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