West Australian 1

Racing Plate of West Australian framing minature painting of the ‘Triple Crown’ winner. By permission of Bowes Museum, Ref 1988.2.1/B.M.

West Australian 2

Acrostic' poem to West Australian. By permission of Bowes Museum Archive Ref JB/1/7/3

West Australian 3

Photograph of memorial to West Australian at Streatlam. By permission of Bowes Museum Archive.

Eastgate Roman Altar
Original Location: Barnard Castle
Current Location: Bowes Museum
Theme: Cultural
Period: Post-medieval
Date: c.1853

What is it?
Racing Plate of West Australian framing minature painting of the horse – the first winner of the ‘Triple Crown’ – the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Epsom Derby and the St. Leger at Doncaster – the three English Classic flat races for three year old colts. The painting is framed by one of his racing plates.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
West Australian was bred at Streatlam, the Teesdale estate of the Bowes family. The family had been connected with breeding, buying and racing horses since the early 17th century. In 1795 the 10th Earl of Strathmore established the stud with 5 mares. However it was his son John Bowes (1811-1885) who developed the stud which gained an international reputation, breeding four Derby winners. Mündig in 1835 was the first northern horse to win the Derby, while Cotherstone after winning at Epsom in 1843 almost won the Triple Crown, beaten by a neck in the St. Leger, his jockey having allegedly been bribed to pull the race.  Daniel O’Rourke was Bowes’ unexpected Derby victor in 1852 but the following year West Australian won him Triple Crown. As the acrostic poem in the horse’s honour says ‘Now where is WEST AUSTRALIAN? Where? Why where he should be – First’. Such was the horse’s fame that a memorial stands today on the site of the stud recording his famous victories in 1853 and his subsequent triumph in the 1854 Ascot Gold Cup, in front of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Duke of Wellington.

Why is it important?
The tributes to West Australian symbolise John Bowes’ achievements in British horse racing, a national sport supported by every layer of society - although opposed by anti-gambling and temperance groups. Yet Bowes was little recognised and known as ‘The Mystery Man of the British Turf’, his illegitimate birth compromising his acceptance by the Victorian establishment. His sporting prowess is today forgotten, in contrast to his other activities as a coal and shipping magnate, the owner of large estates and the MP for South Durham from 1832 to 1847. Above all, with his French wife Josephine Bowes, he was the creator of one of Britain’s major regional art collections, displayed today in the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle.

Further Information

    Text References:
  • Elizabeth Conran, John Bowes, Mystery Man of The British Turf (Middlesbrough, 1985)
  • Mike Huggins, Flat Racing and British Society 1790-1914 (London, 2000)

  • External Links:
  • The Bowes Museum

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