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Flemington Racecourse History

Flemington, became firmly and thoroughly established when, in 1844, plans were submitted to the Town Council, and, that body approving of them, the place was declared to be a reserve for the purposes of racing.

Five trustees were appointed, in whose name the ground was held, these including the Crown Commissioner of the day, the Surveyor-in-Charge, Mr. J. C. Riddel, Mr. Dalmahoy Campbell and Mr. William J. Stawell.

Shortly afterwards the Superintendent of Port Phillip declared this transaction not to be legal, and a new grant was completed on October 22nd, 1847. The land included those portions of the Parish of Doutta Galla from 23 to 28 inclusive, beside the Saltwater or Maribyrnong River, the trustees being Mr. Riddel, Mr. Stawell, Mr. Dalmahoy Campbell again, and Mr. Colin Campbell.

The term of years was subsequently increased from ten to twenty-one, which, on the latest renewal of the compact, was finally extended to ninety-nine, at the rent of one peppercorn per annum. The spot was then known to the inhabitants as "The Racecourse," but a little village now began to grow up in the neighbourhood, and this was soon christened "Flemington," in honour of a genial butcher who supplied meat to the hamlet, and whose name was Bob Fleming.

In those early days everyone went to the races, and the route to and from the course was either by river-steamer or by road. The boats left the wharves at eleven o'clock and returned at sunset, and you may be sure there were hot times in the town on nights after the races. Bands and Christy minstrels enlivened the voyage by water. Passengers on the trip home not infrequently toppled overboard, and one or two were actually drowned.

Accidents by road were common. At one meeting alone three men were killed, two being run over by vehicles, and one by a runaway horse. Assaults were common, and fighting very popular.

Mr. O'Shanassy—who afterwards became Sir John—was attacked whilst taking a meditative canter round the course, and struck over the head very viciously by a ruffian armed with a heavy hunting crop. It was proved to have been a premeditated crime.

Not being disabled by his injuries, and being a man of much determination and courage, O'Shanassy turned upon his assailant, pursued and captured him, and had the satisfaction of seeing him receive a sentence of six months' imprisonment.

The winning post stood alongside the river bank somewhere between the present mile and seven furlong barriers. It was a handy spot at which the steamers could tie up to gum trees on the banks, and could disembark their passengers, but it had the disadvantage of being a considerable distance from the top of the steep, rising ground which soon became known as Picnic Hill.

It was not, however, until the sport had been in existence for some twenty years that it was found advisable to change the winning post to its present site, thus converting the Hill into a permanent, convenient and "commodious" stand.