Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Lively Early-day Meetings—Constabulary Parade with Swords Unsheathed—Quaint Rules Enforced.
Now the oldest racing club in the distriet, the Poverty Bay Turf Club held its first meeting in 1870 on S. Parsons's property at Matawhero. A meeting was held at Ormond in 1873 by the Armed Constabulary. The Waerenga-a-Hika Jockey Club was formed in 1874. Races sponsored by natives were held at Waiapu in January, 1874, and at Manutahi in the following month. The first races at Tolaga Bay were held on 28 December, 1876. Among the clubs which raced in the early 1880's were the Poverty Bay Jockey Club and the Makaraka Race Club. In December, 1885, the Tolaga Bay Jockey Club was formed. The Gisborne Racing Club held its inaugural meeting on 5 November, 1889. After its meeting on 24 May, 1895, the Waerenga-a-Hika Jockey Club ceased to function. Bookmaking became illegal in 1910, and a host of unregistered meetings faded out. On 28 October, 1916, the Poverty Bay Hunt Club held its first meeting under permit. The Gisborne Racing Club went out of existence in July, 1932, and the borough took over its property, converting it into a domain. Negotiations for the merging of the Waiapu R.C. and the Tolaga Bay J.C. in the Poverty Bay Turf Club were entered into in 1949. Tolaga Bay J.C. agreed to do so.
A memorable brush between pakehas and Maoris took place at the first meeting held at Matawhero. When trouble appeared likely, Major Westrup called to ex-members of the Forest Rangers to “Fall in!” The men, some of whom rushed for their horses, armed themselves with any weapon—from stirrup leathers to palings—that came to hand. It seemed likely that the natives would make a stand, but they broke and fled across the Waipaoa River. On the occasion of the next meeting a squad of Armed Constabulary, with swords unsheathed, was in attendance.
Steps were taken in October, 1872, to organise the Turf Club more thoroughly. A Turf Committee was set up, comprising: J. W. Johnson (chairman), J. B. Poynter, T. Goldsmith, G. Davis, C. D. Pitt, W. H. Tucker and M. Hall (secretary). As Mr. Parsons declined to allow his property to be used again unless he was compensated, the meeting in January, 1873, was held on one of Captain Read's paddocks at “The Willows.” G. J. Winter was starter and W. A. Richardson judge.
Four races were set down for the first day: Maiden Plate (20 sovs.), w.f.a., 3 miles; Turanga Stakes (20 sovs.), 1½ miles, aged, 11 st., 5, 4 and 3-year-olds in same reduction as under the Auckland rule; Scurry Stakes (15 sovs.), 1 mile heats, w.f.a.; and Hack Race (5 sovs.), 1 mile, catch weights, for horses which had not been entered for other than hack races and which had not been sweated in clothing. On the second day the programme was: Hurdle Race (20 sovs.), 2 miles, five flights of 3 ft. 9 in. fences, w.f.a.; Pony Race (10 sovs.), 14 hands and under, with 9 st. top-weight and an allowance of 71b. per inch below, 1 mile heats; Ladies' Purse (20 sovs.), 2 miles, w.f.a.; Consolation Handicap (10 sovs.), 1½ miles, for all beaten horses; and Hack Race (5 sovs.), 1½-mile heats, catch weights.page 434
No person was permitted to enter a horse for other than the Hack Races unless he had subscribed at least two guineas to the race fund. Entries had to be accompanied by a fee of 15 per cent. of the stake. All fees were added to the stake. The winner of any private match was required to pay 10/- to the stewards. To assist in meeting the expenses 5 per cent. of the winnings was deducted. Nominations were received from: T. Goldsmith, S. C. Caulton, J. B. Poynter, M. Hall, J. W. Johnson, S. T. Horsfall, G. J. Winter, C. D. Pitt, Harrison, G. G. Mill, Powdrell, Galbraith and Dalziell.
Not the least enjoyable feature of the meeting (readers of the Standard were told) was that a full hour was allowed each day for an alfresco lunch. “The popping of corks, that exquisite spiral grinding of the corkscrew, the jingling of glasses, the domestic clatter of plates and dishes, the merry laugh and pleasant joke—all these things combined to make rural festivity complete.” The absence of many of the ladies on the second day was attributed to “the necessity imposed on them to husband their beauty and strength for the ball.”
In January, 1874, a feature of the programme was a Cavalry Race, run over 3 miles, owners up in uniform, but without accoutrements, and at welter weight, 12 st. 4 lbs. A condition of entry was that the horse must have been ridden at all parades since the previous October. The “gate” was bought by R. Kelly for £30. Patrons on foot were charged 1/- for admittance, horses 2/-, and vehicles 3/-; grandstand, 2/6. After the races the grandstand was sold for £14. R. Kelly and G. Saunders each paid £25 for the right to have a liquor booth. Transport to the ground by four-wheel brake cost 7/6 return. Among the patrons were a number of Maori belles “got up regardless of expense, their riding habits, hats and every other requisite being in the newest style.”
Notable horses from other districts soon began to make their appearance at races in Poverty Bay. Some “bookies” brought horses with them. In 1876, Otio, which had, in the previous year, won the Auckland Derby, was a contestant. Perfume was brought to Gisborne in 1877, dumped overboard from the steamer, swum ashore, and won a race the same day. Meantime, local owners had begun to acquire good horses. S. C Caulton secured Dainty Ariel (one of the progeny of the famous Riddles-worth). Kalo, another of his acquisitions, paid a dividend of about £300 at Auckland. Foul Play (the shortest-priced favourite ever to win the Auckland Cup) came into local ownership in 1884, and had a walkover in that year's Turanga Stakes.