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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Horse-Racing and Betting

Horse-Racing and Betting.

"We are in a high degree a cricketing, horse-racing, theatre-going, frivolous community,"—Dr. Lang.

Thirty years ago we were universally spoken of as, par excellence, a criminal community. A great change for the better has taken place since then, (attributable, in a great measure, no doubt, to the character of our arrivals and departures,) but not to such an extent as to render our old reputation altogether inapplicable to us. Sydney, more particularly, would gain nothing by comparing with towns in England of the same amount of population as herself; but would suffer terribly from contrast. Here a hundred policemen find ample and arduous employment, whilst in England half that number of these conservators of the peace would deal with an equally populous community, and from the sinecure would inevitably subside into a state of pinguidity that would render them peculiarly acceptable to our Polynesian anthropophagi. It will be some time before we are purged of that old leaven of unrighteousness, the criminal element, and this in connection with our universal sporting proclivities, will prevent us, for years to come, from being favourably classed with communities of average respectability.

Dr. Lang's apparent censure is by far too complimentary if applied to the whole community. Doubtless we have frivolous page 134 people amongst us, and in no very limited number; but the criminal section of the community cannot with any propriety be placed in this category. The persistent law-breaker is anything but frivolous: on the contrary, he is by far too earnest in his wrong doing, and would unquestionably gladly plead guilty to the minor charge, if, by so doing, he might escape the greater indictment.

We are not prepared to condemn horse-racing per se, because it may be (as we are often assured that it is,) that horse-racing is an institution absolutely necessary to the successful testing of the efforts of the breeders of this animal to improve the stock. But, be this as it may, horse-racing appears to be necessarily associated with some very objectionable adjuncts. The racecourse appears to be the natural arena of the cardsharper, the thimble-rigger, the pickpocket, and the dishonest of every shade down to the very lowest scum of thiefdom. But with these, just now, we have nothing to do beyond remarking, that the dishonest may be divided into two classes: one, comprising those who ply their vocation in violation of the laws of the land; the other, those who so trim their boat as to sail with the wind, or, in less metaphorical language, who never operate in opposition to, or in violation of, the strict letter of the law, but always with it. The former, of course, are amenable to the criminal law, and have to digest its awards with all the philosophy they may be able to command; the other, subject to public opinion alone, invariably escape the meshes of the legal net that so disconcert and inconvenience the common thief.

It is not our intention to class the whole of the bookmaking and betting fraternity connected with horse-racing, with either the thieves who operate in violation of the law, or with those who give the law a wide berth; although we venture to opine that many of them might be so located without doing them any violent injustice. The law of the land declines to recognise the merely betting man in any way whatever. It refuses to assist him in the recovery of a betting debt, and the judge invariably discharges the jury from giving a verdict whenever any such case is submitted to their consideration. At the same time, he docs not invite the applicant to take a place in the criminal dock, although he reveals just so much of the cold shoulder as to render it unmistakeably clear that he declines the honour of further acquaintance.

It is our purpose briefly to show that these betting operations of the race course, although according with, or, at any rate, not opposed to the law of the land, are inconsistent with sound morality, and in direct opposition to that royal law, as James styles it, that prescribes, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." It would puzzle any one, we think, to discover in the operations of the betting man anything remarkably neighbourly—anything like that brotherly kindness that ought to influence the page 135 intercourse of men acknowledging allegiance to Christian ethics. To warn our neighbour against evil, rather than to seduce him into it, is certainly more the part of a Christian; but the offer to bet implies the desire of the better to transfer a sum of money from the pocket of his neighbour to his own, without the slightest equivalent for the same, his only apology for the offer being his willingness to expose to a similar chance a like sum of his own. The offer nevertheless can only be characterised as an act of pure and unwarrantable selfishness. Nor is the character of the transaction at all improved by the fact that the party addressed accepts the bet, as this only shows that there are two instead of one, willing to do the unneighbourly. The interest taken in the bet is the gauge of the folly of the parties to it, and the bitterness and inconvenience felt by the loser ought to reveal to him his moral delinquency in staking his means that might be better employed, and that probably he could ill afford to lose, on the hazard of a chance. Doubtless in many cases, an inconvenient loss operates beneficially, and prevents further mischief; but unhappily, it too often leads to utter recklessness that results in the utter ruin of the infatuated fool, and all connected with him. In a connection of our own, the senior partner of a firm that was doing a very good business, took it into his head to pay more attention to horse-racing than to his own business, although two large families were dependent on his and his partner's exertions. Betting in moderate sums at first, a tip (we believe it called) induced him to bet five hundred pounds on one event, which he lost, and this was the first serious gradation on the road to ruin. His recklessness very rapidly completed his destruction, and both himself and partner, who deserved a better fate, were declared insolvent. The man in business who degenerates into a sporting character, loses not only his money, but what is, or ought to be of equal value to him, character and status. It is not to be expected that the man who hazards his own means will be particularly careful of the property of other people, and under this view of the matter, credit is out of the question.

Two clerks in merchant's offices in Sydney, prompted by their losses in betting, helped themselves to a pile of certificates of bonded goods, in their respective offices. One, a married man, obtained an advance to the extent of some hundreds of pounds on his plunder, and has thereby been the cause of a law suit that will cost somebody more than the amount of the robbery. Now here was a man with a salary adequate to the maintenance of himself, his wife and family in respectability, exposing all to the hazard of a chance, to the irrevocable ruin of himself and those belonging to him. The other hands a bundle of certificates to a broker with instruction to sell them, but laughably enough, the broker, before any harm was done, offers them for sale to the very man to whom they belonged. Of course, the game, under these circumstances, was very soon played out, but the young page 136 man was not punished. Only in his teens, the youngster was merely dismissed, and his father being sent for, he was in a Christianlike manner advised to place his son, in future, only in such a position as should be free from temptation. The advice was gratefully received, and honoured so far that the lad was placed in a banking-house of all the places in the world, as preeminently free of temptation; and, as might be expected, the young gentleman availed himself of the first fair opportunity to help himself to a hatful of bank notes; his propensity for betting proving the means of discovering both the plunder and the thief. He too is in prison, with ample time and opportunity to cogitate on the felicities that encompass the sporting man's career. It is true that the parties to a bet are on the same level, and both encounter the same risk of losing; but this rarely reaches to the dignity of a palliation. Duellists meet on equal terms, but the law, nevertheless, when one falls, pronounces the survivor a murderer, and justly so too: for no civilised government will allow their subjects to avenge their personal injuries after that lethal fashion. But the bookmaker, we are told, so skilfully manages his betting that he invariably falls on his feet, and but rarely is a loser, the chances being so much in his favor, that he comes out a considerable winner. How this is to be accomplished without any violation of the rules of fair play, we do not pretend to say, for we have not penetrated the arcana of this mystery of iniquity, nor have we the slightest inclination so to do. On the contrary we sincerely adjure our juvenile readers more particularly to avoid all dalliance with betting, either as regards horse-racing or any other sport; and invariably reply to any and every offer of a bet,—I do not want your money, and I will take care that you do not get mine.

A Scotchman may be forgiven a little heresy on the subject of cricket of which he knows nothing; although it is a fact that the most enthusiastic admirer of the game that ever we met was a North Briton. But when Dr. Lang placed cricket amongst the frivolities of the time, we beg to assure him, and we do so without apology, that never in the whole course of his long and useful career did he perpetrate a more decided mistake. No man ought to be satisfied with anything less than good, sound, vigorous health—he ought not to be "amongst the middlings"—and vigorous health he will have if to temperance he adds the quantum sufficit of vigorous exercise, provided chronic disorder does not interpose a cruel negative. And for healthy and agreeable and vigorous exercise, the gymnasium of either ancient or modern times has nothing that for a moment can be compared to it. And this fact is anything but frivolous to the Englishman whose country appears to be the head quarters of incurable pulmonary consumption. Nevertheless, our experience leads us to conjecture that, were the game universally played at home, accidental consumption would be completely arrested, and that page 137 hereditary consumption, if not extirpated, would at any rate be very much modified, and reduced within more moderate limits than it unhappily obtains at the present time.

Where is the game or sport that so equally taxes every portion of the system? The lungs are fully inflated, the whole muscular system is called into vigorous exercise, and the circulation is driven to the extremities with an impetus that converts the human microcosm into a magazine of salubrity. And as an interesting spectacle, where is there anything to compare with a well played cricket match by A1 players? The gratification is intense to the adequately informed spectator, and is as continuous as it is intense. Different from the horse race, where the lengthy intervals allow the introduction of every abomination under the sun, the game with its varying fortunes, agreeably taxes the attention all day long, from the first delivery of the flying ball till the last man is placed hors de combat. Dr. Lang is fond of quoting Johnny Gilpin. He will forgive us then if in the same interest we say—

"And the very next time a game is played

May we both be there to see"

With regard to theatricals, we conceive that the play may be fairly placed in the same category as the novel. The incidents in both may be fictitious, but we insist that both shall be true to nature, and, failing this, we visit them with our indignant criticism. Both however may be estimated as legitimate sources of amusement, gratification and instruction, and should not, in our opinion, be ranked amongst the frivolities of the day.

It is many years since we visited a theatre, and whenever we did so, we generally came away about as much offended as gratified. A postprandial entertainment we could never find that part of the house where the audience were not much more intent on hearing themselves rather than the performers. The last time we visited the theatre, a returned digger, as we took him to be, placed himself by our side. After contemplating the performance very earnestly for a few minutes, he remarked in our hearing, "Oh! hang it. I didn't expect to see any rubbish like this." Why! what did you expect to see? we asked. "Oh!" said he, "give me a man that can take a good jump, or lift a great weight." He remained a few minutes longer, then jumped up in a fury, and, declaring that the whole concern was a swindle, made his exit; and probably by this time the reader has come to the conclusion that we ought to follow the digger's example.