The Champion cup was awarded at the inaugural New Norfolk races in 1850 to Thomas Todd Cooley. It passed through the Cooley family to WE Fuller, the maternal grandfather of the donor R Ian Morse.
Horseracing has a long history in Tasmania, the earliest recorded race being held in 1813, just nine years after the colony was established. In the first half of the nineteenth century the sport was actively promoted and pursued by the colony’s wealthy, landed elite. The Champion cup was run on the Esplanade at New Norfolk on 21 March 1850. A report on the race in the Hobart Town Courier of March 23, suggests that the sport of horseracing in southern Tasmania had fallen into a decline by the 1850s. The author, stating that the day would ‘in future occupy a prominent place in the annals of the Tasmanian Turf’, expresses a hope that the Champion cup would arrest this slide.
The Champion cup was presented to the Race Fund by Mr W Champion, described by the Hobart Town Courier as a ‘licensed victualler, Jolly Hatter’s Inn, Melville Street’. Valued at 25 pounds, with an additional five-pound sweepstake, the prize attracted a competitive field and a large crowd. The race was run in two heats and five horses were entered. The winning horse, Swordsman, was foaled in 1844 and bred by Sir Richard Dry (1815–69). At the time of the race, the owner was Thomas Todd Cooley (1805–86) of Cooley’s Hotel, Moonah. The Cooley family ran coach services between Hobart and Glenorchy and remained active in horseracing through to the 1920s. A family interest in harness racing continues the tradition to this day.
The Champion cup was made by Charles Jones. Jones was a Birmingham-trained jeweller sentenced to seven years transportation in 1832. He arrived in Tasmania aboard the Georgiana in 1833 and was assigned to the Hobart watchmaker and merchant, David Barclay (1804–84). Jones worked for Barclay until he received his Certificate of Freedom in 1839. He then set up business on his own account in Elizabeth Street, Hobart, making jewellery as well as plate. Jones was active in local theatrical circles and continued these interests when he migrated with his wife Mary (nee Thompson) to Sydney in 1858.
The style of the Champion cup follows the tradition of nineteenth-century presentation vessels, borrowing motifs from classical architecture and design. These include the acanthus and the grape vine that lend a festive air as well as abstract mouldings. In terms of decoration, the use of openwork and cast components make this one of the most ambitious pieces of known Tasmanian colonial silver.
Following British tradition, the cup is struck with four ‘hallmarks’. The first of these is the maker’s initials, followed by the lion passant (normally the guarantee of sterling standard). The sovereign’s head (Queen Victoria) is followed by an anchor, normally representing the Guild of the City of Birmingham. In the absence of a guild to assay the metal and approve the craftsmanship these ‘hallmarks’ must be regarded as the maker’s invention, similar to those employed by David Barclay.
A lidded racing trophy in the form of an urn with two handles. The bowl is trumpet-shaped, polished smooth and inscribed on one side. It rests within a detached cup with a shaped edge decorated with formalised acanthus leaves. Two handles in the form of branches rise from the base of the cup to rejoin it with a spray of grapes and leaves. The cup rests on a concave moulded ring supported by an openwork stem of four inverted acanthus leaves, flaring to rest on a domed, circular base.
The lid is a shallow, polished dome, edged with punched and engraved decoration. It has a finial comprised of a smaller dome, framed with grapes and leaves, upon which rests a figure of a kangaroo.
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of Tasmanian colonial decorative arts. This includes items made in Tasmania from 1803 to 1901. Between the 1830s and 1850s a number of ambitious commemorative silver pieces were made in the state, mainly by convict or ex-convict artisans. The Champion cup was made by ex-convict silversmith, Charles Jones (1819–64) for William Champion, an entrepreneurial Hobart publican. It was presented as a prize at the New Norfolk races in 1850. Made near the end of the local silver smithing phenomenon, the Champion cup is one of the most ambitious pieces of Tasmanian-made silver, incorporating elaborate cast decoration.
Engraved: ‘Presented / BY / W. CHAMPION Esqr / AND WON BY THE / CELEBRATED HORSE SWORDSMAN / THE PROPERTY OF / THOMAS TODD COOLEY / IN 1850’.
Struck with ‘hallmarks’ for Charles Jones:
- ‘CJ’ in a rectangular tablet
- Lion passant
- Sovereign’s head (Queen Victoria)
- Anchor (nominally Birmingham)
John Hawkins, 19th Century Australian Silver, Vol.2 p227