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1867 Melbourne Cup and Queen's Plate trophies

At a glance

  • The 'Two Tims' Cup
  • Racing legend Etienne de Mestre
  • Interstate rivalry
  • A tale of two trophies

The 1867 Melbourne Cup and Queen's Plate trophies complement the National Museum's collection of Melbourne Cup and Flemington related objects, which include Phar Lap's heart and the 1934 Melbourne Cup won by Peter Pan.

The Melbourne Cup trophy is mostly silver with two ornate handles and mounted on a wooden base. The Queen's Plate trophy has a horse on the topy standing a rounded silver globe mounted on a long stem. Chains are draped from the globe.
1867 Melbourne Cup trophy (left) and 1867 Queen's Plate trophy (right). Courtesy Sotheby's Australia.

Two Tim Whifflers

The 1867 Melbourne Cup featured two horses by the name of Tim Whiffler, the 5 to 2 favourite and eventual winner from New South Wales, and a local horse owned by Mr Walter Craig, a well-known Ballarat hotelier. To avoid confusion, the bookmakers referred to them as 'Sydney Tim' and 'Melbourne Tim'. Tim Whiffler was a common name for racehorses in the late 1800s.

Not only were two Tim Whifflers competing in the 1867 Melbourne Cup, but one of the sons of 'Sydney Tim' was also named Tim Whiffler, as was an English thoroughbred imported for breeding. 'English Tim Whiffler', as he was known in Australia, was a very successful stallion, siring two Melbourne Cup winners (Briseis and Darriwell) and making a significant contribution to Australian bloodstock especially through his daughters. Interestingly, in 1865 Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon wrote a verse in which a horse named Tim Whiffler won the Melbourne Cup. There was also a ship named Tim Whiffler.

Pencil drawing of a race horse, side view, facing to the left of the frame.
Tim Whiffler sketched by ST Gill after winning the 1867 Melbourne Cup. 'Illustrated Sydney News', 16 November 1867, State Library of New South Wales.

A racing legend

The 1867 Melbourne Cup winning horse, Tim Whiffler, was trained by Etienne de Mestre. He was born and went to school in Sydney before settling with his merchant father and his family in the Shoalhaven region of New South Wales. A good friend of horse breeder Thomas John Roberts, de Mestre developed into one of the greatest trainers of his generation.

He won the first two Melbourne Cups in 1861 and 1862 with Archer, the 1867 Cup with Tim Whiffler, the 1877 Cup with Chester and, finally, the 1878 Cup with Calamia. With five Melbourne Cup wins as a trainer, de Mestre held the record as the most successful trainer of the race for almost 100 years. He was overtaken in 1977 when Bart Cummings won the sixth of his eventual twelve Melbourne Cups. In 2002, de Mestre was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame.

Interstate rivalry

With Etienne de Mestre winning five Melbourne Cups in the early years of the race and John Tait, also a New South Welshmen, winning four in the same period, practically half of the Melbourne Cup winners of the first two decades of the race's history came from interstate. Perhaps this was one of the reasons the Melbourne Cup so quickly became a passion for all Australians, rather than just Melburnians. Today the race remains the best known of all Australian races, and has become an international affair, with foreign entrants and winners increasingly common each year.

A tale of two trophies

Carved silver trophy with gold inlay and two onate handles mounted on a wooden base.
1867 Melbourne Cup. Courtesy Sotheby's Australia

The trophy for the Melbourne Cup today is a 'loving cup' with three gold handles. This basic design has been the same for the past 90 years. Before the trophy became standardised in 1919, however, a range of different trophies were awarded for the Melbourne Cup, and in some years no trophy at all.
For the first three years the Melbourne Cup was a 'Cup' in name only, with no trophy awarded to the winner. Instead, the winner of the first race in 1861 received a gold watch, and for the next two years a cash purse was the major prize. In 1865 and 1866 English-made trophies were awarded. These now reside in private collections.

The Melbourne Cup presented in 1867 was made in England by Thomas Smily of London firm WR Smily & Company. Victorian jewellers complained to the Victorian Racing Club (VRC) that the trophy should have been made locally; believing the work of Melburnian William Edwards to be superior in both design and workmanship to the English made trophy. Perhaps because of the controversy, no trophy was awarded to the Melbourne Cup winner for the next eight years, when an Australian made trophy was awarded for the first time.

However, the VRC presented a William Edwards designed cup that he hoped would be the Melbourne Cup trophy, to the winner of the 1867 Queen's Plate, which was run at Flemington two days after the Melbourne Cup and won by Tim Whiffler. Both the English made and locally made trophies, won by Tom Whiffler in 1867, have remained in the same collection for the best part of a century and a half, and are now part of the collection of the National Museum of Australia.

Close up of the detail at the base of the silver trophy showing horses in full run.
Detail of the base of the 1867 Queen's Plate trophy. Courtesy Sotheby's Australia.