The first Steeplechase in South Australia, 25 September 1846 oil on board 59 x 102cm (23 1/4 x 40 3/16in).
PROVENANCE: Mr Isaac Hurrell (1808-1874) of Inman Valley, acquired circa 1850 Mr W.S. Reid (d.1908) of Port Victor, circa 1902 Acquired by the current owner from J.B. Hawkins, 1986
EXHIBITED: Adelaide, Tattersall's Club, September 1902
LITERATUTRE: 'An Interesting Oil Painting', South Australian Register, 9 August 1902, p.6 'Mr C.B. Fisher. Old Time Memories. An Interview', South Australian Register, 18 September 1902, p.5
The present lot depicts a time when the wealthy colony of South Australia was in its very infancy. Adelaide was famously the first Australian colony settled by free immigrants; the first European settlers arrived in 1836, with South Australia only becoming recognised as a self-governing colony in 1856.
The first steeplechase was a momentous occasion, and one which was recorded in the South Australian Register the next day:
"Wednesday last was the day appointed for the 'Adelaide Grand Steeplechase' and we scarcely remember a day so generally devoted to pleasure. From the merchant to the shop-boy, each took a holiday, and if we might judge from the number and the description of horses and vehicles on the road to Glen Osmond...The road was literally thronged with equestrians and 'whips' of various degrees of celebrity - all seemingly partaking in the same anxiety to have a view of a race, the first of its kind in the colony."
The race was won by Mr Baker's Strangler, ridden by Mr Allen; Mr W. Formby's Forrester, ridden by Mr Charles Fisher, came second. The other starters were Norah, Teazer, Mustapha, Physic and Highflyer. The reporter from the Register goes on to describe the race itself in minute detail:
"Forrester took the lead, followed by Stranger and Teazer, Physic was 'no go' and Norah baulked at the jump...Highflyer fell at the third jump...Stranger and Forrester kept well together and did all the hard work. Stranger won cleverly by about three lengths."
This painting resurfaced in 1902 when the owner at the time sent the work to Adelaide to be cleaned and revarnished. It caused much excitement, and many who viewed the painting at Tattersall's would have remembered the event itself. One of those was Charles Fisher, rider of Forrester, who was asked to comment on the work. He believed the two horses shown in the lead were Strangler and Highflyer, although some alterations had been made to the scene: "I think the primitive stand and the fence are filled in from imagination" (The Register, 18 September 1902). This is not surprising, as the artist could not have been present at the event; he arrived in Adelaide in 1850. Born in Scotland, James Shaw was likely instructed by his father, who trained as a lithographer and engraver in Glasgow. He studied law at the University of Edinburgh before departing in 1836 for Jamaica, where he worked as a surveyor, while making topographical sketches and completing portrait commissions in his spare time. In 1847 he returned to Scotland, where he set up as a portrait painter and photographer. In July 1850, he and his new wife sailed for South Australia on board the Sacramento, arriving in Adelaide in November. He was a founder of the South Australian Society of Arts, and predominantly made a living painting pictures of Colonial homes and gardens.
It is likely the present lot was commissioned by Mr Isaac Hurrell to commemorate the original race that stopped the nation. Shaw may have not attended the race himself, but he would have heard plenty of first-hand accounts, coloured by nostalgia, to help fill in the details.