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National Museum of Australia 1866 Melbourne Cup

The National Museum of Australia in Canberra has acquired the 1866 Melbourne Cup won by The Barb, regarded as the first great Australian racehorse trained by ‘Honest’ John Tait, the ‘Father of the Australian Turf’.

The 1866 Melbourne Cup won by The Barb. Photo: George Serras.
The 1866 Melbourne Cup won by The Barb. Photo: George Serras.
First run in 1861, the Melbourne Cup was a cup in name only, with prizes including a gold watch and cash purse. The first official trophy cup was awarded in 1865. The 1865 trophy was sold by its owner, who reportedly found it unattractive. It was rebranded and presented as the Flemington Hunt Club Cup. The 1866 trophy is therefore the oldest Melbourne Cup in original condition. It was made in London in 1865 by Daniel and Charles Houle and imported to Australia by Walsh Brothers Jewellers, who ordered it on behalf of the Victorian Racing Club.

Silver-gilt chased with gold leaf, the cup is 75.5 centimetres high and reflects the Renaissance revival style seen in England around the middle of the 19th century. The protruding horse’s heads closely resemble those featured on the 1867 Queen’s Plate, made by Melbourne silversmith William Edwards, and give weight to the argument that the 1867 Queen’s Plate was made with the intent of it being presented as a Melbourne Cup.

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