15-05-1891: The 1876 Melbourne Cup winner ‘Briseis’ in stained glass.

In 1876 a horse named Briseis won the Melbourne Cup and its owner and trainer, James Wilson, commissioned the Ferguson & Urie stained glass company of North Melbourne to create a stained glass window depicting the head of Briseis. The surrounding pictures in the lower window panels depicted racing trophies, jockey’s cap, whip and other horse racing devices. Wilson had the window installed in his Camberwell home at the entrance of his breakfast room where it was admired for many years. In the early 1900’s he sold the Camberwell house and legend has it that as part of the sale all the furniture and fittings would stay, except for the stained glass of Briseis. The trail of the windows whereabouts becomes a bit of a mystery from that point but I eventually found it more than 100 kilometers from its original location at Camberwell.

Photos were taken 6th January 2012.

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The North Melbourne Advertiser, Friday 15th May 1891, page 3


“Last week we had the pleasure of inspecting ‘Aire’, the residence of Mr James Wilson, senr, late of St. Albans Geelong, the well known racing veteran. It is situated at the corner of Riversdale road and Waterloo Street, Camberwell, on the brow of the hill…”

“…It was purchased last December by Mr Wilson, who has spent about £900 in renovating and decorating…The bathroom window and door are fitted with embossed plate glass by Ferguson & Urie…”

“… At the end of the hall is a door opening into the breakfast room having a stained glass upper panel (manufactured by Ferguson & Urie, of Curzon street North Melbourne); in the centre of the panel is a medallion in which is painted the head of Briseis who won the Melbourne Cup in 1876..” “The portrait is from a life study by Mr. Fred Woodhouse, snr. This panel presents exceedingly rich appearance. In the lower panels are painted racing trophies, jockey cap, whip, etc. painted in the colors of Messrs Wilson, senr and jun, these have been treated in a very artistic manner. The glass in front door and sidelights is in similar rich tints …”

The 1876 Melbourne cup winner, Briseis, was owned and trained by James Wilson. The Jockey, 13 year old Peter “St Albans” Bowden, was the youngest to have ridden in a Melbourne Cup. His age was a lie though,  in order to meet the minimum age requirement. He was actually just short of his twelfth birthday. Peter led Briseis past the post for a 1.1/2 length win over 2nd Place Sibyl, 3rd Place Timothy. Briseis also had a triple win of the Derby, Melbourne Cup and The Oaks all in the space of six days. At odds of 13/2 her win in the Melbourne Cup gave Wilson a prize of  £1,775.

The Briseis stained glass window has been a great discovery and is a magnificent example of a secular stained glass window by Ferguson & Urie. Although the roundel depicting Briseis is only 20cm in diamter, it is in greater detail and condition than original paintings of Briseis of the time.

The current owner of Wilson’s former house known as ‘Aire’ in Camberwell, informed me in late 2011 that it had been stated that when James Wilson sold the Camberwell house in early 1900 he had specified that everything would stay for the sale except the stained glass window of Briseis.

The location of the window remained a mystery until I found a restaurant review article published in the Melbourne Age on the 16th May 1989,  titled: “Form to Please a Horseman”. An obscure line in the article mentioned; … the glorious colors in the Briseis stained-glass door…”.

After a long process of elimination and research of Wilson’s property’s and property name changes, this restaurant review was the crucial clue and so it was tracked down to a residence at one of Wilson’s former horse studs on the coast. The extant parts of the historic Briseis stained glass window are now located at “Suma Park” (originally known as “Frankfurt-on-Sea” or “Frankfort”) just north of Queenscliff on the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria.

Sadly, the whereabouts of the other parts of the window that contained pictures of trophies and other horse racing items is not known. As at November 2011 the remaining part of the window containing the head of Briseis is installed in the door to the former smoking room at “Suma Park”. The house in Camberwell still retains some other extant examples of Frosted/Etched glass by Ferguson & Urie.

The Jockey: Peter “St. Albans” Bowden (15 Nov 1864 – 23 July 1898)

There were many unsubstantiated rumors of the time of the 1876 Melbourne Cup that claimed that the jockey Peter ‘St Albans” was aboriginal or of aboriginal descent. None of it has ever been proven.

Bendigo Advertiser, Vic, Monday 25th July 1898, page 2.

“On Saturday Mounted-constable Bowden, who is in charge of the police station in Strathfieldsaye, received intelligence by telegram of the death of his brother, Mr. Peter Bowden, the well-known lightweight jockey of St. Albans. Deceased, who was better known by the sobriquet of “St. Albans,” was only 31[sic] years of age. He rode his first winning mount in a maiden race at Geelong about 20 years ago, when he only weighed 4st 8lb. During his career he won some important events, notably the Melbourne Cup on Briseis, while he was second to Chester on Savanake and second to Grand Flaneur on Progress when they won the big event. He won the Hobart and Launceston Cups for the late Sir W. J. Clarke with Avernus. He trained Forest King when he won at Bendigo. Deceased was also a good all-round athlete. He was deservedly held in high esteem by all who were brought in contact with him. About four months ago he caught a cold, which developed into congestion of the lungs, and was the cause of his death. He was married about 12 or 14 months ago, and his widow survives him.”

The owner & Trainer: James Wilson (  c.1829 – 1917)

The Argus, Melbourne, Vic, Monday 26th November 1917, page 6.

Racing men all over Australia will regret to learn of the death which occurred on Saturday at his residence, Frankford, Marcus, near Geelong, of Mr. James Wilson, one of the oldest and best-known racehorse owners and trainers in Australia. Mr. Wilson, who was born in Yorkshire, came to Australia as a very young man, and settled near Geelong. As far back as 1850 he was well known in the hunting field with Pyke’s Hounds at Werribee. Subsequently he brought the St. Albans Estate, on the Barwon River, near Geelong, and there established the famous St. Albans Stud. He subsequently sold this property to Mr. John Crozier, who later sold out to the late W. R. Wilson.
The late Mr. Wilson was one of he outstanding figures in Australian turf history, and one the men who helped to make it. He was a great judge of horses, and incidentally a great trainer. His methods were those of the period in which his successes began, the keynote being the thoroughness of the preparation which the horses were required to undergo. Racehorses nowadays run their races on much less work. In the seventies Mr. James Wilson’s stable (St. Albans) was one of the most famous in Australia. Among his patrons at that period were the late “Joe” Thompson and Mr. W. Branch. The latter owned Progress, a good horse, but an unlucky one, in that he was foaled in the same year as the unbeaten Grand Flaneur, to whom Progress finished second in a number of races. Mr. Wilson was the first trainer to win the Melbourne Cup with a mare. That was in 1876, when Briseis won the treble. Victoria Derby, Melbourne Cup, and Oakes. No filly has ever repeated that performance, and it was not till 1895 that another mare (Auraria) won the Melbourne Cup. Horses owned or trained by Mr. Wilson in the sixties and seventies played a prominent part in the Melbourne Cups. In 1863 he was second with Musidora. Both Lapdog, in 1870, and Romula in the following year, also acted as runner-up. Success came in 1873 with Don Juan. “Joe” Thompson, who was the largest winner over Don Juan, named his house in East Melbourne after the horse. A year later came another second in the great two miles race with Protos. The victory of Briseis in 1876 was followed by a stroke of ill-luck in the Cup of 1877, when Savanaka, backed to win a fortune, was beaten by Chester by a half head. Mr, Wilson trained Savanaka for Mr. Herbert Power. No fewer than nine winners of the Oakes Stakes were owned or trained by Mr. Wilson. These winners were:- My Dream (1868), Sunshine (1872), Maid of All Work (1875), Briseis (1876), Pardon (1877), Melita (1878), Petrea (1879), Royal Maid (1881), Nitre (1899). In addition to Briseis, he trained the Victoria Derby winners My Dream (1869) and Miss Jessie (1871). The Maribyrnong Plate was established in 1871, and Mr. Wilson trained three out of the first four winners of the race, beginning with Argus Scandal (1871), then Dagmar (1872), and Maid of All Work (1874). One of the best horses owned by Mr. Wilson was First King, who won the Champion Stakes twice (1878 and 1880). Another winner of that race whom he trained was Romula (1871), owned by “Joe” Thompson. Australian Cup winners from his stable were Protos (1874), First King (1878), and Savanaka (1879). With Little Jack (owned by Mr. W. Branch). Mr. Wilson won the Caulfield Cup of 1881. Mermaid (1871), Savanaka (1879), Petrea (1880), and Progress (1881) were four Sydney Cup victors who were trained by Mr. Wilson, and among his numerous other successes were the V.R.C. St. Leger Stakes on four occasions. Another well known horse which was under his care was “Joe” Thompson’s King of the Ring. After he sold St. Alban’s to the late Mr. John Crozier Mr. Wilson played a less important part on the Australian turf. Among the more recent winners whom he owned were Reaper, relic, Grizzle, and Wink. One of the last was Hush Money, a good mare, but one who promised more than she actually achieved. With advancing years Mr. Wilson had taken less and less active part in the sport, but he maintained an interest in it to the end. He had for many years bred horses, and he was also very successful in this branch of the sport. First King, Maid of All Work, and many another winners having been bred at his establishment. His son, known for so long as Mr. James Wilson, jun., rode some of the earlier winners, and he later aided his father, finally becoming a leading owner and trainer himself. He trained Merriwee, who won the Victoria Derby and Cup in 1899 for Mr. Herbert Power, who had been one of his father’s patrons. Mr. Wilson, jun., has been very successful this spring with Outlook and King’s Bounty. The funeral, which will be private, will be at the Melbourne General Cemetery at 10 o’clock this morning.”

There is a race carrying the name of Briseis at the Melbourne Cup carnival each year and the Briseis Gold Cup at Geelong is held on the first Sunday in December each year. Every year the Peter St Albans Trophy is awarded to the champion jockey and the Geelong Racing Club has named their state of art “Briseis Function Centre” after her.

In the eighteen year period, between 1868 to 1886, only one Melbourne ‘Cup’ trophy cup was awarded which was coincidentally in the year 1876 when Briseis was the victor. The 1876 Melbourne Cup was the first to be made in Australia by an Austrian Immigrant named Edward Fischer. The Trophy was an Etruscan shape with two handles. On one side it depicted horses racing past the grand-stand at Flemington. The other side had the words “Melbourne Cup, 1876” and the name of the winning horse (Briseis). Nothing is know as to whether the trophy still exists. James Wilson’s probate documents of 1918 included an obscure description of (and other trophy cups) what may have been the 1876 Melbourne Cup trophy but it’s whereabouts is still not known to this day.

Other references:




Australian Town and Country Journal, NSW, Saturday 6th August 1898, page 43.

The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil, Melbourne, Vic, Saturday 25th November 1876, page 131.

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