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The silver is out at MTG

Upstairs at MTG Hawke’s Bay is the mezzanine floor and on the landing is the Nelson Gallery. It has the most spectacular view overlooking Marine Parade, the Napier Soundshell and Colonnade and out toward Cape Kidnappers. Currently Silver: heirlooms from the collection is exhibited in this beautiful and restful space.

Silver: heirlooms from the collection has been given a china-cabinet feel – three walls are lined with shelves on which are the finest and most interesting selection of the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust’s silver collection. The shelves have been divided into sections, one of which is titled: Emblazoned with honour: trophies, commemorative awards and medals.

Trophies and gifts made to mark commemorative events assumed an unprecedented importance in the early period of settler colonial New Zealand. Prizes, mainly of sterling silver, were awarded for sports, agricultural and pastoral events, and group competitions.  A local jeweller was often requested to provide a key, trowel, a miniature replica or suitable presentation piece, to present to the dignitary assigned to open a building, lay a foundation stone or announce the completion of significant undertakings. The more expensive trophies were ordered from England, with the buyer specifying the style, type of decoration and engraving on the object. 

In the very centre of the top shelf stands an elaborate and highly decorated trophy cup with the following engraved words on the front: St Patrick Cup presented by B D Danvers, Esquire to the Ahuriri Race Meeting of 1861-62. The decoration on the back shows the relief of a man holding the bridle of a horse; the handles of the cup are ornate oak branches with acorns at the ends; around the base are bunches of grapes with accompanying leaves.

St Patrick was a renowned New Zealand race horse. The chestnut stallion stood 15-3 hands, was “compact, muscular, large boned and well set”. Evidence of his pedigree was described in the Daily Southern Cross, January 1856. His sire was ‘Aether’, “one of the best and purest blood of the English turf” having won the Albany Stakes at Ascot, England. St Patrick’s dam was Alice Hawthorne bred in New South Wales, Australia, also a celebrated winner.

St Patrick, proved as good a racer as his parents: the stallion won the ‘Maiden Plate’ sporting a substantial prize of £100 at the Auckland race meeting, October 1854, and in January 1855, the Innkeeper’s Purse for a prize of 40 sovereigns. Evidence of his prowess was displayed in a private match when he galloped one mile in a minute and forty seconds. He was still being raced at age 15, winning the Great Northern Brewery cup at the Otahuhu races, 1865.

Being a sought-after stallion for breeding, St Patrick was frequently brought to Hawke’s Bay to service mares. In 1857 an advertisement appeared in the Hawke’s Bay Herald stating that St Patrick would stand mares at John Harding’s Mt Vernon Station, Waipukurau. A paddock was provided for the mares to run with the stallion at a cost of two shillings per week.

Napier auctioneer, B D Danvers set up a challenge. The offspring from this mating, at aged three, could participate in a one-mile distance race at the Ahuriri Club meeting. The race was set for 6 March 1862: the winner was to receive the silver St Patrick cup, valued at 30 guineas, and the second place getter would receive the entrance money of £2 per horse. To pique interest, B D Danvers ordered and imported the cup in 1857 and displayed it at the Golden Fleece Hotel, Hastings Street, Napier.

The recreational two-day race meeting was held in Henry Stokes Tiffen’s paddocks at his Greenmeadows farm, Tutaekuri, not far from Napier. Both days proved brilliantly sunny but were tempered by a cooling breeze. As it had recently rained, the course was heavy, but thankfully the dust, a common problem at that time of year, was dampened.

The scene was lively and crowded with people. Scattered around the perimeter of the course were refreshment booths gaily decorated with coloured flags. In between two of the booths was a new novelty from France, the roulette table, which drew a large gathering of interested people. Adding to the ambience of the scene was the presence of many of ‘the fairer sex’ who seemed to take a great interest in the sport.

The St Patrick’s cup was to be raced in the afternoon of the second day. For all the advertising and excitement, the race was a ‘walk-over’. There was only one entry, a three year-old named Brown Bess, who took away with the cup unchallenged. Disappointedly the one-mile race was scrapped from the race books.

Despite this, the overall race meeting was a great success, although the end of the final day was slightly marred by scenes of reckless riding by those who had “over indulged in bibulous refreshments”. That evening an impromptu ball was held in Napier: the attendance was large and dancing continued into the early hours of the morning. So ended the greatly anticipated 1862 race meeting.


24 May 2020

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