“Brilliant and Fearless”: a jockey’s tragic last ride


From newsboy to successful investor and from horse enthusiast to famed international jockey, Raymond Wilson’s story reads like a rollicking adventure yarn framed by the Great Depression. But in the next chapter of our series Every Body Has A Story, reporter Jade Murray visits Wilson’s grave at the Melbourne General Cemetery and uncovers the tragic last chapter of his colourful young life.

Raymond Kenneth Wilson’s grave is made of polished red granite and has a saddle, whip, cap and irons on top. The headstone reads: “A Brilliant and Fearless Horseman.”

Amid the sea of gravestones at the Melbourne General Cemetery, however, it doesn’t seem to pay proper homage to his extraordinary life: newsboy, successful teenage investor and international jockey in the boom-and-bust years of the Great Depression, before his untimely death doing what he loved.

Raymond Wilson’s grave, shared with his widow Alma, at the Melbourne General Cemetery. Image credit: Jade Murray

Aged just 15 and a newsboy himself, Wilson managed a staff of 14 boys. A teenage entrepreneur, his Collins Street newsstand at the business end of town attracted stockbrokers with financial tips and he heeded their advice, investing his earnings in government bonds to make a fortune.

In an unlikely twist of fate, Wilson was hit by a car driven by a relative of well-known racing identity Ben Chaffey. While he wasn’t badly hurt, the accident introduced him to Canadian-born Chaffey, who went on to become the chairman of the Victoria Amateur Turf Club.

The two bonded over their love of horses and Chaffey gifted Wilson his first pony, which he rode at the old Richmond Racecourse and began to make a name for himself.

By the time he was 19, Wilson had amassed an impressive $19,000. However, when the Great Depression struck he lost his entire savings.

Although his career as an investor had come to an abrupt end, his aspiration to race horses had grown stronger.

It was at this time that he married Alma, whom he’d love for the rest of his life. An article in The Sporting Globe noted that “Wilson loved only his wife and home more than horses.”

After winning the Sydney Cup and becoming Victoria’s leading jockey, Wilson accepted a retainer to ride in India and set sail on the RMS Carthage in 1935.

The ship’s horn blasted as they left the port, sounding the start of Wilson’s adventure across the globe. He soon found himself riding for various Indian princes, and he and Alma dined in luxury at their palaces.

Wilson rode for Nawab Hamidullah Khan, the last prince of the former state of Bhopal, on his four-year-old horse named Mas d’Antibes. An edition of The Herald from 1935 said: “Wilson describes the horse as one of the best he has seen.”

The Viceroy Cup in Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) was preceded by an English-style garden party hosted by Viceroy Victor Hope. Wilson won the cup that day, riding Mas d’Antibes.

The party and race were filmed for the newsreels using black and white film. As Wilson finishes the winning lap, a presenter announces: “Mas d’Antibes wins by nearly two lengths!” The camera cuts to Wilson mounted on the horse, returning from the track, but the voiceover doesn’t mention the jockey’s name.

The video has since been published by the British Pathé, but to this day Wilson is not recognised.

Author of The History of Moorefield Racecourse, Anne Field, became interested in Australian jockeys travelling to India in the early 20th century while researching her book.

Field said that Australian jockeys often went to India, where they would ride for the exceedingly weathly maharajas and be well-rewarded for their efforts.

“It must have been a bit of excitement for them: it was a journey. I always classify them as the first international jockeys,” she said.

“Australians have ridden in the most amazing places, [like] South Africa and Malaysia”.

In a 1937 article headlined ‘No Place Like Home’, The Sporting Globe reported that Wilson had declined a lucrative offer to race in India and resolved not to return.

With his career as a jockey winding down, he decided to spend his last years racing in Australia.

Like many jockeys who love their sport, Wilson planned to become a trainer after his final ride. He even had some stables built where he could keep his horses.

With the dream of retirement ahead and his wife by his side, Wilson saddled up for one last race aged 28.

News photograph of the 1937 Adelaide Cup accident site, The Advertiser, 1938. Image source: Trove, National Library of Australia.

In the 1937 Adelaide Cup, he rode Trimercian. The crowd roared as Wilson sat in fourth place. In front of him was 25-yer-old Stanley Kite, riding The Leader. At the 600-metre mark, the horses approached the home turn.

Kite was the first to fall, followed by Wilson who came down over him. Wilson was run over by two horses behind him and his head struck a post. It would be decades before helmets were compulsory for jockeys.

Spectators swarmed to the scene of the crash. Wilson was dead; Kite died soon afterwards. Another two riders were injured.

The following day, The Advertiser called the accident “the worst smash in the history of racing in this State”.

John Payne, author of Their Last Ride: The Fallen Jockeys of Australia, described Wilson as a “top rider” and noted that “ten thousand people were reported to have attended the deceased jockey’s funeral.”

He wrote that since 1853, almost 1000 Australian jockeys have died from injuries incurred from horseracing, but that they are aware of the risks and “do it because they love it, they love the air passing through their hair,”

“They’ve given a lot to racing, they’ve given their lives to racing and they deserve to be recognised.”

Wilson’s wife, Alma, lived until 1996 and never remarried. She was buried in Wilson’s grave at Melbourne General Cemetery. The headstone reads: “Together at last”.