Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

Ex-CDA comments, suggestions, criticisms

 The Pender’s Grove Racecourse

Michael Pender was one of the original purchasers of land at the Government sales in 1839 of what was to become the section of Northcote north of Beaver's Road (south to Westgarth Street sold the following year, the elevated section bringing more than twice the price per acre).

Pender paid 27/- per acre for his 256 acres or £346 in total, the allotment bounded by High-street, the Darebin Creek, Dundas and Mansfield streets.  He also built one of the first hotels in Melbourne, a modest establishment known as the Shamrock in Little Flinders Street in 1838 which was described by Edmund Finn (aka "Garryowen") in "The Early Chronicles of Melbourne" as “a small sod built public hotel wherein he laid the foundations of a large fortune”.

The Port Phillip Directory of 1847 was the first attempt to document the population of the Melbourne district and listed most of the known early settlers of Northcote and Preston as “Merri Creek” or “Darebin Creek”. given neither of Darebin’s main suburbs had been named.  But Michael Pender was listed as “Farmer, Pender’s Grove, Darebin Creek”, his holding sufficiently well-known to be specifically listed.

Pender's Grove appears to have remained in the family until 1885 when it was purchased by the Pender's Grove Estate Company of Collins-street.   Parts of the estate fronting onto High Street and the western end of Dundas-Street were sold between 1887 and 1889, the remainder largely undeveloped.

Throughout July and August, 1891, several newspapers alluded to a syndicate having plans to lease 60 acres of the Pender's Grove Estate and establish a racecourse of one mile, primarily as a substitute for the existing course at Elsternwick Park which was due to close after Brighton Council refused to renew the 10-year lease previously granted to the Victorian Trotting Club.

One of the articles suggested that the course would be operated under the auspices of the Northcote Park Racing Club which would seek registration with the Victoria Racing Club, and that two Preston Councillors were provisionally appointed as committee members.

A meeting was subsequently held at Scott's Hotel in Collins-street on Monday, 7 September, to consider the prospects of forming a company to promote the racecourse at Pender's Grove.

The Australasian on the following Saturday reported that the proceedings "could scarcely be termed encouraging to the promoters of the project".

The chair was occupied by Cr. William H. Smith, of Northcote, but The Australasian suggested that while there were "one or two sporting men" present, "the majority of those in attendance were not of the right sort to make a racing club a success."

Representing the Pender's Grove Estate Company was Abraham Kozminsky, one of the organizers in 1888 of another syndicate that established the Northcote cable tramway. Undoubtedly he had a double interest in the venture, firstly in the revenue to be gained from the lease, and secondly increased patronage of the tramway which by that stage was struggling to stay afloat.

Kozminsky outlined the terms on which the syndicate proposed to lease the site for a term of ten years to the projected company - the first year free of rent; for the second, £350; third year, £450; fourth year, £550; sixth year, £650; seventh year, £750; eighth year, £850; ninth year, £950; and tenth year, £1,000, but expressly no right to purchase at the end of the term.The meeting was held just before the start of possibly the worst economic depression Melbourne has seen with several banks collapsing, land prices plummeting and dozens of investors during the previous boom years declared insolvent.

Whether the club could have lasted is problematical - on Kozminsky's terms, they would have paid £5,550 over the ten-year term or over£92 per acre with no freehold - when the property market recovered, a Government proposal in 1902 to purchase the remaining estate at £100 per acre was rejected by the Minister of Lands on the basis it did not represent value for money!

The site of the possible course was not specifically disclosed, but it was suggested it was ten minutes walk from Thornbury station and seven minutes from the tram terminus (later as a half-mile), probably placing it around St. David Street (now Newcastle Street), potentially an ideal location as slightly sloping land was highly regarded for racetracks given the clear view of proceedings from the higher side.

Smith explained that it was proposed to issue 2,000 shares of £5 each, calling up £2.10s. on each share, for the purpose of establishing the club on a firm basis. Assurances had been given that the V.R.C. would register the course - he suggested the club would not be promoted under any other circumstances.

A motion was carried in favour of the appointment of a committee to arrange terms and details with the owners of the site, and Smith asked those present to name the number of shares they were prepared to take up, intimating that the syndicate were agreeable to take up a thousand themselves.

At this point, several of those present were reported as having left the room and very few promises to take up shares were received. The meeting then broke up without the committee being appointed, with the suggestion that an attempt might be made to float the company privately and another meeting called later "if the promoters receive any encouragement".

Nothing more was heard of the proposed racecourse - Pender's Grove remained largely undeveloped for more than another decade.

Undeterred by the failure of the Pender's Grove project, Smith a month or so later headed a group called the Union Trotting Club which was looking at the land on Job Smith's Thornbury Estate with thoughts of establishing a track there, just north of the Croxton Park or Fitzroy course established late in the previous year.

The Union club never held meetings of their own, but oversaw the trotting sport, provided stewards to proprietary courses before it merged in 1893 with the Victoria Trotting Club to become the Victorian Trotting Association.

As for Pender's Grove, the section east of High-street remained largely undeveloped until in January, 1902, the Victorian Cabinet entered into a conditional contract with the Bank of Victoria to purchase 232 acres at £100 per acre for the purpose of establishing workmen's homes, this was the proposal overturned by Mr. Duggan, the Minister for Lands.

In 1906, the 232 acres were sold at the same price to the Closer Settlement Board, again with plans to build "workmen's homes". Subdivision of the area commenced in August of the following year, by which stage Northcote Council had purchased from the just over five acres for Pender's Park, the price £1,000, but with a promise that the Board would construct the streets and channels. Crucial to the Council decision was the belief that it would be the last chance to secure recreational land in the north-eastern section of Northcote.

Michael Pender's name lives on with Penders Grove Primary School, the nearby Penders Park and Pender Street ... but no racecourse!.

NOW READ ON ...

The Mercury. (1891, August 6). Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 - 1903), p. 2 at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59753665

TURF GOSSIP. (1891, September 5). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 13 at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140709113

TURF GOSSIP. (1891, September 12). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 13 at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14070956

SPORTING INTELLIGENCE. (1892, March 19). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 9 at http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8407512

"Trotting at the Elsternwick Course" was a full page in "The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil", 8 April, 1882. Top left pictures Dr. Weir, an American trotting enthusiast credited with designing the layout of the course.

The grandstand pictured was dismantled and re-constructed at the St. Kilda Cricket Ground where it served for many years before the Blackie and Ironmonger Stands were built. It is believed to have been to have been demolished around 1935

http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11711744

ALSO : Lost Racecourses of Melbourne : Elsternwick Park