jamberoo horse racing

There was a story my aunt told about our third great-grandfather, an Irish Roman Catholic, who had been transported to the Colony of NSW for horse stealing. She believed Simon Moore (1800-1857), after he was pardoned, became a jockey, ironically (and legally) riding horses for the English. On closer inspection, the tale has a somewhat less romantic twist.

Simon was born about 1800 in County Louth, Ireland. He worked as a “farmer’s man” and married Margaret Murphy, at the Church of the Assumption of our Blessed Virgin Mary in Tullyallen, during 1824. They had one child, probably a girl named Mary and were living at the flax mills, near Collon, when the local newspaper reported he had been arrested for stealing a horse in August 1825.

“Poor Simon”, my Aunt believed, was literate, illegitimate and connected to the Earls of Drogheda which had helped him avoid the death sentence for his crime. It is certainly the case, according to the same newspaper (18 Mar 1826) that Simon had been sentenced to death but “was promised to be recommended for mitigation of punishment”. After spending a miserable nine months in Dundalk Gaol and aboard the Essex, a convict prison hulk moored in Kingston Harbour, he was transported to the Colony of NSW for the term of his natural life.

Simon boarded the Phoenix on the 4th August 1826 with 190 other convicts, mostly young men from 18 to 28 with “sallow prison complexions”. The convicts were reported to be generally in good health, although most were suffering from diarrhoea. The conditions aboard the Essex, where “sycosia menti and porrigo” had been rampant, “attacking upwards of sixty prisoners” would suggest many were not really well at all. John Speer, the medical officer on the convict hulk, wrote graphically describing how it appeared as if the disease:

“…is communicated by the shaving brush; it was marked by small tumours on the chin and under lip; sometimes the cheeks, face, and scalp had their surface inflamed and thickened, and in circular clusters, healing occasionally, and followed by others; many of them the size of a pea, filled in the top with a yellow fluid like pus, often discharging this, and suppurating in the course of one night, matting the beard together, which produced a deformed appearance of the patient, and rendered shaving very difficult”. SOURCE

Sycosis menti, Delineations of Cutaneous Diseases, Bateman 1828  Cadbury Research Library

Sycosis menti, Delineations of Cutaneous Diseases, Bateman 1828 Cadbury Research Library

Once boarding the Phoenix, the convicts had an improved diet with a “full allowance of beef and a proportion of vegetables daily”. They embarked on the 27th August and arrived at Port Jackson on Christmas Day, 1826. Only one death was recorded on the voyage.

The newly arrived convicts were addressed before disembarking by Colonial Secretary Alexander MacLeay and later inspected by Governor Darling at Hyde Park Barracks. Simon — who was very much jockey-sized being just five feet two and a half inches tall (with a ruddy complexion, brown hair and light hazel eyes) — had no distinguishing marks and was described as being “inoffensive”.

It is unknown to whom Simon was assigned on arrival but within 18 months he was in trouble with the authorities again. On the 14th July 1828 he was sentenced for “runaway and robbery” to six months hard labour with Iron Gang No. 4 and set to work on the “Lower Branch, Hawkesbury” section of the Great North Road. Governor Darling planned to improve transport and communication in the colony, as there was no major road system just poorly maintained gravel tracks. He also wanted a draconian system of punishments which is why Simon, wearing leg irons, was working on the road that would link Sydney with the Hunter region.

Simon’s experiences would have been awful. When not labouring, the convicts slept and ate within stockades that were situated every 20 kilometres or so along the road. Wooden huts with wheels, pulled by bullocks and/or the Iron Gang, were used to confine the convicts at night. The stockade also enclosed a small hospital tent, kitchen, storeroom and shelter for overseers and the military attachment guarding the prisoners. A painting from this period by a travel artist, Augustus Earle (1793-1838) shows an Iron Gang at work and diarist, Sarah Mathew, witnessed the men’s wretchedness:

“…we heard the clanking of chains, and saw the labours returning from their days work, escorted by soldiers, the whole work has been performed by Iron-gangs as they are called, that is by convicts who for various offences in the colony, have been condemned to work in iron gangs for certain periods; we passed about 150 of these wretched creatures marching in ranks, a most painful spectacle.”

An iron gang painted by Augustus Earle c. 1826 (Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia)

A New Life

Simon was to be returned to his unknown ‘master’ after serving this six months of hard labour on the roads. The experience must have been a sobering one as his behaviour improves and he disappears from official records, until granted a Ticket of Leave to reside and work in the Illawarra region, in July 1836.

The following year, on the General Return of Convicts for 1837, Simon had been assigned to Edward Corrigan (1797–1863) in the Illawarra. Corrigan, a pardoned Irish Convict who went on to hold positions as the local postmaster and chief constable, paved the way for Moore to have a brighter future. Simon was assigned to deliver mail between Campbelltown and Molong at this time. It seems possible that both men had a mutual love of horse-racing.

Not everything went Simon’s way though. He sought permission to marry another convict, Mary McCormick on 20 April 1837, which was declined (probably as he was already married) by Governor Bourke. In 1838 Simon was appointed as a police constable in Campbelltown but early the next year was dismissed for unknown reasons. It was very common for convicts to be appointed as constables during this early colonial period but records are surprisingly incomplete for such an official position.

However, by 1840, Simon has been reinstated and we find him in court providing a deposition exposing abusive behaviour towards a convict woman by a local doctor, George Cox. There are a several other newspaper articles which show the constable in a positive light over the next 12 years. He chases and arrests a person who was violent towards “Fisherman”, a local Aboriginal man and contributes financially to Irish causes. In early 1852 he is praised for his efficiency and trustworthiness as a constable.

It is amusing to note that a reward was offered by one local for information provided to Constable Simon Moore that leads to the “conviction of the offender” who has stolen his horse. Such were the ironies of life for those who were now on the other side of the law since their forced immigration to the Colony of the NSW.

During this period serving the community as a constable, Simon married Mary Coghlan (1821-1880) on 6 March 1843. Mary, a nineteen year-old “farm servant” had arrived as a free settler, single and unaccompanied on the Premier in 1840. Their first child, my second great-grandfather, was born in Jamberoo during 1844.

In one of the strange coincidences of life, I now live a mere 8 kilometres from where the newly-married Simon Moore won a “famed” local horse race and was celebrated in song by the “Poet Laureate of Jamberoo”. Simon had grown prosperous enough to buy a pony for “forty shillings”.

A Forty Shilling Pony

Michael Hyam (1799-1878), a Jewish shoemaker from London, arrived aboard the George Canning in December 1827 and received a grant of 1280 acres (518 ha) in 1829. By 1841, Hyam had founded the private village of Jamberoo (possibly named after a Dharawal word meaning ‘track). He had been extremely industrious in the preceding decade logging cedar, constructing a race-course, establishing a tannery and boot-making enterprise, as well as founding Harp Inn. He developed his property* in, what he named Sarah’s Valley, so successfully many described it as a “landed estate”.

*I am currently endeavouring to understand the Indigenous history and perspectives about this land granted to Hyam and would appreciate advice and assistance.

From The Book of the Shoalhaven, p. 53

One of Hyam’s assigned convicts was Peter Martin (b. 1807). A “leather-dyer” born in Dublin and sentenced to life (at Gloucester in England) for “uttering forged notes”. Transported aboard the Prince George in May 1837, he had the skills to be employed in Hyam’s tannery. It was during this time that he gained local fame as a wordsmith.

One can find references in the local newspapers and histories for the nearly a century to “Martin the Tanner” as “possessing more than the average amount of intelligence” and “composing many local songs“. There are several versions (and titles) of the song where Simon’s equestrian victory is celebrated.

The penultimate verse helps date the horse race (thanks to Simon and Mary’s marriage certificate) to the week which commenced on Monday 6th March, 1843:

There was Simon Moore’s pony, as fleet as a hare –
He cost forty shillings at the Donnybrook Fair;
Though not long, he was strong and as sure as a gun,
And beat all the horses that ‘gainst him did run.
     His opponent’s attempts were parried,
     (Moore had but a day or two been married,
     And so was more easily carried),
          At the races of famed Jamberoo.

I’ve been to Newmarket, that place of renown,
The throne of the turf in the sporting old town;
At Doncaster too, the Yorkshire race-ground,
I’ve seen peer and peasants assembled round.
     I’ve been to the races at Chester;
    Nottingham, Derby, and Leicester,
    Yet seen none that could vie with Manchester,

                                                                        “Martin the Tanner”

Kiama Independent and Shoalhaven Advertiser, 5 September 1867

The Unromantic Truth

Forty shillings is two pounds and at first I assumed this meant Simon had an expensive pony to ride. On further investigation, this may not have been the case even though the beast was ‘as fleet as a hare’.

Almost twenty years before, in 1825 when Simon was arrested, he claimed to have “purchased the horse from person named Courtney for the sum of six shillings”. The watchman was suspicious (as it was 3am in the morning) and the black stallion “appeared to be of about 5 pound value”.

Any romance in the story of a poor Irishman, with a love of horses, being oppressed by the English and managing to get his own back is shattered by the trial.

Constable Galbraith told the court that “the prisoner intended to sell the horse to Mr. Cooper for the hounds” but it was clear he “was rather good for the kennel”.

“The prisoner had nothing to say in his defence.”

Simon, working as farm labourer, may well have needed the money but stealing a horse in the early hours of the morning to sell for dog meat creates a vastly different image than my youthful one of an Irishman astride a black stallion, wind in his hair, temporarily free from his oppressors.

Final Years, Death and that Wooden Leg

Simon’s Conditional Pardon, on 31st December 1847, was granted 21 years after he arrived in the colony. He had not collected the document, which was meant to be carried at all times, by 1850. Similarly, Peter Martin never collected his either.

In April 1852 Simon, now a highly regarded constable, was appointed Bailiff of the Court of Requests in Wollongong. His second child, a daughter named Mary was born in Kiama, in 1854.

The next couple of years are a mystery but it is likely that a very hard life was starting to take a toll on Simon’s health. His wife, 21 years his junior was possibly afflicted with disease or had a serious accident. A notice, placed in the Illawarra Mercury (1 September 1856) by Mrs Simon Moore, thanked Charles Jenkins (1810-1857) for the ‘THE WOODEN LEG’ he kindly presented her. Possibly this wooden leg was for Simon.

Illawarra Mercury 1st Sept 1856

Simon had been admitted to the Benevolent Asylum in Sydney and died of “phthisis” (an archaic name for tuberculosis) on 31st January 1857. Established in 1818 to provide for the poor, abandoned, destitute and sick, it is not immediately clear why Simon has ended-up in Sydney at this asylum but considering either he or Mary was in need of a wooden leg, his tuberculosis, that there was a 2 year-old-child (who died in later 1860 from spider-bite according to my aunt) and their eldest son was not yet a teenager – the family were in dire straits.

A Few Closing Thoughts

As always, there are plenty of  loose ends and many rabbit holes left to explore. Why was Simon Moore dismissed from his position in 1839 but working as a constable again in 1840? Why is he still listed as a ‘labourer’ on his death certificate? Did he use the name ‘Samuel’ (it is listed in brackets on his death certificate) as an alias or nickname?

There is a possible connection to explain why Simon’s life concluded in Sydney rather than in the Illawarra. Charles Jenkins*, who besides assisting with that wooden leg (and having business interests in Wollongong) was a Committee member of the Benevolent Asylum and had been a wealthy Sydney Alderman concerned with helping the working classes. In many ways it seems unlikely that Simon’s widow had lost her leg but then again, when I first read the newspaper notice it never occurred to me that she was not the intended beneficiary. On learning that Mary remarried that same year she was widowed and gave birth to a son, in 1859, with Joseph Hemsted, it seemed possible the wooden leg was for someone else.

*Jenkins died shortly after Simon, in March 1857, worse for wear from a boozy evening.

My Aunt Margot had been very committed to her research and after she had milked all that was possible from local Australian archives travelled as far afield as Ireland to find out more about our ancestor. Digitisation has made it much easier to research but the documents she painstakingly collected have proven invaluable.

It interests and worries me that at no stage did my aunt uncover Simon was appointed constable and then bailiff in Wollongong. Although it does seem more than likely my reasoning is sound as Simon was assigned to a serving constable, Edward Corrigan, it still makes me nervous. Is it possible there was a second Simon Moore? If so, I have been unable locate such a person.

On the other hand, my aunt did not uncover the Irish newspaper articles either, that reveal the detail of Simon Moore’s arrest and trial for stealing a horse he intended to sell for dog meat.

Special thanks to Aunt Margot, Bridget Reilly, Susan Lark and Lorraine Neate.


ABC Radio National, Great North Road, Saturday Extra, 11 June 2005

Backhouse, James (1843) A narrative of a visit to the Australian colonies, London: Hamilton, Adams

Bergman, G. F. J. (1972) ‘Hyam, Solomon Herbert (1837–1901)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,

Kiama Independent and Shoalhaven Advertiser, 5 September 1867

Kiama Reporter and Illawarra Journal, 27 April 1932

Lindsay, Benjamin; Organ, Michael K.; and Doyle, A. P. (1994) Early Land Settlement in Illawarra 1804-1861, University of Wollongong

Marhinie, Ken (2006) The Pick of the Great North Road The Road, the Road builders and its Neighbours Vol 4., The Journal of the Convict Trail Project Inc.

McCaffrey, Frank (1922) The History of Illawarra and its Pioneers, Sydney: John Sands Ltd.

Neate, Lorraine (2016) Scandal, Slander and Interfering with our Neighbours, Illawarra Historical Society

Organ, Michael K. (1990) Illawarra and South Coast Aborigines 1770-1850, Aboriginal Education Unit, University of Wollongong

Organ, Michael K. (1993) Illawarra and South Coast Aborigines 1770-1900 Aboriginal Education Unit, University of Wollongong

Organ, Michael K. and Speechley, Carol (1997) Illawarra Aborigines – An Introductory History, University of Wollongong

Stewart, Alexander (1987) Reminiscences of Illawarra, Woonona: Illawarra Historical Publications

Unknown (1926) The Book of Shoalhaven: As It Was and As It, Sydney: Mortons Ltd.

Willetts, J., Convict Ship Phoenix 1826, Free Settler or Felon


Australasian Chronicle, 19 December 1840

Drogheda Journal; Or, Meath & Louth Advertiser, 24 August 1825

Drogheda Journal; Or, Meath & Louth Advertiser, 18 March 1826

Illawarra Mercury, 1st September 1856

NSW Government Gazette, Issue No.318, 31 January 1838

NSW Government Gazette, Issue No.384, 23 January 1839

NSW Government Gazette, Issue No.40, 20 April 1852

People’s Advocate and New South Wales Vindicator, 31 Jan 1852

Sydney Gazette, 19 July 1826

Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 1840

Sydney Morning Herald, 14 November 1846

Sydney Morning Herald1 April 1846

Sydney Morning Herald, 10 January 1851

Sydney Morning Herald, 31 January 1852


Simon’s 19th century records, including his ticket of leave, 1828/1837 musters, conditional pardon, marriage and death certificates were all copied and provided by my Aunty Margot from her research last century. They are all readily available in digital format via the NSW State Archives & Records or Ancestry.com.


One Comment

    • Robyn Peek

    • 2 years ago

    What an entertaining and well researched story! Thank you. You have quite a way with words.

    I’m sorry I can’t answer any of your questions. However, as my family (Hillman/Gray) was also in the Jamberoo area at the time you have provided me with some good background information and some valuable references to include in my research.

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