The Caulfield steeple chase was well attended, with the most popular jockey in Australia of the day who had ever sat in the saddle, ready to race. It would be the last of his career.
Thomas 'Tommy' Corrigan was born in County Meath, Ireland on 12th May, 1854 and landed in Australia with his parents in 1866. He knew his horses and in an interview with a journalist a year before the fateful steeple chase, he mentioned that he wouldn't own a horse that couldn't jump.
His first race happened to be a hack steeple chase, a publican's meeting at Woodford. Tommy had been looking after cattle for the day, but he herded them into a yard, grabbed his mare Juliet, who knew how to jump and won the race.
Australia's favourite jockey, Thomas Corrigan.
Thus began a remarkable career.
His first important race over jumps was on the horse, Brownlock in the Ararat Hurdles. Ararat was a goldfields town that was part of the western racing circuit in those days. The races he participated in before that were all on flat ground.
From there, the list of races and wins was longer than most, which made him a firm favourite with the horse-racing fraternity, well-liked by his peers, horse-owners and trainers. He was credited with having won between two and three hundred races in his long career, despite a long illness during that time.
In one particular race at Geelong, Corrigan was riding a horse called Sailor. He fell at the last post and rail fence with another horse passing him. Tommy got up quickly and remounted Sailor and went on to win.
Interestingly, the following Warrnambool meeting, Tommy was riding Sailor again. And again, at the second last fence, he fell, remounted and also won that race.
He was considered the best judge of a horse's performance in the country, owning half a dozen jumpers himself. He seldom made a mistake or allowed his horses to do so.
Which makes it an unusual occurrence on 11 August, 1894 when the Caulfield steeple chase took place. Tommy was sleighted to ride the Grand National winner, Daimio, that day but the horse was lame and therefore scratched. Tommy insisted on riding his own horse, Waiter, a fractious animal that he found difficult to mount at the start of the race.
The race was underway and Waiter jumped the first three steeples with no problem. The fourth fence was a post and rail, four foot high and 100 yards out of the straight. Eye-witnesses can not agree on what happened exactly.
One said the horse had another horse cross in front of it, another said Tommy was kicked in the head by a horse. Either way, Tommy had fallen off Waiter and ended up unconscious on the ground. The horse was uninjured.
Tommy's grave at Melbourne General Cemetery. Courtesy Jane Miller from Melbourne General Cemetery Facebook.
Tommy never regained consciousness and died on the following night. He was buried in Melbourne General Cemetery followed by one of the largest funeral corteges ever held in Melbourne, extending for over two miles.
'Funeral of the late Thomas Corrigan', Dubbo Dispatch and Wellington Independent, Tue 21 Aug, 1894, Page 2
'Fatal accident to Thomas Corrigan', Dubbo Dispatch and Wellington Independent, Friday 17 Aug, 1894, Page 4
'Thomas Corrigan', Sportsman, Wednesday, 2 April, 1884, Page 1
'A Slaughtered Steeplechaser', Sydney Sportsman, Wednesday, 29 January, 1902, Page 6