Randwick & DIstrict Historical Society: FLASHBACK


BOTANY: The first Sir Joseph Banks Hotel was as noted for its diverse activities as for its grandeur. Opened in 1842, it became a complex of pleasure gardens with a riding school, a zoo and a bathing house.

It also boasted courses for professional footracing, then called pedestrianism. The hotel’s balconies served as grandstands and its bars as bookies’ rings.

Sir Joseph Banks Hotel

The substantial purses on offer drew competitors from both interstate and overseas. The first Botany Handicap of £160 was run over 130 yards in 1884 with massive plunges on the outcome. 1888’s record purse of 725 sovereigns was won by an indigenous Queenslander, Jim McGarrigal whilst another indigenous champion, Charlie Samuels (billed as “the Black Flash”) had earlier triumphed in 1885. He would be regarded one of our finest runners of his century.

The venue became tainted by race-fixing and 1892 would see the last handicap run. The hotel was also home to bare-knuckle boxing and cockfights. Jack Johnson trained there in preparation for his 1908 world title bout with Tommy Burns. It was sold in 1944 and converted into private residences.

Robert Booth

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