Almanac History: Who was the Adelaide Stag?

Who was the Adelaide Stag?


Roy Hay


While researching the athletic career of Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin, I came across a story about someone who was believed to be the first Indigenous person to take part in a pedestrian race in Australia. He was named as Manuelo and he was supposed to have competed against the Australian champion of the day, Tom McLeod, and also beat Freddie Furnell, the New South Wales champion. This story is repeated in both Colin Tatz’s Obstacle Race and by Paul Jenes in Sport in Victoria edited by David Nadel and Graeme Ryan.[1] It turns out that H.W. Manuel, not Manuelo, was a non-indigenous person—Australian-born, a currency lad and hence referred to on occasion as an Australian native, which is the source of the confusion.[2] The man he ran against at the Melbourne Cricket Club on 21 February 1851 was named McLeod, who was referred to as Manuel’s ‘sable friend’ or as a ‘half-caste from the Edward River’. Manuel was a compositor and an overseer in the office of the Argus newspaper.[3] In one of his other races, Manuel took on and beat ‘the Adelaide Stag’ in February 1852.[4] The name intrigued me and set me wondering if I could learn anything more about Manuel’s opponent on that occasion.


It turns out that at least three persons have been referred to as the Adelaide Stag. The first in time is Kangaroo Fred, who appears in Bell’s Life in Sydney on 9 February 1850, which cites the South Australian Mercury as the source of its information.


The Adelaide Champion, Kangaroo Fred, alias the Adelaide Stag, is about to proceed to Sydney in search of somebody who is really fit to compete with him. The New South Walers are certainly a lathy lot, but we doubt if they will have a chance with the South Australian pet, whose style, though never put to anything like full speed here, is a regular eye-opener and enough to break the heart and burst the gizzard of anything short of a greyhound or antelope. [5]


Kangaroo Fred sounds like the sort of name that would be given to an Indigenous athlete, particularly if, like Pompey, he was good over hurdles. So far I have come across no other references to Kangaroo Fred, but a year or two later the Adelaide Stag has forged a reputation as a top-class runner first in South Australia, where he defeats all-comers, and then in a series of races against Victorian and New South Wales opposition. Nearly all the early references to the Adelaide Stag lack any other identification of the man. John Daly, himself a superb athlete, has an excellent section on athletics in his history of sport in South Australia, but no mention of the Stag.[6] The book has no index entry for Indigenous sportsmen and has only a single photograph of two Aboriginals playing cricket at Victor Harbour in the 19th century.[7]


Later in 1850, John Baker, ‘the Flying Watchmaker’, was reported to have been beaten by the Adelaide Stag, but wished to try conclusions again.


The Flying Watchmaker, not satisfied with his defeat by the Adelaide Stag, which he lays to any and every cause save that of not running fast enough, has challenged him again, for the same distance and odds, for £50, to come off one month from next Monday. The offer has not been refused, and money is put down to bind it. We hear that Clockwork means to train himself very fine for this event, and that he will prove to his friends that he really is all that he says. The sport is to take place over the same ground as they ran before, which we are very glad of, as, from the weather being so bad on that occasion, friend Harry’s preparations for a numerous company were entirely thrown away.[8]


In late 1851 the South Australian Register carried a story that William Hodge had challenged the Adelaide Stag to a half-mile foot race.[9] William Hodge was better known as a wrestler in the Cornish or Cumberland styles, both in his own hotel, the Brecknock Arms in Adelaide, and in Burra.[10] Hodge did not show up to ‘post the blunt’ at Tom Ottaway’s hotel on the appointed day, but had what was accepted as a good reason for failing to appear. Hodge had been winning a great wrestling meeting at the time, defeating Richard Jasper in the final bout and being awarded the prize of £12. ‘… the “Stag” is still willing to meet him on his own terms, rather than let him “run away” with the notion that he could compete in speed with one who defies competition’. [11] Hodge was a big man, aged 37 at the time and weighing 182 pounds (82.7 kilos). The umpires at the wrestling included a Mr Dicker, ‘but Mr. Dicker, in addition to the office of umpire, rendered very valuable and disinterested services, in various matters connected with the general management, and displayed an amount of ability for which he cannot be too highly complimented’.[12]


So far it is not clear if this race ever came off, but on 12 February 1852, the Launceston Chronicle, quoted the Adelaide Mercury to the effect that:


Many of the friends of Mr. Manuel, of Port Phillip, resident in Adelaide, having expressed their desire to pit him against any of the neighbouring colonies, he and they are hereby informed that the Adelaide Stag will run him 125 or 150 yards for £200 a-side, and give or take expenses to run here or at Melbourne. The money is ready at Mr. Thos Ottaway’s, Victoria Hotel, Hindley-street, where any communication may be addressed, which will be duly attended to.[13]


It appears that Manuel had been visiting Adelaide at the time, but it took some time before preliminaries could be arranged and the race, when it took place, was run not in Adelaide but in Melbourne. Indeed it was February 1852, a full year later, before the two met.


THE FOOT RACE.- We are glad to hear that it has at length been decided that Mr Manuell is to meet the ‘Adelaide Stag’ tomorrow, at half-past four o’clock. The friends of both parties met at the Bull and Mouth on Saturday last, and, after considerable discussion, a match was made for £100 a side—distance one hundred and ten yards, no ropes, the start to be the word ‘off.’ Considerable curiosity prevails as to the result of the race, as both gentlemen are considered to be men of first rate speed. We shall make known the locality to-morrow. We believe the race will come off in the immediate vicinity of the city.[14]


Manuel won the race by 60 centimetres or ‘a couple of feet’.


A very large assembly indeed of vehicles, equestrians, and people on foot, on the road at the back of the Beach Hotel, showed the extreme interest felt by the public as to the result of the race between Mr Manuel and the ‘Adelaide Stag.’ Soon after five o’clock, the men came upon the ground, which was marked out on the road itself, although an inch or two of local sand scarcely presented as pleasant a racing ground for gentlemen in their stocking soles, as could have been wished for. ‘The Stag’ is a fine, sinewy man, just of the build indicative of strength and agility, and he has the advantage of his rival of several inches in height. The personelle of Mr Manuel is too well known to the majority of our readers to need description. At the word being given, Mr Mannuell sprang off with the lead, in his own style, which is like nothing else except that of a bullet from a gun, and, true to our prediction, never allowed the ‘Stag’ to overtake him throughout the race, winning by a couple of feet without much difficulty. The ground was well kept by a party of the most dashing and likely-looking mounted police that we have seen this long lime. Fifty such men, properly headed, would rather astonish the weak nerves of the prowling scoundrels who are keeping the diggers out of their beds at Mount Alexander. A good deal of money changed hands upon the result of the race. We did not hear the time in which it was run.[15]


Nothing daunted, the Adelaide Stag was due to meet a Mr Pinkerton in March 1852 and the following year he beat another Sydney runner Hatfield and then took on the New South Wales champion, Furnell, losing by about three metres.[16]


The match between Mr. T. Furnell and the ‘Adelaide Stag’ was decided at 4 P.M, yesterday, at the Waterloo Flat, Newtown. About 1500 persons assembled to witness the contest, which is a sufficient proof of the great interest that had been excited in the event. Owing to the recent defeat of Hatfield by the Stag, the latter had become a favourite in the opinion of many, who were well qualified to judge as to the merits of the respective competitors. Notwithstanding this circumstance, the Kissing Point Hero was freely backed at 5 to 3, with few takers. Both men appeared in excellent spirits and condition; each confident in his own powers of speed and endurance, and exhibiting in the result the effects of careful and judicious training. At 4 o’clock precisely the start was made, Furnell leading, and maintaining his position to the winning-post, which he reached about three yards in advance of his opponent, who gradually lost ground after the first 120 yards. The distance was completed in the incredibly short space of 22 seconds, proving the running first-rate, even in comparison with similar performances in the mother country. Furnell may now be considered the Champion Pedestrian of New South Wales; and it is hoped by his friends that the laurels he has so well won will be as well worn; and that in his contest with Mr. Abraham Ether, on Monday next, he will evince the same cordial and manly spirit which has characterised his conduct in all his recent struggles for superiority. Ether’s match will come off, on the same ground, between 11 and 1 o’clock; the distance will be 150 yards, and the prize £200.[17]


Meanwhile in New South Wales the discovery of gold in the Ovens Valley had led to the formation of a Gold Escort to ensure that the proceeds were protected on their journey from the diggings and the following appeared in the Adelaide Times.[18]


The Ovens Escort—We hear that Mr T. F. Dicker was appointed Superintendent of the Private Escort now in course of being established in Sydney; but that, on the identity of that individual with the Adelaide Stag being established, he was deprived of his post.[19]


Pedestrians were not held in high regard in mid-Victorian Australia, being referred to on occasion as ‘talking dogs’. Their propensity for being involved in race fixing, dodgy handicapping and betting scandals being only some of the charges laid against them.[20] So being a runner may have been enough to debar Dicker from a responsible position. The Victorian private gold escort was held up and robbed in July 1853, with the surviving perpetrators hanged in October.[21]


I have come across other references where the name Dicker is attached to the Adelaide Stag, but this seems to be the clearest indication that this was the man in the early 1850s. It is a bit like the case of ‘The Stig’, the unidentified racing driver who took part in the Top Gear programs on BBC television in the United Kingdom that was also a cult program in Australia. Just like Dicker his cover was blown too.


Some years later another name was put in the frame.


A hundred yards’ spin has lately been run near Hobart Town, between Mr. F. D. Hamilton, well known as the Adelaide Stag, and a young Tasmanian, dight Williams; the match was won easily by the former.[22]


One begins to wonder whether, like ‘the Stig’ and ‘Doctor Who’, the Adelaide Stag has several incarnations and is almost a generic tag for the best South Australian runner of the moment. The search continues.


[1]           See Roy Hay, ‘Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin and a golden age of Australian pedestrianism’, Sporting Traditions, (Accepted for publication August 2017, will appear in November 2017 or May 2018, forthcoming).

[2]           ‘Foot Race’, Port Phillip Gazette, 22 February 1851, p. 2. Manuel’s name sometimes appears with one ‘l’ or two.

[3]           Bell‘s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, 22 March 1851, p. 2.

[4]           ‘The Foot Race’, Argus, 11 February 1852, p. 2; Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, 27 March 1852, p. 2.

[5]           ‘Running’, Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Record, 9 February 1850, p. 2.

[6]           John A. Daly, Elysian Fields: Sport, Class and Community in Colonial South Australia, 1836–1890, John Daly, Adelaide, 1982, especially pp. 85–89.

[7]           Daly, Elysian Fields., p. 39.

[8]           ‘Another match’, Colonial Times, Hobart, 29 November 1850, p. 2, probably citing the Adelaide Times).

[9]           ‘Foot-race’, South Australian Register, 30 December 1851, p. 3.

[10]          Daly, Elysian Fields, pp. 45–6.

[11]          ‘The Adelaide Stag and Mr Wm. Hodge’, South Australian Register, 1 January 1852, p. 3.

[12]          ‘Grand Wrestling at North Adelaide’, South Australian Register, 1 January 1852, p. 3.

[13]          ‘South Australia’, Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston, 12 February 1851, p. 90.

[14]          ‘The Foot Race’, Argus, 9 February 1852, p. 2.

[15]          ‘The Foot Race’, Argus, 11 February 1852, p. 2; see also Geelong Advertiser, 14 February 1852, p. 2.

[16]          The paper gives Furnell’s initial as T, but this is surely Freddie Furnell. See above.

[17]          ‘Pedestrianism’, Empire, Sydney, 19 April 1853, p. 2.

[18]          It is not clear if this private escort is the one established by the government of New South Wales in 1853 under the Gold Export Act, The Empire reported the formation of a private gold escort to Victoria as the product of ‘a newly awakened spirit of commercial enterprise among us’, which suggests that there might have been both public and private commercial operations formed in New South Wales that year. Empire, Sydney, 14 January 1853, p. 2. The burden of the Empire report was a long discussion of the need for improvement in the means of communication and trade between the recently separated colonies, largely by private enterprise but with some government financial support.

[19]          ‘Domestic News’, Adelaide Times, 22 January 1853, p. 3.

[20]          Albert Bird, one of a number of touring English professional runners in the 1870s, ‘mismeasured the distances over which he ran demonstration races, and often did not “try” against local runners if he had been paid before the event’. Daly, Elysian Fields, p. 86.

[21]          ‘Execution of private escort robbers at Melbourne’, Empire, Sydney, 14 October 1853, p. 3, citing Melbourne Morning Herald.

[22]          ‘Pedestrianism’, Bell’s Life in Victoria, 23 April 1859, p. 4.




  1. great story about a part of our history I was unaware of. I wonder about how this pedestrianism developed into the professional running of “gift races”

    By the way just to let you know, I am the Adelaide Stag now, but not a pedestrian.

  2. I love it. Now that is 4 I need to research. Two of my Deakin University colleagues did a lot of excellent work on pedestrianism and athletics in the nineteenth century. John Perry, The Quick and the Dead: Stawell and its Race Through Time is an excellent read. Peter Mewett did a good short account of how pedestrianism split into amateur athletics and the professional running in the pre-Stawell period. Paul Jenes’s entry in the Dave Nadel and Graeme Ryan Sport in Victoria volume is a useful succinct introduction..

Leave a Comment