Bagot’s vision for Flemington

28 December 2023 Written by Andrew Lemon

The first two Secretaries of the VRC, Robert Cooper Bagot and Henry Byron Moore, were instrumental in establishing the magnificent track and glorious gardens here at Flemington and remained committed to ongoing improvement of facilities for the comfort and convenience of the racegoers, a tradition the Club proudly continues today.

Inaugural VRC Secretary Robert Cooper Bagot was the driving force behind the establishment of Flemington Racecourse as one of the great racecourses in the world. 

A surveyor and engineer as much as an administrator, he transformed the landscape by draining swamps, renovating the track, and constructing grandstands and pavillions where the public could enjoy picnic lunches. He planted the grounds with elms and oaks. He encouraged ladies to attend race meetings by issuing members with complimentary ladies’ tickets in the mid 1860s.

Early in 1840, when land along the Salt Water River (the Maribyrnong River) was selected as the permanent home of the Melbourne Racecourse, (later known as Flemington), there was little thought of gardens. 

One of Bagot’s earliest undertakings was to drain the central swamp at the course to create ‘the Flat’. Other improvements followed and in 1873 a new grandstand was erected to house some 3000 patrons in comfort. This was followed by a continual program of improvements including the planting of elms and oaks in the Saddling Paddock and extending the Hill and planting it with pines. In the late 1870s, the Carriage Paddock was increased to three times its former size and a huge pavilion erected with amenities for the public to enjoy picnic lunches. The Saddling Paddock was also increased and a large fountain installed for trainers to draw water. The course proper was fenced and the grassed promenade now extended to over half a mile in length.

Bagot was also successful in lobbying the Victorian Government in support of the Melbourne Cup. The Government declared Cup Day a half-holiday for public servants and bank employees, and from 1876 Cup Day became a holiday for all Victorians. 

Bagot remained secretary of the Club until his death in 1881. He was succeeded by Henry Byron Moore and remained at the helm for 44 years, until 1925. Proving himself a worthy successor, he guided the fortunes of the Club wisely. On his appointment, he developed long-range plans for the course which could be pre-financed. Included in his vision were expanded and additional grandstands, a Ladies area with splendidly fitted retiring rooms and a refreshment area, an extended railway platform and a widened racecourse entrance with extensive plantings. A keen and talented amateur gardener, Moore planned for 3000 additional trees and shrubs to be planted. When challenged by the then Chairman C.B. Fisher about the number of trees and shrubs in question Moore replied: ‘Let us make Flemington a place of beauty. Think how marvellous it will look in the future and how much the Government will be delighted to see a public parkland planted with thousands of majestic trees and colourful shrubs.’

Fast fact

Bagot’s survey of the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1861 gave the oval the shape and dimensions it has today.

This is an extract from Beautification of the Flemington Grounds and Facilities