Sir Edward Deas Thomson, public servant, is credited with establishing Royal Randwick Racecourse. Edinburgh-born and well educated, Thomson came to New South Wales aged 29 to take the responsible public service position of clerk to the Legislative and Executive Councils. He had previously travelled in the United States and Canada and worked in the West Indies. He rode in Australia’s first steeplechase, across country from Botany to Coogee in 1832, finishing a close second on his own horse, Tam O’Shanter.
Thomson rose to the senior position of Colonial Secretary to the NSW Governor Richard Bourke (his future father-in-law). He was also a member of the Legislative Council. In these roles he was instrumental in selecting and securing the reservation of land on the Randwick Road, first used as ‘the Sandy Race Course’ in 1833. The primitive course soon fell out favour against the privately-owned racecourse at Homebush, and was rarely used after 1838. Thomson persisted with his enthusiasm for the Randwick site, and in 1858 was appointed a trustee of the property.
As Australian Jockey Club president from 1859, he helped lay out a grassy racetrack in a configuration close to the one still in use today, and to design the first grandstands. The AJC held its first Randwick meeting on 29 May 1860. Most of the traditional Sydney classic races including the (now) ATC Derby, the Doncaster and Epsom Handicaps and the Sydney Cup originated in the next ten years. The club’s future was assured in 1873 when the Crown granted the land to trustees nominated by the AJC, for an annual rental of one black peppercorn.
As Chairman, he did much to advance the role of the AJC as the governing body of racing in New South Wales. Revised Rules of Racing were implemented, the licensing of jockeys and trainers was introduced, and an efficient system of handicapping was established.
Thomson remained a key political figure in New South Wales until the end of his life, in 1878.
“AJC Members’ Meeting, the Hon. E. Deas Thomson in the Chair: the Randwick course when completed will, in the opinion of competent judges, be the finest racecourse out of England.” (The Empire, Sydney, 30 August 1859)
“He had seen much of the world, was broad-minded, and every inch a gentleman. His early training gave him a thorough knowledge of business, both in mercantile pursuits and government departments, He was a shrewd man…Never was there a more unselfish man than Mr Thomson.” (Timothy Fogarty, Truth 1894)