Bumpers of Champagne…

I’ve been meaning to tell you this story for years…

Back when I was heavily pregnant with our first child (now the beautiful, 14 year old Angus), I lent my husband’s cousin my family history because he was an amateur genealogist and interested in such things.  A huge (and mainly very dull) tome, it tells the tale of the Single family after whom Singleton in NSW is named.  Nothing interesting correct?  But stay with me on this, because half an hour after lending him the book, it got very interesting indeed…

Hmm, not liking the illustrations much...

The area where Single settled.

Firstly, we don’t think we are related.  Well truth be told, we probably are somewhere along the line ~ if you lived in the bush in the 1800s in NSW,  you tended to marry your cousin, or the person over the hill or anyone as far as your horse could carry you.  But that’s another story.

So, no obvious interbreeding ~ thank the God of Small Things.

Now here’s the interesting bit.  In 1862 two men held a highly competitive footrace over the bridge at Penrith.  It was to determine the fastest man in the colony of NSW.  The purse was enormous for its time, some £200 pounds.  Over £20,000 pounds exchanged hands in just one day in wagers. All the major newspapers of the day covered the story.  Up to 1000 people witnessed the race.  Again, a huge number for a then fledgling colony.

Penrith bridge today

Penrith bridge today

And this is where I get the shivers.   One of the men,  Charles Single is my Uncle 6x back.  The other, John Webster just happens to be my husband’s Uncle 6x back.  The likelihood of our two relatives meeting in this way some 155 years ago is remote, but their direct descendants marrying?  Infinitesimal.

Webster & Single

Webster & Single

I might add, my bloke won and I’d wager that if Robert and I were to re-enact the race again today, the Singles would again be victorious.

So there you go.  A little insight into my personal family history.

Below is a transcript of an article about the race as it appeared in the Sydney Mail on 10 March, 1862.

You’ll note that after the race, everyone ‘adjourned’ to the Commercial Hotel for ‘bumpers’ of champagne which proves to me that we are definitely related…

Does your family have any unique connections?  I’d love to hear about them…

Until next time…


Great Pedestrian Contest

A pedestrian contest, which had been looked forward to with considerable interest, for several weeks past, came off in Penrith on Monday afternoon, the competitors being Mr. John Webster of Mudgee, and Mr Charles Single, of the Nepean. Independently of the large amount of the stakes (£200 a side) there was great speculation on the result and betting to a large amount took place from time to time, as the condition and chances of either man became known to his friends and supporters in Mudgee or Penrith respectively.

We may here state that Webster was trained by Dalton, a famous hundred yards runner, while Mr Single had the services of Williams, the ex-champion of the colony over the same distance. In both instances the advantage of careful and systematic training was made evident when the men appeared at the scratch, both being in superb condition as far as the eye could determine.

In personnel the competitors differed very widely from each other, Webster’s short compact well-developed frame contrasting strongly with the tall, strong wiry looking frame of his antagonist. The running ground was selected on a nice spot in the rear of the courthouse, about a quarter of a mile from the town; and thither at the appointed hour some nine hundred or a thousand persons bent their steps to witness the race. The distance (100 yards) was measured off beforehand, and the two tracks had been chipped and smoothed off parallel with, and distant about, two feet from each other.

All the preliminaries had been arranged, Messrs. Crane and Molloy were chosen to act as umpires, while the office of referee was confided to Capt. Riley; and shortly before three o’clock the men appeared at the scratch, Single taking the right hand, and Webster the left hand side of the track. After one or two essays they two got away on pretty equal terms, Webster having, if anything, slightly the best of it in the start. Before running thirty yards, however, Single went clean past him, and maintained first position to the finish, winning the race cleverly by rather more than two yards, amidst the vociferous cheering of his friends and supporters. The time was variously stated at ten, eleven and twelve seconds, and the latter is very probably the more correct, as the race was not what could be termed a fast one.

Had the weather been more favourable the probability is that greater pace would have been made, but running beneath a blazing sun, with the thermometer at 120 degrees in the shade, it is not surprising that both men felt the influence of the oppressive heat. The issue of the match took many by surprise, Webster hitherto having found few men who could cope with him at a distance. In the present case, however, it was clear that he was overmatched, the winner, Mr Single, combining on his person all the essentials for a first class runner, viz., height, strength and speed, though he cannot perhaps boast of the easy scientific style of Webster.

Having adjourned to the Commercial, the victory was celebrated with bumpers of champagne, and subsequently, at the instance of the victor, a subscription amounting to several pounds was made up and presented to the defeated man, as a sort of solace for the disappointment he had experienced in having to succumb to the “Champion of the Nepean.” ~ Sydney Mail, 10 March 1862


  1. Bronwyn says

    That’s amazing. No similar stories in my family, but one funny co-incidence in my life: moving from Sydney to Perth (that is, from one side of the continent to the other) we ended up living in the same street in Perth as the brother of my next door neighbour in Sydney. What are the odds?

  2. says

    Spooky! I’m sure my husband and I were never related. He’s basically a Viking and I’m definitely Anglo-Saxon… so far back in time both lots of ancestors invaded Caledonia…. but I bet that’s it.

    Funnily enough, I could just go a bumper of champagne.

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