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William Gannon (1831–1894)

from Sportsman

On Tuesday last death claimed one of the straightest goers and most famous of our New South Wales horse owners in the person of Mr. William Gannon, proprietor of Petty's Hotel, the oldest of all our caravansaries. As a sport Mr. Gannon was known all over Australasia as the owner of some great horses, while in private life the deceased was noted, in a far more enviable way, for his kindness of heart and honorable dealings. When he won the Melbourne Cup with Arsenal he gave money away with both hands, and few who needed and deserved had to ask twice. A bluff, hearty man, full of energy and life, was Mr. Gannon, until a terrible illness laid him by the heels three years ago, and left a complication of disorders behind it, which eventually carried him off at the age of 63 years.

Mr. Gannon was the son of the late Mr. Michael Gannon, owner of what was then known as Gannon's Forest, but is now Hurstville. He was born at Miller's Point, Sydney, so that he died quite close to the spot where he first saw the light. He did not go in for any profession, but early showed a keen delight in horses and horsemanship, being, in fact, spoken of by "old hands" who remember his feats as the greatest rough-rider they ever saw. He also had the name of being a good all-round athlete. He rode frequently in races both on the flat and over country, and one of his tales was of the grand form shown at the Barwon Park races by young (now Sir George) Innes, who, Mr. Gannon declared to his dying day, rode the best race he ever saw in his life.

The first thoroughbred Mr. Gannon ever owned was a chestnut mare, which was given to him when quite a lad by a friend of the family, Captain Clark. Thirty years ago Mr. Gannon rode a trotter called Black Bobby in a match, for a heavy stake, against an opponent along the road from Newtown to Cook's River Bridge. There was a lot of excitement over this event, the whole road being lined with vehicles and horsemen, and great was the enthusiasm when young Gannon won.

In early life Mr. Gannon went as super-cargo of his uncle's (Captain Peacock) ship, trading to New Zealand chiefly in connection with Peacock's stations there. After some years at this, he stayed ashore assisting his cousin, the Hon. John Peacock, M.L.C., in the management of his stations. Having acquired a competency at this business, Mr. Gannon returned to his beloved Sydney to settle. Finding an idle life distasteful, he took the Oxford Hotel, which he ran with credit to it and himself for some years. Then he moved into Aarons' Exchange Hotel, and subsequently acquired Petty's through marriage with its owner, Miss Parry. There he had lived almost continuously till his death, though for years only very slightly connected with the business, which has almost entirely devolved upon Mrs. Gannon.

Mr. Gannon raced for some years before doing so in his own name, his father having a strong objection to his son identifying himself with the sport. Falmouth was the first he owned to bring him into prominence by winning the Hawkebury Guineas. He was favorite for the A.J.C. Derby, but only got third, much to his owner's disgust. Mr. Gannon was never satisfied with the result. Boscawen, a brother to Falmouth, was a horse he owned and thought a deal of. Sweet William was an idol, and was worthy of strong affection from his owner. He was a red-hot favorite for the Sydney Cup as a three-year-old, and Hales was engaged to ride, and actually had the silk on, when Bill Branch claimed Hales to ride Progress, who was as lame as a cat. Sweet William was thus left in the paddock riderless. At the last moment Mr. Gannon secured the services of young Williamson (who afterwards rode Martini-Henry for Mr. James White). The rider was quite unaccustomed to his horse, and was just beaten by Cunnamulla, a horse that never galloped before or after that race. The "Gannon luck " was proverbially bad in big races. Mr. Gannon was also second with Morpeth for the Australian Cup, again second therein with Arsenal and with Melos, who won the Champion the same meeting.

A sensational horse he thought the best he had owned up to then was Salvator, who broke his leg before having a chance to prove his worth in public. In Bandmaster he always vowed he had the certain winner of Coronet's Newmarket Handicap but for a break-down in a short dash the day before the race. The Lecturer— Victress gelding, Troy, after beating Lord Exeter in the Park Stakes at Canterbury when only half fit, broke his leg at Randwick while undergoing a training that was to fit him to win the Caulfield Cup in which Lord Exeter fell. Truly, the luck which caused Mr. Gannon to own such a grand horse as Melos contemporary with two grander in Carbine and Abercorn seems to have been his all through the chapter, with occasional breaks.

With Desmond he won a lot of races. A mare he doted on, and thought good enough for anything — Orphan, to wit — broke down before she had a chance to win.

With Merriment he won the Hawkesbury Guineas, and Miss Thirza won a Produce Stakes at Randwick. None of these are celebrities, however.

But when Australian Peer is reached things are different. Mr. Gannon always maintained that he was the best performer he ever raced, and that he would have swept the board if he had not broken that blood-vessel. He had beaten Abercorn, and was two ahead of that mighty colt in the score of w.f.a. events, when his retirement was necessitated. "Gannon's luck " again.

So with Arsenal, who, though he won the Melbourne Cup for Mr. Gannon, broke down finally soon after. Just before his own death a lovely Lochiel colt died at his owner's Wollongong estate.

Gatling, after running Gibraltar a dead heat in the A.J.C. Derby, was beaten in the run-off, and never broke his maiden, being a rogue till his queer and early death. His Goldsborough — Ethel horse, Ethelbert, was always looked upon as a good one, but is totally unreliable, and, altogether, the bad luck overshadows the good fortune in the record of Mr. William Gannon's racing career.

Mr. Gannon was for years honorary starter for the A.J.C. and Tattersall's Club. He was a great success with the flag, and the boys, who literally worshipped him, always tried to obey and please him.

Eminently honorable, brave, fearless, and kind, he was beloved in his own family circle and honored outside it, and it is with deep regret I pen the obituary notice of so good, so sterling a patron of the turf.

The remains were followed to the grave in Waverley Cemetery on Thursday by a very large assemblage of mourners and friends, and the coffin and hearse were literally smothered in wreaths of the choicest flowers.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for William Gannon

Additional Resources

  • funeral, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 August 1894, p 2
  • memorial poem, Richmond River Herald (NSW), 17 August 1894, p 2

Citation details

'Gannon, William (1831–1894)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 August, 1831
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


31 July, 1894 (aged 62)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

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