Mark Twain was in Melbourne for the Melbourne Cup of 1895. His account of this event is in his book Following the Equator, published in 1897.
He called Melbourne "the mitred Metropolitan of the Horse-Racing Cult", and declared Melbourne Cup Day to be "the Australasian National Day ...that overshadows all other holidays and specialised days of whatever sort..." and "... Cup Day only, commands an attention, an interest, and an enthusiasm which are universal - and spontaneous, not perfunctory. Cup Day is supreme..."
He goes on to describe the crowded Melbourne city and the carnival atmosphere of the racecourse. However, he never mentions individual horses, or betting and sweeps and does not tell us of any wagers he made on the day.
Unlike Nat Gould.
Nat Gould came to Australia in 1884, and stayed 12 years. Here, he was employed as a journalist and specialised in horse racing, and saw six Melbourne Cups between 1889 to 1894.
His colourful accounts of these events are in his 1895 book On and Off the Turf in Australia. He knew many owners, trainers and jockeys, as well as race course officials.
And, of course, he was a punter - although it is often necessary to read between his lines to work out which horses he backed.
In 1889, he did not back the Cup winner, Bravo. Instead, he backed the horse that finished sixth, Chicago. Chicago had beaten Bravo in the Caulfield Cup of the previous year.
Carbine (by Musket) won the Cup the following year, and although Gould devotes an entire chapter to this horse, indications are he backed Highborn, the horse that came second to Carbine at good odds.
He has little to say about Malvolio, winner of the 1891 Cup. He writes more about the other place-getters, Sir William and Strathmore. He backed Sir William - another second.
On Cup day 1892 the rain received more attention than the horses. Gould writes, "I have been to race-meetings in all sorts of weather in the old country and elsewhere, but I never recollect a more uncomfortable day than when Glenloth won the Cup". As starting time approached, the grounds were such that "some well-dressed swell measured his length in the mud, and then got up to shake himself like a Newfoundland dog".
The rain continued throughout the race and "when the horses flashed past the post there was a cry of 'What's won?'" Glenloth was an outsider, and Gould reports that its win "put the finishing touch on a backer's misery."
Tarcoola, another outsider, won in 1893, and although Gould had information that suggested Tarcoola would run well, he ignored it, and backed a horse named Carnage. Carnage came second.
Patron won the last Melbourne Cup Gould saw. He described Patron's Cup as "a most extraordinary win" but gives no indication of his own wager(s). If he had backed Patron, he would have mentioned it.
Gould gives a detailed description of Flemington on Cup day, "...a sight never to be forgotten..." He rates Flemington the best racecourse in Australia but, of course, there are courses in England that he considers superior. He describes travelling from Sydney to Melbourne and, although having a "vexatious" change of trains at Albury, he enjoys the journey and finds "the sleeping cars models of comfort".
There is a more detailed description of Melbourne in Town and Bush, Gould's sequel to On and Off the Turf in Australia. Gould's visits were made at Melbourne Cup time, when he claims the city was seen at its best, although he is moved to comment that, "there is an influx of undesirable citizens from all parts of the colonies".
Many of Gould's views ring hollow today. He distrusts Chinese, he does not like trade unions, he does not believe women should be seen in the betting ring - what would he think of Michelle Payne? - and he doubts, in 1896, that federation of Australian states is possible "for many years to come". However, he is a genuine racing man and not afraid to tell a story against himself - one with a moral.
At Glenloth's 1892 Melbourne Cup, a waiter at the hotel where Gould was staying asked him to put a pound on Glenloth for him. At the time, the odds about Glenloth were 50 to one and Gould convinced the waiter he should "keep his money in his pocket".
The next day, having talked the waiter out of a 50-pound win, Gould considered changing his table to one served by a different waiter. But he sought to make up for his poor advice on Glenloth by assuring the waiter that a horse named Trieste would win the main race on the Thursday after the Cup. The waiter backed Trieste. It did not win.
Gould declares, "Moral: Always keep your information to yourself, and then you will be the only sufferer." As true today as it was in 1892.
- Town and Bush: Stray Notes on Australia (1896), by Nat Gould, is currently publishing by Kessinger Publishing.