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Clibborn, Thomas Strettel (1837–1910)

by D. M. Barrie

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Thomas Strettel Clibborn (1837-1910), administrator, was born on 4 February 1837 at Moate Castle, County Westmeath, Ireland, son of Cuthbert John Clibborn and his wife Jane, née Holmes. He was educated at Wall's School, Dublin, and as an engineer at Trinity College; he left there in December 1859 and went to Australia. In 1868 he was made manager of the stock division of Lord, Croaker & Co., of Hamilton, Victoria, where he developed outstanding administrative ability and also closely identified himself with racing, steeplechasing and hunting. Later that year he became secretary-manager of the newly-established Ballarat Meat Preserving Co. In 1872 he was appointed secretary of the flourishing Ballarat Turf Club. His executive leadership there attracted an invitation from the Australian Jockey Club to apply for the post of secretary.

On 3 March 1873 the A.J.C. ballot resulted in his appointment at a salary of £350. The Ballarat Turf Club at first refused to accept Clibborn's resignation, hoping in vain that he would tire of Sydney and return to their golden city. He was required by the A.J.C. to lodge a security of £500 'for due performance of his duties and the safe custody of all monies received', for until 1897 he also acted as club treasurer. When Clibborn took office the club's affairs were in a sorry state: racing was poorly supported in Sydney, finances were depleted and club records were sketchily kept. Until that time club meetings had been held in a room above Buchan Thompson's livery stables at the corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets. In Clibborn's first year the added prize-money provided by the A.J.C. totalled £3740. He set about re-establishing the club to such purpose that by his retirement in 1910, added money had been increased to £44,950; with stakes, entries and forfeits, prize-money for that year exceeded £50,000. Clibborn was a witness at the marriage of Robert Bagot, secretary of the Victoria Racing Club.

At first Clibborn's proposals for A.J.C. improvement met with strong opposition. When it appeared that he might return to Ballarat he was given freer rein as well as permission to use the club secretariat for his own business, provided it did not interfere with club affairs. No detail was too small or menial to merit his attention. At times he would don a bag and collect gate takings at match meetings which he encouraged. Everything he did was for the welfare of the club. Principled, fearless, tireless and thorough in his every undertaking, he was strictly just and fair in all his dealings and always tactful and diplomatic. A good and exceptionally well-informed official, he was 'just as ready to give advice to a small jockey boy as to an opulent owner'. He started Hunt Club races at Randwick and promoted yearling sales which were held in the saddling paddock. He was a firm friend of Governor Sir Hercules Robinson, a fellow Irishman whose interest in the turf did much to stimulate support from wealthy owners.

Under Clibborn's guidance the A.J.C. prospered: prize-money and patronage increased. The A.J.C. Derby became Australia's premier classic race with £4000 added money by 1910; the Sydney Cup grew from £250 to £3500, the Metropolitan from £250 to £3000, the Epsom Handicap from £60 to £1500, the Doncaster from £50 to £1500, while all weight-for-age and important two-year-old races were increased proportionately. The Australian Jockey Club Act in 1873 confirmed the club's tenure of Randwick race-course; a revised weight-for-age scale was adopted by leading Australian clubs in 1879; all New South Wales Country Clubs registered to race under A.J.C. rules of racing in 1883; starting machines were introduced in 1894; the A.J.C. built and occupied its own headquarters in Bligh Street in 1901; a uniform system of race-horse name registration was introduced in 1905-10 though not adopted by all Australian racing clubs until 1911; and the A.J.C. co-operated with the Victoria Racing Club to buy joint control of the Australian Stud Book in 1910. Clibborn was still planning further club progress when ill health forced his retirement in August 1910. An illuminated address, presented by the bookmakers of Tattersall's Club and now in the Mitchell Library, records his services to racing in New South Wales and the great esteem in which he was held.

Clibborn was a member of the Union Club and in 1899 was elected to the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. His residence, Holmesby, was at Elizabeth Bay. He died on 31 December 1910 at Wellington, New South Wales. His funeral at the Church of England cemetery at South Head, Sydney, was attended by many leading citizens and representatives of racing clubs. He was survived by his wife, Clarinda Mary, née Magan, whom he had married at Hamilton on 25 October 1868, and by two of their three children. His son George, who went to South Africa with a war contingent, returned the day before his father's death; he inherited with his mother and sister a share in his father's estates in Ireland.

The Clibborn Stakes (Handicap), held each October at Randwick as part of the A.J.C. Spring Carnival, is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Barrie, The Australian Bloodhorse (Syd, 1956)
  • D. M. Barrie, Turf Cavalcade (Syd, 1960)
  • Australasian Turf and Stallion Register (Melb, 1867-1911)
  • Sydney Mail, 4 Jan 1911
  • reports and records, 1873-1911 (Australian Jockey Club)
  • Deas Thomson papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. M. Barrie, 'Clibborn, Thomas Strettel (1837–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/clibborn-thomas-strettel-3233/text4875, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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