Bullock, Ralph (Geordie)


Though known to everyone as Geordie, Ralph was essentially a north country jockey. He first saw the light of day in Morpeth towards the close of 1841. Aged ten, he went to the racing stables of Thomas Dawson at Tupgill where, three years later, he was duly registered amongst the jockeys of England as able to ride at 4 stone 3 pound. He had, in fact, made his debut a year earlier in 1853 when, aged twelve, he finished unplaced on Mary Aislabie at Harrowgate. His first win came the following autumn when he rode Ellermire to victory at Kelso for Admiral Harcourt.

By the end of 1856 and then thoroughly into his riding, Ralph was much in demand as a clever light-weight and, as such, won the Chester Stewards’ Cup on Tunstall Maid in 1859. The same year, he had his first ride in the Derby, finishing unplaced on Mr Pergasson’s 100/1 outsider Lovett.

Riding High Treason in the next year’s St Leger, Ralph finished second to St Albans, ridden by the ill-fated Luke Snowden.

The pinnacle of the young jockey’s career was reached in 1861 when he rode the Derby winner Kettledrum. That day  there was much critisim of the state of the Epsom course which had been badly neglected and strewn with rubbish.

 Kettledrum was an extremely lucky winner. Dundee, ridden by Henry Custance, had been favourite for the race throughout the winter. At Tattenham Corner, Custance thought he would win easily but, some eighty yards from the winning post, Dundee broke down badly on both fore-legs allowing Ralph to score on Kettledrum by a neck.

Owner Charles Townley used the winnings to build St Hubert's Church at Dunsop Bridge in the Ribble Valley. The Kettledrum Inn, near Burnley, is named after the Derby winner. Both still stand.

After his Derby success, Ralph - whilst still a favourite in the north - had become better known in the south. In his last season as a jockey, he rode Tom Whiffer to victory in the Ascot Vase, the Doncaster Cup and the Goodwood Cup.

The last race Ralph ever won, on the Saturday of the Haughton Meeting,  was on Smoke in the blue body, white sleeves colours of Mr Jackson. The last race Ralph ever rode was for the same owner, aboard Lady Louisa at Shrewsbury.

Unlike too many other jockeys, Ralph was totally adverse to steading his nerves with alcohol, preferring instead a strong coffee. He enjoyed the occasional cigar, and was very fond of hunting, regularly attending the Bedale fixture.

On Saturday 17th Jan 1863, returning to Tupgill from Mr Jackson’s house in Oram, Ralph felt a pain and coldness in his left cheek which began to swell alarmingly. He was much worse by Wednesday and, the next day, fell into a coma.

Ralph, aged 22, never regained consciousness and died at Tuphill on Friday, 23rd January.

Such was the suddenness of his death that his devastated brother, working away at Tattersall’s, only found out about it when reading the Saturday papers.

It was first thought that Ralph had suffered some devastating abscess between the head and throat, but later it was established that he died from deep-rooted erysipelas, commonly known as St Anthony’s Fire. Erysipelas, an infection of the skin which causes the face to turn red, was a feared, often fatal disease in pre-antibiotic days, especially in young people.

Ralph Bullock was buried at Morpeth, his place of birth, on Tuesday 27th and his funeral was attended by Mr Thomas Dawson and his two sons, Mr Jackson and the jockeys Tommy Aldcroft, Fred Bates, John Arnold, Tom Challoner and John Osborne, Jnr.

Ralph left effects of less than £800.

In nine seasons, Ralph had ridden  total of 212 winners, broken down as follows;

1854 (1), 1855 (14), 1856 (29), 1857 (43), 1858 (34), 1859 (21), 1860 (24), 1861 (23) and 1862 (23).

Aged 21, Luke Snowden died from typhus fever, January 10th 1862.

Ralph’s nephew, William, became famous as the rider of Oaks and Derby heroine Signorinetta.

Kettledrum’s next race was the St Leger for which he started 11/8 favourite and ridden by Luke Snowden.  He was beaten a head by outsider Caller Ou, who was laid at 500 to 6 (approx. 82-1) just  before the off. At the end of that year he went to Belhus Stud where he stood successfully for eleven years before being sold for £4,000 and sent to Count Forgach’s stud in Nagy Szalancz, Hungary, where he died in 1885.

The two above photos were sent in by David Thompson of Morpeth