Christmas at Helligen Stud
Dear Readers, your roving reporter Letitia Wellbeloved is coming to you today from Helligen Stud in the Hunter, (that's Australia) home of the Kilhamptons. The chief editor of The Lady’s Magazine has commissioned me to visit the homes of several well known and respected members of society and share with you, dear readers, a little about the Christmas traditions of these grand homes.
The small matter of the daughter of the house marrying an accused horse thief caused no end of a furore but what can you expect from these colonials? They take the law into their own hands and flout tradition at the first possible moment. And then, in less than four minutes all is forgive when their horse, Jefferson wins the Melbourne Cup. The Sport of Kings? Phat! The Sport of Scoundrels more like.
Nevertheless my curiosity was aroused and I have with me, Peggy (yes, they use her Christian name, whatever next?), the housekeeper and cook at Helligen Stud.
L.W.: Peggy, I believe you attended this, this travesty of a race? Was it rigged?
Peggy: And what business would it be of yours…
L.W.: Well, if you're going to take that approach…
Peggy: All's well that ends well, I say. We had a difficult year what with Mr James being incarcerated and all those accusations. It's all sorted now. My girls are married and India's expectin' so we are looking forward to a peaceful and happy Christmas.
L.W: Speaking of Christmas – are there any particular traditions that are observed here at Helligen.
Peggy: Oh my yes. I'm looking at reinstating some of the old ways that went by the board when poor Mrs Kilhampton had her accident all those years ago. We'll be eating some of the more traditional dishes. We just have to make sure we keep Mr Kilhampton away from the rum. He can be a bit difficult when he's had a bit but young Mr James will keep him in hand this time, I hope.
LW: I see. I do hope he succeeds. Now Peggy you did promise to share a favourite recipe of the Kilhamptons with our readers.
Peggy: Indeed I did. I have Mrs Kilhampton's favourite recipe for Roasted Black Swan. It goes back to the early days and Mr Kilhampton likes to see it served with a nice side of Slippery Bob.
LW: Slippery Bob?
Peggy: Hmmm - it's one of those things you're better off tasting before you ask too many questions but since you're so keen on a recipe here it is ... you better write it down for me. I'm not too good with me letters.
RECIPE FOR SLIPPERY BOB…
Make a batter with the flour and water. Add the kangaroo brains and seasoning and put to the side to rest.
Heat the butter or duck fat in a medium-size pan over a medium heat. When the fat is starting to crackle, shape the mixture to small-size fritters and place in the pan.
When they are a nice golden brown colour, turn them over to cook the other side.
To test the fritters, lightly press on them and if they are raw, you will feel that they are soft.
And Bob's your Uncle! 'Ave a good Christmas, dears.
If you'd like to read more about the Kilhamptons of Helligen Stud, you'll find their story inTHE HORSE THIEF by Tea Cooper
You can buy the book HERE or at any Australian & New Zealand book retailer…
Or if you have one of those newfangled devices HERE...
This is Letitia Wellbeloved bidding farewell to Helligen, and Australia, and hoping you will join her at one of the other places she will be visiting….
And especially for the readers of The Lady’s Magazine, there is a chance to win yourself a Christmas present of one of two Amazon Gift Vouchers. Just make sure you enter the Rafflecopter below…
Release Day & Giveaway for The Horse Thief by Tea Cooper
Today around 250 permanent residents call Wollombi home and at weekends that number blossoms with the many Sydneysiders who escape to the Wollombi Valley.
The local watering hole, Wollombi Tavern, is the Friday night gathering spot and believe it or not that’s where The Horse Thief began!
One night the subject was the upcoming Melbourne Cup and someone (and I truly can’t remember who) announced that the winner of the first Melbourne Cup, Archer, was a Hunter animal. There was much debate and of course being addicted to research and all things historical I rushed off to check the facts.
A few weeks later I received a phone call from one of my writer friends. She had somehow managed to wangle a behind-the-scenes, private tour of the nineteenth century homestead at Tocal, in the Hunter. Would I like to go along? And the rest, as they say, is history.
I’m going to let the pictures explain my “inspiration” for The Horse Thief but first I must add a disclaimer: The Horse Thief is a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents are a product of my imagination. You see it wasn’t until the 1870s that a Hunter horse first won the Melbourne Cup and as for the Kilhamptons of Helligen Stud … let your imagination be the judge!
Excerpt from The Horse Thief by Tea Cooper
Two people one dream … with the past riding hard on their heels.
When India Kilhampton is caught up in the heart-stopping excitement of the first Melbourne Cup her mind is made up. She will breed a horse to win the coveted trophy and reunite her fractured family. Determined to make her dream a reality she advertises for a horse breeder.
Jim Mawgan arrives at Helligen Stud in the Hunter Valley to take up the position. He has a mission: he must fulfil his father’s dying wish to right past wrongs and prove his ownership of the prized stallion Jefferson.
Jim and India discover they share a common goal but as the secrets of the past unravel old emanates surface. Will India save Jim before he is branded a horse thief and sentenced to death?
The Hunter, New South Wales
Bold black handwriting sprawled across the envelope:
Alexander Kilhampton Esq.,
The flourish beneath the writing stopped at a small spot of ink as if the author had prevaricated then come to a sudden decision.
‘Off you go.’ India Kilhampton clutched the letter and dropped a penny into the young boy’s hand. She tore open the envelope before he’d even turned to leave. Her fingers trembled as she extracted the paper and unfolded it.
‘Peggy! Peggy!’ Grasping her skirts in one hand she flew across the flagstone courtyard, the letter held high above her head. ‘I have a response.’ Skidding to a halt on the threshold of the kitchen, she brandished the letter under her housekeeper’s nose.
A sceptical look flashed across Peggy’s round, pink face. ‘That’s mighty fine news.’
‘I never believed we’d hear from anyone.’ She tapped the envelope against her lips, relishing the scent of ink and new prospects. ‘I placed the advertisement over a month ago.’
‘What does it say?’
She glanced at the paper again, elation and tension blurring the words. ‘Not as much as I hoped. His name is Jim Mawgan and he’ll be in the area during the week of fourteenth of August and will …’
So much depended on this advertisement. Twelve months to prove a point and perform a miracle. The fourteenth of August … the knot in her stomach tightened. ‘Wasn’t that yesterday?’ Too late. The date had passed. Why hadn’t he turned up? She slumped down at the kitchen table. ‘Maybe he changed his mind.’
A cloud of white flour settled over India’s precious letter as Peggy dusted her hands. ‘Calm down. Read me the letter.’
Shaking the paper clean India cleared her throat and adopted her most businesslike tone. It was one she intended to practise, and use, if she ever got the chance.
In reply to your advertisement in The Maitland Mercury, I wish to make application for the position of Stud Master. I will be in the area during the week of fourteenth of August and beg your permission to call to discuss said position.
‘There you are.’ Peggy’s rolling pin thumped the table. ‘You’re supposed to be the educated one. The week of the fourteenth of August means anytime during the week. Today’s Monday. It could be any day until the weekend.’
The simple script floated in front of India’s eyes, the neat lines merging and drifting. ‘Oh, Peggy, I think you’re right. I hope so.’ It wasn’t too late, he hadn’t changed his mind, he just hadn’t arrived yet. Somewhere in her chest a bubble of elation burst. Unable to stay still a moment longer she leapt to her feet and spun around and around, clasping the precious letter tight.
‘Stop cavorting and carrying on. Come and sit down while I finish these scones.’
More from habit than agreement India plopped down again at the scrubbed pine table. Neat circles of dough fell from Peggy’s hands and lined up like soldiers on parade. India’s thoughts were less cooperative. It was such an outside chance. Some might call her idea reckless and foolish. No one advertised for a stud master. There was no point. No reputable stud parted with the one man who knew all their secrets. No one would apply for the job. It simply wasn’t done. Well! She sat back and indulged in a smug smile. She’d done it.
‘Are you going to tell your father?’
As usual, Peggy discovered the hair in the icing.
Telling Papa wasn’t necessary. After all, he might not even be in Sydney. He could be anywhere. Sailing the seven seas, trading his goods, anything to keep him away from Helligen. She chewed on her lip. ‘No. Not yet. He agreed in principle. I’ll wait and see if the man can do the job before I let Papa know. And anyway, he agreed matters were in my hands for twelve months.’
With a long-suffering sigh Peggy swung the oven door open. ‘Morning tea. Who’s here today?’
The smell of freshly baked scones compensated for Peggy’s lack of enthusiasm. India knew her plan would work—she didn’t need Peggy’s approval. ‘Only Fred, Jilly in the scullery, and the men working on the back fences with Tom Bludge. I’m going to tell them it’s their last day today. I’ll just keep Fred and Jilly on until I discover what this new man is like.’
‘Don’t get your hopes up. You advertised for a stud master not a labourer. He won’t be sweating it out in the paddocks. He’ll have other things on his mind.’ The corners of Peggy’s mouth twitched and her eyes twinkled as she let out a loud chortle.
India had lived most of her life on Helligen Stud and she had no doubt about the direction the housekeeper’s thoughts had taken. ‘Peggy!’
‘Well, I don’t know. Putting an advertisement in the paper for a man to do your breeding.’ She slammed the oven door. ‘Hardly ladylike.’
‘Not my breeding.’ India laughed and pushed the chair back. She stretched her legs under the table and wiggled her feet. ‘I can’t wait. It’ll breathe new life into the place having some foals around again. I’ve missed the rhythm of the seasons so much. I’m never going back to Sydney or Melbourne again.’ She lifted her hands and pulled her heavy hair off the nape of her neck. ‘Except to race Helligen’s first champion in the Melbourne Cup.’
‘And will you be taking your sister?’ Peggy’s caterpillar eyebrows twitched.
Violet! Heaven forbid. There’d be no chance of leaving without her. She’d made the most awful fuss about returning home to Helligen. ‘She’ll do as she’s told. Until she marries she has to do as Papa says, and right now I’m in charge so she’ll have to learn to live with it.’
‘Those are brave words, my girl.’
India jumped to her feet. ‘I feel brave, audacious and adventurous.’ For too long she’d plotted and schemed, wondering how to get things moving. ‘It’s a new beginning for Helligen—for all of us.’
The Horse Thief is available in eBook and paperback from good retailers.
Read more about Tea and her books on MEET TEA COOPER
Leave a comment for Tea and go into the draw to WIN a signed paperback copy of
The Horse Thief.
This giveaway was open to Australian postal addressees only.
And the winner is: Ails73!
Talk about six degrees of separation... I first e-met fellow historical writer Alison Stuart a few years ago on FB and subsequently in real life at the Sydney RWA conference. Little did I know when I wrote The Horse Thief that I had an on the spot resource for my research. Below is a 'reprint' of a blog Alison posted on Melbourne Cup Day (3rd November, 2015) ...
Today is Melbourne Cup Day. The horse race that ‘stops a nation’ – literally. I had only been in Australia a few short months (at school in Perth) and at lunchtime on the first Tuesday in November, the girls, took a smuggled radio down to the back of the playing fields to listen to the running of the Cup. It was 1968 and Rain Lover won.
As an Australian there are few better things to claim in your pedigree then descent from a convict. Only one other thing could possibly trump that… and that is claiming a connection with a famous horse. I can claim both… and, oddly, they are related.
Before we continue… the horse is not the famous Phar Lap, but the next most famous horse, the winner of the very first Melbourne Cup, Archer.
Archer’s owner and trainer was my Great+ Uncle, Etienne DeMestre, grandson of Mary Hyde, my convict ancestor. Etienne’s mother, Mary Ann Black had married an interesting Frenchman by the name of Prosper DeMestre, who established himself as a businessman in Sydney in about 1818. They had a large family of which Etienne was the youngest son and my own great+ grandmother, Annette, the youngest daughter.
Anyway, back to the horse. The DeMestres owned considerable property on the Shoalhaven River in NSW (to the south of Sydney) where they bred and trained horses. The DeMestre stables at Terara were a model of how such stables should be run and informal race meetings were often held at their private race track. Horses dominated their lives and as anyone involved in that industry will tell you, it was drought or plenty. I have read some very amusing correspondence from one of the deMestre women complaining about her beloved horse being sold from underneath her when funds ran low.
The great horse, Archer, was foaled in 1856 and came into Etienne’s hands in 1860. Archer was one of three horses DeMestre sent to Melbourne for the running of the first Melbourne Cup. One of the many, many family legends is that in order for his horse to reach, Etienne walked Archer from Shoalhaven to Melbourne (some 850kms). So great is this myth that it was even made into a film (Archer’s Adventure 1985 starring Nicole Kidman – yes really!). However like all good myths, it is just that… the furthest Archer had to walk was the 8 miles to the wharf on the River. Before railways, boat was the only way to transport horses (and sadly DeMestre’s 1876 cup entry was lost at sea along with nine other racehorses).
That first Melbourne Cup was a modest affair, watched by a mere four thousand spectators. Ridden by popular aboriginal jockey Johnny Cutts (wearing the all black livery of the DeMestre stables), Archer took out the field of seventeen to become the first winner. He won again the following year and would have raced in the third cup, but the entry was received too late. The refusal to allow the entry led to a boycott by interstate trainers and the smallest field in the history of the cup was run that year.
Archer was retired to stud after injury and lived out a long and happy life. In total, DeMestre trained five winners of the Melbourne Cup (a record only bested by Bart Cummings). However he was plagued by financial and health difficulties and died in 1916 at the age of 84.
Which brings me to one of the strange coincidences in life… I was talking to my friend, Australian historical romance writer, Tea Cooper about her latest release THE HORSE THIEF… and in the course of conversation Tea told me that she had drawn heavily on the story of Archer for her own story, set in the lovely Hunter Valley (north of Sydney) which lays its own claim on Archer…
Tea writes “… there is a local Hunter Valley myth that Archer was in fact a ‘Hunter horse’ and indeed a famous Hunter horse by the name of Young Dover was frequently ridden from Maitland to racetracks across NSW. He won many races after travelling over 100 miles in one day.
Today the Hunter Valley in NSW is regarded as one of the most important horse breeding areas in Australia, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that the first Hunter horse won the Melbourne Cup. Perhaps the reason the Hunter lays claim to breeding the first winner of the Melbourne Cup is that the stories of Young Dover and Archer have melded in the minds of Hunter Valley residents over the years. In some of the more ‘historic’ watering holes in the Hunter Valley, Archer is still claimed as a Hunter animal.
For fiction’s sake I have adopted the Hunter version of the myth. The Kilhamptons did not exist other than in my imagination, nor did their property, Helligen. It is loosely based on the historic homestead, Tocal, near Paterson in the Hunter, north of Sydney…’
It therefore seems appropriate that here on Melbourne Cup Day I introduce Tea’s wonderful story of a horse… and a dream.
ALISON STUART - Writer
History with Heart
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Two people, one dream … with the past riding hard on their heels.
When India Kilhampton is caught up in the excitement of the first Melbourne Cup her mind is made up. She will breed a horse to win the coveted trophy and reunite her fractured family. Determined to make her dream a reality she advertises for a horse breeder.
Jim Mawgan arrives at Helligen Stud in the Hunter Valley to take up the position. Jim however has a mission: he must fulfill his father’s dying wish to right past wrongs and prove his ownership of his prized stallion Jefferson.
Jim and India discover they share a common goal but as the secrets of the past unravel old enmities surface.
Will India save Jim before he is branded a horse thief and sentenced to death?
Print available now in bookshops and from Harlequin MIRA http://ow.ly/SS1WP
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