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The Legend of Lady Carrington's Horse

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The NSW Lancers Museum acknowledges Hydraulic Pumps Australia for their generous assistance

Lady Carrington's Silver Horse on the table during the 125th Regimental Dinner 6 March 2010

Lord Carrington (Charles Robert Wynn-Carrington, 1st Marquess of Lincolnshire KG, GCMG, PC, DL, JP (16 May 1843 13 June 1928), known as the Lord Carrington from 1868 to 1895 and as the Earl Carrington from 1895 to 1912) was Governor of New South Wales from 12 December 1885 3 November 1890.  His brother Rupert Clement George Carrington, 4th Baron Carrington CVO DSO DL (18 December 1852 11 November 1929), fought in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 as a Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and in the Second Boer War as a commanding officer in the 3rd New South Wales Imperial Bushmen.

When he took over from Lord Loftus, the Regiment was not a year old.  He had a military, and in particular cavalry background, he had served in the Royal Horse Guards and became a captain in 1869 and was aide-de-camp to the Prince of Wales on a visit to India in 1875-76. In 1881 he became lieutenant-colonel of the Royal Buckinghamshire Infantry, the His wife of 10 years, the Hon Celia Margaret accompanied him.

Lord Carrington's appointment as governor of New South Wales was to span much change and trouble. He arrived to find the colony in the grip of drought, economic recession and political crisis; he left in 1890 after the maritime strike had opened a phase of new industrial conflict. Throughout, he proved an able and tactful governor. He had a clear sense of the conventions which limited the role of the Queen's representative. Though somewhat impatient about attitudes to Chinese immigration and naval defence he refrained from interference and faithfully conveyed local opinion to England. But he firmly exercised those powers which he indisputably held: the granting of dissolutions of parliament and the approval of appointments to the Legislative Council. He could act subtly in more ambiguous areas: he quietly convinced Sir Henry Parkes in 1887 of the folly of seeking to change the colony's name to Australia; in 1890 after the Riot Act was read during the maritime strike, he nipped a serious political crisis in the bud by firmly persuading quarrelsome ministers to compose their differences. He developed an affectionate regard for Parkes, whose determination in 1889 to promote Federation arose largely from their conversations. Carrington's diplomatic work through the governors in Victoria and South Australia was crucial in paving the way for the Federation Conference of 1890. Lord Carrington's official position of governor in those pre-federation days carried the title of  "Commander-in-Chief of the New South Wales Defence Forces"; in the early orders of the Regiment he is termed "Honorary Colonel"; it was a position he held with great interest, munificence and practical assistance until his passing in 1928.  At his farewell dinner on 11 September 1890, his Lordship granted permission for his family crest. an elephant's head with coronet and three fleur-de-lys to be incorporated into a Regimental Badge to be worn by the New South Wales Cavalry (of which the Sydney Lancers were a part - in 1894, the Regiment became the New South Wales Lancers (granted "Royal" patent in 1935)).

The Carringtons fulfilled their social role with warmth and generosity. Government House "at homes" became noted for their size, frequency and "representative character", and for the "polite and unaffected reception" with which the vice-regal couple charmed their guests.  In the 1887 celebrations of Queen Victoria's jubilee, they banqueted a thousand poor boys of Sydney, who received medals struck for the occasion and were modestly told by Carrington of his own family's humble origins in eighteenth-century trade.  Lady Carrington also established the Jubilee Fund to relieve distressed women and her management of it surprised contemporaries by 'a business capacity with which women are rarely credited". For the 1888 centennial celebrations the governors of Fiji, New Zealand and all the Australian colonies were guests at Government House; Carrington dedicated Centennial Park, laid the foundation stones of the Trades Hall and of projected new Houses of Parliament, led a thanksgiving rally in the Exhibition Building and presided at a lavish state banquet.  His wife also attended an entertainment for "2000 sailors of all nations".  In 1890 he declined the customary farewell gifts in terms so tactful that the Colonial Office confidentially sent copies of the relevant correspondence to all colonial governors as an object lesson. Sydney gave the couple an unprecedented farewell, with thousands lining the streets and showering flowers on their carriage.  In a parting speech Lord Carrington declared they were "guests who found their welcome at once an adoption, and whose farewell leaves half their hearts behind".

In England Lord Carrington's first speeches caused a sensation by his espousal of Australian nationalism rather than imperial federation, and his indictment of the "old ball and cartridge blunders" by which Tory secretaries of state had offended colonial sensibilities. The attacks had the obvious bias of a Liberal returning to party activity but made good sense, countered the shallow anti-gubernatorial witticisms of the Bulletin, won wide approval and vindicated Carrington's intelligent attachment to New South Wales.

In recognition of the service the Carringtons, and Lady Carrington in particular following her magnificent gift of two banners (a photo of one hanging in the Museum can be seen above, right) to adorn the drums carried by the Regimental Band's drum horse, the officers of the Regiment presented Lady Carrington with a magnificent silver horse.  The solid silver object is 25 cm in height and stands on a 10 cm black painted wooden plinth.  It depicts a Lancer officer (thus carrying sword, not lance) on horseback and in full dress uniform.  The object is almost priceless; and certainly would sell for many tens of thousands of dollars.  Now starts the legend.  Those who served as officers of the Regiment in the 1930s recalled (all have now passed away) seeing the horse on the table during Regimental dinners.  After World War 2, however, there was no sign of it.  Then in the early 1960s, the Regiment was contacted by the Reserve Bank of Australia.  The Bank had in their vaults a deposit with no paperwork to detail ownership.   The Reserve Bank had been formed on 14 January 1960 taking on the central banking functions that up until that time had been held by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.  The legend is that after Lady Carrington (at that time Marchioness of Lincolnshire) passed away in 1929, the family organised for the priceless item to be returned to the Regimental Officers' Mess.  When the Regiment joined the AIF in World War Two, and saw active service overseas, the mess silver was placed into storage.  The government storehouses where the silver was sent for safekeeping, were sadly very leaky, very few items of the priceless collection the mess had gathered from 1885 - 1939 were able  to be found when the Regiment was re-formed as a peacetime unit in 1948.  Legend has it that given the value of the silver horse, senior officers of the Regiment organised a handshake deal whereby it was safely locked away in the vaults of the Commonwealth Bank.  The handshake ensuring there would be no charge for the service.  When the item was found in the Reserve Bank, however, there was no proof of ownership, with the plinth inscription clearly indicating the item was a gift from and not to the Officers of the Regiment.  As there is no paperwork, the Reserve Bank will not accept that the item is owned by the Regiment. The Bank has been willing to allow the Officer's Mess to borrow the horse for display at table on formal occasions provided the Officers' Mess provides adequate insurance.  Thus the horse appeared on the table during the Annual Regimental (Officers') Dinner during the 1960s and 70s.  In the 80s, however the insurance premiums became prohibitive.  In the past 25 years, it has appeared at the 100th (1985) and 125th (2010) dinners only, with a fair amount of the $95 per head for the 125th dinner going to cover the insurance cost.

The Horse is a magnificent artefact, the story that goes with it intriguing.  Few who have lived all of their lives in Australia can say they have done as much for their country as Lord and Lady Carrington did in five short years.  We can only hope that it will continue to be able to remind us of the work of our first Honorary Colonel and his wife.

Bibliography: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Wikipaedia, PV Vernon (Ed) Regimental History, MJ Buckley Sword and Lance

John Howells - 2010

New South Wales Lancers Memorial Museum Incorporated
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Lancer Barracks, 2 Smith Street, Parramatta NSW 2150, Australia
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