Henry Chaplin

Hermit & The 1867 Derby

The background to this tale

The world famous English Derby, has a special place in the history of one of our villages – Blankney. Back in 1867, Blankney was the home of the winning horse – HERMIT. The story of Hermit has to be one of most colourful in the history of British thoroughbreds. His victory in the Epsom Derby was one full of drama from start to finish, involving romance, scandal, hatred, revenge, gambling and financial ruin for members of the aristocracy. Hermit was bred from a stallion called Newminster and a mare named Seclusion in 1864 by a breeder called William Blenkiron from the then famous, Middle Park Stud south of London. He was a small, neat, blaze-faced, dark chestnut colt with a delicate constitution.

Chaplin also had a great passion for the sport of kings and along with his racing manager Captain James “Jem” Machell, they attended Blenkiron’s annual yearling sale at Ealtham, not far from the Middle Park Stud. At the sale they noted the Marquis of Hastings was bidding freely with his normal extravagant negligence. Machell was one of the most knowledgeable persons of his time on the racing game and much respected. When Lot 27 came up under the hammer of auctioneer Edmund Tattersall he and Chaplin were quickly very interested. The creature was a small well-bred, un-named colt, a classy individual of about 15.2 hands with great potential. The bidding quickly rose by fifty guineas at a time with Chaplin and Hastings soon the last two bidders. Chaplin made a bid of 900 guineas and Tattersall turned to Hastings who nonchalantly acknowledged. A brief discussion then followed between Machell and Chaplin and the latter turned to Tattersall and said “One thousand guineas”. Hastings was totally caught off guard and failed to respond to the bid and the auctioneer’s hammer went down.

Chaplin was now the new owner of the nameless colt, which would have a great contribution to the lives of a number of people and was in reality the purchase of a lifetime. On the way back to the stables Chaplin and Machell decided that as their purchase was the offspring of two horses called Newminster and Seclusion (which in their minds suggested a kind of monastic mode of life) they should call him Hermit. Hermit was initially trained at the Findon Racing stables in West Sussex, under trainer William Goater and in his first year won four of his six starts. Then after some uncharacteristic unruliness at a meeting at Bath, his manager, Machell decided to move him to a dependable old character called “Old Bloss” at the Bedford Cottages stables nearby. Having showed a great deal of talent in his races to date he went into winter quarters as a promising candidate for the following season’s classic….. The Derby.

Chaplin was a great racing man, throughout his life he owned and bred many racehorses. Hastings, who has stolen Chaplin's fiance, was also not only a racehorse owner, but a compulsive gambler and both men had a great interest in one of racing's classics, The Derby. In 1867, Chaplin entered Hermit in the Derby. Hastings, with no suitable horse with which to oppose Chaplin, wagered thousand and thousands of pounds against Hermit.

10 days before the Classic, during the regulation Derby trial, Hermit pulled up with a burst blood vessel. Chaplin was advised to withdraw him from the Derby and the jockey, Custance, was given another ride. Meanwhile it was discovered that Hermit's case was not as serious as first thought. His trainer, Captain Jem Machell, slowly eased Hermit back to health although the horse was not fully recovered by the big day.

Hermit - 1867 Derby Winner

Hermit, Derby winner 1867

May 22nd, 1867 was the eventful day. A field of 30 horses was entered for the Derby. It was a miserable day at Epsom with heavy showers of sleet and hail. Ten false starts delayed the start for over an hour. Hermit had been written off as a no hoper with a starting price of 1000-15 and nobody paid him much attention. Needless to say, Hermit, with John Daley drafted in at the last minute as his jockey, showed his mettle and won by a neck with a late run.

Chaplin was delighted. At only 26 he had won the Derby and at the same time settled an old score with Hastings. Hastings lost heavily and never really recovered. He spiralled into heavy debt and his drinking grew out of control. Within a few years, he died in poverty, his estates gone. His whispered last words "Hermit broke my heart, but I did not show it, did I?" His wife, Lady Florence, who had spurned Chaplin, remarried and lived to an old age.

Lady Florence Chaplin

Lady Florence Chaplin

Chaplin went on to live the life of the country 'Squire', becoming Master of the Blankney Hunt. He entered politics, eventually becoming the first Minister for Agriculture in 1889. In 1876, he married Lady Florence Gower, elder daughter of the 3rd Duke of Sutherland. She made him extremely happy but tragically died in 1881 at Blanlkney Hall giving birth to their 2nd daughter.

Chaplin lived life to the full but with dwindling income from his estates and mounting debts he was forced to sell Blankney Hall to Lord Londesbrough in 1892. He was raised to the peerage in 1916. His love of horses and riding remained with him until he died in 1923 at the age of 82.

What became of Hermit? That year, Hermit kept his Derby form at Ascot, winning races on successive days. In the final classic of tehseason, the St. Leger, he finished second. The following season he failed to recapture his racing form and was retired to stud at Blankney Hall. Hermit's stud career started out modestly with a fee of twenty guineas, which eventually rose to 300 guineas. Hermit went on to become an astounding success at stud, becoming one of the most popular and fashionable stallions of his time.

Henry Chaplin, 1907

Henry Chaplin, 1907

For a fuller account of the Hermit saga, visit Valerie Martin's excellent site about the racing village of Findon

July 2009 Addition: Eric Graham of Exmoor offers an alternate view of parts of this tale:

Firstly at the auction at Eltham where Hermit was bought by Chaplin. Hastings was not distracted and did not  bid for the simple reason he was not there. Prices at the sale were low due to the fact that Hastings and the Duke of Hamilton were absent.

Secondly 'Old Bloss' - a nonsense dreamed up by Blyth - was two men. Brothers, George Algernon Bloss and Henry Lynch Bloss. They worked together as a team for many years. 

Finally it is extremely unlikely that Hastings went bust through betting. Overall he may have broken even. It was his lifestyle - a total disregard for money - the yacht Ladybird for example, that brought him down. But this has to be said. There was not one tradesman or contractor that was not paid in full following Hastings early exit from this world.