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Saturday 8 October 2016

Australia's First 100 Mile Race

Australia’s First Plus 100 Mile Race -  Tasmania in 1840 – by Phil Essam

The first recorded 100 mile plus race between two or more competitors in Australia can be traced early 1840 when Launceston Surveyor, Felix Wakefield and Launceston Solicitor,  Edmund  Stillwell raced from Launceston to David Solomon’s property over 60 miles away and return .  The race took over forty hours and fifteen minutes with ten hours and eight minutes being deducted for a break.  

It is not known what led to this race occurring, but it appeared that Wakefield was struggling with his Surveying work at that time and Had taken up gambling to make ends meet.  Not much was known of Stillwell at the time, from my research he was appearing to be a fairly busy Solicitor with the work he was getting at the time.  Perhaps they met in a Public House where Wakefield was boasting on what he could achieve and Stillwell thought he could beat him.  

The race commenced at 3am on the Monday morning from Launceston and it was quite good to see the accurate timing for the stops on the way along the Midlands.  The half way point was at David Solomon’s property and was reached in just over 20 hours.  Stillwell retired from the race at Thornhills which is about the 100 mile mark and Wakefield went on to finish the effort in just over 40 hours and 15 minutes to a packed crowd waiting for him at the finish line.

It is not known how much money exchanged hands for this effort, but it is believed that another race was held a week later as Stillwell was not happy with the result and the same result was to occur with Wakefield winning in a very similar time and Stillwell withdrawing before the end.  100 pounds was exchanged over the result of this match. Betting and gambling was to become a familiar theme in Australian Pedestrian History.

What became of Wakefield and Stillwell ?   Felix Wakefield was to leave Tasmania a few years later in disgrace and return to England before having his passage paid to New Zealand  and it is believed that Stillwell became a pastoralist in Tasmania and passed away about two decades later.

Even though the walking rate was comparatively slow even for established pedestrian results of the time ( in England and America), these two are credited for staging the first known Ultra race on Australian soil which was plus 100 miles as well.

I look forward to sharing more of the previously unknown Long distance Pedestrian history from the 1800s in future articles.

Fig 1 – Our first 100 mile winner in Australia

Phil Essam
1 Oct 2016

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