John Wass (1853 - 1875)

Jockey killed riding Dudaim in the Surrey Stakes at Epsom on 21 April 1875.

The parentage of John Wass has not been established and the earliest reference to him appears to be in the 1871 Census for Coverham cum Agglethorpe, West Riding of Yorkshire, where he was a stable-boy, aged 18, employed by the trainer Thomas Dawson at Tupgill Stables. He is recorded as having been born in London. His close friend 'little' William Henry Clay was killed, aged 18, through the falling of 'Purcelle' during the Reading Meeting in August 1874.

The Annual Register of World Events: A Review of the Year, Volume 117, 1875, edited by Edmund Burke recorded: -
"The Epsom races commenced on April 20th with most brilliant spring-like weather, which, added to the interest taken in the principal handicap, attracted an immense concourse to Epsom Downs. The course presented an unusually brilliant spectacle. The coaches were more numerous than usual at a Spring meeting, and some of the teams that will probably be found at the Magazine later in the season were out for an airing on Epsom Downs. For the chief event of the day the City and Suburban Handicap of 15 sovs. each, twenty-two came to the post, and the race was won by Dalham, Mr. T. Smith's horse. On the second day, which is usually less exciting, there was again a good attendance. Unhappily the Surrey Stakes was productive of one of those bad and fatal falls for which Epsom has an unlucky celebrity. Coming down the hill Dudain (sic) struck against a post and rolled completely over, of course crushing poor Wass, his jockey, who was picked up quite dead. No blame could be attached to the poor lad, but some precaution ought to be taken by the management to prevent a repetition of such a catastrophe."
[The horse was actually 'Dudaim' [Hebrew mandrake] by Mandrake out of Olga, 1872.]
An eye-witness report in Racing Reminiscences and experiences of the the Turf by Sir George Chetwynd, bart.,published in 1891 provided further details: -
"A deplorable accident happened at Epsom this [1875] spring. A lad in Mr. Mannington's stable was riding his master's horse Dudaim, and came round the bend hugging the rails. Jeffery, who was riding Athlete, was next him on his right hand, and was either pushed on to Dudaim by the other horses swinging round on them as they turn for the straight run in, or else Athlete hung of his own accord on to the other. In any case, Dudaim was knocked against the rails; horse and rider were thrown heavily, and the lad was killed on the spot. A hurdle was fetched from a neighbouring field, and on this the body was conveyed down the course to the weighing-room. I shall never forget the sight of that poor white dead face, which was quite visible two or three hundred yards away through one's race-glasses, as four or five men bore their sad burden along on their shoulders. A gloom was cast over the meeting, but the races proceeded."
Elsewhere John was described as a 'capital rider brought up in Mr Mannington's stables at Portslade, near Shoreham',who would have been 'out of his apprenticeship in the following year. For 1875, he came to be credited with '43 mounts, nine of which he won, while he was placed second on 7 and third on 9 other occasions'. The stables were at The Paddocks, Mile Oak, Portslade, Sussex, owned by veterinary surgeon, Mr John Mannington, who lived in Brighton five miles away.

Henry Constable, a local jockey, who participated in the ill fated race gave evidence at an inquest in the White Hart Hotel, Epsom. In answer to a juror's question, he said the animal's fore-leg was believed to have struck a post and that then it fell on to the chains. The jurors' fees were donated to a fund for Epsom's Cottage Hospital.

Subsequently the chain and posts surrounding Epsom racecourse were replaced with rails offset from the posts.

Newspaper reports describe Wass as 'of York' presumably alluding to his time with Thomas Dawson at Tupgill Stables in the West Riding.

John was buried in plot C 135 at Epsom Cemetery immediately behind the funeral chapel on 24 April 1875. His grave is unmarked, further interments having been made on each side during the 1930's.

A collection for his unidentified family was organised by George Reynolds of Messrs Fisher & Reynolds, Betting Agents 'accounts settled at Tattershalls', of 26 Bouverie Street, London.

Brian Bouchard © April, 2017