Horse racing and the Melbourne Cup

A guide to research and history of the Melbourne Cup and horseracing


[Carbine] [picture] / Frederick Woodhouse Jr.  H86.111


Prior to photography taking over in the late 19th century, animal painters were in demand and often commissioned to paint well-known racehorses.

The Woodhouse family migrated to Victoria in the late 1850s and established themselves as animal painters in the city. Over the years they painted many racehorses, including Melbourne Cup winners.

The Library holds an interesting work by Fred Woodhouse snr., titled A record of the Melbourne Cup:  giving a full account of every race for the Cup with portraits of all the winners drawn under the supervision of Fred Woodhouse snr. The Library also holds paintings of Carbine and Wakeful by members of the Woodhouse family.

Wakeful was a magnificent mare. Unplaced in the 1901 Cup, she ran second in the Cup two years later in her final race.  Retired to stud, one of her foals, Night Watch, won the 1918 Cup.


The Library holds many images relevant to the Cup, including paintings, photographs and illustrations. Try a search on our catalogue.

Choose the 'Pictures' tab and enter some keywords or an exact phrase.  Use the options on the left hand side of the screen to narrow the results.

Try searching for a specific horse. If the horse has a common name add 'race horse*' to limit your search to race horses. 

Coloured illustration of the finish of the 1881 Melbourne Cup. Much of the detail is of the massive crowd on both sides of the racetrack. View of the large grandstands.

Finish for the Melbourne Cup, 1881 [picture] / S Bennett IAN05/11/81/supp 


Illustrated newspapers

There were a number of illustrated newspapers published in Melbourne in the latter part of the 19th century. The illustrations from these newspapers were mainly wood engravings and they have been digitised and are available through the Library catalogue.

For instance, here is a search of illustrated newspapers for images of  the Melbourne Cup. Each record will indicate where the image was published. You can then look at the newspaper on microfilm in our Family History & Newspaper Room if you want to check any article associated with the image.

Many of the illustrations throughout this guide are from illustrated newspapers.

Broader search

For a broader search of images, try the Trove catalogue, which includes holdings of libraries and archives across Australia. Many of the pictures on Trove will be from our Library but it also includes many images from other libraries. For instance, here is a basic search using the phrase 'Melbourne Cup'.

For more information on images of the finish of the race try the results box on the 'Fields, results & breeding' page.

1885 Melbourne Cup mp009728

Sheet Anchor beating Grace Darling and Trenton in the Melbourne Cup 1885 - from the Australasian Sketcher A/S18/11/85/185