Sunday, 17 November 2013

FROM THE BUSH TO BUCKINGHAM PALACE

RUPERT AND KING GEORGE V. Source: lighthorse.org.au

You couldn't have more different worlds than the Australian bush and Buckingham Palace but a horse named Rupert experienced both of them.

Rupert was born in 1894 at Grosvenor Downs, a 550 square mile cattle station in the Australian outback. He was also the horse that carried King George V of England (the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II) around during ceremonial duties for over ten years.

Before my great grandfather, John Clark, bought Grosvenor Downs, the station was owned by Alexander McDonald (a Scot) and his wife Isabella Clark (Isabella was my great grandfather’s half- sister).
For the horse enthusiasts, Rupert was a black Australian Waler, a horse breed renowned for their endurance, who stood at 15.3 hands. Walers are a combination of Arab, Thoroughbred and Timor Pony. Many were exported to India as cavalry remounts. The Waler became legendary in the Middle East during World War One when they were used as horses for the Australian cavalry. It wasn’t uncommon for them to go two days without water and cross hundreds of miles of desert with little rest then having to charge Turkish gun emplacements at the end of it. Truly amazing horses.

Thankfully Rupert avoided military service. He was exported to India in 1903 from Grosvenor Downs and was sold to a Lieutenant Boyd in the Horse Artillery. During a visit to India in 1906, the Prince of Wales (as King George V was then), took a shine to Rupert and offered to buy the horse. In the letter I have from the Royal Archives, the Prince bought Rupert but in the story I heard, the Lieutenant thought he would be breaching royal protocol if money was exchanged, and instead he gave Rupert to the Prince as a gift. Rupert returned to England with Lieutenant Boyd and was accommodated at the Prince’s London home, Marlborough House.

King George rode him in the funeral procession of his Father, King Edward VII and a review of Australian troops during World War One. The story is that he rode Rupert in the funeral cortege of his father, as he could sit higher in the saddle than his despised cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Families—don’t you love them?

Rupert lived a long, distinguished and comfortable life, and was sadly put down at the age of 26 on the 28th February 1920.