The tide at New Brighton could go out a long way and the sand was hard, making motor and bicycle racing on New Brighton beach a popular past time that would draw the crowds. Many cycling and motor cycling contests were run during the summer months in the early 1900s.
On Saturday afternoon, 25 March 1905, New Brighton witnessed the first event of its kind in the colony – a race over a distance of 50 miles over sand. Although an established sport in England and America, motor-cycle racing on beach tracks hadn’t obtained a footing in Australasia.
The competition started from the New Brighton pier and went up the beach for four and a half miles, then turned south for a further four miles… and backwards and forwards until the full distance was covered, passing five times under the pier, and finishing a little south of it. Twenty four entries had been received, including five riders on 3 1/2 h.p. machines and one on a 4 h.p. – no machines of this power had been seen racing in New Zealand before.
At half past two on Saturday afternoon, the New Brighton pier was crowded with 550 eager spectators. The course, for about a mile north and south of the pier, was also lined with spectators. The starter got the limit man away amidst loud cheers from the crowd. Following shortly after was the scratch man, speedster E. F. (Edgar Fraser) Stead. The rest of the riders left at different times according to their handicap.
Speaks on the Horizon
The riders quickly get up to speed and it wasn’t long before they became specks on the horizon. On their return the machines appeared to roll and wriggle as they approached, then they shoot under the pier to disappear to the south.
The riders were attired in different riding outfits – some in complete racing gear with goggles, whilst one rider simply pulled the neck of his jersey up over his mouth whilst riding. Another wore oil clothing. The riders came from different backgrounds – some were mechanics and engineers riding bikes owned by local motorcycle companies, others were speed demons from well heeled families – but all shared an excitement for speed.
The distance proved a challenge for those watching as they couldn’t keep track of the positions in the race that the competitors held as they dashed past the observation point. As a result the finish lost much of its interest. Spectators wandered on or across the course, which wasn’t roped off, as they waited for competitors on their return runs – often just as one rider was due to pass. Luckily the race passed without accident.
Edgar Stead was expected to do well. His machine, a 4 h.p Universal owned by Messrs Turnbull and Jones, had shown in road trails that it was capable of 42 miles an hour. However three miles from the start Stead detected signs that the bearings were about to fire so he pulled out of the race. Other riders suffered from various mishaps to the machinery of their cycles: a broken chain, seized crank shaft, over lubrication, sparking troubles and a broken piston.
The race lasted for an hour and a half, with ten of the original 20 starters finishing. The winner, receiving £7 in prize money, was E. J. Ritchie averaged 35 miles an hour. Second was L. Pickles, and B. Ogilvie third, riding a Mitchell owned by Adams-Star Company.
L Pickles was most possibly Louis Douglas Pickles, a mechanic who would later become a patrol man. The third placer, B. Ogilvie may have been Bertram Ogilvie, an engineer living in Stanmore Road. Perhaps the same Bertram Ogilvie who would achieve aviation fame by building and flying a tri-plane in 1909.
The spectators arrived, and left, in 17 motor cars, 44 motor cycles and 840 bicycles – according to local resident who had nothing better to do than count and report on the number of vehicles that passed his New Brighton home on the day of the event!
The Fifteen Mile Open and Nine Mile Scratch Race
Two months later, two motor cycle races were run on New Brighton sands on the afternoon 25 May, 1905. Again a large crowd of spectators gathered to see 24 competitors race.
The fifteen mile race started at the pier, proceeded to the wreck, thence back to Sumner and finish within 50 yards of the pier.
Th £5 First Prize was won by Ogilvie on a 2 3/4 horse-power Humber, in 28 minutes 58 sec.
The Nine Miles scratch Race also started from the pier, continue to the wreck, and back to the starting point – and again this was won by Ogilvie.
The Forty Mile Beach Wreck
The wreck which was used as a reference point for the race had ben visible on the New Brighton foreshore for decades, about five and a half miles north of New Brighton at what was called “Forty Mile Beach”.
It was a three masted French barque named B.L. which went ashore on Saturday June 28th 1879, during a gale and foggy weather. Commanded by Captain Francis Savary, it had sailed from San Francisco for Lyttelton with over 10,000 sacks of barley for Vincent and Co. Brewers of the Old Malthouse in Colombo Street South. She was sailing for Lyttelton when a south west gale took it on to the beach. The crew got off safely and a small quantity of the cargo.
The Captain sailed with a general chart of New Zealand which he purchased in San Francisco. He had no New Zealand sailing directions and knew nothing of the current setting to the north. However he did not attribute any of this to the cause of the shipwreck, blaming the adverse weather conditions. The weather during that month was indeed bad, that two other ships were reported to have gone aground on Forty Mile Beach, and a significant number of others throughout the South Island.
Built of French oak and only ten years old, the B.L., now a wreck, was sold for £40. The hull was dismantled and eventually sank into the sand. The ribs of the vessel were still to be seen well into the first decade of the 1900s, marking her last resting spot.
- The Weekly Press, 31 May 1905, p. 40. Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File Reference CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0054.
- The Weekly Press, 31 May 1905, p. 41. Image: Christchurch City Libraries: File File Reference CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0055.
- Enquiry into the wreck of the Barque B.L. Star , Issue 3515, 17 July 1879, Page 2.
- Timaru Herald, Volume XXXI, Issue 1502, 15 July 1879, Page 2.
- Press, Volume LXVII, Issue 13946, 20 January 1911, Page 9.
- Evening Post, Volume XCII, Issue 130, 29 November 1916, Page 8