Bessie Stock

One of the stories from the 2012 project: Who were they? People who shaped Victor Harbor and for whom our parks and reserves are named.

Bessie Stock Memorial horse trough, Grosvenor Gardens

The Bessie Stock memorial is situated in Grosvenor Gardens, and is passed every day by many people, both residents and visitors, when they cross at the pedestrian lights on Torrens Road.

Bessie Emmeline Stock was the firstborn child of Alfred Douglas Stock and Ruby Emmeline nee Humberstone on the 9th May, 1907. She was the first Stock to be born in Victor Harbor.

As a very young girl, between 1910 and 1920, she was already becoming part of the social life and fundraising events of the country town where her family spent a considerable amount of their time, especially after her father’s death and her mother’s opening of the Summerlea Guest House. One of the things she was doing through those years was to become a very good horsewoman.

Riding Success

Between the 1920s and her death in 1932, the newspapers of the day frequently mentioned her activities on the social and fundraising scene both in Victor Harbor and in Adelaide. There were also many mentions of her remarkable exploits as a horsewoman.

The first mention of her riding ability comes in an article in The Register, Thursday, 1 February, 1923:

“The Hindmarsh Valley Racing and Athletic Club held the annual meeting on the ideal situated grounds on Monday. The weather was perfect and a large crowd was present. Excellent racing was witnessed, and close finishes were the order of the day. A race for small ponies created much interest and provided the most exciting finish of the day, three ponies passing the post locked almost together. The winner was well ridden by Miss May Burrows, while little Gerald Stock, who rode the second pony, gave a fluent exhibition of horsemanship, with his sister, Bessie Stock, occupying third place.”

From 1926 onwards Miss Bessie Stock of Victor Harbor was competing, placing and winning in events throughout the state, including at the Royal Adelaide Show. She not only rode her own horses, but also rode horses for other people.

Tragedy strikes

Then on Saturday, 17th September 1932, at the Royal Adelaide Show, tragedy struck Bessie and the Stock family.

The story can best be told by the article from The Advertiser, Monday 19 September, 1932.

“TRAGEDY AT SHOW Woman Rider’s Fatal Fall HER FIRST CRASH Miss Douglas-Stock
Before 20,000 people at the Royal Show on Saturday afternoon, Miss Bessie Douglas-Stock (25), of Victor Harbour, adjudged the best woman rider in this year’s show, crashed to her death when her horse Seamander fell at a hurdle in front of the stand. It is believed to have been her first fall in a show ring. The fatality was the first that has occurred during a Royal Show at the Wayville grounds. Miss Douglas-Stock was competing in the event for horses over hurdles. Her horse, which is one of the best jumpers in the State, made a glorious leap at the first hurdle, but bungled its take off badly at the second, and struck the obstacle with its knees. Miss Douglas-Stock was thrown out of the saddle clear of the falling horse, but landed on her head, and lay motionless. Her mother, Mrs. Douglas-Stock, and her brother, Robert, witnessed the accident. Dr. Kenneth Bollen, the special medical officer in attendance during the horses-in-action programme, delayed Miss Douglas-Stock’s removal from the casualty room at the Show grounds; but at 6 pm. ordered the unconscious girl to be taken to the Memorial Hospital, after she had once partially recovered consciousness.
Miss Douglas-Stock did not rally, and died at 10.50 pm. Gallant Horsewoman Miss Douglas-Stock was a gallant rider; she had been connected with show ring jumping since she was a schoolgirl. At her home in Victor Harbour there are more than 80 ribbons which she had won at Adelaide and country shows, as well as a fine collection of trophies. She had a great affection for the horse that caused her death. The owner, Mr. A. G. Williams, said yesterday:- “Miss Douglas-Stock worshipped the grey mare, and during the six years that she rode Seamander, the mare never made a mistake with her until Saturday. She always said that she would sooner ride Seamander over jumps than her own pony, Sunrise. Earlier in the afternoon Miss Douglas-Stock had been astride Mr. Williams’ Seagull 11 for the first time, and gained second prize.

Miss Stock did not live long enough to savour the pleasure of the award for her prowess as the best woman rider in the Show. She won that honor on Thursday. She had been singularly successful in this year’s Show, and had won several events. The chairman of the horses-in-action committee (Mr. L. M. Darby) expressed the sympathy of his committee for the family of Miss Douglas-Stock. He said that she was admired greatly by judges, exhibitors and the public. She was a most capable horsewoman, who never took risks.

Mourning At Victor Harbor

All flags at Victor Harbor were at half-mast yesterday, out of respect for Miss Douglas-Stock. The town has been deeply stirred by the tragedy, for Miss Douglas-Stock was connected with the local golf club, tennis club, swimming club, and all social committees. She was the daughter of the proprietor of “Summerlea.” The Mayor of Victor Harbor (Mr. D. H. Griffen) said yesterday that the sympathy of the whole town was extended to the bereaved family. Miss Kath Kenny, who has ridden with, and against Miss Douglas-Stock in many shows, paid a tribute to the dead girl. Miss Sylvia Jeffries, who was hurt by a fall earlier in the day, said that she had always greatly admired Miss Douglas-Stock for her riding and pluck.

War Veterans’ Sympathy

At the South African soldiers’ annual memorial service yesterday Chaplain Donald McNicol said the War Veterans’ Association extended its sympathy to the relatives of Miss Douglas-Stock, whose late father was a member of the Second South African Contingent.

Funeral Arrangements

A brother, Mr. Kenelm Douglas-Stock, will fly from Broken Hill today for the funeral, which will take place tomorrow at the Victor Harbor Cemetery. Another brother, Gerald, will make a special trip from Pitcairn Station. The body will be cremated this afternoon at West Terrace.”

The esteem in which Bessie and her family were held can be seen by the report of the funeral that appeared in The Advertiser, Wednesday 21 September 1932.

“FUNERAL OF HORSEWOMAN. Hundreds Attend. VICTOR HARBOR, September 20.
The popularity of Miss Bessie Douglas-Stock, who died as a result of a fall while riding Seamander at the Royal Show on Saturday, was shown today, when her funeral took place at the Victor Harbor Cemetery. Her remains were cremated in Adelaide on Monday, when the pall-bearers were Messrs. Sydney Ayers, Fred Levi, Arthur Hill and Dr. Ray Newling (uncle of deceased). The Rev. H. P. Finnis officiated. Today at the home of Mrs. Douglas-Stock, four rooms were used for the wealth of flowers that were received from all over the State. More than 200 wreaths were received, including those from the president of the Royal A. and H. Society (Mr. Duncan, M. L. C.), the Royal A. & H. Society, horse committee of Royal A. and H. Society, Victor Harbour tennis, swimming, bridge and golf clubs, St. Joan of Arc and Congregational Churches, Adelaide Riding School, Prospect Horses in Action Society. Victor Harbour motor service, Mr. and Mrs. H. M. Hudd, Dr. and Mrs. F. J. Douglas, Dr. and Mrs. Graham Shipway, Miss Kathleen Kenny, Mr. Robert Best, Mr. and Mrs. Cecil Bray, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Crossing (Burta station, Cockburn), Mr. and Mrs. F. Martin (Mount Murchison station, Wilcannia), Adelaide Hunt Club, and Adelaide Women’s Club. Two crosses were received for her favorite animals: Topsy, her pony, and Sultan, her Alsatian dog. Long before the funeral was timed to leave the street was crowded with traffic and pedestrians. There were approximately 100 motor cars. Four cars were necessary to carry the wreaths. The chief mourners were Messrs. Robert, Kenelm and Gerald (brothers), Mr. A. J. Humberstone and sons (uncle and cousins). Dr. Ray Newling (uncle), and Dr. F. J. Douglas, a life-long friend of the family. Others at the graveside included Messrs. A. G. Williams (owner of Seamander). Ken Best, Jeff Vercoe, J. Brett, Cyril Clarke, and H. C. Cave (members of Adelaide Hunt Club), the Mayor and Mayoress of Victor Harbor (Mr. and Mrs. D. H. Griffin), the town clerk (Mr. A. H. Warland), and members of the Corporation of Victor Harbor and District Council of Encounter Bay, Dr. Graham Shipway, representatives or sporting bodies, and a large number of visitors from Adelaide and country towns.”

Following Bessie’s funeral, a committee was formed to raise funds for a memorial to her. There was an overwhelming response, with the fund being oversubscribed. As a result, it was decided that a granite horse and smaller drinking vessel for dogs, plus a light over the monument, would be placed on a site in Torrens Street, Victor Harbor, in what was then known as Milne Reserve and later became Grosvenor Gardens.

The Bessie Stock Memorial was unveiled in December, 1933 with Bessie’s good friend, Miss Nancy Douglas, cutting the ribbon. The inscription reads:

“In memory of

BESSIE DOUGLAS STOCK WHO WAS KILLED AT THE ROYAL ADELAIDE SHOW 17TH SEPT. 1932 A FINE HORSEWOMAN AND GREAT LOVER OF ANIMALS ERECTED BY HER FRIENDS”

Around the edge of the horse trough was inscribed:

“HE LIVETH BEST WHO LOVETH BEST ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL”

Acknowledgements

  • Settlers Around The Bay, Anthony Laube
  • Victor Harbor: From Pioneer Port to Seaside Resort, Michael Page
  • Trove digital newspapers www.trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper
  • Digger database