This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969
Tom (Tommy) Corrigan (1851?-1894), jockey and trainer, was born in County Meath, Ireland, son of Thomas Corrigan and his wife Bridget, née Carney. In 1864 the family migrated to Victoria where he worked for his father on a dairy farm near Woodford. At 14 Tom rode his own mare, Juliet, to victory in the hack steeplechase at the Woodford publicans' picnic race meeting, won a saddle, and persuaded his father to allow him to leave home and join the stable of Tozer & Moran at Warrnambool. He served his apprenticeship in the bush circuit of the Western District, had his first mount at Flemington in 1867 and rode in the Melbourne Cup in 1872. By 1877 he was settled in Ballarat where he found a patron, Martin Loughlin. For over a decade the combination of Loughlin owner, Wilson trainer and Corrigan jockey dominated the Melbourne and Victorian country race-courses. Corrigan also rode at city and country tracks in New South Wales and Tasmania; on Loughlin's retirement he set himself up at Caulfield. In 1866-94 Corrigan had 238 wins, 135 seconds and 95 thirds from 788 starts. He won seven Grand Nationals: the Victoria Racing Club's Grand National Hurdle on Sir Peter and Grand National Steeplechase on Great Western, Wymlet and Game; and the Victoria Amateur Turf Club's Grand National Steeplechase on Left Bower, Game and Sir Wilfred.
Corrigan was small even by jockeys' standards and proudly sported a huge moustache. Contemporaries saw him as 'a merry hearted little Irishman', courteous, devoted to his Church and family, generous, unfailing in good temper, and superstitious though pretending not to be; even Henry Lawson in his agonizings warmed to Corrigan's bright smile. He was not an artistic horseman but was strong and game, with a fine sense of pace which enabled him to handle the most fractious mount. To the Age, which usually found racing 'morally dubious', he was a model of fair dealing and unquestionable integrity. He always rode to win. This combination of temper, capability and 'straightness' ensured his fame. The Argus acclaimed him the most popular and best cross-country rider in Australia and doubted whether England could boast a superior, Banjo Paterson wrote a poem about him, and Thomas Haydon saw him as an institution: 'The first inquiry backers made on reaching a race-course would be “What's Corrigan riding?”'
On 11 August 1894 his mount, Waiter, fell in the Caulfield Grand National Steeplechase and Corrigan suffered laceration of the brain. Next day crowds waited outside his home and prayers were offered at St Francis's Church. He died early on the 13th without regaining consciousness. Though once worth £15,000, Corrigan died poor. A fund was opened for his young widow Robena, née Jamieson, and two children. His funeral was reputed the largest Melbourne had known. Before the cortège left his home, the route from Caulfield to the Melbourne general cemetery was lined with thousands and by 2 p.m. Swanston Street was 'one mass of humanity'. Road traffic was suspended for two hours, flags flew at half-mast and shops closed. A hundred jockeys and trainers preceded the hearse, Corrigan's boots and green and white jacket rested on his coffin, and the procession was two miles (3.2 km) long; carriages, horsemen and pedestrians, from chairmen of committees to mere stable lads. Among the cartloads of wreaths one was from Governor and Lady Hopetoun, another shaped as a horseshoe from some urchin newsboys. 'A stranger would have imagined that the remains of some great warrior or statesman were being conveyed to the grave'.
In the depressed 1890s hungry-eyed men at race-courses seeking money, escape and perhaps a new identity saw Corrigan as a man they could trust, a cross-class phenomenon who brought colour into the darkness and misery of many lives.
John Ritchie, 'Corrigan, Tom (Tommy) (1851–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/corrigan-tom-tommy-3265/text4945, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 31 January 2015.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969