Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sievier, Robert Standish (1860–1939)

by Stuart Sayers

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Robert Standish Sievier (1860-1939), bookmaker, racehorse owner, gambler and journalist, was born on 30 May 1860 in London, son of Robert Moore Sievier, surgeon, and his wife Alicia Maria Mary, née Sutton. His father, eldest son of Robert William Sievier, sculptor, inventor and fellow of the Royal Society, died when Robert was 5. Educated at Dr Harvey's School, Boulogne, France, at 17 Sievier left England for South Africa, where he fought in the Kaffir, Zulu and Basuto wars. On the way to South Africa and again on the passage home he lost everything at cards. He became an actor, playing in Dublin, London and Bombay, where he was stranded until able to stow away in a London-bound steamer. Once home he made a hazardous living from cards and racing, brightening his coming of age with a £3000 win on the Manchester Cup. It was soon lost.

In 1882 at Naples, Italy, Sievier discovered a sudden desire to visit Australia; some said he was dodging the Italian police. He landed at Adelaide calling himself Robert Sutton, and started bookmaking, financed by a man named Whinham, who soon complained of faked accounts. By November 'Sutton' was in Melbourne, where he attracted immediate notice at Flemington racecourse by his good looks and his actor's feel for an audience; to the crowds he was 'Good Old Bob'. Melbourne and Sydney newspapers were still recording his exploits fifty years after he had left Australia. One thought him an 'interesting adventurer'.

'Sutton' was the first bookmaker in Victoria to bet with bag and clerk, standing on a regular pitch and issuing numbered tickets for the horses backed. Before him, bookmakers sometimes took cash bets but they usually roamed in search of custom, entering transactions in a notebook, and did not issue tickets. By the end of the first year 'Sutton' had made £70,000, was employing three clerks and claimed to be Australia's largest bookmaker.

He scandalized Melbourne by his precipitate marriage on 18 November 1882 to Amy Everett who divorced him in 1886 for cruelty, desertion and adultery. By then he had been expelled from the Melbourne Gun Club because of an affray leading to a summons for assault, and was becoming notorious for his profligacy and questionable play at cards and billiards.

In May 1887, after returning from a brief visit to London, 'Robert Sievier, also known as Sutton', was sentenced to fourteen days gaol for assaulting Lord Deerhurst, aide-de-camp to Sir Henry Loch, governor of Victoria. The two had come to blows in a city hotel after scuffling at the Victorian Club. Although the conviction was quashed on appeal on a technicality, the Victorian Club had already expelled Sievier and withdrawn his bookmaker's licence. He again returned to England where his dashing plunges on the turf made him a national figure, despite such activities as his management, under several aliases, of a shady betting syndicate. A farce that he had earlier written, called Stone Broke, was produced as a curtain-raiser in London and the provinces in 1892.

On 24 September Sievier married Lady Mabel Emily Louisa Brudenell-Bruce, sister of the Marquis of Ailesbury, at St James Anglican Church, Westminster. Both were, at the time, engaged to others. By 1894 he had been declared bankrupt three times, and by 1898 he and his wife had parted, her fortune squandered. They had a son and a daughter.

Despite damning evidence against him in the Duke and Joel actions of 1904 and 1908, Sievier kept his public reputation more or less undamaged until March 1920, when he lost a libel case to Richard Wootton, the Australian-born trainer. Huge crowds cheering for 'Good Old Bob' escorted Sievier to the Old Bailey for each of the six days the trial lasted, but the evidence substantiated all that his detractors alleged. He was branded as a cheat at cards and billiards in Australia, England and at Monte Carlo, and shown to have used the Winning Post, the newspaper he founded in 1904, as an instrument of blackmail.

Sievier owned many champion racehorses. The greatest was Sceptre, winner in 1902 of four of the five English classics, but not the Derby. He sold her for £25,000 'to meet financial obligations' in 1904, when he retired from racing, although continuing to punt boldly. He went bankrupt again in 1920 and 1932.

Robert Sievier wrote several books, including an unreliable autobiography (1906), a volume of travel essays and two novels, A Generation (1895) and Warned Off (1910). He died on 8 October 1939 at his home at Ifield Wood, near Crawley, Sussex.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Griffiths, Turf and Heath (Melb, 1906)
  • M. Cavanough and M. Davies, Cup Cay (Melb, 1960)
  • D. L. Bernstein, First Tuesday in November (Melb, 1969)
  • J. Welcome, Neck or Nothing (Lond, 1970)
  • Sporting Judge, 10 May, 14 June, 14 Oct 1902, 21 May 1904
  • Who Was Who 1929-1940
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6, 7 Apr, 6 May 1887, 13 May 1904
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 Apr 1887, 12 May 1904
  • Age (Melbourne), 13 May 1904
  • Times (London), 6, 7, 10, 11, 12 May 1904, 10, 11 Mar 1920, 9 Oct 1939
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9, 11 Mar, 5 July 1920, 9 Oct 1939, 5 Mar 1950, 15 Apr 1961.

Citation details

Stuart Sayers, 'Sievier, Robert Standish (1860–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sievier-robert-standish-8425/text14805, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Sutton, Robert
Birth

30 May 1860
London, England

Death

8 October 1939
Ifield Wood, Sussex, England

Cultural Heritage
Occupation