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Thompson, Francis Webster (1913–1974)

by Wallace Kirsop

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Francis Webster Thompson (1913-1974), horse-breeder, was born on 13 April 1913 at Neutral Bay, Sydney, fourth child and only son of native-born parents Alfred Webster Thompson (d.1945), grazier, and his wife Sarah Daisy, née Brecht. The family was descended from John Thompson, an assisted immigrant (1832) who managed Edward Cox's Rylstone property, Rawdon, and took up land in the district. By the mid-1850s the Thompsons had moved north across the Great Dividing Range into the Widden Valley. There, two brothers from the third generation, John (1844-1914) and James (1851-1911), at Widden and Oakleigh respectively, established an ascendancy in horse-breeding that was virtually unchallenged between the end of the nineteenth century and World War II. Alfred and his cousin Herbert (1879-1955) sustained this success against the competition of breeders operating from Scone, in a more accessible part of the Upper Hunter Valley.

Educated at The King's School, Parramatta, Frank joined his father at the family stud, Widden. His training included working on leading studs in England, France and Ireland in 1936; he also bought the successful sire, Brueghel, at Milan, Italy. On 30 November 1937 he married with Anglican rites Margaret May Gore Merewether at All Saints Church, Woollahra, Sydney. After serving in the Militia in the 1930s, Thompson was appointed lieutenant, Armoured Corps, Australian Imperial Force, on 1 February 1941. In September he joined the 2nd/6th Armoured Regiment, with which he served in Papua (September 1942-February 1943) and then in Australia. He held the rank of major for twenty-one months before his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 20 July 1944.

Thompson was a committee-member (1945-74) and president (1948-50) of the State division of the Bloodhorse Breeders' Association of Australia and foundation federal president in 1945-53. Like his father, he was a committee-member (1951-74) of the Australian Jockey Club. He raced a few of the horses he had bred, including Lady Pirouette (dam of Indian Summer) and Tornado.

In a calling where luck, as well as skill, in choosing the right stallions was (and is) important, Thompson developed at Widden a basis for survival in the new capital-intensive world of breeding. From the late 1940s, an airstrip brought a remote valley deep in the Wollemi National Park into contact with racing centres. When the American cattle breeder Robert Kleburg of King Ranch, Texas, purchased a neighbouring property, Thompson bought Santa Gertrudis bulls from him to cross with his Shorthorn cows. He later established a Santa Gertrudis stud and promoted the breed in Australia.

Divorced on 9 April 1963, next day at St Andrew's Scots Church, Rose Bay, Sydney, Thompson married Valda Merlyn Martin, née Ridley. He belonged to the New South Wales, Australian, Union and Athenaeum clubs. Survived by his wife, and by the son and two daughters of his first marriage, he died of myocardial infarction on 27 August 1974 in his flat at Darling Point and was buried at Widden. Although the stud was influential between 1946 and 1974—not least through Brueghel and Edmundo—triumphs comparable to those of the pre-1939 period were not to return until the 1970s and 1980s with the progeny of Vain and Bletchingly.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Barrie, Valley of Champions (Melb, 1967)
  • P. Taylor, Thoroughbred Studs of Australia and New Zealand (Syd, 1986)
  • M. Painter and R. Waterhouse, The Principal Club (Syd, 1992)
  • King's School Magazine, no 292, Dec 1974, p 74
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Feb, 9 Apr 1948, 12 Feb, 17 Sept 1949, 22 Dec 1951, 28 Aug 1974.

Citation details

Wallace Kirsop, 'Thompson, Francis Webster (1913–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thompson-francis-webster-11845/text21201, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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