A Leviathan is a Sea Monster from the Hebrew bible. It is also a term used on racecourses to describe a big Bookmaker, and big usually meant in girth as well as wealth and punting prowess.
One of the first Leviathan’s of the Australian turf was a giant of a man in stature and reputation by the name of Humphrey Oxenham. A man loved and admired by men and women from all walks of life. He was described as a genuine, upright man, a good husband and father, a generous high minded citizen who is always in his pocket when help is needed. Hardly words and terms we are used to hearing when describing a Bookmaker! He also ran an inter-colony sweepstake to rival Tattersall’s. A bold and fearless gambler in an era when gambling was looked upon as an immoral, debaucherous pursuit.
Legend has it that an 18 year old Humphrey accepted a bet from the local publican in Bathurst that he couldn’t walk from Bathurst to Kelso(about 5km) with a pumpkin on his head in a specific time without touching the pumpkin. He duly won the bet, to the tune of 100 pound to a shilling, and the foundation to his fortune was in place. During his bookmaking career he turned over sums unimaginable. At a time of depression, when the average weekly wage was less than 2 pound, he was turning over up to 100,000 pounds on major race meetings. He was also a successful owner, but at times when he won blue ribbon races with his horses, he often lost heavily punting against them. On one occasion his colt Cabin Boy won the VRC St Leger at long odds but he did not celebrate as he had wagered all the money he could on a horse called Waterfall., another horse he owned.
Without a doubt his greatest triumph as both an owner and a punter was when his best horse, Acrasia, won the 1904 Melbourne Cup. Although he was almost denied the chance to bask in this glory due to his insatiable urge to gamble. The story goes that in a high stakes card game with a Mr John Mayo, the man who owned the 1903 Cup winner Lord Cardigan, and subsequent 1908 winner Lord Nolan, Oxenham wagered his horse Acrasia on the outcome of a poker hand. Oxenham lost the hand, and the horse, but Mayo kindly offered to sell the horse back to him on Caulfield Cup day for 2000 pounds. Two weeks later Acrasia fought off the challenge from Mayo’s Lord Cardigan to claim the Cup at the generous odds of 14/1. Odds said to have helped save Oxenham from financial ruin for not the first time.
He died in 1923 in Neutral Bay, Sydney at the age of 69. He was loved and admired by all. A true giant of the colonial days of racing and one of the first “Leviathan’s of the Australian Turf”.