Finlay Brothers history site

James Finlay
Preserving the bicycle and
motorcycle heritage of
Finlay Brothers, Elizabeth St
Melbourne, 1900-1961.
James Finlay
James Finlay:

An Australian cycling pioneer

Samuel Calvert's lithograph of the 1869 velocipede race on the MCG
Source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria

James Finlay was the father of the three men who started the Finlay Brothers' business.

In 1869, he won a velocipede race on the Melbourne Cricket Ground,1 riding a bicycle that he had built himself and named "The Barb".  The race is regarded as the earliest known Victorian bicycle race (and even possibly Australia's first bicycle race),2 and is recorded in Samuel Calvert's 1869 lithograph (as shown in the above illustration).

James Finlay was born in Scotland in 1842, and emmigrated to Australia as a child with his family.  He worked as a blacksmith, and therefore possessed the metalwork skills required for the construction of the early models of bicycles.

James Finlay and "The Barb" 1869
Source: Museum Victoria

In retrospect, James Finlay demonstrated great ingenuity and skill at a time when bicycle construction was in its infancy.  He was amongst the very earliest group of bicycle builders in Victoria,3 and also demonstrated prowess in the riding of these vehicles.

Skepticism and hilarity were very common amongst the reactions of the public toward the bicycle,5 therefore James Finlay's determination and eventual success were admirable achievements.

The strong emphasis of Finlay Brothers in retaining "The Barb" trade name for their cycle range seems to have been a testament to their father's achievements.  A large number of Finlay Brothers newspaper advertisements also refer directly to James Finlay.

Click on the tabs on the left of this screen to view referenced and illustrated articles about this fascinating pioneer of the cycling world.

The first bicycle race in Australia?

James Finlay won the July 1869 bicycle race
that is widely regarded as Victoria's earliest
known bicycle race.

It is also regarded as possibly the earliest in
Australia as well.

However, this subject is not without dispute,
as for instance, we were interested to see
a newspaper of May 1869 discuss a Sydney
race in which a bicycle won6 against three
four-wheeled velocipedes.7

We are interested in further information on
this subject and welcome feedback.

Robert Warnock?

James Finlay's closest competitor in the MCG
race - Robert Warnock - was a gentleman of
significant importance in the race's history.

In fact, in 1895 - almost 30 years after the
race, Mr Warnock wrote a letter to the editor
of The Argus discussing his early involvement
in cycle building and riding, and stating that he
owned a photograph of one of his early

Can you help us with further information on
Robert Warnock?


“Athletic sports on the Melbourne Cricket Ground”, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), July 12, 1869, 6.

2. "Bicycle history", Powerhouse Museum,

3. The Argus
 (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), June 22, 1869, 5.

4. Ibid.

“Velocipede race on the M.C.C. ground”, The Australasian (Microfilm), June 12, 1869, 748.

6.  The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW: 1843-1893), May 27, 1869, 2.

7.  The Daily News (Perth, W.A.:1882-1950), January 10, 1896, 3.

8.  The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), December 20, 1895, 3.
James Finlay