Finlay Brothers history site

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

"Velocipede race on the Melbourne Cricket Ground" 1869 by Samuel Calvert
Source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria

Samuel Calvert:
Born in England in 1828 and
emigrated to Australia in 1848. 
His father was instrumental in teaching
him artistry skills, including engraving. 
He produced many engravings of
early Australian scenes, and his work
was widely used as illustrations in the 
Melbourne newspapers of 1855-1880’s.1

An enlarged JPEG image (with zoom tools) of the lithograph is available
here, and may be better for viewing the fine detail.
Source: Pictures Collection, State Library of Victoria

The Calvert lithograph: A glimpse of history

Rarely can we glimpse events that occurred in centuries past.

However, an 1869 print from a wood engraving by Melbourne artist Samuel Calvert provides an accurate and tangible record of the finishing moments of the earliest known Victorian bicycle race - possibly the first in Australia.

In comparison, most of the other primary information about the race is found in written documents, such as the newspaper reports of the day.  Such reports are limited by the knowledge of the authors.  Calvert’s lithograph records details that even he as the artist may not have understood the meaning of.  Therefore, as a piece of historical documentation, the importance of some of the more intricate details in this wood engraving cannot be overstated. 

There are numerous examples of Calvert’s detailed engravings of colonial Australian life.  His work was widely published by illustrated newspapers, and in the mid 1850’s he was successful in tendering to produce the images for Victorian stamps.2 

It is possible that Calvert may have known of James Finlay (the main cyclist featured in his lithograph), prior to the race.  Calvert was most probably living in George Street, Fitzroy, in the late 1860's,3 at the same time that James Finlay's blacksmithing forge was becoming well known for its venture into velocipede building.

It appears that Calvert took almost a month to produce his engraving "Velocipede race on the Melbourne Cricket Ground".  The race was held on 10 July 1869, and his engraving first appears in the "Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers" on Saturday 7 August.4  Calvert's initials appear in the bottom right side of the print.

But what details of the lithograph are so crucial in casting it as an almost unrivalled piece of historical documentation?

Firstly, by comparing James Finlay's appearance in the lithograph with the only known photograph of him with his cycle "The Barb", it is possible to see that Calvert has been painstakingly accurate in his recording of fine detail.

James Finlay wore a striking outfit of black and gold (those being the colours worn by the jockey who rode the Melbourne Cup winning racehorse "The Barb" - after whom James Finlay named his velocipede).  Calvert has reproduced Finlay's outfit accurately to the extent of even drawing the correct ruffle that was sewn onto his shorts.

Secondly, Calvert has recorded some important variations in velocipede design, thus documenting an early period of Australian bicycle development.  James Finlay keenly advertised his cycles as being based on an American design, most probably Pickering’s American Velocipede.  This design has a frame which was claimed to be lighter and stronger than French designs, and is characterized by a brake that is applied by the rider leaning back in their seat.5  The following illustration of a Pickering’s American Velocipede shows the similarity in design to Calvert’s depiction of “The Barb":

Pickering’s American Velocipede 18696

In comparison, Melbourne vintage cycle collector Paul Farren feels that Calvert has shown the second velocipede, ridden by Mr Warnock, to have features similar to the French Michaux design.7  Strangely, the Melbourne newspapers had earlier predicted a challenge to James Finlay by the French velocipedes:

“…he will soon have to contend against the imported French bi-cycles, a number of which are on their way to the colony.”8

Paul Farren also notes that the two tricycles to the right of the Calvert scene, are likely to be of an 1860 American design that was propelled by the action of feet as well as hands and arms (called “Rantoons”).9

The third point of interest in Calvert’s lithograph, is the two prominent men in the right foreground of the scene.  The  gentleman to the right with the starter’s pistol is described as “Mr Wardell” by the “Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers”.10 It is possible that this was a misspelling, as it is more likely that Mr R.W. Wardill – a member of the Athletic Sports “Committee of Organisation”11 – was the starter shown.  Wardill – a Melbourne Cricket Club (M.C.C.) member – was significant in the organization of early 1860’s Athletic Sports events held on the Melbourne Cricket Ground (M.C.G.).12

If the starter was indeed Wardill, it is likely that the other gentleman in the lithograph’s foreground – the judge of the race – may have been either Mr W.J. Hammersley or Mr H.C.A Harrison – two other members of the day’s “Committee of Organisation”.13  All of these men were known to have been part of a group which “bore the financial risk involved” in the early Athletic Sports meetings at the M.C.G..14

The fourth and possibly most significant point of interest in Calvert’s lithograph relates to a small detail drawn on the facing M.C.G. building, and the subsequent widespread claim of this race being described as the first bicycle race in Victoria. 

Calvert has laboriously recorded a clock face high on the facing pavilion - with the time 4.25 hazily decipherable - showing the finishing time of the race.  Regardless of this being a deliberate feature or not, the scene is obviously showing daylight hours.  This feature is highly significant due to the fact that a separate velocipede race was taking place at the Croxton Park racetrack, on the same day as the M.C.G. races.  In fact, it was thought that several velocipede competitors who had originally nominated for the M.C.G. race actually ended up riding at Croxton Park.15

However, the Croxton Park velocipede race is recorded as finishing under the curtain of early evening darkness.16  Thus, it could be assumed that the Croxton Park race finished at a later time than the M.C.G. race.  By only a few hours, the feted M.C.G. race was possibly able to claim the prestige of being “first".

In 1869, Samuel Calvert recorded his artistic details with the accuracy of the lens of a camera.  His lithograph of the finishing moments of the earliest known Victorian bicycle race, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, describes a more complex scene than words alone can capture.  If only Calvert could realize how significant some of the smaller details of his lithograph would become with the passing of centuries!

© 2011-2015 This  article remains the property of the website administrators.



1.       Thomas Darragh, “Samuel Calvert: Biography”, Design and Art Australia Online,

2.       Ibid.

3.       Ibid.

4.       Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers (Melbourne, Vic: 1867-1875), August 7, 1869, 161.

5.       Velox, “Velocipedes, bicycles and tricycles: How to make and how to use them”, American Libraries Internet Archive, 54-56.

6.       J.T. Goddard, “The velocipede: Its histories, varieties and practice”, 1869, graphic displayed on Clipart Technical.

7.       Farren P., personal communication, Sept 8, 2011.

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

9.       See note 7 above.

10.    “Velocipede race on the Melbourne Cricket Ground”, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), August 7, 1869, 164.

11.    The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), July 10, 1869, 8.

12.    Alf Batchelder, “Pedestrians and cyclists at the MCG”, 2004, Melbourne Cricket Club Library, 4 & 5.

13.    See note 11 above.

14.    See note 12 above.

15.    The Mercury (Hobart, Tas: 1860-1954), July 17, 1869, 3.

16.    “Croxton-Park Steeplechases”, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), July 12, 1869, 6.


James Finlay