John Wright finds the County Kildare-born surveyor who worked his magic to make both the Melbourne Cricket Ground and the Melbourne Cup what they are today.
It is surely a good omen that the man responsible for the hallowed turf and design of the Melbourne Cricket Ground – where today’s Ireland players must dream of walking out to the middle to take on Australia – was County Kildare’s Robert Cooper Bagot.
Born in about 1828 at Fontstown, the son of Anglican priest John Bagot and his wife Olivia, née Edwards, he was 21 when they migrated to Sydney. He married Jane Smith (one son) and then Maria Gregory (two daughters).
Settling first in Moreton Bay in future Queensland, he was 27 when he moved to Melbourne as a civil engineer and surveyor. And in 1861 the Melbourne Cricket Club invited him to redesign their ground, at the time little more than a rough paddock.
He made it a perfect oval, re-turfed it and even landscaping its surroundings with 400 trees, the committee appreciating his work so much they made him a life member.
Yes he’d done a good job, but was taken aback by his next job offer when racing figure “Herbert Power called at his home one Sunday morning in March 1864,” Maurice Cavanough wrote in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, “and invited him to become secretary of the Victoria Racing Club (VRC), formed to take over the affairs of the ill-managed and bankrupt Victoria Turf Club and Victoria Jockey Club.