Machell, James Octavius (DNB12)

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MACHELL, JAMES OCTAVIUS (1837–1902), owner and manager of racehorses, born at Etton rectory, near Beverley, on 5 Dec. 1837, was son of Robert Machell, vicar of Marton-in-Cleveland, who descended from an old Westmorland family, by his wife Eliza Mary, daughter of James Zealy and heiress to the Sterne and Waines property at Little Weighton and Beverley.

After education at Rossall school, where he distinguished himself in athletics, James joined, when seventeen years old, the 14th foot (afterwards the West Yorkshire regiment) as ensign. In 1858 he was gazetted lieutenant, and in 1862 captain. For some time he was quartered in Ireland, where he had ample opportunities for indulging his love of sport. He won many a bet by jumping over the mess-room table or from the floor to the mantel-shelf. He exchanged into the 59th in 1863, but retired from the service the same year, owing (it is said) to the commanding officer's refusal to permit him to go to Doncaster for the St. Leger.

Thereupon Machell settled at Newmarket, taking with him a three-year-old horse called Bacchus, which he had bought for a very small sum. With this animal he at once won a big handicap. The race was worth 1000l., and he was said to have won a bet of 10,000l. to 400l. Thus he quickly obtained a firm footing on the turf, and was very soon one of its conspicuous figures. In 1865 he became associated with Mr. Henry Chaplin, who, at his instigation, bought that season the yearling Hermit for 1000 guineas. Two years later Hermit won the Derby and incidentally put some 70,000l. into Machell's pocket. From time to time Machell gave his guidance to new-comers to the turf, among them Sir Charles Legard, Lord Aylesford, the earl of Lonsdale, Lord Calthorpe, Sir John Willoughby, Lord Rodney, and Harry McCalmont [q. v. Suppl. II]. McCalmont was indebted to Machell's insight for his ownership of Isinglass. The horse's dam, Deadlock, which belonged originally to Lord Alington, was purchased by Machell for a small sum, and he bred from her a useful animal called Gervas. But before the merits of Gervas were ascertained Deadlock was sold, and all trace of her lost, until one day Machell recognised her in a farmer's cart and, obtaining her for a trifling consideration, sold her for 500l. to McCalmont, who in 1890 bred from her Isinglass to Isonomy. Machell superintended the training of Isinglass, who won stakes to the value of 57,455l., and carried off in 1893 the Two Thousand Guineas, Derby, and St. Leger.

Machell was also mainly responsible for the victories (for various owners) of Knight of the Thistle for the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot, Petronel in the Two Thousand Guineas (1880), Pilgrimage in the Two Thousand Guineas and One Thousand Guineas (1878), Harvester, who dead-heated with St. Gatien in the Derby (1884), Seabreeze, winner of the Oaks and St. Leger (1888), and Rockdove in the Cesarewitch (1895). Three of his own horses won the Grand National Steeplechase — Disturbance in 1873; Reugny in 1874; and Regal in 1876. He was also interested in Lord Manners's Seaman, who won in 1882. Between 1864 and 1902 Machell's own horses won 540 races, worth 110,010l. Apart from his sound knowledge of horses, Machell's success was largely attributable to his judgment of human character, to his business-like methods, and to his patience. Machell, who in his early days proved himself a swift short-distance runner, died at St. Leonards, Sussex, on 11 May 1902, and was buried in Newmarket cemetery. A portrait in oils of Machell, mounted on a grey Arab horse, watching a training gallop on Newmarket Heath, is at Crackanthorpe Hall, Appleby. It was painted by H. Hopkins and E. Havell. A cartoon portrait by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1887.

[Notes supplied by Mr, P. W. Machell, C.M.G. (nephew); Sportsman, and Pall Mall Gaz., 12 May 1902; Ruff's Guide to the Turf; Baily's Mag. 1889 (portrait); W. C. A. Blew, Hist. of Steeplechasing, 1901; Badminton Library, Racing, 1900.]

E. M.