This remarkable screen, a wonderful celebration of one man's devotion to both the hunting field and the turf, is a rare and important survival. It was commissioned by John Knox, nicknamed 'Diamond', an Irish squire of Castle Rea, Co. Mayo, a Magistrate in Sligo, and from the late 1760s Member of Parliament for Castlebar. The front of the screen shows twelve scenes of himself, his sporting friends, and hunt servants, and on the back are eighteen portraits of the most famous racehorses of the first half of the 18th century.
The scenes on the front of the screen, running from left to right, starting with the upper row, show:
1) John Knox and his favourite hunter;
2) Mr Wilson, owner of Wilson's Chesnut Arabian, on a grey hunter conversing with a rustic;
3) Edward, 1st Earl of Kingston, brother-in-law of John Knox, on a grey hunter, conversing with Annesley Gore;
4) John Knox on his hunter Steady with his first Whip and hounds;
5) John Knox dismounted, with hunt servants and hounds at the death;
6) Earthstoppers observed by a huntsman;
7) A grey stallion held by a groom;
8) John Knox, with his hunter Quin held by a groom;
9) Mr Wilson on a grey hunter;
10) A huntsman on a grey hunter blowing a horn, with hounds;
11) Edward, 1st Earl of Kingston on a bay hunter conversing with Mr Palmer of Palmerston on a grey hunter; and
12) A groom leading a bay hunter
The racehorses shown on the back of the screen are, running from left to right, starting with the upper row:
1) A match between unidentified horses, the leader possibly Lamphrey;
2) Flying Childers. This image is based on depictions of the horse by James Seymour. Childers was a bay colt by the Darley Arabian out of Betty Leeds, bred by Colonel Leonard Childers, and bought as a yearling by William, 2nd Duke of Devonshire. He was known as 'the fleetest horse that ever ran at Newmarket', and won every time he started. The prefix Flying was later added as his reputation grew;
3) Bay Bolton (?). This is probably a slightly inaccurate depiction of the horse bred by Sir Matthew Peirson, Bt. in 1705. He won on his first outing at York in 1710, and subsequently at Middleham Moor and Quainton Meadow. Sold to the Duke of Bolton, for whom he won four matches at Newmarket, he retired to stud at Bolton Hall;
4) Lamphrey. A brother of Bay Bolton, and foaled in 1715, a win at Newmarket in 1721 was followed by a series of victorious races and matches;
5) Aaron. Owned by Benjamin Rogers, Aaron was the pony-sized rival of the equally small Little Driver (see number 11) in a series of famous encounters, notably two races run in heats in 1754, in which the two horses shared the honours;
6) Adolphus. Bred by Mr Lodge of Richmond in Yorkshire, he was sired by Regulus, and first won at Newmarket in 1755 beating Mr Pembroke's Aimwell in a match for 200 guineas over the Beacon Course. Wins followed at Lambourn, Guildford, Winchester, Salisbury, Canterbury, and Lewes, before a dip in form in 1757, and then a return to winning ways in the late 1750s at Epsom, Ascot and Newmarket;
7) Star. By Ashridge Ball and foaled in 1725, Star belonged to the Duke of Bridgewater and won two important races at Newmarket in 1730 beating Dusty Miller and Jigg in April, and Victorious (not the horse in number 15) in October. He was the sire of Mr Norris' Star;
8) Oronoco. A black colt foaled in 1745 by Crab, he was bred by Thomas Panton and raced for the Earl of Portmore. A full brother to Othello (number 10), Oronoco was a successful stallion;
9) Jason. Bred by Nathaniel Curzon and foaled in 1749, Jason won at Cirencester and Lichfield in 1753, and numerous victories followed in the following years before he was sold to Sir James Lowther. In 1757 he won the Jockey Club Plate at Newmarket. From 1760 he was retired to stud at Lowther Castle where he sired a number of famous horses including Nestor;
10) Othello. A full brother of Oronoco, Othello raced for Lord Portmore, winning several races in 1748 and 1749 before being sold to Sir Ralph Gore and sent to Ireland. There he won several King's Plates and a famous match with Bajazet (see number 16) for 1,000 guineas at the Curragh. Also known as Black-and-all-black, he was eventually sent back to England as a stallion, his main claim to fame was as grandsire of King Fergus;
11) Little Driver, a very small chesnut horse by Beavor's Driver out of a mare by Flying Childers, was foaled in 1743 and bred by Mr Brooke. Apart from his famous races against Aaron (see number 5), between 1748 and 1754 he won a total of over thirty races, mainly on 'give-and-take' terms (where weights were decided according to height). He was owned successively by Josiah Marshall, Richard Vernon and finally Aaron Lamego;
12) Babraham was bred by the Earl of Godolphin. Sired by the Godolphin Arabian, he stood over 16 hands which was unusually large for the period. Babraham succeeded both on the turf and at stud, his racing victories including wins over Waser, Bustard, Old England, Sulton, and Little Driver between 1747 and 1749;
13) An unidentified dark chesnut horse;
14) Wilson's Chesnut Arabian. Brought to England by the Earl of Kinnoull, Ambassador at Constantinople, he was much admired for his speed and compactness, and was a successful stallion. He was sold to Charles Wilson for over £200.
15) Victorious was bred by William Crofts of Norfolk in 1747 and sired by White Nose. He won the Maiden Purse at Lincoln in 1751 when named Achilles, after which he was sold to Lord Onslow who renamed him Victorious. He won numerous races in 1752 including at Winchester, Salisbury and Burford.
16) Bajazet, by the Godolphin Arabian, was bred by Sir John Dutton, Bt., of Sherborne in Goucestershire, and foaled in 1740. He raced for Fulk Greville and later Lord March (the future 'Old Q', Duke of Queensberry), who he belonged to when the famous match against Othello for 1,000 guineas took place (see number 10). Bajazet won numerous races in 1747-1750, before going to Ireland and then returning to stud in England circa 1758.
17) Starling. This is probably the horse foaled in 1738, that late in its career was sold to the Duke of Ancaster and became known as the Ancaster Starling. By the Duke of Bolton's Starling, he was bred by Mr Crofts of Barforth in Yorkshire, and sold in 1743 to Mr Martindale. An impressive run of victories led, in 1746, to his owner challenging any horse to run against him, which was taken up by Lord Portmore, whose Babraham was beaten in the ensuing race run at Newmarket in May. Sold to the Duke of Ancaster later that year, his winning form continued until put to stud in 1747. An alternative but less likely identification for the horse is the aforementioned Bolton Starling, foaled in 1723.
18) Cato. The inscription would suggest that this is the horse by Regulus, bred by George Bowes of Gibside in 1748. Cato was a highly successful racehorse between 1752 and 1761 when he retired to stud at Newmarket. He was owned successively by Lord Onslow, Lord Rockingham, and the Duke of Cumberland.
While most of the identifications of racehorses are secure, one or two seem less certain such as Cato due to seeming discrepancies of markings. This, together with the absence of any identification on XXXX of the subjects, raises the possibility that the inscriptions were added by a hand other than Roper.