An Early Ultramarathon: The 1903 Go-As-You-Please Mountain Race

– by Maria Grist

The author would be very happy to know if you find any inaccuracies in this report. Please use the form on the below website or call me on (03) 62349404.

(The book, The Romance of Mount Wellington, is written by John and Maria Grist and is available from their website at


The Race

Walking contests were a huge craze during the years around the tragic events which are the subject of this story. This craze was called “pedestrianism”. Some early walking races consisted of “heel-and-toe” walks. These walking styles later on evolved into “go-as-you-please” races, in which it was permissible to walk, run, or jog. The go-as-you-please was the forerunner of races which today would fall into the ultra-marathon group.

On the 29th August 1903, there were reports on eight different walking contests in The Mercury [1]. This was not an unusual number. Among these reports was an announcement of a “go-as-you-please” race to the Pinnacle of Mount Wellington and back.

The race was organised by Watchorn Bros., the local agents for Watson’s Whiskey. It was to be started at 2pm on Saturday, the 19th of September. The first prize was a double-barrel breach-loading gun (Hollis make) in a solid leather case. There were also cash prizes for second, third, and fourth places. The promoters of the race included Hon. Herbert Nicholls, Messrs. L. Rodway, E. Maxwell, L. A. Wilkinson, Allan Gibson, and E. G. Hart.[2]

Advertisement, 9 September, 1903. The Mercury.

The race attracted considerable interest in the community:

The walking craze is running as strong as ever. At least five to six walking contests come off every week, and there is little prospect of them diminishing for some time to come. Great interest is centred in the go-as-you-please to Mount Wellington and back, which comes off next Saturday. Over fifty entries have been received, and so far no recognised track has been barred. [3]

The rules of the competition were finalised as follows:

WATSON’S WHISKY TROPHY: The go as-you-please to the pinnacle of Mount Wellington and back takes place on Saturday, the 19th inst., starting from the office of the local agents, Messrs Watchorn Bros, at 2 p.m. sharp. Competitors are reminded that they must present themselves at the office not later than 1.30 p.m. for the purpose of receiving badges and numbers and necessary instructions. The defined course will be from Messrs. Watchorn Bros’ office, along Davey street, keep to main road to the Fern Tree, then up the track by St. Raphael’s Church to Springs, then along the new track to the Organ Pipes, then on to the Pinnacle, and return by the same route to the office. Any short cuts absolutely excluded[4].

On Saturday the 19th of February, 39 of the 70 competitors who had entered the race lined up at the starting location. They included S. Allen, G. Cope, Chas. Beard, R. J. Betts, H. Brown, E. Butler, J. Cartlidge, A. S. D’Emden, G. Cockshutt, G. Cope, T. R. Crooks, W. Dodge, P. J. Drew, C. Hall, H. S. Hallam, L. Hewitt, H. H. Johnston, C. Large, T. Laughlin, H. Luckman, B. Marshall, W. McDonald, T. E. (or F. E.) Parkes, G. Radford, J. M. Richards, C. Roberston, W. Sansom, Audley Stuart, F. Tinker, E. Whittle, and J. Wilson.[5]

George Harvey Radford was 19 years old, and (Joseph) Mark Richards was 31. George was single and lived with his mother, and Mark had a wife and a young child.

The weather in the early morning was anything but promising, for there was rain in plenty, and on the mountain evidently much sleet and hail, and the whole of the mountain was at times enveloped in clouds of the same. It was thought by the promoters of the affair that it would probably be necessary to postpone it on account of this, but the weather cleared up about 10 o’clock, and the sun came out brightly, though a great many clouds still hung about, especially in the vicinity of the big hill behind Hobart. As, however, many of the competitors came from the country, and wished the start to be made, and as one of the conditions had originally been that the race would take place, wet or dry, it was decided to go on with it.[6]

The 39 who faced the starter were dressed in only clothes such as singlets, light knickers and sandshoes. A large crowd was present to cheer the participants, and numerous people in vehicles and on bicycles followed the runners up the start of the course. The race favourite was H. H. Johnson.[7]

(first) The competitors lined up at the start of the race. Tasmanian Mail, Sep 26. (second) Detail of above photo. George Harvey Radford is competitor No. 20. It is not known if Mark Richards is in the photo. (third)The Mountain photographed on the day of the race. Tasmanian Mail, Sep. 26.

There were race officials stationed at the Pinnacle in order to check the competitors as they passed that point. They were Messrs. F. Tapping, C. C. Crisp, and W. Gill. The three were later joined at the Pinnacle by the photographer Mr. J. W. Beattie.

23 of the participants successfully reached the Pinnacle check point. The first was Chas. Beard, who achieved a time of 1 hr. 36 minutes. Mark Richards and George Radford were both among those who reached the Pinnacle.

In due course the first competitors arrived back in Hobart, to great excitement from the crowd. Beard and McDonald came down Davey St. first, but G. Cockshutt came up from behind and passed them, finishing first with a time of 2 hr. 44 min. 51 sec. He received a huge ovation from the crowd. Nobody at this stage had the slightest idea of the tragedy that was unfolding on the slopes of the Mountain.[8]

The Tragedy

(Joseph) Mark Richards was the fourth in line to reach the Pinnacle[9]. When he arrived there, he was already in a bad state. The weather on the Pinnacle was intensely foul, and the judges were huddled at the Pinnacle, with their clothes frozen solid. Richards at this point complained of feeling faint. Mr. Tapping, one of the judges, lent him a bluey (see advertisement below). Arthur D’Emden, another competitor, noticed Richards’ plight, encouraged him to keep going, and stayed with him, in spite of his own difficulties with the conditions, endeavouring to assist.


(first) Judges’ attire. “Bluey” advertisement from 1936.(second) Betts leading at left, McDonald at right. The Weekly Courier, October 3. Photograph most likely taken by Beattie.

The photographer Beattie said in his statement to the inquiry later on that he had never been so cold before. When he met Richards and D’Emden on the track, Richards asked him, “Have you anything to eat, mate?” Beattie replied, “No, old chap. I really haven’t.” Then he (Beattie) continued taking photographs of the race, both of the competitors and of the judges at the pinnacle. D’Emden and Richards continued on their way down from the Pinnacle.

D’Emden stated that Richards was walking on his own at first, but then Richards again said he was about to faint. They walked a little further, but Richards then did actually faint. D’Emden rubbed his chest, arms, and legs until he came round, and then he attempted to lift Richards onto his back in order to carry him down, but was unable to manage. Richards continued in and out of consciousness and eventually lost consciousness completely. D’Emden managed to slide him a little further down the track, and then he saw two boys coming up the track. He asked one to assist, and sent the second down to the Springs to ask for help from Constable Gadd, who was stationed there. The boy held Richards by the legs and Arthur held him from behind and the two lifted him onto the track and continued to try to get him downhill. They were going well until the boy slipped, and they slid below the track, and at this point they were unable to lift Richards back onto the track again. D’Emden continued to try to lift Richards while the second boy went for help.

D’Emden himself started to stiffen up and was soon no longer able to move. He shouted and shouted, and finally the judges at the Pinnacle heard him and started down the hill to investigate. D’Emden had been sitting in his thin running gear, unable to move, for about half an hour when they arrived.[10]

The Weekly Courier, 3 October. The judges at the Pinnacle. Photo: J. W. Beattie. Inset: photo of George Harvey Radford. Photo: Harcourt, McGuffie Co.

Beattie was with the judges at the Pinnacle, and was the one who heard D’Emden’s call. They found Richards nearly unconscious and D’Emden shivering and exhausted. Beattie conferred with the judges, and it was decided that Tapping and Beattie would stay with Richards, while Gill and Crisp accompanied D’Emden to the Springs to ask Gadd for assistance, and to obtain a stretcher.

In the mean time, Tapping and Beattie continued to try to move Richards down the track. Beattie was fairly convinced by this time that Richards would not survive. Mr. Tapping also tried to lift Richards onto his back to carry him down, but fell down immediately. The two men administered whiskey to Richards in small doses, and rubbed his chest and his heart with the liquid. Then Constable Gadd finally arrived with an improvised stretcher, and with some assistance the men were at last able to convey Richards to the Springs. He was moaning terribly at this stage. They estimated however that he died about 200 yards above Gadd’s cottage at the Springs.[11] Gadd phoned for a doctor, and Dr. Clarke came up from the city, and pronounced him to be deceased.[12]

Meanwhile, other competitors were also having their own difficulty with the conditions:

Audley Stuart, who was at one time considered one of Tasmania’s best all round athletes, was one of these. He asserts that he was compelled to travel over a portion of the route on his hand and knees through feet of snow, and that his hands and face were benumbed with cold. He had some raisins in his pocket for the purpose of moistening his mouth en route, but he was unable to use his hands to get them.

A man from the country, named Allen, was another competitor. He carried a handkerchief in his hand to wipe the perspiration from his face, but as he neared the Pinnacle so intense was the cold that his handkerchief was frozen, as also were his long black beard and moustache. Similar experiences were had by many others[13].

Radford reached the Pinnacle safely and came back via the Springs. He “staggered” in to the Springs, and stopped for half an hour, scraping the snow off his clothes. He was said to be “quite cheerful” at the time. He then started back down the Finger Post track. It seems he may have been mistaken the way; he was the only contestant who took this route back.[14]

After the race was finished, reports came through that Radford had not returned, and fears were held for his safety. Search parties were organised, and Superintendent Pedder led the police search. The race promoters also formed a search party, consisting of the Hon. Herbert Nicholls, Messrs. L. Rodway, E. Maxwell, L. A. Wilkinson, Allan Gibson, and E. G. Hart. Constable Hursey and Messrs. Brown, Giblin and Reid also assisted in the search. It started to get dark. The search parties continued with lanterns, and the whole of the race route was checked, but alas to no avail. The search was temporarily halted pending daybreak.[15]

One of the exhausted contestants, Henry Albert Brown, had been carried (along with some other ailing contestants) to Fern Tree, but recovered after resting for some time. When he heard that Radford was missing, he insisted on going out to look for him with one of the search parties. Others sought to dissuade him, but he was insistent.

It was Brown who finally discovered the body of Radford, early on the following morning. The body was found on the Finger Post track. It seems that Radford was resting on, or possibly attempting to step over, a fallen tree, when he fell backwards, his feet tangled in its branches, and he was discovered lying in the snow on his back. He was no longer on the official route; this was most likely a contributing factor in his not being found the previous night.[16]

Photograph taken on the day of the race. Competitors’ footsteps are visible on the track. Tasmanian Mail, 26 Sep. Photograph most likely by Beattie.

The aftermath

An coronial inquiry was held into the two deaths commencing on 21st September. On the 28th a verdict of death from natural causes (heart failure) was brought in.

(first) Inquest title page. (second) Inquest findings. (third)  Death notices, 26 September 1903.

A fund was immediately set up by Watchorn Bros. for the widow of Mark Richards. They contributed a sum themselves, as did the Mayor. Several events such as other walking contests[17] and a variety show[18] added to the fund.

During the past few weeks the sound of the stone worker’s mallet and chisel has resounded through the stillness of the bush, and the one responsible willing worker was Mr. G. B. Mason, of Lansdowne-crescent, who is a lover of the bush and his fellow bushmen. There he has worked for days on several pieces of basalt rock, one of which surmounts a pile of rock, and fastened to it is a marble tablet kindly given by Messrs. Williams Bros., with the words, neatly cut and filled, “This cenotaph is erected near the spot where Joseph Mark Richards died whilst competing in the go-as-you-please race to the Pinnacle. September 13(sic), 1903. Erected by G. B. Mason, of the Falls Hut.”[19]

The original monument to Richards was destroyed by vandals in 1952. It was replaced by members of the Hobart Walking Club, including Peter Allnutt and Denis Cook, on Saturday 19 September 1953, which was the 50th anniversary of the tragic event.[20]

(first) The original Richards monument. By George Mason. Photo: AOT NS483/1/85. (second) Current Richards Monument. Photo by John Grist. (third): Radfords monument today. Photo by John Grist.



ON THE DEATH OF MARK RICHARDS. WHO SUCCUMBED AT THE GO-AS-YOU- PLEASE ON MOUNT WELLINGTON. – Published The North West Post (Formby, Tas), Saturday 17 October 1903, signed “Tracker”.[21]

I am sitting in the gloaming
Of the mystic twilight hour,
And my thoughts are sadly roaming
As the evening shadows lower,
To a far-off mountain pathway
With the snow flakes falling fast,
And a weary wanderer plodding
O’er that dreary mountain pass.
Dewy drops of perspiration
Clinging to his blanching brow.
Thrice he wavers, thrice he falters,
Now he sinks upon the snow.
Urged along by proud ambition,
See, he rises, struggles on.
He must reach the mountain summit
Ere he win that much-prized gun.
But, alas, poor Mark is fated
Ne’er to reach that mountain rill.
Ere another glorious sunrise
He is lying cold and still.
“Farewell, mother wife, and baby,”
Comes a murmur soft and low.
Then a heart is stilled for ever
On that mountain wreathed with snow.
As I gaze the scene is changing.
On the dashing Derwent shore
Stands a happy wife and mother
Waiting by a cottage door;
Waiting there for husband—father.
Oh, why does be tarry long?
Loving hearts he knows are waiting
There to bid him welcome home.
Hark, I hear his footsteps coming—
Hush my baby, father’s here.
What’s that message? Draw the curtain.
Vulgar ears should never hear.
One more head is bowed in sorrow,
One more heart is crushed with woe,
One more widow, one more orphan,
God above has willed it so.
Once again the vision changes
To a far-off rustic scene,
Where the tall trees fling their shadows
O’er the grass of shimmering green,
And an aged mother, weeping
By a far-off cottage door,
For the message sad has reached her,
She will greet her boy no more.
“Mark, oh, Mark,” she wails in anguish,
“Soon thy sands of life are run,
And thy bright career is ended
Ere thy life was well begun.
Three fond hearts will ne’er forget thee
Till we greet thee one by one–
Mother, wife, and little baby,
Father, husband, son.