Vernon, Richard (1726-1800) (DNB00)

VERNON, RICHARD (1726–1800), ‘father of the turf,’ born 18 June 1726, was the fourth son of Henry Vernon (1663–1732) of Hilton, Staffordshire, by Penelope, daughter and coheiress of Robert Phillips of Newton Regis, Warwickshire, and brother of Admiral Sir Edward Vernon [q. v.] In early life he held a commission in the guards, and was known as Captain Vernon. He attached himself to John Russell, fourth duke of Bedford [q. v.], and is said to have acted as his secretary when lord lieutenant of Ireland (Lodge, Peerage of Ireland, ed. Archdall, ii. 348). He was returned to parliament on 10 Dec. 1754 for the duke's borough of Tavistock, and, as member for Bedford in the succeeding parliament, was appointed in April 1764 a clerk comptroller of the household. He was re-elected for the same constituency in the next parliament (1768–74), and sat for Okehampton from 1774 to 1780, and for Newcastle-under-Lyme from 1784 to 1790. But it was on the turf, and not in the army or in parliament, that Vernon made a great figure. As early as 4 June 1751 the betting-book at the old White's Club records a wager between Lord March and ‘Capt. Richard Vernon, alias Fox alias Jubilee Dicky.’ Vernon was blackballed at the new club in the following year on account of his intimacy with Bedford, though he was ‘a very inoffensive, good-humoured young fellow, who lives in the strongest intimacy with all the fashionable young men’ (H. Walpole to Sir H. Mann, 2 Feb. 1752). Some time after this he removed to Newmarket, where he entered into a racing partnership with Lord March, afterwards the fourth Duke of Queensberry, commonly known as ‘Old Q.’ Thomas Holcroft [q. v.] the dramatist, who was for two years and a half in his stables, calls Vernon ‘a gentleman of acute notoriety on the turf,’ and supplies an instance of his adroit betting. By means of betting and breeding horses Vernon is stated to have converted ‘a slender patrimony of three thousand pounds into a fortune of a hundred thousand’ before quitting the turf as an owner.

Vernon, who was one of the original members of the Jockey Club, bred and owned a large number of horses. The Vernon Arabian, sire of the dam of Emigrant, winner of the July Stakes 1796, was owned if not imported by him; and Diomed, winner of the first Derby, came from his stables. He also ran horses for many years, and in 1758 himself rode in a gentleman-jockey race at Newmarket. In 1753 he won one of the two Jockey Club Plates, and in 1768 carried off the first Jockey Club Challenge Cup with his Marquis, son of the Godolphin Arabian. At the first Craven meeting, held in 1771, he won the stakes with Pantaloon against a field of thirteen; and his three-year-old Fame by that sire ran second for the first Oaks on 14 May 1779. In 1787 he succeeded in winning the Oaks with Annette (by Eclipse).

Vernon was one of those who began the running of yearlings at Newmarket. In 1791, when the conduct of Chifney, the Prince of Wales's jockey, had been arraigned by the club and upheld by his master, ‘Old Dick Vernon’ (as he was now called) is reported to have said that the prince, having the best horses and the best jockey, was ‘best off the turf.’ The Jockey Club were his tenants at the old coffee-room at Newmarket. The ground lease was purchased by him in 1771, and bought by the stewards on its expiration sixty years later.

Vernon's name is also remarkable in the annals of horticulture as the introducer of fruit-forcing. His peaches at Newmarket were celebrated. His sporting traditions were carried on by his nephew, Henry Hilton, whose name appears in the first official list of the Jockey Club, published in 1835.

Vernon died at Newmarket on 16 Sept. 1800. He married, in February 1759, Evelyn, daughter of John Leveson-Gower, first earl Gower [see under Leveson-Gower, John, Lord Gower], and widow of John Fitzpatrick, earl of Upper Ossory. They had three daughters, of whom the eldest, Henrietta, married in 1776 George Broke, second earl of Warwick; and the second, Caroline, Robert Percy Smith (‘Bobus’ Smith) [q. v.] Caroline seems to have inherited her father's tastes. She was the mother of Robert Vernon Smith, lord Lyveden [q. v.], who edited Walpole's correspondence with his grandmother, the Countess of Ossory. The names of the three Misses Vernon frequently occur in Walpole's letters, and a poem on them is to be found among his works (iv. 388). One of the younger sisters, probably Caroline, is introduced in Reynolds's group of the ‘Bedford Family’ now in the possession of Lord Jersey. Vernon Place, Bloomsbury, was named after Vernon by the Duke of Bedford.

[Collections for the Hist. of Staffordshire (William Salt Society), vol. vii. pt. ii. table 4 (pedigree of Vernons of Hilton); Black's Jockey Club, pp. 13, 79, 111, 140–3, 153, 173, 246, 250; Hist. of White's Club, 1892, ii. 22; ‘L. H. Curzon's’ Mirror of the Turf, pp. 27, 118, and Blue Ribbon of the Turf, pp. 229, 234, 239, 245, 246; J. R. Robinson's Last Earls of Barrymore, pp. 144, 190, and Memoir of the Fourth Duke of Queensberry, pp. 37, 38; Holcroft's Memoirs, ed. Hazlitt, i. 91, 117, 165; Ret. Memb. Parl.; Walpole's Letters (Cunningham), ii. 278, iv. 225, 246, 388, v. 46 n., 478, vi. 168, 397 n., 442 n., vii. passim, ix. 278; Whyte's Hist. of Brit. Turf, vol. i. passim. The short notice in Gent. Mag. 1800, ii. 909, is inaccurate as to name and age.]

G. Le G. N.