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BIOGRAPHY - William Sextie (1821 - 1900)

Had you been at Windsor Racecourse on Tuesday 2nd May 1882 you would have enjoyed the fair weather; likewise the horses the good going.

You may well have met there a man, sixtyish, a little below average height with a small beard. From his attire you might have guessed he was a painter.  His clothes were rather dandified but not of the latest fashion. Had you been introduced he would have lifted his hat and said - ‘How do you do, I’m Bill Sextie’.

You would have been impressed that he knew everyone, the jockeys, trainers and owners.

Early Days

William A Sextie was born in Cheltenham in 1821 the son of a hair-dresser, John Sextie, who carried on business at The Colonade. His father also sold perfume. William’s elder brother, John Charles, had been born in 1819; they both were to become artists.

Sextie's connection with racing started at an early age. His father, when not wielding the scissors or eau du Cologne, was the much respected, and long serving, Clerk at Cheltenham racecourse.

Nothing is known about William's early life and it has to be said there is precious little known about the rest of it. 'Before the Race' is the earliest known painting attributed to Sextie dated 1845, but the attribution may be false.

He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848; painting number 408, Favourite Hack the Property of the Earl of Granville.  It should be noted that at 27 he meeting with, if not mixing with, the higher end of Victorian society.

Around 1852 he painted the Cesarewitch winner ‘Weathergage’. The painting was engraved by Harris and aquatint copies published by Sextie himself. Weathergage was owned and trained by Tom Parr and in 1854 he painted  ‘Saucebox’ for Tom Parr, the print of which, published by Ackerman in 1857 is popular to this day.

In 1853 he painted the superb ‘Bay Racehorse on the Downs with Jockey up, Groom Standing Nearby’.


By 1860 Sextie was training horses at Rockley House, Marlborough, Wiltshire and was making a very good living at it. The coming of the railways had made the greatest change that Racing had seen, and horses from Rockley House ran all over the country. For instance the cleverly named Rara Avis, by Chanticleer out of Prairie Bird, ran 18 times in 1860 at places as far apart as Rochester, Liverpool and Ludlow. The grey filly was half owned by Sextie and half by Mr James Clarke.

Around this time Sextie had rooms in Duke Street, London. Not the prestigious one in St James but the one off Grosvenor Square. A good address nonetheless.

It was also that in 1860 that Sextie employed as an apprentice a small, 14 year old boy, born at Eton who was to become one of the greatest jockeys ever to grace the turf. Tom Cannon was renowned for his style, both on and off a horse, and was to earn the modern day equivalent of £6 million in riding fees and presents before becoming a trainer [though the license was held nominally by William Olding]. [I]  Little of that fabulous sum was lost as Cannon invested heavily in property and land. Sextie may have recognized the genius of Cannon for shortly the lad was sent to the much larger and fashionable stable of the John Day at Danebury.

Middle Years

Things did not go well for Sextie after the 60s and by 1881 he was renting a sitting-room and bedroom for 15 shillings a week at 23 Thames Street, Windsor. This was a poor area with slums behind which mercifully were demolished in the 1920’s, though many of us will not applaud the car park which replaced them and remains to this day. However, the accommodation suited Sextie well and he kept the rooms for some twenty years his landlord being firstly Henry Hall - a bootmaker - and latterly Hall’s wife, Elizabeth.

Things did pick up later in the 1880s as Sextie painted ‘Geheimniss’, Tom Cannon up [c.1884] for Lord Stamford, ‘Cherry’ , Fred Archer up [1881] for the American Broderick Cloete, ‘Shotover’ [c.1886] for the Duke of Westminster, and in 1886 ‘Ormonde’ in stable, again for the Duke of Westminster.  In 1887 he was commissioned to paint Ormonde as a four-year-old; this painting became the property of the trainer John Porter.

As a painter Sextie could be described in racing terms a not a Classic horse but a good class handicapper. He did paint one picture though that is of outstanding merit. Around 1884 he painted what became known as ‘A Reminiscence of Stockbridge’ which featured Tom Cannon with two of his sons, and Cannon’s horses exercising on the long lost Stockbridge Racecourse [last meeting 1898]. It is not known what this picture was originally called. It is suspected that Cannon, hearing of his old employer and friend’s financial state commissioned the work. It certainly was in Cannon’s rooms at the Grosvenor Hotel, Stockbridge and highly prized by Cannon. What happened to it after Cannon’s death in 1917 is not known.

Old Age

William A Sextie lived on in Windsor till June 1900 when he died aged 79. Cause and place of death are not recorded, nor is his burial spot. He lived a full, varied and up-and-down life, a life which one hopes he enjoyed. When things were bad and he looked from his sitting room window onto Thames Street around 1881/1882 he cannot have known that he would, in his last years, once again enjoy the patronage and appreciation of his youth.

Eric C. Graham

[I]. Trainers were not licensed by The Jockey Club untill 1905.

Some of the horses trained by Sextie
COSTREL [1855]
GOURD [1855]
KENT [1854]
MALACCA [1853]
MAZZINI [1856]
MERRY MAY [1856]
YORK [1855]