Frederick Henry Attride – fiction and an attempt at the truth



A story in the Mackinac Town Crier of 9 February 2008
reads as follows:

Teeth Are the Reason To ‘Never Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth’

What exactly is meant by the phrase, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth?”
For horsemen, it means “beware, because really, you do not want to know the whole story.” If you had bothered to take the time and looked into the horse’s mouth, you would probably not be too happy with the results. The reason lies in the teeth. The older the horse, the longer and more prominent the teeth. In fact, if you look in the mouth of that horse and see teeth that resemble those of a beaver, you know you have just become the proud owner of a really old nag.
There was a very ambitious 19th century horse tamer who called himself Professor Sydney Galvayne. He claimed to have been born in Australia in 1846. His great-great-grandson, Jonathan Jones, says his ancestor was actually named Frederick Henry Attride, and he was an Englishman of lowly birth. Mr. Attride traveled in carnivals through Europe, living with the “travelers,” or Gypsies, of the time. The professor had an unusual act. He stated that he could tell the age of any horse by looking in its mouth. By the 1880s, this “scientific horse breaker and tamer” was claiming the method uniquely his own, but naturally he offered to sell this secret to others. The secret was one that he had learned from mystical association and kinship with the Gypsies.
It was in 1884 that Mr. Attride re-invented himself as Professor Sydney Frederick Galvayne. He was quite the self-promoter. In 1885, he published his first book, “Horse Dentition; Showing How to Tell Exactly the Age of a Horse up to Thirty Years.” He published another book on training in 1888. The professor was prolific, and he wrote another book on war horses and stories of remounts in South Africa in 1902. The widest published was “The 20th Century Book of the Horse in 1905,” of which I have a copy in our cottage library.
The first book on teeth was actually quite a good seller, and the term that Professor Galvayne coined is still known today in the horse world as “Galvayne’s Groove.” The groove is a darkened, longitudinal indentation in a horse’s teeth. It begins to appear at the gum lines of the horse’s upper corner incisors at nine to 10 years of age. As the teeth erupt, the groove becomes exposed at a measured and precisely appreciable rate. This extends the full length of the tooth by the age of 20, and then by the age of 30, it disappears entirely in the horse. If one adds this information with tooth wear, a reliable determination of equine age can be surmised.
There is some exaggeration in Jonathan Jones’s story (although I’m sure he believed what he had been told – I’m not casting doubt on him). Frederick Henry Attride had clearly enjoyed passing himself off as “an Englishman of lowly birth” who had travelled with the gypsies, but I’m afraid it is pure invention. Fred’s father was a clerk at the Bank of England,  which would have put him firmly in the middle class of the time, and his grandfather was a stockbroker. I think we can assume that the reference to humble origins was part of the show Frederick Henry Attride – or Professor Galvayne, his invented persona – put on for the world.

As any historian knows, the stories handed down through succeeding generations are very unreliable. In this man’s case, he was brought up in relatively well-to-do, comfortable surroundings. In the 1861 census he was a 13 year old schoolboy living in a house kept clean by
a domestic servant, Rose Clark. Had he been a real nob, he would have been away at
public school, but the house in Nunhead Grove, Camberley, was not at the bottom
end of the property ladder. Here is an Attride wedding:

Attride Wedding

That is not a poor family, or one that ran with gypsies. Fred did, nevertheless, have an interesting life.

He was married three times (that we know of, at any rate). The first marriage was to Emily Westley who was born in 1844 and therefore was four years older than him, and they were married on 14th Nov 1868 at the Parish Church of St Olave in Southwark, London, England. Emily gave him two children: Frederick Henry George Attride, born 1869 in Camberwell, Surrey, England and Albert Vernon Attride, born 1st May 1871 and baptised on the 8th June 1873 at Saint Savour’s Church in Southwark. Fred and Emily had two children (that I know of): Frederick
Henry George Attride, born about 1869 in Camberwell, died 1942 in Totnes, Devon, England; and Albert Vernon Attride, born 1 May 1871 in Swan Lane in the City of London, died in Liverpool in 1949–note that the death was registered in the name of Albert V Galvayne. At the time of the
1891 census, Emily was still alive and living in Liverpool as a boarder, along with her son, Albert Vernon Attride. Both of them, however, were now calling themselves Galvayne.

In 1897, Albert married Mary Catherine Jones in Birkenhead, Cheshire, England. Mary was born in Pant, a very small place on the Shropshire/Wales border not far from Oswestry and, by chance, about five miles from the very small place in which I (born on the south coast of England and brought up in the northeast) now live and in which I am writing this. Albert and Mary had three children, who were all known by the surname Galvayne.

Emily died in 1895 at the age of 49. Her death registration gives her name as Emily Attride Galvayne. Fred was now living in Australia, from where he imported horses to England, and on 14 Feb 1896 he married Gertrude May Atkinson, at St Matthias’s Church, Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. There was a child by this marriage, but it ended in tears, as this report in
The Times  of 28th February 1902 shows:

 Attride Divorce

I find it interesting that Fred married Gertrude as Frederick Attride and not Galvayne, and that he divorced her in the same name, even though the name Galvayne was already, as we have seen, being used elsewhere. And yet, the birth of the child referred to, and of whom Fred was given custody, was registered in Sydney New South Wales in 1892 as Cecil W R Galvayne, son of Sydney F Galvayne and Gertrude M Galvayne. This birth took place 3 years before Fred’s wife, Emily, had died (and while he was still married to her) and four years before the parents were married. They also had a child, Rita M Galvayne, born 1895 in Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia who died the following year in the same place.

The Sands Directory for Sydney and New South Wales in 1899 shows how completely he had carried through his transformation. Frederick Henry Attride, English banker’s son and sometime commercial clerk, had become Professor Sydney Galvayne, owner of a livery stable and self-styled
veterinary surgeon.

Fred returned to England, but as Sydney Galvayne and now styling himself as a writer. He married for a third time, to Emilie Martin Newell, who had been born about 1863 in Otley, Yorkshire, England, and died in 1926 by which time Fred had already been dead for 13 years.

That is Frederick Henry Attride as I know him today. He changed his name and transformed his life. He was a very interesting man – if not the interesting man he wanted people to believe he was. He really did know a lot about horses – the Galvayne Groove is still used today – even if he did not learn about them from travelling with gypsies.

Read more Invisible Lives here.


30 Comments on “Frederick Henry Attride – fiction and an attempt at the truth”

  1. Heather M Jones (nee Galvayne)
    October 13, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

    I am Sydney’s great granddaughter. I have become increasingly interested in my relative’s life and read with great interest your article. I have done some research myself but cannot find any evidence of his early visits to Australia. I have the logs of his last visit in Feb 1896 and onward to Africa in 1899. Do you have this information? I would be grateful if you could share it with me. I am wondering why you became interested in Sydney and his chequered career??! I am afraid I told my son, Jonathan, about the gypsies, passing on my brothers observations. I don’t know where he got those ideas from and at the time I didn’t query them. Thank you for the information in your article…Heather Jones

    • jlmandrill
      October 14, 2014 at 4:56 am #

      Heather, I’m delighted to see this comment. Please email me in my genealogical persona: and I’ll tell you everything I have.
      Best wishes–John Lynch

  2. Roger clark
    July 27, 2015 at 12:08 am #

    I have had an interest in Sydney galvayne and I may be able to give you more information on his career as a horse tamer Roger clark

    • jlmandrill
      July 27, 2015 at 5:34 am #

      Roger, I’d be delighted to hear what you have.

      John Lynch

  3. Roger clark
    July 27, 2015 at 9:46 am #

    There is a reference to galvayne in George ewart evens book horse power and magic which adds another aspect to the story

    • jlmandrill
      July 27, 2015 at 10:46 am #

      Thanks, Roger — I’ve ordered a copy from Amazon. I’ll be interested to see what it says.

  4. Roger clark
    July 27, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

    Myself and my veternarian friend still use the book on horse dentition.i have had galvaynes books for many years and consider him a very clever man with horses and that is from someone who has made a good living from horses for fifty years.kind regards Roger clark i

    • jlmandrill
      July 28, 2015 at 4:46 am #

      I’m sure you’re right, Roger — he comes up in the British Newspaper Archive again and again, all over the country and was clearly well received. The fact remains, though, that however much he knew about horses he didn’t learn it as he said he did (running with gypsies), he wasn’t a professor at any seat of learning anywhere and he was not born with the name Sydney Galvayne — and that was the point of my post. These Invisible Lives posts grow out of the research I do when I’m looking for stories (I’m a writer, as this blog will show) and I write them because I’m fascinated by the way the public face someone presents differs from the person under the skin. We all do it — I do it and you do it. Great Aunt Mabel did it. I certainly didn’t set out, and in fact don’t say anywhere in this post, that Sydney didn’t know what he was talking about. In fact, all the Attride men of that generation led lives that you’d have to say were out of the ordinary. Four years ago, I wrote the larger story (“The Attrides were an interesting bunch”) for Attride family members — I’ll see if I can find time to put it on here.

  5. Roger clark
    July 28, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks your comments on george ewart evens book would be interesting. He was a personal friend of mine. Regards Roger

  6. Graham
    November 19, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    Hi, I am also the Great Grandson of Frederick Henry Attride.

    The missing years: Frederick left his family in the UK in 1876 and went to Australia under the alias of Ralph Frederick Osborne. He married in Melbourne in 1882 and had two male children (Francis Dorrington Morgan was my Grandfather). He ran a Horse Bazzar in Sydney and then Melbourne (the Melbourne one was insolvent) . He was divorced by his wife Edith Webster Morgan in 1884. During this time he learnt horse taming from a Professor Sample. He returned to the UK under that alias of Professor Sydney F Galvayne having stolen Professor Sample’s method and marketed it as his own. And the rest is history.

    • jlmandrill
      November 19, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

      That’s fantastic, Graham — thank you. What a rogue the man was 🙂

  7. Graham
    November 19, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    Hi John. He was a scoundrel. It is amazing that our detective work has joined all the dots and filled in the missing years. I now also have new members of my family. I think he is deserving of a wikipedia page. I can’t see one as yet!

  8. jlmandrill
    November 19, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    I think probably a number of the Attride men were 🙂

  9. Nicholas Jon Holt
    April 2, 2017 at 10:42 am #

    Fascinating subject, as farmers, my late grandfather who farmed from the late 1890’s through our family until we retired from the land in the mid 1970’s
    Had a personally signed copy third edition of Sydney Galvayne ‘s Horse Dentition with tabulated Forms for Cattle and Sheep printed by Thomas Murray & Son of Glasgow.
    The publication was always used as a reference for livestock throughout our farming life.
    I still have this book in my modest library collection and whilst taking it of the shelf I thought I would look up “Professor Sydney” regardless of his past great that the Galvane Groove is still referred to!!

    • jlmandrill
      April 2, 2017 at 11:19 am #

      He was quite amazing, but the Attrides as a whole were a fascinating bunch. Galvayne was a name entirely of his devising; he left descendants of that name, but there were no Galvaynes before him. I’ve no idea how he hit on it.

  10. Mike Coleman
    November 28, 2018 at 6:41 pm #

    Just found this article on one of my occasional trawls for the name. Emilie Newell Martin (not Martin Newell) was my great-aunt on my father’s side. My grandmother Madge took his surname although she was born Simpson. Emilie was in fact her aunt not mother but had adopted her. The three of them lived in Ovington, near Winchester in Hampshire which is where I believe he died.

    • John Lynch
      November 28, 2018 at 7:26 pm #

      He did die there, at least to judge by the entry in the Probate Register:
      Galvayne Sydney Frederick of Ovington near Alresford Hampshire died 10 June 1913 Probate London 18 July to Emilie Galvayne widow. Effects £169 10s 9d.

      Of course, he had a number of wives and he also invented the name Galvayne. Do you happen to know what happened to any of the Galvaynes he fathered? Nine pf them were still alive in 1939 and Sandra, if still alive, would be a year younger than me.

  11. Diane Taylor
    January 20, 2019 at 8:52 pm #

    My maidan name is Attride. I am a descended and live in kent UK my great grandfather was Fred Attride my grandfather was Edward Attride. I also own and ride horses how odd

    • John Lynch
      January 21, 2019 at 3:28 am #


      I need to know more about Edward – I don’t have an Edward Attride in my tree. Please let me have your email address.

  12. Diane Taylor
    January 20, 2019 at 10:22 pm #

    Born Diane Attride. The story of great relative Fred we heard was he bought and sold horses in London for carriage / taxi cabs in piccalilly around the 1900. Must of been the same Attride not many of us.

    • John Lynch
      January 21, 2019 at 3:25 am #

      Hi, Diane, good to hear from you. Give me an email address and I’ll send you a pdf I wrote some time ago called, “The Attrides were an interesting bunch.”

  13. Stewart Donaldson
    July 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm #

    Hi John, have you any information about Galvayne as a Freemason? His name has turned up in a Masonic Minute book in Edinburgh date 23rd March 1887 on the date 23rd March 1887 that I’m researching.

    • John Lynch
      July 2, 2019 at 5:57 pm #

      I haven’t, Stewart, but if the name was Galvayne and that was the date it must have been him because there weren’t any other Galvaynes. He invented the name, it lived on for a couple of generations and then died out. I can well imagine freemasonry attracting him.

      • Stewart
        July 2, 2019 at 6:07 pm #

        It’s him ok, I’ve checked his signature in the roll book with the one in his book, identical. He was a member of a masonic lodge in Leeds before Edinburgh. Checking the attendance book now to see how many times he was there. But your right, it’s just the thing he would have joined.

  14. Ron Vriens
    November 24, 2021 at 2:21 am #

    Hi John, my father-in-law discovered he was adopted several years after his adoptive mother died. She was very secretive about her past and he did not know a lot about her until he started to research his family history. His mother’s birth name was Nita Beryl Webster Attride and according to the birth records, she was born in 1899 in Victoria Australia to Frederick Henry Attride and Gertrude May nee Atkinson. Nita later moved to England and was married to Frederick Winter in 1919 under the name Nita Beryl Galvayne. They moved to New Zealand and later Nita moved to Australia where, in 1930 she was living in Sydney under the name Nita Beryl Rochelle. She married Cecil Rose in 1942 under the name Beryl Andree Rochelle. I’m sure there is more to this story but I haven’t connected all the dots yet.

    • John Lynch
      November 24, 2021 at 10:41 am #

      Hello, Ron. Let me get back to you on this. The male Attrides were a very strange lot, though by and large the women seem to have been more balanced.

    • Graham
      November 24, 2021 at 12:41 pm #

      Hi Ron, I think that you have connected a lot of the dots. Frederick Henry Attride was my Great Grandfather. I am happy to share what I have on Nita. Best to email me om, Graham

  15. Dr Graham Winton
    May 15, 2023 at 11:47 am #

    I have a copy of Sydney’s book, War Horses Present and Future, but wonder if there is any more information on his time in South Africa during the war, specifically his time at the Tankartara depot?

    • John Lynch
      May 15, 2023 at 12:39 pm #

      If there is, I’m afraid I haven’t found it.

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