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:
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:
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
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.