Adventurer and entrepreneur JC Hemment was typical of the eminent Victorians of the mid-19th century. Born in England on January 28, 1862, Hemment was driven to succeed, powered with enthusiasm and inventiveness, and always pushing the boundaries of what he knew and did.
If he sounds like one of the American entrepreneurs who fueled our country’s rise to international prominence, he was one of their kind, and after coming to America, Hemment rubbed shoulders with many of the most prominent robber barons and captains of industry of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Restless, curious, and inventive, Hemment traveled widely, from the North Pole to big game safaris in remote Africa. His technical skills made him a natural photographer, and he traveled to Cuba, where he covered the Spanish-American War for Hearst Publications. Hemment even wrote a book about his adventures in the conflict called Cannon and Camera, which was published in 1898.
Hemment’s association with horse racing began earlier than that, with photographs of important races, top-flight racehorses, and the people who owned, trained, and worked with them.
Keeneland librarian Cathy Schenck said that Hemment “is the first photographer I’ve found who was labeled as an official track photographer.”
He took that post first in 1890 with Monmouth and Sheepshead Bay racetracks. Later he became the track photographer for the Coney Island and Brooklyn jockey clubs, as well as Saratoga racetrack.
As such Hemment took photos of most of the great racehorses of the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. His racing photographs are bound into seven massive volumes that are located in the Keeneland library. Among the famous Thoroughbreds in those books are Domino, Hastings, Henry of Navarre, Colin, Sysonby, and Beldame.
As such, these volumes and the fragile photos in them are a treasure for racing and those who love its history and excitement.