The Baron O'Buchlyvie
Article by L Raff
It's 1911 in Scotland.
And a Clydesdale stallion has just sold for what was probably the highest price ever paid for a horse.
But sometimes there are no happy endings.
This is the amazing story of the Baron O'Buchlyvie.
The most famous horse in Scotland in the early 1900s was a Clydesdale, who was not only involved in one of the craziest legal disputes over his ownership, but he sold for £9500, a jaw-dropping figure when it happened in 1911, and by far the highest price paid for any horse at that time (a figure recorded both as pounds sterling and guineas).
Foaled in 1900, the Baron swept the horse shows as he grew and sired prize-winning offspring as well. He came to be the center of a dispute between two Scotsmen, William Dunlop and James Kilpatrick, who both claimed to be his owner. Dunlop and Kilpatrick lived near one another, were both very knowledgeable Clydesdale breeders, rivals, and good friends.
Kilpatrick first saw the handsome black bay colt as a yearling and immediately saw the horse's potential, but could not convince the breeder, William McKeich, to part with him until the colt was two years old. At the Aberdeen Highland show, the colt won 3rd place and was at last purchased, along with another gelding, by Kilpatrick for £700 (quite a good price for the time). Soon after, Kilpatrick sold a half share of the colt to his friend William Dunlop, supposedly as a gesture of friendship to replace a stallion Kilpatrick sold him that had died unexpectedly. No legal document was drawn for this sale, however, and the colt continued to live with and was shown by Kilpatrick.
As the horse grew and began to win every prestigious award, the two men reached an arrangement with the stud fee earnings. Court documents later detailed that some time later, Dunlop asked to purchase the horse in full from Kilpatrick, and it was agreed. The horse was sent to Dunlop's farm at that point. The versions of the story vary from there, as Kilpatrick's memoirs differ from Dunlop's recollection; but it seems that when Kilpatrick agreed to sell for £2000, Dunlop felt that the buyout of a half share equaled £1000. This was the purchase price he felt was fair. In response, Kilpatrick then canceled the sale, and the two sides refused to negotiate further. Yet things still went on as before, the horse stayed at Dunlop's, and earnings from stud fees were split as usual for the next few years. But more contention followed after that, as Dunlop next claimed that £250 sent to Kilpatrick were not for the season's stud fees, but payment for the horse itself. Kilpatrick then informed Dunlop that he had filed a lawsuit in court over the ownership matter.
The first court to hear the case decided in favor of Kilpatrick. Lord Skerrington decided that the horse was indeed jointly owned, and half the stud fees from 1904 were still owed Kilpatrick, but on appeal that court overturned and sided with Mr. Dunlop. Next, the case went to the House of Lords, whose ruling was to reinstate Skerrington's decision that the horse was jointly owned. In his statement the Lord Chancellor wrote: “I am seldom called upon to decide a case in which I had felt so strongly that on one side or the other there had been abominable wickedness.” * He awarded another £2000 to be paid to Kilpatrick.
At this point, both men's lawers suggested putting the horse into public auction in 1911, with the understanding that either party could bid on the animal, and the winning bid would settle the question once and for all.
The auction was reported on in papers around the world. The Baron's court case already had the attention of all of Great Britain, but the sale of the stallion created such a buzz that there were more than 5000 viewers in the auction gallery. The auctioneer suggested that the sale finish outside where there was more room for more bidders to take part--but Dunlop sat in his seat and refused to move. Unfortunately this caused much anger, as many who went outside thinking the sale would continue there lost their seats inside.
At one o'clock the sale was delayed until a group of bidders from G & SW Railway could be present. The stallion himself was brought in anyway, in excellent form, fit and striking and looking every bit the showstopper he was, unfazed by the crush of onlookers there to watch his fate.
The auction commenced at 1:10pm with a reading of the rules of the sale--simply that the horse sold as-is, without refund or any suggestion of warranty, and that all sales and bids were final.
Then the Auctioneer, Mr. Craig, let it be known that he did not care where in amount that the bidding started. The first bidder, a Mr. Alexander Rennie, offered up £3,000, and thus began a twenty-minute bidding war that afterwards became one of the most famous in the UK for the time.
Kilpatrick came in at the £4000 bid. Bids came in quickly from Rennie, Dunlop, Kilpatrick and many others in increments of 100 until the £5,000 mark was reached, where Rennie and Dunlop both bowed out. At that point an unknown man in the gallery set the bidding pace against Kilpatrick. At £5000 a cheer went up in the crowd, to which Kilpatrick offered £6000, until the total reached £7000...and then £8000--an unheard of amount paid for a horse anywhere in those days.
At £8000, the crowd was so raucous that the stallion began to object, to the surprise of those standing too close to him. The stranger then bid £8600, which was answered by £9000 from Mr. Kilpatrick. The stranger voiced the final bid of £9500, and Mr. Kilpatrick finally relented. When the gavel came down, the auctioneer announced that the stranger had been proxy bidding for Mr. Dunlop all along, which ignited the roar of the crowds.* It was the highest price paid for a Clydesdale (and probably any horse) at the time, roughly equal to 1.3 million USD in 2020.
The moment was bittersweet; Dunlop got the horse, but owed Kilpatrick half the sale, six years of stud fees, and court costs. Kilpatrick lost his horse, but won a large amount of money, and his good reputation was respected again.
But there wasn't a happy ending to this story. Baron was taken back to live at Mr. Dunlop's stud immediately after, to continue his career as the most prolific breeding draft stallion in the country. Kilpatrick and Dunlop stopped speaking to one another, and only the intervention of a mutual friend got them to reconcile, but it took decades (1935). The event weighed heavily on both men, Dunlop in particular, who spoke about the incident in a bitter, detail-laden rant that was supposed to be his speech before the Clydesdale Horse Society of GB & I in 1935. Dunlop held forth his opinion of the stallion, Mr. Kilpatrick, the court judges in his case, and Clydesdale breeders in general. Dunlop's speech lasted four hours. Among the Clydesdale Society, it became known as the "Mingavie Address".
As for the horse himself, he was put down only three years after his record-setting auction. The Baron O'Buchlyvie was humanely shot in 1914, after a kick by an irate mare broke his near-side front leg on the night of June 29. An article published less than a month before his death spoke well about this stallion's already important influence on Clydesdale bloodlines.
He was buried on the farm but a few years later, with Mr. Dunlop's permission, his bones were recovered to be put on display at Kelvingrove Museum. Baron's skeleton, now in the collection of Glasgow Museums, is housed at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow. It is noted that the skeleton's tail has been reconstructed; in life Baron's tail was docked short. The fractured leg, front nearside (left) just below the knee, is said to be very visible in person.
The Baron's offspring--several of whom display the same solid black front leg--commanded high prices for decades after his death. He is still considered one of the most important Clydesdale sires even today.
William Dunlop got out of raising horses in 1917, and left farming to start a restaurant in 1920. His Glasgow restaurant failed, but he remained an important breed judge at Clydesdale horse shows for some time. He died in 1937.
James Kilpatrick continued to breed historically important Clydesdales at his farm until his death in 1956, and is thought to have won the most prizes of any owner in the The Clydesdale Horse Society. Throughout his life he was well-liked, considered a supreme expert on the breed, and was awarded many honors.
Today, Clydesdales are on the Rare Breed Survival Trust's List of Protected Animals.
*It has been speculated that Mr. Kilpatrick might also have had a shill bidder at the auction to try and set the price higher, in the event that Dunlop overtook his bids, but this was never proven (Wade, 2006).
Baron's pedigree here
Skeleton displayed at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow. Skeleton image via Wikimedia Commons UK.
Frontspiece image and head image via Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh. Image photographed by Charles Reid, ca. 1910. Glass slide in the Rosalin Collection, University of Edinburgh.
Wade, George; "Baron O'Buchlyvie". Ayrshire Notes, Ayrshire Archaeological & Natural History Society, No. 31, Spring 2006.
"Baron of Buchlyvie", Farmer's Advocate and Home Journal (Canada) No. 1397, July 2, 1919.
Glover, F.J.H., 1000 Famous Horses Fact & Fiction, Xlibris, USA, 2011, p. 293.
"Baron o'Buchlyvie"; The Field, Vol 24 no. 7, May 1914, New York, p. 178.
"Baron o'Buchlyvie Dead"; The Field, Vol 24 no.8, June 1914, New York, p. 341.
Stewart-Koster, Ian; "The Baron O'Buchlyvie"
Historical Conversion of Currency calculator
"Baron O'Buchlyvie", Hastings Standard, Vol II, Iss 45, 6 February 1912