Tom Finnigan

Thomas S. Finnigan was born 1872 in Gisborne, Victoria (VIC).
Finnigan began riding at an early age of 12, in his school years he rode an old wooden bone-shaker which the boys in school would know when he was coming by the noise it made; he later bought an ordinary to ride.
Finnigan was an active sportsman, not only did he enjoy cycling he was also fond of rowing and boxing in his late teens. When arriving to Melbourne (VIC) his first club was the Victory Cycling Club and later went on to join the Albert Park Club and after training hard for a few seasons he began to have success, winning the double at Sale (VIC) and a second placement in the “Druids Cup”.
Finnigan was employed by the Massey Harris Bicycle Depot as a bicycle mechanic and and met a gentleman by the name of Mr Patterson who help him secure a 23 pounds racer with a 91 gear. Finnigan had his mind set on entering the Austral Wheel race.
The Austral Wheel race is the oldest track bicycle race in the world having commenced in 1887 where riders are assigned handicaps according to ability over a series of heats.
In December Finnigan entered and below is an extract of his account how the race unfolded from the Australian Cyclist – 15 December 1898.
“Mr. Rennolds pushed me off with, a, shove that literally threw me on to the man in front of me before he moved from his mark. The first lap was pretty hard going, as I wanted to get even with, the limit men as quickly as possible. In a lap and a half I caught Matthew’s and Bennett, and had no trouble in sitting behind them for a breather.
I looked for Brooker with whom I had agreed to pace turn about and keep the back men off, but he was nowhere to be seen. Some of the other front men also promised to pace. I sat behind Mathews, who jumped with him. We then put up a gap.
In the third lap I felt all right, and knowing that we held the advantage over the back men, did not worry myself.
The fourth lap was also uneventful, as I followed Stapleton who was leading. I was not in the least distressed and kept about third place. Towards the end of the lap Mathews made a dash to go out, and then I thought it was time I took a hand, so I went to the front. In the fifth lap I came back again to third place, and waited until we reached the judges’ stand, when I started out to keep up the pace, as some of the middle men were coming, up. I put, in a solid lap and- then called on Brooker to take a turn but he was unable or unwilling to help me.
At the sixth lap I ran a bit wide to let somebody come up and pace, but no one would do so, and I had to bend to it again. I did not pause as I saw we were being gained on by the men behind. Half way round I saw I would be potted for the distance, and eased my pace for a breather before the final run home.
The seventh lap came and still I was doing all the pacing, so I said to myself, I will steady up for half a lap, and then go all the way for the last lap and a half. When I felt fresh again I gave a kick, to get free of the men beside me, and as we came to the bell I jumped, as I was determined no one should pass me in the hustle for position. No one tackled me, and I led into the back stretch where someone, I think it was Macgibbon, came at me, and I had to shove hard to keep ahead, although I was not riding all out. Going round the last turn, at the hill, I caught a glimpse of Middleton coming at me, and then I knew I must do my best. I got a little forward on the saddle and bucked into it all. I Knew as I came into the straight. I felt that my strength was failing me and I looked for the line. It seemed as though it would never come to me.
About ten yards from the post I stood right up on the pedals, literally jumped my whole weight them as a final effort, and then what looked like a thin white piece of string flitted under my front wheel, and the roar of the people told me I had won the Austral.”

“What were your feelings as you passed the post a winner?”

Perhaps, you will laugh, but I can’t describe it better than by saying that I felt like a pig that had just squeezed through a hole, in a fence. It was as though I had been suddenly released from under a weight that was crushing me. I was never, in better nick in my life, and yet when the finish came I had had enough.”
Winning in front of a crowd of 30,000 spectators, Finnigan’s almighty effort was rewarded with a prize money of 240 Sovereigns, from this it enabled him to set up his own bike shop in 58 Glenferrie Road in the suburb of Malvern (VIC) in 1902.
Finnigan ran the shop with honesty and had quite a customer base; he was noted for his high standard of quality service in touring and racing bikes.
In 1903 the first Malvern Star bicycles were made and with an abundance of other makes and local suburban bike shops Finnigan was able to get endorsement from cyclist Don Kirkham who was noted as an Australian Champion who broke world’s records at the time. Finnigan introduced the logo of a six-pointed star which matched a tattoo on his forearm and soon emerged as one of the leaders of the cycle industry.
In 1920 Finnigan retired and on 1st June sold the business to a 24 year old chap by the name of Bruce Small for £1125, the rest is history.

Don Kirkham with Tom Finnigan on Malvern Star bicycle, 1910   Courtesy of Stonnington History Centre (MP 2714)

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