J. Hamilton Leigh: Piercing the Veil

by Robert J. Cadranell II ©1991 from The CMK Record IX/2 Winter, 1991
used by permission of Robert J. Cadranell II

BINT RANYA (Redif x Ranya), a RIYALA granddaughter, is one of two Leigh-bred Arabians still represented in pedigrees.

American Arabian breeders encounter the name of J. Hamilton Leigh infrequently. Nevertheless the name was connected to Crabbet Arabians in England for a period spanning nearly forty years. Despite the frequency with which one encounters his name in the AHS and GSB, the details of his personality remain enigmatic.

The earliest record of Leigh’s involvement with Crabbet Arabians seems to be in the Crabbet herdbook. Courtesy of Peter Upton’s Desert Heritage, we know that J. Hamilton Leigh Esq. of Brinnington Mount, Stockport bought from Crabbet on June 20, 1900 the stallion MAHRUSS. The Blunts had bought the 14.1 1/2 hand MAHRUSS from Ali Pasha Sherif and imported him to England in 1897. While at Crabbet MAHRUSS had been the sire of one foal, viz. a chestnut colt out of BADIA which broke its leg and was destroyed as a foal. When MAHRUSS left Crabbet five mares had been bred to him for 1901. Of these, ROSE DIAMOND, NARGHILEH, and SEFINA were returned as barren in GSB. *BUSHRA had been exported to America, where she produced *IBN MAHRUSS. That left ROSE OF SHARON to produce Crabbet’s only link to MAHRUSS: the nearly 16-hand favorite of both the Blunts, RIJM.

After leaving Crabbet, MAHRUSS sired two more registered Arabian foals and then dropped out of written record. In this MAHRUSS established for Leigh a pattern of buying key Crabbet individuals and holding them in a sort of twilight zone while he bred from them sparingly or not at all. Leigh is named as the breeder of fourteen foals born over a thirty year period, two of which are in modern pedigrees. What Leigh did with his Arabs is not now clear. Whether he rode them, used them for cross breeding, or enjoyed them as pets is a matter of speculation.

Leigh next acquired from Crabbet two mares, apparently in 1901 or 1902. GSB vol. XX lists “Mr. J. H. Leigh” as the breeder of 1902 fillies from SEFINA (Mesaoud x Safra) and RAYYANA (Ahmar x *Rose of Sharon). SEFINA’s (a chestnut by SEYAL) was registered dead. SEFINA was next bred to MAHRUSS and produced in 1903 an unnamed chestnut filly for Sir S. Pigott. After that she returned to Crabbet. RAYYANA’s 1902 filly was a chestnut by MESAOUD named RUYA. Leigh did not rebreed RAYYANA and sold her at about the same time he sold SEFINA. RUYA was also sold, and produced for a Mr. G. O. Pardoe a 1905 chestnut colt named RUSTUM (by MAHRUSS). This is the point at which MAHRUSS drops out of the record, and is also the end of the first phase of Leigh’s career as a breeder.

Leigh’s name does not appear again in Arabian stud books for nearly fifteen years. When it does reappear, it is as Capt. J. H. Leigh. Apparently in 1916, he went back to Crabbet for two more mares. This time he acquired ROKHAMA (*Astraled x Rabla) and FEJR (Rijm x Feluka). During this period he was also the owner of the Crabbet stallion REDIF (Daoud x Rosemary). ROKHAMA left at Crabbet her *NASIK daughter *ROKHSA. For Leigh she produced a 1918 REDIF colt and then died after foaling. This colt, HERMIT II, had no registered Arabian offspring. FEJR had left at Crabbet her IBN YASHMAK daughter *FELESTIN. She produced no foals for Leigh, although the GSB records Leigh put her to REDIF. In 1922 Lady Wentworth brought FEJR back to Crabbet, where she promptly produced FASILA, FARIS, FERHAN, and FAYAL.

The first stud book of Britain’s Arab Horse Society appeared in 1919. At this time Capt. J. Hamilton Leigh (Blindon House, Wellington, Somerset) was a member of the Society’s Council. In addition to the horses named above, he had also acquired, apparently from Musgrave Clark, the mare SIMHAN II, bred at the Government Stud in Bosnia. SIMHAN II produced for LEIGH a 1917 colt by Clark’s DAOUD and then one in 1918 by REDIF. Neither colt left any Arabian get. SIMHAN II herself died before foaling in 1919. As of this 1919 stud book, Leigh’s most recent acquisition seems to have been BELKIS (Seyal x Bereyda). BELKIS had spent the first part of her life as a riding and driving mare for Lady Anne Blunt and the Lyttons. She produced no registered foals for Leigh, although AHS vol. I does record a 1919 breeding to FANTASS, a full brother to *FERDA.

Leigh appears to have maintained good relations with Lady Wentworth, who assumed the helm of Crabbet in 1920. Acquired from Lady Wentworth in 1920 or 1921 was the mare RANYA. Leigh is the breeder of her 1921 filly MIRIAM (by Lady Wentworth’s stallion NADIR). MIRIAM was exported to Australia in 1925, where she became an important line foundress. Next Leigh bred RANYA to his stallion REDIF. The 1922 filly he entered in the AHS stud book as RANYA II (“Bint Ranya” in GSB). By 1926 Leigh had sold RANYA II to a J. W. Darwood. RANYA II began her illustrious career in 1932 with a foal for Miss Mary Russell. Through her, REDIF is the only DAOUD son in modern pedigrees. Within a year or two after producing the only Leigh-bred foals with any pedigree influence, RANYA herself became the property of Mr. C. W. Hough.

In 1922, Leigh got from Lady Wentworth the 21-year-old Crabbet matron AJRAMIEH (Mesaoud x Asfura). She had left a number of foals at Crabbet, the most important of which is AMIDA. Leigh is the breeder of AJRAMIEH’s 1922 filly named AJRAMIEH II (by NADIR). This filly died in 1924, and AJRAMIEH herself failed to produce another foal. Around this time Leigh also acquired from Lady Wentworth KESRATAIN (Ibn Yashmak x Kantara). She was Crabbet’s last foal of straight Ali Pasha Sherif breeding. Nothing further is known of her.

Leigh’s other two broodmares from Crabbet were RAYYA (Rustem x Riada) and RUDEYNA (Daoud x Rose of Hind). RUDEYNA produced for Leigh a 1922 RASIM colt (registered dead) and in 1923 a Skowronek colt named in GSB IRAM (registered as “Feith Dhomnuil” in AHS; later changed in AHS to *Iram”). Leigh did not breed from RUDEYNA again; three years later she was back at Crabbet. IRAM seems briefly to have taken the place of REDIF, destroyed in 1925, as Leigh’s stud stallion. Leigh took IRAM to the 1926 London Show, where he placed over the illustrious SAINFOIN. Other than two fillies out of *BATTLA and RAYYA, IRAM’s use at stud was of no consequence. The only other mares he seems to have covered were Lady Wentworth’s RIM and FEJR, whose sons RIX and FAYAL were among the Crabbet horses with an “or” sire. FAYAL and RIX generally are attributed to MIRAZE rather than IRAM. IRAM did spend some time at Crabbet; he was photographed there. Cecil Covey’s last booklet of photographs states that IRAM was exported to Egypt in 1929.

RAYYA appears not to have been sold to Leigh until after AHS vol. I was prepared. In April of 1920 she was at Crabbet, although she seems to have gone to Leigh’s that year; her production career begins with a 1921 REDIF filly named RADIYEH, born the property of Lady Wentworth. In 1922 RAYYA was barren to *Nureddin II and NADIR for Leigh. In 1923 RAYYA was back at Crabbet where she produced *RASEYN for Lady Wentworth. The next year she was barren to *Nureddin II for Lady Wentworth. By 1925 RAYYA had settled with Leigh, producing that year for him *RASEYN’s full sister ROTHA (died as a yearling), followed by a 1927 brother named FADLALLA. Leigh then bred from RAYYA a 1929 IRAM daughter named ZANAB and finely a 1931 filly named SAFARI (by the desert bred stallion OUTLAW). FADLALLA was gelded as a three-year-old. SAFARI was exported to the British West Indies. Lady Wentworth acquired ZANAB but she does not seem ever to have produced a foal.

By the time of the 1937 stud book, if Leigh had any Arabs left, they must have been limited to FADLALLA and ZANAB, although he was still a member of the Council. RAYYA had been given away in 1932, and SAFARI had a new owner.

Between 1922 and 1925 Leigh was promoted to Colonel. It might be that Leigh’s military career prevented him from deeper involvement with the horses. He might have been abroad during the period following his ownership of MAHRUSS. Leigh died between the publication of the 1937 and 1944 stud books.

Although RANYA II and MIRIAM are the only horses in pedigrees attributed to Leigh as breeder, many of his animals contributed to the CMK tradition before and/or after he had them. Plain bad luck seems to have followed Leigh’s horses as well, as the record drawn from the stud books illustrates. Perhaps a reader will be kind enough to write with details of Leigh’s life to add some substance to the framework as constructed from stud book records.