Peter Carl MacKay (18811965), by Karl Pollak, 1948
MacKay, Peter Carl [called Ras Prince Monolulu] (18811965), racing tipster, claimed to have been born in Addis Ababa, Abyssinia, the son of a chieftain of a Jewish tribe. In later life he certainly knew some Yiddish, which he had acquired from a Jewish employer. Recent research has established, however, that he was born on 26 October 1881 on the island of St Croix, then a Danish colony in the Virgin Islands, the son of William Henry McKay, shipbuilder, and Catherine Heyliger (private information, John Pearson). Hence he was described as a Danish subject when, in 1935, he appeared in court over charges relating to an open-air meeting about the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia (The Times, 16 Sept 1935). He told Sidney White, who helped compile his autobiography, that he was intrigued by missionaries' tales and decided to find out more about the white man's world. Making his way to the African coast, he was shanghaied on board a British ship and gave his name as Prince Monolulu, mistakenly hoping thereby to be well treated. The ship was wrecked on the Portuguese coast, whence he made his way to New York. Finding that religion paved the way to food and shelter, he associated himself with the Salvation Army. A more plausible version of events suggests that he reached the United States via Puerto Rico. He took a variety of jobs ashore and at sea, visiting many ports between Brazil and Canada. Eventually he worked his passage on the cattle boat Minnetonka and landed in Tilbury in 1902.
While in New York, MacKay had already made for himself the Abyssinian costume, an embroidered silk jacket and baggy pantaloons, in which he became a familiar sight in England. As Monolulu, he found less colour prejudice in London, although his remarkable appearance and manner naturally attracted abuse, both good-natured and hostile. Infinitely adaptable, he had no difficulty in getting work; he danced in the chorus of In Dahomey, sang patriotic songs in the streets during the South African War, and first went to Epsom on the day when Rock Sand won the Derby (1903). He worked at first with an Irish tipster, acting as his shouter to attract people, before deciding to go into business for himself. He then adopted the plumed headdress which made him more visible in a crowd. After hearing the religious revivalist Gypsy Daniels attracting crowds with his shout of I've got heaven, Monolulu adopted his own slogan I've gotta horse, sometimes alternating with Black man for luck. Travelling round the country, he worked the local markets selling anything from tawdries to quack remedies, and, along the way, calling in at racing stables, gradually amassing the knowledge which helped him as a tipster.
Never one to stay long in one place, Monolulu then went to St Petersburg with an American negro show, then on to Moscow, where he attended race meetings and claimed to have met the tsar. He went to Germany, a country which he did not like, admitting that as a teetotaller he found it difficult to make friends with the beer-drinking population. He joined a circus; he went to Italy; he crossed into southern France, then Switzerland, then Belgium. He was in Königsberg when the First World War broke out, and was sent along with other British people to the prison camp at Ruhleben, ironically located on a racecourse near Berlin. Freed, he travelled to Denmark, from where he made his way back to London in 1919.
Monolulu's big success came in 1920 when he tipped Spion Kop to win the Derby. He put £25 of his own money on the horse which won at 20:1, his winnings augmented by gifts from grateful punters. Ten years later he had a similar success with Blenheim, but he was robbed on the way home and arrived at his Camden Town lodgings to admit to his expectant wife, who had heard the good news on the radio, that he had only threepence to his name. Blessed with a loud voice and a large vocabulary, Monolulu was frequently in court for using bad language, or for fortune-telling, but he was always able somehow to pay his fines and never saw the inside of a prison. He seems generally to have maintained friendly relationships with the police and magistrates, who knew him well.
According to his own account, Monolulu was married six times though formal evidence can be located for only three. He referred to the first marriage taking place in 1902 in a Jewish ceremony in Moscow. His wife was taken away by the police, and a year later he married a German girl in a Catholic ceremony. She left him and was subsequently killed in a car accident. He recounted that he then met another German girl, whom he brought to England. They married at Lambeth and had a son, but she died three years after the marriage. This account is consistent with the certificate for his marriage on 27 December 1908 at Holy Trinity, Lambeth, to Elizabeth (18891911), daughter of Andreas Arnold, master bricklayer (private information, John Pearson). On the marriage certificate he was recorded as being a bachelor, a description that he also adopted at the time of his second verifiable marriage, on 27 June 1922 at St Martin's register office, London, to Rhoda Mary (b. 1903), daughter of Charles Thomas Silver Carley, a contractor's carman (private information, John Pearson). This marriage was dissolved, in April 1929, on the ground of his wife's adultery, their son and daughter remaining with their mother. He next married, at St Pancras register office on 21 August 1931, Nellie Amelia (b. 1908/9) of Edmonton, the daughter of Edward Adkins, a helmet maker. This wedding attracted more publicity than the earlier ones, for by now Monolulu was a well-known figure throughout Britain. They had two sons. This marriage also broke down. In the early 1950s he was romantically associated with an Austrian, who was working as a governess in London.
Monolulu's colourful persona and his way with words brought him before the microphone and the ciné camera on many occasions. On 6 June 1936 the BBC invited him for the 100th performance of the radio programme Saturday Magazine; he was in In Town Tonight in 1938; he was on TV in Picture Page in October 1936; he appeared with Doris Hare in the popular radio show Shipmates Ashore at the Merchant Navy Club during the Second World War, and in Navy Mixture with Bonar Colleano and Benny Lee. He filmed in Ireland on The Sport of Kings (1931) with Leslie Henson, and on Wings of the Morning (1937), and made a nuisance of himself during the Irish elections by offering to tip the winners. He was a guest at a Foyle's literary lunch at Grosvenor House, where he introduced the speakers.
A handsome and well-built figure, Monolulu was inevitably brought by his presence at the sport of kings into contact with royalty, the Aga Khan, and peers of the realm, as well as with the common man eager to venture a bob each way. Money flowed into his pockets and out again nearly as fast, for on several occasions he was robbed as he made his way home, or beaten up by gangs of toughs maddened by their inability to find the money hidden within his clothes.
When Monolulu arrived in New York on 11 September 1951 for the fight between Ray Robinson and Randolph Turpin, the New York Times described this 6-ft Ethiopian in his plumes and red jacket adorned with green shamrock, star of David … round his neck a lion's claw, a real horseshoe, and binoculars (12 Sept 1951, 38, col. 4). The Ethiopian embassy, on the other hand, put out a notice saying that he was not a prince (New York Times, 15 Sept 1951, 9, col. 5). Monolulu collapsed at Epsom just before the Derby in June 1964 and was taken to Epsom District Hospital. He revived, but was unwell in October that year and died in the Middlesex Hospital, London, on 15 February 1965. His colourful jackets are preserved in the National Racing Museum. He was commemorated by two public houses, the Prince Monolulu in the West End, and The Abyssinian in Hornsey, north London, whose sign shows him in his finery, holding up a race card.
S. H. White, I gotta horse: the autobiography of Ras Prince Monolulu as told to Sidney H. White (1950) · private information (2008) [J. Pearson] · New York Times (12 Sept 1951), p. 38, col. 4 · New York Times (15 Sept 1951), p. 9, col. 5 · New York Times (16 Feb 1965), p. 28, cols. 46 · The Times (24 April 1929), 5b; (16 Sept 1935), 9a; (17 Sept 1935), 16c; (24 Sept 1935), 11c; (4 June 1964), 8g; (15 Feb 1965), 10b · m. certs. [1908, 1922, 1931]
G. Woodbine, photograph, 1931, National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford; repro. in Daily Herald · K. Pollak, bromide print, 1948, NPG [see illus.] · photographs, repro. in White, I gotta horse