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R. C. (Rudolf Chambers) Lehmann.

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was always called. He was stationed in a moored boat at the
finish, but there were then no posts on either bank by which
he could take his line. He had to judge this as best he could.
In the following year, the two Presidents had finishing posts



FAMOUS CREWS AND MEMORABLE RACES

fixed and there they remain to this day. After the race
was over nobody knew which crew had won. The Umpire,
Mr. Justice Chitty, was waiting on the Umpire's steamer, but
as Phelps did not come aboard he had to hurry back to his
duties in London, leaving word, that Phelps was to come and
see him later on in his Court. When Phelps arrived there,
he was immediately questioned as to the result of the race.
For answer he placed the two palms of his hands together,
and, moving them slightly backwards and forwards, said,
" They were going like this, sir ; I couldn't separate them."
The result of the race, therefore, was given as a dead heat.
Mr. Justice Chitty, himself, told me this part of the story
some years afterwards. Mr. C. Gurdon, who rowed No. 6 in
the Cambridge crew of that year, has given me a precisely
similar account of what Phelps said before he went up to
London to see the Umpire. " I remember," he writes,
" directly after the race, as soon as we had got our boat out of
the water, getting a waterman to row some one else (I forget
now whom) and myself to look for Phelps and finding him
sitting in his boat moored opposite The Ship, and he curiously
enough gave us exactly the same verdict (except that I think
he used the word ' divide * instead of ' separate '), with the
same motion of his hands."

Now for the broken oar. A good many years afterwards
I had occasion to write to Mr. T. C. Edwards-Moss, and I
asked him to give me the account of the accident. This is
the letter I received from him in reply.

" Cowles' oar was one that he had used for some weeks
before the race, and one day during practice at Oxford we
had run into a buoy, and the back of Cowles 1 blade had hit it
full. When the leather was removed we found the mark of
an old crack halfway through the oar. In the race a steamer
crossed the boats above Barnes Bridge and threw up a sudden
wash, which caught Cowles' blade just as he was beginning a
stroke, and this completed the fracture. The oar was broken
in two at the button, and only held together by the leather.
Cowles tried to get the two pieces apart but could not manage
Q



226 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

it, and for the remainder of the race, having pulled in his oar,
rowed with one hand on the button and the handle dangling
in the water over the side of the boat. The accident may
very possibly have had the appearance of a crab from the
steamers, as it would not have been noticed until after the
fracture had occurred and the blade had got caught in the
water. If the oar had not been cracked before, no breakage
would have occurred ; but when the leather was taken off it
was quite easy to see where the old crack ended and the new
one began, the latter being caused, like the former, by a blow
on the back of the blade."

On the strength of this I wrote for one of the evening
papers in 1894 an article, in which the following passage
occurred : " Against this [i.e. the heavy swell caused by the
tug or launch], Cowles, the Oxford bow, caught his oar, and
as it subsequently turned out, snapped it, the broken pieces
being merely held together by the leather."

I did not, however, mention Mr. Edwards-Moss's letter
as my authority for making the above statement. On reading
this article Mr. C. Gurdon, who at the time knew nothing about
Mr. Edwards-Moss's letter, wrote to me contesting the state-
ment I had made as to the condition of Cowles' oar : " The
oar in question," he said, "was brought on to the Conservancy
launch, which was conveying the two crews back to Putney
after the race, and the leather was there cut off in order that
the extent of the damage to the oar might be ascertained.
It was then seen that there was a crack at the back of the oar,
just below the button, stretching across the loom at right
angles to the length of the oar. This crack was, so far as my
recollection serves me, from one-eighth to a quarter of an
inch in depth, and ended in another longitudinal crack of
from I J inches to 2 inches in length. The longitudinal crack
was not in the first instance apparent, but became visible when
the oar was pressed or bent in such a manner as to open the
crack which I have first described." Mr. Gurdon's evidence,
therefore, goes to show that the oar was not broken in two, but
that, on the contrary, the damage was comparatively slight.



FAMOUS CREWS AND MEMORABLE RACES 227

These two statements result in a direct conflict of testimony
with regard to the nature of the damage caused to the oar.
Unfortunately Mr. Edwards-Moss had died before this, to the
deep regret of all who knew him. His authority could no
longer be appealed to, and under the circumstances it was
useless to pursue the controversy. Probably the oar was not
broken in two so as to be held together merely by the leather.
Mr. Gurdon thinks that the oar was in a condition to bear the
pressure of a stroke in the water. It is plain, however, that
such a crack as is described by Mr. Gurdon, though it might
not entirely impair the oar for work in the water, would yet
be seriously felt by the oarsman during the movements of the
recovery and the feather, and might cause a strong appre-
hension in his mind as to the condition of his oar. He would
not be able to realise, at once, that the oar, which he felt to be
weakened, would adequately bear the strain of a stroke, and
the strange manoeuvres which we witnessed from the steamer
would thus be accounted for.



CHAPTER XXII

FAMOUS CREWS AND MEMORABLE RACES

(continued)

The Three University Boat Races won after Barnes Bridge, 1886, 1896, 1901

IN one sense of course every University boat-race is won after
Barnes, for the judges' flag does not fall until the Ship at
Mortlake has been passed. I use my heading, however, in a
peculiar sense, well known to rowing men, and I indicate by
it a race in which a crew that had fallen behind and was
apparently defeated at Barnes Bridge has made up its lee
way from that point and has passed the post first. It is very
generally supposed that the crew which passes first through
Barnes Bridge must win. The annals of the University boat-
race supply three exceptions to this rule. The first of these
occurred in 1886.

There had been four Oxford victories in succession from
1880 to 1883 inclusive. In 1884 Cambridge, stroked for the
first time by F. I. Pitman, had won, but they had been
defeated again in 1885. In 1886 Pitman was in his old
place. Neither of the crews met with any serious misfortune
during practice, though Oxford had considerable trouble
in finding a boat that would carry them properly. Finally
the London Rowing Club lent them a boat, and in this they
rowed the race. She was a large and roomy boat, and had great
advantage of carrying her crew well in rough water. The
Cambridge boat, on the other hand, was rather small for the
tideway. In smooth water she travelled with a surprising
pace, and did full justice to the rowing of the crew, but for a
stormy sea she was cut down too fine.

228



FAMOUS CREWS AND MEMORABLE RACES 229

On the day of the race under the conditions of weather
then prevailing, the wind was more or less astern of the crews
to Hammersmith, and the water up to that point was perfectly
smooth. After the crews had rounded the Hammersmith
bend they met the full force of the wind, and the water,
except just under the lee of the Surrey shore, was terribly
rough. Oxford had the Surrey station, Cambridge the
Middlesex.

Both crews started very fast. Travelling on a smooth
surface, and with no wind to impede them, they raced along
neck and neck to the old Soap Works at a stroke that rarely
fell below 38 to the minute. Hammersmith Bridge was then
undergoing repairs, and the scaffolding had left a space
through which two crews could just manage to pass abreast
without a collision. At this point the two crews were abreast,
and they went under the bridge dead level, a very remarkable
feat of steersmanship on the part of both coxswains. Soon
after Hammersmith Bridge, as I said, the crews had to meet
the full force of the wind, and the rate of stroke in both
necessarily began to drop, first to 35, then to 33, then to 32
and less. Oxford had the more sheltered station, and in any
case their boat made better weather of it, while Cambridge
were pounding along against the gusts and the waves that
every now and then, as I remember, broke over the back of
their bow man. Oxford were drawing away, and foot by foot
were adding to their lead. As the crews neared Barnes
Bridge the water became smoother, and Cambridge began to
quicken their stroke, at first without much effect.

At Barnes Bridge Oxford were clear, nay, there was nearly
a length of daylight between the boats. The Cambridge men
on the following steamers hung their heads in gloomy silence ;
the Oxford shouts rose louder and louder, and more and more
jubilant, for victory with such a lead and only four minutes left
for racing was an absolute certainty. And so the Oxford
crew, having taken the Cambridge water on the Middlesex
side, went sailing gaily along towards Mortlake unconscious
of their doom. As the Cambridge crew, however, passed



230 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

under the crowded railway bridge, Pitman nerved himself for
a desperate effort. He picked up his stroke, and, gallantly
backed up by his men, rowed twenty-one in the first half-
minute and forty in the full minute. The gap began to close
as though by magic ; in a few more strokes Cambridge would
bump their rivals. The Oxford coxswain became conscious
of his danger. He ought to have given way gradually so as
to get back to his own water. Instead of this he pulled his
left-hand rudder-string hard, and brought his boat almost
sheer athwart the tide. By the time he had straightened her
Cambridge were nearly level, and from this point, rowing with
renewed life, and conscious after all their dismal toil that victory
was within their grasp, they drew away from the shattered
Oxonians, and won the race by two-thirds of a length.

THE RACE OF 1896

The race of this year was in its main incidents a curiously
exact repetition of that which I have just described. Both
crews were strong and heavy, and displayed a high average of
joint style and merit. The water in the first reach and,
indeed, all the way to Chiswick was very rough. The Surrey
station, in which Cambridge rowed, had, on account of the wind,
a more than ordinary advantage. With regard to the merits
of the two crews, I cannot do better than quote the words of
Mr. W. B. Woodgate written at the time. " The wind and
water were enough to knock most crews out of form in half a
mile ; and yet, in the two crews, style was maintained to the
end no going to pieces, no rowing short. In the last minute
Cambridge were twice buried in spray from rollers which
struck the after stroke-side rowlocks, and which smothered
the looms of the oars on that side to an extent to check
recovery for the instant. Except for this, the losers, as well
as the winners, might have been paddling on parade from
the start, so far as level action was concerned. . . . The
Oxford stroke was voted and published short as compared to
that of Cambridge. Yet, in the race, this so-called ' shorter '



FAMOUS CREWS AND MEMORABLE RACES 231

stroke held its own from the outside station in the worst of
the wind ; doing some one and a half (average of) strokes per
minute fewer than the Cambridge men did during the first
two-thirds of the course. This fact shows that eyesight was
at fault when it measured the Oxford reach as the shorter of
the two not that Cambridge were short : far from it. Why
the Oxford stroke had more propelling power, stroke for
stroke, than that of Cambridge seems to be this : Oxford had
rather more grip of the ' beginning ' ; Cambridge rather
' felt ' the water before they threw their full force on to the
oar. On the other hand, Oxford had more of a 'drive' at
the instant of catching the water, and so got well hold of the
boat before she began to slip away. If a light boat is not
caught sharp at the beginning of the stroke, much of her
resistance is distributed, thereby lessening the effect of the
stroke. Slow burning powders are well enough for heavy
missiles ; for pellets a quick propulsion is needed."

I had coached the Oxford crew during their practice at
Putney, and I saw the race from the Umpire's launch. I
prefer, however, to give a description of it which is contained
in a letter written by the late Ernest Balfour, who rowed No.
5 in the winning Oxford crew. The letter has been printed
in a little " Life of Ernest Balfour," written by the Bishop of
Stepney, by whose kind permission I am enabled to reproduce
it here.

" Magnolia Cottage, Shaldon. April 3, 1896.

" Now I must tell you all about the race. ... On Friday
night Fred came and sang to us, which made it very jolly,
and we didn't ponder too much on the morrow after all. On
Saturday morning we breakfasted a quarter of an hour earlier
than usual, and went out for our preliminary row at about
ten o'clock.

" The morning was nice and fine, but a little gusty. We
went particularly well in our morning row, and pleased our
coaches very much. We went back to the house in hansoms,
and sat down for a chop and some jelly and a glass of port
wine at eleven o'clock.



\



THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

" Shortly after this Uncle Robert and Fred arrived, and I
was able to give them some lunch. In a very short time we
had to start for the river, and just before going I got your
wire asking about the weather, and wishing us good luck.
We had to go down back streets, as Putney High Street was
packed with people, and so we did not pass the post-office ;
but Fred said he would see that the wire was sent.

" Meanwhile the nice weather of the morning had gone,
and rain was descending in torrents, and a strong wind was
blowing from the west, so our chances just then did not look
very rosy, as we were supposed to be such a bad crew in
rough water ; however, we had a good deal of secret con-
fidence in ourselves. When we got to the river, I said
1 Good-bye ' to Uncle Robert and Fred, who went on to the
Oxford steamer, while I went off to change into shorts and
jersey at the Rowing Club House. The weather was just as
bad as it could well be, the wind blowing right from the
direction in which we were to row, and the river just a sea,
with waves so big that it seemed doubtful whether we
would not sink.

" As we were changing, Crum came into the dressing-room
and told us that he had lost the toss ; and the winning of the
toss, we knew, made a tremendous difference to one's chances
on such a day. However, it could not be helped, and
Cambridge of course chose the sheltered Surrey station, and
we had to go, more or less, on the exposed side. Cambridge
got their boat afloat a trifle after the advertised time, and
paddled off to their stake-boat ; and we followed a minute or
two later. The wind had gone down slightly, and it was not
raining so hard. We paddled off to our boat amidst the
cheers of our supporters, and in a few minutes we were ready
to start.

"Putney Bridge and both banks of the river were, of
course, black with people, and before starting I was able to
recognise Uncle Robert and Fred and several other friends
on the Oxford boat.

"Willan, the umpire, had on board his launch Lehmann







'



FAMOUS CREWS AND MEMORABLE RACES 233

and M'Lean, our two coaches, and Muttlebury and Trevor-
Jones, the two Cambridge coaches.

"Then Willan said, 'I shall ask once in a loud voice,
" Are you ready ? " and if I get no answer, I shall fire the
pistol.' Then we took off our sweaters and caps and scarves,
and got ready. We came forward on our slides, and he asked,
' Are you ready ? ' and then came the bang of the pistol, and
we were off !

"It was a splendid start, and we were both absolutely
level for the first few hundred yards. The water was pretty
rough, and we could not row a very fast stroke. The moment
we had started there came the most fearful roar on all the
steamers and right along the bank, and it was almost impos-
sible to hear our cox screaming at us, though he was only a
few feet off.

" We went off round Craven Point and up the Crab Tree
Reach very level ; but after passing Harrod's Stores we went
out rather too far across the stream, and Cambridge forged
ahead ; and just before Hammersmith Bridge we ran into an
awful storm of hail, which chilled our fingers horribly, and
made it very difficult to hold on to our oars. We shot
Hammersmith about a three-quarter length behind Cam-
bridge, and a little further on they drew clear of us. All the
way from here right up to the Flag Staff on the Duke of
Devonshire's meadows they had the advantage of the bend,
and were well ahead of us. We, however, were rowing steadily
on, and were going about two strokes a minute slower than
Cambridge. All the way up here from Hammersmith there
were steam barges and vessels of all sorts which had been
saving up their steam, and as we came into view they set up
a perfectly deafening toot-toot- tooing which nearly cracked
the drums of our ears. As we came into the straight for
Barnes, we quickened up the stroke, and very gradually began
to lessen the gap between us, until, as we shot Barnes Bridge,
they were not more than a good three-quarters of a length
ahead of us. Well ! I had heard that only once before had
the boat which was behind at Barnes passed the winning-post



234 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

first, so I thought that if we were going to win this race we
had better begin very soon to put on a spurt.

"All the way over the course I was able to see Rudie
Lehmann's anxious face fixed on us (he was in the umpire's
launch just astern). And now began a tremendous struggle.
We were blown, but still felt that we had a lot more left in
us, and Cambridge had been going for all they were worth
for the last mile ; and now Gold quickened the stroke, and
we were quite fit enough to back him up well. We raised
the stroke to thirty-seven, and I could just hear our cox say,
above the awful yelling and cheering along the banks and
everywhere, that we were coming up fast. We kept up the
fast stroke, and presently we heard our bow, de Knoop,
scream, * I can see their stern,' next Three yelled out the
same, and in a few strokes I could see it myself. Then our
cox, who all through had steered magnificently, screamed,
1 Now, as hard as you can twenty strokes ! ' and we proceeded
to ' dig them in ' ; and Cambridge simply seemed to stand
still, while in twenty strokes we had passed them, and were
half a length ahead ! !

" For the last minute we had come into the most awfully
rough water, and great big waves were breaking into the boat
threatening to swamp her, and our cox adjured us to ' feather
high,' or we might hit our oars on a wave while coming forward
and catch crabs.

" We struggled on to the finish after this, still keeping our
lead, and in another three or four hundred yards we had
passed the winning-post two-fifths of a length ahead.

" We were all very done, but not so much so as Cambridge,
and in a very few minutes we were all able to paddle up to
the Ibis Rowing Club House and get out of our boat. We
trotted upstairs and got our rub-down, and in a few minutes
our dry clothes were brought from the launch, and the
coaches came on shore and rubbed our hands, which were
very numb.

"It was a most extraordinary scene. P and many

old Blues came rushing in, far too hoarse with shouting to



FAMOUS CREWS AND MEMORABLE RACES 235

speak, with tears running down their cheeks, and embraced
us all round, and then retired to corners of the room, where
they sobbed out their ecstatic joy on one another's shoulders.

" When we had recovered a bit, we lent a hand to the
Cambridge fellows, who had come in meanwhile. I was
never so sorry for any one as for these poor chaps, who
were all as pale as ghosts, having rowed most pluckily.
They were simply frightfully ' sick/ as they fully expected to
win by many lengths, and they were hopelessly 'sick,' of
course.

" Soon we came out and went on board our launch.
Whenever we were seen coming out, all the steamers started
their toot-tooing again, and every one cheered and shouted
like mad. It was the most extraordinary sight I ever saw.

" We went off down the river to the London Rowing Club
House, and were cheered vociferously all the way. Then,
having changed, we marched off up to our house again,
where we had a proper lunch.

" Uncle Robert and Fred and Charlie G all came up

afterwards and helped me with my packing, and uncle insisted
on sounding me, and expressed himself quite satisfied.

" We had a most successful dinner in the evening, and
afterwards we went along to the Isthmian, where there were
a great number of Oxford men ; and soon Charlie and Fred
came in, and they and Crum and I went and had supper in
the Club.

"Next day (Sunday) I felt very slack and * pulled out.'
Unconsciously one's muscles are more strained during the
race than ever before in training ; and I was not very
energetic, but felt perfectly well and fit. In the evening I
went down to Oxford House, and Fred introduced me to all
his friends there ; and next day he took me to see a poor
chap who is very ill of consumption, and who is very grateful
for a visit from any one. He was dreadfully thin and worn,
but seemed glad to see us. Then we went off to Stepney,
where Fred had to look after a case for the C.O.S. . . .

" I was not able to stay another night at Oxford House,



236 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

as I had to go to Blue Monday dinner. I was very much
honoured in being asked. It is held every year on the
Monday after the boat-race ; and when once you have been
invited, you may always go again, never waiting to be asked.
You call every one at table by their nicknames, and after
dinner you play all sorts of games like ' Cockfighting/ hold-
ing a lighted candle in one hand, while you sit on a cham-
pagne bottle with just one heel on the ground, and try to light
another candle with the first one without tumbling over on to
the floor. It was great fun. The guests are all old Blues,
and only about one from the Oxford and Cambridge crews is
asked. . . .

" Yesterday morning I started down here, so I have been
very busy since the great race day. There are a lot of nice
fellows here, and now I hope to get in a fortnight's good
solid work. . . .

" ERNEST "

THE RACE OF 1901

In 1899 Cambridge had turned the tide of victory, which,
for the second time in the history of the race, had given to
Oxford nine successive races. Both in 1899 and in 1900 the
Cambridge crew had been of very high class. Indeed, in
1900 they had won by more than a minute. In 1901,
however, many of the best men of the previous two years
had gone down, and, though the new material was by no
means bad, the crew had not been able during their practice
to attain to any high degree of regularity and uniformity.
They had strength, pluck, and a considerable amount of
skill, but they were not welded together. Oxford, on the
other hand, after their terrible defeat of the previous year,
had set steadily to work to retrieve their fortune. In
Culme-Seymour they had discovered a very excellent stroke,
and, though at first they did not seem to be a particularly
brilliant combination, they showed themselves during practice
to be possessed of the invaluable qualities of doggedness and



FAMOUS CREWS AND MEMORABLE RACES 237

endurance. They improved very rapidly under careful coach-
ing towards the end of their practice.

On the day of the race a violent gale was blowing from
the south-west, i.e. from the Surrey shore. The wind was
across in the first reach, and after Hammersmith it was
almost a dead noser. The Surrey station, therefore, had
exceptional advantages. For two miles and a half, at least,
the crew which rowed on that station was sheltered from the
force of the gale. Even without a wind, the Surrey station
is nineteen times out of twenty the better of the two, for it
gives to a crew at a very critical period of the race the
advantage of rowing in the inside of the long curve that
extends from Harrod's almost up to Chiswick. Time and
again I have seen a crew gain a length on its Middlesex
rival over this curve.

When it was seen, therefore, that Cambridge had won the



Online LibraryR. C. (Rudolf Chambers) LehmannThe complete oarsman → online text (page 19 of 39)