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of this race given in Bell's Life it is stated that the Leander



8 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

Club had been in existence for eighteen or nineteen years,
and that by its rules it was limited to twenty-five members .
If, then, Bell's Life is to be trusted, we may place the founda-
tion of the club in 1818 or 1819. This, however, is the only
trace of anything approaching to contemporary evidence. I
may add to it a statement by Mr. H. T. Steward made in a
letter to me in 1905 : " W. N. Nicholson," he writes, " who
rowed in the Cambridge boat in this race (1837), could not
tell me anything about the date of the club's foundation ;
neither could Patrick Colquhoun, who was admitted to the
Temple in 1834, rowed for the Wingfields in 1836, and won
them in 1837. He must have been a good deal connected
with the Thames and rowing in those days, and he had,
moreover, been at Westminster School. Shepheard and
Layton, who rowed in the Leander crew in this 1837 race,
and with both of whom I was very intimate, could never tell
me anything about the origin and date of the club. Several
men who belonged to * The Shark ' (which very early in the
century was a prominent club), and who, if they were alive
now, would be about one hundred and twenty years old, told
me, some fifty years ago, when I asked them about the
Leander Club, that it was not going in their day, which, I
concluded at the time, ended about 1815. Another, an old
Cambridge man, who came to London after leaving Cam-
bridge in the year 1820, when he joined the 'Funny Club'
(all scullers), told me that the Leander Club was very strong
then. From this I concluded that the Leander Club must
have been started between 1815 and 1820, and this is borne
out by the reference to the club in the Bell's Life account of
the 1837 race."

Beyond this approximation it is, I am afraid, impossible
to go.

We can now summarise the results we have reached.

I. Before the year 1815 there existed in London an
amateur rowing club, "The Shark," from which, since it is
described as " prominent," we may infer the existence of
other rowing clubs.



HISTORY OF BOAT-RACING 9

2. The Leander Club was founded between 1815 and
1820, probably in 1818 or 1819.

3. College boat-racing was in existence at Oxford in 1815,
and probably some years before that.

4. College boat-racing was in existence at Cambridge in
1826, and probably for a year or two before that.

We may add to this that, according to Mr. Sherwood, " it
was at Eton that eight-oared rowing had its beginning ; at any
rate," he continues, "in 1 8 1 1 we find the school possessed of
a ten-oared boat, three eights, and two six-oars ; and it was
probably from Eton that eights first found their way to
Oxford." It is not stated whether these boats at Eton were
used for racing or merely for casual exercise. I surmise,
however, that races must have taken place in them from time
to time.

The records of Westminster School aquatics go back to
1813, when the school owned one boat, a six-oar, but there is
no mention of a race until 1816, in which year the boys in
their six-oar " beat the Temple six-oared boat (Mr. Church
stroke) in a race from Johnson's Dock to Westminster Bridge
by half a boat, the latter boat having been beat before."



CHAPTER II
THE EMANCIPATION OF THE AMATEUR

Early Professional Assistance Tom Egan's View The Two Universities and

Amateurism

ROWING men of the present day, who know little of
professional watermanship, for the very good reason
that, apart from a very small number of professional scullers,
it has no existence, may find it difficult to realise that when
amateur oarsmanship had its insignificant beginnings there
was a very large class of professional watermen who earned
their living, not, indeed, by rowing races for big stakes, but
by plying for hire on the Thames in their wherries. The
advice of men of their class, living as they did upon the water,
was naturally sought by the amateurs, and for many years,
in London at least, the professional exercised a great influence
as trainer or coxswain or trusted adviser upon the gentlemen
who followed the sport The Leander Club, for instance,
used to be steered by James Parish, and there is on the walls
of the club-house at Henley an old print of this famous
waterman, on which he is described as " seventeen years
coxswain to the Leander Club." He is arrayed in white
stockings, knee-breeches (green plush was, I believe, the
material), and a full-skirted " Brummagem " coat with a high
velvet collar and shoulder-badges. A double-breasted waist-
coat with heavy flaps and many buttons, and a tall white-silk
hat, which he is carrying in his hand, complete this elaborate
costume. I may mention parenthetically that the costume of
the oarsmen would, to our eyes, have been no less remarkable
than that of their coxswain. " There has always been," writes
Mr. Sherwood, in the book to which I have already referred,

10





,




JAMKS PARISH

SEVENTEEN YEARS' COXSWAIN TO THE I.EANDER CLUB




H <

I
SB

Si

H _:



THE EMANCIPATION OF THE AMATEUR 11

"a tradition that the early races [at Oxford] were rowed in
top hats. Fortunately, that tradition has been confirmed by
a lady, who is still alive, the sister of J. Swainson, who came
up to St. John's in 1815, and rowed in his College boat soon
after. We hoped to get more information from this lady, and
travelled some five hundred miles to see her, but she was
afraid of being carried away by her ' girlish enthusiasm,' and
would commit herself to no definite statement beyond the
high hat." Whatever may have been the case on the Isis,
it is quite certain that the top hat continued to be a part of
an amateur oarsman's costume for many years after the date
fixed by Mr. Sherwood's interview with Mr. Swainson's sister.
The Leander Club possesses an old print, representing the
race for the championship of the Thames, between Bob
Coombes and Charles Campbell, in 1846. The view is
taken below Hammersmith Bridge, but Coombes has already
gained a lead of four or five lengths. Immediately following
him come four four-oars and then three eights abreast (all
of them well ahead of the unfortunate Campbell), and con-
spicuous amongst these, on the Surrey side, with a large flag
flaunting behind the coxswain's seat, is the eight-oared cutter
of the Leander Club, manned by a crew, every one of whom
sports a black top hat. The coxswain's hat is also a tall one,
but it is white. The heads of the other crews are bare, but
their coxswains, too, are in top hats. From the special
insistence of the artist on the head-gear of the Leander
men, we may perhaps infer that at this date the hat, though
it was still de rigueur amongst coxswains, was not generally
worn by oarsmen was, in fact, a special little piece of
Leander "swagger."

Let me resume the consideration of the question of
professional assistance to amateurs. Even in very early
days it had become a vexed question. The controversy
raged at Oxford in 1823, and, as a consequence, there were
no " eights " in that year. " At the same time," says Mr.
Sherwood, "several eights were manned, Christ Church
refusing to put on because Stephen Davis, the boat-builder,



12 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

rowed for Brasenose and Isaac King in the Jesus boat."
The Christ Church men used to run on the bank along-
side the Brasenose boat, shouting, "No hired watermen."
After this year, however, watermen ceased to row in the
races.

For many years after this, however, professional coxswains
continued to exercise a large amount of authority over the
rowing of amateurs, not on the Isis or the Cam, but on
Metropolitan and other waters. In the Leander v. Oxford
match from Hambledon Lock to Henley Bridge in 1831
it was a match, by the way, for 200 a side Leander were
steered by W. Noulton, a well-known professional of those
days, while the Oxford coxswain was a boy named George
West, who afterwards became boatman to the O.U.B.C.
Noulton seems to have had a good deal to do with the
Leander victory. Bell's Life describes how "the Oxonians,
finding they were losing ground, made a desperate effort, and
succeeded in coming within a painter's length. . . . Noulton
seeing this (i.e. the imminent collapse of one member of the
Leander crew), and fearing the consequence, observing the
Oxford gentlemen fast approaching them, said that ' if
the Leanders * did not give it her it would be all up with
them.' They did give it her, and the consequence was they
became victorious by about two boat-lengths. The exertions
at the conclusion of the contest," it adds, " became lamentably
apparent. Captain Shaw fainted and had to be carried ashore.
Mr. Bayford was obliged to retire to bed instantly, so was
also one of the Oxford gentlemen." The victors, however,
had their reward, in addition to the 200 won in hard cash.
The race was rowed on a Saturday. " The London gentlemen
rowed to town on Tuesday, and were greeted on their way
with cheering and cannon. On arriving at Searle's &feu-de-joie
was fired." It reads like a salutation to the victors in the final
of the Association Cup.

In 1837 followed the Leander race against Cambridge,

* At this time, and, in fact, up to 1858, the Leander Club was composed
exclusively of Londoners, and had no connection with the two Universities.



THE EMANCIPATION OF THE AMATEUR 13

from Westminster to Putney, which was won by Cambridge
by seven seconds in the teeth of odds of seven to four offered
on Leander. The Rev. W. F. Macmichael in his " History
of the Boat-race" (Deighton, Bell, 1870), in speaking of this
race, says : " It was agreed at the wish of Leander that the
coxswains should be watermen. At this period it was the
custom on the London water to allow ' fouling/ that is, to let
one boat impede the other whenever it chose and was able to
do so. This of course made the office of coxswain one of
far greater importance than it is now ; and at this time there
were two London watermen, Parish and Noulton, who were
celebrated rivals in this part of a coxswain's work. As,
however, the object of the Cambridge men in challenging
was to discover which crew was best they made it an express
stipulation that no fouling was to be lawful." In the following
year a return match was rowed between the two clubs on the
same terms as before, and with the same coxswains. It
resulted, however, in a series of fouls, and, though Leander
came in first, the umpire decided it was " no match." I have
no doubt that this unfortunate result must have strengthened
the University men in their determination to keep clear of
professionals. I note that in 1840 they believed that they
had asserted the principles of amateurism as against pro-
fessionals beyond all cavil. Already in the previous year
Mr. J. C. Selwyn, the Cambridge umpire in the race against
Oxford, had said that the true way to make the umpire's
office unnecessary was to allow no waterman to have anything
to do with the matches, but to leave it all to gentlemen. He
did not wish, he added, to say a word against watermen,
but watermen's ways were not their ways, or watermen's
notions their notions. In 1840 Mr. Selwyn returned to the
charge in his speech after the boat-race dinner. He con-
gratulated the members of the Universities on the gentle-
manly and generous spirit in which their match had been
conducted. The principles, he said, which they always
maintained were first, that gentlemen should steer ; second
(which follows from the first), that fouling should be abolished ;



14 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

and last, not least, that victory should be its own reward.
These principles were now established, and this was a triumph
in which all present might share. So far Mr. Selwyn, who
doubtless had great reason for speaking so confidently. Not
only did these principles seem to be accepted by the two
University clubs, but in the previous year there had been
established at Henley a regatta, the committee of which had
laid down the following, amongst other rules, for its conduct :
"That every boat shall be steered by an amateur member
of the Club or Clubs entering for the Cup," and "that no
fouling be permitted."

Unfortunately Mr. Selwyn's exultation was a little pre-
mature. It was Cambridge that fell away from the standard
of excellence he had laid down. Although she had in Mr.
T. S. Egan a member of no common skill and experience,
ready and willing to help her, she preferred in 1849 to entrust
the management and control of her crew to Robert Coombes,
the celebrated professional sculler. If we may believe a
letter that appeared in BelVs Life, the foul that marred the
second boat-race in 1849 was in a large measure attributable
to the instructions given by Coombes to the Cambridge
coxswain. This professionalising on the part of Cambridge
led to a breach between the C.U.B.C. and Mr. Egan, and in
1852, being then on a visit to Oxford, he offered his services
as coach to the dark Blues. The offer was accepted, and the
Oxford crew, one of the finest ever put on the water by the
O.U.B.C., won the race against Cambridge by six lengths.
In a letter which afterwards appeared in Belts Life, Mr.
Egan defended his conduct in thus helping the opponents
of his own University. He puts the case for pure amateurism
so forcibly and well that I am impelled to set out an extract
from his eloquent plea

" Our feeling," he writes, " has always been that our
favourite science, rowing, ought to be the first object of
our love ; that the great object to be pursued, the chief end
of these great contests, is to exhibit to the world rowing in
perfection ; whatever, therefore, tended to lower style in



THE EMANCIPATION OF THE AMATEUR 15

rowing, or to diminish aught of the beauty and polish of the
perfect eight-oar was to be resisted and condemned. Hence
it follows that if at any time one's own University departed
from its old, tried, and acknowledged principles of gentlemen's
rowing, and took up another system prejudicial to the interests
of rowing, one's higher and nearer allegiance to rowing itself
should overrule the secondary duty and subordinate tie by
which one was bound to the University. And now, having
the opportunity afforded me, I make public statement of my
belief and my experience in rowing, especially in training
crews, entitles me to make it that the Universities did neither
wisely nor well in ever allowing watermen to touch the yoke-
lines of their match-boats. My conviction is that rowing has
suffered from their interference ; and, to speak more definitely,
eight-oar rowing necessarily declines from its high perfection
in the hands of a waterman. I never saw a crew trained by
one which exhibited that entire uniformity and machine-like
regularity of performance for which the eye looks at once in a
University crew, and which is the glory and delight of the
oarsman. We ought to be able to point to our match crews,
and challenge the world to produce anything so uniform in
motion, so polished in form, at once so speedy and so graceful,
as one of these picked eights of the gentle blood of England.
I speak not of mere lack of bodily training, endurance of
fatigue, etc., but of those higher excellences which we have a
right to look for in these crews, those highest beauties which
we used to see year by year developed in them. Holding
this belief, therefore, and being strengthened in my convictions
by every successive appearance of the system in practice,
I have felt that injury was done to rowing, whether by
Cambridge or Oxford was not the question injury was done ;
it ought and must be checked as far as possible. That school
of rowing which reverted back to the principle of gentleman's
rowing was the one to be supported, whether at Oxford or
Cambridge. To support that would be to bear public
testimony to the merit of that school, and to make its crew
victorious would add another proof to the many foregoing



16 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

that the old hereditary way of training crews was the good,
the right, the true, and the certainly successful way." *

To these knightly words every amateur of the present
will most heartily say Amen. They represent with complete
accuracy the principles by which we endeavour to guide our-
selves in the sport we love. They appear to have had an
entirely satisfactory effect at the time they were written.
Cambridge reverted to better methods, the quarrel between
them and Tom Egan was made up, and in 1854 he was not
only put in charge of the Cambridge crew, but was actually
made President of the C.U.B.C., though he had taken his
degree so far back as 1839. Since that time there has been
no professional control or coaching of University eights.f For
the college eight-oared races coaching by watermen has for
many years been prohibited by rule at both Universities. The
Oxford rule was passed originally in 1841, and now stands
on the books in this form : " That no crew be allowed to start
in the races which shall have employed any waterman in the
capacity of coach or trainer within three weeks of the first
race." The rule, we learn from Mr. Sherwood, was suspended
in 1871 on account of the difficulty experienced by small
colleges in finding amateur coaches, but it was restored
in 1874. It extends to fours and pairs and scullers. At

* It must not be supposed that Oxford had always been guiltless in this matter.
They had been trained by professionals in 1839, 1840, 1841, and 1846.

t Perhaps, however, I ought to qualify this statement. In 1857, when keel-
less boats were first used by the two University crews, Oxford employed Mat
Taylor, the inventor of the boat. The Oxford book, quoted by Macmichael,
says : "Taylor himself steered us during our training, not to instruct Oxford in
the art of rowing^ but to show us the proper way to send his boat along as quickly
as possible." The distinction, as Macmichael points out, is not easily grasped.
The Cambridge book for the same year says that " Oxford . . . began their
training a week before Cambridge under the guidance of the wily Matthew, who
was with them up to the day of the race " ; and the Field, in commenting on the
1858 race, which Oxford lost, remarks, " Last year the Oxford crew were trained
by Matthew Taylor, of Ouseburn, near Newcastle," and proceeds to wonder why
an amateur coach was substituted for him in 1858, since, though " c&teri s paribus,
the amateur has the best of the argument ... in our opinion, and as far as
we know Matthew Taylor has no equal amongst amateurs." The passage from
the Oxford book at any rate shows that the Oxford President felt that some
justification for the employment of a professional was necessary.



THE EMANCIPATION OF THE AMATEUR 17

Cambridge, curiously enough the rule stands in a permissive
and not in a prohibitive form. It enacts "that watermen be
allowed to coach members of college boats in tub pairs only
till within a fortnight of the first day of the races." In
practice, however, it is almost universally construed in a pro-
hibitive sense, and waterman-coaching even in tub pairs is
very rarely seen. At both Universities there exists a general
system of inter-collegiate coaching, the strong clubs lending
their help to the weaker ones. Outside the Universities pro-
fessional coaching, continued sporadically the Kingston R.C.
eight, in which I rowed at Henley in 1880, was coached, I
remember, by old Joe Sadler, not greatly to its advantage
but it has now completely died out in this country. The
recent rule of the Henley Stewards not to allow professional
coaching of crews entered for their Regatta only confirmed a
decision which every amateur club had laid down for itself
long before. I hope the time is not far distant when all
amateurs in every country will realise that, since rowing is a
recreation and not a business, it ought to be controlled only
by those who pursue it for pleasure, and not by those who
make money out of it. The real thing, after all is said and
done, is the game itself that and the spirit in which it is
played. Compared to that, victory or defeat in any particular
race is but a trifle.



CHAPTER III

THE EVOLUTION OF THE RACING SHIP
AND ITS OARS

Paracelsus Early Racing Boats Outriggers Keelless boats

AS oarsmanship increased in importance and in the number
of its votaries the opportunities for winning distinction
by its exercise grew more numerous. We have seen how the
College races at Oxford and Cambridge developed from
casual beginnings. In 1829 was rowed the first match
between the two Universities, and henceforward, at first
intermittently, but from 1856 annually, the two clubs have
contended against one another on the Thames. In 1839
Henley Regatta was established. It began in a small way
with only two events, the Grand Challenge Cup for eights
and the Town Cup for fours, and though the competitors for
the open event were at the outset drawn exclusively from the
Universities (Brasenose, Wadham, and the Etonian Club
from Oxford, and First Trinity, the winners, from Cambridge),
it soon began to attract other clubs, both from the metropolis
and the provinces. The keen competition thus engendered
raised the standard of oarsmanship throughout the country.
The University Clubs and the rest of them might be match-
less in their own localities, but at Henley they always ran
the risk of finding themselves defeated, and having a lesson
taught to them by some less celebrated competitor on the
possession of whose scalp they had confidently reckoned. I
do not suppose that the College crews entered at Henley in
1856 can have imagined that the Chester crew, who flopped
along in the first keelless boat, were going to defeat them.
They did, however ; and in the following year keelless boats
were universally used. I can imagine, too, how profoundly
surprised the two University Clubs must have been when the

18



EVOLUTION OF THE RACING SHIP 19

London Rowing Club appeared and won at Henley in 1857,
and in 1859 beat them both. As Mr. Woodgate says in his
Badminton book, "the foundation of the London Rowing Club
did more to raise the standard of amateur rowing than any-
thing in modern times." We may be certain that it was to
the existence of Henley Regatta and the consequent chance
of meeting and defeating the Universities that the foundation
of this great club and the early skill of its members were in
no small measure due.

Other regattas soon followed Henley. The Thames
Regatta, with its famous Gold Cup, flourished from 1843 to
1 849 ; and there were regattas at Erith and at Liverpool, at
which the Leander Club competed and was victorious between
the years 1845 and 1855. The Metropolitan Regatta started
its career in 1866, and still flourishes between Putney and
Hammersmith. Now every reach on the Thames and every
rowing centre throughout England to say nothing of Ireland's
numerous clubs have their regatta every year. And in
every European country, as in America, great clubs have
sprung up and follow the sport with enthusiasm. Have we
not seen the Grand Challenge Cup carried off to Belgium in
1906 and 1907 ?

As rowing thus became more widely spread, and as
competition grew in keenness, the quality of the craft in which
races were rowed gradually improved. The earliest racing
eights, with their gang-planks and their great breadth of
beam, cannot have been far removed from those of which
Paracelsus sings

" Over the sea our galleys went,
With cleaving prows in order brave,
To a speeding wind and a bounding wave,

A gallant armament :
Each bark built out of a forest tree,

Left leafy and rough as first it grew,
And nailed all over the gaping sides,
Within and without with black bull-hides,
Seethed in fat and suppled in flame,
To bear the playful billows' game :
So each good ship was rude to see,
Rude and bare to the outward view."



20 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

A glance at the frontispiece to Mr. Sherwood's book, in
which is depicted an eight-oar of the year 1817, will show
how " rude and bare to the outward view " was the racing boat
of those distant days. The races at Oxford ceased to start
in the Lock in 1825, but it was not until 1838 apparently that
the gang-plank was abandoned for eights, and not until after
1842 for fours. For many years, in any case, the boats
remained very rough in construction and appearance, as we
may see from illustrations of boats in 1831, 1833, and 1839
given by Mr. Sherwood though it must be admitted that there
is a distinct difference in smartness and the promise of speed
between the look of the eights of 1833 and that of their



Online LibraryR. C. (Rudolf Chambers) LehmannThe complete oarsman → online text (page 2 of 39)