R. C. (Rudolf Chambers) Lehmann.

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successors in 1839. Bell's Life, in describing the 1839 race
between Oxford and Cambridge, says : "The Oxonian boat
was built by King, of Oxford. She was 52 feet long, beauti-
fully constructed and tastefully nay, splendidly * turned
out.' She was painted white and blue, and pricked with
gold, having the arms of the University emblazoned on the
rudder, with the words ' Dominus Illuminatio Mea.' She was
named the fsis, and numbers of persons went to Roberts's
boathouse [at Westminster] to look at her. For the Cantabs,
Messrs. Searle, of Stangate, built a new boat, but they had
not sufficient time to complete her painting, and she had to be
launched with only a priming coat of lilac inside. Both boats
seem to have been models of perfect construction, and, as oak
cutters, had perhaps never been surpassed in lightness." Two
years afterwards we learn from the same authority that
" both boats were built by Messrs. Searle, and were exactly
alike in length (52 feet 7 inches), breadth, weight, and model,
the only difference being that the Oxonians had their boat
carvel built, viz. the edges of the planks being so brought
together as to rest on one another, thus giving a perfectly
smooth surface outside ; whilst the Cambridge boat was con-
structed on the old clinker-built plan, i.e. with the planks
overlapping each other."

The first revolutionary alteration in the construction of
boats was the attachment of outriggers to their sides. This


new method permitted a considerable reduction in beam, and
consequently in the dead weight of the craft. The innova-
tion was generally used at Oxford in 1846, but, as I have
already pointed out in a former book,* it had been creeping
in during the three previous years. In 1843 the University
College Eight, stroked by Fletcher Menzies, was fitted with
outriggers at stroke and bow, and the bump by which it dis-
placed Oriel from the headship of the river was generally
ascribed to the use of the new invention. In 1845 the
Oxford president's book, quoted by Mr. Sherwood, records
that, " for the Cambridge gentlemen " (I pause to notice the
almost startling politeness of the reference) " a boat had been
prepared by Messrs. Slade, termed an 'outrigger/ on a new
principle introduced by the Claspers of Newcastle, being
60 feet long and only 2, feet 10 inches wide." It is added
that they thought it unsafe to row in her with so little
practice. It is plain, therefore, that the beam had been
greatly reduced. In 1846 both the University crews used

The year 1856 is memorable in aquatic history for the
introduction of keelless boats, and from this year the rise
of the modern style of racing boat may be dated. The
first boat of this kind was built by the celebrated Mat
Taylor, a ship's carpenter of Newcastle, for the Chester
Rowing Club, who took her to Henley, and won the Grand
in her. In the following year these boats were used for the

* " Rowing " (The Isthmian Library).

f Outriggers were used on a sculling boat at Henley in 1845. Mr. T. B.
Bumpsted he is still, fortunately, alive amongst us had won the Diamonds in
1844. I n *845 he again entered, his craft being a wager-wherry. In the second
heat he was defeated by Mr. J. W. Conant, who sculled in an outrigger. BdVs
Life thus describes the race: "In a few strokes Mr. Conant led by over a
length, showing in an extraordinary manner the superiority of the outrigging boat
over the others, for such an advantage could not be accounted for in any other
way." Mr. Conant, however, came in last in the final heat, and the other two
competitors do not appear though this is nowhere definitely stated as a fact to
have used outriggers. "The result," says one account, "disappointed the
expectations of many, as Mr. Conant in his outrigger had been looked upon as
the likely winner." See Mr. H. T. Steward's "Records of Henley Royal


University boat-race. The Oxford boat (a Mat Taylor) is
described as being 55 feet long, and 25 inches broad, and as
"quite eclipsing in speed all boats turned out of late years
by Searle, or any Southern builder." Undoubtedly she must
have been a great change from the boats built by Searle for
the two University crews in 1854. These were 65 feet long,
the greatest measurement I have found recorded for any
racing boat. In very recent years, however, a length of
63 feet has more than once been attained. There is, in
Mr. Sherwood's book, a picture of the first keelless eight
introduced into Oxford Exeter College bought her in
1856, and went head in her in 1857 and from this it
may be seen that, in general appearance, this boat closely
resembled the racing eights we now use.

One more radical change, however, remains to be recorded,
viz. the introduction of sliding seats. Sliding had actually
been practised by professionals, and even by some amateurs
for a considerable time before the movable seat was invented.
As I have already recorded in my " Isthmian " book, Mr. R.
H. Labat informed me that so far back as 1870 he and his
colleagues of the Dublin University Rowing Club fitted their
rowing trousers with leather, greased their thwarts, and so
slid on them. It was in America that the sliding seat was
invented, and in the autumn of 1871 it was introduced into
England by a crew of Tyne-Side professionals, who had rowed
races in America in the summer of that year. In 1872, the
London Rowing Club Four used such seats in their June race
against the Atalanta Club, of New York, and in the Henley
Regatta of that year all the London Rowing Club boats, as
well as many of the other competing boats, were fitted with
the new invention. In 1873, both the University crews
adopted it, and the race was won in record time. Since
that time, the changes in construction have been few and
insignificant. The early slides had a "play" of 9 inches,
coming up to within 5 or 4 inches of the "work," i.e. from
a line drawn from the rowing thole straight across the boat.
In 1885 long slides began to come into use, and soon




afterwards they were universally adopted, the " play " being
increased to 15 or 16 inches, and the slide being brought
to a point level with the "work." Swivel rowlocks were
imported from America in 1876, and I myself rowed with
one in the following year. To scullers they are indispensable ;
but, though many foreign crews (not, however, the Germans)
use them, and some English crews have experimented with
them, it cannot be said that, in the opinion of the best
judges amongst English rowing men, they have hitherto
approved themselves as possessing sufficient advantages (at
any rate in eights) to counterbalance their obvious defects.
In general construction and appearance, inside and out, eights
are now much as they were more than thirty years ago, save
that the length over all has been increased from about 58 feet
to 62 feet or 63 feet.

In regard to oars and sculls, it must be remembered that
our early predecessors used heavy, square-loomed implements,
the button being a wooden knob. These gave place gradually
to lighter oars, and in 1856-57, when the keelless boat was
brought in, the pattern of the oars was round-loomed. The
blade in ancient days was a straight one. During the last
twenty years oars have been substantially improved, first by
Ayling's invention of a button which dispensed with long
nails driven into the wood precisely where the strain is
greatest, and, secondly, by the general adaptation of the
girder-principle to the shaft, thus securing a gain in light-
ness without the least diminution in strength. Grooved, or
girder oars, were first used in America. I brought a set of
them to this country in 1897, and some of us used them with
good effect in our rowing during the summer of that year.


Tristram's Oarsmanship Early Ideas of Style Casamajor's Criticisms in 1858

IN the preceding chapters I have attempted to trace the
origin and development of rowing as a sport for
amateurs, its gradual abandonment of professional assistance,
and the slow evolution of the modern racing ship from the
rough craft in which our ancestors rowed their matches. A
few words yet remain to be said as to the manner in which
the early heroes rowed, and as to the evolution of our existing
doctrines in/ regard to oarsmanhip. The task is not an easy
one, for the heroes themselves have long since rowed their
last course, and the records they have left of their ideas on
this subject are few and scattered. Indeed, the references
to style are, as will be seen, mainly incidental.

If we plunge back into the past even beyond the musty
files of Belts Life, we can learn from Mr. Swinburne how
Tristram of Lyonesse rowed

" Then Tristram girt him for an oarsman's place
And took his oar and smote, and toiled with might
In the east wind's full face and the strong sea's spite
Labouring ; and all the rowers rowed hard, but he
More mightily than any wearier three.
And Iseult watched him rowing with sinless eyes
That loved him but in holy girlish wise
For noble joy in his fair manliness
And trust and tender wonder ; none the less
She thought if God had given her grace to be
Man, and make war on danger of earth and sea,
Even such a man she would be, for his stroke
Was mightiest as the mightier water broke,
And in sheer measure like strong music drave
Clean through the wet weight of the wallowing wave ;


And as a tune before a great king played

For triumph was the tune their strong strokes made,

And sped the ship through with smooth strife of oars

Over the mid sea's grey foam-paven floors,

For all the loud breach of the waves at will.

So for an hour they fought the storm out still,

And the shorn foam spun from the blades, and high

The keel sprang from the wave-ridge, and the sky

Glared at them for a breath's space through the rain,

Then the bows with a sharp shock plunged again

Down, and the sea clashed at them, and so rose

The bright stem like one panting from swift blows,

And as a swimmer's joyous beaten head

Rears itself laughing, so in that sharp stead

The light ship lifted her long quivering bows

As might the man his buffeted strong brows

Out of the wave -breach ; for with one stroke yet

Went all men's oars together, strongly set

As to loud music, and with hearts uplift

They smote their strong way through the drench and drift. "

And we learn, too, that when the rowing was done

" Tristram being athirst with toil now spake,
Saying, * Iseult, for all dear love's labour's sake
Give me to drink ' "

and we know what came of that fatal draught with its ancient
justification of all the canons that oarsmen have set against
self-indulgence in the matter of drinking.

I pass now from Tristram to Bell's Life and others.

There must have been even in the early days of boat-
racing a distinctive style which was considered the best for
the purpose of ensuring victory. The big, roomy cutters used
by the oarsmen no doubt precluded them from those niceties
of form and watermanship so important to those who propel
the frail pieces of refined cabinet-work that do duty as racing
ships at the present day but even in cutters the length of
the stroke and the due use of the body-weight and the leg-
power must have counted for very much. I cannot, however,
find any reference to style earlier than 1836, when the two
Universities rowed for the second time against one another,
and for the first time on the Metropolitan water. Bell's Life,
in commenting on the race, speaks very contemptuously of


the rowing in both crews: "We cannot," writes the critic,
"say much in praise of the rowing of either party. Their
style is bad for the Thames, whatever it may be for Cam-
bridge and Oxford waters. . . . We saw the Cambridge
[the winners] when they first went out after their arrival in
London, and remarked upon their style of rowing as being
nothing like that of the crack men of the Thames. They
invariably begin to row where the London men leave off,
and appear to have no notion of bending forward." It is
plain from this that the standard style amongst Londoners
was one in which the men swung their bodies, and thus by the
use of their weight secured a hard beginning to their stroke.
This they could not have done without a " kick " off the
stretcher. In these essentials their style was the orthodox
style of later years, and even of the present day. The
University men, on the other hand, had no swing, and there-
fore no real beginning. All they apparently did was to lug
with their arms towards the finish of the stroke. It must be
remembered that in the only two races which had hitherto
been rowed between the crack men of the Thames and
University men (the Leander matches against Christ Church
in 1828, and against Oxford in 1831) the former had
triumphed. Cambridge seem to have taken the criticism of
the experts to heart and mended their style, for in 1837,
as has been already recorded, they beat Leander in an eight-
oared match from Westminster to Putney.

In the next three races against Oxford, those of 1839,
'40, and '41, they were also victorious. Bells Life says of
the 1839 race: "Their [the Oxonians'] style is not to our
liking. The Cambridge men pulled like a piece of mechanism,
so beautifully did they work together. Their stroke was
really terrific ; one of the severest we ever saw. It was as
long as the men could stretch forward, and at the same time
tremendously swift." Jones, a London waterman, had coached
Oxford for this race. Cambridge had been looked after by
T. S. Egan, their coxswain. I gather from Bells comment
that Cambridge had by this time not only mastered the


London style, but had improved upon it. Oxford were not
long in following suit. In 1841, we learn from Mr. Sherwood,
Fletcher Menzies, of University College, " introduced the long
stroke with the catch at the beginning," and in 1842, as
stroke of the Oxford crew, with his brother at No. 2, and the
famous Arthur Shadwell as coxswain, he turned the tables
on Cambridge in a race from Westminster to Putney. Mr.
Shadwell, who had himself been a Cambridge undergraduate
before he migrated to Balliol, was not merely a coxswain,
but he afterwards became a coach of great renown, playing
at Oxford the part played by Egan at Cambridge. From
1842 onward we may assume that sound theories of rowing
style were firmly rooted in both the Universities.

The first mention I can find of a steady swing is
in 1849. The account of the first University race of that
year, given in the Cambridge book, states that the Oxford
stroke was too fast for a long course, and that the Oxford men
wanted the steady swing of Cambridge. This race was won
by Cambridge. The second race of 1 849 was won by Oxford,
whose President in commenting upon it says of the Cambridge
crew : " Their style of rowing was very different to that of
their Easter crew, much quicker, not so far back, but somewhat
short. The Oxford crew," he adds, " rowed a slower stroke
than at Easter." This race was decided on a foul caused by
an inexcusable manoeuvre on the part of the Cambridge
coxswain. He attempted to cross in front of Oxford in order
to take the shore arch of Hammersmith Bridge, but, not being
clear, was bumped. Oxford stopped rowing. Cambridge
immediately went on and had secured three lengths of lead
before Oxford started again. At the finish the nose of the
Oxford boat was almost amidships with the Cambridge boat.
The Umpire awarded the race to Oxford, who appear in any
case to have been, by general consent, the better crew of
the two.

For 1852 we have Egan's remarkable letter, which I have
already quoted in Chapter II. Though it refers to style only
in general terms, it shows that the chief points of amateur


form, the " entire uniformity," the " machine-like regularity,"
the polish of form and the grace were well recognised and
firmly established.

In 1857 there is a curious entry in regard to style in the
Oxford President's book, part of which, in reference to the
employment of Mat Taylor as coach, I have given in the note
to p. 1 6. The following additional reason is given for this
professional coaching : " As the oars were all the same length
(12 feet 7 inches) and the rowlocks on a different level to the
old-fashioned boats, the old style of high feathering and pulling
out hard at the end was of no use" The italics are mine. In
face of the evidence I have already cited I cannot believe that
this is an accurate representation of the style previous to

The remarks of the Field on the race of 1858 (part of them
I have quoted on a previous page) are interesting, both
because they were written by Mr. Casamajor, the celebrated
oarsman and sculler of the London Rowing Club, then in the
first flush of t its fame, and because they set out in some
detail the points of a good rowing style : " Nothing," says
Mr. Casamajor, "could be finer than Mr. Thorley's stroke
[not this year, but the year before, in the Oxford crew],
which was founded exactly upon the Clasper style, with the
addition of the elegant fall of the shoulders and close manage-
ment of the elbows, which is only seen to perfection among
gentlemen amateurs. Again, not only was the stroke good
in itself, being long, powerful, well-pulled through, and clean -
feathered, but it was exactly followed throughout the boat, so
that the most critical eye would fail in detecting the slightest
fault in time, the consequence of which was that Taylor's
boat had full justice done her, and travelled to perfection.
Why all this has been changed this year we are at a loss to
know. . . . Mr. Hall [the Cambridge stroke] rowed an
excellent stroke, not nearly so high on the feather as
Mr. Snow's of last year, but still partaking slightly of the
* soaring' style. It was, however, extremely well-pulled
through, and finished very clean."


This extract enables us to judge how admirably sound
and how clearly defined were the rowing principles held by the
London Rowing Club, which had begun its brilliant career in
1857 by defeating the Oxford crew at Henley Regatta.

Beyond this point it is unnecessary, I think, to pursue my
investigations into the history of rowing style, for from this
time onward its principles have varied but little, though, to be
sure, all amateur clubs have not at all times been able to
demonstrate them in practice, however ardently they may
have adhered to them in theory. The chief, in fact the only,
modifications introduced in recent years will be considered
in detail when we come to the discussion of sliding-seat




Elementary conditions of the problem The beginning and what follows after

1DO not propose in this treatise to develop any new
theory of oarsmanship. The principles on which the art
is founded were laid down long ago, and nothing that I have
either done myself, or have seen others do in recent years, has
given me any reason for abandoning my faith in them. It is
not in regard to these principles that men differ, but rather in
the relative importance to be assigned to them and in the
manner of their application and even in these points it will
often appear that the differences are rather theoretical than
substantial. Oarsmanship is not a matter that every genera-
tion can invent de novo for itself, though not a few generations
have proudly supposed themselves to have performed this
feat. For my own part I am confident that, properly under-
stood, the theory and the practice which produced good and
speedy crews ten, fifteen, twenty, or even thirty years ago
will avail to produce similar crews at the present day. I fear,
therefore, that I shall be forced to disappoint those who
expect to find anything revolutionary in this book.

I do propose, however, to approach my subject on paper
in a manner differing, perhaps, from that which is ordinarily
used, differing certainly from that which, in common with
others, I should have to use if I had, say, beginners before me



in a tub-pair on the water. There, in view of the exigencies
of time, I should have to content myself with enforcing upon
them certain movements and processes without being able to
explain to them fully why these are necessary. They would
have to accept my dogmas by faith rather than by reason.
Having in view their eventual oarsmanship in a racing ship I
should have to insist on various points connected with " begin-
ning," " finish," " recovery," " turn of the wrists," " quickness of
the hands," and so forth, which they might in their heavy tub-
pair feel inclined to consider as absurdly pedantic and exagge-
rated. Here, however, I shall introduce them to the art in a
different way. I shall endeavour, first of all, to expound to
them not only the principles of light ship rowing, but also the
practical reasons which have brought oarsmen to lay down these
principles. If I can carry them with me during this discussion
I shall have prepared their minds for accepting my teaching
as to the best elementary methods for conducting the bodily
movements which will give practical effect to our theories.

My subject, then, will be the propulsion of a racing boat
by means of oars, and I shall take as my standard an eight-
oared crew. The essential differences between eight-oared
and four-oared and pair-oared rowing are slight, and they can
be discussed later on. Sculling will be discussed in a separate
chapter by Mr. F. S. Kelly, that master of the art.

Now, let us first see what it is that we are required to do,
and what are the elementary conditions of our problem. I
shall deal with these questions here in general terms, and
shall postpone details to a later chapter. The problem,
broadly stated, is to propel a certain kind of craft at its
fastest possible pace through the water by the movement of
human bodies applying their weight and strength by means
of oars to this propulsion. The conditions may be stated as
follows :

(i) The point at which the oar is inserted in order to
create propulsive pressure is itself a yielding point, being
composed of water. An oar is a lever of the second order,
and the fulcrum is the water.


(2) This yielding pressure-point in addition recedes as
soon as the craft begins to move, i.e. as soon as the force
applied begins to take effect, and its pace of recession in-
creases as the pace of the craft increases.

(3) The craft itself is highly unstable. It has no keel,
and would turn over immediately if the oars, by which it is
balanced, were removed.

(4) This craft, with her seats, stretchers, riggers, etc.,
weighs about 240 to 250 Ibs. The weight of the machinery
she has to carry the crew, the coxswain, and the oars is
not usually far short of 14 cwt.

In reference to floating capacity this statement is, of
course, inaccurate. To estimate that you would have to take
on the one side the mere shell and transfer to the cargo side
the riggers and all other fittings. Moreover, in an estimate
of the weight of machinery which can be applied to create
propulsion, the coxswain ought not to count. For this
estimate he is, if I may say so with all respect, mere

In short, you are to move at the utmost pace which its
machinery will produce a light, frail, and unstable construction
heavily loaded ; and you are to move it through a resisting
medium by means of pressure applied to a yielding and
rapidly receding point. This is the problem which confronts
the oarsman. How shall he best solve it ?

I will begin with an illustration. Let me ask you to
imagine yourself opposite to a spoked wheel so arranged as
to be capable of revolving freely on its axis in the air. To
this wheel you are to impart its rotatory motion by striking
the spokes with a stick. There is no difficulty about the
first blow. You can insert your stick with deliberation and
proceed to get pace on your wheel. When, however, the
wheel has begun to move rapidly your process must change.
The slow deliberate insertion of the stick would stop the
pace of the wheel, even if it did not cause the stick to be

Online LibraryR. C. (Rudolf Chambers) LehmannThe complete oarsman → online text (page 3 of 39)