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History of Barwon Rowing Club

Chapter 1 - Just Starting to Race 1844-1869

Chapter 1 page 1 2

From mucking about in boats to the manly exercise of rowing, Australia's new settlers brought with them the pastimes of their former homes. Rowing as a sport began in Australia at contests organised between local watermen and sailors aboard the ships in provincial harbors. Melbourne's first such regatta took place in 1841, just six years after the beginnings of white settlement. In March 1857 the first regatta on the Yarra River was held, with the competitors mainly the professional watermen who plied their boats and punts for hire on the upper reaches of the river. The harbor town of Geelong was founded shortly after Melbourne and by 1840 provided wool stores, a small commercial centre, police protection and a customs service for the small population. The first regatta in Geelong took place on Corio Bay on Saturday, 20 March 1844. There were four races; two for sailing boats, a race for whaleboats and a rowing event for four-oared cutters and gigs. There was no shortage of competitors aboard the numerous ships moored in the bay, waiting to clear the pastoral riches of the Western District of Victoria. These regattas were held irregularly over the next fifteen years and featured sailing events, although there was usually a rowing or "pulling" race.

The first boating club in Geelong was the Geelong Aquatic Club formed in July 1849 when Captain Ogilvie brought a suitable boat from Hobart. However, two or three more boats were needed before the members could commence training in earnest. At the end of the year the club, competing as the Geelong Amateur Boating Club, issued a challenge to any four-oared crew at die annual Geelong Regatta. However no club rose to the challenge and a scratch race between whaleboats was substituted. Immediately after the regatta a second club, known as the Tradesmen's Boating Club, was formed. Both these clubs competed only at the annual regattas held on Corio Bay.

By the mid 1850s Geelong was the fourth largest town in Australia; its population swelled by gold seekers in their thousands. The wealth generated by the miners saw Geelong transformed from a small port town to a large commercial centre. Imposing buildings were constructed for the town's benevolent institutions and industries, water and gas supplies were laid on and Victoria's first provincial railway soon connected Geelong with Melbourne. Then, in January 1859 the Geelong Yacht Club was formed. Corio Bay was more suited to sailing than rowing, for spectators lining the bay front could see only the start and finish of a rowing race and heavy seas often rendered any attempt at style useless. At the time there were suggestions in the local press that perhaps the rowers should consider a move to the Barwon River where the stretch from Princes Bridge to the Breakwater would make a fine rowing course. There were broad level banks on both sides and the wooden bridge at the foot of Moorabool Street was an excellent vantage .point for those who did not wish to follow the English tradition of running with the crews throughout the race.

Despite the popularity of sailing, by October 1859 there were four gigs seen rowing regularly on the bay. Three had been built by Blunt, a Geelong boat-builder and it was rumoured that next season an eight-oared outrigger would be built in Geelong. This was the beginning of rowing not only in Geelong but also in Australia, as the country's first rowing club,the Melbourne University Boat Club, was founded on 3 September 1859. Eight months later, over two days in May 1860, the first Melbourne Regatta was held. A Geelong crew, consisting of E. Fielding [bow], Thomas Neil [2], S. Bleasby [3], D. McCullin [stroke] and John King [cox] took first place from a Richmond crew in the Junior Four [under 18] in gigs.

However for the next two years, despite the occasional laments of the local press, particularly when the Ballarat Rowing Club was founded in 1861, no formal rowing club was established on either Geelong's bay or river. Then on 12 March 1862 the Melbourne Rowing Club was formed. Geelong's rowers were spurred on and in August of the same year Geelong's first rowing club, the Geelong Rowing Club, began with a shaky start. The first meeting called for 7 August was adjourned for one week due to a "thin" attendance. A week later, before a larger crowd, J. A. Gregory chaired the inaugural meeting with approximately twenty young men present. It was decided that a rowing club should be established on the bay, but with a view to extending operations to the Barwon River. Messrs Ross, Gregory, Green, Omerod, Hutton, Hunter and Holding were appointed as a committee to draw up the rules and a constitution. On 26 September the first office bearers were appointed: J. A. Gregory, president; Holding, treasurer; Higgott, jnr, secretary; Haworth, captain and a committee of Holding, Robins, Haworth, Morgan, C. & J. Higgott, F. Ibbotson, Green and Wilson.

Apparently the club could draw on a nucleus of experienced rowers for by October several crews were in training, with one of them earmarked for the next Melbourne Regatta. Their first boat was purchased, the Native Youth joining the Young Australia, and the club adopted a uniform of white with blue facings or trimmings. By this time the yacht club was ailing and so the rowing club joined with them in promoting the Geelong Annual Regatta to be held in early December. Plans were also made for an autumn regatta to be held on the first Wednesday in March 1863 on the Barwon River.

Two crews were picked for the Melbourne Regatta which was to be held on 10 November 1862: Senior: Stewart Reid [1], Frank Haworth [2], C. Morgan [3], Godfrey B. Robins [stroke], W. Dunden, coxswain; Junior - P. Graham [I ], W. Pride [2], Richard Roche [3 ], H. C. Higgott [stroke], W. Dunden, coxswain and both crews trained night and morning on the bay. On the day of the regatta they travelled to Melbourne by the steamer Express, accompanied by the Young Australia. The club entered in four races: Race for boats excluding outriggers - open to those who have never won a senior race; Race for bona-fide gigs - open from stem to stem; Four-oared race, excluding outriggers and Pair-oared race, outriggers excluded. Their first race was the sixth event on the programme; the four-oared excluding outriggers. The Elswick Club offered their boat, the Dixie to the Geelong club, which they accepted. However the Ariel Club protested and during the ensuing dispute the Geelong crew lost the start and spoiled their chances of a win. Their next race was the Junior Fours for under eighteen years. The Geelong crew won in the Young Australia by three lengths but both the Ariel and Leander clubs protested the win on the grounds that they were not juniors.

The formal opening of the Geelong Rowing Club was celebrated on Monday afternoon, 17 November with an excursion into the nearby countryside and was followed by an evening supper. By the time of the Geelong Regatta in December the club hoped to enter four crews. However when the time came the regatta was a disaster. No Melbourne entries were received for the rowing races following the regatta committee's decision that all gigs must be open from stem to stem. The Melbourne crews wished to cover their boats with canvas for "safety" and so the maiden four-oared gig race became a scratch race between the Geelong club's senior and junior crews. Furthermore, no stewards or judges turned up on the day! In January 1863 the monthly meeting of the club was attended by only the president and the secretary, putting paid to the prospects for the regatta on the Barwon. One week later, a new committee was elected, including Dr. Stoddart, H. C. Harrison, E. Nicholls, J. Haworth and S. Reid. The club's financial position was said to be sound and unfinancial members were struck off. But by February's meeting no quorum could be formed. A regatta eventually was held in autumn but it was a sailing match on Lake Connewarre. The regatta, held on Good Friday, 3 April 1863, was die first regatta on the Barwon. Finally on 2 June, after only ten months, the Geelong Rowing Club was officially disbanded, only sixteen members ever having paid their subscriptions. Some members stated their intention to keep rowing within a private club. In August there were rumours of another club being formed but 1863 ended with no rowing in Geelong.


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