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History of Essendon Rowing Club

3. The Founding of the Club - 1880-89

The Maribyrnong Rowing Club, later known as the Essendon Rowing Club was founded during 1880, due in part to the late C.B. Fisher and his brother Hurtle who owned the Maribyrnong Estate which extended from the horseshoe bend at the Maribyrnong to the Flemington Racecourse. Both were avid and renowned horsemen - the C.B. Fisher Plate on the Victorian Racing Club program is a tribute to one and Hurtle Street, Ascot Vale to the other. During that year the Fisher brothers, Alex McCracken and other rowing enthusiasts met at Spong's Maribyrnong Bridge Hotel to establish a local club. The Spong family had a very keen interest in trotting and their colours - black with a red sash, were adopted by the newly formed rowing club. Thereafter all sporting clubs from this district including the football club, followed the rowers lead and used the famous red and black which are now synonymous throughout Victoria as the colours of Essendon. It was also decided to use Squire's gymnasium (a double storeyed timber building, situated at the rear of the hotel) as the training venue for many of the rowers.

Spong's Hotel

Photo courtesy of the Footscray Historical Society

The first trial four oared race was rowed on the Maribyrnong, "the Salt Water River", stroked by Alex McCracken.

In 1883 the old Maribyrnong Club ceased to exist. A new club using the same name was formed in 1885 by the late Messrs Arthur J. Shepherd, A.E. Young, Archibald Graham and associated colleagues and oarsmen. The boats owned by the former club, two clinker gigs and one pleasure craft loaned by Alex McCracken were the basis of the club's “fleet”. The foundation president was Thomas Brunston who occupied this position for four years; he donated sculling and swimming trophies for each of the years he held office. Alex McCracken, Archie Graham and Tom Blowfield were elected Vice Presidents, Lyn Gibson held the position of Secretary for a short duration which was then taken over by Arthur J. Shepherd; Honorary Treasurer was A.E. Young. Ted Grentham was elected as the Club's first Captain. The original venue was used for some time but was not long enough for an eight, and when a derelict eight oared boat was won by a supporter in a raffle and donated to the Club, a hole had to be made in the back of the shed to "house'' the new craft, although much of it protruded through this opening. A dressing room about 12 ft. by 10 was attached and used until the membership increased to 83 when it evident that the existing accommodation was inadequate. Mr. Spong built a new shed alongside the old one – this was to be used by the members until 1920. These two sheds were built on the side of what is now the Maribyrnong Running Ground.

The Essendon Rowing Club - the name was inaugurated during 1888.
“…one trophy in my possession dated April 3, 1888 is engraved Maribyrnong Rowing Club and another in the same year -October 17th bears the name of the Essendon Rowing Club ….” taken from a letter written by A.J. Shepherd and is positive evidence that the renaming occurred during that year.

Shepherd also stated in this letter that the 'Club used outriggers in competition', and from 1880 until 1891 the fleet consisted only of four oared gigs and racing was primarily confined·to Club regattas. The outrigger competition took the form of a challenge cup, which required three wins to attain the trophy. This was the main form of competition between the years 1885 - 89.

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