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History of Barwon Rowing Club

Chapter 3 - The Love of the River 1870-1979

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After the Intercolonial Race there was severe criticism in the Melbourne press about the existence of a cash prize and consequently the definition of amateurism. In 1861 the Melbourne Regatta Commit-tee had adopted a definition of amateurism which barred from amateur status anyone who earned their living on the water and anyone who had competed fora money prize in a rowing race. In contrast, some of the other colonies allowed money prizes. However, unlike the English and New South Wales committees, the Melbourne committee did not disqualify those who earned their living by manual labour. Barwon competed also in the 1873 Intercolonial, this time held in Melbourne on 29 March. Six crews entered; Sydney, Ballarat, Ballarat City, Geelong, Tasmania and a Melbourne composite crew from three clubs. Geelong was represented by the Barwon crew of E. Nicholls, J. Arthur, T. W. Chapman and C. Shannon [stroke]. They competed in a boat built by the coxswain's father, C Blunt, which the Melbourne papers considered to be suited only to Corio Bay's conditions. The three and a half mile course for the race was on the lower Yarra, from a mile below the junction of the Saltwater (Maribynong) River to the New Wharf, opposite the Melbourne Gasworks. The Melbourne crew won, Ballarat City were second with Barwon coming fifth. New South Wales later complained that the Melbourne crew had included a manual labourer.

Above: Trophy won by Herbert Clampitt Piper on 20th August 1873 in the Club Scratch Fours - photo courtesy of Susan Maloney

From June of this year the local racing opportunities were increased from just scratch races between the Barwon members to inter-club racing with a new Geelong club. Chairing the meeting to form the Corio Bay Rowing Club was C. A. Pearson, a member of Barwon. He obviously did not see a conflict of interest and in fact wished to remain a member of Barwon. Pearson thought that the formation of another club would result in harder and more frequent training, opportunities for local matches and bring about better performances against the Melbourne and other provincial clubs.

With competitive racing now well established and the stock of boats increasing, Barwon's committee fumed their attention to the boatshed. In 1872 the shed was raised 18in and new flooring installed to minimise the effects of minor floods. The following year the shed was lengthened and the dressing room extended. A new emphasis on member comfort co-incided with the arrival of H. A. Reichman, a fitness expert who joined Barwon in the same year. In 1874 he opened the Geelong Gymnasium, situated in Latrobe Terrace. Geelong's male athletes, dressed in tight-fitting flannels and light slippers, undertook three nights a week a supervised program of exercises which were considered rigorous. After a thorough pounding on the chest, to counteract congestion of the lungs, the men were next subjected to a workout with the chest expander. Dumb-bell exercises, running in single file, jumping and vaulting were followed by set pieces on the parallel bars and inclined and horizontal ladders. Even on the coldest night they were seen to work up a sweat and the whole process was recommended, particularly for cricketers and rowers.

Perhaps this emphasis on physical and muscular development resulted in a more aggressive nature for the rowers, for the Melbourne Amateur Regatta of 1874 was long remembered for the fight at the end of the Junior Sculls, the second last race of the day. Melbourne crews, in particular the notorious Richmond Club and rowers from Ballarat joined in the fray in which, according to the Melbourne papers, "everybody seems to have let out straight from the shoulders at somebody else; but like all such scrimmages, there was neither dead or wounded to be seen after it was all over except a few ugly bruises". According to one eye-witness, it was the most exciting fight he had ever seen, some 12 or 15 oarsmen knocking each other down like ninepins for at least 15 minutes, until the police moved in. However, in the same year oarsmen of a different stamp began to show an interest in the sport. The year before the managers of the Melbourne banks had inaugurated a challenge cup for four-oared inter-bank competition. Banking employees in the cities of Geelong and Ballarat then also initiated their own competition. The first "Banks" race was held at Ballarat and the second on the Barwon, with Barwon Rowing Club providing the victorious crew for both challenges.

In January 1876 Edward Lascelles called upon the rowing fraternity in Geelong to join him in promoting a regatta on the Barwon River, which he considered to be the most suitable piece of water for racing in the colony. Previous objections to the river as a regatta course were that only two crews could row abreast. However, a straight course of a mile and a half for three crews finishing at Bellarine Street and with access for spectators along its whole length was now available. A committee was formed from both Barwon and Corio Bay members and several meetings were held in the convivial atmosphere of the Victoria Hotel. Apart from the question of arriving at a convenient date, the committee's most delicate consideration was the thorny question of who was eligible to row? In short, what constituted an amateur? This was prompted by a motion put to the committee by David Strachan, a Barwon committee member and brother to James, that certain manual labourers were to be excluded from all races. Blacksmiths, carters and quarrymen, "men who gain their living by manual labor of an outdoor and active character" were to be excluded but "men who gain their living by manual labor of a sedentary kind" such as saddlers and printers could be accepted. Although this definition was common in England, so divided was the regatta committee that expert opinion was sought from Melbourne, Hobart and Sydney. The Melbourne hierarchy was definite: regattas must be confined to bona fide amateurs which only debarred those who had competed for a cash prize.

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