1. The Origins of the Sport
Aquatic sports and amusements played a large part in the lives of the Australian inhabitants from a very early date because all capital cities were established on rivers or landlocked harbours.
Records of organised rowing events date from early in colonial life, but unofficial competition between the crews of visiting ships took place on Sydney Harbour from as early as 1803. Subsequently, both amateur and professional races for all classes of boats became highly popular in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
The most famous of these early races in which local oarsmen competed took place on the Sydney Harbour·on May 16th, 1818 when a four-oared gig crew stroked by John Piper won easily over a course from Bradley’s Head to Sydney Cove - in following years, Piper's crew won many races and wages, but they were defeated in a match for 200 guineas by a crew from H.M.A.S. 'Rainbow' on February 24, 1837.
The first regatta on Port Jackson was held on April 28 the same year under the auspices of Captain H. J. Rous on H.M.S. ‘Rainbow’ and Captain J. Sterling of H.M.S. ‘Success’. This was not the earliest in Australia; there had been one on the Derwent at Hobart on January 25th 1827. Races for Fours and Pairs were frequently held after this.
A regatta was held on Sydney Harbour on January 26th 1837 to commemorate the founding of Sydney and it was decided to make this event an annual fixture -The Anniversary Regatta - in 1840 £500 was donated for prize money. This became the most popular sporting event of the year, and in 1849 was extended over two days. Meanwhile rowing was becoming popular in Melbourne and in 1860 an amateur rowing club regatta was held on the River Yarra.
The first rowing event between crews representing colonies was held on the Parramatta River near Sydney on February 4th 1863 when a N.S.W. crew in a Four Oared Gig defeated one from Victoria. In 1872 a Sydney crew won races held at both Hobart and Sydney, and in the following year a Melbourne crew won the final intercolonial gig contest at Melbourne, in this event four Victorian crews, one N.S.W. crew and one Tasmanian crew took part.