History of Newcastle Rowing Club
Part 2 - Newcastle Rowing Club in Colonial Newcastle
The First Era 1870-1874
None of the club's records from early eras have survived. Information on nineteenth century rowing in Newcastle has been derived solely from contemporary newspaper reports.
[Explanatory Note: Names of persons in this section covering the Colonial era can sound the same yet be spelled differently in the newspapers, e.g., Burke and Bourke. Whilst these are PROBABLY the same person we cannot be certain so they are written as they appear in the source material. Similarly, names with one initial such as J Smith may be one person or many. For instance, 'J' could be John and his brother James; perhaps even their father who could, as was the practice at the time, also be John or James not to mention Jeosaphat or whoever.]
Newcastle Rowing Club (NRC) was first formed at the instigation of Ernest S Chester (1848 - 1912). He placed the following advertisement in the Newcastle Chronicle on 8 December 1870.
At the meeting chaired by Captain H J Brown, Mr C F Stokes, seconded by Mr Blair, proposed that a boat club be formed in Newcastle. Mr Nihill, seconded by Mr Grainger, proposed that the club be called Newcastle Rowing Club.
Mr Chester explained to a large, enthusiastic attendance that he had been approached by a number of gentlemen about forming a rowing club that could vie with neighbours, Sydney Rowing Club. Other than the fact that Chester rowed with C H Hannell in a double scull race in 1865, nothing is known about him that would indicate why he was the one chosen to launch the new club. He provided a copy of the rules of Sydney Rowing Club as a model for running the proposed new club.
He also informed the meeting that professional watermen Messrs Trelevan [brothers William, John & Walter] had offered five skiffs and four dingies as well as the use of an existing tin shed for their storage. Four of the skiffs would cost £30 each, the other £25. The dingies would cost £7 each. All boats came complete with sculls, oars, etc. An additional £150 was required for their services that included rent for the boat shed. To help the club get started the Trelevans offered to let the club use the shed the following year for just the cost of the land rental (£33 per year) plus the hire of a man to maintain the boats.
Sydney RC, which was formed a short time previously, provides an interesting comparison. SRC's establishment cost of £750 was made up of boats, oars, etc, (£400), premises (£200), floating stage (£50) and wages to a man to the end of the year (£100). Boats purchased included two, 38' long, 2-gunwale gigs costing £40 each and four light watermens boats for £22.10 each.
(A Mr T Trelevan, presumably a member of the same family that had provided the club with boats and shed, was involved in an unsavoury incident during the 1864 Newcastle Regatta. During the senior scullers race that was won by W Hickey, Trelevan's yacht 'Annie' having won the previous race, very clumsily fouled Sydney sculler R Yeed knocking an oar from his hand. Yeed protested claiming the interference was deliberate. The review committee upheld the result finding no evidence of collusion between the winner and Mr Trelevan but declared Trelevan's action reprehensible. Accordingly, the committee, believing that the honour of Newcastle was at stake, withheld Trelevan's prize and banned him from any future NAR.)
On the following Tuesday 20 December 1870, a meeting chaired by Mr J D Langley adopted club rules drafted by a sub-committee headed by H J Brown that were based on those used by SRC but adapted to meet local requirements. After some debate over the conflicting needs of raising sufficient establishment capital versus a fee structure that encouraged rather than discouraged prospective members, subscription fees were set at one guinea [£1. 1.0] per quarter for members, one half guinea [10/6] for youths under 18 and one guinea per year for honorary members. It was agreed to purchase the Trelevan boat fleet even though it did not include any four-oared cutters; two being considered the minimum necessary. By that time the club had signed 43 active and 3 honorary members. Records suggest the club's colours were blue and white.
NRC's first President, Edward Christopher Merewether, was elected unanimously.
Mr Merewether (1820-1893) (or 'EC" as we liked to call him) was President throughout the club's first era, 1870-74. There is no evidence that he had ever rowed himself although it is possible that he had had some contact with the sport during a period at Oxford University. He left before attaining a degree in Holy Orders. His earliest involvement with rowing in Australia was as a Vice President of the NAR in 1862.
He first arrived in Sydney in 1841 and become aide-de-camp to Governors Gipps and Sir Charles Fitzroy then private secretary to Governor Denison. Subsequent appointments included District Commissioner of Crown Lands and Clerk of the Executive Council. He returned to England in 1858-59 to negotiate steam postal communication between London and Sydney via Panama. He married Augusta Mitchell who was heir to the large and valuable Burwood Estate (later the Newcastle suburb that bears his name) not to mention the valuable coal deposits beneath as well as a large farming property to the north. In 1861 he was appointed General Superintendent of the Australian Agricultural Company5. He was also a Magistrate and, for many years, President of Newcastle Cricket Club. He resided at "The Ridge", a home on the Merewether Estate that provided magnificent views of the ocean and adjoining suburbs. When NRC was reformed in 1880, he was elected Vice President even though he was then living in Sydney following retirement.
Other inaugural committee members included ES Chester (Secretary), JD Langley (Treasurer) A Richardson (Senior Captain) and CF Stokes (Junior Captain). Committee members comprised HJ Brown, H Blackiston, C Blair, J Grainger, PP Nihill and H Wallace. Privacy laws notwithstanding, the occupation of the few that are known can be revealed. Stokes was a merchant and shipping agent, Brown a solicitor, Blackiston a Gentleman and Nihill worked in the Customs Department.
E C Merewether
A complete list of club office bearers for this and subsequent eras are contained in Appendix C.
The First Year - 1871
Rowing activities commenced on Tuesday 2 January 1871. The first competition event, a double scull race between Messrs Weatherill jnr & McKensey and Messrs Broughton & Finch, was held on Saturday 21 January with a stake of £5 a side. Following a foul rounding the buoy the referee, Mr Alf Richardson, penalised the latter crew by making them drop a boat length astern. With Broughton & Finch unable to make up the lost ground (so to speak), Weatherill & Mackenzie won easily.
Early reports stated that the club was progressing well. It was an encouraging start because, apart from normal rowing activities, it had become fashionable for the public to use club boats for pleasure parties, recreational trips and fishing.
On Friday 3 March 1871 (Friday being generally considered a halfholiday), just over two months after its inception, the club held its first regatta .
Moored in the Horseshoe, the flagship (the "fine" barque 'Brycedale') was dressed with bunting "aloft and alow". Aboard, 100 visitors danced and were otherwise entertained by the band of the Volunteer Artillery Corps. The foreshore was thickly covered by spectators. Mr P P Nihill officiated as starter. Mr W Hickey (a famous name in Australian professional rowing) acted as umpire. All rowers wore a distinguishing colour. The advertisement and results are shown below.
Advertisement in Newcastle Chronicle for NRC's first ever regatta
L Arnott (15 lbs) won from B Mitchell (feather), H Rouse (feather) and W MacKenzie (4 lbs). This was a close race with the lead changing several times. All boats finished within three lengths of each other but the placings may have been different if Mitchell had not suffered a broken footplate at the start.
A protest by Mitchell over a foul by Arnott was upheld. Mitchell won the race-off the following Friday, but Arnott's effort in carrying a 15 lb handicap was widely admired. Both lads were cheered when they returned to the shore.
Mr A Richardson (85 lbs) won as expected from his brother M Richardson ( 45 lbs). J McKenzie (15 lbs) was third. W Broughton (feather) did not finish. If ever there was a prize that encouraged participants to strive for second place, this surely was it.
Brothers A & M Richardson (100 lbs) won a close race by about a boat's length from R Hudson & J Hollingshead (15 lbs). C Blair & E Chester and W Whyte & T Robinson did not finish. (Races 3 and 5 involved crews yet offered one prize only for first place. This was not uncommon but there is no indication as to how each prize might be split between the crew members).
A crew of R Ruhl and Richard Hickey (100 lbs) won from Dunnett and Jackson (50 lbs) then McGinn & Chilvers.
In a race in which there was "a good bit of fouling" W Weatherill & J McKenzie (feather) won by a short distance from A & M Richardson (95 lbs) and R Hudson & J Hollingshead (15 lbs). C Blair & E Chester started well and may have won but gave up when the cox wrongly steered the boat inside a buoy.
This first regatta was regarded as a great success. Over 50 members attended the presentation of prizes held at the clubhouse on Wednesday 8 March. In response to a question about handicaps that had been applied it was pointed out that apart from the fact that the competitors themselves were satisfied, most were untried with no prior record upon which more accurate handicaps could be based.
During 1871, club administration suffered a number of setbacks. Ernest Chester resigned as Secretary, his place being taken by Mr E Grainger who, after a short time left the district. Mr Blair accepted the position for a short period then was replaced by Mr J 5 Ranclaud. Messrs J T Smith, J S Lane, J Hollinshead, M Richardson and Joseph Wood, were appointed to replace committee members who had resigned. Joseph Wood, was the notable newcomer. Years later he would become the club's longest serving President during its highly successful second era.
The Second Year - 1872
NRC conducted the NAR in 1872. This significant development was something of a coup for the club as previous Newcastle regattas had been organised by a committee of prominent citizens headed by James Hannell, and his son Clarence. It came about as a result of a well attended public meeting at the School of Arts in November the previous year that requested that NRC organise the event. NRC agreed to the request because of the importance of the occasion to the city.
Races held and results of those involving NRC were:
11.00 a.m. Dinghy race for members of NRC under 16 years of age pulling a pair of sculls. Handicapped. First prize Â£1; second 10/-. J Caddy (10 lbs) led the whole race to win by 4 lengths from L Arnott (20 lbs) with W K Lockhead third and J Freeman (15 lbs) fourth.
11.30 a.m. Members of NRC under 21 years of age pulling a pair of sculls in club boats. First prize, a pair of sculls donated by Messrs Lane & Co [chandlers, Scott Street]; second, a smoking cap donated by Miss Hollingshead. J T Hollingshead won easily by several lengths from H Frost who had a hard tussle with J McKenzie (substituting for W J Weatherill) with J Broughton unplaced.
12.00 a.m. Licensed Watermens Race in bona fide working boats pulling a pair of oars. Handicapped. First prize Â£8; second Â£2.
12.30 p.m. Members of NRC pulling two pairs of sculls in club boats. First prize, two silver goblets, presented by Mr Joseph Wood; second, a pair of sculls from Mr Nihill and a smoking cap from Mr A Fraser. J T Smith & T Caddy with R Hughes (cox) won by a considerable distance from Martin Richardson & E Chester, T Boyce (cox). W J Weatherill & J McKenzie with T Ahern (cox) and R Hudson & J Hollingshead with Moxman (cox), were unplaced.
1.00 p.m. Skiffs under canvas.
2.00 p.m. Members of NRC pulling a pair of sculls in club boats. First prize, a silver inkstand donated by Martin & Alf Richardson; second, two pair of sculls by Messers Stokes & A Fraser. In a good, closely contested race, Thomas Caddy won by 1 ½ lengths from J T Smith with Thomas Wood who led early but fouled a turning buoy, third.
2.30 p.m. Members of the Naval Brigade pulling four oars.
3.00 p.m. Open boats under canvas.
3.30 p.m. Members of NRC pulling four pairs of sculls in boats not exceeding 27 ft. First prize, four silver mounted and rimmed glass goblets, presented by D Macquarie, Esq. second, four gold pencil cases presented by NRC. W J Weatherill, J McKenzie, J Place & J A Lane (cox T Ahern) in 'Lorn Bride' won from A M Richardson, A Watt, A Hunter & R Fleming (cox R Hughes) in 'Spy'; with T Caddy, C Hudson, J Caddy & C Cook (cox J Coleman) in 'Galatea' which fouled rounding a buoy, third. With all of the boats well matched and each crew rowing in masterly style, this was one of the best races of the day. Considered the weakest crew beforehand Weatherill's crew in 'Lorn Bride' proved to be the fastest.
4.00 p.m. Ballast, Coal Trimmers and Lightermen's Race pulling a pair of oars in Licensed Watermen's Working Skiffs. First prize £8; second, £2.
4.30 p.m. All comers pulling four pairs of sculls in boats not exceeding 27 ft. First prize £16; second £4.
5.00 p.m. For amateurs pulling two pair of sculls in light watermen's working skiffs. First prize £8; second £2.
5.30 p.m. Gig and Dinghy race. Usually one of the most entertaining events of any regatta, this one was disappointing. It took the gig just three strokes before her bow-man ran forward and jumped into the dinghy.
The influence of NRC as the organising committee is readily apparent with five of the scheduled thirteen events on the program allocated to members of the club.
One result of the club's efforts, was the subsequent report that it was "the very best ever witnessed in the port". Apart from praise for NRC's very good organisation, the fact that races were closely contested due to well-judged handicapping drew favourable comments. During the day, club President E C Merewether was pulled to the flagship by members of the club wearing uniform. On his departure later in the afternoon he left the ship's side to "several rounds of hearty cheers such as only Britons can give" and the band playing "The Fine Old English Gentleman". Everyone was immensely proud of their President. Who better than a successful, rich, well connected, very posh, very English gent to lead the club at such a time?
A large number of members attended the boatshed on Tuesday afternoon 30 January 1872 to witness the presentation of trophies. Senior Captain P P Nihill commended the successful rowers and expressed the hope for their continued success. Prizes of note were two "very chaste" silver goblets won by Caddy and Smith in the double sculls and four very elegant glass goblets silver mounted and rimmed won by Weatherill, McKenzie, Place & Lane. Other prizes included a very handsome silver inkstand, three smoking caps and several pairs of sculls. A toast to the "success of NRC" was drunk in bumpers of champagne.
During the first era, all AGMs were held in January at the boatshed apart from 1874 when it was held at the Ship Inn [cnr Hunter & Bolton Streets].
At the 1872 AGM, it was announced with great pride that the club, with 62 members, had been able "to meet all its engagements and had been a source of amusement and benefit to its members." The Treasurer's report (below) showed that the club made a profit of £2.14.5.
The treasurer reported that, although the club owed £80 to the Trelevan brothers, the financial position was all that could be desired. The club had no difficulty meeting its regular payments and he believed there would be no difficulty paying the balance in quarterly increments of £20. His proposal that the club spend £20 to purchase a couple of boats suitable for fishing was supported by other committee members. It was suggested many people would join the club to use them but who "would not so much care for mere rowing". (Mere rowing!! Typical bloody treasurer. Any knowledgeable person will know there's no such thing]. Fees were reduced to 15/- per quarter.
An annual regatta proposed for Easter was postponed as it would have clashed with an inter-colonial cricket match between NSW and Victoria. It was held instead on Friday 3 May 1872 starting at 2.00 pm. The weather was poor with a strong wintery wind and rough water.
Senior single sculls. A Richardson (boat No 5; blue) won easily from J T Hollingshead (Boat No 3: blue & white) and T Caddy (Boat No 2: yellow & black).
Dinghy race. Handicapped. McKenzie (Boat No 4. Blue & white. Handicap feather) won a close race from Lockhead (Boat No 2: Blue & white star. 5 lbs). Arnott (Boat No 1: blue. 20 lbs) and Ledgerwood (Boat No 3: red & white. Feather) failed to finish.
Double sculls. A Richardson & J Hollingshead (Boat No 5: white with blue star) won from T Caddy & G Lane (Boat No 3: yellow & black). W Weatherill & McKenzie (Boat No 4: blue & white) were fouled by H Frost & G Hog bin (Boat No 2: red & white) and withdrew from the race.
Junior single sculls. H Frost (Boat No 5. Red & white) easily defeated J Hogbin (Boat No 3: blue), J Caddy (Boat No 2: white with blue star) and J McKenzie (Boat No 4: blue & white).
Pair oars. H Frost & J Hogbin (Boat No 5: blue) won easily. Other starters were John Place & C F Cook (Boat No 3: blue & white) and A Richardson & J Hollingshead (Boat No 2: white with blue star). J Caddy & J McKenzie (Boat No 4: blue & white) failed to finish.
Four oared race. J Place, C Cook, J McKenzie & W Weatherill (Blue & white) in 'Lorn Bride' easily defeated T Caddy, J Hollingshead, G Lane & A Watt (Yellow & black) in 'Spy' and A Richardson, J Smith, H Frost & J Caddy (White with blue star) in 'Galatea'.
A gig (with C Cook in bow) and dinghy (A Richardson) race was cancelled when the latter was forced to jump overboard to save himself when he ran foul of the steam tug 'Tamar'. Readers wondering if Richardson mightn't have been safer staying with the boat will be relieved to learn that he was rescued unscathed by the starter's boat.
On the evening of the regatta, a concert in aid of the club was held at the School of Arts. Admission was 3/-for front seats, 2/-for second seats and 1/-for back seats. The stage was prettily decorated with flags; the proscenium [hands up all those who know this is the part of the stage in front of the curtain] had a pair of crossed sculls on each side, a pair of sculls in the centre and a racing dinghy suspended beneath. The program consisted of songs interspersed by an occasional instrumental piece, all performed by amateurs. Artists were supported by the Naval Brigade band which also played selections throughout the evening. A good attendance ensured it was a financial success.
Subsequently, with the profit from the concert and proceeds of the regatta, the club decided to purchase the boats then being leased and to halve the subscription rate to encourage new members. The latter move is interesting seeing that subscription fees were the subject of much debate at one of the early formative meetings in 1870 when some of those present had argued, unsuccessfully, that very point - that lower fees would encourage membership.
In September 1872, the club held a meeting at the Lane & Co Stores building to select a crew to compete in the Inter-colonial gig race against a Victorian representative crew at the Balmain regatta on 9 November. The meeting, chaired by the senior captain Mr P P Nihill, drew a large attendance. "We have amongst us", he said, "men of strength and sinew, who he was quite sure would, if brought together and properly trained, do credit to themselves in this contest and would also be able representatives of the port". He hoped that the selected crew would reap laurels for the northern district. It was reported that Sydney Rowing Club had offered the use of one of their best racing gigs. The offer was accepted. Messrs Nihill, A Fraser and E Chester were chosen to select the crew.
The meeting also took the opportunity to replace two committee members who had resigned. Alfred Richardson replaced Martin Richardson as junior captain and C Boyce replaced John Hollingshead on the committee. Members were complimented on the improved cleanliness of the boats and boatshed as well as the punctuality of the caretaker.
Attesting to the enormous interest in the inter-colonial event within the club, there was a large attendance of members at a meeting of the selectors on 13 September. A M Richardson, R Hudson, T B Warland, and James McKenzie were selected to represent the club with T Caddy and J R Place as emergency reserves. The crew immediately begin training in earnest. On 5 October, it was announced that the club had given up on the idea of competing. This was because SRC, which itself had entered two crews had declined to fulfil its promise to supply a boat. The Town and Country Journal's reporter sniffed that "our Newcastle friends are surely dreaming as no gig was ever promised", adding that SRC rules would not have permitted it anyway.
Reading between the lines, the most likely explanation seems to be a misunderstanding on both sides. Newcastle had to borrow a gig as the club didn't have one good enough to be competitive at intercolonial level. Understandably, NRC wanted SRC's offered boat to train in prior to the event and may have assumed SRC's offer included sending it to Newcastle for that purpose. On the other hand it seems SRC may have been willing to lend a boat on the day but were not prepared to ship one of their best boats to Newcastle to be used for several weeks by a crew of unknown ability. That too is understandable.
This was a sad ending to a fine idea. Intercolonial amateur rowing contests that commenced in 1863 as four oar races (changing to eights in 1878), generated intense rivalry and great public interest. Participation would have been the highlight of the career of any amateur at the time. Even just competing would have been a tremendous boost for the club and, as Nihill pointed out in his comments to the November meeting, an anticipated successful contest would have generated enormous publicity for the region. Initially involving just NSW and Victoria, other states and territories joined later. The event was renamed the Kings Cup in 1920.
A regatta that had been eagerly anticipated for some time was held between 2.00 and 6.00 pm on Friday 25 October 1872. Members were said to "have been in active training - eschewing the consumption of puddings, beer, etc., and taking to raw meat, uncooked eggs and a slight decoetion of sherry with a good rub down morning and evening with a fresh brush". It is not clear if "active training" involved actual rowing.
The day was fine and mild with a gentle southerly breeze. The wharves and shore were lined by hundreds of lookers-on, the "fair sex predominating". The river was crowded with boats carrying rowing lovers and vessels in the harbour were dressed with bunting from stem to stern. Mr Clarence Hannell "with a goodly company of ladies and gentlemen on his pretty yacht added much to the gay appearance". Mr Nihill, was the starter assisted by A M Richardson with Mr A Fraser the umpire.
2.30 pm. Seniors dinghy race. J Freeman was first from J Ledgerwood. K Lochhead and M Mackenzie also started.
3.00 pm. Double sculls. Handicapped. Prize: two smoking caps. A Richardson & J Mackenzie (cox, T Ahern) (180 lbs) won from H Finch & W Broughton (cox, T Haines) (SO lbs) with C F Cook & J Caddy (cox, A Hollinshead) (feather) third.
3.30 pm. Junior single sculls. Handicap. Prize: pair of slippers. John Place led from the start to win from W Weatherill, H Finch and C F Cooke.
4.00 pm. Coxed pairs. Handicap. Prize: two pencil cases. C F Cooke & J Caddy (cox, A Hollinshead) (30 lbs) won, luckily, from J Aggar & J Taylor (cox, J Haines) (feather) with H Finch & W Broughton (cox, T Ahern) (40 lbs) third. Aggar & Taylor led early but Finch & Broughton rowed so well together that they were favoured to win. However when Broughton pulled too hard breaking one of the poppet-heads [rowlock] they dropped out of contention. The Aggar /Taylor crew kept the lead but the brig 'Fawn' that had been the turning mark in previous races had moved causing their cox to go astray steering them miles away. This allowed Cooke & Caddy to win.
4.30 pm. Senior sculls. Handicapped. Prize: a worked belt. A M Richardson, although handicapped to carry 120 lbs won as he liked from J Mackenzie (30 lbs) and W Broughton (feather).
J Broughton won from B Cotton. W Lashmore, F Lockhead and G Weatherill also competed but their fate was unrecorded.
A Watt, J Brown & J Aggar (cox J Hollingshead) in 'Lorn Bride' (50 lbs) won from C F Cooke, J Caddy, H Finch & J Taylor (cox, W Hains) in 'Spy' (feather) with W Weatherill, J Place, J Mackenzie & W Broughton (cox, T Ahern) in 'Galatea' (70 lbs) third. The best-contested race of the day, all three boats were level for some distance until 'Lorn Bride' took the lead at the Market Wharf [opposite Market Street]. The close tussle continued throughout for the other two crews racing neck-and-neck to the finish. 'Spy' came second despite the exertions of the 'Galatea' crew. Spectators cheered both crews at the completion of the race.
On 2 November 1872, a well attended meeting chaired by P P Nihill chose the following committee to organise the forthcoming NAR: E C Merewether (President); D Macquarie (V/President); J S Ranclaud (Hon Secretary); F S Macdermott (Treasurer); G Hewison (Referee); A Fraser (Umpire); P P Nihill (Starter); W W Capper; A Richardson; J T Smith; John Lane; ES Chester;; W Henderson; D Ludlow; A Watt; J Aggar and F Boyce. Others could be included as necessary.
Some of the pitfalls for administrators organising such a regatta were highlighted during a series of meetings held by NRC officials between October and December 1872. Two groups responded to an advertisement for a band for the 1873 NAR. The Naval Brigade Band with 13 performers quoted £13.5.0 if members providing their own refreshments or £10.10.0 if refreshments were supplied. The Artillery Band, with 10 or more members providing their own refreshments, quoted £10. In discussion it was suggested that the Naval Brigade band was more appropriate because of their connection with the water. A member of the committee John Aggar argued that the Artillery band were more proficient having a better trainer. Within days, a letter from an irate supporter of the Naval Brigade band appeared in the local newspaper lambasting Mr Aggar for his comments, arguing that the Naval Brigade band was the better and, in any case, both bands had the same trainer. Aggar was then forced to respond explaining that his comments were merely to support one band and not intended to denigrate the other. Unfortunately for Aggar, the "taken out of context" excuse so popular with today's politicians, had not then been invented.
In relation to another event, ballastmen complained that some competitors in the race for Lightermen, Coaltrimmers and Ballastmen, intended rowing watermens boats thereby gaining an unfair advantage. The committee decided to restrict all entrants to lighters boats. Dispite their name they were, in fact, heavier.
In regard to one of the proposed races, a resolution was passed that a double scull race for "amateurs" ban oystermen and fishermen, occupations that categorised them as professional watermen. In a subsequent letter to the editor, C H Hannell objected, stating that in previous regattas men in these occupations had been allowed to row as amateurs. He pointed out that under the Rules laid down by the Anniversary and Balmain Committees the definition of amateurs comes under two heads, they are: - (1) A bona fide amateur is one who does not gain his living by manual labour, or is in the habit of so doing - embracing clerks and such like within its meaning and under which head the Inter-colonial champion gig race at the last Balmain Regatta was rowed. (2) Amateur includes all persons excluding professional rowers and watermen. It was also pointed out that Richard Hickey, an oysterman, was accepted at other regattas as an amateur but would be excluded from rowing as a bona fide amateur. He added that former amateurs, now boat builders, such as Connor, Donnelly, Booker, McCleer, Lyons are allowed to row as amateurs and enforcing the ban would exclude top amateurs such as Jordan and Hughes. The argument emphasises the point made earlier - the difficulty of delineating between amateurs and professionals and the pragmatic interpretations often adopted.
In the end, no double scull event for amateurs was held. However, for the 1874 and 1875 regattas in which NRC was not involved but C H Hannell was, races were included for amateurs without specifically excluding oystermen and fishermen.
The Third Year - 1873
Our club's organisation of the 1873 NAR was exemplary. Today's rowers may be interested in the hoo-haa surrounding the event. Hopefully this will not cause any current administrators unnecessary nostalgia.
It was described as a beautifully fine New Years Day. At eight o'clock the harbour presented a beautiful appearance - every ship, barque, brig, schooner, etc. numbering about seventy vessels were decked from stem to stern, alow and aloft with bunting. Nobby's and Captain Allan's Hill were profusely decorated with flags and residents had hoisted flags so as to lend the appearance to the city of gaiety and delight. Trains from Maitland and Wallsend alone brought about two thousand visitors to the city and foreshore. The preparations on the wharf included booths for drink as well as sundry booths for fruit, cakes, etc. The wharf was lined from one end to the other with gaily dressed spectators all bent on a day of pleasure and they were not disappointed. The flagship 'Lord Macaulay' of 847 tons was served by numbers of watermen and about 500 people visited during the day. On board, many couples danced throughout the day to music by the band of the Naval Brigade. The steamers 'Hunter' and 'Aquarius' carried sightseers during the racing and made trips outside the Harbour. Ah, those were the days!
11.00 a.m. Dinghy race for members of NRC under 16 years of age pulling a pair of sculls in club dingies. Prize: a gold pin. J Broughton defeated a plucky F W Lockhead by several lengths. G E Weatherill was unluckily swamped by a Sydney steamer and forced to withdraw.
11.30 a.m. Members of NRC under 21 years of age pulling a pair of sculls in club boats. Prize: a silver cup. J McKensey pulled a splendid race defeating John Caddy by several lengths in front of W J Weatherill, third. John Taylor did not finish saving his energy for later events.
12.00 a.m. Champion Amateur Race for all residents of the Hunter River District pulling a pair of sculls in light watermen's skiffs. First prize: a silver cup containing 5 sovereigns [gold coin with a nominal value of £1); second, £2. In a tame race. M Jordan led from the start and was an easy winner from NRC's A Richardson.
12.30 p.m. Dinghy race for all comers. Youths under 16 years of age. First prize £8; second, £2. R Hughes started well but was passed by John Campbell a stronger rower who won the race from R Patterson and L Arnott who fought for second place. Raced in a strong wind and heavy seas, conditions unsuitable for light dingies, Arnott's boat filled with water and it was surprising he moved the boat at all.
12.45 p.m. Sailing race.
1.00 p.m. Ladies race. Double sculls with cox in licensed working watermen's skiffs. First prize: two silk dresses; second, two necklets. In a race that created great interest Misses M & J Dempsey (cox G Campbell) in 'Hunter' raced Miss E Tongue & Mrs Brown (cox 0 Ahern) in 'Curlew'. The 'Curlew' took a short lead but was caught, then a neck-and-neck race ensued before the 'Hunter' drew away to win by 100 yards. On returning to the flagship, both crews were loudly cheered for the manner in which they rowed.
1.30 p.m. Sailing race.
2.00 p.m. Senior members of NRC pulling a pair of sculls in club boats. Prize: a pair of opera glasses. John Place (feather) in No 3 easily defeated Thomas Caddy (50 lbs) in the No 2 boat. A third entrant John T Smith (feather) did not appear.
2.30 p.m. Ballast, Coal Trimmers and Lightermen pulling working lighter boats with cox. Crews of four men in costume each using shovels. First prize £6; second, £2 . An extra prize of £2 pounds went to the crew with the best costume.
3.00 p.m. Race for members of NRC pulling four pairs of sculls. Prize: four gold rings. An excellent race. It was thought the young crew W Broughton; W K Lockhead Jun; J Mcindoe; & Charles F Cooke (cox T Coleman) in 'Lorn Bride' (much the best boat) would be too heavily handicapped however they took the lead soon after the start. The crew of 'Spy' (D Fleming; John Hogue; John Taylor & John Aggar (cox A Hollingshead)) tried hard with occasional spurts but could not maintain the pace and were second by about 100 yards. The crew of Galatea' (Thomas Caddy; J Place; L Arnott & J McKensey (cox O Ahern)) gave up.
3.30 p.m. All comers pulling a pair of oars in bona fide watermen's skiffs. First prize £10; second, £2.
4.00 p.m. Members of NRC pulling double sculls in club boats with cox. Prize: two goblets. The three entrants made a good start despite a heavy swell. J Place & J McKensey (cox O Ahern) in No 2 soon got in front closely pressed by John Hogue & James Hogue (cox A Haynes) in No 4 and John Taylor & John Aggar (cox A Hollingshead) in No 5. No 5 crept up in the middle stage of the race and although doing their best did not have the strength and could not catch Place & McKensey who won by several lengths. The Hogues' were third. T & J Caddy were entered but did not start.
4.30 p.m. Double scull race for all licensed watermen in bona fide watermens boats. First prize £10; second, £2.
5.00 p.m. Gig and dinghy race. Mr A Richardson turned up in a dinghy but no gig showed.
The regatta was judged to be the most successful ever held. Captain Stafford donated £10 to club funds in recognition of how well it was conducted. An anonymous admirer donated another £3. NRC's Committee of Management, particularly the senior captain, Mr P P Nihill (starter), Mr Alexander Fraser (umpire) and Mr Weatherill (Secretary) were warmly praised for their work. Special mention was made of the firing of the signal gun [fired as a 10-minute warning and for the race start] by Mr Ahern. The newspaper commented that a better gunner could not have been found.
A significant and historical feature of that regatta was the inclusion of a race for ladies, surely the first women's race ever to be included in an Australian regatta. This innovative event predates a generally accepted view that the first was in Melbourne 1901. Since the race replaced one that would normally have have been contested by men, it reflects great credit on the club committee of the time.
It was highly likely that it was the only ladies races most of the spectators had ever seen, so it is not surprising that it created great interest. Comments on that race in a report on the regatta contained in The Town & Country Journal are worth repeating. The reporter thought that the pullers were well used to their work being daughters of persons whose advocations caused them to spend much of their time on the water. He said that the Dempseys were favourites but both crews looked and rowed well. "They had stout forms with plenty of breadth across the shoulders and plenty of muscle; and wore white dresses which pleasantly set off their healthy-looking sun-browned faces". The Sydney Morning Herald merely reported that at the end of the race "the four female aquatics were greeted with three lusty cheers".
The subsequent paying over of prizes was held on 3 January at Milthorp's6 Terminus Hotel [Scott Street opposite Newcastle Station]. The committee was so pleased with the ladies race that a resolution was passed that silk dresses (intended as first prize) be awarded to both crews. Called into the room, the winning ladies appeared to be very much annoyed to think the losing pair would receive as good a prize as the winners. Further, the club stated its intention of inviting the two Dempsey ladies "to race for the honour of the Hunter District" at the forthcoming Anniversary Regatta in Sydney. In fact, no ladies race was included in that regatta. Indeed, in the long history of that regatta, no event for ladies had been held previously. Why NRC thought there such an event would be held in which the Dempsey sisters could compete is a mystery.
At the AGM held at the boathouse on Friday 24 January 1873 it was announced that the liabilities of the club had been reduced to £36.17 .5. After the proceedings, several bottles of the host's No 2 Pipers were called for to celebrate the gratifying financial result and the two successful regattas that had been conducted during the season.
Later the same month, a NRC club member, A Watt, raced a coal trimmer, G Woods, in single sculls for a "good sum of money". Watt won. This was an unusual occurrence as club members who were bona fide amateurs did not normally compete against manual labourer amateurs. Before long, such a race would cause Watt to lose his amateur status as well as his eligibility to remain a club member.
Soon afterwards, the club lost its hard working senior captain P P Nihill in strange circumstances. As Landing, Water & Tide Surveyor with the Customs Department his responsibilities included management of a bond store for imported spirits that was located in the Newcastle School of Arts Building [Hunter Street]. The building also contained a reading room, shops and storage rooms for goods belonging to various businesses. During a fire that destroyed the building on the evening of 10 December 1872, locals broke into several rooms saving some of the stored goods. By the time Nihill arrived, fire was in the floor and the roof had fallen in. Judging the situation to be too dangerous he refused to allow the bond section to be opened. A little later the fire burned more fiercely as spirits began to catch alight and there were numerous explosions of casks and bottles. On safety grounds alone Nihill's decision would appear to have been sound.
Nevertheless, he was suspended by the Colonial Treasurer pending an investigation into his actions. Several months passed before the Government decided that it would have been dangerous to allow the crowd access to the stored alcohol at a time of high excitement. It was determined that Nihill's actions were deserving of credit rather than censure. It was directed that he be restored to his former position. The following month it was announced that he had been appointed Sub-Collector of Customs at the NSW/Victoria border town of Corowa on the Murray River. It is possible the new assignment was a promotion for an honourable employee, after all, what greater good could one do for his colony than protect it from the many evils that existed south of the border. On the other hand Corowa, for a Customs Officer, may have been the Australian equivalent of Siberia. Within days he left for Sydney by steamer to take up his new position. He declined any formal farewell from either his work colleagues or the rowing fraternity, a normal practice at the time.
A somewhat unusual incident for a rowing club occurred during a gale one night in April. One of the club's boats broke free from where it was moored at a wharf at the end of Newcomen Street. Fortunately, the tide was on the flood so the drifting boat headed upriver, rather than out to sea. The errant boat was found the following day on the beach near Limeburners Creek [Fern Bay], 5km away.
In August, two sailors from a ship in the port got into difficulties on the treacherous oyster bank [Stockton Bight near what is now the northern breakwater]. Intoxicated and exhausted they were saved from drowning by the quick action of James Caddy (a NRC club member), Edwin Hannell and John Robertson who went to their rescue in a government skiff.
Early in October a meeting held in the boatshed decided, very reluctantly, not to organise the 1874 NAR. This decision was unavoidable as several key members had either left the district or retired from membership. Club members were however, encouraged to join those who had worked to organise the regattas prior to 1872 to ensure that this "annual festival, for which our port has been so justly celebrated and attractive to visitors from all parts of the country, may not fall through".
On Thursday 23 October 1873 the club held a meeting at the Ship Inn to consider the club's position. Nine members attended to be told by the chairman, Mr Fraser, that the club was not in a good position having been gradually dying for some time. A decision had to be made whether to make a further effort or terminate. It was decided to canvass potential members. If sixty members were recruited the club would spend £20 to repair boats and employ a man to look after the property, otherwise the club was to be wound up.
A well-attended meeting at the Ship Inn chaired by Joseph Wood followed a week later. The canvassers reported that ninety-five new members had joined, far in excess of the minimum considered essential to ensure the club's survival. It was decided to immediately advertise for a boat custodian. The secretary was also instructed to order eight pairs of large sculls and four pairs of leading sculls from Mr Mark Steven sen of Sydney. Mr A Fraser was asked to get the club boats and landing wharf put into good order as speedily as possible. Great optimism was expressed about the future prosperity and competitiveness of the club.
H J Brown chaired an optimistic follow-up meeting on Monday 3 November. With E H Fanning the only applicant for the advertised position of boat custodian, a decision on the appointment was left to the committee. Because the club also aimed to cater for people wishing to row for pleasure and fishing, the committee was asked to take steps to provide some heavier boats more suitable for ladies and capable of coping with the rough conditions often experienced on the harbour due to strong winds and tides. To pay for extra boats, it was recommended members be asked to pay three quarters of their subscription for the following year in advance. Liabilities at the time were £15. Assets, from subscriptions, amounted to £62.15.0. Boat repairs and some new sculls would cost about £20. The total fleet was valued at £170. Casual vacancies on the committee were filled by the appointment of A Fraser as Senior Captain, H J Brown as second captain and F Gardner and C Cooke to the committee.
Frank Gardner had an interesting background. Born in England he became a Commander in the Royal Navy transporting troops to the Crimea and China. Switching to the Merchant Marine, he was in America when the civil war broke out. Joining the Confederate Navy he saw some action before resigning and taking up the risky business of blockade runner between the US and Britain. Arriving in Newcastle in 1864 he set up business as an auctioneer with an office in Hunter Street. This building was lost to fire in 1871, as was his next premises in Bolton Street. With that background there may have been no one in Newcastle more appropriate when, on top of his many business, charitable and sporting interests, he was recruited to reorganise the local fire brigades and subsequently appointed honorary superintendent. For this service he was awarded a gold medal.
The Fourth Year - 1874
Following NRC's decision to forgo organisation of the 1874 NAR, the responsibility reverted to a committee of residents chaired by C H Hannell. This change of control resulted in just two races for NRC members These were:
Members of NRC. Single sculls in light watermens skiffs. Prize: a handsome silver goblet valued at 10 guineas donated by C H Hannell. H Frost in 'Galatea' won easily by 20 lengths from J McKensey in 'Post Boy'; J Caddy in 'Surprise' and J R Place in 'Superb'.
Members of NRC. 4 oars in boats not more than 28 ft overall. Prize: a trophy, valued at Â£13. Martin Jordan, J Place, J McKensey, & H Frost (cox D Jordan) in 'Spy' won from C Hudson, J Mcindoe, A Richardson & J Caddy (cox Ahern) in 'Golden Spur', and W Broughton, H Finch, Fleming & W K Lockhead jnr (cox J Hughes) in 'Lorn Bride'. Broughton's crew was favourite and led to Scotts Point [SW corner of Stockton] where they stopped rowing due to a broken rowlock. At the flagship 'Spy' lead narrowly from 'Golden Spur' going on to win by 150 yards.
Two other races were open to any bone fide amateur. One was a double scull race in light watermens skiffs for bona fide amateurs for trophies valued at 10 guineas. NRC members J Caddy & C Bailey (cox Ahern) in 'Surprise' won from J Mcindoe & W K Lockhead (cox Coleman) in 'Superb'. Whether the result was affected by the latter colliding with a sailing boat just after passing Scotts Point was not mentioned in the regatta report. One would think it just might. In the second, a race for coxed pairs, club members, A Richardson & M Jordan (cox T Ahern) came third.
The 1874 AGM was held on Tuesday 20 January at the Ship Inn rather than the boatshed as had been the practice previously. There was a good attendance and the club was reported to be in a prosperous state. It was announced that the Government had promised to provide space for the club in the new Market Street boat harbour.
Disappointed by being defeated in the single scull race at the NAR, James MacKenzie challenged Harry Frost to a rematch for £20 a side. Held on Friday 30 January the rematch was from the Waratah Jetty to ½ a mile past Bullock Island Point. Frost was a slight favourite in the betting. It was a desperate struggle from beginning to end. Both rowers led slightly at some stage but neither gained a decisive edge causing supporters of both rowers to become increasingly excited. Mackenzie only drew away towards the finish and was hard pressed to win by just 2 lengths with Frost being unable to sustain a final spurt. It was described in the Newcastle Chronicle as "the most exciting race ever rowed on the harbour". Dissatisfied in turn with this result, Frost then challenged MacKenzie to a re-rematch, again for £20 a side. Held on Friday 27 February, Frost won easily by 10 lengths.
The club's annual regatta originally intended for 13 February was postponed until Friday 10 April 1874. The entrance fee was 1/-. Mr Clarence Hannell acted as starter and Mr H J Brown as judge. Results were:
Single sculls. Prize: a silver goblet valued at 3 guineas presented by C H Hannell. Following an even start, H Frost easily won the first heat by ten lengths from A Morris with T Cole third. In the second heat, W Morris got a slight advantage at the start and won easily from McKensey and W Hubbard. The final was held on Friday 17th at 3.30 p.m. between H Frost (boat No 5, wearing blue) and W Morris (boat No 3 in black), the latter a slight favourite. On the day, the weather was fine and calm with smooth water. A large crowd was in attendance on the wharf and in boats on the water. After a good start, Morris took a half boat length lead for a time before being caught by Frost. They kept together until Morris lost a few lengths rounding the pile then Frost fouled the buoy then was fouled by Morris. Once clear Frost, who gained ground when rounding each of the three buoys, went ahead and increased his lead winning easily by 20 lengths. A lot of money had been bet on Morris who was regarded as the better rower so a large sum of money changed hands. Unhappy Morris' supporters thought that the result would have been different had the race been over a straight course.
Junior members in single sculls. D Morris established an early lead over K Lockhead who gave up half way through the race.
Members pulling two pair of sculls with cox. Priz: a pair of opera glasses. Boats Nos 3 and 5, being superior to No 2, carried 30 lbs each to equalise them. In a well contested race, W & A Morris defeated Hudson & Frost with McKensey & Cole third.
Youths pulling a pair of sculls in dingies. An unidentified member of the Hannell family who was regarded as a very promising sculler of whom much was expected easily defeated an overmatched J Wylie.
Members pulling four pair of sculls. The best race of the day which caused some amusement because of the number of fouls that took place. It was won by A Morris (stroke), Lockhead, Mckensey and L Morris in 'Golden Spur' from H Frost (stroke) W Morris, Hudson & Cole in 'Spy' who pulled a game race.
In February 1874, a local newspaper reported that the new club was flourishing. H J Brown had been appointed Senior Captain and C H Hannell, Junior Captain, to fill committee vacancies.
The optimism of the members and officials at the AGM in January soon dissipated. A meeting was called on 14 July to again consider the club's future but lapsed due to a small attendance. Within a week, the club's boat fleet was advertised for sale.
No explanation exists for the suddenness of the decision or the haste with which it was effected. It was unlikely to be lack of activity which would be expected in the middle of winter. Similarly, any problems within the committee could have waited until the start of the next season when a further attempt to re-invigorate the club might have been fruitful. Speculation would suggest that the most likely reason for such haste in winding up the club was due to financial difficulties.
We will never know for sure.
Whatever the reason, this ended the first era of Newcastle Rowing Club.
5. The Australian Agricultural Company was established by the British Parliament in 1824 to extend and improve the flocks of merino sheep in NSW. Operations were to be based on a Crown grant of 1,000,000 acres of land at Port Stephens that was swapped in 1831 for better land in the Liverpool Plains. In 1833 the company received a further land grant of nearly 2000 acres in Newcastle where it operated several underground coal mines in and around the city all linked by rail to a coal loader on the harbour (opposite what was then called the Dyke and later site of the former State Dockyard). Mining was later extended to the South Maitland coalfields. The company ceased coal mining in the l 930s. Today the company has 27 properties covering 7,000,000 hectare in Queensland and the Northern Territory, all involved in cattle production.
6. Joe Milthorpe, a former rower himself, was the proprietor of the Terminus Hotel from 1869-1882. During that time the hotel was popular with members of the sporting fraternity particularly horse racing and aquatics. He is said to have made three fortunes before leaving to take over a hotel in Sydney.
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