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History of the Queensland GPS Head of the River rowing regatta

1919 QLD GPS Head of the River

The 1919 Head of the River was conducted on Saturday 14th June 1919 on the Bridge Reach of the Brisbane River. The race would take place at 3PM over a three-quarter mile course starting at the Commercial Rowing Club Shed, concluding at the University Boat Club. 

Owing to the influenza, The Southport School would not be able to defend their title as travelling up to Brisbane from the state's south would be considered an unnecessary risk by the Queensland Rowing Association. 

In the lead up to the Lawless Cup, Clayfield College had been training in the Bulimba and Hamilton Reaches. Bringing their boat to the University shed early in the week prior, Clayfield would finish their preparation on the Bridge Reach.

Their boat was purchased by the Commercial Rowing Club (CRC) from the Melbourne Firm Pullor and Jerome. With the racing clinker it replaced being damaged in the Jack's Day Regatta (December 1918), this purchase would be named the Wm Brennan, a beautiful tribute to the memory of one of CRC's most enthusiastic members: Lance Corporal William M. Brennan who sacrificed his life for his country on the battle-fields of Gallipoli, tragically perishing on the 18th of May, 1915.

CRC and Clayfield had an arrangement that saw the College use the boat in the Head of the River. Brisbane Grammar School and Central Technical College had also purchased their racing crafts from the same Melbourne Firm.

However, College's order was to be delivered late, forcing their principal, Mr. Snow to write to the competing schools requesting a delay in the race from April until June. The race was thus postponed, allowing Clayfield to participate and ultimately claim the coveted Lawless Cup. 

Central Technical College's crew were reported to be very inexperienced, with youngest member aged just 15. Their coach, Mr Eugine Hart had the crew under his care for 6 weeks prior and had focused hard on the boat's starting ability and said that Technical College had a chance so long as the boys behind the stroke rowed in time with him.

This would a big focus in Brisbane Grammar's preparation. Coached by Mr. H. G. Williams, a veteran interstate oarsman from Sydney, Williams only allowed his crew to exceed 20 strokes a minute two weeks prior to the Head of the River. This was to establish strong rowing fundamentals in respect to swing and timing and it was reported that the Grammar crew would go in as favourites. 

The crews would thus take positions in the following order: No.1 Central Technical College on the north side; No. 2 Brisbane Grammar School; and No. 3 Brisbane Boys' College on the south side. 


Umpire: Mr. A. J. Westaway;

Starter: Mr. W. Smith;

Timekeeper: Mr. R. Gill;

Judge: Mr. J. F. Donovan

Organising Committees:

The Queensland Metropolitan Secondary Schools' Association

Queensland Rowing Association 

All Schools Race - Fours

The Lawless Cup

Distance: 0.75 Mile

Winning Time: 4:13.80


1.5 Lengths (1-2)

1.5 Lengths (2-3)

1st Clayfield College - Bow: W. L. Boyd 9st 10lb, 2: A. E. Junner 10st 0lb, 3: J. G. Cameron 12st 12lb, Str: O. J. S. MacDonald 9st 10lb, Cox: A. P. Douglas 7st 6lb, Coach: Dr. V. McDowall

2nd Centrical Technical College - Bow: P. W. Richards 9st 9lb, 2: A. T. Rees 9st 9lb, 3: S. D. Berry 10st 7lb, Str: L. O. Bancroft 10st 5lb, Cox: C. McIntyre 7st 0lb, Coach: Mr. E. Hart

3rd Brisbane Grammar School - Bow: H. W. Adrian 9st 0lb, 2: C. W. Williams 10st 0lb, 3: S. L. L’Estrange 11st 12lb, Str: A. F. Shirras 9st 10lb, Cox: C. W. Harrison 7st 0lb, Coach: W. H. G. Williams 

Aerial photograph in 1919 of the domain (foreground) with the University Boatshed and pontoon which was the finish of the ¾ mile Head of the River course through the 1920s. Across the river at South Brisbane are visible the dry dock (now the Maritime Museum), Somerville House (upper left) and the wharf of the Brisbane Milling Company (right of centre) just down stream of Tribune Street which is where the 1919 race finished.

Page 59, Churchie Rowing by Peter Jell, Published by Anglican Church Grammar School

The Race Described

The starter took the crews in hand and very soon sent them away. Technical College had the best of the starts and after half a dozen strokes were half a length in the clear. They had started at a very fast rating, the Clayfield boys striking 40 strokes per minute for the first 30 seconds and where the first through the Victoria Bridge, the half way mark of the course, by half a length. 

By the Queen's Wharf, Clayfield had maintained their half length advantage, with Brisbane Grammar trailing. The Grammar crew were rowing well but lacked a strong leg drive with Technical College a quarters of a length further back in third.

At Alice Street with 200 yards to the post, Clayfield had consolidated their lead against Brisbane Grammar although Technical College were still fighting it out yet seemed to lack the robust timing and swing of the College crew they were chasing.

However, over the last 15 strokes, the Clayfield boys asserted their superiority through a more vigorous leg-driving swing that saw them cross the line a length and a half in front of Technical College who finished second by another length and a half in front of Brisbane Grammar. 

After the race the trophy, the Lawless Cup, was present to the winners by Mr. James Clark, president of the Queensland Rowing Association, who congratulated the winners on their excellent performance. Mr Clark presented each member of Clayfield's crew with a gold medal commemorative of the win. Cheers were given for the winners, and for the other competitors, also for the president (Mr J. Clarke) and the chairman (Mr. E. Colclough) of the Q.R.A.

Mr Clarke proceeded to say that he hoped The Christian Brothers' School would join the All Schools Championship in 1920. It was on good authority that a tender had been accepted for the purchase of boats and plant from the Toowong Rowing Club as a going concern. The shed would be removed as early as possible to a site within the vicinity of the North Quay thereby establishing the school on the river. Sadly though, Christian Brothers' School would never join the competition. 


Page 10, The Clayfield Collegian, September 1919 edition via Trove

Page 11, The Clayfield Collegian, September 1919 edition via Trove

Page 4, The Brisbane Courier, Monday 16th June 1919 Edition via Trove

Page 2, The Daily Mail, Monday 16th June 1919 edition via Trove

Page 3, The Daily Mail, Wednesday 11th June 1919 edition via Trove

Page 9, The Daily Mail, Wednesday 11th June 1919 edition via Trove

Page 5, The Telegraph, Monday 16th June 1919 edition via Trove

Australian War Memorial, William Brennan

Page 30-32, Brisbane Grammar School Magazine, November 1919 edition

Page 59, Churchie Rowing by Peter Jell, Published by Anglican Church Grammar School 

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