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History of the Victorian APS Head of the River rowing regatta

1937 Head of the River

The Upper Yarra was used again on 13th and 14th May for the seventieth Head of the River with vastly different weather conditions on the adjoining days. The heats were rowed in perfect conditions but the final was rowed in a squally north wind.

Xavier College won after a break of 7 years. The winning Geelong College crew from the last year was not placed after being defeated by Xavier in the heat. This was to be the last year Marcus Bourke coached the Xavier crew.

Over the recent past, the schools had been concerned about the adulation and hero status afforded to Head of the River winning crews. They were also concerned about the extent of the jubilation expressed during the presentation of the trophy. For the first time, the trophy was presented to the crew after the event at the school of the winning crew. Fortunately this decision has not survived the test of time.


Starter: H J Green

Umpire and Timekeeper: Edward Kenny

Judge: H T James

Clerk of Scales: J B Curt

Despatch Steward: T L Mannix

Head of the River

Time: 5:38.4
Margin: 2 lengths and 1 length

1st Xavier College - Bow: Jack F McDavitt, 2: John F Fallon, 3: Gerald O C O'Day, 4: Des J Breheny, 5: John J O'Brien, 6: Paul J Lachal, 7: John H Marron, Str: John J Bourke, Cox: Kevin L McEncore, Cch: Marcus Bourke
2nd Wesley College - Bow: C J Osborn, 2: K F Hartnell, 3: C H Dunning, 4: A W Anderson, 5: J Rudduck, 6: L E R Williams, 7: L F Taylor, Str: T G Treloar, Cox: R G Duncan, Cch: Charles Donald
3rd Melbourne Grammar- Bow: W B Dobbyn, 2: A A M Lapin, 3: A N Skinner, 4: A J Weir, 5: R D Meighan, 6: W H Luxton, 7: B F Rose, Str: K J Laycock, Cox: K C Westfold-Scott, Cch: Walter E "Wally: Ricketts

The weather turned for the finals with a strong head wind and a sheltered north bank. This was a race for the stronger and heavier crews. Despite the unpleasant weather, some 30,000 spectators witnessed the event.

Despite some initial steering difficulties by the XC crew who were pointig towards the WC crew, the crews got away well at the start. By Morell Bridge, MGS led by 3/4 length followed by WC and then XC. This lead was maintained through to the half mile when the race changed. Both MGS and WC were hit by a wind squall which XC was spared the worst of being on the shelterd north station. XC went from third to first in a small number of strokes and then led for the rest of the race. The XC crew with its weight, strength and steadiness were essential qualities against the wind.

Melbourne Grammar First Crew

Standing: A.A.M. Lapin (2), A.J. Weir (4), W.N. Ricketts, Esq., A.N. Skinner (3), W.B. Dobbyn (Bow),
Seated: W.H. Luxton (6), K.L. Laycock (Stroke), B.F. Rose (7), R.D. Meighan (5).
In front: K.C. Westfold-Scott (Cox)
Photo courtesy of Melbourne Grammar Archives

The Argus reported on the final as follows:

“30,000 people watch Xavier win”

Xavier’s bow was pointing toward Wesley when Mr. H. Green, the starter, fired his pistol, but the three crews got away well. Xavier left the stake-boat striking 38. Wesley’s rate was the same and MGS was striking slightly higher. The Dark Blues struck a swing and went away at once, with Wesley next and Xavier last when it straightened up.

Rowing with great dash and rhythm, MGS was leading at the Morell-bridge, which was reached in 1 min 3 sec by nearly ¾ of a length from Wesley, which led Xavier by a canvas. Both Wesley and Xavier were striking at least two strokes slower than MGS. They reached the ¼ mile in 1 min 16 sec, with MGS now a length in front of Wesley and Xavier only a few feet further back.

At the half-mile, MGS had maintained its lead, and the half distance had been covered in 2 min 40 sec. Then as the crews swung into the straight the fortunes of the race changed. Just where the Henley straight commenced a squall swept down and MGS and Wesley stopped to half pace. Xavier went through in comparatively sheltered water on the north bank, and in six strokes was almost a length in front.

Thereafter it was all Xavier. The water was rough and the wind strong at the beginning of the straight, but Bourke, the Xavier stroke, handled his boys splendidly, and the crew went along without a roll, increasing its lead all the way. MGS, lacking the weight of its opponents, and in the worst position, had dropped back to last at the booms, and that was the way the race finished. Xavier passed the judge with a lead of two lengths from Wesley, with MGS a length further back. Time: 5 min 38 2-5th sec.

Other crews competing were:
Geelong Grammar - Bow: G S A Stogdale, 2: C C Bird, 3: A H Angus, 4: C D Smith, 5: J McA H Lockwood, 6: R B Lefroy, 7: F A O (Tony) Gaze, Str: E J P Jones, Cox: A R Walker, Cch: William H Pincott
Scotch College - Bow: William E Swaney, 2: Alexander Marshall, 3: Gordon R Henderson, 4: Samuel F Anderson, 5: Greig McCracken, 6: John A Blanch, 7: Rodney C Bretherton, Str: David D Fisher, Cox: Harold G Boulter, Cch: Charles B Boyes
Geelong College - Bow: T M Collins, 2: R H A Wettenhall, 3: K S McDowall, 4: T T Laidlaw, 5: J A Forbes, 6: F J H Moreton, 7: I H McPherson, Str: T H Kelsall, Cox: I H Buchanan, Cch: Charles G Saleh

Scotch College First Crew

Back row: J A Blanch, G McCracken, S F Anderson, G R Henderson
Front row: W E Swaney, D D Fisher, Mr C B Boyes, R C Bretherton, A Marshall
Seated: H G Boulter
Photo: The Scotch Collegian December 1927

Heat results:
1st WC, 2nd GGS, Time: 5:22.0. Margin: One canvas.
This was a great race where the lead changed on several occasions.
1st XC, 2nd GC, Time: 5:19.0 Margin: 3/4 length.
XC led most of the way by a spirited GC crew fought the wole race.
1st MGS, 2nd SC Time: 5:17.6. Margin: 2 1/4 lengths.
MGS led for most of the race but were pushed at every stage by the SC crew.

The Age reported on the heat as follows:

First Heat
In the first heat Geelong Grammar had the north station, whilst Wesley were on the centre. Geelong were cleaner off the mark, getting away at 40, Wesley were striking at 33. The Wesley boys hesitated about the first stroke, leaving the Geelong crew to go ahead. As soon as the boats got moving the blade work in each crew was very clean. Wesley were quick in getting into their swing, and forced their boat to the front, maintaining a rate of 38. Approaching the bridge the leaders dropped into a slightly slower rate, and were half a length in front as they passed the Morell-bridge, reached by 38 strokes in 62 seconds. Coming to the corner Wesley were still drawing slowly away, and Geelong began to steer too close to the centre station. When the boy realized the position, he took his crew back on the correct station too sharply and nearly caused a crab. Wesley reached the ¼ mile mark in 1 min 15 sec. Coming into the straight the Wesley were half a length in front and Geelong were rowing solidly in an effort to draw up, but the blades at this point were not quite as clean as in the Wesley boat. At Brander’s Geelong, by vigorous rowing and a steady recovery, began to creep up on the leader, and the excitement was intense coming through the booms towards the finish. Wesley, however, by neat rowing, were able to respond to the fine effort of the light blues and won by a canvas in 5 min 22 sec.

Second Heat
The title holders, Geelong College, were on the north station, with Xavier on the centre. Both crews got away at 40, but Xavier were smarter off the mark, rowing a slightly cleaner stroke, although there was little fault to find with the Geelong blade work. Geelong soon had the nose of their boat in front, but not by much. On the run to the bridge Geelong took the bend too wide, keeping too far over to the north, and this enabled Xavier to pass to the front. Xavier however, were also badly steered, and made the opposite mistake to the Geelong coxswain, the boat being taken almost in a direct line to the pillar of the bridge, and the rudder then thrown on so suddenly that the crew showed good watermanship to avoid a crab. Xavier reached the bridge in 62 seconds with a lead of a canvas. Coming to the ¼ mile, reached in 1 min 14 sec, Xavier were increasing the lead, and were half a length in front at the bend. At this point Geelong were feeling the effect of the high rate on dead water, and their blade work was not as clean as Xavier’s. In the straight Xavier had increased their lead to ¾ of a length, Geelong still struggling hard, but not as effectively as they would probably have done at a slightly slower rate of striking. At Branders, Xavier were rowing with plenty of vigor, and, being well blended, increased their lead to a length. Geelong now raised the rate again, and by a desperate effort, came up slightly, but the work was becoming sluggish and the grueling stern race had told its tale. Xavier won by ¾ of a length in 5 min 19 sec.

Third Heat
Scotch had the north station for the final heat, with MGS on the centre station. MGS were the faster away, but after rowing ten strokes the boat rolled badly, and Scotch moved up. The blade work in both boats was not clean. Scotch made the same mistake as Geelong College in steering for the bridge, and took the bend too wide, which allowed MGS to go away. The Grammar boy gave a fine exhibition of steering, and took the bend at the bridge without causing the slightest inconvenience to his crew. The result was a lead of ¾ of a length for the dark blues, whose time as this point was 61 sec. They reached the ¼ mile mark in 1 min 14 sec, but were throwing up a lot of water with the blades, the Scotch bladework being no better. Scotch made an effort on the bend, and drew up to within a ¼ of a length of the leaders. MGS now raised the rate to 38, and were rowing with cleaner bladework than in the earlier stages. They commenced to go ahead again, and had an advantage of ¾ of a length when the boats came into the straight. At Branders, MGS quickened and put clear water between the boats and drew away, winning by 2 lengths and a ¼ in 5 min 17 3-5th sec.

Many of the school rowers competing at this time were to serve with distinction in WWII. One such rower was Tony Gaze from Geelong Grammar who was a Spitfire ace with 12.5 victories. He was the only Australian to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two bars during WW2. He flew with Douglas Bader's famous Tangmere Wing for the early part of the war and finished the war as Australia’ first jet fighter pilot as Squadron Leader of RAF 616 flying the first Allied jets (Meteors). He later went onto become Australia’s first Formula One driver by competing in the 1952 Belgian GP and would have much success in car racing competing around the world.

Second Crews

(This race was conducted as part of the Junior Eights regatta on Saturday May 8th amongst Melbourne metropolitan schools on the Upper Yarra. It was not part of the Head of the River regatta.)

Time: 2:28.5
Margins: 1 foot, 2/3 length and 1/2 length

Distance: 1/2 mile

1st Scotch College - Bow: J F M Scholes, 2: S C McCracken, 3: W E I Littlejohn, 4: R L Law, 5: M A Barr, 6: T Darling, 7: C Malmgren, Str: J T Mitchell, Cox: R A Mullett, Cch: Bill Morgan
2nd Xavier College
- Bow: H Ick, 2: J Feehan, 3: S Radeff, 4: F Fogarty, 5: M Munday, 6: R Walker, 7: F Haslett, Str: J Pawson, Cox: D Kerr, Cch: J Byrne
3rd Wesley College
- Bow: W Cairns, 2: J Joy, 3: M Davies, 4: G Boynton, 5: I Rosanove, 6: A Bowen, 7: F Livingstone, Str: D Rogers-Wilson, Cox: J Wilson
4th Melbourne Grammar - Bow: J McCallum, 2: T Miller, 3: K Murray, 4: R Hancock, 5: H Byron-Moore, 6: D Officer, 7: G Risbey, Str: P Kirby, Cox: J Wallis

The stations were: SC north, XC north centre, MGS south centre and WC on the south. SC and XC broke away from WC and MGS early in the race and two races in one took place. There was nothing between SC and XC for the rest of the race. It was only a final sprint from SC that seperated the crews in the end.

The Age reported: For some distance the four crews were locked together, when Scotch, on the north station, gained a slight advantage. Half way Scotch was a canvas in front of Xavier, with Wesley and Grammar on even terms a further canvas away. Xavier, rowing well together, drew up on the leaders in the last 100 yards, and in a thrilling finish the Scotch crew’s fine effort decided the issue. They won by the narrow margin of a foot. Xavier was 2/3 of a length ahead of Wesley, with Grammar half a length further away. Time: 2 min 28.5 sec.

Third Crews

(This race was conducted as part of the Junior Eights regatta on Saturday May 8th amongst Melbourne metropolitan schools on the Upper Yarra. It was not part of the Head of the River regatta.)

Time: 2:16.2
Margin: 2 lengths, a canvas and a canvas

Distance: 3/8 mile

1st Scotch College - Bow: G McNaught, 2: R N Atkinson, 3: A Rogers, 4: A Marshall, 5: K L Blackham, 6: A Hall, 7: P Turner, Str: J Hipwell, Cox: A B Chivers, Cch: G Harvey Nicholson
2nd Mebourne Grammar
- Bow: R Stock, 2: J Whittington, 3: L Jane, 4: R Hoffert, 5: H Springgall, 6: G Larkins, 7: W Meredith, Str: A Moore, Cox: C Adey
3rd Wesley College
- Bow: C May, 2: D Schroder, 3: W Lumley, 4: B Orchard, 5: W WIldermuth, 6: J Mehor, 7: N Flentje, Str: J Bright, Cox: K Bridgborn
4th Xavier College - Bow: J Naughton, 2: J Bourle, 3: V Rogers, 4: M Spehr, 5: P Condon, 6: D Hemingway, 7: J Naughton, Str: B England, Cox: N Shirley

Melbourne Grammar Third Crew

Photo courtesy of Mebourne Grammar Archives

The crews started on the following stations - XC on north, SC north centre, WC south centre and MGS on the south. SC got away well and led early. SC gradually increased their lead finishing a comfortable 2 lengths in front. A great race was held between the other three crews who all finished within a canvas.

The Age reported: Scotch College race off at 38 and soon gained the lead. At the stone wall the Scotch crew looked easy winners with a length lead. It further increased its lead racing alongside the Henley staging, and passed the post two lengths in front of MGS. Wesley was half a canvas further away, with Xavier last a canvas further astern. Time: 2 min 16 sec.

Fourth Crews

(This race was conducted as part of the Junior Eights regatta on Saturday May 8th amongst Melbourne metropolitan schools on the Upper Yarra. It was not part of the Head of the River regatta.)

Time: 2:45.0
Margins: 3 feet and one length

Distance: 1/3 mile

1st Wesley College - Bow: K Oldmeadow, 2: B Shields, 3: J Critchley, 4: D Gibbs, 5: I Dawes, 6: C Wilson, 7: H Haywood, Str: Y Pitman, Cox: H Orchard
2nd Scotch College
- Bow: L Barnett, 2: A L Burns, 3: R A McKimmie, 4: D D Shaw, 5: R G Cole, 6: J A S Jolly, 7: W J Proud, Str: J J Inkster, Cox: F H Smith
3rd Melbourne Grammar

Melbourne Grammar Fourth Crew

SC were drawn on north station, WC on centre and MGS on the south station. WC led early but were passed by SC. SC and WC then fought out a great race in which WC won by 2 feet with MGS a length further behind.

Fifth Crews

(This race was conducted as part of the Junior Eights regatta on Saturday May 8th amongst Melbourne metropolitan schools on the Upper Yarra. It was not part of the Head of the River regatta.)

Time: 1:57.0
Margin: 1/2 length

\Distance: 1/3 mile

1st Scotch College - Bow: W D Matheson, 2: C D Hull, 3: P E Gartner, 4: J N Duckett, 5: K N Harris, 6: R J Austin, 7: G G Sprigg, Str: G D Fisher, Cox: R J Carter
2nd Melbourne Grammar - Bow: J R Key, 2: G W Sutcliffe, 3: J M Utber, 4: J L Archer, 5: T V Ottaway, 6: I J S Kennison, 7: P J White, Str: R K Lamont, Cox: L B Lyle

Melbourne Grammar Fifth Eight

Photo courtesy of Melbournhe Grammar Archives

Sixth Crews

(This race was conducted as part of the Junior Eights regatta on Saturday May 8th amongst Melbourne metropolitan schools on the Upper Yarra. It was not part of the Head of the River regatta.)

Time: 2:49.4
Margin: 1/2 length

1st Scotch College - Bow: B A Bretherton, 2: R D Fahle, 3: J Coop, 4: S J McQuarrie, 5: D Todd, 6: W M Davis, 7: C C Crampton, Str: J A Matheson, Cox: N Wright
2nd Melbourne Grammar

An all the way win for SC.

Melbourne Grammar Sixth Crew

Photo courtesy of Melbourne Grammar Archives

Seventh Crews

(This race was conducted as part of the Junior Eights regatta on Saturday May 8th amongst Melbourne metropolitan schools on the Upper Yarra. It was not part of the Head of the River regatta.)

Time: 2:55.4
Margin: 4 feet

1st Scotch College - Bow: G B Littlejohn, 2: A P Flockart, 3: J H Hood, 4: J B Steele, 5: J A Laing, 6: P L Waters, 7: G R Liddell, Str: T F Klemke, Cox: R R Sim, Cchs: Messrs Fisher and Barr
2nd Melbourne Grammar

A tight race throughout.

Melbourne Grammar Seventh Crew

Photo courtesy of Melbourne Grammar Archives

Eighth Crews

(This race was conducted as part of the Junior Eights regatta on Saturday May 8th amongst Melbourne metropolitan schools on the Upper Yarra. It was not part of the Head of the River regatta.)

Time: 2:02.0
Margin: 1 1/4 length and canvas

1st Melbourne Grammar
2nd Scotch College ninth crew
- Bow: H Day, 2: A C Wann, 3: A J Griffiths, 4: J W Street, 5: A McKay, 6: D J Mackay, 7: W H Whiney, Str: K W Johnstone, Cox: A K Beattie, Cch: Mr Robotham
3rd Scotch College eighth crew - Bow:K I Robertson, 2: A C Knight, 3: W G Davidson, 4: E R Johnson, 5: B R Harrison, 6: T S Esson, 7: R R Cohen, Str: R J L Moore, Cox: J D Gates, Cch: Mr Robotham

Melbourne Grammar Eighth Crew

Photo courtesy of Melbourne Grammar Archives


  • 1937 APS Head of the River Program
  • The Pincott Club Handbook 2006
  • Scotch Collegian 1937
  • Lift her home to victory, lads! A centenary history of Xavier College 1906-2006 by Michael Lefebvre
  • Appendix to A Deepening Roar Scotch College 1851-2001 by James Mitchell, Allen & Unwin 2001
  • THE RACING. (1937, May 14). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 10. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from
  • XAVIER CREW WINS (1937, May 15). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 26. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from
  • ROWING. (1937, May 10). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 9. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from

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