|Louis (on the right) and yours truly|
This week sees virtually all the universities of Australia competing in 30 different sports at the Australian University Games in Adelaide, South Australia. Of interest will be the rowing. Finals are raced on Friday, 28 September.
The earliest race between two of the Australian universities, Sydney and Melbourne, was rowed in 1870. This was the first race of an interstate or international nature known to have taken place in Australia, although the Parramatta River is known to have been the site of races as early as 1863.
The University of Melbourne met with great success in these early races, for not only did it win the first race, but when Sydney challenged Melbourne the following year on the Parramatta, Melbourne once again finished first. Melbourne’s contentment and Sydney’s disappointment might have been responsible for the abandonment of the race until 1888, as an “official” reason is not known.
The revival of a boat racing contest between the universities in 1888 was due to a suggestion made by Dr. W. Fleming Hopkins, a member of the Melbourne University Boat Club. Dr. Hopkins was deputed by Mr. C. H. Freeman (Hon. Secretary of the M.U.B.C.) to speak to the Adelaide University rowing men on the subject of sending Melbourne a challenge to row a race. This challenge for a race in eight-oared boats on the Yarra River was received from Adelaide University by Melbourne University rowing men, bearing the date 27 January, 1888. Sydney University Boat Club was approached, and decided also to send a crew.
So, it was that the first eight-oared race between Australian universities was conducted on 6 October, 1888. Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide Universities met on the Homburg reach course of the Yarra River, a distance of just over 4 kilometres (2 ½ miles).
Melbourne was recorded as having won by four lengths over Adelaide in a time of 13 min. 5 secs. and six lengths to third placed Sydney.
Adelaide achieved its first win on 21 December, 1889, at their home course on the Port River, and again in 1896. Sydney’s first win was on 16 June, 1890, by five lengths. Here is a short note about the race in a newspaper:
It was not until 1893 that a significant trophy was first competed for, the Oxford and Cambridge Challenge Cup.
This fine trophy was presented by Old Blues of Oxford and Cambridge Universities Boat Clubs. Dr. Edmond Warre, later headmaster of Eton College, was mainly responsible for securing the handsome and interesting trophy, which is held as a perpetual trophy for the race, and is kept by the winning boat club for the year in which it is Head of the River.
Frederick Halcomb (Captain of the Adelaide University Boat Club) had rowed against Warre in earlier years. As a good friend of Warre, Halcomb wrote him a letter with an account of the inter-university race that had just begun. A proposal was laid before the university boat clubs at Oxford and Cambridge, and both signified their approval and added a substantial donation. In addition a very large number of past university “oars”, coxswains, and coaches joined in subscribing to fund the trophy. In looking over the list of sympathisers it is pleasant to recognise names of men who made their mark between Putney and Mortlake so long ago as the 1850s, as Judge (Joe) Chitty, Elers, Hornby, Lonsdale, Meade King, and others for Oxford; while the Cambridge’s subscription list includes the name of Tom Egan, who was coaching and steering Cambridge in the 1840s, and who in a memorable year transferred his services to Oxford. In view of such generous sympathy and support from the old universities of England, it was hoped that this tangible show of empathy would foster rowing in Australia. In an 1890 letter, Warre wrote to Halcomb stating that “the idea was accepted by them with alacrity” and that they were “proud of the opportunity afforded them of showing their brotherhood, goodwill and interest in the welfare of their kinsmen in the antipodes”.
The Oxford and Cambridge Challenge Cup was sent out to Australia in time for the 1893 competition, where it was competed for and won by Melbourne.
The Cup has scenes of both Cambridge and Oxford engraved on the sides, pictures of rowing along with floral emblems of the countries of England, Scotland and Wales. The Angel on the top is pictured in the traditional pose of the Toast to Rowing. This long standing and traditional toast is afforded the winners of the Challenge Cup.
The Women’s Eight Champions compete for the Professor Godfrey Tanner Cup. The first winners in 1978 were University of Melbourne.
Whereas in the beginning, only three universities competed, nowadays all the other Australian universities send crews for the Cup.