On 13 November, I wrote about the 1897 Oxford crew - 'The Finest Crew that ever Rowed'. I then mentioned that I am doing research for a booklet about Benjamin Hunting Howell, the American who rowed at Trinity Hall and in the 1897 Light Blue crew. I thought it might interest you HTBS readers to see a unique photograph from December 1896 showing Cambridge's two 'Trial Eights'. The oarsmen and two coxes are wearing their 'Trial Caps', the cap that indicates that they were selected for a seat in one of the two crews who are going to race on the Boat Race course between Putney and Mortlake. To help them with their practice are some 'old oars' who have rowed in the Boat Race before.
The first time I saw this photograph, I only recognised a few of the persons in the picture: Hunting Howell, Henry Trevor-Jones (and his horse, Sultan, which was said to be as old as his owner; Trevor-Jones was 42 years old when this photo was taken), Arthur Bell, William Fernie and Raymond Etherington-Smith. How was I to find out the names of the other oarsmen and coxes? Well, I was lucky to find an old issue of The Cambridge Review from 26 November on the web. The unsigned article gives us the names of the two eights. The first boat had the following crew: bow H. E. Oakeley (Jesus), 2 J. E. Payne (Peterhouse), 3 P. Cave-Moyles (Caius), 4 H. G. Brown (First Trinity), 5 S. J. Selwyn (Third Trinity), 6 G. A. Crane (First Trinity), 7 S. V. Pearson (Emmanuel), stroke C. M. Steele (Trinity Hall) and cox W. H. G. Woodroffe (Emmanuel). In the second boat rowed: Bow D. E. Campbell-Muir (Trinity Hall), 2 J. Sutherland (Jesus), 3 R. B. Etherington-Smith (First Trinity), 4 P. L. May (L.M.B.C.), 5 B. H. Howell (Trinity Hall), 6 C. R. Pattison-Muir (Caius), 7 G. T. Bullard (Trinity Hall), stroke C. D. J. Goldie (Third Trinity) and cox F. E. Foster (Trinity Hall). The second boat won the Trials.
Having all the names does not necessarily mean that I know who is who. So, I looked in books about the Boat Race for photographs of crews around the year 1897. I looked in some of the colleges' boat clubs' books. I compared club jackets, scarves, socks, caps (in the picture above A. S. Bell is wearing his Trinity Hall cap; he got his 'Trial Cap' in 1895, then also going on to row in 1896, 1897 and 1898 - losing all four races). It took me a week to connect the faces with the names, and I am still missing three names of the 'Trial Caps' and one old oar (sitting between Steele and Bell). And I have to confess that I might have messed up a couple of them - you see, I do not know how scientific it is to nail down names for people who are wearing a special kind of striped socks...
It is also interesting to see who is not in the photograph. One oarsman, who had not rowed for Cambridge before, did not have to row in the 'Trials' to get a seat in the 1897 Light Blue boat: William Dudley-Ward. His reputation as a 'good oar' at Eton had preceded him when he came to Cambridge in 1896. At this time, Cambridge was eager to get 'wet bobs' from Eton. In Sport and the British: A Modern History (1989; 1992), Richard Holt writes: 'The long domination of the dark over the light blues in the Boat Race of the 1890s was put down to the fact that more Etonians went to Oxford than to Cambridge.' This is true, but looking back in the record books, Cambridge had had one or two Etonians in every crew since their last victory, in 1889. Besides Dudley-Ward, Bell had also rowed at Eton.
Below is a photograph of whom eventually made up the 1897 Light Blue crew. Only two of the oarsmen who went through the Trials got their Blue: Howell and Campbell-Muir.
Anyone who has more information about who is who in the photo on top, or corrections are very welcome to contact me!