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Adelaide Rowing Club - The First Hundred Years

A Narrative History 1882-1982 - Compiled by R W Richardson

4. Narrative History of the Adelaide Rowing Club - 1887-1892

Chapter four page 1 2 3

Rowing at the Port

The highlight of the rowing in the first season after the Club moved into its smart new boathouse was the match race against the club that was regarded in those days as their toughest rivals - Port Adelaide.

Towards the finish of a gruelling 2 1/4 mile race, Adelaides were about a length ahead of Ports, Grayson setting a cracking pace in the last few strokes, but Allen, at No.7, was completely exhausted and caught a crab'! Ports came racing up, but Adelaides rallied and managed to win by about 3 feet.

They beat Ports in 8's, but Ports beat Adelaide in Champ. 4's in shocking weather, which prompted an outburst against holding regattas at Port Adelaide from F. Halcomb, the coach of the University 8, who was reported in the `Register' of December 14, 1891 as saying that "Port River was the foulest course in the Australian colonies". That is what the Adelaide Rowing Club had to face - a clogged Torrens Lake, and the permanent uncertainty of the weather at Port Adelaide, which could wreck weeks and weeks of hard training, heroic organization and expensive equipment by sinking on the day of the race, or being disqualified for a wretched coxswain's error in trying to seek more sheltered water.

At least all clubs had to put up with the same conditions, and hard conditions bred hard men; men like Alf Grayson, John Milne, Fred Poole, Charlie Morgan, George Steel, W.H.G. Blain, R.H. Allen and H.M. Orr. Men like Joe Sharp, E.C. Clucas and W. Forrester were now on the bank as judges.

The only Regattas for 8's were held at Port Adelaide as you could not have raced in 8's on the Torrens for more than a couple of hundred yards anyway.

Any club wanting to enter for Champ. 8's had to house its boat at Port Adelaide and do all its 8-oar training there.

Adelaide Rowing Club housed its 8 and a clinker 4 in the Port Adelaide Working Men's Club, and lent them the 4 to row in the Port Adelaide Regattas, a neat arrangement.

The first 8 that Adelaide Rowing Club owned was one they bought from Melbourne University when that crew rowed here in 1890, and the boat was initially housed with McFarlane, the boatbuilder and ship's chandler at Port Adelaide.

Naming the new Eight

Later on, in 1892, they ordered a new 8 to be built by Fuller, of Melbourne, and shipped to Port Adelaide, where they laid on an elaborate ceremony for the naming of the boat by their favourite lady, the Countess of Kintore, and even broke their established tradition of calling their boats after rivers, by calling this one `The Lady Ethel' after the elder daughter of the Countess.

The Vice Regal party proceeded by train in a special carriage to Glan­dore where they were met by the Mayor of Port Adelaide, the Collector of Customs, the Adelaide Rowing Club President, Mr. Caleb Peacock and the Captain John Milne, and escorted to H.M.S. Protector's moor­ings. From there the party was rowed to the steam tug Yatala, - the Countess by 4 Adelaide Rowing Club members in a gig - where she was helped onto the gangway landing by Caleb Peacock.

Steamers follwong races at Port Adelaide

Early launch and tugboat, Port Adelaide , with spectators following the progress of a race

There she performed the naming ceremony by breaking a bottle of champagne with a presentation hardwood, silver-embossed mallett over the "Lady Ethel", and was given 3 hearty cheers, after which the eight rowed up to the Kerosene wharf.

On the Yatala, Caleb Peacock presented the Countess with a brooch after a short speech of welcome and thanks, and the party repaired to the cabin, where they toasted the Countess in champagne while the Yatala steamed downstream in the wake of the crew, and the Club's other invited guests, aboard the steam launch "Defiance" followed, also supplied with afternoon tea, in sparkling weather.

They then cruised on, while afternoon tea and other refreshments were served to the strains of Setaro's String Band, and eventually back to the wharf in time to catch the 6 o'clock train back to Adelaide.

Was there ever such a display of adulation and opulence in the quiet little colony of South Australia? Just imagine the organization needed! Lucky A.R.C. had friends in the Railways!

Financial Problems

And what made it all the more remarkable was that the financial position of the Club was very critical at this time, with merchants and boat builders clamouring for payment so that Fred Poole was called upon once again to persuade the Vice Presidents to act as guarantors for the Club to increase its overdraft to £200 in order to get delivery of the boat. How the Treasurer, J.Q Bruce must have quaked in his shoes when he presented his financial statement at the Annual General Meeting... "J. Q. Bruce, In Account With The Members, Season 1892-93; Item ... Bank Interest On Overdraft With The Old Commercial Bank £15/8/9".

Club Gatherings

At this period, all General Meetings, Smoke Socials and Committee meetings were held in the S.A. Club Hotel (which became known later as the South Australia Hotel, or "The South"), the Exchange Hotel, the Scotch Thistle, or the Imperial Hotel, where a room was made available on prior notice, without charge, and welcome made in exchange for the custom received. The draughty, ill-lit Clubhouse, across the Railway yards was no comparison to the friendly pub atmosphere. In any case, the Club, having no licence, would risk a charge of selling sly grog if liquor had been found at any meeting in the evening.

Problems with the new Boathouse

Strange as it may seem to us, with a very much more navigable Torrens Lake than in those 1890's the new boathouse was not built long enough to house an 8-oared boat, simply because the Club never intended to use their 8 on the Torrens, and would not entertain the idea of transporting it to and from the Port on rough roads, tied to an unsprung jinker. So they made arrangements to house it at the Port either with McFarlane or at the Port Adelaide R.C. shed or the Birkenhead shed, or the Working Men's Club, paying in cash or kind for the privilege.

They also paid Jolley, who ran his boats for hire alongside the Adelaide boathouse, to act as caretaker. The arrangement was that he got ten shillings a week during the rowing season and five during the off season, and was expected to lock up after rowing, keep the boats clean and moist by running the hose over them, and was able to make a few shillings doing repairs and maintenance in the form of painting, etc. on the side. There were times, when the Club's finances were tight, he was given a month's notice, and told that the Club could no longer afford to hire his best gigs at Club Regattas.

Swimming Races

The first Club Swimming Carnival was held in December, 1890, in the City Baths in the evening, the events being a 10-lap Club Championship, a 6-lap Handicap, a 3-lap Maiden Race, Breast Stroke over 4 laps, a so called Long Dive which meant swimming under water and a Neat Dive contest.

The genial curator, Mr. Charles Bastard, had a good rapport with the Club Committee, and if given sufficient notice, would suspend normal swimming for the evening so that the Club could hold its races, without charging for the hire of the Baths for the evening. In return, Charlie was asked to officiate as Starter and Judge.

As with many of the Club rowing events, a senior member would put in a guinea or so with the entry fees to provide worthwhile trophies.

Fire Insurance

A mild panic was on at one of the Committee meetings when it was found that the Insurance policy on the boathouse was found to have a clause in it invalidating the Company in the event of fire if the building contained gas burners inside. Naturally, this was the normal method of lighting all premises in those days, and the policy was hastily altered to suit.

Boxing and Wrestling Classes

Another activity to hold the interest of the members during the winter months was the organizing, by Joe Sharp, of a boxing and athletic class, which later included wresting, club swinging and some gymnastic exercises. There was even a quoit club formed.

Smoke Socials

Also during July, August and September, a monthly smoke social was held at one of the pubs, where rowing and other topics were discussed to the accompaniment of musical items, songs and choruses, once again organized by Joe Sharp.

These gatherings brought the members together while policy and tactics were discussed prior to holding the Annual General Meeting early in October, and Opening Day towards the end of that month.

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