Scroll To Top

Adelaide Rowing Club - The First Hundred Years

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

5. Narrative History of the Adelaide Rowing Club - 1892-1897

Chapter five page 1 2

Boathouse to be Extended

With a practice 8 in Adelaide and a racing 8 at Port Adelaide, the Committee felt the need to be able to store all their boats under one roof, and this simply m cant that the boathouse would have to be made longer. At first, for reasons of economy, an extension to the ground floor storage only was proposed, but J.Q. Bruce, the architect, refused to be involved, and resigned from his position as Secretary, which position H.M. Orr agreed to fill.

Then A.J. Grayson resigned as Vice Captain, and W.H.G. Blain was elected in his place.

Meanwhile the Captain had been absent for some time from the Club and from Committee meetings. The reason was soon obvious. His father Sir W. Milne, died at Mt. Lofty on May 23rd, 1895 , a great supporter of the Club and an automatic choice as Vice President.

It was surprising how quickly things had changed. Instead of another big concert effort, it was agreed to hold a "Continental" at the Exhibition Gardens in conjunction with a Mr. Basse in February, with Club members in boxing, wrestling and musical items, but money was tight, and the show was a flop.

A regatta put on for double sculls races did not get enough entries, and had to be cancelled. Entries in the Swimming Races were well down, and it was in this worrying state of affairs that the Committee took the bold step of having the upper floor extended the full length necessary for racking an eight below, and also in width including an extra flight of stairs, racks for oars and a tool locker, to J.Q. Bruce's design.

They sold debentures to raise funds, Fred Poole negotiated for extra land from the Commissioner of Railways to allow the extension, and increased the insurance on the larger premises.

The pendulum's down swing had been halted. At the October Annual General Meeting, the bank overdraft was down below £100, the boathouse extension was complete, and the block of vacant land to the east had been leased to the Club to ensure no other building could be put there.

Back to Serious Rowing: Season 1895-96

With Fred Poole now elected as an Honorary Life Member, and agree­ing to take on coaching, and W.L. Burton back in South Australia, Adelaides started training down at Port Adelaide to try to win back their former prestige by winning Champion 8's and 4's. The previous season it had been decided not to enter for those two events, and this was probably the reason A.J. Grayson resigned as Vice Captain.

There had been a lot of socializing, and inconvenience with the boatshed additions, and money was tight. A new season brought a new outlook.

So on March 7th 1896 , 4 crews were at the start to compete in Cham­pion 8's at Port Adelaide. All crews got away well, none better than Adelaide , when on the 4th stroke, 5's slide came adrift, and ruined their chances. Norwood R.C. won the race.

Two weeks later, Adelaides lined up hoping to contest Champion 4's against their old rivals, Port Adelaide, but no other crews had entered, so the crew rowed over the course and covered the distance in record time beating previous best time by 39 seconds.

That made them realise they had a really good crew, and in the first regatta of the next season they won the Ladies' Challenge Shield, the Webb Memorial 4's and went on to win both Champion 4's and Champion 8's at Port Adelaide with ease.

By now the Captain, John Milne, Fred Poole, and W.H.G. Blain had semi-retired and were helping with coaching, judging, starting and so on.

H.M. Orr had gone to England and R.H. Allen to Western Australia as had F.H. Stokes, A.E. Braund, J.B. Anderson, Smith, Coombe, and Wigan , all, presumably, off to make their fortunes at the goldfields.

There was a new generation of very promising oarsmen like David Blyth, Fred Acraman, Jimmy Gosse, Luxmore and Padula. The only two from the old school still rowing in senior races were George Steel and Alf Grayson.

Musical Entertainment

Meanwhile, back at the boathouse, every Club Regatta held, whether for Scratch Fours, Pair Oars, Double Sculls, McKechnie Sculls, Trial Fours, or at all smoke socials, the standard accompaniment was music, both instrumental and vocal. Everyone was into music; it was fashionable, and oarsmen who were talented were not considered sissies.

In December of 1896, a unique form of musical entertainment was put on by the Adelaide Orpheus Society in front of the Adelaide boathouse. They gave an alfresco concert on the Lake in the moonlight on a warm, still Saturday night. The conductor's rostrum was the pontoon normally used for launching boats in front of the shed. The singers were grouped round in boats, from which their voices floated pleasantly and harmoniously to the listeners, both on the water and on the shore.

The full moon shimmered on the Lake , the background of leafy trees and the garish light of the flambeaus held by the singers made the scene both quaint and picturesque. The Society sang a number of favourite part songs and choruses, among which were `The Vintage Song", "A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea ", "Departure", "The Goslings" and "The Hungarian Valhalla".

Success at Rowing

The summer of 1896 was very dry, and conditions on the Torrens were far from satisfactory, and this encouraged more rowing to be done from the Birkenhead shed, in which Adelaide Rowing Club had gone into partnership with University Boat Club to lease if after the defunct Birkenhead Rowing Club, and could keep an 8 and two 4's down there permanently.

In the New Year's Regatta at Port Adelaide, in Senior 4's Adelaides virtually had 1'/z crews rowing, as a crew styling themselves the Adelaide-Leander Club entered, stroked by W.H. Gosse, with his brother, J. H. at 2, G. V. Padula at 3 and J.A.R. Smith at bow, the two in the middle of boat already being members of A.R.C. and the ones at each end having rowed in the Adelaide University crew that had won the Oxford and Cambridge Cup earlier that year, the first time an Adelaide University crew had done so.

The Adelaide crew that won Champion 8's had George Steel at 5, but of the Champion 4 crew that again beat Ports two weeks later, only Alf Grayson remained from the original iron men who first beat Ports on their own water. George Steel's work often took him to Port Pirie, where Club member Charles Morgan was about to open a drapery and hardware store in this fast-growing town, established to treat the Broken Hill ore. The two men were prominent in getting the Port Pirie Rowing Club started, and maintained a good liason with their old Club over many years.

Caleb Peacock

Caleb Peacock, the Club's colourful and generous President, and former Mayor of Adelaide, was in ill health, and unable to attend the Club functions he normally would have done, but even so, the news of his death, in March 1896, was a great shock to the Club, and the members would miss his kindly speeches and able chairmanship of their functions. His daughters continued to be welcome at the Club regattas by the members in their recently modified uniform rowing gear consisting of "short sleeved white jerseys faced with red, yellow and black, white knickerbockers (knee length) of flannel, black caps and black socks - colours not to be worn on Sundays".

The new President elected was H.Y. Sparks, another generous friend of the Club, who instituted President's Fours, originally for competition at Opening Day between non-senior members under 20 years of age.


About this time, young Ken Milne began his career at the Adelaide Rowing Club, coxing club crews in training and later in Club races. His elder brother, Lance, was already a member, and rowing. Coxswains did not pay subscriptions in those days, the philosophy being that they earn­ed their keep by steering for the crew members who could afford to pay subs., and because they were usually only boys, they had the advantage of being lightweights, but it was unusual for the coxswain's name to be recorded as a member of a crew. They did not pay entrance fees, so they did not receive trophies for winning, but often were given presents of books, or clothing and if they were consistently good at their job, they were made honorary members of the Club until such time as they reached the age of sixteen, when they could be admitted as members.

Whenever the Club crews trained or raced at Port Adelaide, or at Regattas away from the Torrens , the Coxswain's expenses were paid by the club.

At the Swimming Races each year, a Coxswains' Race was held, and it was Ken Milne who usually won it. Later on, he gave demonstrations of fancy diving when he became a member.

Club Shed at Birkenhead

The coach of Adelaide University crew was G.W. Halcomb, who had managed great things to get his crew to win the Intervarsity boat race against the giants of Melbourne and Sydney in 1896.

Halcomb joined Adelaides as a member later that year, and it was through him that the Club came to an arrangement that lasted for many years whereby Adelaide University Boat Club and Adelaide Rowing Club shared the somewhat dilapidated shed at Birkenhead known as the G.P.C. shed, owned by a Mr. Manning for the storage of their boats while training for more important races on the Association programme.

The conditions in the shed were very primitive, the floor was uneven and had gaps in it and the walls leaned and the doors jammed, but with a bit of pressure on Manning before the lease had to be renewed it served its purpose, and rowers were used to roughing it.

The Club Ball

This was the era of the elaborate formal Ball.

1898 Adelaide Rowing Club Ball

1898 Adelaide Rowing Club Ball

The Adelaide Rowing Club became famous for the magnificence of its Annual Ball. At 7/6 a head, people made a special effort to be there to see and be seen among the magnificently gowned and uniformed guests from Government House, the leaders of Adelaide's Social Set, the bright lights, the stirring music, the sumptuous supper. The spectacle was quite magnificent, with the dancing of the Lancers and circular waltzes and quadrilles and the set pieces done with verve and precision and pride.

Another Club Ball

Another Club Ball of this era

The Club Committees went to a great deal of trouble to decorate the hall beforehand and to make sure all the details were attended to, and the result was worth all their effort because they made a much bigger profit from their Annual Ball than they ever did from their concerts.

Over 300 people came, and once you get a name for doing it properly, the format did not have to alter very much. With a good orchestra, good caterer, properly printed tickets and programmes, your own men on the door, and a knowledge of the protocol, you're there.

Variations on the theme of lots of palms and greenery and rowing paraphernalia for decoration was produced in 1900, when the Boer War was on, in the form of many flags, the Union Jack predominating, also Japanese umbrellas and a large portrait of Baden Powell at the back of the stage.

H.Y. Sparks

The first time H.Y. Sparks became known to the Adelaide Rowing Club was after they had lost their boathouse and boats in the 1889 flood.

He came forward with £10.10.0 he had collected from members of the S.A. Cricket Association, a most timely action that was not forgotten.

He was always a good friend to the Club when its finances were shaky. He regularly donated generously to provide the trophies for the winners of Club 4-oar races, which after he became President, became known as the President's Fours. He also gave donations towards the funds the Club floated to buy new boats. He agreed to be a guarantor for the Club's overdraft at the bank, and his wife often organized the afternoon tea at the Club regattas and presented the trophies to the winning crew.

or his generosity and good fellowship, he was elected an Honorary Life Member of the Club, and after two terms as President, stepped down at his own request in favour of Sir Richard Baker, and was elected next year as the new Mayor of Glenelg. He died before the end of 1900, a great

Chapter five page 1 2

< previous 1887-92

> next 1897-1902

top of page

Website by Hope Stewart—Website Design & Management