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History of Barwon Rowing Club

Chapter 2 - Here's a Health to the Barwon 1870

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The rest of the fleet duly arrived on Friday night, 19 August, when three boats; a clinker four, a pair and a "comfortable" boat for learners, came down from Melbourne by steamer. The next morning they were taken to the river and finally in the afternoon the members assembled at the new shed for their first row. Much splashing and rolling was reported but the committee congratulated themselves on attracting some fine muscular young fellows with the makings of capital oarsmen. A series of scratch races was planned for the near future and the club hoped one day soon to challenge the supremacy of Melbourne and Ballarat crews. However, on that Saturday as the young men gathered at the shed, the talk was not of rowing but of the club's treasurer, Charles Farrell.

Presumably Mr. Farrell was not present at that first practice, for a warrant had been issued for his arrest for the embezzlement of £500 from the National Bank where he was an employee. Farrell, a South African, had worked for sixteen years in Geelong banks, originally as ledger-keeper at the Bank of New South Wales and then for 11 years as accountant at the National Bank. A few days later it became known that Charlie had married in Melbourne and absconded to Fiji with his new bride. His fellow members were stunned for this was quite a change from the gentleman who was thought of as reserved and unassuming, although ready with a genial word for everybody. He was a popular man who by virtue of his profession was invariably chosen as the honorary treasurer of sporting clubs and competitions. He had been both treasurer and president of the Corio Rowing Club. As can be imagined there was much anxiety for the funds of the new rowing club. However Farrell had sent a cheque to Edward Lascelles for all outstanding amounts before he left the colony.

A week later two more boats, a pair and a four, were delivered by steamer and the next week a splendid 33ft cedar outrigger arrived for Charles Shannon. Each Saturday afternoon the fleet of eight boats could be seen out on the river as the experienced oarsmen imparted their knowledge to the aspiring rowers. Within just a few weeks this new club already possessed more boats than previous clubs had been able to afford. The prosperity of the founding members ensured Barwon a secure start, although later giving rise to charges of elitism. On Tuesday 6 September the office bearers and committee gathered again at Mack's Hotel for the club's first monthly meeting. Naturally the first item on the agenda was the treasurer's report. Edward Lascelles informed the meeting that the total amount of subscriptions paid and due was £1 77/6/6, the outstanding liabilities amounted to £52/0/7d and that there was a credit balance of £12. Mr. Pincott was elected treasurer in place of Farrell. J. B. Wilson and E. Lascelles, as men of some standing in the community, were appointed as a deputation to convince the three municipal councils who had control of the river to assist in the removal of snags. The meeting was presented also with a plan for improvements to the boatshed which consisted chiefly of the construction of two platforms leading from each door of the shed down to the river, with a roller ladder between the platforms. This would enable the oarsmen to roll their boats to the bank and was considered to be a vast improvement on the "old" style of carrying. However, these plans were never realised for the achievements of those first two months were swept away three nights later.

The spring of 1870 had been the wettest Geelong residents could remember. On Thursday night, 8 September the Barwon River rose alarmingly and it rained all the next day. At Queen's Park, bordering the river, a caretaker, his wife and a labourer were forced to perch throughout Friday night in a tree whilst the nearby bridge was battered to ruins. Members of the rowing club were naturally aware of the rising waters but following advice from the local residents in Barwon Terrace had chosen not to move the boats out of the shed on Friday, but instead secured them by fastening them to the boat racks. But the boatshed and its contents were bodily lifted by the swollen river and carried fifty to sixty yards downstream.

The next day a number of members unroofed the shed and tried to recover the boats. They were forced to wait until the water level subsided whereupon the walls promptly caved in. Most of the boats were eventually rescued in repairable condition, except Shannon's magnificent cedar outrigger which was broken in three places and a four-oared gig smashed in at the bow. A meeting was called for Monday 12 September, officially to consider the advisability of re-erecting the boatshed, but which in reality amounted to whether or not the club should endeavour to continue. The large gathering of members, supported by a concerned general public, voted for the calling of tenders immediately for a new building and authorised boat repairs. There was a general feeling of sympathy for the club and at the meeting several new members came forward; Dr. F Shaw, J. W. Wilson and E. Lascelles paid £5 for life memberships and G. Mercer, J. Middlemiss and S. A. Bryant joined as ordinary members.

By 23 September construction of the new building had commenced and the boats were under repair. At the October monthly meeting, Capt. Martin, Dr. Stoddart and Sharpe Brearley paid up as life members and R. B. Chater, T. N. Couves, W. McMullen, J. E. Pounds, W. Nicholson and Goulding enrolled as members. The boatshed was completed and the boats repaired in time for the club's first opening day, on Saturday 29 October. But when the day dawned the festivities were postponed due to heavy rain and fears of yet another flood. This time, as a precaution, all the boats were removed to safer ground. On Tuesday 13 November the club staged a Grand Amateur Dramatic Performance at the Mechanic's Institute, where apparently several rowers exhibited considerable histrionic talent and the club made a welcome profit of £34.

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