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History of Mercantile Rowing Club

7. Years of Mixed Success (1920-1930)

Chapter Seven page 1 2 3 4

The season of 1925-26 saw the re-appointment of Jack Mounsey to the position of captain, with Harold Rush as his deputy. Following the disappointing results of the previous two years, strenuous efforts were made to revive the club's fortunes in competitive rowing. With five crews entered at Henley as the opening regatta, hopes of success were high. However all entries failed in their respective heats. With the addition of a Lightweight Maiden Four, the same crews competed at Melbourne Regatta, but despite two heat wins, none of the crews were successful. It was not until the Maiden Regatta at the end of November that the club achieved its first win for the season in the Lightweight Maiden Fours. Following unsuccessful representation at Nagambie, the club won the Maiden Eights at Albert Park. This crew was stroked by Ron Shannon, who was later to become captain of the club, and included prominent members of the future in Doug Brooke, Jack South and Allen Gibbs. Mercantile's only other wins for the season were a Junior Pair at Ballarat and a Junior Eight at Barwon. For the first time since the Great War, the club was not represented in any of the State Championship events and failed to gain a point in the Senior Premiership which was won by Wendouree for the third year in succession. Mercantile had to be content with sixth place to Hawthorn in the Junior Premiership.

1926 Junior Eight Barwon Regatta

1926 Junior Eight, winners at the Barwon Regatta.

Bow: C J Nicholls, 2: E J Gill, 3: V Turner, 4: P Radich, 5: W C Harworth, 6: J G H Sprigg, 7: J McKenzie, Str: A R Shannon. Cox: M Bailey

Bob Gregg was once more a member of the Victorian King's Cup crew with Jack Mounsey being selected as emergency. The Victorians were unsuccessful again, finishing third to Tasmania and South Australia.

After such a poor season, it was of some consolation to Mercantile when Scotch College, coached by Alex Sloan and steered by Max Bailey, won the Head of the River for the second year in succession. This event was, however, marred by the untimely death of the coach of Melbourne Grammar crew, Lt. Colonel Eric Tulloch, whose murder on the morning of the final struck grief and horror into the hearts of the Melbourne community.

By the end of the 1925-26 season, membership had decreased to 125 and to encourage keener enthusiasm it was decided to purchase a club flag. This was based on a white background with the letters M.R.C. in blue running diagonally from corner to corner. It was to be another 10 years before the club's present badge was adopted.

In September, 1926, the club was saddened by the death of Dick Connor, a pensioner who had for many years acted as caretaker of the club. In addition, his duties included the washing of rowing togs for members, and the large towels with Mercantile printed on them. These towels, supplied by Claude Vanderkelen together with the service provided by Dick Connor, were a source of envy amongst the other riverbank clubs.

With five members of its two previous Champion Eights available, the club again boated a Senior Eight for Henley and the Melbourne Regatta. The other three members of the crew were Junior oarsmen having their first race in Senior ranks, and included Jim Sprigg in the four seat. This crew was defeated at both regattas and, apart from a sculler, was Mercantile's only entry in Senior events for the 1926-27 season. Again the club was not represented in any Champion event with the exception of the Sculls and no points were recorded in the Senior Premiership which was won by Melbourne Rowing Club.

It was during this season that the club decided to concentrate on Junior and Maiden rowing. This policy resulted in immediate success in the double Junior Eight at Henley and Melbourne regattas. This was followed by a win in the Junior Fours at Footscray and victories in the Maiden Fours and Pairs at Nagambie. This latter win was of special merit as the pair comprised two eight stone coxswains in Perey Batten and Max Bailey, who were steered by Milton (Bill) Green, then making his debut as a coxswain for the club. After a hard tussle over the latter part of the course, the two boys won narrowly from a Sandhurst pair weighing over 12 stone each. Tom Rodda was a member of that crew.

At the Upper Yarra and Australia Day Regattas at the end of January, Mercantile won their second double Junior Eight for the season and with a winning Junior Four at Barwon, the result of the Junior pennant depended on the Bairnsdale and Sale regattas. With wins in the Junior Fours and Pairs at both of these regattas Mercantile won the Junior Premiership from Hawthorn and thus was the leading club in this division for the first time in its history. The success achieved was largely due to the unflagging energy and enthusiasm of Jack Mounsey as captain.

The celebration of this Premiership was short-lived when news was conveyed to the members that the clubhouse and a great majority of the club's fleet had been destroyed by fire on the evening of Easter Sunday, April 17, 1927.

The old building, which with additions and modifications, had admirably served the club since 1885, was almost a total loss, only portion of the front wall and of the side wings escaping irrepairable damage. The club had functioned from the first construction of its own clubhouse with the ground floor for boats and oars, and a dressing room over the front portion. In 1901 the dressing room had been extended by 45 feet to the back of the shed and in 1906 two annexes, which doubled the boat accommodation on the ground floor, had been added. At the time of the fire the building was shown in the books of the club at a valuation of £1,125.

A fleet of eight Eights, seven Fours, four Pairs, 4 practice Sculls and £300 worth of oars were destroyed or damaged. The clinker racing eight "E. Kenny", the four "A. R. Clarke", and 25 oars, which had fortunately been at the Sale and Bairnsdale regattas, were the sole remains of the fleet which had been the pride and joy of Mercantile. Scotch College, which was then preparing for the Head of the River to be held on May 7, 1927, lost their racing eight and other valuable boats and oars which were also housed in Mercantile.

Although Scotch College was greatly inconvenienced by the loss of their racing eight, they won the Head of the River for the third successive year. The club granted the use of the "E. Kenny" to the college and their win in that boat made their victory doubly popular.

Despite the absence of a "home" the club was more active generally during the winter months than had been the case for several years previously. Members co-operated in clearing away the debris, salvaging boats and equipment which could be put to use in the future. The kindred clubs and schools were generous in their assistance, and particularly Melbourne Grammar which placed portion of its boathouse and fleet at the disposal of the members. Banks and Melbourne were also helpful in providing rowing facilities for training and the use of their clubhouses for meetings.

The clubhouse, fleet, oars and fittings were insured for a total of £2,500 and thanks to the negotiating ability of the captain, Jack Mounsey, with the assistance of K. C. Wooton, our claim for that amount was met with an offer of £2,465. An application to erect a completely new shed was not approved owing to the terms of the lease, but permission was later granted to renovate the remains of the old building on the same external plan, with an increase in depth from 65 feet to 75 feet. Club members H. G. Taylor, Bill Pitt and Stan Guinn, prepared the plans and specifications for the rebuilding and Sir Stephen Morell, the president, assisted in other spheres in relation to obtaining the necessary approvals from the Melbourne City Council. The original rebuilding tender was for a price of £2,166, but further expenditure on such items as hardwood flooring for the locker and committee rooms resulted in a total of £2,330 being spent.

On October 1, 1927, only five and a half months after the fire, the new clubhouse was officially opened. The cost of construction and the speed at which it was carried out are, of course, an interesting comparison with those of the two subsequent rebuilding projects some 40 years later. The 1927-28 season opened under restricted conditions due to the small size of the club's fleet. The only change in office bearers was the election of Jim Sprigg as captain following the retirement of Jack Mounsey from that office. Under his dynamic leadership, the club looked forward to another successful season following the success of the previous year in the Junior Premiership.

At Henley, the club was able to boat four crews, including a Senior Eight, but all of these entries were defeated in their heats. A notable absentee from the Senior Eight was Bob Gregg, who had won Maiden and Junior events with Jack Mounsey before the first World War. Following the Armistice, he had quickly reached Senior status and in the succeeding seasons was invariably in the seven seat of the Mercantile Senior Eight and three in the club's Senior Four. He was a member of the club's two successful post-war Champion Eights and also the winning Champion Four of 1921. He was selected in four Victorian Interstate Eights and retired from competitive rowing at the end of the 1925-26 season. Bob Gregg continued as a coach of the club and served on the committee for a number of years. He was captain during 1934-35 and subsequently a vice-president of the club. His rowing career will always be linked with that of Jack Mounsey, with whom he won so many races.

The club was unsuccessful at the Melbourne and Footscray Regattas in November, 1927, but it is interesting to note that at this latter fixture Mercantile entered its first Lightweight Maiden Eight, with the crew including such notable Mercantilians as Wally Turnbull and Alan Sloss. The club's first success for the year was not achieved until a win was recorded in the Senior Pairs at Nagambie. This was followed by a double at Rutherglen, when a crew stroked by Jim Sprigg won both the Junior and Senior Fours.

1928 Junior and Senior Four winning crew at Rutherglen

1928 Junior and Senior Four winners at Rutherglen.

Bow: J South, 2: A Gibbs, 3: W Harworth , Str: J G H Sprigg, Cox: M Green, Cch: C J Nicholls

At the January holiday weekend regattas, the club had five entries, but failed to record a win. After a lapse of several years, Mercantile again was able to enter a crew for the Champion Eights, but despite the formidable combination of Cecil McKay as stroke and Alex Sloan as coach, Mercantile was defeated by Melbourne.

This event marked the last appearance of Jack Mounsey in a race for the club. Jack announced his retirement prior to Ballarat Regatta held two weeks after the Champion Eights. Jack Mounsey had first represented the club at the Upper Yarra Regatta in 1911 and following distinguished active service in the World War, had entered Senior ranks immediately on his return. His wins had been numerous and also included the club's two successful Champion Eights of the post-war era and the 1921 Champion Four. He had been vice-captain of the club for a season under Ted Kenny and served four terms as captain from 1923 to 1927. Jack Mounsey continued his interest in the club for many more years as both a coach and administrator. At the time of his death he was both a vice-president and life member of Mercantile.

The first Senior Eight win for five years was achieved with a double at Ballarat and Barwon regattas. The club finished the season with 22 Senior points and was second to Melbourne in this division. Only one win was achieved in Junior races and Mercantile consequently finished well down the list for this flag.

The club's revival in Senior rowing resulted in Cecil McKay, Jack South and R. D. Emms being selected in the Victorian King's Cup crew. However, owing to unforeseen circumstances, Jack South was the only one of the three who was eventually able to race in the crew, which finished in fourth place to Western Australia.

The Interstate Sculling Championship of 1928 was won by the great Bobby Pearce for the second time in succession. Following this win Pearce was selected as Australia's Olympic representative for the Amsterdam Games, where he won the Gold Medal - an achievement he repeated in 1932 in Los Angeles.

Despite the disastrous fire of April, 1927, Mercantile could look back on the 1927-28 season as one of great achievement. The clubhouse had been rebuilt, the fleet was gradually being replaced and once more the club was a force in Senior rowing. Membership also had increased to a record level of 183 and despite the abnormal expenditure involved, the club finished the year with a surplus of £1,121 - a tribute to the financial astuteness and perseverance of Alec Clarke.

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