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Melbourne University Boat Club History

A Brief History of Melbourne University Boat Club (MUBC)

Melbourne University is the oldest rowing club in Australia. It was founded by Professor Martin Irving in 1859 only 4 years after Melbourne University commenced operations. Irving himself was a champion oarsman in England and the University’s second Professor of Classics.

The early years of MUBC trace the development of Melbourne and the new Colony of Victoria, following its separation from the Colony of New South Wales in 1850. 

The upper Yarra River in those days was much narrower than it is today, meandering as it did through what is now the lake in the Royal Botanical Gardens. Early racing on the river often involved such compromises as two boats racing in single file from stake to stake due to the impossibility of racing two or more abreast. Rowing conditions improved with the widening of the Yarra River and flood mitigation works late in the nineteenth century, which changed the course of the river.

The first amateur boat race on the Yarra was organized by Irving in 1860 in which MUBC and two other clubs, no longer in existence, participated. For a while most racing on the Yarra was intra-club, but as more rowing clubs came into existence in Melbourne and Victorian regional centres, inter-club regattas became more popular.

The first intervarsity boat race between Melbourne and Sydney was held in 1870, but it was not until 1888 that this race became an annual event between Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide University Boat Clubs for the “Oxford and Cambridge Cup” for eight-oared crews. During this period inter-faculty and inter-collegiate regattas also became popular at Melbourne University.

The First World War resulted in tragic losses of many young Australians, including members of MUBC. However, it was at the Royal Henley Peace Regatta held on the Thames in England in 1919, that one of MUBC’s most famous Club men, Captain HC Disher, who had served in France in the Australian Medical Corps, stroked the winning first AIF crew to victory. The trophy won by the crew and known as the King’s Cup, was donated by the King as the perpetual trophy for the annual Australian interstate eight-oared championship.

Racing at MUBC from the end of the Great War through to the 1960s, with some exceptions, focused on inter-collegiate, inter-varsity and local Club regattas. It was at the 1974 World Championships in Lucerne that an MUBC lightweight four won the first Gold Medal at an international championship regatta by a sweep oared Australian crew. 

Thereafter, many MUBC members, both men and women, have represented Australia at World and Olympic Championships, and many of those have been medalists.

MUBC (until then men only) and its sister club Melbourne University Ladies Rowing Club, fully merged under the name MUBC in 1999. The Club now comprises men and women of all age groups and categories from youth to elite to masters, with opportunities for all to participate as they wish in recreational rowing, club events (both local and international), and elite competition.

An Extensive History of MUBC

In 2009, MUBC celebrated its 150th anniversary. To commemorate this occasion, MUBC published a book: Well Rowed University: Melbourne University Boat Club, The first 150 years, by Judith Buckrich. Each of the chapters is available (for free) to download as a PDF from the MUBC Well Rowed website.

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