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History of Newcastle Rowing Club

Part 2 - Newcastle Rowing Club in Colonial Newcastle (continued)

Part 2 pages: 1, 2, 3, 4

Newcastle Rowing Club - Second Era, 1880- 1896

The First Year, 1880

Newcastle Rowing Club was re-established on Tuesday 16 March 1880. 

At a well attended meeting of members of the Enterprise Private Rowing Association held at Milthorp's Terminus Hotel, the chairman, Mr W S Paul, announced that members had voted by a two-thirds majority to change the EPRA from an association to a club -Newcastle Rowing Club. Some rules were amended to cater for the change. 

The EPRA committee continued unchanged becoming, with the stroke of a pen, the inaugural committee of the new NRC. 

It was made up of: 

President: Robert B Wallace 

Vice-Presidents: Edward C Merewether & Alex Brown 

Club Captain: RD Williams 

Vice Captain: Arch Langwill 

Treasurer: August Eramus Oscar Walker 

Secretary: Thomas F Whistler 

Committee: Charles F Stokes, Beresford Hudson, Henry Trenchard, Matthew H Christoe and W S Paul 

R B Wallace

Robert Barclay Wallace (1838-1892) was President from 1880 -83. He was a Merchant and Shipping Agent: President of Newcastle Hospital: Member of Marine Board: a Magistrate: Director of Newcastle Gas Company: an original proprietor of Newcastle Steamtug Company: Vice President of Newcastle Rugby Football Club; Patron of the Northumberland Bicycle Club; Vice-consul for Norway, Sweden and Netherlands and a member of Newcastle Cathedral Committee. 

Of the others, Edward Merewether was well known; Alex and James Brown were proprieters of the Tug Company and coal mine owners; Langwill was General Manager of the Newcastle Gas Company; Walker, a doctor; Christoe, an assayer; Whistler, an accountant and Manager of the Bank of NZ; Stokes, a magistrate as well as a broker and general commission merchant; Hudson, a surveyor and chairman of the Newcastle Coal Mining Company and Trenchard, Manager of the Bank of Australasia. 

In March 1880, the club took delivery of a new gig, similar to the 'Enterprise' that had been especially built for the EPRA by Greenland of Melbourne. 

On 22 July 1880, with a membership of 50 and a fleet of seven boats ( 4-oared skiffs and three pairs), the club opened its new boathouse on Bullock Island7

The boathouse was located on a 16.5 perch [about 417m2] site at the SE end of Denison Street next to the Bullock Island Bridge [where the wheat silos are now]. The low-level bridge crossed the eastern end of the harbour joining Denison Street with Blane Street [Hunter Street West] near Worth Place. 

Use of the land was granted by the Government "under the same terms and conditions as Sydney Rowing Club and others in Sydney". The conditions referred to would have been along the lines that the club had no right of purchase and could be required to vacate at any time without compensation. Initially, no annual rental was imposed. A formal 5-year lease arrangement and rental were only applied in 1895. 

The boatshed was built by Mr Muirhead based on plans prepared by club member Mr Beresford Hudson. Costing £146.7.10, it was described in a press report as a fine shed, 50 ft by 40 ft (186m2 ) with galvanised roofing, weatherboard ends and an ample landing stage. Capable of housing up to twelve boats, it replaced a 45 ft x 12 ft shed located near the pilot station that had been a legacy of the EPRA. The new building was described as "well suited to all requirements" but the next bit had to be a worry: there were "unnecessary spaces between the siding boards". 

NRC's boat shed can be seen on the far, right hand (eastern) side of the Bullock Island Bridge to Carrington.

The opening was preceded by a procession of seventeen club and other boats leaving the old shed, pulling up in line past the Bullock Island dyke and then to the new shed. In the unavoidable absence of the club President, the Mayor, Mr S Chapman, performed the opening ceremony before about 100 people including a great number of leading public officials and well-known residents of Newcastle. 

Mr C Hannell, in responding to a toast to the visitors, "pointed encouragingly to the fact that the Hunter River district having already produced some of the finest, if not the finest, oarsmen in the world, and as such were fully able to hold their own with any rival, even from the crack clubs of Sydney and Balmain. He instanced, as one, William Hickey, whom he contended was "as good a man as had been brought forward at any time". The afternoon's proceedings were closed with three cheers for Her Majesty. Corks of the best brands were drawn to commemorate the occasion. 

In reporting on the opening, the 1880 Newcastle Directory and Almanac added the following detail. "The club had string test gigs for those who prefer speed, and there is a fine waterman's skiff with sail &c., for those who prefer safety and ease". It was anticipated that the improved facilities would increase membership during the coming year. 

In August 1880, the club took delivery of a new light skiff built by N Shepherd of Maitland. It was 22 ft long with a 4ft Sin beam. Fitted with a mast it could also be used as a sailboat. By October , the fleet consisted of four four-oared gigs, one light skiff, and one waterman's skiff supplied with sails and especially adapted for pleasure trips. The 'Magic' and the 'Alert' were being overhauled and were nearly ready for use. Interesting features of the financial statement were expenditures of £86.14. 9 for the purchase of boats, and £6.13.0 for the purchase of oars and sculls. Subscriptions (3 guineas per annum) and entrance fees (1 guinea) raised a total of £117.10.0 and there was a bank overdraft of £152.2.7. 

1880-81 Season (October 1880 - Sept 1881) 

The first Annual General Meeting was held at Milthorp's Terminus Hotel on Friday 22 October 1880 chaired by the President, R B Wallace. 

During this era, all AGMs were held in either October or November the (the season commenced on 1st October) at a hotel somewhere. The Terminus was the most popular with the Ship Inn, Great Northern [Scott Street], Centennial [Scott Street], Metropolitan [cnr Watt & Scott Streets] and Grand [Bolton & Church Streets], also utilised on occasion. The difficulty here is self-evident - so many pubs but so few AGMs. 

NRC's first competitive outing of its second era was at the NAR in January 1881. Race 3 was "A race for Gentlemen Amateurs of the HRD [presumably Hunter River District] and junior crews and any other of any Sydney or other rowing club rowing four oars with coxswains in string-test gigs". First prize were trophies valued at 12 guineas. 

After leading early in the race Newcastle's crew of R D Williams (stroke); S Brown; R Bourke; E Graham & G Gee (cox) in 'Enterprise', came second. A crew from a visiting ship, HMS 'Pinafore', won comparatively easily with "plenty of lung left for a hearty cheer to the losing crew". Esmond Hannell and Esmond Graham easily won the first place trophy (value 6 guineas) in a race for Gentlemen Amateurs employed in public or private offices pulling 2 pair of sculls in light watermens skiffs. 

Typical NRC AGM advertisement 

Later the club selected and trained two crews in the club's two best 4 oar gigs for an internal race on Newcastle Harbour on 19 February for the Lord Mayor's trophy, a handsome "elaborately chased and embossed" silver cup donated by ex-Mayor, Mr S Chapman. The trophy fulfilled a promise made to that effect at the opening of the clubhouse the previous year. 

The crews were E Graham (stroke), R D Williams (3), M H Christoe (2) & T J MacDermott (1) in 'Enterprise' versus R R King (stroke), R Bourke (3) E Evans (2) & H Finch (1) in 'Ariel'. The weekly Town and Country Journal described R R King, as "by no means a colt having taken an active part in regattas in this part and also New Zealand." The opposing stroke Edwin Graham was described as 'the well known young townsman ... he has frequently given a good account of himself". It added, "Both men having the right sort of stuff behind them, we anticipate a really good race".

The race was started from boats specially moored for the purpose and followed by the steamer 'Magic' carrying officials and supporters. The 'Enterprise' won a close and exciting race which was described in great detail in the local newspaper. Afterwards, the cup was displayed for several weeks in the front window of auctioneers W Grisdale & Co in Hunter Street. 

On Saturday 2 April 1881, the club conducted heats of a 4-oared scratch race. Three crews competed stroked respectively by E Graham, A A King and R Bourke. The course was from the AA Co's shoots [opposite Crown Street. 'Shoots' - so called because they shoot coal into the vessel. Think of a 'chute'] to the pilot boat shed. The first heat was won by Graham's crew by about 2 ft from King's crew after a "splendid" race from start to finish. In the row-off, Bourke's crew beat Graham's by about a boat length. 

In May, the final club race of the season was for scratch fours in string test gigs. Three crews competed. The course was from the AA Co's shoots to the pilot boat shed. Heat 1 at 4.30 pm on Friday 20 May involved R Bourke (stroke), S Brown (3), H Trenchard (2) & H E Eddis (1) in 'Ariel' versus A Langwell (stroke), J Murrell (3), H Kemp (2) & A Millard (1) in 'Enterprise'. Bourke's crew won by two lengths. Langwill's crew rowed "pluckily" but was too light. Bourke's crew rowed-off against the crew of E Graham (stroke); H Finch (3); R R King (2) & G Millard (1) at 4.00 pm on Saturday 21 May, winning by 2 lengths.

A Plain and Fancy (Dress) Ball was held at the Protestant Hall [King Street] on Thursday 25 August 1881. Tickets cost 10/- for ladies, 15/- for gentlemen and 21/- a double. The first of many such functions held during this era, the hall was attractively decorated with flags, evergreens, banners, oars and other insignia. The Great Northern Band under Mr G Hardy provided excellent music throughout the night. Mr W Lashmore of the City Restaurant was caterer, providing supper in a large upstairs room. The capacity crowd in attendance, most in fancy dress, packed the hall near to overflowing. Those present had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. 

NRC joined the NSWRA for the 1881/82 season in August 1881. It was the intention to compete in the outrigger race for junior oarsmen at the Association's second annual regatta on the Parramatta River over two weekends, 8 and 15 October. The successive weekend format which was intended to allow rowers to enter both rowing and sculling races was not a success so wasn't repeated. NRC's selected crew of T P Macdermott (1), A Langwill (2), R Burke (3) and RR King (stroke) were to row a new clinker outrigger then being constructed for the club by Donnelly and Sullivan of Sydney. The ages of these members are unknown but at this distance, particularly as R R King had been described beforehand as "no means a colt" it hardly seems likely that they were all 'juniors': at least as we understand the term today. 

A week later it was suggested that the crew, stroked by the "energetic" club secretary R R King, was a good one but reservations were expressed about the amount of time left to become accustomed to the newly arrived outrigger. The NSWRA was then notified that that the club was unable to participate in the season-opening procession of boats proposed for 1 October. The procession was cancelled anyway as all the other competitors from Sydney clubs claimed to be "committed to training". Due to the limited training time in the new boat, NRC withdrew from the junior fours and entered the maiden fours instead using a boat borrowed from North Shore RC. A Langwill (stroke) 11st 21b, R Bourke (3) 12st 11 lbs, E Graham (2) 11st 2 lb, & T P Macdermott (1) l0st l lb made up the new crew. As can be seen, only one of the or ginal crew was replaced. 

A very strange suggestion in one newspaper report prior to the regatta was that a senior 8-oared race would be contested by selected crews from the NRC and Sydney RC with, astoundingly, the former favourite. NRC had no inkling of such a contest and it involved a class of boat they had never even rowed. They were highly unlikely therefore to pose a problem to the strong SRC crew. In fact, the race was contested by SRC and Sydney's Mercantile RC so it has to be assumed that reference to NRC was a misprint. 

1881-82 Season 

During the AGM held at Milthorp's Terminus Hotel on 5 October 1881, people interested in aquatics were encouraged to rally at the wharf the next day and give a "hearty cheer" to the NRC crew as they departed on the steamship to Sydney for the NSWRA regatta. This was NRC's first attendance at a Sydney regatta. It was also the first time a crew from a club outside Sydney had competed at a Sydney regatta. The NSWRA would undoubtedly have been delighted with NRC's involvement as it extended its affiliated membership beyond a handful of Sydney clubs. The race for four-oared string-test gigs with six entrants was won by Glebe RC. Although finding it difficult in an unfamiliar boat NRC finished a credible fourth. 

It should be realized at that time travelling to Sydney wasn't easy. Most people went by steamship as there was no rail link to Sydney until 1889 and to go overland could take up to three exhausting days. It was also dangerous: not least because of bushrangers. Steamships had revolutionised transport between Sydney and settlements along the Hunter River. Operated by several companies, they provided a reliable daily service on the Morpeth - Newcastle - Sydney route that was more comfortable than overland travel and took only about 4 - 6 hours in good conditions. The boat taken would have been either the 'Kembla' or the 'Morpeth'. Both sailed at 11 p m. The fare was 10/- in the saloon and 5/- steerage. Deck state-rooms were 2/6 extra. 

At the 1882 NAR, NRC's E Graham and R Bourke (cox G Gee) rowing two pair sculls in a light watermans skiff were placed second. Crews were loudly cheered by the spectators. 

To encourage and improve rowing, the club held a series of scratch races in four oared gigs over a two months period. The races were conducted on a points score system for trophies presented by committee member Joseph Wood. The well contested series was won by the crew of E Graham, A Millard, A Smith and P Le Neveu. 

The second annual Plain and Fancy Ball was held at "Mr Colin Christie's City Hall" [Newcomen Street] on Thursday 13 July 1882. Tickets were dearer than the previous year costing 12/6 for ladies, 17 /6 for gentlemen and 25/- a double. The walls were completely covered with flags of all nations interspersed with ferns and evergreens. Numerous chinese lanterns suspended from the ceiling added additional charm. There was a fountain with varied prismatic hues and the busy scene in front was reflected in large mirrors placed above the dais. Mr W Lashmore of the City Restaurant again catered, providing lavish food and the best quality wine. The Great Northern Band played delightful and spirited music from 9.00 pm until 4.00 am the following morning. The numerous fancy dresses were of a remarkable, superior description. Costumes were advertised for sale from 10/- each. The newspaper report described it as the greatest success of its kind ever achieved in Newcastle. It was also a financial success. 

In October 1882, the club fleet consisted of one four-oared racing clinker outrigger, two staunch string-test gigs, one light string-test gig, two light double scull skiffs, one sailing/sculling skiff. All were in good repair having been thoroughly overhauled. During the year, E Graham was appointed club vice-captain in place of Mr Richard Bourke who left the district. The club's progress was regarded as very satisfactory and there had been a small increase in membership. 

1882-83 Season 

On any afternoon between 4.30 and 7.00 p.m in early 1883, there was increased activity along the wharf with rowers training in skiffs, gigs and outriggers. Club members were preparing for the club's inaugural regatta to be held over two February weekends. 

There were three events. The one for four oars in string test gigs (with cox) for the J C Ellis MLA trophy generated the greatest interest. Other events were single sculls and double sculls. Comments by the Herald's 'Aquatics' writer on the crews in the gig race were: 

Langwill's crew - A Langwill (stroke), J Dart, S Laing & J Rooke 

"A somewhat badly matched lot as to size possessing too much of the long and short of it in the boat. However they have made much improvement since they started practice. They pull a good telling stroke and can go the whole distance strongly". 

Macdermott's crew - T Macdermott (stroke), G Millard, A Millard & Jas Hyde. 

"A light crew but are pulling well together to a good lively lifting stroke of about 40". 

Graham's crew - E Graham (stroke), P Le Neven, H Forde & W Tindall. 

"A nicely matched crew as to height, weight, etc. They pull a fine, long, powerful stroke and, if they can infuse a little more life into their stroke, look all out winners". 

King's crew 

"A light crew not seen. A novice in the bow seat requires coaching". 

Heats were held on Saturday, 10 February 1883. The course was from the AA Company Wharf to a buoy near the powder magazine [a hulk moored below Nobby's] - a straight line of about one mile. 

In the first heat of the gig race, Macdermott's crew in the 'Enterprise' competed against Langwill's in the 'Ariel'. After a good start, a foul occurred at the quarter mile. The 'Ariel' crew recovered quickest and by the half way led by two lengths, having appeared to take their rivals water. Another foul then eventuated with both crews attempting to row despite the two boats being locked together. The umpire stopped the race and ordered that it be rerun. Some in both camps expressed dissatisfaction over the decision but general opinion was that it was the wisest decision under the circumstances. 

The second race was for single sculls in clinker outriggers. Only two started, getting under way simultaneously by mutual consent. They rowed well together both stroking "tolerably well together". By half way, Macdermott, having settled down better was leading by two lengths when Millard called "enough" leaving Macdermott to finish the course without any further effort. 

Two heats of the double sculls in skiffs followed. In the first, J Dart and Jas Hyde (cox Gee) in 'Amy' easily beat A Ford and H Berkley (cox Graham) in 'Helen' . The second heat was "the only race of the day worth witnessing". The crews of S Laing and J Rooke (cox Graham) in 'Helen' and B Creer and E Graham in 'Amy' pulled "pluckily" in a close race . Creer and Graham did their utmost to overhaul their opponents but to no avail with Laing and Rooke winning by about two lengths. The hope was expressed that there would be more interesting racing the following Saturday. 

A mid-week re-run was held between the Langwill and Macdermott crews as a result of the clash during their heat. There was intense excitement thoughout. After a good start, Macdermott crew settled down first gaining a lead of half a length. Langwill lifted the effort to gain steadily to be even at the half-way point, going on to win by about a length. It was described in the press report as one of the best contested races ever conducted by the club and worthy of any club in NSW. 

Weather was perfect for the finals the following Saturday. Langwill's crew in the 'Enterprise' rowed the crew of Graham, Le Neven, Forde & Tindall in 'Ariel' over the same course as the heats. Apparently both crews looked remarkable fit for the contest. At the "'Go", the 'Enterprise' got away best but was closely followed by their opponents pulling stroke for stroke. At the No 5 crane the 'Ariel' crew lifted until their bow man suddenly appeared to be in great distress. This allowed the 'Enterprise' to take the lead and win by two lengths. Both crews won praise for their pluck and perseverance. 

The second final was in clinker outrigger single sculls contested by T P MacDermott and C Booth. With Booth indisposed his opponent was favourite. MacDermott (in 'Newcastle) led all the way although he had to fight off a plucky Booth (in 'Magic') who somehow summoned extra energy for a surge passing the steamers wharf. 

The last event was for double sculls in skiffs with cox. Both crews rowed side-by-side for a considerable distance until, passing the No 6 crane, the 'Amy' crew, pulling a "strong clean" stroke, drew ahead of a labouring crew in 'Helen'. A steamer carrying friends, families and 

supporters followed the races on both days. The members were congratulated for holding another successful regatta. 

Fifty members attended the presentation of prizes held at the Terminus Hotel on Tuesday 27 February. After a splendid dinner, J C Ellis (MLA) presented Langwill's crew with the winner's trophy of four handsome and valuable silver cups elaborately chased and inlaid with gold. Gold trophies were awarded to the winners of the single sculls and double sculls events. 

The occasion was also used to present a large, handsomely bound album to committee member Henry Trenchard who was transferred to Maitland by the bank for which he worked. As was the custom on such occasions, there were numerous speeches and toasts. In Maitland, he was instrumental in the formation of Maitland RC, becoming its inaugural president. 

One hundred and twenty couples thoroughly enjoyed themselves at the third Plain and Fancy Ball held at the City Hall on Thursday 5 July 1883. Tickets cost 12/6 for ladies, 17/6 for gentlemen and £1.5.0 a double. It was said to have "passed off with brilliancy and eclat" [eclat is a French word with several meanings. One is 'brilliant', which adds nothing to the sentence. Others are 'conspicuous success' and 'social distinction'. In the context, either or both probably convey the interpretation intended.) The hall was tastefully decorated with ferns, flags, flowers and shrubbery of variegated hews, there were oars and sails located along the sides and a fountain at the end. The balcony was converted into a retiring apartment with lounges and Chinese lanterns. Dancing commenced at 9 o'clock to the strains of Hardy's string band and continued unflaggingly until the last waltz and gallop at 4 a.m. Caterer, Mr Lashmore, provided ample good quality food and drink. Many of the guests wore costumes that in most cases would have been hired from Signor D Bartollomeotti who had set up his costume business at the Criterion Hotel for the occasion. Miss C Henderson went as Newcastle Rowing Club which raises questions about both the wearer and the costume. 

In July 1883, the well known Victorian builder R Fuller completed a new cedar racing gig for the club. It was 42 ft long with sliding seats that had been expressly designed for the rough water experienced in Newcastle Harbour. 

With the club financially sound (£15 in credit) and competition keen, the situation was very satisfactory. 

1883 - 84 Season 

The season commenced on Saturday afternoon 17 November 1883 with a procession of boats from the clubhouse to Fern Bay for a picnic. TA steam launch the 'Adeline' followed carrying honorary members and guests. At Fern Bay, as well as enjoying refreshments, those attending played various sports such as quoits, putting the stone, running races and cricket. Mr Wood christened the new gig on behalf of the President. Everyone was confident it would be more successful year competitively as the new boat, 'Magic', was a big improvement on boats the members were accustomed to. 

At the NSWRA Anniversary Day Regatta on Port Jackson in January 1884, a NRC crew of E C Graham, A B Ford, J M Rooke & A Langwill competed in a race for maiden amateurs in string test gigs. The race was from the flagship, moored at Farm Cove, around Goat Island and back to the flagship. The prize was 12 guineas. Although described as a strong and heavy crew, the Newcastle rowers apparently rowed "stiffly", giving the appearance of being more used to fixed-seat rowing, and were beaten by a very good crew from Sydney Mercantile RC. For spectators, a highlight of the days rowing would have been a championship race involving Edward Trickett former world champion sculler (1876) and William Beach who later that year defeated Canadian Edward Hanlan for the world championship which he then held until his retirement in 1887. 

The club's annual regatta was held on Saturday afternoon on 29 March 1884. Admission to the steamer 'Adeline' that followed the races was 2/-for gentlemen and 1/-for ladies. The first race was for club members in four-oared string test gigs with cox over a mile and a quarter. Prizes were donated by Mr Joseph Wood. Crews were J M Rooke (stroke) (replacing Hyde who was injured in a fall from a bicycle), B Creer, J R Wilson & J Dart in 'Ariel' and A B Ford (stroke), G Graham, J Rooney & J Dudgeon in 'Enterprise'. Despite the longer stroke of the 'Enterprise' crew, 'Ariel' won by four lengths. With the race held in conditions impossible for good rowing, both boats were in a sinking condition by the finish. 

The main event of the day was for maiden oarsmen in string test gigs with cox over a course of about 21/4 miles. Prizes were donated by Mr Stewart Keightley. Participating crews were a NRC crew represented by E C Graham (stroke), S Laing, G Millard & A Langwill with G Gee (cox), one from Maitland RC plus another from Sydney's North Shore RC. Although crews from Sydney Mercantile RC had competed in the Hunter previously, namely, the Newcastle Annual Regatta in 1877 and the Morpeth Regatta in 1878, this was the first time a Sydney club had participated in a club regatta in Newcastle. 

Stroked by T C Cresswell and coxed by the club captain, F B Hall (a former Novocastrian who had learned his rowing in Newcastle), NSRC jumped away quickly followed by NRC and the slow starting Maitland crew. This order was maintained until near the finish when the NRC dropped back when the No 2 seat was detached from the slides. Then, two lengths from the finish line, the North Shore boat, leading by four lengths with a "nice clean style and superior stroke", was swamped by wash from the tug 'Challenger' which ignored hooters and whistles from the spectator fleet. 

In its report, the Town & Country Journal, hinted darkly on the action of the tug which "whether purposely or not we cannot say" steamed across the front of the race. In the end, Maitland RC won by three feet from Newcastle. NSRC was recorded as "sunk". The North Shore crew, rescued by Mr Hyde's launch, did not get back to the Great Northern Hotel, where they were staying, until 8 p.m. In its race summary, the Newcastle Herald reported that the Maitland win was due, "entirely by pluck". It's just a stab in the dark, but since one competitor sank and the other boat broke, the 'p' in pluck may just have been a misprint. 

Other races planned for the day, one a double sculls (trophy by Mr T F Whistler), three for clinker outriggers (trophy by the Newcastle Herald) and a scratch gig race with crews drawn from contestants in earlier events, were postponed due to bad weather. 

During the regatta supper that evening at the Terminus Hotel there were the usual songs, recitations and numerous toasts. C H Hannell who, although influential, was not a club member, made an extraordinary speech when proposing a toast to the winners. He said that he was almost ashamed that the Newcastle crew did not win stating that what they wanted was a good coach: they were not yet used to the sliding seat and their boat came to a standstill between each stroke. He went on to praise the crew who won Mr Wood's trophy in an earlier race with special mention of their stroke Mr Rooke. 

Hannell's argument seems to have been that the club had failed to select its best crew for the days most important contest. His suggestion that NRC hold a test regatta to select the best crew before sending crews to Sydney in future seems to reinforce that interpretation. The Herald's post race report, although not as harsh, tends to support Hannell's comments. It stated that the King-trained NRC crew, despite having trained together for four weeks, never seemed to be in the race, the boat did not lift and there was a great deal of splashing. 

Some additional interesting points made during Hannell's speech in which he reviewed the progress of NRC were:-

  • The difficulties NRC had to contend with. Notably, difficulty in accessing the boatshed which was in an isolated position and surrounded by mudflats. In addition, the waters were open to the sea so were subjected to a great rush of tide8 and strong prevailing winds. These factors mitigated against lighter boats such as gigs, skiffs and wager boats, i.e. every type of boat the club had. He contrasted these difficulties with those of Sydney aquatic men who, at least, did not have to cope with such strong tides.
  • Mr C Hannell expressed the hope that the "little unpleasantness between the Newcastle Regatta Committee (of which he was President) and NRC, had been settled. Details are unknown.
  • A "recruit" of NRC had been selected as one of the Intercolonial eight-oar crew. Details are unknown but it seems improbable.

A subsequent NSRC report on the club's excursion to Newcastle stated that disappointment at being unfortunately swamped with the race well in hand was atoned for by their very kind treatment during their stay in the city. NSRC sportingly showed no residual hard feelings, returning to compete in Newcastle once again just 110 years later. 

NRC's fourth Plain and Fancy Ball was held at the Protestant Hall on Thursday 26 June 1884. Entry was 12/6 for ladies, 17 /6 for gentlemen and 25/- a double. The hall's bare, cold walls were adorned with ferns, foliage, flags, numerous sculls and club initials. Despite the band being described as "execrable", the ball was a financial success returning a profit of £22. 

Architect, James Henderson, advertised in the Herald on 5 July 1884 inviting tenders for a 40ft x 55 ft extension on the northern side of the boatshed (effectively doubling the boat storage area) plus a 10 ft x 55 ft dressing room and bathroom on its southern side, a total floor area of 441m3 In the absence of mains water for use in the bathroom, it seems most likely that water was supplied from a roof water tank. A tender from R Muirhead of £185 was accepted although the final cost was £203. The enlarged shed with landing stage was valued at £320. 

William Beach the world champion sculler came to town in September 1884 as the guest of NRC and MRC. Arriving on the 2.30pm train from Maitland he was received by a large crowd and escorted to the Great Northern Hotel. After a short rest he was driven - no, not by car - to NRC's boatshed where members accorded him a hearty reception. Later he gave an exhibition of his speed and skill in a race against four NRC crews and one MRC crew in a pick-me-up format in which each of the opposing crews were relieved successively after a given distance. NRC crews were E Graham, A B Ford, G Millard, S Laing and Gee (cox) in one boat, King, Braddon, John Hyde and James Hyde in another, George Graham, Eddis, Rooney and Birrell in a third and Bromley and B Creer in a fourth. 

The contestants rowed leisurely down to the start line at the Wool Dumping Co's sheds. Thousands of spectators thronged the water frontage while the harbour was closely packed with steamers, sailing boats and craft of all sorts every one of which was crowded, even to their royal yardarms in some cases. Five or six steamers also followed the race that was parallel to the wharf. Beach rowed a wager boat lent to him by John Kennedy, an English professional who had recently rowed against Hughes. With the boat too small for him, Beach was "thoroughly pinched up in it and unable to get full scope. The boat was half full of water and his leg was cut all round the calf". Nevertheless, the champion led his opposition a "merry dance" to the finish line and won easily. He acknowledged the cheers of the appreciative crowd by raising his hat. A formal welcoming function was held in the evening at his hotel. During the usual speeches and toasts he was made a Life Member of NRC. 

By October, the club's fleet consisted of one four-oared racing clinker outrigger, two first-class string test gigs, one light string test racing gig, two double scull skiffs, two clinker outriggers, one Carvel-built wager boat, one sailing boat and one sculling boat, all of which had been overhauled to first-class order. These were to be augmented by the purchase of two new Carvel-built wager boats (single sculls with outriggers) built by Edwards of Melbourne. 

Some in the club considered that the new wager boats were too light and unsuitable for Newcastle conditions. It was suggested that they should be sold and that other, more serviceable, boats bought in their place. One suggestion was that use of the new boats be restricted to selected members. It was decided to keep one for general use and one for racing. 

Highlights of the 1884 AGM were the committee's satisfaction following a large increase in new members, both active and honorary. A bank overdraft of £66. l 9s.3d was regarded as acceptable. The committee also expressed support for the formation of Newcastle's second rowing club, Mercantile. 

1884-85 Season 

Robert Wallace was replaced as President by Joseph Wood (1842- 1908) who remained in the position until the end of the second era in 1896. Previously, he had been a committee member (1880 - 81) and Vice (President 1882 - 83). 

In business, Wood was a co-founder and Chairman of Directors of Castlemain Brewery; a founder and chairman of Wood Bros & Co, wine and spirit merchants [Watt St]; Chairman, Aberdare Collieries Co; Director, Newcastle Gas and Coke Co; Director, Newcastle Building & Investment Co; Director, Newcastle & Hunter River Steamship Co; Senior Partner, Ripple Creek Sugar Plantation (Qld) and Director, Wickham and Bullock Island Colliery Co. 

Joseph Wood 

His contribution to the artistic, social and sporting life of the city were as: President, Newcastle Liedertafel [a musical society]; Vice President, Dramatic Society; Chairman, Victoria Theatre Co; Vice President, Newcastle Hospital; Vice President, Newcastle Club; Patron of the Newcastle Agricultural and Horticultural Society; President, Amateur Athletic Club; Patron, Newcastle Bicycle Club; President, Belmont Regatta, Vice President, Newcastle City Football Club (Association); Vice President, Northern Branch Rugby Football Union; President, Amateur Athletic Club; Vice-President of the Newcastle Annual Regatta, and Patron of the Northumbeland Bicycle Club. 

In addition he was a member and sometimes treasurer of the Newcastle Jockey Club and a supporter of cricket, the Philharmonic Society and the Musical Union. 

This formidable list may help explain what people did in their spare time in the days before television and other amusements. In keeping with his position as one of the best-known, respected and most successful businessmen in the city, Wood lived in the grand 'Woodlands' property in Church Street and and managed his many business interests from the ornate Menkens' building in Scott Street. 

NRC participated in the opening of the 'newly formed' Mercantile Rowing Club's (MRC) boat shed at Stockton (population then 1000) in late December 1884. MRC's President was CH Hannell a familiar name to Newcastle rowing fraternity. Its Secretary, J R Rooke, was well known to NRC members having been the club's Secretary the previous year. 

The usual array of activities accompanied the celebrations: band, refreshments, champagne, speeches, boat and boatshed inspection. Naturally, there was a parade of boats. MRC's 'Shamrock' led followed by NRC's 'Newcastle' with E Graham (stroke), S Laing (3), J Birrell (2) W F Tarleton (bow) and Gee (cox); MRC's 'Rose'; NRC's 'Ariel' with Webster (stroke); W McClarin (3); J Dart (2); George Graham (bow); NRC's 'Enterprise' with John Hyde (stroke); A B Ford (3); W Briggs (2); J Rooney (bow); Hickey (cox) and MRC 's 'Express', all of which were 4-oared gigs A MRC coxed pair skiff called 'Messenger' and a Maitland RC representative in a wager boat called 'Beauty' also took part . 

The new NRC committee wished the new club every success stressing that any ill feeling would destroy the true spirit of amateur athletics. 

At the 1885 NAR, NRC entered in a race for members of rowing clubs in 4-oared string test gigs with cox for a trophy valued at 12 guineas. C Graham (stroke), S Laing (2), J Birrell (3) B Creer (4), Cole (cox) in 'Ariel' won by three lengths from another NRC crew of A B Ford (stroke), J Dudgeon (2), J Hyde (3), J Wilson (4), Brown (cox) in 'Enterprise'. MRCs 'Shamrock' was third. 

At that regatta, a local lad was second in a single scull race for youths under 16 years old in dinghies not more than 15 ft long. His name was George Towns. Sixteen years later he won the world sculling championship. 

NRC entered five races in the Maitland Regatta on Anniversary Day, 1885. In a maiden four-oar race in string-test gigs open to all members of rowing clubs for a trophy valued at eight guineas, the NRC crew of W J Rooney, James Hyde, L McLaren & John Hyde with R Hickey (cox) led from the start with a fast pace winning by three lengths from a Maitland crew. In the senior four-oar race in string­ test gig for a trophy valued at £10, NRC's E Graham, S Laing, J Webster & B Creer with R Hickey (cox); a stronger crew in a superior boat, were favourites. NRC again defeated Maitland RC in "as fine and well contested race as could wish to be seen". It is interesting to note that both NRC crews were coxed by one of Newcastle's finest scullers, R Hickey, a professional. Obviously, even though there were strong sanctions preventing amateurs and professionals rowing together, there was no impediment to professional rowers coaching or coxing amateurs. 

In a stump outrigger race open to senior members of rowing clubs for a trophy valued at five guineas, NRC's J D Birrell arrived late at the start so started behind the others. Although he pulled well he came third behind two Maitland RC rowers. Birrell later withdrew from a race for senior members of rowing clubs in best and best boats the prizes for which were trophies valued at five guineas for first and three for second. In a scratch race in string test gigs for a four­guinea trophy, NRC's E Graham & J Webster didn't finish following an unspecified foul. 

That evening, the presentation of prizes was held at the Cross Keys Hotel. There was an excellent spread interrupted by the usual speeches. NRC's club captain E Graham responded to a toast to NRC with a toast to "Maitland Rowing Club". After the festivities, Newcastle rowers, who, it must be said, didn't have a real good day, were cheered, probably sympathetically, by Maitland RC members who had accompanied them to the rail station. 

Early in 1885, the Herald's rowing reporter congratulated the "popular" club on its rapid strides to date and its decision to hold a series of races for scratch fours (on Sat 21 February). Junior members were encouraged to enter by involving them in training over the preceding the 3-4 weeks. Crews were: 

1)J Webster, L McLaren, Thomas Fligg & C Shaw

2)C Graham, J Birrell, J Dart & B Creer

3)S Laing, J Hodgkinson, H Cooke & W Eddis

4)Jno (John) Hyde, A Millard, J Rooney & C Donaldson

It was a beautiful day on the harbour for the first events. Webster's crew in 'Enterprise' defeated Graham's crew in 'Ariel' by 1 ½ lengths. Hyde's crew beat Laing's easily by 3 lengths. The competitors were encouraged by the cheers of supporters on the steamer 'Adelaide' that followed the race and by the crowd which lined the wharf from end to end. 

A final between the heat winners was held on the following Wednesday afternoon - another beautiful day. Webster's crew (in blue), trailing until the No 6 crane, eventually beat Hyde's, (in white), by 1 ½ lengths. The preparatory training and internal competition had resulted in a marked improvement in the rowing of those involved. 

The club's 1885 annual regatta was unavoidably postponed then cancelled. There is no record of whether the prize presented by Leslie McLaren on behalf of the Scottish Blend Whiskey Company was in the nature of the company's product and, if so, whatever happened to it. 

At the MRC club regatta at Stockton on 23 April 1885, NRC participated in the only race that catered for rowers other than those from the host club. It was a maiden race in string-test gigs conducted under NSWRA rules over a straight course of 1. 5 miles for a trophy valued at 12 guineas. The NRC crew of H Braddon (stroke), H Cooke (3), AB Ford (2) and W F Tarleton (1) came second to a MRC crew. 

The club's annual Plain and Fancy Ball was held on Wednesday 10 June 1885 at the City Hall. Entry was 12/6 for ladies, 17 /6 for gentlemen and 25/- a double. According to the Newcastle Herald, the "elite of the second city in NSW were well represented" and the "ladies dresses were of a most magnificient character and value". The band was first class and supper consisted of every possible delicacy. It was an unqualified success, earning a profit of £12. 

During the year, two first class wager boats were built to order by Edwards of Melbourne (£52) and two first-class skiffs built by Shepherd of Maitland (£50), significantly enlarging the fleet. New oars and sculls (£16.10.0) completed the buying spree. A skiff was sold for just £5. Consequently, the fleet, valued at £285, was then made up of one 4-oared racing clinker outrigger, one light string test racing gig, two good string test gigs, three double sculling skiffs, two first-class wager boats, two clinker outriggers, one old carve! built wager boat, and one sailing boat. 

The club continued to flourish and had enjoyed its most successful year since its inception. Members had won a number of races, the boat shed had been enlarged and new boats added to the fleet. The hope was expressed that the club would very soon have an 8-oared crew that could compete in Sydney. 

A facsimile of the club's financial statement for the 1884 - 85 season shown below is as an example of the costs and expenditure of a rowing club at that time. 

1885-86 Season 

The club participated in two events at the Stockton Regatta on 9 November 1885. In a race for maiden fours in string test gigs with cox over a straightaway course of about 2 miles for a trophy worth ten guineas. Entry was 10/6. The crew of J Dudgeon, A B Ford, C Donaldson & W Rooney with cox G Gee won easily, defeating two Mercantile RC crews in a "splendid specimen of pluck and endurance". 

In the second, a race for gentleman amateurs for trophies valued at five guineas, E Graham and either J Broughton or S L Laing pulling 2 pair sculls with cox in light watermans skiffs came third to a MRC and an unidentified crew. The Herald reported only one or two capsizes noting that they were only expected on such occasions. "What is a ducking in connection with such a sport"? 

At the 1886 NAR the club entered a race for maiden amateurs in string test gigs for a prize of five handsome cups donated by Mr Deeble of Sydney. It was described as a grand race until the NRC crew of J Hyde, L McLaren, J Walters, H Franck & Gee (cox) broke an oar causing them to come second to a MRC crew. The newspaper commented on the crowd's admiration for the crew gamely rowing the distance in spite of the accident and of the hearty cheers from their opponents for their plucky behaviour. 

A series of scratch races was held on 24 March 1886 for a prize of eight guineas out of a £20 prize pool donated by Joseph Wood. One NRC crew was Webster, Dudgeon, Ford & Franks, the other Graham, Hyde, Birrell & Creer. A MRC crew also competed. The series was won by the Webster crew with Graham's second and MRC third. 

The 6th Annual Plain and Fancy Ball was held at the Lyceum Hall [Newcomen Street] on Friday 16 July 1886. Entry was 12/6 for ladies, 17/6 for gentlemen and 25/- a double. With the company large, the decorations pretty and the supper and music excellent, it was a social and financial success. 

Officials were disappointed with the season in which there was little rowing and an apparent lack of enthusiasm among the members. As if to confirm the lethargy, club membership was static. Failure of some members to pay their subscriptions promptly and regularly was affecting the club's ability to improve the fleet. 

1886-87 Season 

Early in 1887, two crews commenced training for a race to be held on Saturday 5 March in string test gigs over a course from the AA Co wharf to the No 8 crane. They were: No 1: E C Graham (stroke), J R Hyde (3), W J Rooney (2) & S L Laing (bow). No 2: J D Birrell (stroke), C Donaldson (2), W J Arnott (2) & R Millard (bow). Two trophies were provided by the Wood Brothers. The race was postponed after the Birrell boat ran into a pile during training and was disabled. 

Eventually held on Wednesday 30 March, it was run as a scratch event as the original crews had been unable to train together. Newly selected crews were E C Graham (stroke), W J Arnott, C Donaldson, & W J Rooney (cox Gee) against J D Birrell (stroke), J Dudgeon, C W Lawrence & S L Laing (cox James). The result is unknown. 

The 7th Annual Plain and Fancy Ball was held at the Lyceum Hall on Friday 17 June 1887. Entry was 12/6 for ladies, 17 /6 for gentlemen and £1.5.0 a double. Stewards for the evening were S L Laing, R R King, J D Birrell, W J Rooney, J Dudgeon, C Donaldson, N B Creer and E Graham. The hall had a picturesque appearance being tastefully decorated with flags, etc. Dancing continued to well after midnight. A repast consisting of "all the delicacies of the season" was catered for by Mr Webber. Unlike the previous year, this one was not a great success as only thirty couples attended due to the impending Jubilee celebrations. Nevertheless, all the ladies were beautifully dressed. The men wore historical garb. 

1887-88 Season 

Poor weather at the Stockton Regatta on Wed 9 October 1887 caused the postponement of a number of races including one for members of rowing clubs until the following Saturday. The Town and Country Journal reported that the NRC crew defeated MRC in eights. By now, the result should surprise no one. The boats allegedly used however would startle everyone, even the participants. Neither club had ever owned an eight or rowed one. The event was, of course, for coxed fours in string test gigs. 

Next was the NAR held on 2 January 1888. A race in four oared string test gigs between Sydney Mercantile RC and the two Newcastle clubs generated great interest even though the Sydney club was expected to win because of poor preparation by the locals. A NRC crew of J D Birrell (stroke), E Graham, C Donaldson & S Laing G Gee (cox) belied their training form winning the most exciting race on the program by half a length from Sydney Mercantile RC with MRC a bad last. 

Overall, the season was regarded as unsatisfactory due to the lack of interest by rowers prompting a call for a bigger effort from members. Attendance at afternoon practice had been poor and there was an absence of organised internal scratch races even though there were prizes available for the taking. Financially the club was in a sound position having considerably reduced the bank overdraft to £217.5.10. Outstanding subscriptions continued to be a problem. The whole committee was returned apart from E C Graham (Hon Secretary) and W Arnott (Treasurer) who were replaced by W F Tarleton and C Donaldson respectively. 

1888-89 Season 

The annual report merely reported it as "dull" even though the boat shed had been well used, practice had increased and members had taken a great interest in the affairs of the club. A large amount of money was spent keeping the boats in good order and the fleet was enlarged with the purchase of two light outrigger skiffs. While the prosperity of the club had increased, as they had in previous years, outstanding subscriptions amounting to £57.15.0 continued to be a problem. 

Unlike previous years, there are no details in the newspapers on competition during this or several subsequent seasons. 

1889-90 Season 

At the Stockton Regatta on 9 November 1889, NRC was represented in an amateur's race for members of rowing clubs pulling 4 oars with cox in string-test gigs over a straightaway course of 2 miles for a trophy valued at 6 guineas. MRC won with NRC's No 1 crew of S L Laing, W F Tarleton, E C Graham, J D Birrell (stroke) & Roser (cox) second and the NRC No 2 crew of H Greaves, A E Ash, R C Lester, C Donaldson (stroke) & Gee (cox), third. 

In a race for members of rowing clubs in string test gigs at the 1890 NAR, a NRC crew of Birrell (stroke), Leister, Reid, Donaldson and cox Brown, was defeated by two MRC crews. 

After the Stockton Regatta, there were no further reports in the local press of either NRC or MRC rowing activities for the remainder of the season. Nor was there any mention of other local rowing contests even though match racing continued to be a regular occurrence. This was most unusual as press coverage in previous years had been extensive and reports of rowing activities in other areas and overseas continued unchanged. 

Questions surround a concert organised by the Newcastle Social Club that was held in the Victoria Theatre [Perkins Street] on 30 January 1890 in aid of the Searle Memorial Fund. Henry Searle, from the Clarence area, had won the world sculling championship in 1888 but, after defending his title in England in 1889, he caught typhoid on the return journey and died later that year. His popularity is evidenced by the numbers estimated to have lined the streets when his cortege passed (250,000 in Sydney and 40,000 in Melbourne). Under the patronage of the Mayor, prominent guests at a Newcastle concert included the Mayor of Sydney, the Postmaster-General and famous rowers W Beach, Peter Kemp, J Stansbury and ex-champion of England, G Bubear. 

The concert was preceded by a parade headed by the 4th Regiment band. It included a wager boat draped in the champion's colours and members of all of the cities eight fire brigades carrying torches. Coloured Bengali lights burned throughout the route from the Elite Skating Rink (Blane Street, Honeysuckle Point, now Hunter St West), up Hunter Street to Watt Street then along Scott Street, up Bolton Street, then Hunter St to the Victoria Theatre. 

Now that sounds very impressive. But FIRE BRIGADES? At a commemoration function for a rowing champion? One would have to presume that local rowers would have attended, even if only to get a glimpse of famous visitors such as Beach, Kemp, etc., who were household names in Australia. Yet, no Newcastle rowing identity was among the official party nor was there any mention of representation or involvement by either of the town's two rowing clubs or its numerous professional rowers. Most peculiar. 

Later in the year the American sculling champion, Canadian William O'Connor visited Newcastle to see the sights, one of which, for some unexplained reason, included the cemetery. His fame and the status of rowing was such that he was welcomed to Newcastle with a dinner attended by local dignitaries and civic leaders. He had come to Australia following Searle's death to challenge gun Australian rowers for the world rowing championship that had reverted to Kemp who had lost the title to Searle in1888. Details surrounding the visit are unclear but NRC officials do not appear to have attended. This is also surprising. One would think fellow rowers would be the first to be invited particularly as the host of the dinner was C H Hannell, the brother-in-law of NRC's President, Joseph Wood. 

NRC's reputation suffered a setback at the end of the year. Initial planning for the 1891 NAR included, at the behest of the MRC, a 4- oared gig race. However, for reasons unknown (and for the second year in a row), NRC did not enter a crew and the event was deleted. Two letters to the Newcastle Herald on 31 December castigated NRC for its indifference to the event, and suggesting the reason was fear of losing to the 'junior' club. NRC did not respond to the comments. 

Notwithstanding the above, within the club, attendance at daily training and interest shown in the club throughout the year was keen and encouraging. The dressing shed was lined ("a boon" in the winter months - remember the spaces between the weatherboards when it was first built?). Water was connected to the bath-room and main shed once Carrington was connected to Newcastle's reticulated water mains in late 1888. All the boats had been thoroughly overhauled and were in as-new condition. Assets were calculated at £373.3.0. The shed account had been reduced to £100 so that total liabilities were £156.16.0 down from £221.10.0 the previous year. The point was made that this would be even less with the payment of unpaid subscriptions of £32.3.0. 

1890-91 Season 

This was another season for which there are no details available of any competition. On the other hand, the club was in a very prosperous position. 

On Friday evening 30 January 1891, the club held a fund raising concert at the Lyceum. The building was decorated with flags, pennants and evergreens. The stage was decorated with rowing and maritime trophies. The 14 - item program consisted of songs and musical items performed by "the leading lady and gentlemen amateurs of Newcastle", a group that included members of the club and their families. Admission was 3/- and 2/-. A large attendance 

ensured it was a financial success. At a time when concerts were a regular occurrence, this one was described as one of the most successful ever to have been held in the city. 

J F Connelly, a member of Sydney's North Shore RC was warmly welcomed in 1891when he moved to Newcastle to take over the Grand Hotel [cnr Bolton and Church Streets]. A former committeeman and top class rower with North Shore, he brought invaluable administrative and rowing experience to his new club. Connelly had first came to prominence in 1886. He won the Sydney Mail Cup and the Laidley Sculls as well as being one of a few rowers selected to participate in special trial races to select a representative for the second intercolonial contest held in November 1888. He continued to compete successfully for NRC whilst serving periods as club captain and committee member. His involvement resulted in the club utilising the Grand as the venue for subsequent AGMs. 

1891-92 Season 

A good crowd attended a series of double scull events for club members that commenced on Saturday afternoon 27 February 1892. Races started in the harbour basin near Bullock Island. In the first heat, J Reid & J Kilgour won easily from A Mends & G Beeston. In the second heat, J Lester & M Millard proved too strong for F Smith & W Reid. Heat three was between J Connelly & Phillips and the winners of heat one, Reid & Kilgour. Connelly & Phillips won a close, very good contest so were scheduled to race Lester & Millard the following week. For some unexplained reason, the final, for a trophy donated by several gentlemen, was not run until Wednesday 16 March 1892.

Lester & Millard won easily with Connelly & Phillips not appearing to be in good condition. 

The newspaper report of the event lamented that it was over a year since there had been any 4-oared contests between the Newcastle and Mercantile Clubs. It was suggested that these would prove a great attraction and give rowing a much-needed stimulus. The club appeared to be functioning satisfactorily as interest in rowing had been maintained and club finances were satisfactory. 

1892-93 Season 

A series of races for members in string test gigs commenced on Saturday 3 December 1892. G V Millard (stroke), V H Millard, J Henderson & G Leishman (1) (cox Brooks), rowed J F Connolly (stroke), J Kilgour, A Rogers & A Hackworthy (1) from the end of the Dyke, around the inside channel then finishing at the boat shed. Winning the toss, Millard's crew took the inside course. Connolly's crew led for about 200 yards but was then passed by Millard who at the turn led by two lengths. Connolly's crew lost ground at the turn while Millard's boat was "beautifully steered" so that the result was not in doubt, Millard's crew winning by 3 lengths. 

At the NAR on 2 January 1893, the club's entry in the four oared string test gigs (Kilgour, Greaves, Brelby & Appleby) came second by half a length to a MRC crew. In what is described as a magnificent race the NRC crew put in a highly credible performance in an inferior boat. J F Connolly and J Kilgour won the double scull race for gentlemen amateurs by two lengths. A second NRC crew of A Rodgers and J Greaves came fourth. MRC crews ran second and third. 

In February 1893 a series of double scull races was held over a weekend for members in club skiffs. The course was from the AA Company wharf to the club shed. Crews were J F Connolly and J Malleck; G Millard and J Kilgour; J Greaves and L Paton; L W Appleby and A Rodgers; D Landeryou and A Hackworthy; V Millard and A G Mends; G Leishman and W Ralston; J Henderson and F Ireland. After a series of well- contested heats the final was won by A Rodgers & W Appleby. Prizes for the event from funds provided by Joseph Wood and A G Mendes were presented to the winners at a re-union social at the Grand Hotel on 18 April 1893. 

On Tuesday evening 25 April 1893, three members contested a single sculls handicap race in Gladstone skiffs. A trophy was purchased with money received as entrance fees. D Landeryou (25 lbs) won by several lengths from R J Kilgour (20 lbs) and J Greaves (25 lbs). 

In August the same year, the secretary notified the NSWRA of the club's regret that it could not rejoin the association. This was at a time when the Association was struggling with the problem of what to do with four Sydney clubs as well as Newcastle that were not affiliated. It was decided that affiliated clubs would not be allowed to compete against non-affiliated clubs. This would have affected Sydney clubs more than Newcastle which rarely competed in Sydney anyway but it reduced the likelihood of Sydney clubs competing in Newcastle. 

Demonstrating once again that there is nothing new under the sun, the committee lamented the large cost of repairing boats and obtaining new boats and oars. An appeal was made to members to exercise care when using club equipment. An accident had destroyed two gigs and the other practice gig was "very much screwed" so that it was almost unrowable. As a result, the club fleet was limited to a clinker outrigger and the racing string test gig. 

The season was judged to be highly satisfactory. Operationally, attendances throughout were good with boats in constant use. Financially, it was flourishing with receipts double those of the previous year even though a serious nationwide depression was devastating the district. An overdraft, that had been guaranteed by the President, was almost discharged except for £100 owing on the shed. 

1893-94 Season 

On 12 October 1893 (8-hour day), NRC participated in a three-event regatta conducted by MRC. 

Three men from each club were selected to compete in the single scull handicap race in Gladstone skiffs. The race was won by George Leishman (NRC) in 'Bank' off 55 secs from George Mends (NRC) in 'Locomotive' off 35 secs and Dr Hester (MRC) in 'Blue Pill' off 5 secs. R Lamont (MRC) (30 secs); John Greaves (NRC) (15 secs) and T Parker (MRC) (scratch) also started. 

NRC was not represented in either of two other races, one for double sculls in club skiffs with cox and the other for 4 oars in string test gigs. 250 people attended the race in the steamer 'Centennial' and a large crowd lined the wharf. 

One of only two matters on record in NSWRA archives involving correspondence from NRC occurred in 1893. Minutes of an Association committee meeting recorded an inquiry from the club as to where Sydney clubs obtained their boats as NRC intended to acquire several practice boats. There is no record of what, if any, advice provided. No record remains of the club's 1881 application for affiliation. 

Those paying attention will recall that the Stockton committee conducted regattas on New Years Day 1894, 1895 and 1896 in place of the traditional one normally organised by the Newcastle Regatta Committee. Races for members of rowing clubs were included in the program for two of those years, 1894 and 1895. 

In 1894, NRC and the MRC both entered crews in a race two for bona fide amateurs pulling 4 oars in string-test-gigs on a straightaway course of over 2 miles. The NRC No 1 crew (dark blue & white colours) of VH Millard, J Greaves, J Turnbull and J F Connelly, (cox Kirkaldy) led by a length at the MRC boatshed but was gradually overhauled, inch-by-inch with the MRC crew beating the NRC crew home by a length. NRC's No 2 crew did not finish. 

Stocktonians exhibited a great deal of excitement in favour of the locally based MRC rowers in a single scull handicap race. MRC rowers with up to 55 seconds start came first and second. NRC's J F Connelly, off scratch, came third. J Kilgour, also of NRC, was unplaced. 

Internal club races held during the year included a single scull handicap for members in Gladstone skiffs that was won by D Landeryou with G Leishman second. In a double scull handicap event in club skiffs9 with cox, J Henderson and H Greaves defeated W L Ralston and A Hackworthy after a magnificent race. 

In 1894, the Minister of Lands advised the club that its tenure was terminated and a special lease was necessary. The then standard practice of notification in the gazette to allow for objections was not followed. An application for a lease was lodged the same year9. As can be seen, lease No 1185 (reproduced below) was issued in October 1895 to cover the period 1 January 1896 to 31 December 1900 for a jetty and boat shed on 16.S perches of land at Throsby Creek. Annual rental was £1. Conditions applied were standard for most small waterfront leases at the time. 

Season's end saw the club in a sound financial position even though there had been substantial costs incurred in renewing piling and supports on the boat shed, for costly boat repairs and purchasing two new Gladstone skiffs. 

1894-95 Season 

At the Stockton Regatta in January 1895, NRC and MRC again entered the four oared race in string test gigs. NRC's No 1 crew was J.F Connolly, W Ralston, J Porteous and J Kilgour. The No 2 crew was D Landeryou, H Charleston, A Mends, and A Hackworthy (stroke). MRC won after the two NRC crews collided ¼ mile from the start causing the No 1 boat to lose its rudder. 

In a handicapped singles race in Gladstone skiffs between rowers from NRC and MRC. First prize was a medal and 2 guineas; second £1. With considerable difficulty, Connolly (NRC), off scratch, rowed through the field by three to four lengths from Masten (MRC) off 25 secs. Other starters were W Featherstone ( 40 secs), H Atkinson (50 secs), R Blackall (10 secs) and J Featherstone ( 20 secs). NRC's W Ralston (30 secs) was unplaced. 

Season summary. The club was financially sound with an acceptable overdraft of £104.12.6, an operating credit balance of £4.11.6.and assets of £336.6.6. Outstanding subscriptions amounted to £36.15.0. The club had made little progress during the year and was nearly defunct. Mr McDonald resigned from the committee and from the position of vice-captain. J Kilgour resigned as Secretary. The positions were filled by J F Connolly, AG Mends and W J Ralston respectively. 

With everyone conscious of the parlous situation the club was anxious to re-invigorate itself with several new committee members and a reduction in subscriptions from three guineas to two. Under identical pressures, MRC club acted similarly. 

1895-96 Season 

In retrospect, this was a crucial season for both Newcastle clubs. 

At the Stockton regatta in November 1895, NRC entered a race for members of rowing clubs in 4-oared string test gigs with cox. Entrance was 10/6. The prize was a trophy to the value of ten guineas. The race was a straightaway course of about 2 miles starting upriver. The NRC crew of C Donaldson, W Rooney, A B Ford, J Dudgeon (cox Gee), won by two lengths from a boat named 'Shy Lad' from an unidentified club with 'Shamrock' with MRC six lengths further back, third. The race was described as a "good one" and "a splendid specimen of pluck and endurance". 

In a race for Gentlemen Amateurs pulling two pairs of sculls with cox in light skiffs for trophies worth five guineas, the NRC crew of E Graham, S Laing (cox Gee), came third. Before the race began there was a protest against one of the entrants (H A Hughes and J Broughton) for not being bona fide gentlemen amateurs. The committee dismissed the protest. 

Later that year (Thursday 12 December) the club entered rowers in a race for Gentlemen Amateurs, part of a two-event watermans regatta on the harbour. Participants were: R Blackall (MRC) 45 lbs: George Phelps (NRC) 40 lbs: J Featherstone (MRC) 25 lbs: J Dwan (NRC) 20 lbs: J A Quinn (NRC) 20 lbs and G Kerr (NRC) 5 lbs. The race was from No 11 crane [roughly opposite the end of Cowper St Carrington] to the end of the dyke. According to the Herald, the water was lumpy during the heats and the course too long causing most competitors to cry "enough" before the end. Results of the three heats were: Phelps beat Blackall "easily"; Featherstone beat Dwan who "mistook the course and did all his rowing for nothing". J Quinn had a bye. 

Better conditions prevailed for the finals held a week later. Quinn and Featherstone each carried 20 lbs, Phelps 40 lbs . Quinn won by 6 lengths with Featherstone a "bad third". It is most unlikely that anyone realized at the time that it would be more than ninety years till the club contested its next regatta. 

A race for rowing clubs, advertised for the Stockton Regatta in January 1896, did not eventuate due, almost certainly, to the impending demise of both Newcastle clubs. By then, the country was in the depths of an economic depression, club memberships were falling, and all sporting bodies were struggling to survive. The Newcastle Herald lamented that rowing had been a "dead letter" in Newcastle for a long time. 

In February 1896 the second and last communication by NRC with NSWRA concerned the eligibility of a water policeman competing as an amateur. The answer was - he couldn't. 

A number of incidents in 1896 earned John Quinn the club's captain some unflattering notoriety that contrasted sharply with the relative anonymity of previous club captains. He was taken to court by J F Connolly over trophies (a silver inkstand and a butter cooler) for two single scull races that had been organised by Quinn whilst captain of the club. Mr Connolly claimed the prizes on the grounds that he had won both races (against Quinn). There was no dispute about his winning the first race on the Saturday. It emerged that his Monday 'win' involved rowing over the course, unfazed by the absence of either his opponent or any official. The action was lost as the Monday race in question had been cancelled due to bad weather and no course had been set. 

In March, a proposed match with George Dick of MRC did not eventuate because, according to the newspaper, Quinn was being difficult in agreeing to the class of boat to be used. Quinn responded with a letter to the paper stating that the type of boat was not an issue. Rather, Mr Dick had not covered his stake money despite having agreed to do so. Later in March that year, Quinn wrote to the paper explaining that he had cancelled a race against Harry Muncaster as he had been ill. The paper commented that it was just as well otherwise Quinn would have been taken as a paper rower who challenged only to see his name in the newspaper. 

In August 1896, when he challenged George Kerr, Quinn was described in the Newcastle Herald as the "hero of so many challenges". Later, no one was surprised when negotiations between the two broke down. The newspaper commented that 'for the third time, Quinn has figured prominently as a match-maker but as soon as the "ready" is asked for he always seems anxious to go around the corner to see a man or else he would like to consult his "backah" before going to extremes, donchernow'. 

In September, Quinn withdrew his deposit for a race with George Kerr. The Aquatics writer for the Newcastle Herald described Quinn as the amateur who had issued more challenges than all the professionals in NSW together. 

John Quinn, Club Captain 1895-96 in a Gladstone skiff. Taken adjacent to the boat shed at Carrington. Bullock Island Bridge is on the right. The spire in the left background belongs to St Andrews Presbyterian Church in Laman Street. 

Alert readers may have noticed the regular appearance of George Gee as a cox for numerous crews between 1881 and 1895. As such he was one of the club's longest serving members. But who was George? We don't know much. We do know that he was a carpenter by trade, married to Elizabeth and lived at Bullock Island. This emerged during a court case in November 1875 when his wife was charged with his assault. According to the evidence, when drunk, which was often, Elizabeth became violent to the extent that George believed his life was in danger. On this occasion, their daughter had difficulty separating them as Elizabeth threw a cup at him and pulled his hair. 

Apart from his domestic situation, living at Bullock Island in the late 1800s would have been very bleak. It contained many dirty industries and much of it remained low-lying mudflats. On the face of it, very different circumstances to most of his fellow club members. Electoral records for 1901 show George and Elizabeth still residents of Carrington though at separate addresses. Perhaps George's long involvement with the club provided some respite from the travails of his private life. 


Although not reported in the local press, it seems likely that NRC folded in 1896. 

The club's demise may not have been unexpected. A nationwide depression in the 1890s, a calamitous coal strike in Newcastle and the gradual relocation of coal mining away from Newcastle to areas to the south and west exacerbated the severe economic difficulties in the city. With business closures and widespread unemployment thousands of people left the district to seek work elsewhere. 

MRC which had competed against NRC since 1884, also folded in 1896. Other local sports such as Australian Rules football experienced similar failures. Sadly, hope expressed that the new committee could re-invigorate the club was not fulfilled. Well, not in that century anyway. 

Coincidentally, the demise of NRC in 1896 came when what historians now regard as Australia's "Golden Age of Rowing" was drawing to an end. 


NRC's former boatshed at Carrington was taken over in 1898 by Mr Fred Herbert of the Newcastle Sailing Club who's reported intention was to establish a new rowing club on the lines of those in Sydney. Former members were invited to join. Advertisements in the press stated that he had taken over the entire 'plant' and light rowing skiffs were available for hire. This would suggest that Mr Herbert had acquired NRC's fleet of boats as well as the boatshed. There is no evidence that Mr Herbert's proposed rowing club ever eventuated. 

Mr Herbert, obtained the lease in his own right in 1900. The extent to which Newcastle benefited from the Government's favourable treatment of rowing clubs is demonstrated by the difference between the 'peppercorn' rent for the club of £1 p.a. compared to £5 p.a. applicable to the new owner for the same premises. Having been granted tenure rather than a lease in the first instance had also avoided the paper work necessary with formal leases. 


During the 1880-1896 era, social activities played a large part in the life of the club. Plain and Fancy balls were held in mid-winter every year between 1881 and 1887. These were a significant local affair attended notable social, business and political figures. Starting at 8.30 or 9.00 p.m, they sometimes lasted until 4.00 am. Bands provided dance and incidental music and professional caterers were engaged to prepare a sumptuous mid-night supper. The Newcastle Morning Herald described what one such "supper" (1881) entailed "Among others, the menu comprised the following items:- boned turkey and forced meat, gelatine of turkey and aspic jelly, oyster patties, chicken and ham pies, roast chicken, raised pies, roast ducks, ham tongue, lobster patties, lobster salads, cream tart, custard tart, almond pastry, raspberry tartlets, custards, punch jelly, blanc mange, raspberry cream, Charlotte a la russe, tipsy cake, meringues, savoury biscuits almonds and raisins, Queens drops, Shrewsbury cakes, rout cakes, various fruits. The wines were also of the best vintages." 

As the name suggests, those attending went to a great deal of effort to dress up for the occasion, either in formal attire or in fancy dress. Mr T Ellis of Hunter Street was one local who hired costumes for men and ladies. He and others (some of whom came from Sydney, setting up shop temporarily at a city hotel), advertised their finery in the local paper. Costume hire charges ranged from 10/- upwards. 

Several amateur concerts, the first of which was in 1872, were held using amateur singers and musicians usually supported by a local band. It was common for club or family members to contribute, either by singing or playing. How good they were is problematical, but the newspaper reviews were usually kind enough to compliment all the participants. Concerts were not only a night of entertainment, they were an important fundraiser contributing substantially to the club's economic stability. One held in the Lyceum Hall [Newcomen Street] in January 1891 was reported in detail in the Newcastle Morning Herald being summed up as a "brilliant success". 

Newcastle Rowing Club Balls were a popular social event. 

Newcastle Rowing Club concerts were another popular social event.

As indicated in the following photograph of a group on an outing on the Patterson River around 1900, recreational boating was popular during this period. 

NRC and MRC both held picnics for members and their families along the Hunter, and Williams Rivers where various sedate sports and games were organised. Members rowed club boats there and back. Their families and social members travelled by steam boat. The club also catered for non-members hiring out boats for recreational uses such as fishing, picnics, and sailing. 

The photograph below suggests some picnics were less sedate than others but may explain the dearth of wildlife in the locality ever since. It does not explain the role of one bloke (third from right) wearing boxing gloves. The presence of at least two accordians, a violin and a bugle indicates that any mayhem caused at least had the benefit of a musical accompaniment. 

A well-armed group of MRC members at a club excursion, possibly on the Williams River about 1895. 


7. Bullock Island, formerly known as Chapman Island then Onebygamba (from 1868), was renamed in honour of the NSW Governor, Lord Carrington, in 1886. It was originally an estuarine island of low lying mud flats covered by dense mangrove swamp. The western boundary was defined by mangroves growing along the bank of Throsby Creek. Much of the area was covered by water during high tides and initially only residential blocks, roads and industrial sites -a mine, rail line and coal loading cranes, an estimated 40 acres out of a nominal total of 326 acres were above high tide. During high tide, access to some houses from the poor roads was by punt or makeshift footbridge. Sometimes, husbands carried their wives on their back between the road and their house. 

Low-flying areas were gradually filled in by a combination of ballast discharged from overseas vessels and material dredged from the harbour. Similarly, the originally eastern shoreline was extended further east by fill to allow construction of the Dyke coal loading berths. Sanitation consisted of cesspits. These tended to contaminate the wells then used by most residents. Otherwise, water was available from several council-supplied standpipes (four buckets for a penny) and horse troughs (sixpence a week for one horse; one shilling for a bus team). The population of Bullock Island in 1800 was around 400. Obviously, it was not the salubrious, much sought after area it is today. 

8. Newcastle Harbour experiences periods of rough water nowadays but prior to completion of the southern and Stockton breakwaters in the early 1900s, it was much worse. During bad weather, waves rolled into the harbour and north-easterly winds in summer caused rough water and swells that endangered shipping. Macquaries's Pier, between the mainland and the island of Nobby's was built (very slowly) by convicts between 1818 and 1846. The southern breakwater was built between 1875 and 1915; the Stockton breakwater between 1896 and 1912. 

9. Use of Crown Land was controlled through the issue of a lease that was subject to appropriate conditions. Leases granted for "Special Purposes" were published in the NSW Government Gazette with details such as name of \easee, location, size of the area involved, object of the lease, its duration (typically 5 years) and the annual rental payable. 

It appears that in the 1880s the procedure was still being refined as considerable leeway was exercised in the regard to formal leases. Although leases for boat sheds were common in the 1880s with an annual rental of £1, NRC appears to have been permitted use of the site without a formal agreement -probably just a letter -and no rental applied. 

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, leases were granted to many clubs in NSW. Apart from Newcastle these included Sydney Mercantile (1884), Newcastle Mercantile (1885, 1890, 1895), Sydney (1889, 1894) and North Shore (1889, 1894, 1899). By the mid 1890s several of the Sydney clubs were paying an annual rental of £10. 

Part 2 pages: 1, 2, 3, 4

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