History of Newcastle Rowing Club
Part 1 - Rowing in Colonial Australia (continued)
Rowing Clubs in Colonial Newcastle
A number of rowing clubs were formed in Newcastle during the colonial era. Only two, Newcastle and Mercantile, lasted for any length of time.
(a) The first, chronologically, was the Newcastle Subscription Boat Club. Generally referred to as the Newcastle Boat Club, it was formed on 20 February 1865 at a meeting chaired by C H Hannell at the Caledonian Hotel.
It was a most unusual arrangement and appears to have been more of a business enterprise than a club run by and for its members. It was established by Mr James Brown who gave up his previous employment to be a full-time manager, surely an expensive indulgence for a new rowing club in a relatively small town. Brown acquired or had built what he called his fleet - eleven predominately pulling boats (i.e. with sweep oar) for club members to use and the public to hire. Another (and last) added soon afterwards was a cedar dingy 14 ft long, 3ft 6ins beam and 14 inches deep. Called, 'No More', it was described as "handsome and well-finished boat of her class as can be found on the waters of the Hunter River".
Subscribers paid £1 per quarter for membership. The rules and regulations indicate the club primarily catered for pleasure boating and fishing. If members used boats for racing, 10% of any winnings was to be paid to the club. For those who are wondering, boat hiring charges were 1/- per hour or 5/- per day. Despite the registration of twenty subscribers at the first meeting, thereafter it was poorly supported. The Newcastle Chronicle, in commenting on that prospect that it was in danger of folding in the first year, opined that "it will be no credit to the young men of Newcastle which offers ample scope for the manly and invigorating exercises of rowing and sailing". Apart from the possibility of a race in September 1865 between two members from the Stockton Wharf, "around the black buoy and back", there is no evidence the club ever actually held a race.
When its boat storage area on the Newcastle foreshore was resumed for use as a coal berth in early 1866, the so-called club moved to Stockton. Although members were promised free transport to Stockton by ferry the club does not appear to have survived the relocation. Overall, its status as a rowing club as we know them now or even as they were then, is highly questionable.
(b)Newcastle Rowing Club (NRC). The club's was active for two periods during the Colonial era, 1870 - 1874 and 1880 - 1896. An unsuccessful attempt was made to re-form NRC in 1877/8. Its activities are covered in detail below.
(c)The Enterprise Private Rowing Association (EPRA) was established in 1878. It lasted until 1880 when it was renamed the NRC.
(d)Mercantile4 Rowing Club (MRC). (A Mercantile RC also existed in Sydney). This club was active in 1879, lapsed for a time, then reappeared in1884. It collapsed in 1896.
(e)Maitland Rowing Club was formed in 1883, possibly through the renaming of Maitland Amateur Rowing Association. For £125, boat storage was secured on the floating baths on the Hunter River at West Maitland [at the foot of Odd Street]. Two new skiffs were bought from Messenger of Sydney and a 4-oared gig acquired, almost certainly, from NRC. The club does not appear to have survived its boatshed being washed away during floods early in 1890. Everything ended up downstream - condition unknown- on the bank of a property owned by a John Pitnacree. The baths, two skiffs, five outriggers, sculls, etc., were auctioned later the same year. The club was reformed in the 1920s.
Maitland RC was involved in a tragic accident in 1888 when Robert Sneddon, who was captain of a touring English football team and a member of Manchester RC drowned when a skiff he had borrowed from the club overturned.
(f) Other clubs existed in the late 1800s however they held few events and most didn't survive past their first year. These included the Stockton Rowing Club, Raymond Terrace Regatta Club, Plattsburg Boating Club, Wallsend and Plattsburg Amateur Rowing Club, Toronto Rowing Club, Ironbark Creek Boating Club (Tomago), Hexham Regatta Club, Wyong River and West Maitland Rowing Club. Another, the Wallsend - Plattsburg Regatta Club, was called a 'club' although organisation of an annual regatta at Speers Point appears to have been its sole function. The same may apply to others on the above list.
4. 'Mercantile', relates to any business engaged in trade or commerce. Its use possibly alludes to the employment of a majority of club members who were neither manual workers nor professional watermen so could be classified as bone fide amateurs or gentlemen.
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