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Sydney Rows

A Centennial History of the Sydney Rowing Club, 1970, by A L May

7. Pearce and Mosman: 1920-1930

Chapter Seven page 1 2 3 4

The period since NSW's last win in the King's Cup extended further to 15 years after the 1926 event. The selectors were Kolts, Amess and Hancock and their crew contained four Leichhardt men, two from Drummoyne (including Bill Livingstone at stroke), one from University and only Vindin from Mosman (although Ian Evans was selected but had to drop out). Amess was nominated as coach. The selectors proposed, too, the selection of a second crew by a different group of selectors for training and other purposes and, while trials did commence, the scheme collapsed when a suitable boat could not be obtained. With reinstated men ineligible to row for the State, Jack Goulding was nominated as State sculler.

It was Queensland's turn for the big race and all States but WA were represented. The honours went this time to Tasmania, again coached by Cec McVilly, with SA 1 1/2 lengths back second and Victoria third. NSW was never in it and was put out of the race when a wash from a ferry was encountered. In the sculls, Goulding was beaten by 1 1/2 lengths by Baynes of Queensland, although defeating Cambridge, the winner in 1925.

The winter of 1926 proved a busy and exciting time for scullers in NSW and, in fact, heralded a new era of keen interest in amateur sculling. The Sydney silversmiths of Walker and Hall, with whom Albert Nash was associated, donated a cup to the Association for a winter point score for amateur scullers on a handicap basis and it was decided to conduct the competition over six Saturdays, each two weeks apart, and over a mile course. Bert Goulding won the first race and Kessel of Drummoyne the second.

And then it happened: Bob Pearce of Sydney, 20-year-old son of Harry Pearce, won the third event, off 15 seconds, by 8 lengths.

He sculled "an excellent race, and much should be heard of him later". His handicap was cut to 4 seconds for the next race and he won again, beating Jack Goulding, off scratch, by 4 lengths. For the fifth event, Pearce was the scratch man and Goulding was off 5 seconds, but Pearce won it again. He went on to win the sixth event, tying in the point-score with Pye of Leichhardt, a consistent place-getter. They rowed off, and Pearce won his fifth race in a row to become the first Walker and Hall champion. (The new champion's first sculling win had been in a race for youths under 16 which he won at the age of 6 years and 3 months!)

A much stronger Sydney Rowing Club faced the opening of the 1926/27 season. A senior eight was boated again, coached by MacKenzie, and they finished second to Mosman at the opening regatta. On the same day, the club won the maiden eights (with Tom Nickson in the crew) and the maiden pairs, came second in the junior fours and third in the lightweight maiden fours. In the champion fours of NSW at the Sydney - Sydney University combined regatta soon after, Sydney finished second behind Mosman and was successful in the maiden eights.

Success continued for Sydney at other regattas, although Pearce, hampered by big handicaps, was unable to achieve success in the handicap sculling events. When the State championships arrived, Mosman proved far too good again, and an accident in the Sydney crew prevented the club getting second place.

Much interest focused on the champion sculls. Goulding led early, but Pearce forged ahead to win by 20 lengths in a time about 1/2 minute faster than the year before. Glebe won the champion lightweight fours, while Sydney had an easy win in the junior eights.

Sydney gained its second championship since its renaissance with a win in the lightweight champion eights in February, 1927. At the "Henley" regatta, again conducted by Leichhardt and Haberfield, they won the junior eights to give the club an unassailable position in the junior pennant, last won in 1908/09. A few weeks later, the Gold Cup was annexed by SRC for the first time since 1910.

Exciting handicap races between Pearce and Goulding continued. For Pearce, these clashes "greatly enhanced his fighting qualities, for his natural ability and grit would not have been so fully developed had he not met so powerful an opponent".

NSW performed creditably in the 1927 King's Cup. The State selectors, Kolts, Amess and MacKenzie, included five Mosman men in their eight, with one each from Leichhardt, Drummoyne and Sydney (MacKenzie), while Hougen of Sydney was emergency. After the crew had been picked, Wood was selected as coach once again, although the selectors insisted that they were to be consulted before any changes to the crew were made.

The big race in Hobart was rowed in the dusk and in rough water. It was won by WA who led all the way, although NSW faltered when just about to row past them and were beaten by 2 lengths. Victoria was third, while both Tasmania and Queensland swamped.

Pearce had the easiest of wins in the sculls, beating Cambridge by 20 lengths (Baynes being a non-starter) to become the first winner of the "President's Cup", presented by Erskine Watchorn of Tasmania.

President's Cup

The President's Cup

Pearce and Mosman continued to have great success. Both visited Melbourne for Henley-on- Yarra in October, 1927: Pearce's great strength won him the "Yarra Challenge Cup and Silver Sculls" as he liked, while Mosman, "easily the outstanding crew of the meeting", had the first-ever win for NSW in the Grand Challenge Cup for eights.

Henley on the Yarra

Henley on the Yarra

The champion fours of NSW proved, however, to be a great battle between Leichhardt and Sydney, with the former winning by 1/2 length. Sydney's crew was Christie (bow), Cashman, Hougen and MacKenzie. Arthur Cashman was, concurrently, the heavyweight amateur boxing champion of NSW. At the "Henley" regatta, Mosman beat Sydney in the senior eights and, in the championships, with the Sydney crew absent, Mosman beat Leichhardt by 5 lengths. Pearce beat Goulding by 20 lengths in the sculls, while Haberfield beat Sydney to win its first championship in the lightweight fours. In the champion lightweight eights later in the season, Sydney held its title in a close race with Haberfield. Sydney's crew was Charlie Saleh (bow), Geoff Bates, Charlie Litchfield, Dick Carter, Eric Sheather, Harry Gilmour, Reg Solomon and Ken Preshaw (stroke), with Max Napier cox and Claude Rosevear coach.

Controversy surrounded the selection of the 1928 NSW eight. The same three selectors as the year before, Kolts, Amess and MacKenzie, selected only three Mosman men, together with three from Leichhardt, one from Drummoyne and MacKenzie of Sydney as stroke. It was indicated that the whole stern four of the Mosman eight had been available for selection only "on certain conditions", which were that the entire crew be selected. Keary was appointed coach. Two of the Mosman men, Vindin and Mitchell, dropped out and only Sid Raper remained. Their replacements were Livingstone of Drummoyne and Cashman of Sydney.

It was the turn of NSW to conduct the annual carnival and the RA now took a major step and decided to row the event on the Nepean River for the first time. The Prime Minister, S. M. Bruce, a keen rowing man, the State Governor and the Acting Premier were among the crowd of over 20,000 in attendance on the day itself. The big race was a thriller, with WA winning once again by 1 1/2 lengths from Queensland with Tasmania third. NSW was fifth. The third win in four starts was an outstanding performance by WA, with only four city clubs to draw from and two weak country clubs. Coach and sole selector of each of the crews was P. J. "Paddy" Ryan. The sculling event was not a thriller: Pearce won by 30 lengths in a new record time.

Pearce left next day for Amsterdam and the Olympic Games. At the 1927 meeting of the Australian Rowing Council it had been decided that, in view of the great expense and the long travelling involved, an eight would not be sent, but that a sculler would be, if of a sufficiently high standard. A test race was held in October, 1927, and Pearce won "with ridiculous ease" in a time 22 seconds faster than the Olympic record of 7.46. Goulding was second. The selector, McVilly, quickly recommended that Pearce be sent to the Games and he was the first choice of the Australian Olympic Federation. (There was already, however, some doubt as to his amateur status and the NSWRA had to ask him to make a statutory declaration on the matter.) A big crowd farewelled him, with Cyril Bluett, Sydney's captain, making a special presentation on behalf of club members.

Harry Pearce accompanied him overseas while John Dewar and Sons presented him with a new boat for the trip. His entry for the Diamond Sculls at Henley Royal Regatta (won by Joseph Wright of Canada) was received too late to be accepted, but reports from England said he was in excellent fettle and close to his racing weight of 13 stone 3 lbs. One news story had him breaking the Putney to Hammersmith amateur record without even knowing he was being timed. He also scored a warm-up win in the senior sculls at the Kingston Regatta a few weeks before the Games commenced. Rowing experts considered him a near-certainty for a Games win, and some suggested he was the greatest sculler in the world at that time, amateur or professional.

Bob Pearce

Bob Pearce

In his first race at the Games, he defeated the German champion by 12 lengths. In his next race he beat the Austrian by 8 lengths and in the third round he beat the French entrant by 20 lengths, and took 3 seconds off the record despite the fact that he slowed down halfway down the course to avoid injuring a duck and ducklings asleep in mid stream. He was pushed hard by Collet, the Englishman, in the semi-final and had to record a great 7.01.8 to win by 3 lengths (and break the old record by 45 seconds). He met Wally Myers of the USA in the final and beat him by 6 lengths to secure the gold medal. The defeated American had absolutely no excuses: "Bob is the most wonderful fellow I have met, both for sculling and sportsmanship. I am many lengths worse than he, and however often we met, the result would be the same". The win was the only one for Australia at the Games, and a great welcome was accorded Pearce back in Australia.

Mosman again showed its strength in senior rowing in NSW as the 1928/29 season opened. They made the trip to Melbourne once more to defend — successfully - their Henley-on-Yarra title. (Some 76 crews and 4 scullers entered the regatta, but the conditions were poor and the takings were only ₤1,600 compared with ₤3,775 two years before. A New Zealand club crew once again won the Stewards' fours.)

Back in Sydney, Mosman took the champion fours from Haberfield and Sydney, the latter crew marked by the appearance of Goulding as stroke and with Keary back as coach. Mosman also had little trouble winning the champion eights, beating Sydney by 16 lengths. A. K. Jackson, the NZ champion sculler, made the trip to have a crack at Pearce, but he flopped badly. Pearce won by 7 lengths from Jack Scott, with Goulding third. Sydney won the junior fours and got second in the maiden eights on the same day.

The Haberfield-Leichhardt "Henley" Regatta could not be held, due to "the deplorable state of the Leichhardt Canal". One upshot of the controversy over selection of the 1928 crew was that the 1928 RA annual meeting instructed the incoming committee to appoint the coach of the winning champion eight as sole selector and coach for 1929. It was argued that, of the last 15 interstate races, 13 had been won by crews selected by a sole selector. Ossie Wood of Mosman was the automatic choice. He promptly selected his own complete crew, and the move "was greeted with unanimous approval". Sid Raper, the only veteran of the 1928 crew, and Jack Harkness of Sydney were emergencies (this being the first year a second emergency had been selected).

There was some excitement still left in the Sydney season. SRC crews had continued to gain points steadily, although Haberfield prevented their hat trick in the champion lightweight eights. With only the Riverview Regatta to go, the club had a chance of defeating Mosman in the premiership and thus ending their long run of successes. Mosman was particularly upset about a disputed maiden eight at the Balmain-Drummoyne-Glebe regatta, awarded to Sydney over them. The club threatened that, unless the Association declared the event "no race", their State eight would start for Mosman in the Gold Cup (fractionally outside the six-week embargo period). The Association decided against a "no race" decision and Mosman duly started. They won, but only by 1/2 length from Sydney in the record time of 5.00.8. The premiership had been assured once again.

NSW and Pearce won at the 1929 King's Cup Regatta. Only four eights took part in the race in Perth, Queensland electing not to make the trip and Tasmania unable to finance the visit due to the need for funds for flood relief purposes in the State (including for two rowing clubs). NSW and WA drew out from the other crews in the race, and NSW went across the line - 3/4 length ahead of WA to record their first King's Cup win and their first victory in the interstate race since 1911. Victoria was 10 lengths back third.

1929 NSW

The Mosman crew which won the King's Cup for NSW in 1929

S F Evans (bow), J T Mitchell, N I Reynolds, J T Vinden, A O Pfafflin, C B Callaghan, I B Evans, H L Callaghan (stroke). R J Daly (cox)

The NSW eight rowed in a new boat built for the Association by Jerram and Sons of Melbourne, which was later named the H. G. Alderson. Great was the delight of the NSWRA and all rowing men after such a long period without success.

A sole West Australian opposed Pearce in the sculls, and the Olympic champion had little trouble recording another victory. Pearce had been hinting even before the end of 1928 that he might turn professional and, in mid-1929, he asked the Olympic Federation to release him from the standard ₤300 bond to stay amateur for at least two years after the Games so he could do just that. The request was refused. By winning the Games sculls, he had also won the £500 Philadelphia Challenge Cup, emblematic of the world's sculling championship, and he had received invitations to visit NZ and USA for races. He declined the invitation to race in the NZ championships (as they were close to the King's Cup date), and a defence of the Philadelphia Challenge Cup on the Schuylkill River fell through when no suitable opponent could be found (Myers flatly refused to meet him again). Attempts to interest Joe Wright, the Canadian champion, in competing at the 1929 Henley-on-Yarra were also unsuccessful.

Interest in amateur sculling had generally remained at a high level. Max Fisher of Drummoyne won the 1928 Walker and Hall Cup and 17-year-old Basil Martin of Sydney was successful in 1929 (the competition being organised each time by a committee of scullers themselves).

A Victorian Amateur Sculling Association was formed late in 1928 and consideration was given to forming a similar association in NSW. In August, 1929, open scratch sculling dashes over 1/4 mile courses, common in England and America, were held for the first time in Australia. Two divisions were held, with Pearce winning one and Goulding the other.

In September, 1929, a 15-mile marathon event was conducted from Goat Island to Ryde Bridge and back. Pearce was forced to drop out after damaging his boat on punt wires when in the lead. "The hero of the race was J. A. Goulding. He sculled superbly over the whole course, shaping as admirably against the strong wind on the return journey as he did over the first half of the course. He recorded a splendid victory, giving a fine display of stamina and watermanship". Bert Goulding recorded the second fastest time but, after the "sealed handicaps" were opened, Bert had won with Jack second.

Sydney sent its senior eight to Henley-on-Yarra at the start of the 1929/30 season. The crew was boated Jack Harkness (bow), Ken Preshaw, Reg O'Carroll, Frank Lester, George Wray, Jack Whitworth, Roger Bellamy and Cliff Lambert (stroke) with Max Napier cox and Claude Rosevear coach. At the Mosman Regatta, the opening one of the season, the crew won the senior eights, but Mosman missed the start. In Melbourne, the club beat Tamar (Tasmania) in a heat and Essendon in the semifinal, but was beaten by Hawthorn by 3/4 length in the final of the Grand. Scott of Haberfield won the sculling race at the same carnival.

Four other Sydney men, Nickson, Pike, Hougen and MacKenzie, had trained hard for the champion fours, rowed a week later, and they were ahead and looked set for a win when a tremendous burst gave Mosman a win by 3/4 length.

A number of new events were rowed during the 1929/30 season, which, probably due to the King's Cup success, was the most successful, with most oarsmen competing, for many years. A maiden sculls was one and, at Sydney's regatta, a 2000 metre sculling championship of NSW was raced, influenced, of course, by the Olympic distance. Pearce won the event in the staggering time of 6.40, with Scott only 4 lengths back.

Mosman's King's Cup eight had now decided to postpone their threatened retirement and to defend their NSW champion title. At Sydney's regatta they beat the local crew by 2 lengths and they repeated the win, but by 1/2 length only, at St. Joseph's College's first-ever regatta, on Tarban Creek. At the Association's championship regatta, rowed for the first time on the Nepean, Mosman and Sydney battled grandly over the course before Mosman won by 1/2 length. Sydney hit the lead at the half-way mark and held it till the last section. In the sculls, Goulding did well to get within 5 lengths of Pearce, while Basil Martin of Sydney was the first winner of the new lightweight champion sculls of NSW.

Selection of the King's Cup eight now commenced with Wood again sole selector. No Mosman members were available, as all had retired. Wood, stating he had always favoured a single club crew representing the State, selected a complete Sydney eight. It was boated Harkness (bow), Lambert, Wray, Pike, Lester, Nickson, Bellamy and MacKenzie (stroke) with Napier cox and Rosevear coach. MacKenzie for Downie, who was appointed emergency, was the only change from the club's championship crew, although there were substantial seat changes.

Pearce had been selected as State sculler for the President's Cup in SA but was later selected to attend the Empire Games to be held in Canada in 1930 and he was replaced for the interstate event by Scott. The Governor-General was present at Mannum for the big race and he saw a most exciting event. There was an interesting incident at the start: after getting all crews away together, the starter accidentally fired his gun again, automatically stopping the race.

At the second try, Queensland and Victoria led early with NSW well back and WA withdrawing half way with a broken seat. NSW commenced a great finishing effort and was only 1/2 length behind Victoria with 1/4 mile to go and 3 feet behind with 300 yards to go. Victoria held them off in a thrilling finish to win by the bare 3 feet with Queensland 10 lengths back third. It was the first win for the "Vics" since 1912. The strength of NSW sculling was again shown when Scott won the President's Cup by 10 lengths.

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