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Australian Rowing History

Henley on Yarra Challenge Cups

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Elswick Challenge Cup

This is one of the most historic Victorian sporting trophies dating back to 1860 and being the primary and most prestigious trophy of that period. It is superbly crafted with Melbourne in 1860 as its background and comes with a most fascinating and story. 


The cup was originally the trophy for the Grand Challenge Senior Fours at the Melbourne Regatta, which was founded in 1860. The trophy was won outright in 1862 by the Elswick Rowing Club, winners of the event in 1860, 61 and 62. In 1905 the cup was presented through the proprietors of the Argus and Australasian by Mr. Henry Woolnough who was a member of the winning crew in 1861-2 and was used as the perpetual trophy for Junior Fours until 1986. Then cup was used as the perpetual trophy for the Men's Heavyweight Senior C Four with Cox. Currently the trophy is used for the Women's B Eight.

Extracts from an article appearing in The Australasian on 26th November 1904.

A HISTORIC ROWING TROPHY An old Victorian oarsman, Mr Henry Woolnough, has asked the proprietors of The Australasian to be the medium for his presentation of a very handsome and interesting trophy, to be competed for by the rowing clubs of Victoria. A portrait of the donor, and an illustration of the silver challenge cup which figured as the prize in aquatic contests on the Yarra over 40 years ago, are given on this page. Mr Woolnough, on whose behalf we have the pleasure of re-offering this cup for competition is now a resident of Woodbridge in Suffolk. In his younger days he resided in Melbourne and subsequently in Sydney, where he was in partnership with his brother Henry. He came to Melbourne in 1852, and entered the employ of Messrs Sargood and Co., with whom he remained til 1867. During that time he took an active part in rowing and bowls. He was a prominent member of the old Elswick Rowing Club and the handsome silver cup which Mr Woolnough has now sent back to Victoria was won by that club in three successive years 1860-1-2. On the third occasion the winning crew used a four oared outrigger, a clinker built Clasper, the first ever seen and used in Australia. For the contests of 1861-2 another outrigger was built by Blunt. The opposing crew used a boat built by Fuller from Searle's of London. One of the oarsmen was Professor Irving. About 1863 or 1864 an immense flood occurred in the Yarra River.

At that time Elswick club-house was a substantial erection on the south embankment of the old wooden bridge, facing Edward's caboose (on the north side) and about a hundred yards below Prince's Bridge. When the great flood occurred the Elswick sheds contained several good boats. Including a new outrigger, just received from Billin's. The house, the boats and in fact everything else was washed away over the falls. This accident led to the death of the club. Mr Woolnough was one of the creditors and he was allowed to take possession of the challenge cup for his personal property. He now desires to offer it, through The Australasian to the Committee of the Melbourne Amateur Regatta Committee (Australian Henley), to be rowed for annually, by two or more four oared outriggers, belonging to the rowing clubs of Victoria. And his desire is that the cup shall become the absolute property of any club that win it four years in succession. The cup is a very handsome piece of silversmith's work. It was made by Walsh and Sons, and it shows a view of old Melbourne - the approach to the river, down Swanston Street with Prince's Bridge on the left and old St Paul's Cathedral on the right hand. The cup also bears the names of each winning crew.

Courtesy Caroline Woolnough. Note: In this extract from "The Australasian", Walsh & Son are credited as the crafters of the Cup - clearly it was crafted by William Edwards circa 1860 and bears his Maker's Mark. Don Todd's sighted description of the Elswick in our Catalogue confirms it is the same Cup referred to in the historical newspaper.


An Australian silver cup with a campana shaped bowl supported on an octafoil base. The bowl is decorated at the front by two embossed trees, whose foliage entwines above to form a naturalistic cartouche in which the inscription identifying the cup is engraved. On the opposite side, the bowl is decorated by embossing and engraving to depict two four oared crews rowing downstream on the Yarra River towards Princes Bridge, (then a single arch structure). In the background the buildings of the City of Melbourne are realistically represented (and a steam train can be seen approaching Flinders St. Station.

The bowl is separated from the stem by a frieze of palm leaves. The stem springs from the embossed base which depicts kangaroos and emus in a naturalistic setting of rocks and foliage. The interior of the bowl is gilded.


Engraved on the front of the bowl is: MELBOURNE REGATTA GRAND CHALLENGE CUP - Won by - ELSWICK CLUB - for three successive years. Engraved on the opposite side of the bowl, under the rim, is:- 1860 & 1861 T Meyer H Woolnough G Coates S Smith 1862 J.W. McCutcheon H. Woolnough G. Coates S. Smith The results for these races show different crews so the mystery of the correct version will never be known.


Struck on the rear of the bowl are the Makers Marks used by William Edwards on his early work (i.e. between 1859 and 1865)

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