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australian rowers profiles and history

William Boyd

Mercantile Rowing Club (VIC)

The founder of Mercantile Rowing Club was William S. Boyd, who called a meeting of the interested oarsmen at Young and Jackson’s Hotel on Sunday, September 19, 1880. He was the prime mover in the foundation and establishment of the new club, and he played an active role in the affairs of the various rowing associations and as a delegate to the Victorian Rowing Association. He was assisted by his vice-captain, F. Williams and secretary, J. Baldwin. The committeemen were Heale, Blade and W. Davis.

The group which formed the club had a common interest in their association with the various mercantile warehouses established in Melbourne around Flinders Street and Flinders Lane. Most of those involved had prior association with the Warehousemen’s Rowing Club. Appropriately the new club which was to become the Mercantile Rowing Club was originally designated “Junior Warehousemen’s Rowing Club”.

The Warehousemen’s Club was already in existence and was well established. But apparently the Warehousemen’s Club did not sufficiently meet the needs of the young men like William S. Boyd. It was an uncohesive operation, without firm headquarters, without its own premises and without any satisfactory club structure.

William Boyd was not a prolific race winner but he was a man of considerable drive and energy, able to harness and bring together similarly like minded men. It was not until 1882 that Boyd won a maiden four race at the Melbourne Regatta.

He was able to run a gala fund raising concert in 1883 which was a great success. It was in 1883-84 season that he led the push to build our own boat shed and £33 was raised towards that goal. And it was also in this season that the club could boast a most distinguished patron, none other than the Governor, His Excellency The Marquis of Normanby.

Young and Jackson's Hotel in about 1880

The 1884-5 season opened with the fourth annual general meeting at Young and Jackson’s. On this occasion the enormous contribution by Boyd to the formation of the club was recognised by the presentation to him of a silver watch by F. Williams on behalf of the members.

The boatsheds at the time of Boyd was Captain

But Boyd’s greatest task had yet to come.

In September 1884 the Board of Land and Works granted an application by the club for the lease of land 40 feet by 100 feet at the site of the present clubhouse. This was Crown Land. It was part of what had been known as Brickfields, or Brickmaker’s Ground, in the 1840’s. The site was swampy and below the high water mark of the lagoon.

But the main interest for the club were the preparations for the building of the clubhouse.

Arrangements were made with the Harbour Trust to tow barges containing silt to the site and the enthusiastic members spent their evenings removing the filling to solidify the site of the new boathouse.

In February 1885 tenders were advertised for the erection of a two storied structure based on a foundation of piles and consisting of a 30′ x 65′ ground floor area with a 30′ x 20′ dressing room as specified by the architect, a club member, William Campbell, of Reid, Henderson and Smart. The tender of £350 with an additional £80 for piles as submitted by H. & P. Bradley, of Albert Park, was accepted.

The shed was constructed under the supervision of the architect and was a well designed and commodious structure. The lower story had ample space for the boats and equipment whilst the clubroom upstairs also had ample space for the dressing room, lockers and bathroom for 100 members.

Erection of the new boat shed began in August 1885 and good progress was made so that the building was ready for the opening on the Saturday afternoon of October 17, 1885. It was a very proud day for the young club and for William Boyd, and certainly a grand affair.

The club lost its foundation captain and its selector when Boyd retired at the ninth annual general meeting on September 2, 1889. His “valuable services” as founder of the club had been recognised at the eighth annual general meeting on September 10, 1888, when, together with the treasurer T. R. Gilchrist, he was elected as a life member.

Mercantile Rowing Club in 1889 - Boyd is the centre photo

Andrew Guerin
May 2020

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