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australian rowers profiles and history

James McDonald

Ponsonby Rowing Club (NZL) and Yarra Yarra Rowing Club (VIC)

Born 12/5/1867

The following summary of the rowing activities of James McDonald was found by Yarra Yarra Rowing Club historian Peter Gill in the New Zealand Observer, Issue 646 page 7, 16th May 1891.

James McDonald, an Auckland boy, and former member of the Ponsonby Rowing Club, has just returned from Melbourne, where he has been working at his trade. Since leaving Auckland he has kept up his rowing, and joined the Yarra Yarra Rowing Club, where he soon made a Name for himself as an oarsman. McDonald has quite a collection of gold medals representing fifteen victories and three seconds. In 1889, he formed one of a Maiden Eight which got second place. Was in winning Eight at Colac Regatta same year. On 18th Feb., 1890, won Maiden Fours and Junior Fours. At the Victorian Rowing Association Regatta in March, got second in Champion Eight. At South Melbourne Yacht Club in May 1889, carried off Maiden Sculls. Then in Club races was specially successful, winning Anderson's Sculls in January, Mullen's Pairs which he stroked. President's Fours in April, which he also stroked, and McGregor Pairs. Then in 1891 won the Junior Eight at Colac, and carried off the Junior Eight at the Warrnambool Regatta. Also won the Lorne Whisky Senior Eight on 18th March, and got home first in the Champion Eight on 18th April. Was also in the winning Eight in a Club race between South and North for a supper. McDonald has just come over for a trip, and is a most unassuming young fellow.


1891 Yarra Yarra Champion Eight of Victoria
Back row: F Galvin, A Enticott, E Horsburgh
Seated: J Yeomans, James McDonald, E R Ainley,
C W Horsburgh, Alex Chamley
In front: G Horsburgh

James McDonald continued his rowing success when he returned to Melbourne taking out the Champion Eights again in 1892 in a row over after a successful season, and then again in 1895.

Jim Skidmore provides the following information from the YYRC recods.

Listed as an early member of the Club and maintained his membership until the 1943/44 season

Committee 1897/98 to 1898/99

Vice president 1924/25 remained there till his parting.

Life member in 1925/26 season.

Wins included:-

1890 - metropolitan regatta, maiden four (bow) and Junior fours (bow)

1890 - Colac regatta, junior eight (2)

1890 - Warrnambool regatta, junior eight (2), Junior four (bow) and Maiden four (bow)

1891 - Victorian Championships, senior eight (bow)

1892 - Victorian Championships, senior eight (bow)

1892 - Geelong and Barwon regattasenior eight (bow)

1892 - Warrnambool regattasenior eight (bow)

1892 - Claymore trophysenior eight (bow)

1893 - Victorian Championshipssenior eight (bow)

1895 - Victorian Championshipssenior eight (bow)

After the 1929 fire he had a practice four named in his honour.

From the 1925/26 Yarra Yarra Rowing Club annual report:-

During the year the committee had very much pleasure in electing Mr J McDonald, one of the oldest members of the club, a life member.

The Club annual reports record that he has made many donations to the club.

The 1943/44 annual report is missing so we do not have his obituary notice.

He is however best known as a walker. He was the holder of the Australasian 50 mile walking record of 9 hours, 42 minutes 2 seconds which stood for many years. 

The following articles have been located by Jim Skidmore from an unknown source.

Jim Skidmore, Peter Gill and Andrew Guerin
April 2022 (updated June 2024 with information from Jim Skidmore)


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