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australian rowers profiles and history

John (Jack) McLean


1889 - Unsuccessful challenge of Peter Kemp (AUS) for World Sculling Championship

1890 - World Sculling Championships after defeating Peter Kemp (AUS)

1891 - Lost World Sculling Championship to Jim Stanbury (AUS)

1891 - Unsuccessful challenge of Jim Stanbury to regain the World Sculling Championship

The World Professional Sculling Championship was bereft of strict rules and so it is difficult to be exact as to which races were World Championship races or otherwise. The following articles illustrate the issues. The authors believe that the above results are correct.

The Western Mail of the 26th January 1928 page 32 reported the death of Jack McLean as follows:

The death of Jack McLean, at his residence, Clovelly (N.S.W.), on Saturday at the age of 73,- removes a figure that was prominent in the sculling world nearly 40 years ago. For some time McLean held the professional world's championship, losing it to James Stansbury in 1894 McLean, who was a man of magnificent physique, standing 6ft. 1 1/2 in. and weighing 13st. 101b., was born at Shoalhaven, but left there when 10 years of age for the Richmond River, which is regarded by many as the home of rowing.

He had numerous victories to his credit  on the river, but be first came into prominence when he defeated Perkins, the English champion, on the Parramatta River in 1889. Then he accounted for Stevenson, the New Zealand champion, and N. Matterson. A match with Peter Kemp for the world's championship followed, but Kemp, who had been handed the title when Bill Beach retired, proved superior to McLean. The latter, however, turned the tables at their next meeting  some six months later. He successfully defended his title against Chris. Neilsen and Jim Stansbury, but the latter won when they met a second time.


Above: Jack McLean, a very athletic sculler

The following article from the Northern Star (Lismore) quotes extensively from the authoritive journal the "Referee".



"We recently announced the death at Clovelly of Mr. John McLean, a famous old Australian champion sculler. "Argus," in Sydney "Referee," writes "as 'follows regarding McLean's career : -

John McLean was born in the Shoalhaven district - the birthplace of many noted oarsmen —on September 17, 1855, and was thus in his 73rd year at the time of his passing.

At an early age he went to the Richmond River. An adept with the sculls, he commenced his racing career at about the age of 18 years, and soon made his mark. Perhaps his first match of importance was that against the English sculler, Perkins, whom he defeated on the Parramatta River in 1889, and then followed contests against Stevenson (N.Z.),. Neil Matterson, Peter Kemp, Chris Neilsen, and James Stanbury.

McLean, first aspired to world's championship honours in 1890, and the following sums up the position in connection there with:—

After the death of Searle there was a long discussion in the Press " (England and Australia) as to who held the world's championship. W. O'Connor (Canada) claimed the title as the last man to row Searle for it." (Searle beat O'Connor over the Putney to Mortlake course on September 9, 1889), and O'Connor set forth his claim in a long letter to "The Referee" of April 9, 1890. 

The London "Sportsman," "News of the World," and other English papers, backed up O 'Connor's contention, and the first race recognised in England after Searle's death as being for the " world's championship ", was that between Stanbury and O'Connor," which took place on the Parramatta River in June, 1890—a memorable race that was rowed twice, Stanbury winning each time. In Australia this race was described as "a great International match,'' and not as a "world's championship." 

However, although not recognised elsewhere, Peter Kemp, after beating Neil Matterson in a match (April, 1890), rowed J. McLean on the Parramatta, for £200 aside, in a race claimed in Australia as for the championship of the world. Kemp won easily, the race taking place on May 15, 1890. 

They met again on December 15, 1890, over the same course, for £200 aside. A foul took place and Kemp claimed the race. The umpire, the late Mr. John Blackman, disallowed the claim. McLean won in 22min. 13sec.

This race was recognised in Sydney, as being for the championship, although it was asserted in some quarters that as Kemp was virtually matched for a race with O'Connor before he (Kemp) signed for a return match with McLean, it could not be for the world's championship. 

Just prior to this McLean Kemp return race, McLean rowed Stanbury (it was on November 17, 1890), for £200 a side. Stanbury was actually in no proper condition to race, and he collapsed. McLean finished alone in 23 min. 43 1/2 sec.

A return match between McLean and Stanbury took place on April 28, 1891, Stanbury winning easily by 14 1/2 sec., in 22min. 15 1/2sec., for the full Parramatta course. 

It is worthy of note that in England no notice appears to be taken of the race between McLean and Stanbury on November 17, 1890. As the English records of the world 's championships quote Stanbury's win over ,'Connor, on June 30, 1890, to be consistent (as they admit Stanbury was champion), they, should give his defeat by McLean, on November 17, 1890.

Anyway, although apparently few, if any record books published outside Australia, give McLean as a holder of the world's championship, he can claim to have won it, no matter whether Stanbury or Kemp actually held it in 1890—for McLean beat each of them, during the year.

Steve Roll and Andrew Guerin Feb 2018 (updated Jan 2024)


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