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australian rowers profiles and history

Ben Thoroughgood

Professional Sculler from Newcastle

Ben Thoroughgood (1869-1927), a Stockton resident, was another top class rower in the late 19th - early 20th century. He won his first race at a Stockton Regatta for youths under 16 in heavy 22 ft boats with fixed seats. Unbeaten, he went on to become Australia's best heavy boat oarsman and de facto champion to the extent that for a considerable time he could not get a match. 

Ben Thoroughgood

He only took up rowing the much lighter outriggers in 1906 when he was 36 years old. Within a few months he rowed Alf Worboys of Wallsend in outriggers over three miles at the Raymond Terrace course for a £200 stake. Beforehand there had been speculation as to how Worboys, a prettier sculler, would go against Thoroughgood, a big man possessing great stamina. As it was Thoroughgood's first race in outriggers, it was not surprising that he tended to revert to a heavy boat stroke. Nor had he mastered the sliding seat. Nevertheless, he won with a stroke said to have a crisp catch and a hard finish in which he brought his sculls well home. At 37 he rowed against Dick Tresidder in outriggers. Although losing, as the last challenger he inherited the Australia sculling title in 1908 when Tresidder retired. 

Thoroughgood successfully defended the title against William Fogwell and and George Whelch before losing it in May1909, when at the age of 40, he was defeated by Harry Pearce, who had lost the title to Tresidder in 1903. In preparing his challenge Thoroughgood was hampered by reluctance of his usual backers to assist in raising the agreed amount of stake money to match that of his opponent. Even raising the deposit proved difficult and the money was only raised with a couple of days to spare. This reluctance was attributed to the reticence of his usual backers (who, incidentally, met at the most unlikely venue -Stockton's Boatrowers Hotel) to support his racing in Sydney. However, the Newcastle Herald pointed out that Thoroughgood had rowed at Raymond Terrace on his previous five races with little return from gate money. 

From about 1910 to 1914 there was a lot of heavy boat rowing in Sydney with a number of claimants for the NSW champion title. Amid this conjecture, Thoroughgood's unbeaten record in heavy boats had been forgotten. Probably as a result of the renewed interest in heavy boats, the Rowing and Sculling League (which had been formed in October 1913 to control professional rowing and sculling) established several championship events for professionals including a single sculls heavy boat championship of NSW (in 18 foot boats). A race to decide the issue was held over a 2 mile course on Middle Harbour in October 1914. With Thoroughgood not fully prepared, Arthur Pearce won the title. However, just a few months later (January 1915), 'Big Ben', then a 45-year old veteran, rowed Pearce over the same course for the title and £25. This time, properly prepared, he won, or some would argue, regained the NSW heavy boat championship. 

He lost the Australian heavy boat championship title on the Hunter River at Stockton in May 1916 to William (Billy) Ripley, a fellow Novocastrian. Thoroughgood retired from active competition after losing a rematch the following month. Great pride was expressed in Newcastle not only for his long and distinguished career but also his admirable sporting qualities as well as his (then) unprecedented involvement in championship events until well into his forties. He became President of Elmbank RC located at Stockton. 

Thoroughgood's record is outstanding yet it seems likely that it could have been even better. Peter Kemp, world sculling champion in 1888, was just one of a number of top rowers who believed that Thoroughgood had the ability to be a world champion. Sadly, that potential was never realized. 

Colin Charters
Extracted from his book Just Add Water - the Times an Tides of Newcastle Rowing Club, published by Seaview Press 2009

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