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History of Rowing Victory Inc

History of Rowing Victoria Inc

1. Rowing in a young Victoria, 1838 to 1860

Rowing around Australia

Chapter 1 page 1, 2, 3, 4

Page 1 - Rowing in Melbourne prior to the gold rush 1838-1851

Page 2 - The gold rush 1851-1860

Page 3 - Rowing in the regions pre 1860

Page 4 - Rowing around Australia pre 1860

Western Australia

In Western Australia, rowing took quite some time to get a foothold. Bill Cooper in his Western Australia rowing history described rowing as having many false starts from 1837 onwards. Yes there were races at various times amongst crews from visiting ships, whalers, fishermen and also watermen who plied their trade taking passengers and freight between places such Freemantle and Perth. But it was all very occasional and not organised. 1

South Australia

Rowing in South Australia had similar beginnings with crews from ships racing each other. 

The first recorded race occurred even before the landing at Glenelg. On 24th May 1824, a regatta was held at Kingscote Harbour to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. There were two races, one for whale boats and the other for square-sterned boats. Both races were amongst crews of the ships stationed at that harbour.

The first rowing races on the Port Adelaide River were conducted in August 1839 between long boats and lifeboats of immigrant sailing ships. This regatta continued and by 1867 the Port Adelaide regatta was held on New Years Day and the programme had increased to ten events with money prizes.

So before 1860 in South Australia, there was largely a professional rowing scene for watermen on the Port River.2


Boat racing was popular in Van Diemen’s Land from the earliest times. Like horse racing, it was conducted in response to wagers. The first know race was on 30 October 1815 between Mr Peter’s boat and Mr Gordon’s boat for a 50 Guinea bet. Messrs Peters and Gordon were not the rowers in these boats, but the backers of “their boats”.

Races and then regattas flourished in Hobart Town and by 1828 racing is recorded in Launceston.

The first amateurs appear to have been six gentlemen who started the Arrow Club in 1831. 

The Hobart Town Regatta was first conducted in 1838, shortly after the first Sydney Regatta, and some 12,000 people attended, drawn by free food and a public holiday. Launceston followed with their regatta and public holiday in 1840. The first race for amateurs was conducted at the 1841 regatta with a prize being a gig. A crew of manual labourers won and a protest ensued – manual labourers surely could not be gentlemen amateurs? I will not commence a discussion on the amateur definition unless we want to make this the annual dinner and breakfast.

So in 1860, both professional and amateur Tasmanian rowing were developing well in Hobart Town and Launceston.3


Rowing in Queensland also commenced early with so many rivers to traverse. Before the age of steamers and bridges, professional watermen plied their trade with both passengers and goods .

It was therefore no wonder that rowing became a popular sport in Brisbane and later on their northern rivers.

The first regatta was conducted in 1848 on Moreton Bay with races for all comers for cash prizes in a range of boat classes.

So in 1860, rowing both professional and amateur was struggling to gain a solid foothold in Queensland despite a promising start. The situation changed over the next decade as the Queensland economy grew.4

New South Wales

The nature of Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River, the Sydney economy and the size of the population, all led to a strong and popular professional rowing scene both prior to and after 1860. Sydney became the home of professional sculling in Australia, and at several times later, the world.

1859 also stands out as an important date as that was the date of the establishment of the Australian Subscription Boat Club on the eastern side of Woolloomooloo Bay. This appears to be the first Club in Sydney to provide for rowing. Alan May in his history of the Club quotes the Herald advertisement as follows:

“Gentlemen can, by the payment of a moderate subscription quarterly in advance, obtain at any time Pleasure of Fishing Boats, Skiffs, gigs, Eight oared Cutters, funnies, &c., &c.: also have the free use of the spacious Club Room, to which will be attached Coffee and Dressing Rooms.”

The establishment of the Australian Subscription Boat Club drew the interest of George Thornton, who was to become a key figure in NSW rowing and also a certain Quarton Levitt Deloitte, who raced successfully with them and then went onto to be Sydney Rowing Club’s first Captain and later an esteemed President.5


  1.  Home & Dry, A History of Rowing in Western Australia, by W S Cooper published by Rowing WA 2008
  2.  Adelaide Rowing Club - The First 100 Season by R W Richardson, published by Adelaide Rowing Club 1982
  3. Sporting Island, a history of sport and recreation in Tasmania by David Young, published by the Tasmanian Government 2005
  4. Rowing in Queensland 1880-1992 by Jack Pritchard, published by Rowing Queensland 1996
  5. Sydney Rows by Alan May Sydney Rowing Club 1970

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