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History of AAGPS Head of the River Rowing Regatta

1899 NSW AAGPS Head of the River 

Raced Saturday, 29 April 1899 on the Parramatta River.

The 1899 regatta was the second time three crews contested for the Major Rennie trophy on the Parramatta River:

St. Ignatius College, Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) and Sydney Grammar School.

A large crowd attended, watching the race under clear skies and flat water with the tide running against the direction of the race. Despite their struggles last year in their debut, St. Ignatius took the lead 20 strokes into the race and never looked back to take their maiden title by an impressive 5 lengths over Sydney Grammar, with Sydney Church of England Grammar School at the back of the field in third. 

The winning time of 7 minutes 20 seconds was nearly a minute faster than the previous best time on the 1 mile 550 yard course on the Parramatta River. This is largely because all schools using new boats built by W. H. Jerram from Melbourne which were described as “roomy, fast, comfortable and in every way suitable.”

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser wrote the following on St. Ignatius’ breakthrough win:

St. Ignatius had a position at the start where the tidal peculiarities of the river gave them a distinct advantage; but they bad no need of any assistance of the kind, for they came away from the other crews at a truly remarkable, pace. This crew was heavier than their rivals…In 20 strokes they were clear and reached Gladesville (time, 1 minute 30 seconds) with a lead of nearly two lengths, Church of England being slightly ahead of Sydney Grammar. All the crews kept a course in mid stream, and the further they went so did St. Ignatius draw away. Tennyson wharf was reached in 5 minutes 10 seconds, Sydney Grammar rowing Church of England a desperate race, which had already told on the condition of the latter. When about a quarter-mile from home Sydney Grammar came away very fast from the third crew, but was not class enough to press the leaders, who won by five lengths in 7 minutes 20 seconds. Sydney Grammar was two and a half lengths ahead of Church of England boat. During the contest the lads on the Birkenhead and many others roared themselves hoarse in their efforts to urge the crews to renewed exertion. It was a brilliantly- won race, and every one taking part in it deserves credit.

St. Ignatius College crew who won their maiden Head of the River in 1899
(Source: Our Alma Mater, Students of St. Ignatius College, Riverview, Sydney Vol. I, No. X, June 1899)

The complete turnaround occurred with St Ignatius' College winning their first Head of the River. The St Ignatius crew was the oldest and heaviest of the crews and managed to win regardless of poor steering by their coxswain. The Grammar crew was washed off heavily by a passing steamer.

St Ignatius used a new four for this race to match their opponents.

Head of the River

1 mile, 550 yards

Time: 7 min 20 sec

Margin: 5, 2 1/2 lengths

1st St. Ignatius College  Bow: W. McGuren, 2: J. Carlton, 3: M. Gleeson, Str: D. O'Sullivan, Cox: S. Hogan

2nd Sydney Grammar School  Bow: R. C. McBurney, 2: J. C. Close, 3: G. U. Garyan, Str: D. C. Close, Cox: H. H. Maiden

3rd Sydney Church of England Grammar School – Bow: G.N. Larkin, 2: E. D. Kater, 3: A. R. Wilson, Str: F. W. Clarke, Cox: H. S. Bland

Officials and Organising Committee:

Starter: Mr. K. F. Giltinan

Judge: Mr. J. Degotardi

Umpire: Mr. J. E. H. Kennedy

Timekeeper: Mr. J. Blackman


Our Alma Mater, Students of St. Ignatius College, Riverview, Sydney Vol. I, No. X, June 1899

ROWING. (1899, 1 May), The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW: 1842 – 1954), p. 6, Retrieved January 6 2021, from

Rowing Notes. (1899, 6 May), The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW: 1871 – 1912), p. 1061, Retrieved 6 January 2021, from 

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