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History of the Queensland GPS Head of the River rowing regatta

1921 QLD GPS Head of the River

The 1921 Head of the River was conducted on Saturday 4th June on the Bridge Reach of the Brisbane River. 

An overcast sky and a still stream with a slack ebb tide in favour of the rowers were the conditions that greeted the five crews. The race would be over three-quarters of a mile, starting from the Commercial Rowing Club and concluding at the University Pontoon in the Domain where a large crowd of supporters had congregated. 

Some spectators were fortunate enough to find themselves on the motor boats charted by the various schools which followed the race in close-up fashion. 

Indeed the 1921 regatta had attached to it a special interest as the destiny of the J. P. Lawless Cup hung in the balance. Both Central Technical College and The Southport School had been victorious in the Cup twice, 1915/1916 and 1918/1920 respectively. One of the two only needed to be successful on this fateful afternoon to retain the trophy with this being the Cup's condition: that the School who first wins the title three times shall take it perpetually. 

With this in mind, it was expected that the Brisbane based schools in the race would have an added motivation to ensure the Lawless Cup was not retired forever.

The draw for positions resulted in: No. 1, Church of England being next to the Quay street bank; No. 2 Brisbane Grammar School; No. 3 Brisbane Boys College; No. 4 The Southport School; and No. 5 Technical College on the outside.

After a splendid struggle over every inch of the Bridge Reach, Southport would take the Lawless cup back to the Gold Coast permanently.

With the same average weight as the West Australian crew who won the 1921 Open State Championships, Southport rowed a clean, clear cut race from start to finish, revealing the dividends of a highly strenuous preparation for the event as the Crew arrived in Brisbane 10 days prior to train for the regatta.

Mr. Denis O'Connor, president of the Queensland Rowing Association, presented the Lawless Cup and congratulated Southport on winning the event, which gave them the honour of holding the cup outright. He also stated his intention to donate and present the All-Schools with a trophy to be rowed for annually but only to be held by the winners for 12 months on a rolling, year to year basis.

This would ultimately be named the O'Connor Cup. First IV's and VIII's of the competing Queensland schools would go on to race for this honour for the next 100 years, a tradition continued until this day.


Organising Committees:

The Queensland Metropolitan Secondary Schools' Association

Queensland Rowing Association 

The officials for the day were as follows:

Judge: Mr. J. F. Donovan,

Umpire: Mr. A. J. Westaway;

Timekeepers: Mr. F. W. De Little & Mr. E. McCaskie;

Starter: Mr. E. T. Hart.

All Schools Race

The J. P. Lawless Cup

Distance: 0.75 Mile

Winning Time: 4:08.00


1.5 Lengths (1-2)

0.25 Lengths (2-3)

0.25 Lengths (3-4)

0.25 Lengths (4-5)

1st The Southport School - Bow: R. J. Hayter 10st 8lbs, 2: J. R. Warner 10st 11lbs, 3: R. H. Moyse 10st 13lbs, Str: I. F. Champion 9st 4lbs, Cox: J. T. H. Michod 7st 2lbs, Coach: Mr. C. M. C. Bere

2nd Anglican Church Grammar School - Bow: H. B. Beaman 9st 12lbs, 2: H. E. Hunter 9st 6lbs, 3: G. W. Barlow 10st 10lbs, Str: T. P. I. Fowler 9st 3lbs, Cox: A. I. Fowler 7st, Coach: Mr. T. Lawton 

3rd Brisbane Grammar School - Bow: W. M. Hayne 9st 9lbs, 2: J. F. Drewe 9st 12lbs, 3: K. S. Hirschmeld 11st 2lbs, Str: R. C. Hooper 9st 5lbs, Cox: W. D. Kellett 7st, Coach: Mr. A. Baynes

4th Brisbane Boys’ College - Bow: S. J. Campbell 9st 10lbs, 2: A. C. Lambert 9st 13lbs, 3: C. M. Klaassen 10st 7lbs, Str: V. B. Perkins 10st 2lbs, Cox: A. P. Douglas 7st 2lbs Coach: Dr. V. McDowell 

5th Brisbane Technical College - Bow: G. Alder 9st 6lbs, 2: A. Noble 10st 10lbs, 3: C. Illingworth 11st 6 lbs, Str: R. Dix 9st 6lbs, Cox: A. Brennan 7st 4lbs, Coach: Mr. J. Ryan 

Brisbane Boys' College Crew. 

Church of England Grammar School 1921 Head of the River Crew

The Race Described

With the race brought forward to the morning so that contestants and spectators could attend the Varsity Rugby Match between Brisbane and Sydney University, which the Churchie Coach Mr. T. Lawton was playing in, Mr Hait sent the crews away with all making a good start.

After 100 yards, Church of England Grammar School appeared to be leading yet little separated the boats as the race progressed towards the half-way mark signified by the Victoria Bridge.

All running fairly well and steering a good course, it was the Boys' College to first emerge on the lower side of the bridge. They were a quarter of a length in front of Brisbane Grammar School and Churchie who were both the same length in front of Southport with Technical College bringing up the rear yet still well in it.

Churchie then wrestled a half-length advantage from B.B.C., with Southport third. This sequence was only maintained momentarily however for Southport found another gear and immediately spurted ahead with a vigorous, regular rating.

Approaching Parliament House and with 200 yards to go, Southport seemed to consolidate their lead and continued to row with an even stroke. They maintained their supremacy to ultimately win by 1.5 lengths.

B.B.C.'s timing and swing began to degenerate as the finishing line beckoned, slipping into fourth place. Churchie came in second with Brisbane Grammar third by quarter of a length. Central Technical College, stroking gallantly, finished 5th by a mere quarter length.

Along with being the perpetual owners of the J. P. Lawless Cup, Southport ought to be congratulated furthermore with this being their third consecutive victory in the All School's Rowing Championship. Proving victorious in 1918, Southport were unable to participate in 1919 on account of the influenza virus with their victories in 1920 & 1921 thus signalling an impressive treble. 

The Lawless Cup

In 1915, the Lawless family, with close allegiance to The Southport School, presented the Lawless Cup for the All-Schools’ Race. Ivan Lawless won the All School’s Race in 1913 and 1914 and with him in the boat was Clavill Bere, who would race at the Henley Peace Regatta of 1919 in the A. I. F. No 2 crew and later coach The Southport crews to many victories over some 40 years. One of the stained glass windows in The Southport School’s Chapel in presented in thanksgiving for the safe return of Ivan Lawless from World War I. The Technical College entered the competition in 1915 and won at its first attempt and again in 1916. BGS won in 1917. 

In 1918 the Metropolitan Schools’ Association (forerunner of Brisbane Boys’ College) won in 1919 when TSS did not compete because of the influenza epidemic. In 1920 and 1921, the first two years that CEGS entered the event, Churchie finished second to the TSS who thus claimed ownership of the Lawless Cup having won it three times. It was at this stage that Queensland Rowing Association of the O’Connor Cup, wisely saw the need for a perpetual trophy and thus CEGS was the first winner of the O’Connor Cup when it won the Head of the River in 1922. This explains the single metal shield now affixed to the O’Connor Cup headed ‘Lawless Cup’ and carrying the winning crews of 1918-1921. 

Page 53-54, Churchie Rowing by Peter Jell, published by Anglican Church Grammar School


Page 8, The Daily Mail, Monday 6th June 1921 edition via Trove (

Page 9, The Telegraph, Monday 6th June 1921 Edition via Trove (

Page 3, The Brisbane Courier, 2 June 1921 edition via Trove ((

Page 4, The Brisbane Courier, Monday 6th June 1921 edition via Trove (

Page 7, Queensland Times, Monday 6th June 1921 edition via Trove (

Page 32, The Clayfield College, December 1921 edition via Trove (

Page 53-54, Churchie Rowing by Peter Jell, published by Anglican Church Grammar School

Page 100, Churchie Rowing by Peter Jell, published by Anglican Church Grammar School

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