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History of the Queensland GPS Head of the River rowing regatta

1923 QLD GPS Head of the River

The 2nd Head of the River was conducted on Saturday 12th May 1923 on the Bridge Reach of the Brisbane River.

This would be the second showing of Denis O'Connor Cup with Mr Denis O'Connor, then the president of the Queensland Rowing Association, having donated a handsome trophy for perpetual competition. Starting at 2PM on an ebb tide, the race would be over three-quarters of a mile, starting at the Commercial Rowing Club and finishing at the University Pontoon.

Given the infancy of school rowing in Queensland, remarkable progress had been made and huge interest generated by the public. Indeed, the banks of the Brisbane River on the day were lined with crowds of passionate supporters cheering their schools on and not a single car park within the vicinity was available. 

Instead, some drivers opted to watch the start in their automobiles and follow the race by travelling along William Street to the Domain. Others assembled on the river itself on the motor launches charted by the schools to cheer on the rowers. Every craft on the river had its complement of supporters who exhorted the rowers as they went past. 

The positions of the crews were as follows: No. 1 Brisbane Grammar School; No. 2 Church of England Grammar School; No. 3 The Southport School; No. 4 Brisbane Boys' College.

The Officials for the race were:

Judge: Mr. J. F. Donovan

Umpire: Mr. R. W. Wilson 

Starter: Mr. A. S. Green 

Timekeepers: Mr. R. Wilson & Mr. E. E. McCaskie 

Described as an exhilarating finish, the four crews battled it out over inch of the water. Southport took the honours by a mere 1 foot. Only 1.5 Lengths separated the first and last place. 

The calibre of the 1923 competition was attributed to the diligent preparation of each crew. Their training in the weeks prior was followed by various tabloids in Brisbane who were impressed by the keenness and enthusiasm shown by the boys.

Illness however hurt Church of England Grammar days before the race when their stroke, T. E. Collins fell ill and was relocated to the 2 seat with L'estrange earmarked as his replacement. A different result may eventuated had Collins kept a clean bill of health as such a structural change so close to the event would have no doubt hurt Churchie's swing and tempo. 

As the heaviest crew at eleven and three-quarter stones, Southport were touted as favourites, with coach Clavill Bere asserting that this years team was as strong as the victorious 1921 crew. 

Controversially, it was decided by the Q.R.A at a meeting on the following Monday that the starting and finishing lines of the race were unparalleled. This gave the crew on the north bank an undoubted advantage. Deliberating that this did not impact the outcome, it was decided that the result would stand yet corrective action would be taken in time for the 1924 Head of the River. 


Organising Committees:

The Queensland Metropolitan Secondary Schools' Association

Queensland Rowing Association 

All School's Championship

The O'Connor Cup

Distance: 0.75 Mile

Winning Time: 4:12.00


1 foot (1-2)

1/2 Lengths (2-3)

1/2 Lengths (3-4) 

1st The Southport School - Bow: I. M. Grant 9st 10lb, 2: J.E. Lewis 11st 1lb, 3: W.H. Bell 13st 4lb, Str: E. O. Moyse 12st 5lb, Cox: L.J.L. McLean 8st 10lb, Coach: Mr. C. M. Bere, Colours: maroon with blue and white facings 

2nd Brisbane Boys' College - Bow: A. P. Douglas 9st 10lb, 2: K. G. Stupart 10st 4lb, 3: L. Lanagan 10st 4lb, Str: W. V. McDowall 9st 10lb, Cox: A. R. Kennedy 7st 0lb, Coach: Dr. V. McDowell & Mr. W. L. Boyd,  Colours: dark green, black and white 

3rd Church of England Grammar School - Bow: R. P. Henzell 10st 4lb, 2: T. E. Collins 10st 4lb, 3: K. W. Alexander 11st 8lb, Str: E. C. L’Estrange 11st 2lb, Cox: A. I. Fowler 8st, Coach: Mr R. Sinclair Smith, Colours: grey and royal blue 

4th Brisbane Grammar School - Bow: J. E. Lissner 10st, 2: O. T. Fenwick 9st 10lb, 3: F. K. Hirschfeld 11st 1lb, Str: J. F. Drewe 9st 3lb, Cox: L. D. Kellett 7st 0lb, Coach: Mr. E. M. Fisher, Colours: dark green, black and white 

                                                                                       The Brisbane Boys' College Crew 

Church of England Grammar School 1923 All Schools' Crew 

The Race Described

All four boats were sent away well by Mr Green. After 50 yards, it was College, rowing with a purposeful stroke, in front by a quarter length,  with all crews within half a length of the leaders. These tight margins would be sustained until the finish in what pundits would call one of the most brilliant and exciting contests in the history of Queensland school-boy rowing.

After 200 yards, College, averaging 40 strokes per minute had consolidated their lead to half a length. They were closely trailed by Brisbane Grammar, also rating 40. Southport was a quarter length further back stroking at 38 with Churchie bringing up the rear at 36. 

From here, it was Grammar's turn to rally. Lifting their intensity, they would overtake College. Southport and BBC responded to this with a surge of their own. At the Victoria Bridge, they both displaced Grammar and were neck and neck. From here, a marvellous finish ensued between College and Southport with Grammar unable to go with them. 

College's ability to challenge Southport was all the more commendable on account of their boat being one and three quarter stone lighter than their seaside rivals. Nevertheless, with 300 yards left, the College boys were straining every muscle to maintain a slight canvas lead, their clean blade-work being a pleasure to watch.

Southport then, with the finish line 200 yards away, lifted their rating to edge out in front. In quid pro quo fashion, College responded by lifting their own rating once more, but the squinting faces of the crew were a tell tale sign that fatigue was setting in. 

After struggling for supremacy over inch of the course, Southport's final rally in the last 50 yards, amidst the screaming cheers of spectators, was enough to take the O'Connor Cup by 1 foot. Their strong blade-work, superior weight and particularly strong finish proved too much for College who nonetheless stroked gallantly. 

Churchie crossed the line 3rd by 1 length. Having rowed well in the second half, they were never able to regain the deficit of half a length which they lost in the first 100 yards. Grammar, who tried to win the race from the off, couldn't sustain this burst and finished a further half length behind Churchie. 

This was Southport's 10th victory in schoolboy rowing competitions and the first of many O'Connor Cup victories, having first competed in 1908. In a gesture of sportsmanship, Brisbane Boys' College sent their most heartily of congratulations to the 1923 victors via their school newsletter. 

The 1923 O'Connor Cup was race for the ages. 


Page 15, The Brisbane Courier Monday 14th May 1923 Edition via Trove (

Page 14, The Brisbane Courier Friday 11th May edition via Trove

Page 15, Daily Standard Thursday 10th May 1923 Edition via Trove (

Page 7, Daily Standard Monday 14th May 1923 edition via Trove (

Page 7, Daily Standard Friday 18th May 1923 edition via Trove (

Page 10, Daily Standard Friday 11th May 1923 edition via Trove (

Page 7, Daily Standard, Friday 18th May 1923 edition via Trove (

Page 13, The Daily Mail Monday 14th May 1923 edition via Trove(

Page 4, The Telegraph, Monday 14th May 1923 edition via Trove (

Page 5, The Telegraph Friday 24th May 1923 edition via Trove (

Page 36, The Clayfield Collegian, December 1923 Edition via Trove (

Page 106, Churchie Rowing by Peter Jell, Published by Anglican Church Grammar School 

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