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History of the Victorian APS Head of the River rowing regatta

1868 Head of the River

This was the first Public School boat race in Victoria and was rowed on the Upper Yarra down stream on 18th June, 1868.

The race was the outcome of negotiations between two Melbourne University Boat Club members and school teachers at the schools, Mr. J. H. Thompson, on behalf of Melbourne Grammar School, and Mr. J. G. Johnstone, a member of the Scotch College staff. These gentlemen coached the respective crews. Crews had been rowing on the river for some time, but the challenge for the race issued by one of the Scotch College rowers was only made on 17th June. It was promptly accepted by Melbourne Grammar School, and even in those far-off days the contest aroused no little interest.

The challenge read as follows:
Eastern Hill, Melbourne. 17th June, 1868.

Dear Sir,

I am requested by the Scotch College Rowing Club to challenge you to a friendly four-oar gig race the race to be rowed on Thursday the 18th from the Botanical Bridge to Edwards' boat house, and subject to such conditions as the crews agree to.

1 am, Yours truly,

"Remus" of the Morning Herald of the day reported that despite several plucky attempts to collar their leaders, the "School" was beaten by the "College" by two lengths. [Most records show the margin as 1 length.]

The correspondent continued:
The winners received a regular ovation from their scholl-fellows. Indeed, it was the most hearty, genuine, and impulsive cheering heard on the river for many a day. ... It is hoped that the losers on this occasion will not despair at their first defeat, but that they will, on the contrary, persevere with the oar till victory crowns their efforts. Now that the ice is broken, we may expect to see many such races between our Public Schools.

The starting point of the race at the Botanic Gardens

The finishing point of the race, James Edwards boatshed being the left hand boatshed

Notice the original Prince's Bridge and swamps of South Melbourne

The course was the Upper Yarra from the Botanic Gardens corner to the Edwards boat shed near Prince's Bridge. The bend in the river at the Botanic Gardens prevented serious racing above that point. Both schools would have boated from the commercial boatsheds at Prince's Bridge.

The course was 1 mile.



Starter: Mr John C Johnstone
Umpire: Mr A Ross

Head of the River

No time taken
Margin: 1 length

1st Scotch College - Bow: Arthur C Wilson, 2: Adam Smith, 3: John C Field, Str: John A Brady, Cox: Frederick G White, Cch: John C Johnstone
2nd Melbourne Grammar School - Bow: J Sweeney, 2: George J Teague, 3: W Barker, Str: H Ryan, Cox: H M Strachan, Cch: J H Thompson

The News of the Day reported on the race as follows:

The banks of the Yarra yesterday presented a most animated appearance on the occasions of the match being rowed off by the Scotch College and the Church of England Grammar School boys. Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm displayed by friends of the rival crews….The Scotchmen were the lighter crew, with the heaviest boat, and advantage which the Grammar school could not overcome, in spite of every effort in what was from the start a losing race. Better circumstanced, the latter might have turned the tables on their opponents, for, as it was, little more than a length separated the boats at the finish. No accident occurred to mar the race, which was rowed in four-oared gigs, started by Mr. Johnstone, of the University, and umpired my Mr. Ross, of the Civil Service Rowing Club.


  • The Victorian Oarsman by John Lang 1919 - A H Massina & Company
  • Appendix to A Deepening Roar Scotch College 1851-2001 by James Mitchell, Allen & Unwin 2001
  • Photos from the Lindblade Collection and the Mercantile Rowing Club collection
  • GGS Pincott Club Handbook 2006
  • MGS first crew names from MGS boatshed
  • THE NEWS OF THE DAY. (1868, June 19). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved April 5, 2017, from

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