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History of the Victorian APS Head of the River rowing regatta

1877 Head of the River

The tenth Head of the River was conducted on 12th and 14th May 1877 on the Upper Yarra (upstream).

This event continued with heats and finals with three schools competing. The Geelong Grammar Boat Club history reports that it did not compete on medical advice. It quotes the Grammar School Quarterly April 1877 page 16 as follows:

But we did not enter - not because we were afraid of defeat which the crew above mentioned [Bow: G Smith, 2: G Trangmar, 3: S Fairbairn, Str: T Fairbairn] would certainly have received, but because the Headmaster and the medical advisers of the School were of the opinion that the stroke and three were too young to undergo the training and hard work necessary, and that it would be better to allow them another year before risking the strain to their constitutions which a stiff race over the Melbourne course would entail.

John Hood, later Mr Justice Hood, a founder of the Victorian Rowing Association, presented Geelong Grammar with a racing four on the condition that a shed be built for that club. It was built that year.

The Sumner Cup was donated in 1875 by Hon T J Sumner for competition among the five Public Schools, the cup to become the property of the school which should first win it three times. This was Scotch College's second win.



Starter: Mr A Nicholls

Umpire: Prof Martin Howy Irving

Judge: Mr M Byrne

Head of the River

Time: NTT
Margin: 3 lengths

1st Melbourne Grammar - Bow: H A Smith, 2: F H Mackay, 3: S J H Stephen, Str: F S Stephen, Cox: Arthur Edwards, Cch: P de J Grut
2nd Scotch College - Bow: Charles J Baker, 2: John G Robertson, 3: Robert A Baillie, Str: Robert J P Simson, Cox: Frederick J Edwards, Cch: John Wallace

Wesley College - Bow: Rowe, 2: Tatchell, 3: Boyd, Str: Robb, Cox: Tuckfield, Cchs: H M Andrew, Macdonald & E G Ochiltree

Despite being the favourites, Scotch were soundly defeated and never in the race. A clash of oars due to the steering of the MGS crew had no appreciable impact on the race and so no protest was lodged.

The Argus reported on the final.

The final heat for the Sumner Challenge Cup was rowed on the Upper Yarra yesterday afternoon between the Church of England Grammar School and the Scotch College. The latter have held the Cup for two years, and had they won the race yesterday it would have become their property. The Grammar School was, however, far too good for them. They went away with the lead at the start, and came in easy winners by three lengths. The course was from the Prince’s bridge to the Botanical-bridge. Mr. A. Nichols officiated as starter, Mr. M. Byrne as judge, and Professor Irving as umpire.

E1: 1st MGS, 2nd WC, Margin 1 length. Scotch College secured the bye for this race and earned a place in the final. The race was excellent with MGS winning by only a length after WC led for the first part of the race.

The Argus also reported on the heat:

The crews appeared punctually at 3pm, and were started by Mr. Nicols, who, after a false start, got them off well together. Up to the baths corner the Wesley boat led, and was a length ahead at the baths. In rounding the bend the advantage of the inside running told heavily in favour of the school crew, and the College ( two unreadable words) steered it had lost its advantage when the boats came into the last reach; but its crew rowed pluckily and a most exciting finish was the result. The superior weight and age of the School crew, however, prevented the College from regaining its lead, and dark blue won by about a length.

As mentioned above, the Geelong Grammar crew did not race on medical advice. The crew was comprised of:
Geelong Grammar - Bow: G Smith, 2: G Trangmar, 3: Stephen Fairbairn, Str: T Fairbairn, Cox: unknown, Cch: James L Cuthbertson

It is interesting to note the influence of the Edwards boatbuilding family on the Scotch and Grammar crews. The Scotch Collegian on May 1937 noted: Cox Frederick Edwards was one of the Edwards' boathouse fame, as well-known on the Yarra itself. There were several boys in that family. Some went to Scotch and some to Grammar, and on occasions the youngsters coxed opposing crews, probably a record in Head of the River races. This is what occurred in this race.


  • 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
  • Scotch Collegian May 1937
  • Geelong Grammar Boat Club history
  • The Argus. (1877, May 14). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 5. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from
  • The Argus. (1877, May 15). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 - 1957), p. 5. Retrieved April 17, 2017, from
  • MGS first crew names from MGS boatshed

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