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History of the Victorian APS Head of the River rowing regatta

1884 Head of the River

Scotch College, under their new coach Alfred Pace, won handsomely from their old rivals Melbourne Grammar after defeating Geelong Grammar by 3 lengths in the heat.

The seventeenth Head of the River was conducted over 1 1/4 miles on the Upper Yarra with the heat on 16th May and the final the next day on 17th May.

Wesley withdrew from the race due to illness with the two man.

Index to Results:


Starter: Mr G G Henderson

Umpire: Mr A Nicholls

Judge: Mr J M Colville

Head of the River

Time: NTT
Margin: 2 1/2 lengths

1st Scotch College - Bow: Ewen C McPherson, 2: Andrew R Roberstson, 3: James L Bell, Str: John A Petersen, Cox: Henry N Young, Cch: Alfred W Pace
2nd Melbourne Grammar - Bow: G H B Teague, 2: W C Macknight, 3: L C Pender, Str: E Champion, Cox: E Higinbotham, Cch: W Martin Burn

The Australasian report of the final was as follows:

As in the other races, the crews gave the starter no trouble, but came up to the post together. At the signal the Scotch snatched the first stroke, and both crews went away ding-dong for the lead. After covering about 300 yards the Grammar School brought the nose of their boat a few feet in advance for a few moments. The Scotch then spurted, and rounding the pontoon were about half a length to the good. For the next ½ a mile the racing was splendid, the small but plucky stroke of the Grammar School continually calling on his men, and reducing the lead, and again dropping behind, the Scotch stroke rowing a nice clean and telling stroke, with his crew well in hand. Nearing Brander’s the Scotch had decidedly the best of it, and making way, passed the ferry two and a half lengths ahead, and increased their lead to four lengths before rounding the baths corner. Here the crew on the north had the usual advantage, and when they showed up past the corporation baths, the Scotch were not more than three lengths in advance. Both crews rowed with great gameness to the end. The Grammar School drew up a little, but the Scotch passed the judge first by two and a ½ lengths.

Other crew competing:
Geelong Grammar
- Bow: H S Crabbe, 2: A M Morgan, 3: F W Fairbairn, Str: T W Bailey, Cox: F N Clarke, Cch: Mr Christie

Heat result:
E1: 1st SC, 2nd GGS, Margin 3 lengths.
E2: Wesley withdrew due to illness so MGS secured the bye.

The Age reported on the heat as follows:

Both crews got away well together, and rounding the pontoon corner the Geelong had a slight lead, which they maintained to the baths corner, when the Scotch boys put on a spurt, and, the Geelong failing to answer, won by a couple of lengths.

The following is an extract from a speech given by Sir Frank Robinson KCMG on 7th July 1932 about his experiences as a young boy at the Head of the River in 1884.

The first Public School event I saw was the Boat Race of 1884, which took place about three or four weeks after I had entered the School.

One day I saw a huge boy who, to one as diminutive as I was then, seemed a giant, quite eight feet high, I thought. "That's him," said, another boy to me, "that's Peterson, the stroke of the crew!" "What crew?" I asked and then was informed of the boat races which began in 1868, and even then were regarded as the best of the School contests.

In those days the race was rowed from the Botanical Gardens Bridge to Edwards' boatshed. The river's course was more winding than at present, and the good athletes ran the whole way along the bank during the race, shouting encouragement to the crew. Scotch won its heat, against Wesley, I think, [in fact it was GGS] and the next day had to meet Melbourne Grammar in the final.

As I was leaving the river after the first day's heats I met a boy who had been with me at a preparatory school, but who was quite thirteen and a half years old and five feet, three inches high, as compared with my bare twelve years and less than five feet. Besides he had been at a Public School for a year and a quarter. Obviously his knowledge must be as profound as my ignorance. He spoke kindly to me, and patronisingly pointing out the Grammar crew to me. He said, "There, youngster, is the crew that will heat Scotch tomorrow." This made me very despondent, but in the result Scotch won the final by two good lengths, and I went home very happy and very hoarse. Was I not now part of the School? Had I not "barracked" for one of its teams?

Ever since then the Boat Race and contests with Melbourne Grammar in any sport have been of special interest to me.

Second Crew

(This event was raced on the Upper Yarra but not as part of the Head of the River regatta.)

Time: NTT
Margin: 3 lengths

1st Geelong Grammar - Bow: A Bailey, 2: F James, 3: J Rutherford, Str: J Robertson, Cox: F Clarke
2nd Scotch College
- Bow: C Kreitmayer, 2: P Armstrong, 3: J Hope, Str: F Woolrabe, Cox: N Young

The Australasian reported on the final as follows:

The final heat between the Geelong Grammar School and the Scotch College was rowed yesterday afternoon. The Scotch winning the toss chose the south side, the Geelong taking the north, a handicap of half a length. No trouble was experienced in getting the crews off, and the start was excellent. Going away both crews rowed the same stroke of about 44 to the minute, the swing and catch of the two crews being almost in unison. Nearing Brander’s Ferry the Geelong had gradually increased their handicap of half a length to three quarters, and the boats were kept thus for a ¼ of a mile, when the visitors began to draw ahead inch by inch, and despite the pluckiest of rowing on the part of the College half way to the pontoon, daylight appeared between the boats. This distance was gradually increased to the end, the Geelong gaining victory by about three lengths.

Other crews:
Wesley College - Bow: W Reilley, 2: L Davies, 3: H Brooke, Str: H Uren, Cox: E Waugh
Melbourne Grammar
- Bow: H Osborne, 2: A Jenkins, 3: A Taylor, Str: H Pounds, Cox: E Higinbotham

E1: 1st GGS, 2nd WC. Margin 2 lengths
E2: 1st SC, 2nd MGS. Margin: 1/4 length

The Age reported as follows:

First Heat - Scotch v MGS

At the word “go” the Scotch dashed off with a slight lead, and rowing very well drew away from their lighter opponents, who at Brander’s were a length astern, and these positions remained unchanged to the pontoon corner, where Pounds spirted gamely, and being ably backed up by his companions, decreased the distance between the boats. In the straight reach the Grammar continued to draw upon the Scotch boys, who exhibited signs of distress; they, however, stuck manfully to their work, and beat their plucky little adversaries by a ¼ of a length.

Second Heat - Wesley v GGS

The Wesley crew got away very unevenly at the start, losing a length before they got under way. This start proved too much, for, despite their efforts, they never headed Geelong during the race, finishing two lengths astern.


  • 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
  • The Pincott Club Handbook 2006
  • Scotch Collegian magazine 1932 and 1934
  • MGS first crew names - MGS boathouse
  • Scotch College and Melbourne Grammar Archives
  • PUBLIC SCHOOLS ANNUAL BOAT RACE. (1884, May 17). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 11. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from
  • PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOAT RACE. (1884, May 24). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 14. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from
  • PUBLIC SCHOOL BOAT RACE. (1884, October 17). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from
  • PUBLIC SCHOOLS SECOND CREWS RACH. (1884, October 18). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 22. Retrieved April 16, 2017, from

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