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History of the Victorian APS Head of the River rowing regatta

1912 Head of the River

The forty-fifth Head of the River was conducted on the Upper Yarra course with a three crew final. The heats were conducted on 10th May with the final on 11th May.

A clash whereby Geelong fouled Xavier occurred early in the race and so it was restarted.

A public controversy arose in APS sport over the age of a Scotch College student. There was at this time an upper limit on the age of APS sports participants. It did not impact the rowing as the person involved broke his collar bone and could not try out for their crew. However it did cause much debate in the newspapers at that time in football. Phillip C Cooney left Xavier College in 1911 where his registered age showed he was in his 20th year. When he moved to Scotch, his age was registered as 16.The column inches devoted to the "Cooney case" interested all including legal opinions being published from eminent lawyers.

No second crew races were again conducted.

Head of the River

Time: NTT
Margins: 1 canvas and 1 length

1st Wesley College - Bow: W J Hayes, 2: L J Govett, 3: C R McKenzie, 4: C J McKenzie, 5: K F Abernethy, 6: C S Wood, 7: G C Rowe, Str: Reginald McClure Abernethy, Cox: J Mann, Cch: Charles Donald
2nd Geelong Grammar - Bow: J Webster, 2: K McG Donald, 3: J J Bartlam, 4: C A S Hawker, 5: T N H Stretch, 6: D Robertson, 7: Charles M Armytage, Str: A Davenport, Cox: M H S Jackson, Cch: A F Garrard
3rd Xavier College- Bow: J Clarebrough, 2: H Quinlan, 3: F Loughnon, 4: Jim Cody, 5: W Flanagan, 6: H Neate, 7: J Cussen, Str: Cecil J Quinlan, Cox: F Honan, Cch: Jack Fogarty

The Age reported on the final in some detail and providing some of the colour of the event.

The weather conditions were almost Ideal for the water was smooth, and there was no wind to give the advantage to any crew. Wesley had the north station, and that meant that they had- the advantage of the big bend; but the finish was the slant Henley finish, so that as far as actual distances was concerned they did not have any advantage. Next them were the Geelong Grammar lads, and the Xavier crew held the south, or outer, station. Mr. T. Davies got the crews away to a splendid start, but they had not rowed more than a few dozen strokes when the Geelong crew, being slightly ahead, bore in on the Xavier crew, and there was danger of a foul. Seeing this the umpire stopped the race, and brought the crews back again to the starting post. There were mutterings from the barrackers on the banks, and excitement ran high when the oars of the crew's touched.

Next time the crews all got away splendidly together. Geelong again dashed to the fore at the start, and the nose of their boat was kept: ahead until the bridge. Just at the Botanical Gardens the Xavier boys shot to the front; and they held the other crews by half a length. Wesley were in the rear about three-quarters of a length. On the boats sped to the corner. In the distance could be heard now the gradually increasing murmur of thousands of voices. It was like a' mighty wave of sound, gradually increasing -in volume the nearer and faster the crews rowed. The strokes were the only men to snatch a hurried glance from time to time at the boats on either hand. To avoid all confusion the corner had been buoyed, and the Xavier crew hint to steer a wide course.

"When the spectators, a mile away, first caught a glimpse of the crews they were each about 30 yards apart. The sun caught the light blue of the Geelong boat and they were the only colors that could be distinguished from a distance. The bend gave Wesley their chance, and, quickening their stroke, they shot to the front, and led into the straight by a few feet. Xavier were making heavy rowing now it seemed, and were falling behind, but Geelong stuck to the purples, and maintained their position, though gain on the Wesley boys they could not. At the ferry the light blue boat commenced to overtake the leaders, but in an instant the Wesley stroke had rallied his crew, and their boat was shooting through the water impelled by lengthy vigorous sweeps, while the Geelong crew seemed to be shortening their stroke at each dip. It was a desperate struggle. The water splashed from the ends, of the oars as the boys' strength gradually diminished. For the last few hundred yards the light blue crew, crept nearer and nearer the Wesley boat, and now No. 5 - was abreast of their stroke. But the tried skill and the magnificent blade work of the purple eight kept them to the fore, and they passed the Judge with only a bare canvas to spare. Xavier were a length behind. Geelong had cut across them in the excitement of the moment, and the Xavier boys lodged a protest, but as they were in no way blocked from victory the protest was dismissed.

Other crews competing were:
Scotch College - Bow: Robert J Davies, 2: John G Morrison, 3: Geoffrey O Robertson, 4: Frederick R McIntosh, 5: James StG Sproule, 6: Alexander E Kelso, 7: James R Morrison, Str: Francis E Dakin, Cox: Hugh A Kane, Cch: Albert G Lindblade
Geelong College - Bow: A A W Hooper, 2: C M Calvert, 3: H F Pillow, 4: G A N Mitchell, 5: O B Bennett, 6: W W Leggatt, 7: J W Reid, Str: G N I Morrison, Cox: G G Carr, Cch: William H Pincott
Melbourne Grammar - Bow: H R Hawkins, 2: A G Adams, 3: N G Dean, 4: E W Austin, 5: D H Lawrence, 6: K D Watson, 7: L R Marks, Str: W R Raper, Cox: C R B Norton, Cch: W Vaile

Heat results:
E1: 1st GGS, 2nd MGS, Time: 5:56.2, Margin: canvas
E2: 1st XC, 2nd GC, Time: 5:45.2, Margin: 1.5 lengths
E3: 1st WC, 2nd SC, Time: 5:46.0, Margin: 1.5 lengths

The Age reported on the heats as follows:

Each year the Interest in the head of the river races seems to grow more keen. The public schools rowed on the Upper Yarra for that title yesterday afternoon, and there were neatly 10,000 people present. The majority of this number were school boys and old boys of the six schools, . It was surprising to see how many of the well-known business men had left their offices early and wandered down on to the banks of the river to see a school boat race

First Heat (Geelong Grammar v MGS)
This was an excellent race from the start, but the Geelong boys rowed more steadily, and, though the Melbourne Grammar crew made a plucky attempt to overhaul their opponents, passed the Judges with a bare canvas to spare.

Second Heat (Xavier v Geelong College)
A good race, but Xavier were the more powerful crew, and won by about a boat’s length.

Third Heat (Wesley v Scotch)
The Crews got away well together, but Wesley soon pulled ahead, and at the ferry were three-quarters of a length ahead. This lead they increased, and Scotch, unable to maintain the strenuous pace, were at the post a length and a half behind.

1912 Wesley College Crew

Photo: Wesley College Boatshed


  • The Pincott Club Handbook 2006
  • The Victorian Oarsman by John Lang 1919 - A H Massina & Company
  • Lift her home to victory, lads! A centenary history of Xavier College 1906-2006 by Michael Lefebvre
  • Appendix to A Deepening Roar Scotch College 1851-2001 by James Mitchell, Allen & Unwin 2001
  • MGS first crew names from MGS boatshed
  • THE HEAD OF THE RIVER. (1912, May 11). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 18. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from
  • HEAD OF THE RIVER. (1912, May 13). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 8. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from
  • Picture of WC crew from the WC boatshed
  • COLLEGE SPORTS. (1912, July 20). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 31 (TOWN EDITION). Retrieved February 13, 2024, from
  • COONEY'S CASE. (1912, July 27). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 33 (TOWN EDITION). Retrieved February 13, 2024, from

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