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History of the Victorian APS Head of the River rowing regatta

1920 Head of the River

The fifty-third Head of the River was conducted on 8th May in bright sunshine on a calm day before a huge crowd of 100,000 spectators. The heats were coducted the day before. The great race the year before had certainly made this event a must see event for all Melbournians.

Later in this year the successful Geelong Grammar coach E J Curnow unfortunately died at the young age of 55.

Index to Results:


Starter: T Davies

Head of the River

Time: 5:34.0
Margin: One canvas & 2 lengths

1st Geelong Grammar - Bow: G C Northcote, 2: T S Carlyon, 3: R G Ritchie, 4: F S Cole, 5: F Gilder, 6: J S Bloomfield, 7: C R Speeding, Str: R E Webb-Ware, Cox: J E F Mann, Cch: E J Curnow
2nd Scotch College - Bow: Bryan T Keon-Cohen, 2: Douglas A Carter, 3: Charles H Hutton, 4: John G Paton, 5: Allan W Staley, 6: Hugh C Dick, 7: Beresford H Cole, Str: Douglas J W Stone, Cox: William M Shaw, Cch: Alexander B Sloan
3rd Xavier College- Bow: E Rorke, 2: L Lachal, 3; W Bryan, 4: L Cussen, 5: Emmett Shiel, 6: V Kelly, 7: A Hambrook, Str: Gerald Ryan, Cox: J Cosgriff, Cch: Wilfred "Bill" Cahill

The Argus reported on the final as follows;


…and it was estimated that there were nearly 70,000 people on the banks.

The public schools’ race held a wide appeal to all classes, and the community of interest was strikingly manifest.

The starter, Mr. T. Davies, sent the crews away to a good start, but in the anxiety of the moment Geelong Grammar and Xavier did not get away as evenly as their supporters might have wished. Scotch were first into their stroke, and rowed at a slower rate than their opponents, who started out at about 40. Striking 38, Scotch rowed more cleanly, and passing under the Anderson Street Bridge had an advantage over Grammar of about a canvas. Xavier in the meantime were rowing somewhat raggedly, and could not strike a swing. At the start of the big bend Grammar were on level terms with Scotch College, and making the most of the advantage of the inside station, gradually drew ahead of Scotch until the crews had entered the long straight reach for home, they led Scotch by half a length. Xavier had fallen a length and a half astern. In the run down Brander’s the Grammar School crew increased their lead, and at that stage had the big advantage of a length’s lead. Xavier, although rowing hard had dropped back about two lengths behind the leaders.

At this stage of the race the Scotch boys made a great effort, and stroke by stroke they reduced the deficit until at entering the booms they were only half a length astern. Now was witnessed a race which set the crowd yelling with excitement. For during the remainder of the race sprint answered sprint. The supporters of Scotch cheered wildly as their made its great fight, and so determined was the effort that the supporters of Geelong Grammar were on puns and needles lest their crew should be unable to hold their hard won advantage. Foot by foot Scotch college drew up until only a canvas separated the crews. It was now that the Light Blues answered the question as to whether they would maintain their good form in a grueling race they rowed a great finish. With only a few yards to go, the Scotch College stroke made a final great effort to snatch victory in the last moment, but Geelong Grammar responded well, and as the judge’s pistols was fired they were still in the lead by a narrow margin of a canvas. Xavier had been battling a hard chase, but they could not make up the leeway, and finished about two length’s behind Scotch College.
Time: 5 min 43 sec.

Other crews competing included:
Geelong College - Bow: W L Waugh, 2: D W Hope, 3: N K Russell, 4: P Adzen, 5: F W Gilmore, 6: J R Macmillan, 7: G G Pern, Str: C C Bell, Cox: K J Tayor, Cch: H J Young
Wesley College
- Bow: T J Liley, 2: T Standing, 3: D J Lawson, 4: N J Abernethy, 5: A N L Patten, 6: F B Glover, 7: A D McIntosh, Str: H T Gamble, Cox: R M Barden, Cch: Charles Donald
Melbourne Grammar - Bow: G R Weir, 2: N W Lockyer, 3: R Grey-Smith, 4: I D Sargood, 5: G R B Patterson, 6: E O James, 7: M L Baillieu, Str: K G Begg, Cox: J H Fitts

Heat results:
E1: 1st GGS, 2nd GC, Time: 5:32.0, Margin: 2.5 lengths
E2: 1st XC, 2nd MGS, Time: 5:42.0, Margin: One canvas
E3: 1st SC, 2nd WC, Time: 5:38.0, Margin: 0.75 length

The Argus reported on the heats in the following manner:

First Heat
Geelong Grammar v Geelong College

Both crews were punctual in reaching the stake boats at the starting point, and, with no delay, they were got away together. The Grammar school, at 42 strokes to the minute to their opponents’ 38, soon drew ahead, and at the bridge led by ¾ of a length. Then, slowing to 36, they still held on, and at the big corner, they were one a half to the good, and had increased their lead to two lengths at Brander’s Ferry. They had reduced their rate of striking to 32, but with their long, steady swing they were well ahead. At the end of the Henley staging, the light blues quickened to 36, and crossed the line two a half lengths to the good. The college rowed a plucky stern chase, and saw it right out but were easily beaten. Time 5 min 32 sec.

Second Heat
Xavier College v Melbourne Grammar School

Crews: same

There was an excellent start, in which the Melburnians, rowing the better form, at once took the lead. Rowing 40 to their opponents’ 41, they had a lead of a canvas at the bridge. The rate in each boat dropped to 36, and as they reached the bend the dark blues had increased their lead to a ¼ of a length. All round the long bend Xavier crept up, quickening their stroke to 38, and as the boats straightened for the run home they were almost level. On the stretch to Brander’s Xavier gradually overhauled the leaders, and at Brander’s the red and black flag was in front. Xavier were then striking 35 to their opponent’s 33. At the entrance to the booms each quickened – Xavier to 38, the Grammar school to 36, but Xavier held on, and though splashing, saw it out and won a hard race by a canvas. Time 5 min 42 sec.

Third Heat
Scotch College v Wesley College

From another even start Wesley went off at 40, splashing badly, and with uneven blade work, to Scotch’s 38. The quicker stroke took Wesley to the front, and at the bridge they had half a length to the good. Both dropped to 36, and Wesley still held their lead around the bend, and when they entered the straight were a ¼ of a length in front. All down the way to Brander’s it was a great race, with Scotch creeping up inch by inch, until at Brander’s the Wesley lead had been reduced to a canvas. Here Scotch spurted and caught their rivals, and just as they entered the booms Scotch led for the first time. It was a desperate struggle, but Scotch were stronger, and maintaining their effort drew away and won by ¾ of a length. Time 5 min 38 sec.

The first heat with Geelong Grammar winning

A winning oar from Geelong Grammar

Second Crews

(Not conducted at the Head of the River regatta. These races were conducted the week beforehand on 30th April on the Upper Yarra)

Time: NTT
Margin: 1 foot

1st Wesley College
=2nd Scotch College
=2nd Melbourne Grammar
4th Xavier College

The two Geelong schools conducted their own seconds race on the same day on the Barwon with Geelong Grammar prevailing over Geelong College.

The Argus reported on the second crews race as follows:

After a very close race the verdict went to Wesley by a foot, from Scotch and Melbourne Grammar School, who were equal for second place, with Xavier College beaten off


  • 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
  • HEAD OF THE RIVER. (1920, May 1). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 22. Retrieved March 15, 2017, from
  • HEAD OF THE RIVER RACE. (1920, May 8). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 19. Retrieved March 15, 2017, from
  • HEAD OF THE RIVER. (1920, May 10). The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954), p. 7. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from
  • Photos copied from the GGS boatshed

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