1890 1891 1892 1893 1894 1895 1896 1897 1898 1899
BOAT RACE 1890 - 1899

Nineteenth Century Broadsheet Song. (Barry Duncan):

Now if you'll listen unto me, Doodah, Doodah,
I'll tell you of a jolly spree. Diddledum doo dah do.
It's about the boat race you must know. Doodah, doodah.
It's so nice to see them row. Diddle dum doo dah da.
The crews they nobly tried
Each other they will face.
Oh won't they puff an blow, my boys
To win the great boat race

Oh won't it be a glorious sight ...
They'll pull away with all their might, ...
Finer crews there never could be ...
Their whopping muscles you can see. ...

Such pushing and squeezing, oh goodness me, ...
Between the chaps and girls you can see ...
To see the race they all are bent ...
And won't there be some money spent. ...

Before the boys begin to row, ...
They'll take a stroke with their oars you know. ...
In their pretty dresses of coloured cotton ...
Don't they fit tight from top to bottom. ...

There's Poll and Jane as they row past ....
Looking through their opera glass ...
Says Jane to Poll, "Oh goodness me ...
One has burst his breeches and I can see diddle dum doo dah da."

Bob Snooks on the river he did go. ...
To see the race and have a blow, ...
He lost his scull, 'least so he said, ...
He used his stick you know instead. ...

Says old Mrs Brown, "Oh what a sin ...
If some young scamp ain't stuck a pin ...
I wish I'd never come, I'm sure ...
I shall never be able to sit down any more. ..."

There was big Bill Smith, the sly young fellow, ...
He was poking the girls with his umbrella, ...
But they only laughed, I do declare ...
And say, "Be quiet, or you'll rumple my hair. ..."

When race it is done, ...
Oh won't there be some jolly fun, ...
As home the chaps and girls they go ...
They'll wind up with a game or two ...

Oxford University v Cambridge University


Map taken from George Drinkwater's "The Boat Race"

1889: The great W.H.Grenfell, who rowed three times for Oxford and was President of the O.U.B.C. in 1879, wrote an article for the English Illustrated Magazine on ROWING AT OXFORD. It is too long to be quoted in full on this page and so I have placed it on a page of its own.

Interestingly that same edition contained ROWING AT CAMBRIDGE by no less a figure than R.C.Lehmann - so I will include that for contrast (when I have time!)

47 Wednesday, 26th March, 1890:

In 1890 OXFORD WON by 1 length. Time 22 minutes and 3 seconds. Oxford 24, Cambridge 22

In the correspondence between the University Boat Club Presidents to set the details for the 1890 race, the date became a sticking point, flashing over when Guy Nickalls [of Oxford] wrote that Cambridge wanted to get the best of everything because they were “a poorer lot than usual.”
Less than tactful stuff from Oxford who had just lost in 1886, 1887, 1888 and 1889!
To celebrate this Inter-University Incident, Rudy Lehmann, [of Cambridge] who at various times coached both Nickalls and Muttlebury, penned thirty-two stanzas for Granta, the year-old Cambridge magazine that Lehmann edited and co-founded. (Muttle wrote its initial “Rowing Notes.”) First, for the February 1 issue -


Strew your heads with dust and ashes, O ye sons of sedgy Cam;
Let your speech be meek and humble as the baa of bleating lamb;
Let your bloods go robed in sackcloth and be careless of their boots,--
You’re 'a poorer lot than usual', – rather lower than the brutes.

Fiery Nickalls wrote the latter, - fiery Nickalls, fine and large, -
And his frenzied eye flashed fury as he sat within his barge.
Long enough have we submitted; now the time has come to strike;
Shall 'a poorer lot than usual' settle all things as they like?

"I, the winner of the Wingfields, of the Diamonds winner too,
Who at stroke, or six, or seven am the mainstay of the crew;
I, whom friends call Guy or Luney," - it was thus the chieftain spoke, -
"Of 'a poorer lot than usual' will not tamely bear the yoke.

Nay, my brothers of the Isis, let us write to them and say
They shall trample us no longer in the old familiar way;
And the banner of our Boat Club, as it flutters in its pride,
By 'a poorer lot than usual' shall no longer be defied."

So he wrote it, and he signed it in the Presidential chair,
And he folded and addressed it, and he posted it with care;
And the heedless postman bore it, little recking of the frown
Of 'a poorer lot than usual' who reside in Cambridge town.
. . . .

And they sat in solemn conclave, there within the panelled hall,
Where the golden names of oarsmen gleam and glitter on the wall;
Mighty Muttle read the letter, lord and master of the crew,
In 'a poorer lot than usual' of socks and shorts and shoes.

Then they looked at one another as they heard it with dismay,
And one said, "This is awful!" and another, "Let us pray!";
Till at last one rose and murmured, and his fingers, as he rose,
Were - ('a poorer lot than usual'!) – extended from his nose.

"Thus", he said, "I answer Nickalls of the boast so loud and big;
Let him mount, and, if he likes it, ride to Putney on a pig.
Let him go to Bath or blazes, go to Jericho and back,
Or - ('a poorer lot than usual'!) - place his head within a sack.

"But when next he writes to Cambridge let him try another plan;
Manners cost no more than twopence, and ‘tis manners makyth man.
And, O Muttle! if you meet him, tell him plainly face to face
That 'a poorer lot than usual' mean to beat him in the race."

But the name calling had to stop. Nickalls and Rowe had to go to Cambridge to make peace, cemented at a banquet in their honour:


Oh! sadly flows the Isis, full sadly go the crews,
And the Blue-aspiring oarsmen all have yielded to the blues,
Through hall and quad and college sweeps the universal moan, -
"Give Guy and Reggie back to us; we cannot row alone."

To Iffley drift the 'toggers', as slow as any hearse;
For while the men forget their form the coach forgets to curse;
And bow, who screws most painfully, forgets to murmur "Blank",
As the cox forgets his rudder-strings and runs into the bank.
. . . .
But Guy has hastened Camward; he leaves them to their sighs,
And Reggie Rowe goes with him, curly Reggie of the eyes -
Reggie the slim and supple, the pride of all the Eight,
Who never left his bed too soon, and never yet rowed late.

See how our Muttle greets them; his childlike smile is bland,
That heathen Cantab, Muttle, - as he shakes them by the hand:
"Now, welcome both to Cambridge; first lunch and then away
To watch 'the poorer ...' Hem! I mean the crew at work to-day."
. . . .
Muttle at six is 'stylish', so at least the Field reports;
No man has ever worn, I trow, so short a pair of shorts.
His blade sweeps through the water, as he swings his 13.10,
And pulls it all, and more than all, that brawny king of men.
. . . .
And, now the work is over, the rival chieftains sit
And talk of friendly nothings in their armchairs at the Pitt;
And yet methought I marked a shade of sadness on the face
Of Nickalls, as he thought upon the coming Putney race.

But oh! that merry evening - the clash of knives and forks,
The sparkle of the wineglass, and the popping of the corks;
And the walls and rafters echoed and re-echoed to our cry,
As we drained our brimming bumpers to Reggie and to Guy.

So here’s a health to Oxford men; there came a storm of late,
But our sturdy friendship weathered it, nor foundered on a date;
And, when the furious race is past, again we’ll meet and dine,
And drink a cup of kindness yet for days of auld lang syne.

I think Cambridge had the best of that, however unfortunately (from the Cambridge point of view), the actual race went to Oxford. But I have heard such extreme partisan talk that some people do need to study that last verse!

Rudy Lehmann

Cambridge came to the race as slight favourites, more because they were on a winning run than on current form.

It was warm and sunny, but with a strong west wind which made for some rough water, particularly after Hammersmith. Cambridge won the toss and chose Surrey.

Cambridge started at a higher rating but at the Mile Tree Oxford had a one second lead. Cambridge came back and took a ¼ length lead which they increased to 2 seconds at Hamersmith Bridge.

Oxford, suffered from the wind above Hammersmith and Cambridge moved to a one length lead. But then Cambridge hit rough water which reduced their lead to a canvas at Chiswick Steps. Then Oxford had the advantage of the bend and shelter and came back to lead by nearly a length at Barnes Bridge, and to win by one length.

The view from Barnes Bridge shows both crews trying to cope in rough conditions. Oxford, on the right, the Middlesex station are in the lead -

Boatrace 1890 from Barnes Bridge
Boatrace 1890 from Barnes Bridge, Oxford on the right, leading.

W F C Holland, 11. 1
P D Tuckett, 11. 2
H E L Puxley, 11. 7
C H St J Hornby, 11. 7
Lord Ampthill, 13. 5
G Nickalls, 12.10
R P P Rowe, 11.10
W A L Fletcher, 13. 0
J P H Heywood-Lonsdale, 8. 0

G Elin, 10.9
J M Sladen, 11.12
E T Fison, 12. 6½
J F Rowlatt, 11.12
A S Duffield, 12. 9
S D Muttlebury, 13. 9
G Francklyn, 11.12½
J C Gardner, 11.12½
T W Northmore, 7.10½

Oliver Arthur Villiers Russell, Lord Ampthill
Three times president of Oxford

Electric Boats at the Boatrace.

Electric launches are now an indispensable feature of any nautical gathering on the Thames, and at the Oxford and Cambridge boatrace on Wednesday the electric boats were, after the race itself, one of the most noticeable features.

Messrs. Immisch had several large launches, among which the "Alpha," of the Daily Graphic, was conspicuous. One of Messrs. Immisch's charging stations was moored along the reaches.

Mr. Sargent had several small electric pleasure-boats which flitted silently about among the throng, or rung the warning electric bell as they turned.

The interest created in these boats is evidence of the correctness of the views of the manufacturers as to their popularity in the coming season.

There is a photo by Taunt, purporting to be of the 1890 Boat-race at Barnes Bridge, but unfortunately the wrong crew is leading - so obviously there is some mistake there

48: Saturday, 21st March, 1891:

In 1891 OXFORD WON by ½ length. Time 21 minutes and 48 seconds. Oxford 25, Cambridge 22

Both Cambridge and Oxford had potentially fast crews.

The race was held on a dark and dismal morning with a slack tide and a bitter northerly wind. Oxford won the toss and chose Middlesex.
Cambridge rated 38 and Oxford 36. Oxford took a lead of a few feet, but by Craven Steps were still only ¼ length up. At the Mile Tree Oxford led by 1 second. Cambridge now coped better with rough conditions and by Hammersmith Bridge led Oxford by one second.

The lead changed hands several times and, at Chiswick Steps, Cambridge led by one second. At the Crossing the crews were level. Oxford with the bend in their favour then went ahead and were two seconds ahead at Barnes Bridge. Cambridge kept pushing and Oxford just held on to win by one second.

W M Poole, 10. 7½
R P P Rowe, 11.11
V Nickalls, 12. 9
G Nickalls, 12. 5
F Wilkinson, 13. 8
Lord Ampthill, 13. 5
W A L Fletcher, 13. 2
C W Kent, 10.11
J P H Heywood-Lonsdale, 8. 0

J W Noble, 11. 5¾
E W Lord, 10.10¼
G Francklyn, 12. 3
E T Fison, 12. 7½
W Landale, 12.11
J F Rowlatt, 11.12
C T Fogg-Elliot, 11. 4
G Elin, 10.13
J V Braddon, 7.12

William Alfred Littledale Fletcher
Oxford president and Stroke

Boat-race at Barnes Bridge, 1891
Boat-race at Barnes Bridge, 1891

49: Saturday, 9th April, 1892

In 1892 OXFORD WON by 2¼ lengths. Time 19 minutes and 10 seconds. Oxford 26, Cambridge 22

Oxford had a fine crew. Cambridge were dogged by ill health but came together towards the end.

Conditions were good for the race with a strong tide. Oxford won the toss and chose Middlesex. Oxford took an immediate lead which they opened to ½ length at the Mile Post. By Hammersmith Bridge Oxford led by only two seconds. Elin, the Cambridge Stroke may have had slide problems after the bridge. Whatever the fact Oxford still maintained and increased their lead around the outside of the bend to lead by 1½ lengths at Chiswick Steps and 10 seconds at Barnes Bridge.

Oxford then dropped their rating and went on to win by 2¼ lengths in a record time. The record only lasted 12 months.

H B Cotton, 9.12
J A Ford, 11.11
W A S Hewett, 12. 2
F E Robeson, 13. 7½
V Nickalls, 13. 2
W A L Fletcher, 13. 8
R P P Rowe, 12. 0
C M Pitman, 11.12½
J P H Heywood-Lonsdale, 8. 7

E W Lord, 10.12
R G Neill, 11.11
G Francklyn, 12. 3
E T Fison, 12. 6½
W Landale, 13. 1
G C Kerr, 12. 1
C T Fogg-Elliot, 11. 8½
G Elin, 10.10
J V Braddon

Charles Murray Pitman, Oxford Stroke

50: Wednesday, 22nd March, 1893
The Fiftieth Race, 64 years after the first race in 1829

In 1893 OXFORD WON by 1 length and 4 feet. Time 18 minutes and 47 seconds. Oxford 27, Cambridge 22

Oxford were favourites. Cambridge were competitive by the time they reached the tideway.

For the 1893 Boat Race, O.U.B.C. President W.A.L. Fletcher needed a No. 7. He gave one man a long trial, only to find him physically unfit and forbidden to row by the doctors. When he filled the hole with C.M. Pitman, his preferred stroke, new medical problems sprouted: Vivian Nickalls went ill and Fletcher himself got a strain. Training suffered, which showed in the race as W.B. Woodgate noted in Vanity Fair (March 25, 1893):

The rowing of Oxford was very good in style. The men did not seem to last so well as their style would presuppose. Some of them had been seedy, and work had been shut off; no long rows for fourteen days. The effect of this was that some of them, especially those who had not been invalids, were decidedly gross and overweight, making them short of wind. Nos. 3 and 4, for instance, had put on flesh like prize cattle, and seemed to be blowing badly. No blame to them; healthy men naturally put on flesh when work is light, and in an eight some often get too little work, while others get too much.

Almanack, 1893, Joseph Whittaker -

The Oxford and Cambridge crews, instead of making a few days' stoppage somewhere in the upper Thames before coming to Putney, arrived at their Metropolitan headquarters straight from the home waters on March 1st.

On the strength of the previous year's victory, combined with the fact that Oxford had five old Blues available, including their victorious stroke, Pitman, the chances of the Dark Blues against Cambridge with a new stroke, and only two old hands, had been generally considered most favourable.

Directly they both appeared on the Thames, these impressions were found to be correct. All the trials in practice proved the superiority of the style and weight in the Oxford boat, their new stroke, Pilkington, an Eton freshman, rowing splendidly, and on the day of the race, Oxford, with 3 to 1 laid freely on their chance, won easily by a little more than a length, in the fastest time on record, 18 min 47 sec.

Although the victory was easily gained at the finish, Cambridge managed to virtually hold their opponents (the latter never being clear) up to Chiswick Church, where weight, style and condition told. Up to Chiswick it was indeed anybody's race.

Starting at 4.35 with a spring tide and a light easterly breeze, Cambridge won the toss and chose Surrey. Cambridge went into a lead of a few feet in the first minute however by the mile Oxford had a lead of 1 length.

Cambridge came back at them and reduced that lead to 1 second at Hammersmith Bridge. Further on the crews became level. However Cambridge were rating higher throughout and began to tire. Oxford led by 2 seconds at Chiswick Steps and 8 seconds at Barnes Bridge.

The original Barnes Railway Bridge of 1848 was no longer able to carry the traffic and it was being extended in 1893. Effectively an extra bridge was being added downstream. The original bridge had a flat profile and it was the new bridge that added the characteristic bow string girders that we see today.
1849: Original Barnes Railway Bridge -

Barnes Railway Bridge 1849
The 1849 Barnes Railway Bridge

Barnes Railway Bridge, Henry Taunt, 1890s
Barnes Railway Bridge, Henry Taunt, 1890s
© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive; HT7052

Apparently in 1893 a temporary dam had been built to construct the new piers and with the strong tide there were big currents above the bridge. Oxford went into this area of turbulent water and Cambridge gained considerably. At the finish Oxford won by 1¼ lengths in a record time which stood until 1911 (equalled in 1900).

H B Cotton, 9.12
J A Ford, 11.13
J A Morrison, 12. 4½
H Legge, 12.13½
V Nickalls, 13. 4
W A L Fletcher, 13. 8½
C M Pitman, 12. 0½
M C Pilkington, 11.11
L Portman, 7. 7

G A H Branson, 10. 9½
R F Bayford, 11. 9
C T Fogg-Elliott, 11.10½
E H M Waller, 12. 5½
L A E Ollivant, 13. 3½
G C Kerr, 12. 6
R O Kerrison, 12. 0
T G E Lewis, 11.12
C T Agar, 7. 5

MC Pilkington . . . . . . . . . H Legge . . . . . . . . . . . J A Morrison
Oxford VIII, 1893
C M Pitman . . . . . . V Nickalls . . . . . . J A Ford . . . . . . Portman? . . . . . . W A L Fletcher . . . . . . H B Cotton
Oxford VIII, 1893

Cambridge VIII, 1893
Cambridge VIII, 1893

51: Saturday, 17th March, 1894

In 1894 OXFORD WON by 3½ lengths. Time 21 minutes and 39 seconds. Oxford 28, Cambridge 22

The New York Times -


After a Few Strokes the Oxford Oarsmen Took the Lead and Kept It to the Finish, Victorious by Three and One-half Lengths - Their Opponents Were Pumped at the Close and Did Not Cross the Line - A Race Under Most Favorable Conditions.

LONDON, March 17. - The fifty-first race between the crews of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge since 1829, when the present series began, was rowed this morning, and Oxford won by three and a half lengths, in 21:39.

The race was rowed over the championship course of four and a half miles, from Putney to Mortlake, the start being made from moored boats immediately above Putney Bridge and the finish at the Ship Hotel, at Mortlake.

At an early hour the wide foreshore between the river and the boathouses near Putney Bridge, the bridge itself, the towpath between Putney and Hammersmith Bridges, Hammersmith Bridge, the towpath below Barnes Bridge, and the towpath above Barnes Bridge, to the finish were black with crowds, that were constantly increasing in numbers.

The weather was raw and cold, and a thick fog at Putney threatened to obscure the movements of the boats from the spectators at the starting point, but with the rising of the sun the fog lifted and the race was rowed in sunshine.

The water was in superb condition, scarcely rippled by the light, variable northeasterly breeze. No university race has been rowed in recent years under more favorable[sic] conditions.

Oxford won the toss, and chose the Surrey side of the river. The Cambridge crew, the challengers, were first to get their boat into the water. No time was lost in getting into position, and the starting signal, a pistol shot, was given at exactly 9:12 A.M.

On the Start - said to be 1891 - but I reckon that is Cambridge on Middlesex station - so my guess is 1894!

The crews caught the water simultaneously, but the Cambridge's first stroke shoved the nose of their boat ahead. At the second stroke both boats were abreast. After a few more strokes, however, Oxford began to draw slowly ahead, and continued to increase her lead. Oxford was rowing 39 strokes a minute and Cambridge 38. As they reached the boathouses, Oxford was a quarter of a length ahead, and, notwithstanding the fact that the bend at that point favored Cambridge, the latter could not cut down the lead. Both crews at this point were doing their utmost, and Cambridge made repeated spurts, but, in spite of the effort, she kept dropping astern. At Crabtree, which was reached at 9:17, Oxford was half a length ahead.

Heading across the river for the soap works, Oxford had the advantage, and made the most of it. Hammersmith Bridge, which was reached at 9:23, found Oxford a length and a half in the lead, with every man apparently strong.

With the race well in hand, barring accidents, Oxford settled into a steady thirty six stroke, after passing Hammersmith, and Cambridge, unable to stand the strain of a sustained spurt at that time, pulled the same stroke. Observing this, Oxford lowered her stroke to 34, but pulled strongly and in excellent form. The exhaustion of the Cambrdge crew was now apparent. They rowed with a short splashing stroke, and were palpably incapable of making another spurt.

Reaching Chiswick at 9:27, Oxford was two lengths ahead, Cambridge still splashing. Oxford here reduced the power of her stroke, and rowed easily and leisurely. The race had now become a procession, and Cambridge was getting the wash of the Oxford boat.

Barnes Railway Bridge was passed at 9:29, and Cambridge at that point was three lengths behind, and showed increasing signs of flagging. From Barnes to the finish at Mortlake, Oxford rowed like a party out for a pleasure trip, while the Cambridge crew had the appearance of an exhausted boatload of men endeavoring to get ashore before their boat would sink.

Oxford reached the finish at 9:33:29, three and a half lengths ahead. The Cambridge men, entirely pumped out, did not cross the finish line.


The New York Times went on to add -

The scenes along the banks and on the river were very much the same as is usual on such occasions.

The river was alive with craft as the boats were started. As the pistol was fired there was a rousing cheer, which was taken up by the crowds further down the river and passed along until everyone was cheering from infection, while the screeching of the steam whistles of the craft on the river added to the din.

When the boats started, the umpire's boat, a tiny steam launch, followed closely, and at a fixed distance behind were four paddle steamers abreast. These were ordinary Thames passenger boats, hired for the occasion.

One steamboat carried the friends and guests of the Cambrige University Boat Club, another those of the Oxford University Boat Club, another the friends and guests of the umpire, and the fourth was the press boat. Behind these four boats followed a heterogeneous mob of all sorts of floating things that could get up speed enough to keep the pace.

The Cambridge crew discarded their French-built boat which they used in 1893, and substituted a boat built by Clasper.

A H Finch, Cambridge's bow man, was in his place, though many believed that his recent illness would incapacitate him, and as a matter of fact it was announced some time ago that T B Hope (Trinity Hall) would row in his stead.

The Direct Cable Company achieved another victory over its competitors yesterday in transmitting to the United Press its announcement of the result of the Oxford - Cambridge boat race on the Thames. Ten seconds after the dispatch was filed in London it was signalled to the United Press Office in this city, thus anticipating the announcement by other lines from three to ten minutes.

H B Cotton, 9.13
M C Pilkington, 12. 4
W Burton Stewart, 13. 5
J A Morrison, 12. 5
E G Tew, 13. 7
T H E Stretch, 12. 4
W E Crum, 12. 0
C M Pitman, 12. 0
L Portman, 8. 7

A H Finch, 11. 0
N W Paine, 11. 1
Sir Charles Ross, 11. 8
H M Bland, 11. 5
L A E Ollivant, 13. 5¾
C T Fogg-Elliot, 11. 8
R O Kerrison, 11.12
T G E Lewis, 11.12
F C Begg, 8. 0
"Benje" Hugh Benjamin Cotton
President of Oxford 1894
"Fogg" Charles Thurston Fogg-Elliot
President of Cambridge 1894

52: Saturday, 30th March, 1895

In 1895 OXFORD WON by 2¼ lengths. Time 20 minutes and 50 seconds. Oxford 29, Cambridge 22

Oxford should have been a reasonably fast crew. Cambridge had difficulties. Both were affected by bad weather curtailing training (in February the Thames was frozen right down to Gravesend) and then by the 'flu epidemic that swept the country, hitting the Cambridge crew 3 weeks before the race and then Oxford just one week before race day. It is thought that between them they were probably the least fit crews ever to compete in a boat race.

And then to crown their problems the race day had nasty conditions. A big tide against a lot of land water with a fresh south-west wind.

Oxford won the toss and chose Surrey. Cambridge with a higher rating set off into a lead, but as ever the lower rating longer stroke with more rhythm and power began to tell and Oxford took up the lead never to lose it.

At the Mile Post, Oxford were almost 1 length up. At Hammersmith all Cambridge had been able to do was to hold the Oxford lead at that 1 length. Above Hammersmith in rough water Oxford had the shorter course and more shelter. Oxford had 2 lengths by Chiswick Steps, and 12 seconds by Barnes Bridge. Oxford then reduced to a firm paddle and won by 2¼ lengths. Cambridge had done very well to not allow a bigger gap than that.

Oxford, 12 seconds ahead at Barnes Bridge, 1895

H B Cotton, 9.13
M C Pilkington, 12. 4
C K Philips, 11.12
T H E Stretch, 12. 4
W Burton Stewart, 13. 7½
C D Burnell, 13. 0½
W E Crum, 12. 2
C M Pitman, 12. 0
C P Serocold, 8. 1

T B Hope, 10.11
F C Stewart, 12. 1½
H A Game, 12. 2
W S Adie, 13. 2½
T J G Duncanson, 13. 3
R Y Bonsey, 12. 4
A S Bell, 11. 2
D A Wauchope, 11. 9
F C Begg, 8. 9

Birt Acres filmed the 1895 race using his Kinetic Lantern - later 'Kineopticon' - later 'Cinematoscope'

Hugh Cotton rowed bow for Oxford - and was reported to be the only man who did not get influenza in race week. However he then had a severe illness of the lungs which culminated in his death the following October.

Hugh Cotton
Hugh Cotton

Coach Rudie Lehman wrote of him:

Though lost and dead, you die not here;
And, wheresoever men may range
Who once at Oxford held you dear
And called you friend, you know no change:
Still shall we see you stride along,
Smiling and resolute and strong.

We shall grow old, but you abide
In all our hearts as staunch and true
And young as when on Thames’s tide
You gripped your oar and won your Blue --
But hush! I hear the passing bell,
Oh dearest friend, farewell, farewell

53: Saturday, 28th March, 1896

In 1896 OXFORD WON by 2/5 length. Time 20 minutes and 1 second. Oxford 30, Cambridge 22

Both crews had good potential.

Unfortunately the weather was not kind for the Race, which it was hoped would be a good one with two crews of almost equal ability. Although there was a strong tide and below average land water flow, there was a strong wind from the north-west, which carried in with it frequent icy cold showers. Of greater importance it kicked up an unpleasant slop along the Putney Reach although, luckily, the wind was not strong enough to create the full ‘sinking’ conditions for which it was famous. Cambridge won the toss and naturally chose Surrey.

Newspaper account -

It was a good start with both crews striking 37 in the first minute. Oxford went into a temporary lead but all the way along the boathouse reach there was only a matter of inches in it. By Craven Steps, Cambridge had a lead of about a third of a length but by the Mile post (4.08) Oxford had drawn back and were now ahead by one second.

The side by side battle continued all the way up Crabtree Reach and at Hammersmith Bridge (7.45) the Light Blues had recovered the lead which at this stage was 2 seconds. With the bend in their favour Cambridge maintained their advantage all the way to Chiswick Steps which they passed in 12 minutes 30 seconds, but now their lead had dropped to just one second.

Still the side by side race continued and despite the fact that Oxford now had the advantage of the bend as they went along Duke’s Meadows, Cambridge had increased their lead to 3 seconds and for the first time over more than 3 miles they had almost broken away.and gained a lead exceeding a length.

But it was not to be, Over the last three minutes of the race, Oxford picked it up again and with better watermanship in the rough water managed to row through their rivals to win by one second in twenty minutes and one second with the waves breaking over both boats (judged as two fifths of a length). This was a remarkable race in awful conditions and a great credit to both crews.

Rudie Lehmann in "The Complete Oarsman" includes this race in his list of three races WON AFTER BARNES BRIDGE -

The race of [ 1896 ] was in its main incidents a curiously exact repetition of [ 1886 ]. Both crews were strong and heavy, and displayed a high average of joint style and merit.

The water in the first reach and, indeed, all the way to Chiswick was very rough. The Surrey station, in which Cambridge rowed, had, on account of the wind, a more than ordinary advantage.

With regard to the merits of the two crews, I cannot do better than quote the words of Mr. W. B. Woodgate written at the time.
The wind and water were enough to knock most crews out of form in half a mile; and yet, in the two crews, style was maintained to the end — no going to pieces, no rowing short.

In the last minute Cambridge were twice buried in spray from rollers which struck the after stroke-side rowlocks, and which smothered the looms of the oars on that side to an extent to check recovery for the instant.

Except for this, the losers, as well as the winners, might have been paddling on parade from the start, so far as level action was concerned. The Oxford stroke was voted and published short as compared to that of Cambridge. Yet, in the race, this so-called 'shorter' stroke held its own from the outside station in the worst of the wind ; doing some one and a half (average of) strokes per minute fewer than the Cambridge men did during the first two-thirds of the course. This fact shows that eyesight was at fault when it measured the Oxford reach as the shorter of the two — not that Cambridge were short: far from it.

Why the Oxford stroke had more propelling power, stroke for stroke, than that of Cambridge seems to be this : Oxford had rather more grip of the 'beginning'; Cambridge rather 'felt' the water before they threw their full force on to the oar. On the other hand, Oxford had more of a 'drive' at the instant of catching the water, and so got well hold of the boat before she began to slip away.

If a light boat is not caught sharp at the beginning of the stroke, much of her resistance is distributed, thereby lessening the effect of the stroke. Slow burning powders are well enough for heavy missiles ; for pellets a quick propulsion is needed.

I [Rudie Lehmann] had coached the Oxford crew during their practice at Putney, and I saw the race from the Umpire's launch. I prefer, however, to give a description of it which is contained in a letter written by the late Ernest Balfour, who rowed No. 5 in the winning Oxford crew. The letter has been printed in a little "Life of Ernest Balfour," written by the Bishop of Stepney, by whose kind permission I am enabled to reproduce it here.

Magnolia Cottage, Shaldon. April 3, 1896.

Now I must tell yon all about the race. ... On Friday night Fred came and sang to us, which made it very jolly, and we didn't ponder too much on the morrow after all. On Saturday morning we breakfasted a quarter of an hour earlier than usual, and went out for our preliminary row at about ten o'clock.

The morning was nice and fine, but a little gusty. We went particularly well in our morning row, and pleased our coaches very much. We went back to the house in hansoms, and sat down for a chop and some jelly and a glass of port wine at eleven o'clock. ...

Meanwhile the nice weather of the morning had gone, and rain was descending in torrents, and a strong wind was blowing from the west, so our chances just then did not look very rosy, as we were supposed to be such a bad crew in rough water; however, we had a good deal of secret confidence in ourselves. When we got to the river, I said * Good-bye' to Uncle Robert and Fred, who went on to the Oxford steamer, while I went off to change into shorts and jersey at the Rowing Club House.

The weather was just as bad as it could well be, the wind blowing right from the direction in which we were to row, and the river just a sea, with waves so big that it seemed doubtful whether we would not sink.

As we were changing, Cram came into the dressing-room and told us that he had lost the toss ; and the winning of the toss, we knew, made a tremendous difference to one's chances on such a day. However, it could not be helped, and Cambridge of course chose the sheltered Surrey station, and we had to go, more or less, on the exposed side.

Cambridge got their boat afloat a trifle after the advertised time, and paddled off to their stake-boat ; and we followed a minute or two later. The wind had gone down slightly, and it was not raining so hard. We paddled off to our boat amidst the cheers of our supporters, and in a few minutes we were ready to start.

Putney Bridge and both banks of the river were, of course, black with people, and before starting I was able to recognise Uncle Robert and Fred and several other friends on the Oxford boat.

Willan, the umpire, had on board his launch Lehmann and McLean, our two coaches, and Muttlebury and Trevor- Jones, the two Cambridge coaches.

Then Willan said, "I shall ask once in a loud voice, 'Are you ready?' and if I get no answer, I shall fire the pistol". Then we took off our sweaters and caps and scarves, and got ready. We came forward on our slides, and he asked, 'Are you ready ?' and then came the bang of the pistol, and we were off!

It was a splendid start, and we were both absolutely level for the first few hundred yards. The water was pretty rough, and we could not row a very fast stroke. The moment we had started there came the most fearful roar on all the steamers and right along the bank, and it was almost impossible to hear our cox screaming at us, though he was only a few feet off.

We went off round Craven Point and up the Crab Tree Reach very level; but after passing Harrod's Stores we went out rather too far across the stream, and Cambridge forged ahead ; and just before Hammersmith Bridge we ran into an awful storm of hail, which chilled our fingers horribly, and made it very difficult to hold on to our oars.

We shot Hammersmith about a three-quarter length behind Cambridge, and a little further on they drew clear of us. All the way from here right up to the Flag Staff on the Duke of Devonshire's meadows they had the advantage of the bend, and were well ahead of us.

We, however, were rowing steadily on, and were going about two strokes a minute slower than Cambridge. All the way up here from Hammersmith there were steam barges and vessels of all sorts which had been saving up their steam, and as we came into view they set up a perfectly deafening toot-toot-tooing which nearly cracked the drums of our ears.

As we came into the straight for Barnes, we quickened up the stroke, and very gradually began to lessen the gap between us, until, as we shot Barnes Bridge, they were not more than a good three-quarters of a length ahead of us. Well I had heard that only once before had the boat which was behind at Barnes passed the winning-post first, so I thought that if we were going to win this race we had better begin very soon to put on a spurt.

All the way over the course I was able to see Rudie Lehmann's anxious face fixed on us (he was in the umpire's launch just astern).

And now began a tremendous struggle. We were blown, but still felt that we had a lot more left in us, and Cambridge had been going for all they were worth for the last mile ; and now Gold quickened the stroke, and we were quite fit enough to back him up well. We raised the stroke to thirty-seven, and I could just hear our cox say, above the awful yelling and cheering along the banks and everywhere, that we were coming up fast.

We kept up the fast stroke, and presently we heard our bow, de Knoop, scream, "I can see their stem", next Three yelled out the same, and in a few strokes I could see it myself. Then our cox, who all through had steered magnificently, screamed, "Now, as hard as you can — twenty strokes!" and we proceeded to 'dig them in'; and Cambridge simply seemed to stand still, while in twenty strokes we had passed them, and were half a length ahead.

For the last minute we had come into the most awfully rough water, and great big waves were breaking into the boat threatening to swamp her, and our cox adjured us to "feather high", or we might hit our oars on a wave while coming forward and catch crabs.

We struggled on to the finish after this, still keeping our lead, and in another three or four hundred yards we had passed the winning-post two-fifths of a length ahead.

We were all very done, but not so much so as Cambridge, and in a very few minutes we were all able to paddle up to the Rowing Club House and get out of our boat. We trotted upstairs and got our rub-down, and in a few minutes our dry clothes were brought from the launch, and the coaches came on shore and rubbed our hands, which were very numb.

It was a most extraordinary scene. P and many old Blues came rushing in, far too hoarse with shouting to speak, with tears running down their cheeks, and embraced us all round, and then retired to comers of the room, where they sobbed out their ecstatic joy on one another's shoulders.

When we had recovered a bit, we lent a hand to the Cambridge fellows, who had come in meanwhile. I was never so sorry for any one as for these poor chaps, who were all as pale as ghosts, having rowed most pluckily. They were simply frightfully sick as they fully expected to win by many lengths, and they were hopelessly 'sick,' of course.

Soon we came out and went on board our launch. Whenever we were seen coming out, all the steamers started their toot-tooing again, and every one cheered and shouted like mad. It was the most extraordinary sight I ever saw.

We went off down the river to the London Rowing Club House, and were cheered vociferously all the way.

J J J de Knoop, 11. 1½
C K Philips, 12. 5½
E C Sherwood, 12.12
C D Burnell, 13.10
E R Balfour, 13. 6
R Carr, 12. 8½
W E Crum, 12. 3
H G Gold, 11. 5½
H R K Pechell, 7.13½

T B Hope, 11. 1
H A Game, 12. 4
D Pennington, 12. 7
R Y Bonsey, 12.10
W A Bieber, 12.12
T J G Duncanson, 13.12
A S Bell, 11.13
W J Fernie, 11.13
T R Paget-Tomlinson, 8. 4½

Oxford, 1896

Walter Erskine Crum ("Crumbo")
Oxford president and 7

54: Saturday, 3rd April, 1897

In 1897 OXFORD WON by 2½ lengths. Time 22 minutes and 4 seconds. Oxford 31, Cambridge 22

In the Official Centenary History of the Boat Race (in 1929) the 1897 Oxford crew was described as ‘the finest Oxford crew that ever rowed’. But this was not just the opinion of an Oxfordian for the history was prepared jointly by G.C.Drinkwater of OUBC and T.R.B.Sanders of CUBC.

Crum was President of Oxford for the second time and he had only one place to fill. Indeed examination of the 1897 Oxford crew shows names like C.D.Burnell, C/K.Philips and Harcourt Gold in the crew. They are somewhat surprisingly described as being ‘very rough at first’ but they improved rapidly and at the Tideway broke just about all the ebb records, assisted by substantial land water coming down the river from the floods in the higher reaches.

A.S.Bell was President at Cambridge and had four old Blues still in residence to whom he added W. Dudley Ward who became a stalwart of Cambridge rowing. In comparison with Oxford the crew looked sedentary, not least because the catch remained rather slow.

There was a good tide running on the day of the race and although there was an above average land flow opposing it it still gave fast rowing conditions, assisted by the fact that the moderate wind was from the east-south-east Cambridge, winning the toss selected Middlesex, presumably hoping for a good early row from which they could dominate the course and this was confirmed by the fact that they anticipated the pistol and got almost a stroke start and in the first minute struck three strokes higher than Oxford and by dint of all these matters went past the boathouses at least a canvas ahead. But their lead was to be short lived, for Oxford, without increasing their stroke rate, but with a long sweeping powerful action hauled them back and around the area of Beverly Brook with both boats rowing side by side, there were a few clashes of blades, one of the few occasions at this period when such altercations are recorded in the contemporary accounts. These however were not to last for long because the Dark Blues moved ahead, despite the clashes and by the Mile Post, reached in 3 minutes 59 seconds, they were one second ahead.

Even though Oxford had drawn up rapidly as they approached the Mile, they could not shake off their rivals who were hanging on gamely and by dint of some spurts, had brought Oxford back to just over a canvas as they passed the Crabtree. But now the Dark Blues pushed ahead once again and when they reached Hammersmith Bridge in 7 minutes 20 seconds, they were almost almost a length up and rowing well. Now with the bend in their favour Oxford really began to demonstrate their superiority and despite further spurts by Cambridge, they moved ahead up Chiswick Reach and past the Eyot to pass Chiswick Steps with a lead of 9 seconds in 11 minutes 31 seconds. Although all the eye witnesses described the Oxford style as beautiful to watch with its ‘long lean strokes’ the Light Blues terrier-like, held on and indeed through the crossing and along the Duke of Devonshire’s Meadows and past the bathing place they had taken back a second as Oxford shot Barnes Bridge in 16 minutes exactly, and even more surprisingly considering the praise that was heaped on Oxford, they took back a further second on the last three minutes of rowing past the Mortlake Brewery, such that Oxford won by only 7 seconds (officially judged as 2½ lengths) in 19 minutes 12 seconds, a good but not outstanding time considering the conditions

J J J de Knoop, 11. 6
G O C Edwards, 12. 1
C K Philips, 12. 0½
C D Burnell, 13. 9
E R Balfour, 13. 8½
R Carr, 12.11½
W E Crum, 12. 3
H G Gold, 11.11
H R K Pechell, 8. 0½

D E Campbell-Muir, 11. 5
A S Bell, 12. 1
E J D Taylor, 12.13
B H Howell, 12. 9
W A Bieber, 13. 1
D Pennington, 12. 9
W Dudley Ward, 12. 6
W J Fernie, 11.13
E C Hawkins, 8. 1

Harcourt Gilbey Gold
Oxford Stroke, President

55: Saturday, 26th March, 1898

In 1898 OXFORD WON easily. Time 22 minutes and 15 seconds. Oxford 32, Cambridge 22

Oxford had now been successful for no less than 7 years and there was a sense of desperation in the Cambridge camp. Analysis of the situation suggested that there were plenty of keen oarsmen in the University in the Fens, but that they had not been able to achieve a rowing style which provided them with the necessary power to beat their rivals. Help however was at hand for W.A.L.Fletcher, who had rowed for Oxford at the early stage of their winning run in the 1890s and had coached them subsequently agreed to come over to coach Cambridge for the President Dudley Ward. This created havoc in the CUBC and several potential Blues refused to be part of the crew. This was probably not helped by the fact that on doctor’s orders Dudley Ward himself had to give up his seat. But Fletcher could not have worked harder to achieve success if this had been an Oxford crew and he had the support of two good new oarsmen in R.B.Etherington-Smith at 6 and C.J.D.Goldie John’s son at 7. C.M.Steele was the preferred stroke but he had to withdraw in the middle of training from illness and A.S.Bell, who had rowed at 2 in 1898 reluctantly took over the stroke seat. However despite all the difficulties, Fletcher did a great job in turning out a crew at Putney which was recognised as having a much better style than those of recent years.

At Oxford there was till plenty of talent including not only R. O. Pitman the latest of a family line of oarsmen and F.W.Warre the son of the very famous rowing and coaching Headmaster of Eton who was still one of those who had done more for British rowing, than almost anyone else. The crew was potentially a good one but they did not develop as much as had been expected during the training period.

March 26th, Boat Race day was a dreadful one for rowing. There was a good strong tide and very little land water to oppose it but a blizzard with icy rain blowing from just east of north which produced a substantial crop of white horses on the Surrey side of the river at Putney, whereas the Middlesex shore protected that station quite well. This was obviously going to be a year in which the winning of the toss would be all-important and the luck of the toss went to Oxford who naturally chose Middlesex.

The stake-boats had been set in their traditional position in mid river and before Cambridge had taken even half a dozen strokes their boat was half full of water. In the meantime Oxford had set off promptly for the shelter of the Middlesex shore and although they had shipped a certain amount of water they were still not in great difficulty. Cambridge did the only possible thing. They moved over behind Oxford, but by the time that they were in some reasonable shelter their boat was waterlogged and only held up by the air filled bladders which they had placed under each seat.

From here on it was not a question of who would win or by how much, but whether Cambridge would founder and the umpire wisely placed his launch close to Cambridge on the lee side in case this should happen.

For the record, Oxford reached the Mile Post in 4 minutes 53 seconds despite the fast tide with Cambridge 9 seconds adrift; Hammersmith Bridge in 9 minutes 15 seconds, 23 seconds ahead, Chiswick Steps in 13 minutes 53 seconds now in front by no les than 41 seconds and Barnes Bridge in 18 minutes 32 seconds now 64 seconds clear. The finish was reached by Oxford in 22 minutes 15 seconds with Cambridge, somewhat surprisingly timed at 22 minutes 59 seconds described in the official record as easily.

A contemporary newspaper described the fate of the Cambridge cox E. C. Hawkins thus:

The Cambridge boat sank lower and lower until it could be seen that the crew were sliding in water. As to little Mr Hawkins, if he never sits in a cold tub again he will have had a full-grown man’s life’s share of that alledged luxury. He was sitting in water all the way from Putney to Mortlake and the part of him that was not exposed to the water was exposed to the coldest and bitterest of winds and the most biting of gales.

It rained needles, it sleeted stinging nettles before the course was completed. The weather obliged with a mixture of snow and razors. Mr Hawkins will remember his journey by water to Mortlake as long as he lives. If fate should ever take him to Klondyke in winter he will be able to console himself for the Chilcoot Pass with the reflection that it might be worse in a boat.

R O Pitman, 11. 0
G O C Edwards, 12. 7½
C K Philips, 12. 0½
F W Warre, 12.12
C D Burnell, 14. 0
R Carr, 13. 1
A T Herbert, 12.10½
H G Gold, 11.10½
H R K Pechell, 8. 1

W B Rennie, 11. 7
J F Beale, 12. 2¾
H G Brown, 13.11¾
S V Pearson, 12. 9¼
A W Swanston, 12.10
R B Etherington-Smith, 12.11¼
C J D Goldie, 12. 0
A S Bell, 12. 2¼
E C Hawkins, 8. 4

Oxford 1898

56: Saturday, 25th March, 1899

In 1899 CAMBRIDGE WON by 3 lengths. Time 21 minutes and 4 seconds. Oxford 32, Cambridge 23

The Cambridge crew had to be rebuilt in 1899 for there were only two Blues left from the previous year, the President R. B. Etherington-Smith and C.J.D.Goldie, son of the famous Cambridge oarsman. There was however plenty of talent available and it was not difficult for them to establish the new crew, one that was going to show its best performance in the following year when it had matured. The star performers were J.H.Gibbon and H Sanderson, the former an excellent stroke and the latter a powerful though not enormous man who filled the 6 seat. Fletcher, the Oxford Blue and coach who had come over to coach them in 1898 continued with the task this year too.

Oxford had also lost most of the crew from the previous year though F W Warre was still available and Harcourt Gold who had been elected President was a good stroke and was to become an excellent coach for them in future years. They did not progress as well as could be hoped in training and they came to the Tideway as underdogs.

The tide was a poor one on Race day, but there was little land water to resist it. And although the wind was from the south-west it was not sufficiently strong to produce any problems. In these conditions there was no surprise, when Cambridge, who won the toss chose Surrey. Both crews got off well from the stake boats with Cambridge at 36 under-rating their rivals by 2 strokes, but with greater control and power they moved into a canvas lead as they went along the boathouse reach only to be pulled back to level terms by Harcourt Gold who continued with the faster stroke and whose crew members were now giving him better backing. The two crews remained level at they passed Craven Steps and at the Mile Post (4.00) Oxford had moved into a canvas lead, assisted by the Fulham bend.

The battle continued side by side up Crabtree Reach, but as Harrod’s got closer, it became obvious that Cambridge were slowly but steadily moving up and that although they were both rating equally at this stage, Cambridge was the more powerful crew. They reached Hammersmith Bridge in the very creditable time of 7 minutes 22 seconds considering the slack tide and were now something over ½ length to the good over their rivals, with the bend now very much in their favour.

As they came round into Chiswick Reach they moved, for the first time into a headwind and some troubled waters and Cambridge now moved away rapidly in the better water close to the Surrey bank and although helped by the bend, it was clear that as they moved along towards the Doves they were getting about a length of clear water behind them. However Oxford were still not beaten and as they passed the Eyot they put on some great pushes and Cambridge reached Chiswick Steps in 12 minutes 16 seconds, only 7 seconds ahead with Oxford still gaining and with the end of the Cambridge bend in sight.

Oxford set off for the crossing earlier than Cambridge who hung into the sheltered Surrey shore along past the reservoir. However when eventually Cambridge moved out into the main water for the crossing they took the disturbed water much better than had Oxford and gained enough there to be able to ensure that they could come into the Middlesex shore safely ahead of the dark Blues, with the result that they had moved out to a six length lead as they moved out from the shore to take the centre arch of Barnes Bridge in 17 minutes 21 seconds. Oxford were still not ready to concede defeat and while J. H. Gibbon, stroking Cambridge continued on his way at 30, Harcourt Gold raised the Oxford rate to 34 and by the finish which Cambridge reached in 21 minutes and 4 seconds Oxford had drawn back no less than 9 seconds to lose by only 10 seconds (judged as 3¼ lengths).

But, perhaps for Cambridge, the distance mattered little. They had managed to beat their rivals after 9 defeats.

Woodgate’s account in VANITY FAIR (March 30, 1899):

The winning crew of Saturday’s Inter-’Varsity Boat Race will be shrined among crews such as Goldie’s 1870 crew, the Oxonians of 1875 and 1878, and other cracks, as being much above the average for speed and style. The merit of their style is due to the coaching which they received, and especially to that of Mr. Fletcher, the Oxonian, on whom fell the brunt of the tuition from the hour when Trial Eight preparation commenced in the autumn. They had undeniably the best of the stations, being to windward and on the inside of the river’s curve for the first two and a-half miles of the course. The wind blew stiffly, and made the leeward station a great drawback. If the stations had been reversed the handicap would have produced a pretty race; but on their form as displayed Cambridge should in the end have pulled through the disadvantage.

The best man in the two boats was Etherington-Smith, the Cantab President, whose father was in “Jack” Forster’s winning Grand Challenge crew of 1863. The Cantab No. 6, another very fine oar, is son of the No. 3 of Cambridge at Putney in 1862. The father of C.J.D. Goldie was even more celebrated in aquatic history, as most readers know ...

The Oxford crew did by no means disgrace themselves against such high-class adversaries: they kept together and in stroke all through a hard, stern chase in stormy water. If all of them had copied the body action of their stroke, and had swung back and rowed it well out as he and No. 6 did, they would have been many lengths faster. Their salient failing was want of length of swing-back in the middle of the boat.

The steering of both coxswains was much above the average; both are Etonians, and by no means novices at rudder-lines, which explains their mutual merit on the first occasion that either has performed in a Putney race.

R O Pitman, 10.10
C W Tomkinson, 12. 0
A H D Steele, 12.11½
H J Hale, 12.9½
C E Johnston, 13. 0
F W Warre, 12.13
A T Herbert, 12.13
H G Gold, 11.11½
G S Maclagan, 8. 1

W H Chapman, 11. 2
N L Calvert, 11.13
C J D Goldie, 12. 1½
J E Payne, 12.10½
R B Etherington-Smith, 12.10
R H Sanderson, 12.11
W Dudley Ward, 12. 9½
J H Gibbon, 11. 3½
G A Lloyd, 8. 5

Oxford 1899

Cambridge 1899

And so ended the fifty six boat races of the nineteenth Century with Oxford significantly ahead in the overall tally: Oxford 32, Cambridge 23 (and one dead heat)
1898 marked the peak of Oxford's lead over Cambridge (32 to 22)

Leadership in Overall Tally of Boat Race Wins:

1829 - - - Cambridge - - - 1863 - - - - - - - - - - - Oxford - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 1899

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